Disclaimers: This is an original work of alternative fiction. It may be considered an uber piece. Actually, it's the continuation and expansion of a dream I had last night. Let's see how it plays. Two women have a romantic relationship here that manifests, as most do, in an intimate way, so if you don't like that sort of thing, don't read this. The main characters do resemble some characters from a popular TV show, but how they feel and what they do are my ideas. There will be violence depicted here once in a while. There will be coarse language.
I wish to thank the wonderful people in the ex-Guards and the Merpups who encouraged me to continue this story.  You were all great!  In particular, I would like to thank the late, and very talented, LJ Maas for her endless help in advising me and in the editing of this piece, without which, it would be unreadable. I would also like to thank Marilyn, AKA, Mac for her editing skills and unlimited patience in wading through this wordy tome with me.

I would like to thank Sheri for the beautiful cover she made for my story.

Please do not transfer, copy, or archive this original piece without my permission.

Beneath The Brambles

By Lady Savay


Comments may be directed here: LadySavay@aol.com 

Chapter 1

She didn't think about going fast. She always went fast. She sped through everything and had, since she was a girl. She graduated high school by sixteen and college at Duke before she was twenty. Her first novel hit the best seller's list the year before that. Her sister, the one true friend she had, used to tell her she would burn up from simple energy overload before she could reach middle age, if she didn't learn to slow down and back off a little. She hadn't listened then.

"I'm not doing anything differently than anyone else out there who wants to live life to its fullest." She took another large bite from her apple, shifted into fourth gear on the brand new candy apple red Jaguar she just bought and took another drag from her cigarette, all within a three second time frame. "You laid back types" she smiled at her sister Leslie while indicating with the hand still clutching the apple at her sister’s casual slouch and the knee resting against the glove compartment. "You always seem to want the world to slow down for you. Well, I'm here to tell you that it won't. And I'm glad of it."

"We all know how prone to that dreaded disease 'boredom' you are Shasta. But I'm here to tell you that burning the candle at both ends is the surest way to get there. If you don't stop and de-stress soon something is going to give. And you're gonna look fairly silly trying to reach your agent and your jet set friends from the inside of a psych ward on an imaginary telephone." The pretty brunette affected a cute giggle that had always tickled her older sister, and stretched as much as the confines of the sports car would allow. The loose fit jeans and the old Yale sweatshirt allowed her plenty of room but the comfort of her attire was lost on her high fashion sister.

The blonde woman just stubbed out her sixth cigarette of the twenty minute drive and blew the ashes off her Plum polished nails.
"I'll rest when I retire. Mame Dennis had it right, "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death." Speaking of which, are you sure I can't talk you into going to Ricky's dinner party with me tonight?"

And so it had gone, as always. But that was two months ago.

Shasta had been categorized as a Type 'A' personality years ago, and she had always been inordinately proud of it. What she could accomplish in one day would make her friends and enemies alike, simmer in their own feelings of inadequacy and complacency.

Additionally, the one thing that set her above the crowd a notch was her productivity. She pumped out seven feature novels of her mystery series in three years, all of which reached the bestseller list within weeks of them hitting the shelves. All with the exception of that last one. And, that was the problem.

After the last one received it's, less than stellar reception she received a visit from her publisher and editor. She was more than forthright and basically told her that Shasta had lost her focus. The book wasn't nearly close to her usual standards and the plot had been, almost, predictable. Stephanie advised her in no uncertain terms that you were "only as good as your last book" and that if she wanted to continue with this house, -and she did, it was the best publishing house around-, that she better take some time off and get her "muse back on track," as Stephanie put it. Then she handed Shasta a computer printout with a map and written instructions on it, and a key.

"This will take you to a house I own up in the mountains. Go there alone. Take a couple of weeks to walk around and smell the flowers and just think, then start on the next book. I'm going to disregard all the chapters you've submitted so far. We both know you can do better than that." That stung. She knew she lost something where her heroine was concerned and she knew that the last mystery she had her P. I. solve was all but impossible to believe, but she thought that this book was doing better. Evidently not, by the look on Stephanie's face. So Shasta, in a quite uncustomary show of acquiescence, agreed to go.

"Just you. No good friends. No family. No fuck buddies. Just you, your computer, and your capricious muse. Call me in a month and let me know how you're doing. I don't want to hear from you before then. I don't want any chapters faxed to me and I don't want to hear about you getting into any trouble. This is a very small, quiet town and I will NOT be taking my ass up there to make bail for you. Clear?"

Oh, it was clear all right. Crystal. She knew she'd been stepping a toe over the edge lately, but the parties were so much fun and her status as one of the beautiful people kind of propelled her into the spotlight. It had been coming for a while though, she realized. After the arrest for public intoxication and the cat fight she got into hit the headlines she had more or less expected something like this.

Stephanie bailed her out all right, and provided the lawyer to defend her. She only received a warning from the judge and had felt fairly proud of her 'sweet young thing who was taken advantage of while under the influence of demon rum’ in the courtroom and thought she had it all handled. That is until the reviews came out for her last book.

So, here she was on this beautiful autumn day, driving up into the equally beautiful mountains above Santa Barbara looking for a small town called Bramble and a house her publisher owned.

And driving way to fast.

Her thoughts, as always, preoccupied her and it must have been a while before she finally heard the siren and the car attached to it that, by that time, had pulled along side her. Coming back to herself with a rush, she found a spot to pull over in front of a chain link fence and a house set far back from the road, and waited for the officer to come to her window.

The officer in question stopped the old Chevrolet in front of the suspect and turned off the light and siren. Picking up the radio unit and calling in to let the Sheriff know about the infraction, the deputy gave her current location, and picked up her ticket book, exiting the car.

"Hi, there. I'd like to see your license and registration please."

Having seen the sheriff's car stop, Shasta immediately bent over to retrieve the necessary proofs of insurance and registration from the glove compartment. She was still attempting to find them, and had just located the items, when the voice reached her.

The surprise she felt when she heard those words was complicated. First, she was surprised that a backwater little town like this would have a woman on it's police force, but secondly, and more importantly, was the warm-blanket like feeling that washed over her at the tone of that voice. It caused her shoulders to relax and, for a reason she couldn't explain, seemed to calm her.

"Here you go officer. What... uhm..."
 She faltered when she couldn't seem to keep from concentrating on that face. Those high cheekbones and bronze skin. The eyes were a mystery as the deputy was wearing mirrored sunglasses, but the lips were full and tinted a deep coral-bronze and the teeth that showed in the small polite smile were perfect. Perfect...that seemed to be all she could think of... how perfect. Realizing she needed to grab the thread of her thoughts back, Shasta cleared her throat and tucked her hair behind her right ear. "Uh, what was I stopped for anyway?"

Continuing with the polite smile the deputy answered, "Speeding."

Here it comes, the officer thought, they always say the same thing. Can't wait to hear about it this time. Pretty, rich lady, single by the lack of ring on her third finger, left hand. Probably a little more preoccupied with her thoughts than with her driving and heading up here to get away from it all. They always seem to be that way.

 Just a fifteen mile stretch up the road was the Women's' Outdoor Survival School. Every couple of months she'd nail another speeder who didn't realize she was in a residential area and that she should have paid attention to the twenty mile an hour speed limit sign back the road a ways. And every time they were shocked when she pulled them over. Some sorry, mostly though, they were angry. They usually were heading out to the school after having had another run-in with living and acceding to the wishes of a male dominant society. They seemed to attract the angry ones. The ones fed up with the inequality of pay scales for women and the choices and chances denied them. Modern Amazons. Well, more power to them there. They've got my sympathy. However, they still have to obey the law. Everyone does. THAT'S true equality!

"Speeding? On a highway?" The blonde's eyebrows arched and furrowed as her interest in the face of the deputy started to morph into irritation.

"No Ma'am. Not a highway. You left the highway a while back. This is Bender Road and the posted speed limit here is twenty miles per hour. I clocked you at well over seventy." She finished writing up the ticket and started to tear it off. "You can send the fee in by mail to the address on the back or you can stop in the Sheriff's office and pay in person. The choice is yours. Please sign here."

Shasta's irritation flared into white-hot anger as she signed the ticket and took her copy. She had turned it over and was dumbstruck by the amount of the fine.

"Five Hundred dollars? Are you out of your mind? Listen lady, I'm no goddamn tourist. I've lived in California all my life and this is outrageous. Don't think for a minute I'm going to pay this little 'speed-trap' bill without a fight. What possible reason could you have for needing a twenty mile an hour speed limit on a nearly deserted road except to gouge the 'so-called' speeders coming off the highway for a huge chunk of money?"

Still maintaining her polite smile, the deputy stood from her crouch at Shasta's window and pointed about fifty feet ahead and to her right at what appeared to be just a copse of trees. Just as she did, they heard a bell ring out.
"That's the reason."

In seconds, small children filled the road in front of them carrying book bags, sweaters, and lunch boxes, heading up, down and across the street in every direction. The crossing guard tried, but the older woman just couldn't seem to get out in the road with her stop sign fast enough to keep the more energetic of the youngsters from crossing ahead of her. The writer inhaled sharply and had a quick flash of what might have been if the deputy hadn't stopped her. A chill ran down her spine.

"You see, we're a really small town here and we don't have the resources to make mistakes. You get one of these tickets and pay that fine, and chances are very good you will remember not to speed down Bender again. It only seems to be the people who don't live around here who do it, but we really can't afford for anyone to make that mistake twice."

"Yeah, I can see that now." She tore her gaze from the rapidly departing children in front of her to the standing deputy and got her first good look at her.

She was very tall.

Just how tall, she couldn't tell, but well over her own 5'5" height. She wore very tight fitting and well worn jeans, medium brown cowboy boots, and the standard beige short sleeved shirt she'd seen on every CHP and LA County Sheriff since she was a kid. Only it never fit them like this fit her. Everything she wore appeared tailored to fit her without an inch of slack, hugging well pronounced curves, and displaying strong developed muscles in her thighs and biceps. But, without that 'distressed merchandise' look that so many women have when the clothes they wear are tight and form fitting. This just looked ... right. Appropriate somehow. Like a second skin. The hair was a mystery as to length as she was wearing the standard wide brimmed CHP type of hot weather hat. She knew it was dark from what she could see at her neck, but that was all. She didn't recognize the fact that she was staring until she realized the deputy was speaking to her. Shaking herself a bit to come back to the here and now, she concentrated on what that deep, rich, voice was saying.

"...should clear out in another few minutes then you can be on your way. The turn for the Survival school is the third one on your right, once you pass the Burger King. After that you just follow the road for another three miles and then just watch for the signs."

"Yes. Uhm, thank you." A sudden understanding of what the Deputy said hit her.
She took another breath and shook her head again. 'What is going on with me. I can't seem to think straight here. Steph was right; maybe I do need to rest!'
"What I mean is, I don't know anything about a survival school. I'm here to find a... my friend's house. She said it was on Old Orchard Road just outside of Bramble. Number 16 Old Orchard Road. Can you help me to find it?"

For the first time the polite smile left the officer’s lips. Replacing it was a small smirk and behind the mirrored glasses, an intense interest in and a mapping of the pretty blonde face before her.

"Sure. Just give me a sec to call in and as soon as the kids are clear, follow me."

Chapter 2

This really was a small town. From what the writer could see of it, you could make your way from one end of it to the other in less than ten minutes. She followed the older model police sedan as it wound it's way down what must have been Main Street, Bramble, until they turned left at that same 'third left past the Burger King' the officer had told her about.

What was that anyway? Survival School? Don't tell me we have some kind of Militia group forming out here. That's just what I need Steph, surrounded by right-wing extremists with loaded guns. Real relaxing! I'm sure the crackle of automatic weapons and the smell of gunpowder wafting through the mountain air will entertain my muse.

The cars followed the winding and increasingly more rural road as it curved and dipped for another mile or so, until they turned left again on a dirt road with a weathered sign saying 'Old Orchard' Less than a quarter mile later the officer pulled over in front of a one-story ranch set back from the road by a large yard, filled with trees and flowers.

Shasta began to pull over too until she saw the number 16 on the mailbox and pulled in to the driveway, stopping in front of the garage.

It was not a large house; a standard ranch type tract home was all. Painted a cream white and trimmed in a blue-gray with a minimal amount of ginger bread on the decorative shutters and looping around the porch, the front steps were brick and led to the brick porch three steps up from the yard.

Must have someone keep an eye on the place for her. The yard is well kept and the lawn trimmed. Nice place. Looks quiet and calm. Gods, I hope I don't go nuts here. I don't think I've done 'calm and quiet' since Great uncle Toby's funeral when I was nine. Well, I don't have much of a choice here. Steph said do it, so...

She didn't realize that deputy was there until she tapped on the driver's side window.

She jumped a little at the sharp sound and decided then and there that Steph and her sister were right. She was wound way too tight. Being a writer by nature and profession meant she naturally observed in detail everything she experienced. Her mind would automatically translate and store that away for later use. Her focus was legendary and her ability to read people and notice details others hadn't seen had accounted for her well written plots and in depth characters, yet here she was fazing in and out like some drunk.

Being here for a while would be a good thing, she decided.

She hurriedly opened the door and got out.

"Are you sure, this is your friend's house? The person who lives here usually only uses the place for a couple of months each year." The look on the deputy's face was skeptical, possibly accusatory. Without removing her glasses, she gave the impression of an interrogation, rather than a friendly question.

Bristling a little at the officer's attitude, Shasta quickly replied. "I know she's not here.  She lent me the use of the place for a while. And her key." She held up the key in question briefly, turning to the trunk of the car for her luggage.

The officer took one of the heavy bags while Shasta carried a smaller one and her laptop. They walked up to the door and Shasta inserted the key, giving a vague but perceptible little grin at the officer as if to say. "See, it works perfectly because she gave it to me." Grinning back with a small nod of her head, the officer apologized and followed her into the room.

Setting the suitcase on the floor of the living room, the officer turned and smiled at the pretty blonde.

"Well, I'll let you get settled then. If you need any help finding your way around, just ask someone. We're a pretty laid back group around here and you won't find many who aren't friendly and helpful. Course that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep the doors and windows locked. Enjoy your stay Ms. Cutter. "

"Thanks, I will."

As she closed the door behind the deputy, it occurred to her that for a writer she did a pretty poor job of making decent, friendly or even informative conversation.

She had no idea where anything in town might be and she knew she had to find a grocery store before the end of the day. She should have asked officer ... that's something else she hadn't done. She hadn't asked the officer her name. She knew it hadn't been on a tag on her shirt, because the only things there were insignia, stripes on her arm, and a badge. Shit! She needed to get herself together. Where was that mile-a-minute curiosity she was so famous for? What happened to that woman who could walk into a room for two minutes and recite what was in it and where. Just when I really need that photographic memory it leaves. And why do I need it so badly just now? What is it with this woman that has me so.. unnerved, disconnected, in parts?

She blew out a deep breath and decided to settle herself physically first, before she started working on her mental state.

The room was large and airy with oak hardwood floors and eggshell walls.  The entire wall opposite the front doors was a series of French doors leading onto a deck and showing the woods beyond.  The back yard was rustic to the point of nearly being primitive.  She could see the small stream that meandered at the bottom of the sloping yard and the trees and shrubs that felt as if they'd been there forever.  Maybe they had. Maybe Stephanie only landscaped the front yard. It was beautiful here, and cool as the shadows of afternoon started to make pictures on the grasses and flowers in the yard. Turning from the windows, she explored the rest of the house.

The only furniture in the living room was a large oversized couch in blue denim and a smaller scarlet love seat in thick red corduroy. A square coffee table stood between the couch and the fireplace on the left wall, and the love seat faced the windows near the front door. The only rug on the floor sat under the table in front of the fireplace, and looked to be more of an Indian blanket rather than a rug, but soft and comfortable. She found a few electrical improvements as she looked around as well. An outlet or two imbedded in the floor here and there with a phone jack and the alarm system mounted on the wall next to the door.

The kitchen was fully stocked with everything but perishables and the appliances looked very new. Everything bright, in white and yellow and cobalt blue with a beautiful skylight over the center island, which was just now casting shadows as the sun began to set.

Walking back through the living room to the hall brought her to the three bedrooms. The first and largest was the master suite with a deck that adjoined the one off the living room. Standard walk-in closet and the same scarlet and denim shades as the living room.

A huge quilt covered the bed in all the same colors and ecru covered cotton lace pillows. A cashmere throw was hung over the back of the huge blue-gray velvet wing back chair, which sat at an angle to the fireplace. A real sheepskin rug covered the floor in front and was partially hidden by the matching ottoman in front of the chair. The bathroom, she decided, had once been the fourth bedroom; it had to have been because it was gigantic.  It contained the laundry room area and a folding counter, with drawers at one end. The rest of the room had a double sink and a sit down vanity with a lighted mirror. Opposite that was a Jacuzzi tub with room enough for four. It had a window surrounding the tub that ran up to the ceiling with the same view to the rear as the bedroom and living room. The shower next to it had 6 shower heads and enough room to do her Tai Chi without touching the walls.  Yeah, this was going to be a great place to relax.

The first room across the hall was obviously Steph's study. The books lined every shelf on the wall except for the small window seat that looked out on the front yard.  The desk was old and costly.

The other room was a well appointed guest room, which shared the second bathroom with the study.

She quickly unpacked in the master suite and ran a quick eye through the kitchen cabinets. Going shopping now was a first priority. The problem was she had no idea where to go. She found the cordless phone on the small table at the side of the couch and dialed Stephanie at work.

"Stephanie Croft here."

"Hi Steph, it's me and I just got to your place. This is really nice, girl. No wonder you kept the secret to yourself. NOW, where can I find a place to buy some food?  I had a nice deputy lead me here after giving me a speeding ticket but I have no idea how to get anywhere else."

"AH! Eeek. I forgot to warn you about Bender Road, huh?"

"Eyeah. You did. It's a five hundred dollar fine Stephanie!" she paused. "Did you KNOW that Stephanie? Is getting a speeding ticket that's gonna cost me half a grand before I even get to unpack, conducive to stress relief and focusing my muse? Huh? Is it Steph?" Her voice had been becoming louder and more sarcastic as she spoke and by the end of the speech it was grating.

"I am really, really sorry. Tell you what. I'll split the cost with you, K?"

"What do you mean; split the cost? If you had warned me about it I would never have gotten it in the first place." Her voice was indignant and she was hoping that Stephanie would simply acquiesce to her indignity. Stepahnie was very bright however and she knew her author very well, so it came as no real surprise when Shasta heard her answer to that.

"I'll tell you what. You send me a copy of the ticket and if it says that you were going 55 or under when you got nailed, I'll pay for it all."


"Can't do it, can ya? So,m what was it? Seventy?" A pause. "Ninety?" her voice rose with that last word and realizing that she was caught, the writer finally answered.

"Seventy. OK." she sighed. "Ya got me."

"But of course, my little cabbage.  With you, life in the fast lane is more than an attitude, it's a lifestyle. Which brings me to the reason you're there."  Her voice lost the wry humor and the serious tone she took was a little unexpected. "I know it won't take you long to start fidgeting and looking for some excitement, but you really need to put a sock in it, Shas. You're way too scattered right now. I don't think you really know what you want and I'm fairly certain you have no idea about what you need. As a result, you've been dissipating your energy on everything and everybody, looking for sensation. That has to stop and you have to find that focus again. Walk. Read. Run. Nap. Window shop. Fish. Meditate. Just calm down a little, and then see where you're going. Cause girl, just between you and me, where you've been lately is ugly. "

She wanted to object. She wanted to deny it. She wanted to tell her that it wasn't as bad as all that, but she just couldn't find a plausible argument to back up her statement, so she let it go.

"Okay. I'll try. Anyway, I've got to get going and get some food in here. So how do I do that?"

She took down the directions to the nearest market. Get that. A market, not even a grocery store. Someplace called Bender's Food Emporium. If she had to put up with a month of MJB or Yuban because this little place didn't carry her Starbucks, she'd head home tomorrow. Let's not even talk about Ben and Jerry's!
Stephanie had also given her directions to the three 'eating establishments' in town that you couldn't drive through.

By the time she pulled on her leather jacket and figured out the alarm and lights for the place, night had truly fallen.

She found the "emporium" and blithely did her shopping, happily surprised that they not only had Starbucks and Ben and Jerry's, but Evian, imported Brie, out of season fresh fruits and veggies, and a nice selection of vintage wines in cases that left the temperature perfect as well. By the time she finished however, it was late and she was too tired to put them away and then cook something in an unfamiliar kitchen. She mused on that for minute. It wasn't yet 9:30 and she was tired. Back in L.A., she would just be starting her evening about now. Putting it down to the whole 'mountain air' thing, she checked out.

Girding her loins for the disappointment she was sure it was going to be, she pulled her Jag into the parking lot of The Raven's Nest.

According to Steph this was the prime local eatery.

Well, we'll see about that.

The parking lot was filled with a little of everything from a couple of big rigs in the back on the dirt flat behind the pavement, to several large motorcycles and everything in between. She found a spot in the nearly full lot near the back and made her way to the door.

As she was walking across the parking lot, she saw a door open in the back of the building as two customers left and started for their car.

Veering away from the street side of the restaurant she entered by the back door and found herself in the bar. The sound of Linda Ronstadt singing "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" made her fear for a moment that she entered a cowboy bar. She wouldn't want to do that. They didn't like her kind in those. She found that out the hard way the night she was arrested.

After a minute more to let her eyes adjust to the dimness of the room, she made her way to the bar and waited for the bartender to notice her. It was just a trifle damaging to her ego that he made no sign of knowing her celebrity status.  She was used to the hosts and bartenders at all of the trendiest clubs calling her by name and making way for her or having a seat reserved.

"Ah well, humility is supposed to be good for the soul."
She'd had no idea she actually said the words out loud and was taken aback to find a meaty hand covering hers where it rested on the bar.

"Ah Honey, you got nothing to humble about. I always say, if you've got it, flaunt it. And you've got it baby." The voice was slightly slurred and a bit hoarse. It belonged to a very large, very drunk, very rotund man in his late forties and it was getting closer to her ear all the time.

Ducking and spinning she neatly evaded the arm that tried to go around her waist and mumbling about how her table was ready now, she deftly moved toward the door she hoped would take her into the dining room.
"Ah, lucked out with one." She mumbled as she saw the man looking for her in the other direction.

She approached the cashier and asked if she could have a table. She was told it would be a couple of minutes and was asked to have a seat. She sat down in what passed for the waiting area and, grabbing a menu started to look it over.

Minutes later she was seated, a waitress was taking her order and serving her a cup of coffee that smelled like Juan Valdez made it himself.

The coffee, and the meal, for that matter, surprised her.  Having decided to try the trout, she resigned herself to tolerate it and found it was just about the best she'd ever eaten. The cream of asparagus soup was divine. The baby carrots, excellent and the blackberry pie was heaven. She paid the check and left a larger than usual tip for the fine service the waitress gave and headed back through the bar toward the door to the parking lot.

She took a deep breath of the clean mountain air and noticed the scent of the nearby trees. It felt good. She was well fed (always a good thing in her book) and the cool air and the quiet of the small town night were calming. She smiled to herself and lit a cigarette as she started walking to her car.

She'd completely forgotten the amorous drunk until she was halfway across the silent parking lot.


Chapter 3

"Two to one, over." The radio clicked and popped and Harley thought for the thousandth time this month how much they needed to replace this antiquated system with a new state of the art PB set. Just like all the other times, however, she realized the town's funds simply weren't there for it, and sighed.

"One here, Roger. Over." The deep voice responding was so familiar to her she didn't have to hear it clearly to know what was said. Which was a good thing because no one else would have been able to decipher the real words amidst all the static hissing and popping her radio gave off.

"Everything is quiet here; I'm going to take a seven at The Nest. You know what to do if you need me, over."

"Roger that. Bring me back the Special and some pie, please. Over."

She had to chuckle at that because she knew she now had leverage.
"Sure thing, IF you make sure to tape the game for me tomorrow. And no commercials this time. Swear it or go hungry, over."

The voice on the other end groaned and Harley knew she had made her point. The muffled curse was expected as well as the resigned answer.
"Deal. But it's gonna be my turn when baseball season starts, over and out!"

She keyed off her radio and smiled to herself. She knew she just ruined his day. He'd be up all night and not get to bed before nine and then he'd have to get up again at one to tape her football game. She hated having to scroll through commercials.
As she turned into the parking lot of the Raven's Nest, the officer gave a passing thought once again to buying one of the newer VCR's she heard about that you could program to automatically edit out the commercials. She had just turned around the building, looking for an empty spot when she saw them.


Shasta knew she wasn't completely defenseless here. She had been taking a class in Tae Bo for almost a year now and knew she was holding a lit cigarette that could be used a weapon handily. She knew the lumbering jerk that was coming at her was drunk as a skunk too. That helped.

What didn't help was that she had very little room to maneuver in the packed parking lot and the guy had ten inches on her as well as at least a hundred pounds.
Before she could reason what to do, he made a lunge for her. She fell back against an old Cadillac as he grabbed her upper arms in a tight grip and brought his mouth down toward her face.

"Jus hole still. You'll like it, you'll see, now come..."

Shasta brought her right foot up and then down again, hard, on the drunk's instep. It might have had a greater effect on him had she not been wearing running shoes and had he not been wearing steel toed work boots, but it was just enough to distract him and loosen his grip on one arm. She grabbed her opportunity when it presented itself and shoved the lit end of her cigarette into his neck and screamed "FIRE" at the top of her lungs. She just about broke his hold on her other arm and was leaning away from him when he took her down to the asphalt with a powerful blow to the left the side of face. She hit the ground hard and instinctively brought her right hand down to break her fall.

The pain shooting from her wrist took her breath away and before she could recover again to defend herself he was on top of her. His left arm lay heavily across her throat and his right hand covered her mouth hard enough to split her lip.

"Now you jus shut up. Just shut the fuck up or I'll break your ‘lil neck."

His eyes were squinted and unfocussed but the look of rage on his face was unmistakable. Quite ridiculously the writer thought to herself, Well, so much for a relaxing month in the mountains, before the fear kicked in big time and she started to sweat and whimper and pray.

His hand left her mouth, grabbed her right breast, and squeezed. Hard. If she had the breath to do it, she would have screamed, but as it was, all she could do was open her mouth and let the tears come silently. He shifted, and as his hand went to his belt buckle, she tried to bring her knee up to his crotch. She only got a few inches when the pain in her head was back with a vengeance as the slap left her ears ringing.

"Try it again and I'll fuck your corpse."

Opening her eyes as the pain receded, she thought she was dreaming.

Suddenly, standing over the man on top of her...straddling them both really, was ... salvation. She looked the same as she had earlier, but the deputy was now holding a gun to the side of the man's neck. She pulled the hammer back and it clicked audibly as it touched his skin. Her voice was amazingly quiet. Calm almost...  but threaded through it was an undercurrent of something so dangerous, so... palpably deadly that both Shasta and her attacker froze. The writer could feel the small hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stand straight up.

"This is the law. You have only two options here. You let go of her and follow my directions when I tell you to, or I pull this trigger. Are we clear about our choices?"

No vestige of the inebriation he had been under remained as his eyes shot wide open and he tried to speak. He succeeded only in whimpering and as he tried to work his mouth, the deputy pushed the barrel of the gun harder into his neck. At that point, he lost all bladder control.

Hearing the hiss of the urine hit the ground by her feet made the deputy smile. It was a hard small smile, but it was there nonetheless. The blonde hadn't been able to take her eyes off the woman towering over her and even in the frail light of the parking lot lamps she could see the edges of her mouth turn up and the flash of those perfect white teeth. She thought she was imagining it, but it appeared in the half light as though the woman's canines extended slightly more than her other teeth and the look on her face could only be construed as... as what, damn it Emily, you're a writer! What is that look? And why does it scare the shit right outta me?

"I see you've come to the right decision," she purred. "Good man. Now when I say, I want you to put both arms on the ground with you palms flat on the asphalt. Now do it." The man complied slowly and the shaking in his arms was evident to all of them. "Turn your head as far to the left as it will go and drop your chin to your shoulder." He did. "Now. Using your hands and the tips of your toes only, start crawling backwards until I tell you to stop."

How he managed it without collapsing was amazing. His arms were shaking so hard that his body was rocking back and forth.

As soon as he cleared the blonde's torso, she pulled her legs up and rolled over and over until the tire of the truck she was next to, stopped her. Then she just folded into a fetal position and closed her eyes.

Harley made him keep backing up until his toes touched the tires of her car and then had him lie down and turn his head away from her and fold his hands behind his head.

She opened her door and grabbed the radio and her cuffs off the console. Shoving the radio under her left arm and switching the gun to her left hand she flipped open one cuff and kneeled on the small of the man's back. He let out a quiet groan, but otherwise lay still. One handed, she locked the first cuff over the man's right wrist.

"Bring your left arm to the small of your back. Slowly." The ramifications of what would happen if he didn't obey weren't lost on the man. He complied and she finished cuffing him.

"Two to one, come in, over"

Static clipped back at her and she made out, "One here, over."

"J.D., meet me in the parking lot at the Nest. I've got a prisoner for you. Assault and attempted rape, and call Hobie and tell him I'll be bringing the victim by in a few. Over and out."

Replacing the radio and retrieving her keys, she backed to the trunk and opened it. She got out a blanket, her medical kit and a large cable tie and returned to kneel at the suspect's feet.

She crossed his legs at the ankles and attached the plastic leg restraint. Then she turned him over on his back.

She pointed the gun right between his eyes as she told him he was under arrest and read him his rights. When she asked if he understood them, he nodded. Very fast. Fast enough that she could see the sweat fly from his forehead.

"Now, I'm going over there to see what damage you did to the lady, and you're going to just lay here. Do we understand each other?"

He nodded again just as vigorously and she rolled him over on to his stomach again.

She gentled the hammer back on the big gun and slipped it into to the back of her waistband. Picking up the blanket and medical kit, she made her way to the blonde on the ground.

She made certain to make plenty of noise as she approached her and kneeled slowly near her head. Reaching out, the officer put a hand slowly to her shoulder as she called her name.

"Ms. Cutter? It's all right now. He won't hurt you anymore. I've taken care of it." Getting no response, she started to gently rub the young woman's shoulder with her thumb. "I'd like to take a look at your injuries if you'll let me." Still nothing. " If you could just rollover on your back for me?" She could see that her eyes were open and she seemed to be staring at the tire just inches from her face. The deputy saw the small amount of dried blood from her lip in the frail light the parking lamps afforded, and the pronounced swelling around her left eye. She really needed to reach her, somehow.

"Please Ms. Cutter. Let me help you. I promise, you're safe. I won't let him hurt you. I promise."

Shasta was lying there and just concentrating so hard for so long, it took a while to hear the voice. She was simply counting her breaths and concentrating on anything else but what she felt.

In and out. One, and she smelled the rubber in the tire and the dust in the parking lot. In and out. Two. She noticed the light shining from a bottle cap lying upside down near the other side of the truck. In and out. She heard bits and pieces of noise and words from the deputy while she was talking to him, but she kept trying to filter that out. If she tried hard enough she wouldn't think about it. Or feel the throbbing in her head and face. Or smell the urine on her pants. In and out.
"I promise you're safe. I won't let him hurt you. I promise."

She knew when she heard it, that it was true. She blinked and came back to the here and now. As she rolled over slowly onto to her back, she kept her arms locked across her chest, left arm over right and tried to find the eyes that belonged to that voice. The one that made her believe she was safe again, but the eyes were lost in the dark shadow of the deputy's hat and the feeble light of the parking lamps couldn't penetrate it.

Soft fingers gently lifted her chin and moved her face from side to side. She knew the officer was saying something to her; she just couldn't make sense of it. That's when she started to shake.

The face under her fingers was swollen and bruised and Harley could see that the dried blood had come from not only the split lip, but the inside of the mouth as well. Probably a cut on the inside of her cheek from the fat bastard’s fist. The thought made her mad and for just a moment she wasn't focusing on the victim then she felt the shaking begin and looked into those eyes beneath her. Huge, green eyes, filling with tears as they lost their focus and started to see things that were only in her head. She'd seen that look before.

Without even thinking about it, she slipped her arms under the blonde's shoulder and lifted her up to her chest. Holding her and rocking gently, she began to pet her hair like a child, and almost against her will she murmured over and over, "Shh. You're safe. You're safe. I've got you."

A little voice in the back of Harley’s mind kept shouting that this was not the way a professional behaves and that she's a total stranger and what-do-you-think-you're-doing. A voice in the front of her mind just kept saying adamantly, She needs this, and that's all that's important.

The arms around her were strong but held her gently and she felt so, so, very safe. It was a warm safe place, a good place. The tears started to slow and her breathing started to even out and finally, she knew she'd be okay.
She took in a deep breath and smelled the faintest trace of perfume and rubbed her non injured cheek on the soft cotton of the deputy's shirt before she pulled back.

"Thanks. I feel better." She started to bring her arms down from her chest and gasped. "Ahhh."

"Uh oh. I don't like the sound of that. Where does it hurt?"

Biting her lip to stop the moan she knew was aching to get out, Shasta just held her injured wrist in the other hand and brought it up to the deputy's eyes.

"Well, that's gonna take more to fix than I have in my kit. Let me help you up and we'll go see the Doc, okay?" She pulled the blanket out, wrapped it around the blonde's shoulders, and then lifted them both to their feet. Putting her arm on the young woman's waist, she started walking them to the car.
Just as they reached it, the Sheriff's car reached them and a tall, dark haired, man got out and quickly walked over.

"J.D., this is Ms. Cutter. I think she has a broken wrist among the other injuries that ... perpetrator" the sarcasm and disgust dripping from the voice in that word made both the victim and the Sheriff know that it was not her first choice of nouns, "inflicted on her. I'm taking her to Hobie. I'll call you from there."

"How do you do Ms. Cutter?" He inclined his head slightly and gave a small smile. "I'm so sorry you were hurt. This is not a usual thing to happen here and I'm real sorry it happened to you. Just stick with Harley and she'll take care of you."

"Thanks, Sheriff." She would have liked to say more, but she was beginning to really feel her wrist aching, and she was already being led to the passenger side of the deputy's car and gently lowered to the seat.

The Deputy ran quickly around the hood and got in. She started the powerful engine and made sure to buckle up her guest as well as herself. "Now you just keep a good hold on that arm and I'll get you to the Doc's in no time." She gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile to the woman and was reassured herself when she got a small one in return.

Great gods. Even bloody, swollen, and bruised, that is one very pretty woman. Harley thought, and then concentrated on the three minute drive to the doctor's office.
She had no idea she was grinning.

Chapter 4

The throbbing in her head was receding but the feeling of clarity was diminishing.  She was starting to hear things as if from a great distance and everything had a kind of an aura around it.  She knew it was the drugs. That last wonderful shot Doc Hobie gave her before she left.  He was so sweet, another very tall and very dark man with nice blue eyes.  His wife helped him to cast her wrist and she was nice too.  She was small, with short, dark red, hair and dimples.  He'd called her Kath and she supposed it was for Kathleen or Katherine and thought he probably introduced her, but the pain was so bad then, she didn't remember.

By the time they had arrived at the house, for that's what it was, a large older two-story home, converted to an office downstairs, the pain in her arm and head grew to meteoric proportions.

The worst pain she ever experienced until then was a sprained ankle in college.  That, by comparison, was nothing.  Harley helped her out of the car and nearly carried to the house, where the door was opened before they even hit the porch.  By then she had all she could do to keep from screaming and kept her eyes shut, trusting the deputy and the doctor to get her where she needed to go. 

The examining room was brightly lit and seemed awfully cold.  They laid her down and the doctor's wife covered her with a heated blanket as Harley and the doctor stepped outside.

It seemed like forever before he returned, but when he did he smiled and kept up a running conversation while he examined her, x-rayed her, and even set her wrist.

"Harley mentioned that the animal that did this to you had rape on his mind."  His voice was low and mellow and even though the words were abrupt, his manner made her comfortable enough to answer what she knew was a really a question in that statement.

"He never got that far.  He,.. if..." she cleared her throat and swallowed.  "If the Deputy"


"Yeah, Harley hadn't been there..."

"Well, that's good to know.  And she's real good at being there when you need her.  She's always been there for me.  Hell, she's always been there for all of us."  His smile just seemed to grow over his face and his wife did the same.

They finished with the cleaning up and Kath helped her to the X-ray machine while holding an ice pack on her head.  After the intensely painful first shot of anesthetic to her wrist, things started to get better, even if they did get fuzzier.  With the cast in place and the pain shot behind her, quite literally, she was carefully led out to the waiting room and the waiting arms of Deputy Harley.

It was the first time since she had met the officer that she had seen her eyes.

Gods, those eyes!

Like ice in a glacier.

Like Curaçao on the rocks.

Like nothing she'd ever seen before.

And she'd seen beautiful people.  Hell, just last week they surrounded her.  The celebrities, the artists, the designers, the ones everyone wanted to be with, or dress like or look like, but this was a whole other ball game.  She had to drive to this tiny town in the mountains to learn for a fact what, beautiful really was.
She knew she was feeling the effects of the drug and that may have impaired her vision, but she was pretty sure she'd feel the same way tomorrow.
The warm tan and the bone structure, proud and regal, and the lips; full and perfect.  And those eyes.

For just a few seconds she couldn't breathe and her steps faltered.  Kath and Doc Hobie caught her up thinking she was going to faint and then Harley was there too.  Almost as if Harley knew that she would react to her that way.

Maybe she did.  She wouldn't be surprised to know that everyone had that reaction to Harley at first sight.

She was glad for the excuse of the medication so she wouldn't have to make conversation.  Harley didn't seem to mind.  It seemed that 'quiet' was the natural state of being for her.

After covertly looking at the driver's profile for the sixth or seventh time, Shasta pulled her eyes once again to the front and took a deep breath hoping it would pull her together somewhat.

But, that's not what happened.

For some unknown reason that deep breath of cool mountain air put her firmly and unreservedly in The Happy Zone.

Harley heard the giggles start, but before she could open her mouth to ask what was so funny, her lips stretched almost of their own volition, and it was all she could do to keep from laughing aloud herself.

"What?  The snicker escaped without her permission. "Wh.. What are you laughing about?"

"Sss.," she couldn't help it, she was doubled over now.  On an intellectual level she knew it wasn't that funny, but the medication had her giddy.  "Soup."  She giggled again.  Trying to breathe and talk at the same time, she gasped. "I..I wa... was just thinking how good some... ha, ha, ha... some ice cream would taste and..."  she had to stop and try to breathe, "and I was so glad I bought some."

Still amused, but now very confused, the smiling deputy asked, "And that's funny, how?"

"It's..." holding her arm in the sling with one hand against her chest to stop the jiggling, "its in muh... my car.  At the restaurant." She stopped to wipe the tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. Another deep breathe and then another guffaw and she expelled the next in a rush.  "I wonder if you serve Cherry Garcia soup with croutons."

Harley laughed out loud at that.  She too took a breath. "Well, when Emeril and Wolfgang make it, its those tiny little marshmallows."

That did it for the writer, she just howled.  She was bent over and her face was turning a brilliant red as she fought to stop laughing long enough to get in some air.

The deputy couldn't stop grinning at the sounds coming from the blonde.  She waited until she heard that lovely laughter diminish and then offered, "Let me get you home and taken care of, and I'll get your car and groceries over."

"Um huh." Was the only response and within seconds, Shasta was sound asleep, lying with her head on her own knees.

Harley parked the car in the driveway and came around to open the door for her passenger.

"Ms. Cutter?"  The only sound was a very light snoring. She touched the young woman's shoulder and shook it gently. "Ms. Cutter?  We're home." Still nothing.

She crouched down and lifted the woman back up to a sitting position.  The watery green eyes opened but didn't focus.  "Ms. Cutter, we need to get you into the house.  Where are your keys?"   The blonde just fumbled at her jacket pocket.

Taking the hint, the deputy rooted around in one, then the others, until she found the keys, and then unbuckled Shasta from her seat belt.  She lifted the woman under her arms and drew her out.  As soon as Shasta was vertical, she started to sit down again.

"Oh no, not here.  Come on lets get you to bed."  With that, she bent and lifted the woman into her arms.

"Cant.  Don't even know your last name."  The words were mumbled but discernable.  "Never go to bed if I don't know their last name. S'a rule."

The deputy just smiled at that and kept walking.

"But you smell really good," she let out a tiny sigh, "and you're all nice and warmish. And you have those eyes."

"Uh huh." She answered absently.  "Really good drugs, Hobie," she observed.

They reached the porch and the deputy unlocked the door and carried her inside, walking immediately to the alarm panel.  Without a word, she punched in a code and the lights changed color.

"Hey," came the drowsy response. "How'd you ...you know...how?"

"Shh, it's all right.  I'm the Law, remember?"

"Yeah, but..."  Her brows furrowed and she knew something was wrong with this picture; she just couldn't seem to grasp what it was.

"It’s okay.  Let's just get you to bed."

She carried the injured woman into the master bedroom and set her feet on the floor.  Still holding her up, Harley carefully removed the jacket from the one arm that wore it, and then threw back the covers of the bed and sat her down, easing the woman back.  The deputy lifted Shasta's feet, one at a time, and removed her shoes.
Then she was stuck.

Her common sense told her just to cover her up and leave her.

Her instincts as a woman told her she should help the injured woman to rest more comfortably.

But that meant undressing her.


"Ms. Cutter?" Nothing

"Ms Cutter," louder this time.

The pale green eyes opened part way.

"Do you want me to help you get undressed?  I know you won't be comfortable sleeping in that." She pointed to her tight button fly jeans.

"Oh.  Yeah."  The blonde made a vague attempt to unbutton her jeans one handed and the deputy stopped her.

"Here, I'll get that.  Is there something you would like to sleep in?" No answer; the eyes were closed again.  "Where can I find it?"  Now the only response was that small snore.

"Ohhhkaaay, I'm on my own here."

After a quick perusal of the drawers, she found what looked like an oversized cotton T-shirt with long sleeves and decided that would do.  She went back to the bed and started with her socks.  Then her pants.

Goddess, I hope she wears underwear.  Her wish was granted when just below the very tight tummy, she saw the beginnings of a peach silk bikini panty.  She swiftly disposed of the pants and leaned up to remove the short sleeved peach T-shirt.  She got the left arm out and had to sit for a minute to figure out how to get the other arm and her head free.  She bunched up the shirt and carefully lifted it over her head, and then slid it the rest of the way down her other arm until the sling stopped her.  "Well," she mused "let's just have to do this once."

She rolled the woman onto her left side, unsnapped the sling, and gently removed it.  Her attraction to the woman got the better of her and she sat back on her heels, and for the first time really looked at the body next to her.

The strawberry blonde hair fell in strands across her left cheek and her mouth was slightly open.  The spreading bruise and the swollen tissue around her eye made her wince.  It made her mad too.
Long lashes made shadows on her cheeks and her lips were a pale pink, the lower lip cut and slightly distended.  The muscles in her shoulders and stomach were pronounced.  You don't get a body like that from good genes.  That takes work. She smiled at that.  Harley always admired people who took care of themselves and this girl surely did that.
The soft, upper swell of her breasts spilled out of the top of the scalloped lace edges of the bra cups. It too, was in a soft peach and the whole effect of the pastel colors against the pale skin was sweet and sensuous at the same time.

Alrighty then! That same voice that annoyed her in the parking lot was back with a vengeance.  This is most assuredly NOT professional behavior.  If she should wake up and find you staring at her, you could be in big trouble!

She knew it was true and beyond that, sitting here admiring this lovely stranger wasn't going to get her anything but heartache. I have no idea if she even... and most importantly, she's a "tourist"  No matter what, in a few weeks she's outta here and back to her big city life, and I'm not leaving, so...'  She sighed heartily and with determination, she put it out of her mind.

Her resolve strengthened, she took one last lingering appreciative look and leaned over and unsnapped her bra.  Keeping her eyes as far away from those breasts as she could, she slipped it and the T-shirt off her right arm.  She brought up the sleep shirt, rolled up the sleeve, and stretched the cuff as far as it would go.  She slipped it over the cast and started to bring it up her arm when the back of her hand accidentally brushed the blonde’s nipple.

Shasta jerked and 'hmmed' and then a tiny smile slid over her face.  Harley couldn't help but smile back.  That is until she noticed the bruising on the woman's breast. "That filthy son of a bitch! You and I are gonna talk." She mumbled.

She finished with the left arm and then lifted the young woman's head and right arm, pulling the shirt over and down. She then carefully covered the cast with the sling and snapped it closed.  Harley rolled the girl onto her back and brushed her hair from her face.  Sighing a bit, she lifted the covers over her and turned off the light.  She went to the bathroom and turned on the night light there, not wanting the woman to wake in the night and fall down trying to find it in the dark. Closing the door behind her, the deputy made her way to the phone and dialed.

"Hi, ya.

Yeah I'm fine and she's okay.  Hobie said it was a broken wrist, cuts and bruises.  She's gonna be hurting tomorrow, big time though. That's why I'm calling. Could I talk you into coming by in the morning and helping her out a bit? It’s her right arm and she's going to need help getting dressed and all.  I think she'd feel better about it if it were you, ya know?

Great!  Also, got anyone there who can follow me back in my car from the Nest?  I've got to get her car home and unpack her groceries."

She smiled a little remembering their conversation in the car.  "Evidently she has some Ben and Jerry's in there that morphed into soup.

Yeah, that'll be great.  See ya in a few."

She grabbed the writer's key, re-set the alarm, and left.


She was thirsty.  ...So thirsty.  Her head hurt and Oh my god her arm.  She hadn't even opened her eyes yet and the throbbing almost made her scream.  She moaned and held her arm as close to her as she could, wishing she wasn't alone.

Rolling onto her left side, she sat up slowly and moaned again. "Oh god, oh god, oh god. It hurts.  Shit it hurts."

"I know it does, honey.  Here take this."

The writer, the professional observer, took over instantly.  The woman looked to be in her early forties.  Taller than Shasta was by a few inches, she had a pile of dark hair done in a beautiful chignon with a few soft tendrils sliding around her face.  The eyes were blue and the smile was warm. Disregarding all she had been taught about taking things from strangers, Shasta found herself swallowing the pill she was given and drinking the juice in the glass.
She handed the empty glass back as the woman continued.

"I'm Twyla.  Harley asked me to come by this morning and help you out a little. Now, do you think you'd like to get dressed first or eat?  I've got sausage, hash browns and a Western omelet, all warm for you." The smile got bigger.

It took less than a nanosecond for her to decide to let go of that 'I've been on my own since I was fifteen and I can take care of myself' attitude and agree that breakfast first was a fine idea.  She had no idea why she felt she could trust this woman, this total stranger, as she did.  But, that she did, there was no doubt.
Maybe it was the fact that Harley trusted her. Then the memory of last night kicked in.
She was suddenly conscious of what she was or rather, of what she was not wearing and a slow blush began to burn its way up her neck.

She cleared her throat self-consciously.  "Yeah, uhm, breakfast sounds great."

She started to rise and Twyla picked up the robe she’d tossed on the end of the bed earlier, helping her into it.

Staying close enough to catch her if she should start to sway, she walked with the girl into the kitchen.

"Now, I'll tell you all about Bramble and the varied and sundry wildlife that make up our eclectic little population, and you can tell me all about yourself while we eat."

The smells from the kitchen were fabulous and the aroma of the excellent Kona blend Starbucks coffee the wonderful woman set down in front of her, nearly made her swoon.

She was sure this wasn't going to be such a bad morning after all. She sipped her coffee, smiled, and nodded as she began to eat, and the very pretty and funny woman sitting across from her started to expose the inhabitants of the small town, foibles, and all.


Chapter 5

The breakfast was exceptional and the company even more so.  According to Twyla, "Honey, I've lived here for over thirty years and I know all there is to know about everyone within a twenty mile radius.  I can even tell you the brand of deodorant they use... or don't...  and who to avoid on hot days because of it."

They got to a first name basis very quickly and Shasta had to reveal her real name.

"Now I know about how people give odd names to their kids and all, but I'm willing to bet money that Shasta isn't the name you were given at birth, am I right?"

Chagrined, the writer nodded and took a breath.  "I was always kind of hyper active when I was a kid. I was pretty bossy too.  At least I always bossed my sister around. I did everything early.  Talked, walked, whatever.  I was kind of a ..." she cleared her throat and looked down at her cup, clearly uncomfortable, "a prodigy, I guess.  Anyway, for reasons only my subconscious understands, I always seemed to talk to my sister in the third person.  As a result, I was forever saying things to her like, 'She has to play with me, now,' or 'She has to take a nap with me'.  Oddly enough, I could usually remember to be polite about it and add Please and Thank You, but I was such a motor mouth, as Leslie calls it, when I was little, that the words kind of ran together and sounded like 'shehasta'.  The family thought it was cute for some reason and started to refer to me by the phrase and it evolved into Shasta.

When I submitted my first manuscript to Plume Publications, they accepted it right away, but the advertising editor thought my real name."

"Which is?"

"Oh, yeah.  Emily.  Anyway, he thought it sounded too old fashioned and since they were planning to try to hock me to the public as the modern day Agatha Christie, they wanted something younger and more memorable.  He called my dorm to ask me about it, but I was out and my sister was in.  When he told her what he wanted me for, she gave him the info and he ran with it.  The rest is literary history."

"Well, at least you weren't named after a lawn mower.  My..  " The ringing of the telephone interrupted her.  "Let me get that for you."


"Well hello, honey, how are you doing?"

"Yep, it’s me. Your friend is right here. She just had a little accident last night and I'm here to help her out a bit.  Here ya go."

Handing the phone to the young woman she said, "Its Stephanie, for you."

"Steph?  Hi ya."

"Hi ya, yourself.  I was just calling to see if you got everything settled in and found your way around."

"Yeah, I did.  Thanks."

"So what is this that Twyla tells me about an accident?"

"Well, I went out last night and ended up trying that restaurant you recommended..  "

"The Ravens Nest?"


"Great, so how did you like it?"

"Oh wow, the food was just fabulous.  Who would have thought I could find food that good in such a small place."

"Well, you know the owner is the only woman chef ever to have worked at Maxim's in Paris.  She was trained and taught at some of the finest culinary arts schools in Milan, Florence, Paris and New York."

"No kidding!"

"Oh, yeah.  As a matter of fact she's standing there listening to you talk to me right now."  Even through the phone, Shasta could tell Stephanie was smiling at her.

The writer didn't know if she should feel embarrassed or stupid as she looked to the woman whose back was to her, busily cleaning up their breakfast dishes.

Clearing her throat, she continued, "Thanks for telling me.  I feel like an idiot now."

"Don't.  Twyla is one of the kindest and most unpretentious people you will ever meet." Before the blonde could break in, she went on.  "Now, tell me about this accident."

"Ah..." She knew if she told her everything, she’d get one of two reactions.  The first being an ‘I told you so’ from her publisher who was convinced that she couldn't go a day without getting herself into the middle of some kind of problem, and the second was an overreaction and the command to get back to L.A., where she could get some help with her injuries. She didn't want to go. The publishing house was notorious for taking special care and precautions with their best selling authors, and Shasta was their top money producer.  She knew she would have to hedge a little bit with this explanation.

"I... I got mugged in the parking lot."  She hoped that would be enough.

"You got what?" She could tell that Steph wasn't buying it all the way by the skepticism in her voice. "Details, please."

"I went to the restaurant and passed the bar.  There was a drunk there who tried to pick me up, but I skipped into the dining room and forgot about him.  Evidently, he didn't like the rejection and saw me coming out later.  I guess his feelings were hurt and he kind of... you know, got mad and hit me." She was trying really hard to sound calm and believable about it, but she knew it was a lost cause when she heard the woman's tone.

"Okay, we'll try this again.  What happened, and what aren't you telling me, and how are you? All of it.  In detail.  And this time the unvarnished, unsullied, un-fabricated truth." Stephanie let go a long sigh.  "You are now and have been as long as I've known you, the WORST liar in the world.  Don't even attempt it. Even if it isn't an outright lie, you know I can always tell when you're trying to not tell me something. I'm a busy woman Em.  Just the facts please."

She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, sucking in along breath.  She knew she'd never get away with it.  She never had.  Everyone knew.  She was never able to get out of a date with a simple’ I'm sorry, I have plans’ like her friends did.  And, the worst of them all had been Stephanie.  She was like some godsdamned sort of bloodhound, the way she could just smell it whenever she wasn't being completely forthright. 

In addition, unlike her more polite friends or relatives, she never let it go.  Shasta had started to understand that this inability to hide any part of herself, like everyone else, could be part of the reason she turned to writing fiction.  After all, they were just made up stories.  She was, in actuality, telling lies and tall tales about people she never met, doing things she wished she had done. That the stories seemed to sell so well let her know that they were at least believable.  No, the problem lay in her delivery.  Something about her face and tone of voice when she said anything untrue just gave her away.

Knowing it was useless to try to avoid it she summoned all of her sophomore year journalism class know-how and related the 'who, what, why, where, when and how' of the incident last night.

"...so I've got a few bruises on my face and my ...chest, a swollen eye and a broken wrist.  If I were you, I wouldn't expect me to meet my deadline on time.  Right now just wiggling my fingers hurts like crazy."

"Oh, Honey, I'm so sorry.  You just forget the deadline issue and get well.  Hell, one of the reasons you’re there is to relax and get a little more focused.  Take some time to heal and unwind.  The area is beautiful.  Take some walks, take some naps, go shopping, and meet the people out there.  A finer and friendlier little town, you'll never find.  And listen, I'll be up to see you this weekend to see how you're doing.  You just let Twyla take care of you for a while and if you need anything before I get up there, you know you can call me.  I'm here for you 24-7, do you understand?"

The smile on her face was evident in her voice when she replied. "Oh Steph, you are such a sweetie, but really, I'll be fine.  You don't have to make a special trip up here."

"Nonsense, I was going to surprise you any way.  But now, I have an idea and I think you'll like it.  I can't tell you about it, I'll have to show you.  Besides, I love it there.  I'll bet you didn't know that I grew up in that house, did you?"

"Wow.  That must have been great.  You can tell me all about it when you get here."

"I will, I promise.  Now let me speak to A..  Twyla again."  Stephanie held her breath, hoping the very observant writer would let her get away with her inadvertent slip.

"Okaaay." Steph heard the tone and knew she had a split second to get the writer off the phone before the inquisition began, so she interrupted.

"Listen, I've got another call so I'm kind of in a hurry here..."

"All right.  Bye Steph.  Here's Twyla."  She handed the phone over to the woman who had just resumed her seat at the table and watched her closely.

"Hi, dear."

The older woman seemed to listen for a few minutes then responded.  "You know I will.  Can't wait to see you too.  Bye, Honey."

Just as Shasta opened her mouth to speak, Twyla said abruptly. "My, the time goes by so fast when you're with good company.  We're expected over at the Sheriff's station in less than an hour so why don't I help you get cleaned up and dressed and then we'll get going."  She stood and pushed the chair in, then came around to help the writer up. She led the injured woman to the bedroom, all the while keeping up a running stream of conversation, picking up where they left off before the phone call.

"As I was saying, my husband now.  He had the most awful habit of naming our kids after whatever thing in his life was giving him the most joy at the time.  That was his only stipulation, you see.  I wanted a lot of children and he was more than willing to oblige, as long as he got to name them.  As a result I have children named after the darndest things..."

The little blonde was so entranced by the whole conversation, she simply forgot what it was she wanted to ask the charming older lady about, and before she knew it, they were pulling into the lot of the Sheriff's station.

"...the last one he named after the boat he just bought. To this day, I don't know how those kids ever got through school without killing one of the kids that teased them about their names.  Oh, they most assuredly had plenty of black eyes and bruises and I was called to come in and get them whenever the teachers witnessed the fight, but I can only be grateful that we never had to pay for any broken bones. Well," she paused and thought for minute, staring out the windshield, "except for that one time.  Of course, that had nothing to do with name calling.  Nope, different matter altogether."
The writer saw the woman's jaw clench and just a hint of remembered anger in her eyes.  The fierceness of it scared her a little and she was sure, right then and there, she never wanted this woman mad at her.

"Well, here we are young one.  Let me just help you out."
Matching the deed to the words, Shasta found herself entering the Sheriff's office.

It wasn't a large place.  The front counter was waist high and sitting behind it was a tall, dark haired man sitting at a desk, working on a laptop. As the door closed behind them, he looked up.

"Hi, Mom." He pushed himself away from the desk and using one hand to brace himself, jumped lightly over the counter.  He kissed the smiling older woman on the cheek and then turned to the writer.

"You must be Ms Cutter. I'm Cole and on behalf of the residents of Bramble, I really want to apologize for what happened to you last night.  Why don't you come on over here and sit down and I'll let the Sheriff know you're here."  He led her around the counter to a chair next to the desk he had been sitting behind and asked her if she wanted anything to drink.

"Well, I'll leave you in Coleman's hands and be back by your house later this afternoon to bring you some dinner.  Anything in particular you don't like or can't eat?" Twyla had leaned down and had her hand on the woman's shoulder.  The look on her face was so concerned that Shasta couldn't help but be touched by it.

"Nope. Not allergic to anything that I know of. I've never been partial to lima beans, but that's about all.  But listen, you don't have to go out of your way for me like this.  I'm sure I can manage a frozen pizza or a can of soup. Steph told me that it was your restaurant I had that great dinner in last night and I know that must take a lot of time to manage.  I'll be fine."

"Uh oh.  You've done it now, Ms. Cutter.  We never say the P word around Momma."

"Listen to the boy Emily, he knows what he's talking about.  I do NOT allow the people I care about to make do with frozen pizza!  Now you just listen to me.  Your body has experienced a trauma and you need the right foods to heal.  I'll be back over to your place no later than five and you will eat a decent dinner, understood?"  The look leveled at the younger woman was stern and uncompromising but the underlying current of concern and kindness couldn't be brushed off by Emily's need to fend for herself.  Refusing this woman's hospitality would hurt her, she could tell.  It was the last thing she wanted to do to her new friend.

"Yes ma'am, I understand.  Thank you so much Twyla for everything, and I'll be looking forward to your company later tonight."  She smiled her biggest smile and reached her left hand over to pat the one resting on her shoulder.

The older woman gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze and smiled back.

"Good enough." Turning her attention to the deputy, she said. "Now, I'm headed into to the Nest so what do you and the sheriff want for lunch?"

Heading back to the desk from a small side table, he put down a tray with two cups of coffee, sugar and cream next to the little blonde. "I don't know.  Let me check."  He picked up the phone and punched a number.
"Hi, Mom and Ms. Cutter are here.  Mom's headed to the Nest and wants to know what we want for lunch."  There was a small pause.  "I know, but no matter what I say, the minute you ask for something I'll just change my mind and order that anyway."  He laughed a little at the response and then said. "Okay, will do."

Putting down the receiver he turned back and said, "Make it two Monte Cristo's with fries and of course whatever Ms. Cutter here will be having and I'll be by to pick them up at about one, okay?"

"No problem.  I know you just had breakfast a little while ago Emily so you get Coleman here to tell you what's on the menu around 12:30 and he can just call it in.  Now, I'm out of here.  Have a good day my dear and watch out for Ms. Cutter here."  She reached into her jacket and handed him a bottle of pills.  "Hobie says she's to get these every six hours for pain as needed and she should have something to eat with them and lots to drink."

With that, she turned and left as they all bid each other good byes.

Before the door closed completely and before Shasta could turn back around, she heard the door in front of her open and the Sheriff enter the room.

"Good morning, Ms. Cutter.  I hope you're feeling better today."

Instead of the tall dark haired J.D. she expected, she turned to the melodious voice and the stunning presence of the beautiful deputy from last night.  Except now she was wearing the Sheriff's badge.


Harley smiled and understood instantly why the look on that lovely face was so confused.

"It's a little complicated."  She extended her hand and offered it to help her up. "Why don't you come with me and I'll explain it in my office.  Then you can make your statement and I'll tell you what we found out about the man who attacked you. By that time, it should be time for lunch and after that I'll have Cole here, drive you back to your place."

That said, she helped her up, picked up the blonde’s coffee cup and led her into the office with the word Sheriff clearly delineated on the door.

The confused writer just nodded and followed along at her side.

Chapter 6


The voice was back. Now, remember let’s not get emotional and personal about this. You’re a professional. Just do your job.

"How are you feeling Ms. Cutter?"

Harley knew the minute she said the words that the tone in her voice and the look on her face had thrown ‘professional’ right out the window. Damn. Get a grip here, woman, she thought.

It was bad enough that she’d spent nearly every moment since she left her, thinking about her. And that had been a lot of moments.

Lying down on the couch to sleep here last night was a wasted effort. She’d just tossed and turned and…thought. About Shasta’s smile and her laughter, and how lovely she was, and how things might be different if she were to decide to stay. Then she realized that she was wandering into the realm of the absurd and finally got up to check on the trace she put out on the young woman’s attacker.

One James Bell, from Taos, New Mexico who, it turned out, was a suspect in two rapes and another attempted rape.

The slime was a truck driver who had traveled for years with his common law wife as he drove his route from Albuquerque to San Francisco, until a few months ago. Evidently, the lady had had enough of the road and him, met someone else, and took off on him in Barstow.

Shortly after that, he was fired for being drunk on the job and getting in fights. The consensus from the Albuquerque police was that after he started drinking heavily, he began to beat up his lady friend. She took as much as she could and then escaped, more than ran off. All the crimes committed, were reported on his old truck route. Since he owned the rig, seeing it in any of the truck stops never made anyone suspicious. But the description of him, and Harley’s report to them, made it fairly easy to put the puzzle together. Now she just had to let the blonde know in a way that she could handle.

Shasta was halfway down to the seat of the chair when the words came. It stopped her cold as she saw the look of deep concern and empathy, and something else on the beautiful face before her, followed instantly by a look of almost shock as the new Sheriff realized what she said. It made her smile. It warmed her and she wanted to…give back something for it. Somehow, she knew this slip wasn’t characteristic of the tall woman and felt the need to validate her unguarded moment.

"I’m… I’m doing okay." She smiled and nodded. "Thanks."

"Good to hear." The smile was returned full bore.

Taking her own seat behind the gray metal desk and stalling while she sipped her coffee, she looked up at the blonde and brought her eyes down to her cast.

"I know that must be hurting. I’ve had one of those myself, and the day after it happens it seems to hurt worse than the day of the injury. You are making sure to take the pain med’s Hobie gave you, right? We don’t need you suffering in silence here." Her smile became a grin and the writer chuckled.

"Not to worry. The last thing I am in this world is a martyr to suffering. Besides," she cocked her head and narrowed her eyes a little. "I haven’t had the chance. Seems someone, who shall remain nameless, phoned Twyla and I’ve had the benefit of my own nurse/cook/babysitter since I woke up today."

The Sheriff was about to apologize, Shasta could see it by the way the woman’s head dropped, and her eyes fell to find the bottom of her mug. "I’m… "

"No, don’t. I’m deeply grateful. The first thing on my mind when I woke up was that I was hurting and wished like anything that I wasn’t alone, and suddenly I wasn’t. She’s charming and I had a lovely time getting to know her." The smile got even bigger and she saw the relief show on the dark haired woman’s face as she returned the smile. "Thanks so much. I don’t know how I would have managed alone."

She cleared her throat. "No problem. She says being the mother of six and running the restaurant has given her all the qualifications she’ll ever need to be a triage nurse in a M.A.S.H unit." Her mouth quirked up on the side as she tried valiantly to keep the nearly ever-present grin off her face. She was glad nonetheless, to hear the tinkling laughter of the pretty lady in front of her.

"Anyway, this shouldn’t take too long." Her hand moved to a recorder on the side of her desk. "If you don’t mind I’ll just record your statement and then I’ll have Cole type it up later and you can sign it."

"No, that’ll be fine. Where should I start?" She took a deep breath and tried to stop the churning in her guts when she remembered last night.

"Just let me get some information down and then you tell me in your own words what happened. If I need to, I’ll ask a few questions and then it’s over." She put her finger on the record button and looked into her eyes. "Are you ready?"

Another deep breath. "Yeah, go ahead."

She punched the record button and began by stating today’s date and where they were. "Interview with the victim of the incident which occurred on September 30th in the parking lot of the Raven’s Nest restaurant." She looked up at Shasta and placed the microphone a little closer to her on the other side of the desk. "Please state your name and address, for the record."

"Shasta Cutter, 227 W. Santa Monica Boulevard, number 216, Santa Monica, California 92802."

"Is that you’re legal name, Ms. Cutter?" the sheriff interrupted.

"Hmmn, ah no. That would be Emily Anne Cutter." She swallowed again and looked a little sheepishly at the smirking woman across from her.

"I see." She nodded and the smirk got a bit larger as the Sheriff noticed her discomfort. Was it being caught using her pen name or is she really that pretentious. Nothing wrong with Emily. It suits her. She continued, "and is that a house or an apartment?"

"It’s a condominium."

"Okay." She knew it had nothing to do with the case and the question was out before she could think about it. It was purely her own curiosity being fed. A kind of need to picture the place that held this woman, in her own mind. The place she called her home. Coming back to herself, she continued. "Can you please describe to us the incident that happened last night in the parking lot of the Raven’s Nest."

Emily began, and putting her best journalism mindset on, she started with the encounter with the drunk in the bar leaving nothing out that she could remember, up to and including the sight of the deputy standing over them, rescuing her.

Her account of the incident was so clear and concise that the Sheriff found she had no questions for her and simply thanked her for her cooperation and ended the tape.

"End interview." She pushed the stop button and sat back in her chair.

"So, what happens now?"

"Well, the man who attacked you is wanted in several places for," she paused, "rape and attempted rape, as well as assault and kidnapping. I was contacted this morning by the DA’s office in Albuquerque and they requested extradition to try him there for the first rape. If it’s all right with you, I think that would be the best way to go. There is the other assault in Barstow and the last word is that the New Mexico and California DA’s would like a chance to work together on this one. He’ll be tried for all of his crimes, but since he actually," she paused again, "succeeded at raping these other women, they were hoping to get him first. I figure if you have no objection, that is what we would do." She stopped and watched the face of the writer carefully for any distress, and was glad to see her look almost relieved.

"I’m sure that would be for the best. I mean, I want to see him pay for his crimes, but, thanks to you, I was saved… the final indignity… and those other women weren’t. You do whatever you think is right." she said with finality. "As long as we can manage to keep this out of the papers and he is kept off the streets, I’m all for it."

"Good. You can rest assured that no one here will say a word to the press about this, and, I’ll make the arrangements for him to be picked up by the proper authorities." She leaned back in her chair and started to relax since the worst part of this was now over.

"Can I get you some more coffee?"

When the blonde nodded, she got up, retrieved both cups, and slid from the room to the outer office almost soundlessly.

Grateful for a moment to compose herself, the writer let her mind wander as her eyes took in the small office. Behind the desk on the wall was an eight by ten color picture of several people in uniform. She recognized Harley, Cole, and J.D. standing next to two other men. The dark haired good looks seemed to be shared by them all, and the one on the end seemed to be older than the rest as his temples showed just the beginning of some gray. She leaned forward and tried to read the badges, but it was too far away and the picture was too small for clarity of detail.

Besides the wanted posters on a clipboard hanging on the wall next to it and a large calendar with several items penciled onto some dates, the wall was bare. Under the picture was a long table with a fax machine, a CB radio, a computer printer and scanner, and a sheaf of copy paper. To her left was a window under which sat a small old couch and a battered coffee table. Sitting on it was a small TV with… KNOBS! Gods, when was the last time she saw one of those? Not a button in sight and to add to that, there was an antenna on top. ‘Rabbit ears’ she thought they were called. The wall to her right was filled with three different colored and aged filing cabinets.

The door opened and Cole stepped in with her cup, and the cream and sugar. Also on the tray was a plate with several scrumptious looking Danish pastries.

"Harley will be back in, in a minute. She had to see to the prisoner. I thought you’d be ready for a snack by now and since we’re sitting next door to the world’s best bakery, I thought I’d tempt you with a few of their finest creations." His smile was luminous and she could tell how proud he was of their little town by the tone of his voice. "You aren’t one of those little bits who never eat anything but rabbit food, are you?" He grinned at her.

"Not a chance! And thanks, these look and smell wonderful."

"Your welcome, enjoy." Then he was gone.

She just took her first bite of what turned out to a blackberry and cream cheese Danish, when the door opened and her gastronomical revelry was interrupted with an, "Oh, thank you, I think I will." The beautiful Sheriff grabbed a pastry and took a large bite.

"Don’t thank me. Cole brought them in," she said, smiling at the look of rapture that spread over the face of the officer sitting in front of her.

She finished chewing the overabundant mouthful and said "Oh no, I have to thank you. If I thank Cole I’ll make him think I’m beholden to him. He’ll lord it over me to get something out of me and that will never do."

"Lord it over you? He seems like such a nice man," she smiled.

"He’s not." She took another bite. "He’s Satan."

The blonde nearly spewed the coffee she was sipping all over the desk. Choking it down she said, "Are you talking about that genial, smiling man who just brought me coffee and pastries, and jumped up to kiss his mother when she came in?" She smiled at the determined look on the pretty brunette in front of her.

"The very same." She nodded her head sagely as though imparting some important information to the woman. "You mustn’t let his charming persona confuse you. He’s manipulative and sneaky and has a memory like an elephant. Never let him catch you doing something you wouldn’t want anyone to know about. He is not above blackmail OR extortion." She nodded her head once with great vigor and pronounced. "Satan."

That did it, along with the serious expression on the face of the Sheriff. She broke into hysterical laughter. That forced a small smile from the officer and she raised her voice to convince the woman she meant it.

"Now, Ms Cutter, don’t you be led astray by that butter-won’t-melt-in-my mouth appearance he uses. He’s a bulldog. He’ll get his teeth in you and before you know it you’ve agreed to help him paint his house just to keep his mouth shut."

Calming only a little, she managed to sputter out, "Is that what happened to you? Did you have to help him paint his house to keep your secret quiet?" She couldn’t help the giggle that came out when she imagined that powerful woman who towered over her last night, being cowed into manual labor by the charming man.

"THAT is only one of the things I’ve had to put up with, Ms. Cutter."

"Please, Shasta."

"If you wish. Shasta." Having finished her pastry, she leaned back in her chair with her coffee and smiled with just a hint of seduction. She knew it was a bad idea, but she was helpless to stop it. She deliberately lowered her voice to a sensuous growl. "But if you wouldn’t mind, I much prefer, Emily."

Shasta’s response to that tone was immediate and she could feel the snarky little prickle way down in her torso as her hormones reacted to it. It felt really good. Lowering her own tone of voice, she replied, "Not at all, Sheriff." Remembering now, she continued, "Speaking of which, just how did you come about this sudden promotion. Was the collaring of my attacker the one that put you over the point limit? Did you get it as some kind of prize for the biggest arrest or did J.D. suddenly retire in a fit of pique?"

"Ahhhh," She stretched her arms up over her head and leaned back a little more. "Well, it’s a… kind of complicated story."

The well fitting shirt pulled even tighter across the nicely endowed front of the raven-haired officer and the sight of it nearly knocked the thoughts out of Shasta’s head as she watched. She gathered her scattered meanderings and said, "Not to worry. Fortunately I’m a writer and those are the kind of stories we like the best, Sheriff."

"Harley. Please." She smiled brilliantly at the pretty woman and leaned forward to put the cup back on her desk. She was enjoying this conversation immensely. She also enjoyed the look on the blondes face as she had watched her stretching.

Trying her best to assume the same tone she heard from the officer she replied, "If you wish. Harley."

Lowering her head and peeking out at her from her lashes, the officer made her decision and said, "All right. I have to make my rounds just now. Would you care to take a walk with me. It’s only a few blocks. As you know, our town isn’t very big and I can explain it as we walk. Do you feel up to it?"

The tone at the end was at once, both teasing and compassionate.

"I’d love to." She stood up as the officer did.

Harley placed the hand held CB unit on her belt, ejected the tape from the machine, and grabbed her hat from the top of the filing cabinet as she walked past her and opened the door.

Walking through the outer office, she dropped the tape on the deputy’s desk and said, "Cole, I’m taking Ms. Cutter on rounds with me. Gonna show her a bit of Bramble. Call me if you need me."

He looked up from his computer and said, "Will do." Then he smiled. "Say, did you like the pastries?"

Emily noticed he didn’t address this question to either one of them however he did seem to be looking at Harley. As she was preparing to answer him, the Sheriff’s voice cut in.

"Ms. Cutter seemed to enjoy them very much."

When she didn’t add anything to that, she thought she could see his face fall just a tad. Yep there was definite disappointment there. Deciding to jump in and make the save, she replied. "Oh yes, Deputy, they were wonderful, thank you very much."

He swallowed and mumbled "Eh, your welcome." Then as if he just remembered he ought to, he smiled.

As the front door closed behind them, she turned to the Sheriff. "You know you could have at least told him thank you for his efforts on my behalf.

Shaking her head. "Oh, no. That would have been incriminating myself. He might have inferred from that that I enjoyed them too and that would have been the beginning." She leaned into the smaller woman conspiratorially and said in a near whisper. "He’s been making noises about needing to re-finish his driveway." She shuddered theatrically and the small woman laughed again.

As if a string was attached to her in some way, the small woman’s laugh brought a huge smile to the Sheriff’s face. She knew it was showing and made a great effort to turn her face forward as they made their way down the street, passing the bakery.

Emily noted that the Sheriff placed herself between the street and her companion. ‘Hmn," she wondered. Is that chivalry or just the protectiveness that came from the job? She also noted that the woman changed clothes from last night. Now she wore beige jeans and a long sleeved, pale blue, turtleneck under her short-sleeved beige shirt. The badge, which read Sheriff, was still the lone adornment to the front of her shirt and there was no nametag. As yesterday, her hair was pulled up in back and clipped in so that its length was still indeterminable under her hat and the Ray Bans were back covering those amazing azure eyes. Her posture as she walked was impeccable and Shasta was pleasantly surprised by it. It had been her experience that very tall women tended to slouch. It always bothered her, because she always wanted to be tall. She knew if she were, she wouldn’t be caught dead slumping her shoulders. This woman walked with pride in her height and power in her step. She was one of the few people the writer had ever seen who seemed to fit the so often overused French phrase of ‘formidable’.

Realizing that she was starting to stare at the beauty beside her, she cleared her throat and asked. "Okay, so now that we’re here, tell me the story of your astonishing promotion to chief lawman of these parts."

Taking in a deep breath and puffing her cheeks out as she released it, the officer turned to her shorter companion and decided on the best way to launch into it. She figured that if she didn’t slip, she could get away with telling her almost all of the truth, without spilling everything.

"I guess the best way to do this is to start by introducing myself. " She stopped and offered her left hand to the woman. "I’m Harley Ravensdown. It’s nice to meet you Ms. Cutter." Taking the hand offered back and shaking it, she was surprised at the strength she felt from the small woman’s left hand.

"How do you do. Please call me Emily." She smiled up at the woman.

"Now, the significance of that introduction will have escaped you due to the fact that you have only met a few people here and since we all seem to be on a first name basis. However, to clarify. The Sheriff you met last night?" She looked at the woman to see if she remembered. When she shook her head in understanding, she continued. "To make his proper acquaintance you would have met John D. Ravensdown." She looked at the blonde and saw her eyebrow rise. She nearly continued with what she planned to say when she caught the briefest glance from the smaller woman at her left hand. Oh, I see. She smiled at the interest she was being given. It made her…hopeful. "My brother." She said in clarification. The small smile she got from that tidbit made her own a little brighter. "The strident but youthful bedtime manner you experienced belongs to my brother, Hobie. Dr. Ravensdown. The charming nurse and brilliant cook who cared for you this morning would be introduced as Twyla Ravensdown, my mother." Now the writer had a grin on her face and her eyebrow rose again. "Which makes the ever charming, but highly slippery deputy you met, my brother, Coleman Ravensdown."

The look on the blonde’s face was nothing less than precious. As she opened her mouth with the obvious questions Harley knew were coming, she hurriedly continued. "About four years ago our Sheriff, Bob Croft and his deputy, Frank Seltzer were killed in a car crash a few miles up the mountain." She gestured up towards the right. "As you can see," sweeping her hand around in front of her, "this is a very small town. We had the option of having our law enforcement needs met by an occasional drive through by the Santa Barbara Sheriff department or holding an election for the new Sheriff and deputy. No one wanted to run for the job. Everyone who lives here already has one. Either they work down below in Santa Barbara or they own their own business here, or work in one of the businesses. As a result, there was only one name on the ballot and for reasons you don’t need to know, that candidate was unacceptable to the people who live here.

However there were a number of write in votes and the upshot of that was that there was a five-way tie for the office. To get it all settled out, a town meeting was called and like the good folks that they are, the voters of the town made it known that no one else would do but the people the vote duly elected. The upshot of that was that we had five people with equal votes tied to be the Sheriff. Now, the down side to that could have been a very divisive thing for a small town such as this. If another vote was taken, it would have been identical to the first one, and nothing would have been resolved. Add to that, none of the elected really wanted the job. Now the upside to that was that all five of the elected, were members of the same family. Mine. My four brothers and myself. Now each of us has lived here for nearly our whole lives and we all had our own jobs to think about as well. My father and mother got us together and, as is usual when Mom and Dad decide to find a solution, they did. The solution they came up with was offered to the town at a town meeting and was passed unanimously. It’s been working for four years now and so far everything has gone without a hitch."

By this time they were down the street and passed several small businesses, and the tall woman pointed toward the diner they were approaching. She crossed in front of her and opened the door. "Let’s get something to drink." She led the writer to the counter and the waitress came over immediately. "Hi, Cindy, I’ll have coffee. What about you, Emily?"

The blonde sat on the stool to her right and said she’d have the same. The waitress smiled and turned to the pot behind her. She set down two mugs and poured them full. She then looked compassionately at Emily.

"I just want you to know, Ben and I are both so very sorry you were hurt last night. Is there anything we can do for you?"

Shasta was speechless. She just shook her head. The waitress patted her on the hand and said, "Well, if you think of anything, you be sure and let us know, okay?" Then, before the blonde could reply, she answered her bell as the chef placed her order up behind her.

Once again, before the little blonde could open her mouth to say anything, the Sheriff said, "It’s a really small town." Then, "Second door on the left, at the end of the counter."

The writer blushed and muttered a thank you as she got up and went to the restroom. How the officer knew that was what she was going to ask her, startled and embarrassed her, but she was grateful anyway.

When she returned to the counter, the Sheriff handed her the coffee in a Styrofoam cup and walked her to the door. As they exited, she finished her explanation, completely dismissing the subject of having noticed her pretty friend’s fidgeting.

"The solution was that we all take the position. Well, not all of us. Hobie, as the only doctor in town turned down the nomination and the rest of us worked out a schedule whereby we serve one month on as deputy followed by one month on as Sheriff. Yesterday, September thirtieth, I was the Deputy, but today, October first, I’m the Sheriff. This way, we can all manage our businesses with only a little assistance required and we can still protect the town. Usually the most illegal thing that happens around here is the occasional…" She suddenly remembered something and looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"What?" the blonde inquired.

"Uhm, the occasional belligerent speeder we run in for trying to take a punch at one of us when they get that ticket on the east end of Bender Road by the school."

The writer crinkled her nose at that and put a hand up to cover her mouth lightly as she cast her gaze to her feet. "Uh, yeah. I can see that." Clearing her throat, she changed the subject back to their earlier topic.

"So, is that all, you know, legal? I mean you guys sharing the position and all?"

"Sure. We had it entered into the town charter and we’ve all had a certain amount of training in law enforcement. Some more than others, but enough to know what we’re doing and protect the people here."

They continued to walk, crossing another street and ambling down the sidewalk. It was only then that Emily began to notice how often the name Ravensdown was listed on the buildings and businesses she passed. As they turned a corner, a charming old brick building with a beautiful mahogany door disclosed a brass nameplate with the name H. Ravensdown, Attorney At Law.

"That wouldn’t by any chance be another brother would it?" she asked.

"Nope." Was the single word answer.

Still pondering her new friend’s reticence, she was suddenly reminded of the information she’d received earlier. She stopped dead in her tracks and said, "Oh my Gods. She was talking about you!" Then, she once again burst into laughter. Her chest heaved so hard that she had to lean on the brick wall next to her to keep from falling down.

"What?" the bewildered Sheriff asked. And then, as it had happened before, she too began to laugh.


Chapter 7


It took several long moments to get herself back under control, and the minute Shasta opened her mouth she knew it was a wasted effort, for all she had to do was look at the dark haired woman in front of her and say the words, "You’re the motorcycle," and she was falling down laughing again.

She huffed in a little air and managed to say, "Then tha… that mean’s Cole is the pup tent." She took a few more breaths before she calmed and then she was at it again. "Oh my gods! That means J.D. is the lawn mower!" This time she lost it completely and could do nothing but slide helplessly down the wall, holding her stomach and laughing so hard, she was barely making a sound.

The Sheriff was torn between utter annoyance and abject embarrassment. It’s a damn good thing I got over that problem I had or she’d be sitting on the sidewalk for a whole other reason. She was still a little sensitive about anyone finding out the origin of her name. Hell, they had all been. There were a lot of adults, now living in Bramble, who had memories of black eyes and bruises as the result of picking on the Ravensdown kids and their names. The older she got, the more she was inclined to go along with the joke and forgive her parents for the absurd manner in which they were designated, but she had no business telling the whole story to her. Great Goddess, Mom just once, couldn’t you have kept it to yourself?

Of course, she had to admit that she was really enjoying the look of almost painful pleasure on the blonde’s face. The writer’s face was bright red and small tears were being squeezed out of the corners of her eyes. She’d seem to get herself together and then, whoosh, it would hit her all over again and then she’d be gasping for air and trying to still her breathing.

She was now rolling over on to her side.

It was at that point the officer decided to act. Summoning up as much reserve as she could muster, she leaned down to the hysterical writer and said. "Okay, that’s enough."

It worked.



Emily stopped laughing in mid laugh and sucked in a breath of air for what seemed like the first time in an hour.

Long enough for Harley to help her up to her feet.

Long enough for her to follow the Sheriff across the street and to the door of the Sheriff’s office.

And then the door opened and the pup-tent walked out.

Grabbing the once again hysterical woman, she slid past the open-mouthed Coleman and dragged her charge into her office, sitting her on the couch.

"I’ll be right back. DO try to calm down."

She wasn’t sure if she was heard until she saw the blonde nod her head up and down as she was leaving the room.

"Ahhhhhhh… That was great." Shasta exclaimed aloud to the empty room. "I haven’t laughed that hard in… ever!" she chuckled again, remembering the reason for it. Twyla had been so eloquent in her telling of it, she knew it must have been a story she repeated often, but her delivery was great. The deadpan way she just offered it up, kept Emily smiling all the way to the Sheriff’s office.



"Our first one was born just before we moved up here and we weren’t doing very well financially. Josh just got his real estate license and I started to work at a new little restaurant in Hollywood.

You would have thought the 60’s would have been a time of greater enlightenment, but most of the restaurants in L.A. were owned and run by the good old boys, so the ‘peace and love generation’ notwithstanding, not many people believed I was a five star chef, regardless of my diplomas and the letter from Maxim’s. Anyway, I’d just started to work when I found out I was pregnant.

About a month before the baby was due, Josh sold his first million dollar property and with the commission he went out and bought a plot of land he’d always wanted up in the mountains above Santa Barbara. He paid off the obstetrician’s bill in advance, bought the first few pieces of stock in a little company called Reebok and with what was left, he went out and bought the first color T.V. he ever owned. You see his folks were really poor and until he joined the service and moved off the farm, he had never even seen a color TV before. It was for him, an exceptional treat and he went on and on about how wonderful it was for days.

Well a few weeks later, I gave birth and according to our agreement, he named the child. His thinking was that this baby was giving him so much joy he always wanted to remember it. As a result, he named him Emerson, after the TV set in our living room.

By the time the next baby came, about a year later, we moved to Bramble and I was working at the diner in town. Josh was spending a good deal of time commuting between here and L.A. and doing fairly well. When he would get to spend a few days up here, he discovered the joy of camping, so when the next one was born he named it after the newest toy he acquired. A weather resistant tent that slept five people and had a sleeping area separated from the front of the tent.

Josh continued to do well and his unerring sense of what would sell, allowed him to make a veritable killing with the stocks he bought. By the third child the next year, he sunk a good deal of money into very shrewd real estate deals and started building our home on the land he bought that first year. Thinking ahead as he always does, he decided that the land around the house would have to be tamed to keep the kids safe and he ordered one of the very first ride-along lawn mowers they made. That became the name of the third child. I was not a bit happy with it, but a deal is a deal, sooooo...

The next child, the next year, was the first child born in our new home. By the time it arrived, Josh was doing well enough to have several people working for him. He also discovered the joy of networking and found that ‘schmoozing’ with the people he wanted to do business with, meant being where they are. Consequently, he learned the game of golf and found he was, in this, as in many other things, a natural at the game. By the time the fourth child was born, he had lowered his handicap to near professional standing and named his fourth child after his favorite set of clubs.

The next year and next child saw us living well and finally Josh could spend most of his time here and run his business through subordinates for the most part. With more leisure time on his hands, he found a new hobby and a new love. His newest acquisition was a beauty. A bright blue, fully chromed out, hog. He took to riding it every chance he could and as a result, the fifth was named after the bike. Naturally!

The last one came as before, the following year, and Josh’s business and investments were doing well enough that we took our first family vacation. We spent two weeks on the beautiful island of Maui and Josh fell in deep lust with the first Catamaran he ever saw up close. After that first ride, there was no stopping it. I went into labor a week after we got back home. The baby and the Catamaran he ordered arrived the same day. I decided that six children were enough and told him so. He said whatever I wanted was fine with him, that I was the one in charge, as always, and so, like the others, he named the last after the boat he just bought."



I really must need a rest not to have made the connection. It was so obvious. All those dark-haired, blue eyed people. I have no idea what has happened to that mind of mine. Where is the sharp kid who could think her way out of all of those plotlines I made up? She took a deep breath and realized that all that laughter left her feeling a little drained and, now that it stopped, she was aware of the increasing pain in her wrist. "Oh well", she said aloud, "it was worth it. That was just so much fun." Remembering it again, she began to giggle just as the door opened.

"Oh, come on. I thought you would be over it by now." Harley’s tone was only slightly serious and the tiny smile she wore, showed she bore her no ill will. She came over, sat on the couch next to the writer, and handed her a glass of water. "Here."

"I am over it. Mostly. Nearly." She sputtered out one last guffaw and said. "I’m really trying." She took the water and sipped as she calmed. "Thanks," she indicated the glass in her hand and sipped again.

"No problem. Now take this with it. I imagine your arm is probably starting to throb a bit." She handed her the pill and the blonde smiled at her with gratitude.

"Yeah. I only just now noticed it. Funny what you can forget when your lying on the sidewalk convulsing with laughter." She swallowed the pill while Harley continued.

"So it’s about lunch time. How about I bring you the menu and you choose what you’ll have. I’ll call it in and Cole can go get it. You need to eat with those pills or you’ll be asleep in no time."

"Sounds good to me."

After ruminating over the menu and keeping in mind how difficult it would be to eat some things with only her left hand, she decided on a bowl of chili with cheese and cornbread. The grin from the Sheriff told her she made a wise decision and the meal itself was wonderful.

Taking another bite of the fabulous chili and trying hard not to let the melted cheddar fall on to her chin, she felt the time was right for a distraction.

"So tell me. I think I have most of this figured out by now. The oldest is Emerson. He’s the one named after the television." The two dark heads she was dining with nodded. "Then came Coleman here. The tent." The tent in question nodded and an embarrassed smile lit up his face, as well as a mild blush. "Number three child would be J.D., which if I’m figuring this right has the John Deere riding lawnmower to thank for his name." Once again, they both nodded but Harley added, "Which is why we never call him, John. J.D. is fine and even Johnny D. but not John. Of all of us, I think he’s the most sensitive about his name. I mean, true it’s a boy toy and all, but the whole idea of being named after lawn care equipment can make a guy kind of…"

"Sensitive." Cole finished for her.

"Yeah." She agreed.

"I’ll keep that in mind. He’s way too big for me to tick off by saying the wrong thing." She smiled a little and saw the same smile given back by the Sheriff and her deputy.

"Now, here is where I get a little lost. Having only played Golf once and that with another woman, the only golf clubs I really know have a name are the ones she used and rented for me. Is it Davis?"

"Nope." The sheriff finished her sandwich and wiping her hands with her napkin, offered coffee. When the writer nodded, she filled her cup and began. "Davis, just for your information makes women’s clubs. Nope, Dad’s favorite brand then and now, are… Wilson."

"So when do I get to meet this member of the Ravensdown clan?" she asked as she popped the last bite of the crumbly buttered cornbread in her mouth.

Harley looked to Cole and he sensed her question by answering, "Not today. He’s with Dad and they won’t be home till Friday night." He turned to the writer. "Sorry. We’ll make sure you get to meet him and Dad this weekend." He caught a look from the Sheriff and quickly added, "That is, if you want to, I mean."

Emily’s brow furrowed just a tad and Harley knew her scowl had been noticed. "I’d love to. I can’t wait to meet him and the man responsible for all of you." Emily ended with a big smile and Harley took a relieved breath.

"Now, to resume. The next in line is our Sheriff here. Tell me you don’t have Davidson as a middle name!"

"Sorry. Dad was most insistent. But even that’s not as bad as poor Hobie." That remark got her a mild chuckle from the pup tent.

"Yeah, I mean I may be named for camping gear but at least he had the good sense to stop after Coleman. Try growing up as the youngest child with the handle Hobie Catamaran Ravensdown. That would put most people into several years of therapy, right there," he offered, and pushed the chair back to rest on its back legs. "How that kid managed to retain enough good sense and empathy to become a doctor is beyond me. Treating the same people who laughed at him when he was a kid… I dunno. Some of those jerks still piss, uh, sorry, tick me off." He smiled a little shamefacedly and nodded to the writer.

"Don’t worry about it." She said.

"Well, your problem isn’t that they pi, uh, ticked you off as a kid. You’re problem is people in general. You get along much better with your critters, and you always have."

The sheriff told him.


"Yeah. Cole here is the town Vet. He’s not much of a people person. Thankfully he fell in love with a kindred spirit and has two sons who feel the same way." She took a breath and pushed her own chair back on its hind legs. "Having dinner at their house can leave you with bites, scratches and enough pet hair to weave an afghan." She smiled affectionately at her brother. "Not to mention the fact that I have now learned more than I ever wanted to know about how horses digest their food." She gave a little shudder.

The deputy leaned forward and punched her in the arm. "Like hearing you talk about ‘writs of habeas corpus’ and ‘amicus curiae or res ipsa loqitur’ is a joy and a pleasure. How all that ugly, dry Latin drivel can come out of that pretty mouth still surprises me."

The blonde raised both eyebrows and before she could form the words, the sheriff said, "Yes, I’m THAT H. Ravensdown." She sighed a little, "I told you we all had businesses here when we were elected." She waved at her brother, "Cole here is the best, if ONLY, veterinarian in town. I’m a lawyer. J.D. is the Editor in Chief of the Bramble Bulletin."

"The best, if ONLY, paper in town." Her brother interrupted.

"True," she agreed with a smile. "Hobie, as you know, is the town doctor."

This time the blonde interrupted. "The best if only?"

"Yep," she agreed, smiling. "Emerson is principal of the High School, and Wilson, whom you will be meeting this weekend, works for my father and helps him run his business."

"And let us not forget the ever fascinating and always beautiful, Twyla, who owns and operates the Ravens Nest. The best, even if it’s not the only restaurant for fifty miles in any direction." Her son added, with obvious pride.

"Although that is true enough, we both know you would eat overdone oatmeal if someone else fixed it for you." Harley said.

"Ahhh." He pulled his hand over his heart and swayed on the chair. "I’m crushed. Revealed in all my weaknesses in front of an outsider. How could you do it? Mind you," he sat up straight and smiled, "I’m not denying it I’m just appalled you shared it with Ms. Cutter. I was doing my very best to impress her." Then he grinned and bowed from the waist at the writer, who was snickering at this behavior.

Before she could reply, the door opened and two police officers walked in.

The first one, a huge man of well over six feet was blonde with a very military haircut and looked to be in his late forties. He had a series of fine laugh lines around his eyes and deeply indented near his mouth and the tan spoke of one who spent a lot of time out of doors. The thundering voice coming out of his barrel chest made Emily jump, but the serious demeanor stopped the minute he finished speaking, replaced by a huge grin, showing off gold capped front teeth.

"What kind of discipline is this? Get up off your hind end there recruits and show a little respect for your elders!"

Harley and her brother nearly flew from their seats and with a cry of "Gunny." Both officers threw themselves at him.

Harley was a tad quicker and ended up being hoisted into his arms and spun madly while Cole just looked on with a huge grin. The minute she was put back down he gave her a huge bear hug accompanied by a deep growl. "Hey there, tiger. How’s my favorite girl?"

The Sheriff just slapped him on his stomach and said, "I dunno, just give me a minute and I’ll give her a call."

Before he could respond, the deputy broke in. "Ah, Murphy probably left him. She always had good sense and I suspect marrying him was just a temporary lapse."

For that remark, he got his own bear hug from the huge officer. "Truer words were never spoken boy, and I’m really grateful she hasn’t quite woken up to that idea yet."

The mood of familiarity and warmth surrounding these three warmed Emily even from a distance. She couldn’t stop smiling at their banter and the obvious affection they held for each other.

He seemed to remember something then. "Ah, my manners, my manners. If my lady saw me now she’d whack me up the side of the head." He turned to the man who came in with him. "Sheriff Ravensdown, let me introduce Lt. Brickman of the New Mexico state police. Lt. This is Sheriff Harley Ravensdown and her deputy, Coleman Ravensdown."

The younger man stepped forward and offered his hand to the woman. He was shorter than the huge bear of a man who stood next to him, but also blonde and very deeply tanned. He took off his hat the moment he entered and when the introductions were made offered his hand.

"It’s a pleasure, Sheriff."

"Lieutenant." She said as she shook his hand.

As he was greeting Cole, she continued. "I take it you’re here to transport our prisoner?"

"Yes ma’am. Captain Johnson here has the paperwork so whenever you’re ready, we’ll take him off your hands."

"Fair enough. Step on into my office."

Turning around she saw the writer watching them avidly. "Well, my manners seem to be no better Gunny, and you don’t want to know what my Momma would have to say about that. Gentlemen, please let me introduce Ms. Emily Cutter. Emily, this is Lt. Brickman of the New Mexico state police," she paused to allow the injured woman to acknowledge the man with a small left handed wave and a quiet "How do you do?" before she continued, "and this man- mountain is Captain Gregory "Gunny" Johnson of the California state police."

The huge man then squatted down until he was eye level with her and, extending his left hand to her said, "It’s very nice to meet you Ms. Cutter. I’m just sorry it had to be this way. I wanted to tell you now that I have the opportunity, that I’m a big fan of your work. I have every one of your books and, from a law enforcement stand point I have to tell you they’re right on."

The small blonde felt even smaller than normal but the deep voice and the warmth of his sincere compliment filled her and she liked him immediately. Shaking his huge hand as well as she could, she answered. "It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Captain .."

"Gunny," he interrupted.

"Gunny," she corrected with a smile. "Thank you so much for the kind words. If you leave me your name and address I’ll be happy to send you a copy of my next book just as soon as it’s finished, with a personal inscription if you like."

He just beamed. "I’d like that very much, Ms Cutter."

"All right, that’s enough flirting with the pretty woman, you old jarhead. Get going in there and let’s get this show on the road." Harley said as she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him upright.

"Woman, you impugn my dignity!" He offered in overdone pique.

"Riiiight." She said pushing him through the door ahead of her and turning back. "Emily this will only take a few minutes. If you like, I can have Cole drive you home." She tried very hard to keep any emotion out of her offer, but she wasn’t sure if she’d pulled it off.

The injured woman took less than a second to respond. "If you don’t mind, and if I’m not in your way, I’d like to stay. There is nothing I can do back at Steph’s place like this." She brought her sling up a little and paused just a moment before adding quietly. "And I’m really enjoying the company."

"No, that would be fine. No problem. Really. We’d love to have you." She realized she was kind of gushing and looked to her brother for help.

Cole caught on instantly and added. "Oh yeah, you’re much better company than that one," pointing at his sister. "All I get from her is abuse, and I won’t get to pay her back till May when I get to be Sheriff and she’s my deputy."

"Great. Then it’s all settled. You do what you need to do, and I’ll be right here learning all about you from your deputy." She grinned at the dark haired woman and her eyes twinkled.

"Fine." She said as she closed the door behind her.

So, she wants to find out about me, huh? Well that’s hopeful. Harley thought as she made her way to her desk.

So, she thinks I’m pretty, huh. Well that’s a good sign.

Emily thought as she watched the Sheriff’s door closing.


Chapter 8


Sitting on the old couch in the office, Shasta ruminated again on these intriguing and extraordinary people she had met here in Bramble. She was touched that Harley had asked her to wait in her office for her to return, and realized it was to spare her the sight of having to see her attacker as he was led out of the back of the jail. That thought made her think about Harley, to the exclusion of everything else.

Thoughtful, funny, she smiled at that when she remembered the whole ‘Satan’ conversation, smart, hell she must be she’s a lawyer, yet I know she can’t be too much older than I am. Strong. She had a vague memory of being carried into Steph’s house last night. At that thought, she had a wiggling little moment of disquiet. Something happened that surprised her and she wanted to remember it. She thought hard but it just wouldn’t come. She let out a breath she had unconsciously been holding and told herself that it would come to her. It always did. Her memory was like that. A ‘pit bull,’ her sister had called it. It got a hold of a thing and wouldn’t let go till she had it clear in her mind. Ah well, it’ll come. Now back to the Sheriff. Beautiful. There just wasn’t enough emphasis in that adjective. More than beautiful.

Gorgeous? Nah, she’d heard that used to describe Brad Pitt by too often. In her opinion, Pitt was "cute", but no more than that.

Lovely? No. Grace Kelly was lovely. Harley was just too dammed… sexy? Dangerous? Powerful?. to fit into ‘lovely.

Perfect. Damn, there was that word again. She really needed to find a new word for her. It fit so well, but she had always hated the unconditional and unqualified characteristics of words like ‘perfect and always and never’. But it seemed, where the dark-haired woman was concerned, she couldn’t find a more fitting description. She knew that the word itself was pretty subjective and that many people would tell her she was wrong. If red hair and violet eyes were what tickled your fancy, then you would disagree that Harley was perfect. That didn’t matter.


Soooo, until I find a better word, "perfect" will have to do.

Of course there were bound to be many people who agreed with her. Thinking that thought made her decidedly nervous. I wonder how many people here think the same way. She can’t be single if that‘s the case. Let’s put the evidence together. She’s smart, funny, strong, sexy, young and beautiful. She lives in a "really small town" as she had heard it described so often, and she does so by choice. Now, either she’s here because she wants to stay close to her family, plausible, but it can’t be the only reason, or she’s here because she’s living with her ‘significant other’ and they like it here, possible, and very discouraging or she’s here because… And there she was stuck.

A talented, beautiful, smart and funny woman with a law degree spends her life stuck in a tiny town in the mountains when she could be living the good life with a practice in Beverly Hills and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous. What’s wrong with this picture?

And like daylight it came to her. She saw the woman in her mind’s eye in the standard three-piece Chanel power suit, sitting down at a table for lunch at the Polo Lounge and she just couldn’t make the picture believable.

It was like trying to picture… Joey Buttafuco playing the romantic lead opposite Sharon Stone. Off. Wrong.

And just a little sick.

Nope. She was here because she wanted to be here. All the writer could do was pray that the little seduction play they had engaged in earlier in this office hadn’t been a tease and that the reason the woman remained living in Bramble wasn’t because she had more than family here.

Well, guess the only way to know for sure is to ask. Let’s see if I can get the Sheriff to open up about herself. My track record is pretty good.

Getting people to talk about themselves had always been fairly easy. She had found that most people, with few exceptions, thought that they were, far and away the most fascinating creature on the planet. A little interest, a little charm and a dose of patience were usually all it took to get them going.

Okay, Harley, I’m ready for you. Let me in, she thought, just as the door began to open and the object of her speculations stepped in.

"Hi, ya. All done." She said as she walked across the room and sat at her desk chair. And am I ever glad to get that slime out of my jail and off my hands. The near overwhelming urge to give him another taste of his own medicine had been very powerful. Many times since last night she had gotten up and gotten as far as her office door to do just that, when she caught herself and came to her senses.

There’s just something about bullies… but she knew it was more than that. It was the victim that had been on her mind each of those times. Well, at least I got him out of here and she didn’t have to see his ugly face again. That had given her a little satisfaction. Okay, that, and the fact that Gunny and Lt. Brickman had told her they had him nailed to the wall on the other charges. He wouldn’t see the light of day for years and years.

The self-satisfied smile the Sheriff was sporting intrigued the writer, but she felt it best to proceed with caution in her interrogation, so she didn’t mention it.

"So, tell me about growing up in the Ravensdown clan?" She shifted a little and brought her legs up onto the couch and curled them beneath her.

"Not much to tell really. With six of us it was a house full. Just the usual I guess, you know?" A tiny smirk was her only expression.

"Well then, tell me about the members of the family I haven’t met yet. Tell me about Emerson and Wilson."

The dark haired woman’s expression didn’t change but her mind worked hard and fast, nonetheless. This is a writer here. She’s not just asking polite interested questions to make conversation. Harley had been a lawyer long enough to be able to tell the difference between curiosity and interrogation. No. She’s hunting for something, alright. But is it for her work or is it…personal. She released a small sigh. Okay, let’s just see where this is going.

"Well, Emerson is, as I said, the Principal of the Bramble High School. It’s not very big but it does have one of the highest senior test scores per student in the state and has for eight years now. I think Emerson is responsible for a good deal of that. He’s really passionate about getting the kids to love to learn. According to him, that’s the key. He says, anyone can learn anything if they want to enough. You just have to get them to want to. I think he’s right."

She settled back a bit in her swivel chair and took a sip of her now cold coffee.

"I think I agree with him, too. So, he’s the oldest. I’m assuming he’s married?" The question was so casual as to have been dismissed by anyone else.

Harley wasn’t anyone else.

Okay, let’s see how long it takes to get to me. She turned her chair just a tad until she was looking directly at the woman curled on her couch as she answered.

"Oh yes, for years now. He and Martha have three kids, two boys and a girl. It’s only respectable to be married if you’re going to be a principal. Emerson says people wouldn’t trust him otherwise." She smiled wickedly and lifted both feet to rest on her desk, crossing them at the ankles and observed the interest in the green eyes across the room as she did.

It took the writer a good couple of seconds too long to get her next question out and drag her gaze from those long legs encased in that tight denim.

"A.. and uhm, Wilson? Does he live here too, or just come visit?" She really hoped she hadn’t sounded as lame as she thought she had. Returning to the tone she hoped would imply casual interest, "You mentioned he worked for your father but you didn’t say what he did specifically."

Interesting shade of pink on those cheeks. I bet she didn’t know she was licking her lips. Harley smiled inwardly and tried to think of how to prove her theory while still answering Emily’s questions.

"Scholastically, he has a Masters in business. Professionally, he’s the President of my Dad’s company and the heir to the throne, so to speak. Practically speaking, he’s my Dad’s right hand man and it’s his job to keep abreast of any and all new opportunities to expand the company or increase its profits." She decided that another long, slow stretch was in order and closed her eyes to slits to watch the blonde’s reaction. She didn’t have long to wait.

In almost perfect synchronicity, the writer herself took a very deep breath and held it as her eyes dropped from the Sheriff’s face to her chest. Her nostrils flared briefly and she swallowed, hard. She had to clear her throat to continue.

"That must be tough on his family. Being away so often, I mean, his wife and children?"

Oh, that was a smooth transition. Brava, little bard. You must have paid a lot of attention in those journalism classes in college. Assume the statement just needs to be confirmed and wait for the interviewee to deny it. Sharp, lady. But I know that look was not about my brother. Getting warmer, here. The interior smile was now a grin.

Bringing her arms back down to rest on the arms of her chair, she answered. "Oh yes, Wils has a lovely and very understanding wife and two sons. They stay very busy while he’s gone. Jeannette runs the best, if ONLY" she smiled as the writer said the words with her, "accounting service in town. And the boys are very active in student government and the scouts. Wils always makes sure to be home for the meetings and the campouts." She let the smile flow over her face a little as she thought, ‘Here it comes.’

The blonde didn’t disappoint. "And what about you?"

She’d opened her mouth to speak but before she could form the words, there was a brief knock at the door and then it opened.

"Excuse me, Ms. Cutter..." Cole said.

"Emily, please." She returned. She surprised herself with that. When Harley had told her she preferred Emily to Shasta, she’d been more than willing to let her use it. Mostly because she liked the way she had kind of breathed the word out. It felt sexy and intimate. Besides, it may have been only one more syllable but she wanted the woman to have more to say to her…about anything.

With Cole it had been immediate and unexpected. Like using her penname here was way too…shallow. For some reason, she wanted to be as real as possible with these people. Strange.

"Harley, Martha just e-mailed me. It looks like the Steven’s mare is in foal and I need to get down there for a while. You want me to call in J.D.? It could take several hours." A little line of worry etched across his forehead and he shifted from one foot to the other.

Harley smiled. Cole and his critters. He’d been like this all of his life. She couldn’t remember how many times he had been found in the tool shed fixing up some kind of animal that had been hurt. He was a very tender man and she loved him very much. This she knew was important to him. The Steven’s mare had already lost two foals and this was important to the small ranching family that owned her, as well.

"No, I’ll be fine. If it gets busy, I’ll give him a call. Just go and take care of Trixie. I hope this one works out for them." She said, sincerely.

"Thanks, I’ll let you know." He turned to the blonde. "It was a sincere pleasure to meet you, Emily. If you ever need anything you just let me know. Sally and I are in the book, and I’ll be here at the station for the next month. I really hope to see you again." He thought for a moment. "Maybe you’d like to come to have dinner with Sally and me one day this week. Don’t believe everything that my sister tells you about dinners at my house. I promise we’ll be civilized and we won’t talk about animal digestive tracks." He paused for a few seconds. "That’s saved for when Harley visits." The dark haired woman scowled at him, but he ignored her. He smiled winningly at the writer, and she was charmed once again.

"What a lovely offer. I’d be delighted Cole." She smiled back.

"Great. We’ll arrange it then. Bye now." He gave a little salute and was gone.

"Brat." The Sheriff said, and then turned to Emily.

"Well, since I’ve lost my deputy, I have to take on his job. It’s nearly time for the school to get out and then I need to make the drive-around. You could either accompany me or I can drop you at Steph’s." She colored just a bit. Shit, that wasn’t supposed to come out.

She spoke very fast now. "That is if you want to. I know you might be feeling bad and those pills you’re taking for pain have a tendency to make you sleepy. I’d be happy to do whatever you want. No pressure, here. Just want to be sociable." She broke into a huge smile and hoped it was enough to keep the writer from noticing the mention of the publishers name in so casual a manner.

It wasn’t. The writer did notice and she was about to remark on it when she saw how uncomfortable Harley seemed. For some reason she managed to put a lid on her curiosity and let the woman off the hook. For now.

"I’d love to join you. Maybe you can give me a little tour of the place. Your mother told me so much about the people here, I’m anxious to know more. Bramble really seems to have its share of characters, to hear your Mom tell it." She gave the woman her best smirk and tilted her head just a bit.

"Well, I’m not sure that wouldn’t be the case anywhere that people got to know everyone around them so well. You get to see all their quirks and curiosities when you live up close and personal like this. I may not have mentioned it before," She rose from the chair and grabbed her hat and her radio, then swept her arm toward the door. Emily took the hint and moved toward it. "But it’s a really small town."

The Sheriff opened the door for the woman and started to follow her into the outer office, when the blonde stopped suddenly and turned to her. They were only inches apart now.

Harley had to grab hold of the smaller woman’s shoulders to keep from slamming into her. As she did, Emily instantly lifted her left arm to the taller woman’s waist. She brought her head up to see those fabulous blue eyes up close for the first time.

"I…" She let out a small breath and felt the warmth of the strong hands on her shoulders and her breath on her cheek. She took in a breath to speak and was captivated by the scent of her perfume. Or was it her shampoo? Or maybe it was just her. She tried again.

"Excuse me. I’m ah, sorry." Her voice was very quiet. She expected that the Sheriff would take this opening and back off a step. She knew she should be doing just that but she couldn’t get her feet to move an inch. She kept glancing from the woman’s eyes, to her lips and then her breasts, which were right in line with her own mouth, and back again. Her head was screaming at her. Get out of her personal space, you idiot. This is NOT subtle. You are making a fool of yourself. But she just couldn’t move and she kept taking in little quick breaths of air, in cadence with her faster heartbeat.

Harley, for her part, was delighted, and frozen to the spot like a fly in amber. The air in front of her was filled with the smaller woman. She could tell the scent of her hair and the floral scent of her cologne and the warm, sweet breath of her mouth as she spoke. She said something and it took a moment for the words to register.

"No problem." She whispered. Emily’s breath was coming in shallow little pants, which she drew in with her mouth slightly open. Her chest rose and fell rapidly and her eyes would drift up and touch her own every few seconds. Each time it happened she felt a little lightheaded. The only movement she could make was to squeeze the shoulders she was holding onto. She knew she should move back, but she just couldn’t.

Her head screamed again at the writer. Either lean up and kiss her, or say something and move on. Almost unconsciously, her body leaned forward, just a touch, in readiness for that kiss. Then a sudden chilling sense of wrongness filled her. Not like this. Too fast. She’s different. She’s not one of them. Don’t blow it. With her, you’ll only get one chance to do it right. She halted her forward momentum in an instant and forced herself to speak.

"Do you," she had to clear her throat to remove the deep, raspy and obvious sounds of arousal. She began again.

"Do you," she let out a breath as she realized the beautiful face before her was lowering toward her and those wonderful eyes were locked on her lips. Then they stopped suddenly and slowly Harley straightened her head. "have an, uhn, a florist, uh, here in… town?" She swallowed hard.

Harley had fixated on her eyes. From the moment the blonde started the question she had been staring into them. They were… wow. Grass green and sparkly and she had the tiniest ring of golden brown surrounding her pupils. Her lids were half lowered and she started to lean toward her. Harley was sure they were about to kiss. And then she stopped.

Suddenly she felt flooded with disappointment and the acknowledgement of that surprised the crap out of her. She had never been one for brief affairs and she could count on one hand her past lovers. But most importantly, even if she were attracted to someone, as she was most assuredly to the blonde writer, it would never have occurred to her to kiss someone she had only known a day. It just wasn’t her style. But, holy gods and goddesses, she sure would have if Emily hadn’t pulled back. She had no clue what was going on here, but she did know she wanted it to continue going on. So she pulled back too.

"No problem." She repeated, and, as one they stepped away from each other. But not before they both took one more small chance.

As the sheriff stepped back she brought her right hand down to slide from Emily’s shoulder to her elbow with a very light touch, while her left hand snaked its way up the nape of her neck and brushed it gently.

As Emily stepped away her left hand drifted casually up from the sheriff’s waist and squeezed as her thumb slid in a half circle a breath beneath the officer’s right breast.

They both turned then and inhaled deeply, but neither noticed as they had both closed their eyes.


Chapter 9

The pair were quiet as they made their way to the patrol car where Harley helped Emily with her seat belt. They remained that way until they drove down Bender to a spot a few miles down the road, past the school, where the Sheriff pulled the car over.

"This is where we stay until after the school lets out and the kids clear the road," the Sheriff offered.

"So," the writer looked around at the beautiful countryside and the trees lining each side of the small two-lane road, "you must have been on my tail for about four miles before I pulled over." She smiled a little and blushed with remembrance.

"Yeah, about that. I don’t know what was on your mind, but you sure didn’t seem to be paying any attention to me, or my siren." She gave a very cute pout with that and lifted her eyebrows in question.

"Don’t take it personally. I just get a little pre-occupied in my thoughts once in a while. It’s a writer thing." She said, trying to dismiss it. She was more than a little embarrassed that she led the officer on that merry a chase, and that she might have put those children at risk if Harley hadn’t caught up with her.

Since that last touch they shared, Emily’s mind had been tumbling over itself. She was frankly amazed she’d been able to make coherent conversation. Her thoughts just jumped from here to there and back again. Seizing on one she said, "Isn’t Martha, Emerson’s wife?"

The Sheriff nodded. "Yeah."

"I guess I’m a little confused here. Why would Emerson’s wife Martha be e-mailing Cole about the mare going into foal? Does she live nearby?" Her brow furrowed. It just seemed so odd. Like THAT’S new around this place.

"Ahhhh. I can see how you might be confused here." She sucked in a deep breath and began. "Well, I can’t tell you precisely how it happened, but I can give you a fair approximation of what I think probably did." She turned a little in her seat and looked at the woman full on for the first time since that awkward moment in the office .She was glad she did. Boy, oh boy, this is a nice face to look at.

"I’ll bet that Martha heard it from Wesley, our mail carrier, and he heard it from Ellie, who’s the stop right before the elementary school where Martha works, and she heard it from her brother Peter, who likely heard it from Ruthie, who probably heard it from her best friend Sadie, who got it from Hank Stevens, Charlie Stevens oldest boy, who’s father told him that Trixie was ready to foal."

The city raised woman just sat there with her mouth open. The sheriff leaned forward and gently closed it for her.

"I imagine from Charlie’s mouth to Cole’s e-mail didn’t even take twenty minutes."

The blondes jaw fell open again. Yet again, the Sheriff closed it for her.

When all she got in response was a vapid stare, the Sheriff added. "You people in Tinsel Town think you know what a grapevine is. Dear, you have no clue." Her smile spread and her eyes sparkled as the writer tried to absorb what she Harley just told her.

She let out a big breath of air and started, "Okay, I get where Charlie would have told his son, but why and how would Hank have told Sadie?"

"The Rimshaws and the Stevens live next door to each other. Now, Carl Rimshaw, Sadie’s dad, doesn’t want his daughter to end up living on a small ranch in the hills, so he disapproves of her relationship with Hank, but Hank and Sadie don’t disapprove. So, they continue to see each other and will probably marry one day, even though Carl insisted that his girl get her Associates degree in business so that she could find a job down south. Sadie’s been dragging her feet since she graduated and took a job as the receptionist/secretary at Jeanette’s CPA office. Anyway, the only time she and Hank can see each other during the week is on Tuesdays and Thursdays when her Dad is down south for the afternoon to collect the receipts and do the paperwork on the other two gas stations he owns. Jeannette lets Sadie off so she can spend some time with Hank without aggravating her Dad. Chances are she showed up at the Steven’s place and that’s when Hank told her about Trixie."

"And Sadie told Ruthie?" the blonde inquired.

"Sure. Since Hank loves the ranch and plans to stay and run it when his Dad passes on, he wants to be in on the birth. That leaves Sadie with nothing to do, so she probably went home and called her best friend Ruthie Butler."

"And…" the anxious writer prodded her.

She knew she was aggravating her by not telling the whole thing, but she was really enjoying herself. After the little hand gesture Emily gave that clearly meant ‘get on with it’, the Sheriff gave in.

"And since it’s after two o’clock the rush hour at the diner where Ruthie works is over and she knew Ruthie would have a few minutes to talk. So Sadie called her and told her about Trixie and that she was probably free for the afternoon, since Hank would be otherwise occupied, and wanted to see if they could get together when she got off work." She stopped here deliberately to annoy the smaller woman and it seemed to be working splendidly. The writers face started turning red and she jumped a little in her seat as she nodded for her to continue and said. "And thennnnnn…"

"Oh, right." She couldn’t keep the smirk off he face this time as she continued. "Well, Peter Blister is the front desk manager at the Feed and Grain store. He takes his lunch late every day, so that he can cover the shift of the owner, Bob Beerly, who likes to go have lunch with his wife and family. Peter’s a widower and it doesn’t really matter to him when he eats lunch, but it does matter where. Every day for the last eighteen years since his wife died, he eats at the diner we went to yesterday. Always has the same thing too, so waiting on him is easy. The minute he walks through the door they start to make his BLT on wheat and pour his decaf. It’s more than likely that Ruthie passed on the information about Trixie just making conversation with one of her favorite customers," she finished.

"Which led tooooo…?" The color in the smaller woman’s cheeks was just adorable. She was really getting into this.

"Ellie Gravitz, Peters older sister. Now Ellie has a heart condition and since her husband died three years ago, most of the town has tried to persuade Ellie to either move in with someone or let someone move in with her. She won’t hear of it. Proud woman that she is, she refuses to admit that she can’t care for herself at the young age of 72. As a result, her only close relative, her brother Peter makes it a point to check in with her four times a day, before work, after lunch, after work and before Ellie’s bedtime at 8:30. It’s my best guess he told her about Trixie when he checked in on her after lunch at the diner. And before you ask, it is also my best guess that Ellie shared that with our mail carrier, Wesley Simms who gave the information to Martha as she is usually in the office at that time of day and takes care of the mail herself." There was a short pause while Emily tried to see it all in her head, and then Harley added. "Marvin Gaye had no idea how fast our grapevine runs."

The slow smile that began to blossom on the blondes face was like the sun coming out. The whole story was just enchanting. She felt as if she had fallen into an old episode of The Andy Griffith Show, only she hadn’t met Aunt Bea yet, but it was maybe just a little too… odd for that. Maybe Northern Exposure or Twin Peaks. This was GREAT! This just cried out to be written down, and she was just the one to do it.

When after a few silent minutes passed and the smile never left that pretty face, even though no words came forth, Harley’s curiosity got the better of her. She just loved this town and she really wanted Emily to love it too. The whole set of probable causes for the e-mail she had just described was one of the reasons. She just had to know how the girl felt about it.

"Emily?" she offered, quietly. She got no response. The blonde was still sitting there, smiling like crazy, and staring at nothing out the windshield.

"Emily." Louder this time and she put her hand on her shoulder.

The writer jerked a bit in surprise, but never lost her smile as she turned around to face her. "What?"

"I just had to know what put that smile on your face. What was it you were thinking so hard about?"

"This place. The town. Bramble. It’s…it’s just…it’s great! Don’t you think it’s great? It’s really great!"

Before she could respond, the blonde went on nearly oblivious to her companion.

"I’ve just got to get out there and meet some of these people. Steph was right. I really need to find out what’s important and get my muse back. I have to talk to them and … see them." Her speech was rapid and halfway through she stopped looking at the Sheriff and started to get that same, glazed look Harley interrupted. She was focusing on … nothing, over the Sheriff’s left shoulder as she rambled.

"You grew up here, so you would have no way of knowing what it’s like to grow up in a place like L.A.; everything and everybody for themselves all the time. I’ve lived in my condo for two years and I don’t even know my neighbors names. It would never even occur to me to find out my mailman’s name, and Twyla, gods, Twyla knows everything! She’s been here for years and knows everyone." Her brows were nearly touching as she scrunched up her forehead. The whole thing simply amazed her.

The Sheriff just couldn’t keep the satisfied grin from her face. Her only thought was that she hoped like anything that this was not just a novelty for the younger woman. That the wonder of it wouldn’t wear off. That she really admired the quality of life here and might want to stay because she really wanted her to stay, and she’d only known her one day. She realized she’d been concentrating on her thoughts to the exclusion of her guest and tuned back in.

"… almost like living in another country. I think it’s really kind of, ya know, culture shock. I have to do some research. I have to make some notes." She started to come back to herself when she realized she was scanning the car for her laptop or at least a pen, and then she twitched her fingers and gasped at the pain as she remembered her injury.

Seeing the woman’s dilemma and where she was headed Harley quickly offered, "If you can wait for a few minutes, we’ll drop by my place before we start the drive-through and I’ll let you use my tape recorder. Will that help?"

The thought of going to the home of the beautiful woman suddenly brought all of her thoughts to a screeching halt.

"Oh yeah." She whispered, then caught herself, and spoke in a more normal tone of voice. "That would be, ah, great. So helpful. I mean it’s really thoughtful of you to offer. I’d like that."

"Glad to do it." The officer replied casually, but her thoughts weren’t casual. She wants to go to my house. She wants to go to my house. She wants to go to my house. Yippee.

Just then, they heard the school bell ring in the distance and they sat quietly until Harley started the car, turned it around, and pulled back onto Bender, headed for home.

Since she couldn’t seem to quiet that little voice in her head, singing the coming to my house chant endlessly, and since Emily hadn’t made any conversation, Harley felt the need to provide some. Either that, or she was going to burst into the vocal rendition of the chant, and that would never do. So, the tour of Bramble began.

"That’s where I pulled you over yesterday, remember." She pointed to the chain link fence on her right.

"How could I forget?" Emily answered, and looked over at the small house set far back from the road, behind the fence.

"Well, that’s where Ellie Gravitz lives. She’s the last stop before the Elementary school for Wesley Simms, our mail carrier. After the school, Wesley’s done for the day."

Her instincts told the writer that all of Harley’s speculations on how the news of the Steven’s mare got to Cole were absolutely right. Emily’s need to verify it before recording, caused her make a note to herself to finagle an invitation to go see the feisty old woman, as well as the others the Sheriff mentioned, to confirm it.

"Ellie Gravitz," she said, speculatively, "isn’t she the one Twyla told me about who worked at Lockheed during the war?" The name suddenly made her remember her breakfast conversation. Twyla called her one of the original Rosie the Riveters, who lied about her age to get to work for the war effort. She was already married to Doug Gravitz and she wanted to help him come home to her. Her parents disowned her when she secretly married him at sixteen and they had to flee from Chicago in order to avoid her parents getting the marriage annulled.

Oh, this is going to be great!

"Yep, that’s her. As soon as the war ended and Mr. Gravitz got back home, they moved up and have been here ever since." Harley added. "Peter came to see her a few years later and he fell in love with the place. Met his wife here."

She remembered Twyla saying much the same thing, something about Peter’s family disowning him for associating with his sister and being cut off from the family fortune. Wow, that takes integrity. These people are real, no façade, no pretense, no hidden agenda. She wasn’t at all sure how to go about talking to them. It would be like learning a foreign language. She was raised so differently. She let out a small little sigh that didn’t go unnoticed.

"Something wrong, Emily?" She could hear the concern in the Sheriff’s voice.

Funny, she’d heard those same words uttered by any number of her so-called friends but she’d never heard anything in them but curiosity. The weight of that brought on a whole new sigh, as the realization of just how shallow and insubstantial her life and her relationships have been.

More importantly, why didn’t I ever notice it before? Though she never before questioned her life or lifestyle, she suddenly realized just how very hollow it was. Guess this is what they mean by introspection, huh. She wasn’t at all sure she liked it.


Chapter 10

The tour continued with brief pieces of information supplied to the big-city woman as they rode down Bender.

Harley politely pointed out all the places any visitor to town might need to find, the pharmacy, the dental office, the hardware cum furniture cum fabric store, the gas station and the convenience store it housed in the office.

She also pointed out those places that one might need to know if one were to move to Bramble as a permanent residence, the post office, the gas and electric sub station, the volunteer fire department and the tiny office that housed the phone company.

All the while, she would pepper her remarks with who owns what and the hours or days they were open.

Never having lived anywhere that she couldn’t find nearly anything she wanted twenty-four hours a day, Emily was staggered to hear that the convenience store was inconveniently closed on Sundays. When you grow up with a 7-11 on every corner and super markets and discounts stores open all the time, it felt a little scary to know that.

What if she woke up at 3:30 in the morning and wanted Raisinettes? What if she needed Tampax? Gods, how did these people cope? Maybe she had better take a good look around tonight when she got home to make sure she had everything.

Being a writer meant she worked whenever she felt the urge to write, in addition to those hours she forced herself to. She had a clear recollection of traveling to Westwood one night at 4:40 in the morning to get those great Biscotti they only sold at Antony’s all night deli. She simply had to have it when she was in the middle of writing that Italian Riviera breakfast-on-the-beach scene. She started to panic and her breathing picked up. Ye gods, what do I do if I run out of cigarettes?

"… and that’s Tarantella Caprioli’s place. She teaches chorus at the high school and gives voice lessons to the local kids who…" The brunette suddenly noticed the furrowed brow and the uneven breathing of her passenger. Then she watched as she started to pat her pockets frantically.

"What is it?" Her brow furrowed as her question went unanswered and the activity of looking for something, desperately, seemed to increase.

"Emily?" No answer. "Emily, what’s wrong? What is it?"

"Muh… my cigarettes. I can’t find them… and I, I can’t drive and I … what if I run out or something. I can’t remember if I bought any at the store." Her words were tumbling out in a rush and her breath was short.

"Emily. It’s Okay. Really." She reached over and patted the smaller woman on the arm, then squeezed it a bit. "It’s really okay. We’ll stop and buy you some. Do you want to do it now, or would like to get the tape-recorder first? Either way is fine with me. Don’t worry. We’ll do it!"

"Okay." She inhaled a deep, calming breath. "Okay, that’s great." She realized her little panic attack needed some explanation. Ye gods, she must think I’m nuts, either that or an addict.

"I guess you wondered what just happened here, huh?"

"Actually, no. I’m pretty sure you were just having a little panic attack. I’ve seen them before when we’ve had visitors or relatives come to stay for a while." She turned a little and smiled gently at her. "We call it the rolling-up-the sidewalks syndrome."

"Huh?" She queried.

‘You see it’s like this. The big city seems to breed a certain type of person. That type of person, when they get to a place like this and are forced to stay for a while, generally has a few stages of adjustment to work through. The first is usually their fear of being denied the kind of instant gratification they’re used to. It has a tendency to panic them a little. The idea of not being able to go out for ice cream in the middle of the night if they feel like it, sends some people running right out of town." She smiled again. "My Aunt Penny didn’t even make it through the first evening," she chuckled a little at the memory.

"After Mom and Dad gave her the tour and she saw the size of the town; that was it for her. By sunset, she was resting in a nice suite, surrounded by room service in Santa Barbara. The whole visit took place between the hours of eight A.M. and five P.M. over the course of two weeks. She just drove up every morning and back down every night."

Harley turned to Emily again. "At least you lasted longer than most before the syndrome took hold."

That bothered Emily. It bothered her a lot. She really hadn’t thought of herself as that self-absorbed. The truth of the accusation hit her hard. I guess I really am the instant gratification type, huh? Always before, it was somewhat deniable. She just thought it was her need to produce. Maybe her need to actively participate in everything her life offered lead her to believe she was just doing that which was expedient.

If it was easy to attain what she needed, then that was what she did. It wasn’t until this moment that she realized, it wasn’t grabbing a hold of what she needed that was at issue. It was the fact that she always assumed she could have what she wanted as well. That she could have what she wanted right now and not think about it. She felt decidedly disappointed in herself, and she’d never felt that way before.

She was also determined that she never wanted to feel this way again. "Don’t worry about it." The look on her face was set with determination. "I’ll be fine. Now, you were saying about the music teacher…?"

Harley was a little taken aback by the look she saw on the smaller woman’s face. She knew that look. She saw it on her own face often enough. It was that, take-no-prisoners expression, she got before she went into court or whenever she felt she’d been slacking off on anything that she felt counted. She was a little torn about it. On the one hand, she was glad to find the young woman wasn’t as vapid as she’d supposed and she was happy to see her assert herself to change for the better. On the other hand, she was a little ashamed of herself for having upset the woman’s opinion of herself. It obviously surprised Emily to realize that she was just like the rest of the tourists here, and she wasn’t happy about it. She searched for a way to soften the blow, but could think of nothing to say.

Sometimes, Harley, you just get way too bold with that mouth of yours.

"Did Mom tell you anything about Tarantella when she gave you the lowdown on the town this morning?"

"Nope, I know I’d remember that name. So what’s the story?"

She gave a small laugh and began. "Actually, I’m surprised. Tarantella is one of our local legends here. She started her career in Italy and went on to make a name for herself in Vienna."

"Singing, right?"

"Oh, yeah, but she made her voice and name famous as one of the lead soloists for the Vienna Boys Choir." She smiled and tilted her head to the younger woman.

"Okay. Now the obvious question to ask is, was she a boy at the time or was she a girl in drag?"

"The answer, according to Tarantella would be yes, to both. She was born Anthony Capricitti and was a boy when she joined the choir. When her voice changed, she left and went home to Italy where she sought and found several, at first minor roles in several local opera houses. Unfortunately at that time, she realized she was playing the wrong roles. She secretly longed for the ingénue parts and fervently prayed to be cast as the leading diva’s understudy. It was at this point she realized she was somehow out of step with the way she saw herself and the way the world saw her."

Harley made a turn to the left just past the Burger King and continued.

"Realizing that something needed to be done about this and that what was necessary was impossible in Italy she saved her money and went to Switzerland for her operation. After her extended recovery, she came to the states and began to make a name for herself on Broadway. I’ve read the reviews. According to them, she had ‘star’ written all over her and they praised her as the best thing to hit Broadway since Mary Martin. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last."

"Why?" The word came out sounding nearly indignant. It made the brunette smile to herself that this little writer could be so righteous on Tarantella’s behalf, even though they never met. She liked her even more because of it.

"Perhaps, not for the reason you think. Her family was very wealthy and fairly famous back in Italy and as a result, she knew she could never tell them about herself and made peace with the fact she would never see them again. She did love them, however, very much, especially her Mother, who had always encouraged her to pursue her career. She had been writing to them and told them that she had gotten some good reviews on Broadway and that she was auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera. She knew that due to her Mothers very bad heart, her mother would never make the trip over here and her brother, who took over the business when her father passed years ago, had nothing but disdain for America. Since he was the head of the household and all her younger siblings looked to him for support, she knew he would never allow them to make the trip.

She thought she was safe, that she had changed her looks enough, as well as her name, that no one she knew would make the connection and get back to her family."

"I take it that’s not what happened, right?" Emily squirmed a little in her seat. She was caught up in the story and the other revelations of the inhabitants of the little town made her want to see the place in a less biased way. Dividing her attentions between the Sheriff and the buildings she passed, she tried to absorb it all.

"Right. Opening night of her first lead role as Maria in The Sound Of Music in a theatre so close to Broadway, it took you less than two minutes to walk there, a group of diplomats arrived with some guests from out of town and took over front row center." Harley stopped glancing at her and started to pay more attention to the road. They were ascending a very rough dirt road, surrounded by dense trees.

"At intermission, she was told she had a visitor and, since she’d changed for her next number, she invited them in. Needless to say, she was astonished to see her older brother. Evidently, she hadn’t changed all that much and he recognized her immediately.

Their conversation was brief and to the point. She was never to return home and she was to quit performing for good. He didn’t care where she went but she was never to appear as a paid performer again. In exchange, he would send her a check every month to help her support herself. She was to continue to write to her mother and tell her she changed professions and was living quietly due to ill health. That was the excuse she was to use to keep her from coming home. If she did all this, he would not tell her mother how she disgraced her. Seeing that she had no choice, she agreed. She moved here a few months later and has been here since."

Emily was about to say something when Harley began speaking again. The tone of her voice was much softer and the look in her eyes, beautiful.

"So she sings only for herself and friends now. Everyday, at about six in the morning she does her scales and then, oh, Emily, the world lost a gift when she was forced into seclusion. After her scales, she sings for almost an hour. It was never the same songs two days in a row. When I was in high school, I used to make a practice, on days when the weather was good, to park outside her house before I went to school just to listen to her. She’d leave the windows open and the music was… wonderful." She seemed to come back to herself, then. "If you’d like, I can pick you up one day this month and we’ll stop by and listen."

Oh yeah. She wanted that very much. She wanted to share something with Harley that obviously meant so much to her. I want to mean so much to her. I want to share something special and wonderful with her. For just a moment, she was irrationally jealous of everything that had ever made the dark woman happy when she wasn’t there to share it. Gods, what a petty thought. What a selfish thing to think. Before she got too deeply entrenched in that line of thinking, Harley interrupted her.

"Do you think you’d like that?" When she got no immediate response, she added, "I know it’s awfully early and you might not be the kind who likes to get up that early, so…"

"NO!" Emily realized she was too loud and tried again. "No, what I mean is I would really love that. As a matter of fact, I’ll even buy breakfast. How does that sound?"

She smiled and then thought of something. "Oh, wait. I don’t even know if there’s any place in town open that early. Is there?"

Harley reassured her there was, just as she turned into a sloping gravel driveway. It wound its way around and thru several trees before it stopped at a large garage. Connected to the garage on the right was two story A-frame house. What first appeared to be cedar shingles were, upon closer inspection, ceramic tile. As Emily exited the car and approached the wide front porch, she took a deep breath and the only scent she could detect was the smell of the forest. Green things and leaf mold and black earth churned in a bouquet that left the memory of the city far behind. It was glorious.

The Sheriff watched her as she inhaled deeply and couldn’t keep the smile off her face as she leaned past her to unlock one of the two doors. Opening it, she offered, "Would you like the grand tour?"

"Of course. Lead the way." She said, as swept her arm out inviting the taller woman to enter first.

Stepping past the threshold, she entered a small area with a short bench built into the wall on each side. She could see a closet just past it as you stepped down the two steps to the sunken living room. Just as she cleared the bottom steps, she was amazed to see an entire wall of glass to her left facing into the forest beyond. It extended from the floor to the apex of the A-frame. The late afternoon sunlight streaming in the window left a myriad of shadows on the shiny wooden floors as it darted in and out of the tall trees. The furnishings were sparse, but large. A long, wide deep-brown sectional sofa faced the window with a low oval table fronting it. The table was covered in mosaic tiles in green, rust, brown, and gold, and covered by beveled glass.

The kitchen was an extension of the room to the right and next to that was a spiral staircase leading to the upper floor. To the right of the staircase was more living room.

As she turned to see it, the focal point of this room stood out. It was a huge fireplace with an intricately carved wooden mantle. Sitting in front of it was an Indian rug and behind that a smaller sofa in dark tan leather. Behind the sofa sat a smallish wood dining table and two chairs. Outside of the occasional lamp and lots of plants, hanging or standing everywhere, there was no more furniture.

Even though the ceiling was lower in this half of the room, it left Emily with the impression of open space, clean air and warmth. It was a delightful place and she really wanted to just sit down and stay a while.

As the writer was studying the space, the Sheriff was studying her. Without having said a word, the officer could tell she liked it here. She looks just right here, kind of at home. Look at the way the sunlight catches her hair. She blinked and realized, quite coincidentally, the woman was wearing the same colors the room was adorned in. She had on deep green cargo pants with socks to match and brown penny loafers. Her sweater was long and soft, cashmere or maybe Angora. In moss green with a geometric pattern of rust, gold and dark brown just above her breasts and it fell in a soft curl with an oversized collar around her neck. What a beautiful picture she makes. I’d like to see her right here, like that, for a long time. As the blonde turned and caught her eye, she remembered to speak.

"As you can tell, this is the living room. And over here," she walked backward and swept her arm to the right, "is the kitchen. It’s not used often so it still looks fairly good. It’s hard to be satisfied with canned soup or hamburger helper when your mother’s a world-class chef. As a result, I don’t eat at home much." She quirked her mouth up on one side and the writer nodded in understanding.

That brought to mind the realization that she had never gotten the question answered she’d asked her at the station. Now was the time to get it.

"So I guess that means that you, uh, live alone?" Her brow ascended a little as she tilted he head in, what she hoped appeared as, casual interest.

"Yeah." She didn’t offer more and waited for the blonde to ask. At least she hoped she would.

"Then, may I take that to mean you have no significant other?"

"You may." She offered a small, sexy smile that seemed to indicate she was sharing some kind of secret with the blonde.

Before the banter could be returned, Harley said. "Now if you will be so good as to follow me we will take a tour of the second floor." Turning she took the few steps necessary and lead her upstairs.

Emily had kind of been expecting a loft. That was the usual habit in A-frames she’d been in or seen in magazines, but at the top she found a solid looking wall with a double door in front of her. She guessed she was now facing the front of the house and if the wall had a window, she would have been able to see the car in the driveway.

Once again, Harley opened one of the French doors in front of her and offered her entry. She took it this time and found herself in Harley’s bedroom. This is good. This is very good. She knew she was grinning like a maniac so she made a point of turning away from Harley to inspect the room. It was much larger than she would have predicted. A king size bed sat low on the floor with a pedestal base. The linens were dark burgundy and black satin with an oriental style comforter over it. Two small black lacquered nightstands held an incense holder and candle on the right and a cordless phone and a small lamp on the left. There was nothing else in the room but the windows. They were uncovered with black rattan blinds curled up above them. It seemed to her that the room extended out toward the back of the house much too far. It had windows on all the walls except the one to her far right where she reasoned the bathroom or closet must be. As she got closer to the window facing the rear she noticed another door that blended in with the golden wood paneling so well, she would have missed it had she not been so close. It had no door handle as such, but a small wooden pull was attached high up on the right corner. She turned with the question in her eyes and Harley answered it before she could ask it.

"No, you’re not wrong. It is larger than the room below it and you’re confused because you haven’t seen the rest of the house. Allow me." She opened the door behind her and confirmed Emily’s prediction by showing her a walk-thru closet. Clothes were lining the walls on hangers from rods on one side and in drawers and compartments on the other side. At the other end was another door which led to a bathroom appointed almost identically to the one at Stephanie’s house except that the whole room was done in black and gray. The window the bath looked over was the side of the yard they had entered from and through it, Emily could see a small stream just ahead, beyond a dozen trees or so.

She was about to ask her about the coincidental taste in bathroom design she and Stephanie shared when she was guided out of the bathroom and back toward the hidden door. The Sheriff kept up a running narrative of how she had helped to design the house when she decided to live on her own, and how a fabulous carpenter in town named Bailey did the woodwork on the mantle.

They got to the door, Harley pushed at the top corner, which made the door spring open, and they entered another winding staircase. This one covered in the same plush gray carpeting that covered the bedroom floor and led down to a small, enclosed area with a door on each side. Harley opened the one on the right and they entered her office. This room was done in black and burgundy with a very modern theme. The plush black leather chair behind the expensive black desk looked out onto the back of the house through a sliding glass door. The room was filled with filing cabinets and occasional chairs trimmed in chrome. Behind her chair, Emily saw several diplomas and as she tried to get a closer look, she felt her arm gently caught and re-directed out the door.

The room across the hall was her gym. Black and blue mats covered the whole floor and once again, a full wall to her right was floor to ceiling windows. The opposite wall was nothing but mirrors with a ballet bar running its entire length midway up. Scattered around were various machines. There was a rower, a treadmill, a universal gym and two weight benches with racks on the walls holding barbells and dumbbells.

Ye Gods! I knew her family had money, I just never expected this. I wonder what the Home Ravensdown looks like? I sure as hell hope she didn’t get this in the divorce settlement. I love this place, and it would kill me to know she’s shared it with some one else. Every room is different, different colors, different themes. Just like her. So many sides, so many people in that same beautiful, perfect package. She briefly saw her again in her mind as Harley stood over her keeping that animal from doing what he planned. Then there was the compassionate caregiver who took her to the doctor and carried her to bed. Not to mention the teasing sibling she saw with Cole, or the tempting seductress she played with all day. Just how many sides are there to you Harley? Are you like this house? Are there hidden doors that lead to rooms no one would expect? I want to know. I’m going to stick around until I’ve found all of them. Then she wondered, What do I do then? She didn’t want to answer that question yet, so she simply ignored it.

Chapter 11

She crossed the room to the windows quickly and made a great show of admiring the view while she tried to quit thinking about the woman and think of something to say to her. Finally settling on a safe subject, she turned to speak and found herself alone.

Damn. Now where did she go?

It upset her for some reason to think that this house and all that it represented had not factored in to her construction of the beautiful woman. And why should it, Emily? There you were, deciding in advance what she was like and how she lived and thought and… What is that about? Since when do you start to judge people by where they live or what they do for a living?

But she knew. Since her books had started selling and she found herself on the ‘A’ list for all the right parties and premiers and awards shows, that’s when.

When I started to equate people’s value with their net worth and their popularity quotient. Well wake up and smell the bullshit, baby. You’ve become one of those people you make fun of in your books. I think I owe Harley and everyone in this town an apology. In fact I know I do. Can you spell, snob, Emily? Sure, it’s easy.S-H-A-S-T-A.

Now she had to undo the damage, even if the very kind woman she was getting to know didn’t know she had been insulted. Emily knew, and her conscience was biting her in the butt.

Before she could decide to look for her or to stay and wait, a portion of the mirror she faced opened soundlessly and Harley entered.

The sheriff was beginning to get used to that slack jawed stare on her companion’s face, but felt compelled to cure it.

She crossed the room and handed the smaller woman a palm sized cassette recorder and a few blank cassettes and said, "I’m sorry I left without warning you, but I just remembered I left this in the living room." She pointed to the mirror. "That is the quickest way to get there, from here."

The blonde closed her mouth. Again. And asked, "Is there anything else here that might surprise me?" She shook her head a little and glanced down at the floor. "I seem to be making a remarkable fool of myself lately. I really don’t know why I seem to be so dense." A look of near disgust crossed her face. She returned her gaze to the taller woman and stared straight into her eyes. "I’m considered fairly bright, generally, and I don’t usually think of myself as the kind of person who subscribes to stereotypes, but I guess I don’t know myself as well as I think I do. I’m sorry."

"For what?"

"For making assumptions about you and the people in this town." She inhaled deeply and straightened her shoulders. "I’ll try to do better."

Harley was moved by the younger woman’s confession. She was used to the attitude that most of the big city dwellers displayed towards the people here, but it never made her happy. Emily’s obvious disappointment in herself showed her to be a woman of integrity and introspection. In an odd way, she was very proud of her.

Now, just where in the hell did that come from. Where do I get off being proud of her? She’s not my family. She’s not ‘mine’ to be proud of. We hardly know each other. In spite of that, the feeling remained.

She smiled warmly at her and said, simply, "Thank you."

Needing in some way to let the writer know that everything was fine between them, she offered, "Would you like to finish the tour?"

Giving back a small smile of her own, the writer nodded.

Harley showed her the place to press on the section of the mirror to get the door open and they walked through it back into the living room. From that side she showed her the same spot on the wood paneling to get her back into the gym, and from the gym, they went though another concealed door, opposite the first one they had entered, that led to a small hall.

This hall had four doors, including the one from which they entered. The others led to a steam room with a full bath, another door to the back of the kitchen which opened into the pantry at its end, and the last door gave entrance into the garage.

Emily was very impressed with the structure. She had been to mansions that weren’t as cleverly designed. From the front of the house, it was very unassuming. It looked like a standard ‘A’ frame house. What Harley explained to her was, that it was indeed, just that. Except there were two of them, built together, back to back. And customized, of course.

When they returned to the car and started back to town, Harley showed her how to work the recorder and told her it had a blank tape she could use already installed.

Holding it on her lap the writer knew she couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer and asked, "Okay, you know I have to know. What’s with all the concealed doors? Why all the apparent secrecy with the house? What are you into, some secret spy stuff or something?"

The sheriff laughed good-naturedly and answered. "No, nothing like that, I just like it. I like the idea of denying access to certain parts of my home to casual guests or acquaintances. I like puzzles and secrets and gothic design, but I can’t have that in the middle of California. Well, I could, but I didn’t want it to look like Hurst Castle. I’d feel silly about it." That got her a broad grin from the blonde. "Actually, I just thought it would look best this way, mostly. It allows the living room to appear seamless, the gym to afford me less distractions while I work out, and absolute privacy in my office if I need it."

She noticed that no reason was given for the lack of a doorknob for the concealed door in her bedroom but decided not to push it. It would make a nice puzzle to work out for herself, and it would give her even more incentive to get to know this complicated and beautiful woman better. Not like I need that.

Instead of heading back the way they came, Harley turned left at the Burger King and then right on Eureka, the street off of which Old Orchard was found. For just a moment Emily thought Harley was taking her home and her heart sank. They passed Old Orchard and headed up the mountain.

"Part of the rounds we make include checking out the road up to The Village."

"Which is?"

"Oh, that’s the name of that women’s survivalist school I told you about. They’re fairly isolated up there and even though the owners of the school can certainly take care of themselves, we still check out the road and check in with them once a day." She cocked her head and grinned at the writer, "It’s an, uh, interesting place."

Just the way she said that word, interesting, had Emily intrigued. She was looking forward to the visit.

Less than five minutes later they pulled into a semicircular drive in front of The Village.

The building they faced could have been any number of ski lodges Emily had been to. It was long and large with wide windows and granite floors. Comfortable furniture was scattered to the right and the left of the doors and then grouped more closely around identical limestone fireplaces at either end.

Across from the front doors was a semi-circular reception desk, and standing behind it, speaking to a middle aged woman, was a short, well built ash blonde with long, curly hair, wearing a green polo shirt with the name The Village embroidered on the right breast. The name on the badge on her left identified her as Danita Walters.

As they approached, her gaze shifted from her client to the Sheriff and a smile broke out. She seemed to answer the woman, who then nodded and left toward the back doors.

"Hey ya, Harley. How goes it?"

"Good, Dani, and yourself? No problems, I hope." Harley answered, and extended her arm to the woman, who grasped it at the elbow and held it firmly.

As their arms released, she answered. "Nah, you know you’d be the first to know." She grinned with what she hoped was sincerity. She saw instantly the Sheriff wasn’t buying it.

"Eyeah. Right." Harley answered, letting her head tilt to the left and her mouth twitch up on one side.

Emily had been watching closely since they entered. She was sure there was a great deal of sincere affection between the two women but the undercurrent of rivalry, left her a bit confused. Before she could ponder it fully, Harley was introducing her.

"Emily, this is Danita Walters, one of the owners and teachers here at The Village. Dani, this is Emily Cutter."

Without the slightest hint of self-consciousness, the curly haired blonde offered her left arm to her with a smile. "It’s a pleasure to meet you."

Without even thinking about it, Emily returned the gesture and they grasped forearms. She liked this woman instantly, even though she did get the feeling the woman was somehow sizing her up. "Thank you, Danita. It’s a pleasure to meet you too."

"Please, Dani is just fine, Ms Cutter. We’re pretty informal around here."

The writer was a bit surprised at the thick feel of the muscle beneath her fingers. The woman was only an inch or two taller than she was, but she seemed to exude an aura of strength and competence. As they released their arms, she noticed the woman give a tiny glance to the Sheriff and nod her head almost imperceptibly. For some reason she felt she had passed some test. It made her feel good. Good, but confused. Why is that? Normally having someone else pass judgment on me or make an automatic appraisal of some kind would have left me bristling. Chances are, she would have left them feeling like a truck ran over them for their impertinence. When you write for a living, you really learn quickly how to damage with words. If this had been someone else I would have her, metaphorically, bleeding on the floor by now for daring to judge me. This feels different. More like a vindication. Why is that, and who is she?

"Please then, call me Emily." She was just about to ask her about this place when the set of glass doors behind her opened and another woman came towards them. She was several inches taller than Dani with long straight black hair and a very dark tan. Even from this distance you could see she had Native American roots. She took in the sight of the Sheriff and her face broke into a huge smile.

"How, Ravensdown." She said in a deep voice as she lifted her right arm up, palm out.

"How, Long Arrow." Harley answered, replicating the other woman’s gesture.

The writer noticed a sudden straightening in her tall friends back and the feeling of strength and energy she got from her was as physical as walking into a sauna. What is going on here?

The one Harley called Long Arrow reached them extended her arm and hand as Dani had, and the Sheriff accepted it. For a second that look of confidence and self-assurance she had noticed on the new woman was there in force. It was replaced a moment later by the barest hint of pain as she flinched for a second under the taller woman’s crushing grip. Then they released each other.

She looked up as she heard Dani laugh. "One day, honey, you are gonna learn to just give it up." She slipped an arm over the counter and rubbed the Indian’s right forearm.

"Never!" She answered, "One day old age is gonna get her and she’ll be the one on the floor." She looked at the Sheriff and stuck her tongue out.

Harley just laughed. "In your dreams, Paris."

"Emily, this stubborn piece of used shoe leather is Paris Long Arrow, another of the owner/operators of The Village, and" with a small look at her old friend offered, "one of the toughest women I know." She gave out with a small grin to the dark haired woman. "This is Ms. Emily Cutter."

Warm, dark brown eyes looked a little surprised at the compliment and nodded in acknowledgement to the tall officer before turning on Emily with a huge grin, full of white perfect teeth. She did not offer her arm, but instead made a short bow to her and said. "How do you do, Ms Cutter?" Before Emily could respond, she continued, "Obviously, not as well as you should be," taking in the cast on her arm. "Are you here to join us?"

Dani interrupted. "No, Paris. Ms Cutter is the woman who was attacked at the Nest."

A myriad of emotions crawled over Paris’s face. Emily could clearly see them as they went from surprise, to understanding, to empathy and finally settled on anger. She seemed to push it down as well as she could, but the vestiges of it were there as she said. "I’m so very sorry Ms. Cutter. Can we help you out in any way? We have plenty of room and plenty of people here to help you out while you’re recovering." Her obvious sincerity touched Emily deeply. Again. These people don’t even know me. It would never occur to me to offer that kind of help to a virtual stranger. She swallowed. And just what does that say about me?

Unbeknownst to her, Harley was watching her reactions as intently as she had watched Long Arrow’s. She registered the surprise at Long Arrow’s offer and the almost instant look of shame that followed it. She found herself liking the young woman even more for it. Then once again, she felt that undeserving and foreign sense of pride in the smaller woman. Where is that coming from?

Emily managed to gather herself together enough to answer in a small voice. "That is a very kind and generous offer, Ms Long Arrow, …"

"Paris, please!" The Indian interrupted, with a grin.

The grin was returned and suddenly Emily felt a little better.

"Paris. But as I was saying, I think I’ll be just fine on my own. I do want to thank you for thinking of me, though."

"Of course," the woman returned, "If you do need something or change your mind, just give us a call." She handed her a business card from the display on the desk and continued, "Have you had a tour of our school yet, Ms. Cutter?"

"Emily." The writer answered.

"I was just about to offer her one, when you came in, honey." Dani looked at her and said, "May I show you our place, Emily?" Then she turned to Harley, "If that’s okay with you, Sheriff? Have you got a few minutes?"

"No, go right ahead, Dani. I was about to do it myself if you were busy." She turned to the writer, "Go ahead Emily, it’s an interesting place. I’ll just stay here with Paris and catch up." She smiled down at the blonde and nodded.

Interesting. There was that word again. Well, if she thinks it’s interesting, I have to see this for myself.

"Thanks, Dani. I’d like to see it."

As the two women left through the glass doors behind the desk, Paris turned to Harley.

"So. What’s the deal with that? Did you castrate the son of a bitch who attacked her, or what?" The angry growl was something the Sheriff was used to hearing from her volatile, but good-hearted friend.

"Gunny, picked him up this morning with a New Mexico state trooper." She then gave her the particulars on the other crimes he committed and his likely future.

"Were all his parts in working order?" She smirked at the officer.

Harley looked down at the desk and ran her forefinger along the grain for a second. She looked back up at the shorter woman through her lashes. A tiny, evil, grin quirked at the edges of her mouth.

"Most of them." She answered quietly.



"This is the archery field. It’s not a very practical weapon for self-defense, but it develops great hand to eye coordination and gives the woman a tremendous feeling of confidence. That’s most of what we’re trying to instill here; a feeling of empowerment and competence in a patriarchal society that has diminished women’s roles and segmented us away from each other and our dreams for so long." The pretty gray-eyed woman spoke with a passion that was fundamental to her beliefs.

Emily was quietly impressed with the woman’s’ clarity of thought on a subject that she had mostly relegated to the woman’s libbers of the eighties. She was also a little ashamed again. She had been so successful, so quickly and had been surrounded by powerful and successful women since college, that she saw everything through that filter.

After having heard Dani describe some of the battered women and talented women who had been denied a chance at succeeding who came to them, she was forced to once again, reevaluate her fairly limited view of the world for most other women.

It made her feel bad; kind of disconnected from the rest of the world, or at least the rest of the women in the world.

Dani saw all women as sisters. Sisters who needed different things from them, but sisters who needed something only other women could give to them. All of it stemming from the understanding that all women needed to stop feeling ashamed of themselves and stop accepting the boxes the world and organized religion had forced them into for so long.

She was charmed to find out that Dani and Paris and several of the staff here, considered themselves to be some kind of new amazons fighting for their "tribe".

Their tribe consisted of all women everywhere who rebelled and rejected the way the world pushed them into accepting less than what should be, their share of happiness.

Emily had started out liking Dani when they met, but she was sure now she wanted to develop a deeper friendship with this fascinating woman.

She also wanted to know more about her concept of women in the world and a part of her she hadn’t even known existed, wanted to participate.

They had already seen the guest rooms, gymnasium, pool and spa area, rifle and gun range and now the archery range. Dani had explained the myriad of things they taught here, from marital arts and gun safety and use, to woodcraft, tracking and hunting.

Harley was right; this place is interesting. Hell, it’s fascinating. They talked about the self-defense classes and she told Dani that she had taken lessons in Tae Bo. The woman lit up and she offered to have her come back anytime when her arm healed and sit in on their classes.

The offer was accepted instantly and then they headed to the archery range. A few women were still practicing as the sun began to set and Dani called to them that it was getter dark and to start again tomorrow. She saw disappointment on some of the faces.

They continued walking and ended up at the dining room. The smells were great and the buffet was just being set up as they wandered though it.

Exiting through another door, which led them back to the lobby they found Harley and Paris sitting in front of a newly made fire at the south end of the building, deep in a discussion of the pros and cons of different types of marital art forms.

Paris was just standing to make her point about something when she saw them return.

"Hey there, Emily. So what did you think?" She asked.

"I think it’s a wonderful place you have here. Dani has offered to have me back when I heal to sit in on some classes and I can’t wait." She said with obvious enthusiasm.

Harley stood and watched her as she bubbled over about the place and couldn’t keep the grin off her face. Anything that makes her want to stick around is fine by me. She did however notice a slight strain in her voice and a loss of color around her eyes. She’s in pain. She looked at her watch and realized it was later than she thought. Knowing she needed to get the woman home and to her pain pills she interrupted the women’s mutual admiration.

"I hate to be the bad guy here, but I need to get going." She turned and offered her arm to first Paris and then Dani as she told them good-bye. She walked the still enthused woman to the car, listening to her talk about how much she had liked the place and the two women running it.

"Three, actually. You didn’t meet Valerie. She’s the third of the triumvirate that runs the place. She has another business so she only stays up here a couple of weeks a month," Harley informed her.

There was nothing in her tone of voice or her body language that she could put her finger on, but Emily got the distinct impression that Valerie was not one of the Sheriff’s favorite people. She took a moment to decide whether to call her on it and her natural curiosity won out.

"Just what is it you don’t like about this Valerie?" she asked, bluntly.

Harley was surprised to have the younger woman pick up on her dislike of the woman. She knew she hadn’t inferred it in her inflection. How did she know?

She gave brief thought to denying it, but then figured what the hell, sooner or later, if she stayed, she’d hear about it from someone.

"You’re right, I don’t like her." She thought about how to tactfully explain her history with the woman without going into too much detail, and without sounding as angry about it as she was. She knew to tell her she would have to explain things about her self that she had hoped would come later, but she figured she really had no choice. Hoping she hadn’t read the smaller woman wrong when they flirted earlier, she just bit the bullet and started.

"She and I dated for a while." Keeping her eyes on the darkening dirt road ahead of her as they descended the mountain, she kept her peripheral vision steadily on the blonde to her side. She saw just a touch of a smile at the edges of her mouth and took a mental deep breath in relief.

"About a year ago, Dani and Paris were running into some financial problems. Valerie had been a regular here for at least a year before that. She inherited a chain of sporting goods stores from her parents when they died in a boating accident, and had plenty of capital to sink into the business. She offered to bail them out for a piece of the Village and they agreed. Just after she came on board as an owner, we met, and she and I dated briefly."

"How briefly?" Emily asked.

"About six weeks." She took the turn onto Bender and Emily was secretly grateful she hadn’t been dropped off at Stephanie’s on the way back to town. Especially now. She really wanted to hear about this. For several reasons.

"What happened?" She registered just how that sounded and hurried to rectify it as best she could. "I mean, if you don’t mind telling me or if it isn’t too pushy or personal. I mean it really is none of my business." She trailed off lamely and hoped like crazy the woman would let it go and just continue. She said a little thank-you to anyone listening to her prayer when the dark-haired women started to talk again.

"I realized she and I weren’t really… compatible, I guess. I told her I didn’t think it was going to work out between us and asked if we could just continue as friends." I knew when I did that though, that we would never be that. If she could have been a person I might have become friends with, I might not have stopped seeing her. "Anyway, she took it very badly and she’s pretty much gone out of her way to make my life miserable ever since. I try to stay away from The Village when she’s there. Since she doesn’t come into town much, we can pretty well manage to avoid each other. It’s not very pleasant when we don’t." She couldn’t have kept the look of quiet anger and disgust off her face if she tried. The women had very nearly come to blows on any number of occasions since they stopped seeing each other, and the whole town knew enough to warn the Sheriff if Valerie was shopping or eating in Bramble, in order to avoid a scene.

Emily was hit like wildfire with a sudden and intense dislike for this woman she had never met, on Harley’s behalf.

Well, if that isn’t screwed. Not two hours ago you were telling yourself to stop making assumptions about people you never met and to judge each one on their own merits. Where did that go, Emily? And more importantly, where did that feeling of defensive anger come from. Harley’s a big girl and she can take care of herself, obviously.

She knew that the woman driving the car could probably take care of herself against a half dozen Valeries, but…that doesn’t explain the need to pummel this unknown woman, does it? Once again, confused and upset with herself, she tried to forget her feelings until she had some private time to examine them.

They pulled up to the Sheriff’s office and Harley turned to her.

"I’ll just run in and get your pills then I’ll take you home. Mom said she’d be by in less than an hour to bring you your dinner and then you need to get some rest. Be right back." She closed the door and was gone before Emily could object.

"Well," she speculated to the empty car, "what did you expect? She spent the whole day with you, ya know, she does have a life." The rational explanation did nothing to diminish the feeling of being dismissed though, and she racked her brain for a way to invite herself back into the Sheriff’s company, without making the woman feel obligated.

Harley returned a minute later and started the car, turning it back up Bender toward Stephanie’s place.

She parked it in the driveway and there was an awkward moment where they simply sat in the same silence that had accompanied them here.

Finally, Emily said, "I want to thank you, Sheriff, for babysitting me all day, and for the tour of the town and the wonderful company." She held out her left hand a little awkwardly but the taller woman took with a practiced grace and held it as she replied.

"Twern’t no thang, Ma’am. I plumb enjoyed the honor of havin ya with us. Surely wish we could be doin it agin." Then she tipped her hat in a credible imitation of Gary Cooper.

The young women just shook with laughter and the officer joined her. When they both calmed down, Emily said, "I would like that very much, if you mean it. What I mean is if it’s alright with you, I’d like to drop in again and talk." She held her breath for a minute as the officer turned to face her.

"I’d like that very much Emily. Very much." They just looked at each other as a building tension began. Realizing where they were headed and totally unsure how to handle it right now, the Sheriff offered a tender smile and said.
"Let me walk you to your door."

The writer’s quiet "Sure." went unheard as tall woman was already heading around the front of the car.

The walk to the front door was quiet and Emily felt a palpable need to fill it. "Does Bramble have a Taxi or a bus service? I mean, I’d hate to be confined to this house all the time, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be shifting gears any time soon."

The officer looked uncomfortable for a moment and switched her weight from one foot to another as she answered. "Uh, actually no. We never really, uhm, felt the need for one, I guess. It’s a really small town, ya know?"

"Oh." Emily wasn’t quite prepared for that answer. She knew she had to find a solution to this problem or she’d go stir crazy. There had to be someone. I mean what happened if your car broke down? So she asked. "Well, what happens if someone’s car breaks down or has an accident or something?"

The look of discomfort the Sheriff wore increased a little more and a small pale-pink blush could be seen creeping up her neck by the light of the porch lamp. "We, uh, we uh, usually call the Sheriff." She cleared her throat. "We don’t usually have a lot of crime here, so whoever is working that day as deputy or Sheriff has plenty of time to just go pick them up and take them where they need to go. That is, if they don’t have any other way of getting there. Or home. Ya see?" She finished weakly and saw the disappointment creep onto the writers face. Finally understanding that she had given her the wrong impression, she went on. "Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you wouldn’t be offended, I’d be happy to pick you up tomorrow, or uhm, anytime if you needed to go somewhere for some reason. That is, I mean, either Cole or I, if we’re not busy that is. I mean if we’re chasing a bank robber or something, you’ll just have to wait." She chuckled a little at that and hoped to break some of the tension.

"Thanks Harley, I’d like that too. Very much." She realized that she had run out of things to say, so she needed to let the woman go and get in the house. What she really wanted to do was lean up and kiss her. Restraining that urge with almost super human effort, she compromised and hoped she wasn’t rejected. Leaning up, she placed her left hand on the officer’s shoulder, and kissed her on her cheek. Almost. Just the very edge of her lips grazed Harleys and she felt the response in the twitch of the Sheriff’s mouth toward her own. In a voice much lower and deeper than she intended, she whispered, "Good night," And opening the door, slipped inside.

Harley just stood there and closed her eyes. She tried very hard to get the same word out of her mouth, but nothing came. The warm rush that ran down her back and coursed through her at that kiss took her by complete surprise. By the time her voice returned to her, the woman was gone.

She smiled a little and touched her lips where they had met Emily’s. Maybe it’s a good thing she’s a tourist. I don’t know if I’d survive the intensity of a long-term thing with her. Then her smile grew until she nearly squinted with it, and the thought of it brought that warm feeling back with a jolt and flooded her again. I’m a strong woman. I have many… talents. I could adapt. She let go with a little laugh as she made her way to police car. Gods, I love a challenge!!


Chapter 12

Emily closed the door behind her, and leaned against it. She was so lost in the experience of nearly kissing Harley that she almost didn't remember to disarm the alarm. She remembered at the last moment and jumped to do it.

It was so close. Sooooo close. Why didn't I just go ahead and kiss her? She brought her fingers to her lips and took a breath, still smelling the officer's cologne. What is that scent she uses? I know them all, why can't I figure out what it is. She took another breath as the scent left and only the memory of it lingered. Whatever it is, it's wonderful.

She's wonderful.

Perfect. There's that word again. Ah well, she is, she's just perf...

Her musings were cut off by a knock at the door and she turned in gleeful anticipation to answer it. Her enthusiasm was only mildly diminished to find Twyla on the porch with a box and smile.


The lasagna, salad and garlic bread were delicious. Just the kind of comfort food Emily needed to occupy herself with, until the pain pill kicked in. Twyla was as charming and attentive to her needs as she had been that morning, and their conversation sparkled.

Now that Emily had a chance to meet and see some of the locals, it was much easier to picture them as Twyla talked. She nibbled at the peach cobbler as she listened and watched. She noted the woman never gossiped, just shared common information about the folks here. She noted too, that she was not the least bit reticent to talk about her only daughter, which pleased Emily greatly.

"She's headstrong and heartstrong and smart as all get out. I could write a book on how to live with a manic-depressive, schizophrenic, cat burglar and survive, just from having endured her teen-age years."

"Was she awful?" The writer grinned excitedly as she leaned on her hand with her elbow on the table, getting as close to the woman as she could. She felt like, somehow she was seeing that wonderful woman grow up in Twyla's stories.

"Oh dear goddess, yes! She was, very much like you, ya know?" She cocked her head and looked at the writer as though she had found out all her secrets.

"What?" The blonde replied. That look made her nervous. Just to whom has she been talking? "What do you mean, like me?"

"Well, Harley's awful smart. They tested her in first grade and she was all but off the scale. They fairly begged us to put her in a gifted children's program, but that meant she would have had to go Santa Barbara, and she'd be on the road for more than three hours everyday, so her Dad and I said no. Then Josh put his mind to it, and found out everything he needed to know about how to keep her from getting bored and feeding her constant curiosity. He just pushed and pulled and bullied until we got what we wanted. Harley got to stay here and lead a normal life, but she also got all the extra help she needed to keep that fine brain of hers occupied and learning. Boy that did take some doing." She let out a deep breath and gazed off as she remembered. "So you see I do know what you were like. Being the parent of a prodigy isn't a walk in the park, you know. And when those hormones kick in, whoooooeeee! It was never safe, then. The arguments between my smart, stubborn teen-age daughter and her furious, stubborn mother are still the topic of conversation at the dinner table some nights. Geesh, that girl could be loud!"

Remembering her own volatility at that age she could more than sympathize with the woman. She felt the need to pat the woman on her hand when she could see the look of sadness pass over her face.

"I'm sure it was very hard."

The older woman patted the hand that rested on her own and said, "It was. The worst part is that she was always right. We fought over stupid little things and her logic and reasoning was impeccable. Josh finally had to take me for a walk one night and explain to me what everybody saw, but me. He finally told me that I wasn't arguing to get my way. I was just arguing to maintain control over my daughter, because when all was said and done, I just didn't want her to grow up." She looked up at the younger woman. "And he was right. Don't get me wrong; I love my boys, all of them. Each one is special and bright. Unique in their own talents and sweet as can be to their Momma. But Harley was my only daughter and it's different with her. I guess I just wanted to maintain some kind of control over her for as long as I could. I knew fairly early she was going to have a rougher than usual time of it, and I just wanted to spare her that hurt. I guess I thought if I kept her home and cloistered a bit, she would have some time to... build a shell against the things that would wound her." She took in a deeper breath and said, "I should have known it would never work. She's always been strong. Not just physically, but emotionally strong. Oh, she took her hits in high school when lots of the kids went out of their way to make her miserable, just because she was... different... but as much as I wanted to shield her from that, I couldn't, and she got over it. I'm pretty sure it affected her a lot less than it affected me. She's very special." She ended, and smiled tenderly at the young woman next across from her. "Don’t you think?" she asked, with the merest hint of a grin lingering on her lips.

"Yeah," Emily answered. She knew that Twyla guessed her feelings for her daughter. She didn't seem bothered by it and, as her answer came she thought she saw a spark of something in the older woman's eyes.


"Research, Bramble California. September first. My impressions." She stopped speaking into the tape recorder briefly as she put her thoughts in order.

Twyla left a few minutes ago and now that she was alone she had some time to try to put her restless thoughts down on tape about this fascinating little town, and its wonderful citizens.

After she droned on long enough and changed tapes twice, she realized how tired she was. The pain had been wearing on her and the pill, the heavy meal, and pleasant company made her long for her bed.

As she got under the covers, her always-active mind began to slow down as it reached for sleep, leaving only one thought with her as she drifted off. The scent, the softness of her skin and the tingle she felt as she stared into those luminous blue eyes were what followed her down into her dreams.


The dream was so pleasant. Comforting in a way she hadn't felt since she was a child, as the warm strong arms held her and soft breath whispered against her skin. She stirred a bit as the feeling began to fade and reached out for her but felt nothing but cold sheets and flat empty blankets. A part of her wanted to just fall back into the dream but a tiny other part of her mind was telling her she had to wake up. She fought it for a long time, but finally gave into the part that needed her to wake and looked around, knowing what she would find, but disappointed anyway.

As she stretched and yawned her way to wakefulness, she twisted her lower back a bit and saw something odd between her squinting eyelids. She stopped movement instantly and found her vocal cords frozen as she saw the large knife imbedded in the pillow beside her.


Harley tried mightily to quell the anger that pushed at her as she waited for the phone to be answered. She stood at the side of the bed holding the phone that Emily used to call her.

Her breath was still short but she was struggling hard to get it under control after the terrified writer woke her only five minutes ago. Her senses came alive the instant she heard her voice and she headed out of the station to Stephanie's house at a speed, that by no one's standard, could have been called safe.

The young woman met her at the door and as soon as she saw how pale her face and lips were, she rushed her to the couch and ran to the kitchen. She returned with a glass of scotch and instructions for the small woman to stay there. After running into the spare room, she returned and wrapped the comforter around the writer and then went to see what had frightened her so much.

Her back was to the knife, which was still imbedded through the pillow and into the mattress of the bed Emily slept in. An expensive, and by the looks of it, very sharp hunting knife, entrenched more than five inches into the pillow and mattress beneath it. It was just inches from the depression in the pillow, showing where the small woman's head rested. The thought of what might have happened chilled her and urged the release of that anger she was trying so desperately to suppress. Dammit Gunny, answer the phone!

The blonde sat sipping the scotch and trying to still the shaking that was causing the liquid in the glass to dance. Okay, Emily. You're fine. It was scary, but you're fine. Harley's here and she'll fix it. Just breathe and calm down. Another tremor rocked her, nearly spilling her drink and she determined it would do more good inside her than on her lap. She downed the rest of it in one large swallow, and felt the effects begin to lessen the grip of her fear.

"Gunny will be here in an hour or so, and Mom and Cole are on their way." The Sheriff stopped and kneeled at the younger woman's feet. Taking the now empty glass from her hand and setting it on the table behind her, she continued. "Emily, do you think you can tell me what happened now?"

The smaller woman ran a shaky hand through her hair and shook her head slightly. "I don't know what happened. I went to bed last night and when I woke up, there it was. Just there, in the pillow next to me. That's all I know." She took a breath and said, "I got out of bed and grabbed the phone and hit the button that said Sheriff."

"Do you remember setting the alarm last night?" The dark woman looked at her intently.

"Yes. I'm sure I did." She was sure, wasn't she? She tried to go over the end of last night in her mind but was getting lost to that fearful feeling again. The sheriff must have sensed it because she took her hands into her own and held them firmly. The feeling made her feel safe and grounded, and she could clearly see herself in her minds eye as she locked the door behind Twyla and then turned to the panel and activated the alarm system. With more surety in her voice, she said, "Yes. I'm sure of it. I remember clearly doing it just after I locked the door when Twyla left. I know I did."

"Okay, do you remember deactivating it for me when I got here?"

"No, wait... no, I didn't." That realization brought her up short and she could feel her heartbeat begin to pound again. "Jesus, Harley, what's going on?"

Seeing the tears start in those beautiful green eyes allowed the Sheriff to just go with her instincts. She sat on the couch next to the frightened woman and pulled her into her arms. "I don't know yet, Emily, but I swear I'm gonna find out. Don't worry, I’ll get to the bottom of this and I won't let anything happen to you. I promise." She nearly snarled that last bit, as the anger that was pressing on her for release nearly overwhelmed her. It was seeing that look in those eyes that sealed it. I don't know who you are, you son of a bitch, but I’m coming for you.

Just being in Harley’s arms felt so good that the feelings fled and she felt safe and warm again. Just like before. I love this. She sighed once as the rush of misery eased. Wonder what I can do to get this feeling again without having to be in pain or in danger. It wasn't the fear of death as much as the fact that someone who must know her, wanted her frightened or maybe, dead. Despite the situation she found herself taking advantage of the arms which held her and allowed herself to create a small fantasy of the two of them as they were now, but adding a roaring fire in the fireplace they were facing, and soft jazz playing in the background.

The small woman hadn't realized that the sigh she released was so expressive but the Sheriff heard and understood. Just what is going on behind those pretty eyes now, Em? And what's with the sudden change in body language? The sheriff felt certain that the woman she was holding was no longer in need of comfort, as she felt her begin to cuddle a little more intimately than before. Quite without her permission, Harley;s hands began rubbing the woman's back in circles and her cheek started to nuzzle the crown of the blonde's head. The blonde slowly raised her head. Their eyes locked and their lips were only inches away from each other.

Then the doorbell rang.


Close. That’s the second time in two days? What am I doing here, and why am I so angry to be interrupted? This just isn’t like me. That woman… she just affects me. I still don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

Harleys ruminations stopped as she opened the door and allowed both Cole and her Mother to enter. Twyla placed a quick kiss on her cheek and clasped her arms tightly as she motioned toward Emily with her eyes.

"She’s shook up, and she has a right to be. Go see about keeping her company until Cole and I can get some work done around here, okay?"

The older woman just nodded and took Harley’s place on the sofa next to the writer, speaking in low tones.

"Bring the kit into Steph’s bedroom." She told Cole as she began to walk down the hall.

"You don’t want me to dust the door for prints?" He was surprised that with a case of breaking and entering, the Sheriff hadn’t asked him to do one of the most basic of investigating jobs.

She stopped and turned to him. "There won’t be any." she answered quietly. Before he could ask her about it, she was gone into the bedroom.

He followed as quickly as possible with the large case containing their equipment.

"Pictures first, everywhere in this room. The only place the perp needed to be was the alarm panel, but I’ll bet you free Danish for the next month you won’t find a thing there but Emily’s and my prints." She scanned the room and felt her ire rising again. "I’ll start on the prints. I don’t thing we’ll find a thing, but I just know they entered from either this room or the sliding glass doors in the living room." She crouched down to the open valise and started removing the item’s she knew would be needed.

"When is Gunny due?" Cole asked, as he wandered from area to area taking long and close range photos of the crime scene.

The Sheriff checked her watch and said, "About twenty minutes or so." She grinned a little remembering how furious the trooper was when he heard of another attack on his favorite author. "Unless there’s a rock slide or earthquake, we can expect him to be early."

"So," the deputy continued, "just for the sake of curiosity, can you tell me why you’re so sure I won’t find prints on the front door?"

"Sure. Two things. Whoever did this intended to scare her. Not hurt her. She would be dead now if they intended her harm. The first thing I did was check with Gunny and he assured me that Mr. Bell is safely in the arms of the New Mexico jail system, so it couldn’t have been him. Emily hasn’t met anyone here who would want to harm her. I know, because I was with all her day yesterday. Therefore whoever did this did it with the intent to scare her. Warn her away somehow. As to why or what from; I’m still working on that one." She continued talking as she carefully dusted the sliding glass door for possible fingerprints. "Two, someone turned off the alarm from inside the house."

Cole nearly dropped the camera. "What!" He didn’t mean to be as loud as he was, but the shock of it disturbed him. He saw his sisters’ face cloud with anger and tried to apologize.

"Okay, I’m sorry. You just surprised me." The thrill of cold fear ran down his back as he realized the implications of what must have happened here in this room while Emily slept, all alone.

"How can you be sure it wasn’t disengaged from outside? Are you even sure that Emily armed it? Was it disarmed or just disconnected?"

They were all honest questions, and if she had been anyone else any where else she would be asking them herself.

She made her way to the door and shut it firmly, and then, turning to her brother kept her voice lowered as she answered all his questions in one sentence.

"Because I designed it."


Ohhhhh. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. She was going to kiss me! I just know she was going to kiss me. Well, I could have just…no, maybe I couldn’t have. Somehow I know she has to be to the one to do it. But she almost DID! She huffed out a little annoyed sigh. It would have been sooo good. I just know it.

By that time the guests at the door came in and after a brief whispered conversation, Twyla came to her side.

"Hey there, hon, how ya doing?" The older woman put her arm around her and looked her over with intent.

"I’ll be fine, although I’ve been better." She managed a small laugh. "Boy, for such a nice quiet little town, you sure know how to show a girl a good time."

Twyla only smiled with her and asked her if she could tell her what happened. She related the little bit she knew and then, like the true earth mother she was, Twyla suggested she make her something to eat.

"Let me just go check with Harley to be sure I can fiddle in the kitchen, then I’ll make you something to fill you up and calm you down."

When she returned a moment later she looked a little annoyed.

"Harley says she thinks it would be a good idea if I took you over to my place for a few days."

Emily was many things, and she had experienced things in the last two days here that would make her much more cautious in the future, but she had never been one to take being attacked lying down.

Her rational mind shut down at the common sense of leaving a house where she had nearly been skewered, and her natural tendency to meet adversity head on asserted itself. She knew that Twyla was not the person she needed to take her anger out on, so she deliberately softened her tone of voice when she answered.

"I think I’ll be fine here, really, Twyla. I know it may not seem that way, but I’m not totally helpless and I wouldn’t think about imposing on you." She hoped her smile looked as reasonable as she was trying to sound.

"I’m sorry Emily, but you really have no choice here."

She turned her head and followed Harley’s entrance to the room until she stood at the end of the sofa.

Harley watched as the pretty face in front of her hardened into obstinacy and knew she had to get a little tough. She hoped it wouldn’t be the end of what was happening between them, but she had to take the chance. Emily’s safety was at stake. Please, Emily, just listen to reason and go along with me. I really don’t want to fight with you.

"Mom, I think it’ll be alright if you fix us all a pot of coffee, okay?" She came around the coffee table to stand facing the blonde. "Emily and I need to talk for a few minutes."

After Twyla prudently left the room, the small war began.

"If you think I’m just going to…"

"It’s just too dangerous for you to be…"

They both stopped as they realized that talking over each other wasn’t getting them anywhere. Before the writer could begin again, the Sheriff held up her hand and said, "Please, just let me explain first then you can tell me what’s on your mind."

Emily had to take a deep breath and grab the reins of her galloping temper in both hands before she nodded.

"Okay, it’s like this. One, you are injured and therefore less likely to be able to defend yourself than you were before. Two, this house is very isolated. The nearest neighbors are more than a quarter mile down the road. Three, you can’t even drive to get away if someone should come back and want to chase you down. And four, whoever got in here knew what they were doing. They knew about the alarm and they knew the code to disable it. They knew where you would be and they got in without waking you. Most importantly, they bypassed the alarm in order to gain entry and I have no idea how they did that. Simply put, Emily, you just aren’t safe here. It’s my job to see that you are. Please, for my sake, go stay with Mom for a few days. At least until Stephanie gets up here this week-end, okay?" She looked at the belligerent woman facing her and saw her start to hear the voice of reason, finally. Gods, I hope she’s not as stubborn as she seems to be. I know I said I love a challenge, but it could be I spoke too soon. Please, Emily, see it my way and don’t put yourself in danger. "Besides, with all of us out of that big old house of hers, Mom could use the company for a few days." She hoped the chance to pick Twyla’s brain for all the minutia about the town and its residents would give her further incentive to stay with her.

What she was thinking must have shown on her face as the young woman began to soften her expression and the look of defiance began to fade.

Dammit, she’s right. Emily now gained an appreciation for the misery Twyla must have felt when fighting with her smart, stubborn, teen-age daughter all those years ago. It griped her.

She hated feeling helpless and needy and she’d been feeling that way almost since she stepped foot into this town. The injury to her arm took on a new meaning as the pain of it was replaced by the awkward position it put her in. She had to be taken care of, looked after, and that thought conflicted with the way she saw herself.

She tried in vain to find a way out of this, but was just too flustered by all the internal stuff she was going through lately and the unmistakable logic of what Harley just said. Trying to maintain a shred of dignity, she steeled herself to give in, - again!

"I can see your point." She said quietly, and started to stand. She felt the need to be on her feet and not have the woman she admired looking down on her as she told her what to do.

"I’ll be happy to stay with Twyla as long as you can assure me I won’t be in her way. I know she has a restaurant to run and all, so I want you to promise me, she won’t be babysitting me instead of taking care of her business, okay?" She slowly walked over to the glass doors and just stared at the forest.

I have the feeling I lucked out with that one. The Sheriff took in and released a relieved breath as she said, "I absolutely guarantee it. I’m sure she’ll love your company and before you know it, I’ll have this cleared up and you’ll be back here again. Besides, this way you’ll be able get to know the town a little better. Mom has a full schedule of people she visits and places she goes and you’ll be able to get to know us one on one." She smiled to assure the smaller woman that her time would be well spent and tried to think of something else to sweeten the stay as her mother walked in with the coffee.

"That’s true Emily, I’ll be delighted with the company, truly I will. That big old house only gets to be full on Sundays when the kids come over for dinner. The rest of the time it’s just me and Josh, and with him out of town just now, I’d be glad to have someone to help pass the time."

She turned to her daughter as Cole came out of the bedroom. "Are you done in there enough that we can pack some things for Emily, now?"

The Sheriff looked to Cole who nodded and then said, "Sure, Mom."


The door was shut and the big Cadillac turned out of the driveway toward the older woman’s home when the little blonde finally asked the question.

"Okay, Twyla, are you ready to tell me now just why everyone here has been so anxious to avoid telling me that my editor is a member of the clan Ravensdown? Auntie?"

The older woman blanched and swallowed before she began nervously, "Now, Honey…"

Continued - Chapters 13 - 20

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