These characters originated in the deep dark recesses of Advocate’s (Blayne Cooper) and T. Novan’s minds, and thus belong to no one but us. Copyright ã 2001 by Blayne Cooper and T. Novan. All Rights Reserved.


Sexual Content: Oh, yeah. It’s in there. This is for all the folks who moaned about the lack of graphic sex in Madam President. Feel free to send cash. If you’re under 18, please move along. But everyone else is welcome to pull up a chair and enjoy. This story is intended for an adult audience only.


Violence: Not too much.


Language: Yes, there is some profanity. But don’t tell our moms, okay? Last time my mom bought that soap mechanics use with bits of stuff in it. I can still feel that grit between my teeth. And yes, I did brush.


Special Notice: There once was a tale by Advocate called The Story of Me. In it, a woman named Randi poured her heart out about her stalker, Mac, to a pair of avidly listening squirrels in a city park. Is this a sequel? Nope. Do you have to read The Story of Me to enjoy and understand this one? Absolutely not. But you might get a little more out of this one if you go there first. Trust us, it’s mostly painless.


Acknowledgements: To our beta readers, Midgit, R.S. Corliss, and Medora MacD — your assistance was invaluable. To the friends who read parts of this story and offered sage advice and compliments — we love you. We stick our tongues out in the general direction of the rest of you. And, of course, TN and I had a blast working together. After a break we will be starting the sequel to Madam President. But this was screaming at us first.


Comments/Feedback to: Tnovan@aol.com and advocate8704@yahoo.com





Advocate (Blayne Cooper) and T. Novan


Chapter I


The stars twinkled overhead as Leigh Matthews barreled down I-90 at a constant speed of seventy miles per hour. Despite the fact that it was nearly summer, the cool evening air had forced her to flip on her heater at the last mile marker. It had been a long day of driving and worst of all, it would start all over again — she glanced at her dashboard board clock — in less than six hours.

"What the –?" Leigh mumbled as an unexpected Day-Glo detour sign directed her off the interstate and onto a lonely county road. It was paved and well-marked but wasn’t as straight as the highway had been. Leigh reduced her speed to fifty-five. What little traffic there had been moments before thinned out to nothing, leaving the young woman alone with only the night and her radio for company.

As her truck’s cab grew warmer and warmer Leigh’s eyelids grew heavier and her breathing slower and deeper. She pushed shaggy blonde bangs off her forehead and leaned forward to fiddle with the radio.

"Sinners, repent!"

Leigh jumped.

"Let Jeeeeeesus into your heart!" the speakers blared.

"Aw, Christ. Is it really necessary to take all the fun out of being a sinner?" Leigh rolled her eyes, carefully steered around an enormous unidentified hunk of roadkill, and changed the radio station — somehow managing to do all three things at the same time. She hated A.M. radio, especially in the middle of the night and most especially in the middle of nowhere. Leigh had listened to all her books on tape, and her much-loved CDs held no allure at this late hour. She stifled a yawn and made a slow turn onto another road as another detour sign directed.

Why hadn’t anyone mentioned this detour? Leigh blearily glanced down at her silent CB radio. Disgusted, she’d flipped it off earlier when she couldn’t stomach another second of hearing how Big Bubby Bumboski had conned his portly, and clearly stupid, wife into believing he had an emergency run that would take him the better part of a week. Half the state knew he was going to meet his girl friend and their two sons. Bubby had gone on and on about how proud of the oldest boy he was. It seems Little Big Bubby had made parole just in time for the visit.

This second turn had sent her into an area even more desolate than the first, and Leigh began to wonder fuzzily if she’d somehow gotten lost. Her breaths began to lengthen again, and her head began to droop. Her eyes fluttered closed … just for a second.

Leigh’s head snapped up. Her eyes popped open at the sound of gravel under her wheels. Instinctively, she slammed on her brakes, kicking up a cloud of dust as the massive truck skidded to a halt along the side of the road. Good thing I’m riding bobtail. It would have taken three times the distance to stop with a full rig. Shakily, she clicked off the ignition and was surrounded by stony silence.

Leigh blinked dazedly, her heart pounding a mile a minute, adrenaline coursing through her veins. "Damn." I fell asleep on the road? I haven’t done that since I started driving! She gazed out the large window at her surroundings. It was pitch black … almost. Leigh squinted bloodshot, baby blues as she peered down the road. Off in the distance she could see the faint glow of lights on a sign. "Thank you, God! A motel. I’m going to get a shower after all," she said to no one. Sure, talking to yourself was a clear sign of insanity. But then again, Leigh was pretty certain a truly insane person wouldn’t give a shit. So why should she?

Leigh had grown up on the road with her dad and knew that no matter how desolate an area seemed you usually weren’t too far from one of the thousands of mom-and-pop motels that lined America’s highways. They catered to truckers like herself and other weary, or just plain lost, travelers.

The young woman started up the engine again, and her cherry-red big rig rumbled to life, its high beams cutting through the darkness. Slowly, she pulled back onto the road, hearing the familiar sound of crunching gravel die away as her wheels found the pavement. By the time Leigh shifted from third to fourth gear it was already time to slow down again. She snorted at the flickering sign that read ‘ritz’s’. "Looks like I found the Ritz in the middle of the boonies. Who knew?"

Leigh pulled alongside the small building and pushed open the cab door. She was immediately greeted by a loud chorus of chirping crickets and the smell of slightly damp prairie grass. The wind tossed her hair as she jumped down onto the dirt parking lot. With every footstep she could feel her dreams of a hot shower and a big bed going up in smoke.

She wanted to stamp her foot in disappointment but somehow resisted the urge. A fit where no one could see it, after all, didn’t serve much purpose. Instead, she hung her head and scrubbed her face tiredly as she approached the building. This was no hotel. It was a diner. And — from the darkened windows and the dim outline of chairs propped up on the tables — a very closed diner.

With a slight growl, Leigh stalked back to the truck and climbed inside. She locked her door and then the passenger’s side door. Behind the two front seats was the thin curtain that separated Leigh’s workplace from her home. She kicked off her shoes, not caring where they ended up, and tugged off her lightweight denim shirt and bra.

A small but comfortable bed folded down from the back wall of the truck, and the tired woman flopped down gracelessly, not bothering to remove her blue jeans.

She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.


Leigh’s eyes fluttered open and she moaned softly. "Noooo, it can’t be morning yet. Go away," she petulantly ordered the sun. But for some reason, the sunshine streaming through the windows rudely refused to obey her command. She slid on a clean shirt and grabbed the backpack that contained her toiletries.

Yawning, she rifled her fingers through her short, fair hair in a half-hearted attempt to make herself semi-presentable. But to be honest, right now she was more interested in finding a bathroom than looking pretty. Blonde or no, it wasn’t like she was going to be confused with that insane Martha Stewart anyway. Nature was calling. Loudly. Using her hand to block the sun from her eyes, Leigh stared up at the large sign on top of the diner. The place was called ‘Fitz’s’ not ‘ritz’s’; the top half of the ‘F’ being burnt out.

When Leigh’s gaze dropped from the slightly dilapidated sign, it landed squarely on a figure leaning back in a wooden chair, sitting in shadows outside the diner door. Her eyes widened slightly. The body was long and lean, dressed in beige cargo pants and a blue cotton shirt, its two booted feet propped up on a barrel. Holy hot damn. She tried not to stare but gave up on that idea immediately since she really did want a good look at whoever this was.


Please be a woman, please be a woman, Leigh chanted inwardly. Another two strides and even through the light cloud of smoke that swirled around the body, a head of thick, short auburn hair came clearly into view. Leigh’s eyes dropped to the pale blue shirt, which was, she could see now, unbuttoned, with a crisp, white t-shirt underneath. Then … cha-ching! Bells that sounded remarkably like a cash register opening went off in her mind as she took in the vision of two well-shaped breasts and a slender neck. A tiny growl escaped her throat, and she strained to more clearly make out the features of the woman’s face.

Leigh stopped abruptly when a harried-looking father, holding the hands of two small boys, scurried past her and into the diner. "Potty emergency" was all the man said by way of an apology.

The woman in the chair took another long drag off her cigarette before tossing the stub into a butt can that sat alongside her. Then she brought a frosty, glass Coke bottle to her mouth and took a healthy swig. "Ahhh …" she hummed, smacking her lips with almost sensual pleasure. Nothin’ like a little carbonation to burn away the mornin’ fuzzies. Her green eyes tracked Leigh with idle curiosity as the short woman approached. She snorted and dropped one foot from the barrel, using the toe of her boot to scratch the belly of the cat that sat at the porch below her feet. Lordy, it seems they’re letting runts truck nowadays.

Flea, a coal-black cat, groaned, causing the woman to chuckle. "Thirsty? You’ve had a hard morning of doing absolutely nothing. I’m sure you’ve worked up a powerful thirst."

From her position sprawled out on her back, Flea merely opened her mouth. The green-eyed woman finally tore her eyes from the blonde and casually leaned over to pour her Coke directly into Flea’s waiting mouth.

As Leigh stepped onto the diner’s porch, her jaw sagged at the spectacle. She was so engrossed at the sight of the beautiful woman, not to mention the feline lapping up a continuous stream of Coca Cola, that she didn’t even see the door in front of her swing open. Until it hit her right in the face.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" The woman in the chair jumped to her feet just as Leigh was knocked backwards, landing on her bottom with a resounding thud. A cloud of fine dust kicked up around her, and she coughed weakly as her world spun.

A short, heavyset man, who looked to be pushing sixty, came barreling out of the diner and immediately dropped to Leigh’s side. He swallowed nervously, patting her back gently as she coughed again and tried to fan away the dust with erratic hand movements. "Are you okay, miss?"

Leigh had one hand cupped over the eye that was throbbing with her every heartbeat. She could already feel it swelling shut. "I um … I think so." She looked intently at the man, her brow furrowing. "And do I need to tell it to your twin, too?"

He glanced at the empty space next to him where Leigh was pointing. "Oh, boy. I’m so sorry." The man offered her his hand, helping her stand. "I’m Pete."

"Hi, Pete. I’m –" she momentarily faltered as the diner, not ten feet in front of her, began to blur. I’m going to pass out?

"Whoa there, miss." Pete, who was dressed in white pants, a blindingly white t-shirt and a green apron with ‘Fitz’s’ emblazoned across the chest, wrapped a supportive arm around Leigh. "We’d better go inside and get some ice on that eye. Breakfast is on the house." His gaze flickered over to the tall woman. "Fitz, were you just going to leave her here in the dirt?" he asked grumpily.

"Bu –"

"And I thought you were going to fix that burned out sign." Joe shook his head. "I should fire your –"

"I’m fine," Leigh cut in, trying to get a better look at this Fitz woman, but now her good eye was tearing so much she couldn’t see much of anything. "Really. I was just really to take …" She paused and her mind worked silently as she tried to rephrase what she was going to say. "Umm …"

Pete grunted knowingly and offered, "There’s a washroom inside. C’mon." He pulled open the door, and Leigh was immediately assaulted by the delicious smell of sizzling bacon and coffee.

"Oh, damn, that smells good. But first things first." She made a beeline for the bathroom, automatically heading for the rear of the diner where she knew it would be, saying a small prayer of thanks that the door wasn’t locked.

Just before leaving, she scrubbed her face with icy water and brushed her teeth with the toothbrush she kept in her backpack. Leigh glanced in the mirror and sighed ruefully. "Not great." Once again she ran her fingers through her hair. This was as good as she was going to look without a shower and a full night’s sleep and while sporting what was already promising to become a black eye Muhammad Ali would be proud of.


Oh, man, the guys at Rosie’s are never gonna let me live this down. I’d better come up with a hell of a story to go with it. Getting banged in the face by the door while checking out the local eye candy and some bizarro cat is definitely one they’d believe. It’s just not one I’m going to give them the satisfaction of laughing at. She cringed at the sliver of bloodshot blue barely visible between her puffy eyelids. And to think I thought that saying about things only being fun until someone loses an eye was a crock of shit. Wrong!

Leigh rinsed her toothbrush again, put it back in its case, and tossed it in her backpack. "Breakfast and coffee. That’s the ticket."

Her stomach rumbled as she bellied up to the counter and perched on a padded stool that swiveled as she turned.

Pete chuckled. "Coffee. Over hard, side of hash browns, bagel, and two meats?"

Leigh could only nod and groan — the man was a mind reader. She was afraid if she spoke that the drool that had been pooling in her mouth at the aroma of a hot breakfast would spill out onto the floor. She swallowed and looked around, taking in the retro 1930s or 1940s décor — she wasn’t sure which. "Where is this place?" It was charming in a weird sort of way.

"Heaven, of course," a waitress from behind the counter answered sassily. "Couldn’t you tell by the parking lot? We fixed all the pot holes."

Pete made a face. "Very funny, Mavis." With a stubby finger, he pointed to a booth that had just gone empty. "Don’t you have dishes to bus?"

"Yeah, yeah," Mavis waved him off and poured a man at the counter another cup of coffee.

Pete turned to Leigh. "Welcome to Fitz’s. The woman out front was RJ Fitzgerald, but despite the place’s name, it’s my diner."

"He lost a bet and she made him change the name," Mavis piped up helpfully.

Pete narrowed his hazel eyes, his gaze burning a hole through the waitress. "Thank you so much, Mavis," he said through clenched teeth. "By the way, I have a feeling the grease trap is going to need cleaning today. And tomorrow."

Mavis blanched and scooted her skinny body toward the dirty booth. At least there she’d only be able to get into a little trouble.

Leigh watched Pete and Mavis with mild amusement. "I saw the sign with the name on it out front. I meant — where exactly is the diner? I hit an unexpected detour last night."

"Ah." Pete nodded. "We’ve been getting you folks all morning." He poured Leigh a cup of coffee and set down a small pitcher of fresh cream and a bowl of sugar. "The nearest town is about twenty miles due north."

Leigh didn’t comment. She’d check the map in her truck later. She poured cream into her coffee until it was a pale beige, not bothering to stir the cloudy mixture.

She waited while Pete waved goodbye at the man who’d run in moments before with the two little boys in tow. When the screen door slammed, he glanced down, seeing Leigh’s expectant eyes. "Oh, sorry." Pete grinned. "You are sitting exactly twenty miles from Glory, South Dakota. Population –"

"Who cares!" a group of old men playing dominos at a center table sang out.

"The lady asked, you grumpy old goats!" Pete reprimanded, shaking his dishtowel at the crusty men.

Leigh chuckled behind the rim of her coffee cup. Too many years of being on the road with her father had brought her into a million of these places. Now that she was inside, it only took a second for her seasoned gaze to assure her that this was more than a just a place for travelers to eat. This was, to a precious few, a second home. Regulars were family, if not by blood then by friendship and caring.

Pete winced at the bright purple shiner that Leigh was now sprouting. "Let me get you something cold for that eye. Be right back," he mumbled as he headed into the kitchen.

Leigh turned around slightly when the creaking of the screen door announced someone’s arrival.

RJ Fitzgerald strolled into the diner, the empty Coke bottle held loosely by her fingertips, the bottle swaying back and forth in time with her long stride. She slid behind the opposite end of the counter Leigh was sitting at and put the bottle away in a crate of others just like it. The sound of glass hitting glass was barely audible over the constant clatter of clinking silverware. She picked up a thick, white ceramic coffee cup. Unconsciously twirling it on her index finger, she crossed to a hotplate holding several silver pots of fresh-brewed java. RJ glanced over her shoulder at Leigh and flashed her a sympathetic grin. That eye’s gonna be swelled shut tighter than a Scotsman’s wallet in no time. Poor lass.

RJ shifted to face the trucker fully and after pouring the coffee, braced her elbows on the white, slightly coffee-stained Formica countertop. She sipped her coffee and when she was completely sure she had Leigh’s undivided attention, which, in truth, she’d had from the moment she walked in the door, she pointed to her own eye and mouthed, ‘You okay?’

Leigh’s fingertips grazed the bruised flesh on the side of her face, but she smiled back and nodded her head. It was tender but not excruciating. I’d be more okay if you were sitting in my lap naked. God, I love butch.

RJ winked and then turned so she could yell through the serving window to Pete, who was still fiddling with an ice pack.

"Just so you’ll know, at this rate her eye will be healed and her grandchildren will be grown before you get that back out here," she tormented, stealing a piece of bacon off one of the plates a hefty black woman had slid forward through the service window for Mavis.

Leigh sucked in an appreciative breath. Now that her head wasn’t spinning from the impact of the door, she could for the first time truly hear and appreciate the sweet Irish lilt that laced RJ’s words.

"Fitz!" Mavis barked, automatically adding more bacon to the plate in her hands. If RJ had been anywhere near it, the waitress knew it would come up short. "Take yourself outside and find something useful to do. Don’t be in here causing more trouble." Mavis’ warning was said in such an aggrieved, mothering tone that it caused the young couple in the booth near the door to cover their mouths to hide their sniggers at RJ’s scolding.

"I’d like to know what I did the first time." RJ crossed her arms over her chest, obviously waiting for an answer. "It’s not like it was my fault that she got hit in the face with the door."

"Fitz, out!" This time the order came from the group of men playing dominoes.

RJ shot the rusty codgers a dirty look. "I’m going. I’m going. I know when I’m not wanted." She pulled a soft cotton cap from her back pocket and tugged it onto her head, her wavy, collar-length locks sticking out in wild directions in the back. "I’ll just go out back and play with a very sharp ax."

She grabbed a pair of well-worn leather gloves from her other back pocket and slipped one on. When she walked passed Leigh, she grinned and flashed the fairer woman a heart-stopping smile. "Hope that eye feels better, miss. I’m sorry I can’t stay and chat, but as you can see, I’m being kicked outta here on my arse."

Leigh couldn’t help but laugh along with the other diner patrons. She had never actually heard someone with such a charming accent. .. . She smiled at RJ and the tall woman disappeared out the door.

Pete returned from the kitchen with an ice pack and a delicious-smelling plate of food, which he slid in front of Leigh. "There you go, young lady." He sheepishly gestured at Leigh’s face. "I really am sorry about that."

"It’s okay." Leigh shrugged, her mind more on RJ than her conversion with Pete. "These things happen."


RJ peeled off her shirt and tossed it onto a picnic table, leaving her clad in a white men’s sleeveless undershirt. Her pale, slightly freckled skin instantly warmed in the strong morning sun and she sighed contentedly, rolling the shoulders that were now free from any constriction. Then she moved to the old stump where a long-handled ax was buried and yanked it free. Next she picked up a one-foot maple round that needed to be split so it could be used to fire up the open-pit barbecue later in the week.

Forest-green eyes flicked up and stared at the diner. She could see inside through the open, back screen door and had a perfect view of Leigh’s left leg. To RJ, it seemed that the vibrant woman was having a good time, drinking her coffee and devouring her breakfast. And so what if I can only just a little bit her leg and foot? It’s a very expressive foot!

Without looking, RJ drove the blade of the ax directly into the center of the round, chopping it neatly in half. Years of chopping wood had made it second nature, and she proceeded by rote, her mind wandering as she picked up one of the half-rounds and placed it back on the stump to be split again. Right now, her thoughts were wandering all over a certain petite, blue-eyed blonde trucker. Just like her hands were itching to do. RJ moaned. Loudly.

Flea shuffled around the side of the building and flopped down in the shade of a large tree. She yawned and began licking her paws as her piercing yellow eyes watched RJ chop wood. Flea was glad she wasn’t human. Too much work. Losers.

RJ finally looked down at her four-legged companion and cocked her head to the side. "All right. I admit it. She’s a nice looking dame. Too bad she’s not –"

Before the woman could continue her conversation with the cat, Leigh came around the side of the building with her backpack slung over her shoulder. She marched right up to RJ, allowing her eyes to sweep the length of the taller woman’s lanky frame.

Leigh’s admiration of RJ’s body was so frank and unabashed that RJ actually felt her cheeks heat as she lifted her ax for another swing. Lord! I don’t feel this exposed in my own birthday suit!

The blonde woman smiled, pleased at the sweet flush covering RJ’s face. "Excuse me, but umm, Pete said there was an actual shower I could use around here somewhere?" Her tone was doubtful, though she had no real reason to mistrust Pete. He had given her a free breakfast, and in the great pecking order of life that put him just below her dead father and above everyone else.

RJ completely missed the half-round and, instead, buried the blade into the stump the maple block was sitting on. She groaned inwardly, thinking she was lucky she hadn’t cut off her foot. She pushed back her supreme embarrassment, outwardly projecting an air of total confidence and serenity. RJ jerked a thumb toward the ax and said casually, "I meant to do that."

Leigh glanced down at the ax that was imbedded at an odd angle, nearly shaving off the outside edge of the stump. "I’m sure you did," she said seriously, all the while wrestling the smile from her face.

RJ pulled a white handkerchief out of what Leigh was beginning to suspect were bottomless back pockets and wiped her forehead.

"Shower?" Leigh reminded.

"Oh, yeah, right in there." RJ tilted her head toward the building next to the diner. "It’s the old garage. You won’t find anyone lurking about in there unless it’d be George working on that clunker automobile of his. And I don’t think he’s here today. But there’s a full shower in the back and a rack of clean towels besides. Help yourself."

Leigh smiled and adjusted the pack on her shoulder. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask RJ on a date or to join her in the shower. One or the other. Hell, she’d never been shy around women and her gaydar was pinging so loudly when it came to RJ she was surprised she could still see straight. So to speak. "Thanks. Will um –" Leigh paused when she spied an old rusted-out 1942 Ford pickup parked alongside the garage. She snorted as she took in the ill-kept machine, saying the first thing that popped into her mind. "What self-respecting soul could drive such a piece of shit?"

RJ looked at the black truck, her brow creasing. Piece of shit? She scratched her jaw. "I guess that person would be me. Seeing as how that’s my truck."

Leigh’s eyes widened. Oh, my God. "Ahh…" She winced and tried to think of something nice to say about the dilapidated machine.

Leigh had no qualms about bullshitting the ladies. Hell, she’d learned at her daddy’s knee. And his nickname wasn’t ‘Tom Cat’ for nothing. When he died two years ago and she’d gone from doing the family bookkeeping to driving the big rig herself, the trucking community had taken to calling her ‘Tom Cat’ too, though usually not to her face.

But she never, ever, stretched the truth when it came to trucks. Even itty bitty ones. A woman had to have some principles. "I’m sorry."

RJ put one hand on her hip, easily sensing Leigh’s quandary. "Are you sorry that it’s my truck, or for insulting it so?"

Leigh bit her lower lip. "Yes."

RJ’s eyebrows jumped. She’s a sassy enough thing, that’s for certain. But still, there’s no denying she’s got a great backside. RJ pulled the ax free and straightened the half-round she’s missed on her last swing. She didn’t bother to look at Leigh when she said, "Shower’s in the garage. Door’s unlocked."

The tall woman’s demeanor had definitely cooled, and Leigh tried not to visibly frown. Great. She’s the sensitive type. Secretly, Leigh believed that if you weren’t so sensitive that you’d actually be caught riding in — or worse driving — a piece of shit, you shouldn’t get upset when people commented about it. True, the truck was unfit to share the roads with decent, well-loved vehicles, but it had been Leigh’s experience that nobody really liked to hear that. She gave a short nod and quickly began making her way to the garage, muttering another apology under her breath as she passed RJ.

And though it wasn’t easy, at the same time Leigh categorized RJ Fitzgerald in that ever-so-tiny compartment of her brain she’d dedicated to ‘those that got away.’ Now she was heading for a hot shower and later — the peace and loneliness of the open road.



Chapter II


RJ stepped into Sam’s barbershop. Flea had wrapped herself around RJ’s shoulders and was using the tall woman as a cat taxi. When RJ shut the door behind her, she gave a little shrug and Flea jumped down, immediately finding the soft pillow in the corner of the shop that was reserved solely for her.

RJ removed her cap, stuffing it in her back pocket. She huffed to herself, noting that every pair of eyes in the shop had trained themselves on her. With a quick movement she stuffed her aviator sunglasses into the front pocket of her shirt.

The brunette stared back at the small crowd of men. "What? Did I grow another head? If I did, I’m sure it’ll be needing its hair cut too." She settled down in the chair, kicking out long legs in front of her and giving an almost dirty look to Sammy, the barber.

"You know," Sammy started, even as he snapped the cape around her neck, then ran a comb through RJ’s thick hair. "You are a woman. It would be okay if you wanted to let this grow out."

RJ’s hand immediately went to her head. Her hair was barely trimmed up off her ears and worn combed straight back. It was longer on top, her uneven, reddish-brown waves just grazing the bottom edge of her shirt collar in back. "I know I’m a woman, you silly bastard. I also know I like my hair just fine the way it is. It’s easy to take care of this way. So just cut it and keep the commentary to yourself."

"Yes, ma’am," Sammy snorted, taking his scissors in hand. Much to RJ’s mother’s chagrin he’d been cutting RJ’s hair ever since Mildred, the owner of the local beauty salon, refused to give RJ her preferred short cut when RJ was still in high school. They had the same argument every time she came in. He always waited until she called him a ‘silly bastard’ before he started cutting her hair. It was his own half-hearted protest. He knew that some young women liked it short nowadays, though why was still a mystery to him.

A man whose face was still shiny and stinging from the aftershave that had been slapped on it sat alongside RJ. He turned the page of his magazine. "That little trucker at the diner had pretty blonde hair," Luke said, his eyes never leaving the magazine. "Still, my tastes have always run to longer style. Remember Rita Hayworth? Now that was some lovely hair."

"Remember?" Johnny replied incredulously. "Do I look senile to you?" He leaned against the table that held the shop’s cash register. "But the trucker was a looker." Johnny gave RJ a shit-eating grin. "I’m thinking her hair was damn near the exact color of sweet corn in the summertime." He shrugged. "Short and shaggy-looking, but still feminine." The slim man strolled over to Luke who was now chuckling and holding his magazine unnaturally high so as to cover his face. "She was a real looker, wasn’t she, Fitz?"

"I didn’t notice her hair." RJ shifted uncomfortably in her chair. I should have known coming here today would be a mistake!

A third man with a rotund belly and a half-smoked cigar hanging out of his mouth croaked from his spot at the checkerboard in the corner, "Of course not, you were too busy looking at her boobs."

"I was not!" RJ defended, almost coming out of the chair.

"Damn it, RJ, settle down before I scalp you bald!" Sammy ordered, pushing the woman back into the chair and resettling the cape around her shoulders.

"You’re all nasty old goats. The lot of you." RJ’s cheeks were flaming hot, and by the intensified laughter among the men, she knew they looked as flushed as they felt. "I don’t know why I put up with you."

"Because this is the only barbershop in town and if you didn’t come in here you’d be forced to cut it yourself. Then you’d be in a real mess." Johnny grinned as he crossed over to the checkerboard and jumped several of his opponent’s pieces. "King me, Charlie."

Charlie’s eyes turned to slits, and he yanked his cigar from his mouth. "I’d like to king you, you cheatin’ rat bas–"

Johnny tossed the magazine into the pile, then leaned over to the old-fashioned cooler where Sammy kept a stash of frosty root beers. "So, if you didn’t notice her hair and you weren’t looking at her marangas, what did you notice? Her butt?"

"It was shaped just right," Luke cooed dreamily, just to torment RJ further.

"Bunch of perverts. I can’t count the years between you and you were staring at her backside? Hey," RJ pointed at Johnny, "don’t even think of opening that root beer unless you’re prepared to share with Flea. She has feelings too."

RJ’s words proved prophetic, and the cat silently wandered over and flopped down in front of Johnny. She scratched her face with one slender paw before rolling onto her back and opening her mouth, waiting.

"You spoil her." Johnny pried the top off the bottle with the opener attached to the machine, careful not to let the bottle cap drop into Flea’s gaping mouth.

"That’s what she’s here for, among other things — to keep me company and so I can spoil her. You’re just jealous."

"Bet she gets steak or liver two times a week, doesn’t she?" Johnny drizzled a little of fizzing liquid into the black cat’s gulping mouth, then he took a long drink himself before wiping his lips on the back of his sleeve. He looked at his sleeve and smiled at the small stain. He was damn near positive he’d gotten it all out of his mustache in one try. His horoscope had been so right. Today was going to be a great day!

RJ tilted her head down and Sammy snipped no more than a quarter of an inch off the back of her auburn locks. He gathered a little of RJ’s hair in his hand, thinking she could wear it in a tiny ponytail if she had a mind to.

"Flea gets liver twice a week, steak twice a week, and chicken twice a week. On Fridays we all have fish." RJ’s tone turned irritated. "We’re Catholic, you know."

Luke sniggered. "You might be Catholic. I’m not sure Flea is."

"Doesn’t matter. I eat fish. Flea eats fish. We’re a team."

Sammy jabbed RJ in the shoulder with his finger. "So tell us about the little blonde with the big red truck."

RJ tried to shrug, but Sammy held her shoulder firm, silently scolding her for the anticipated movement. "What’s to tell? She came into the diner, got knocked senseless by the door. Pete fixed her breakfast, she took a shower in the garage. And then she left." Her smile was brighter than the morning sunshine. And if she’d asked me for a tongue bath instead of a shower, I’d have been more than happy to oblige. But did she have to insult my truck so? "Not too damn much, if you ask me."

Sammy cleared his throat and grinned at his friends in the shop. "What color were her eyes?"

"Blue," RJ responded automatically, sending the entire room into a fit of laughter.

Charlie nearly choked on his cigar.

"All right! That’s it!" RJ bolted from the chair, ripping the cape from her neck. She tossed it into her empty chair, then pulled her cap from her pocket and jammed it onto her head. Digging in her pocket, she pulled out some money, which she pushed into Sammy’s outstretched hand. "You’re all just … just … Aww, hell! Come on, Flea!"

The snorts and knee-slapping laughter could be heard out onto the street as RJ and Flea made a hasty exit. The cat let RJ get a few steps in front of her, and then, with a running start, she bounded up RJ’s back and settled on her shoulder, sneezing when she inhaled a small cut hair that had worked its way under the barber’s cape. RJ didn’t even slow her stride.

"Silly sons-a-bit –" she stopped suddenly when she realized her grouching and her cussing were about to be overheard by Mrs. Amos. RJ smiled and tried to look properly contrite as she moved to the door of the grocer’s and extended her arms. "Can I give you a hand with those, Mrs. Amos?" She inquired, pointing at the two large paper sacks at the older woman’s feet. The elderly tended to use the old grocer downtown, while everybody else frequented the newer, bigger building on the edge of Glory.

Mrs. Amos, a contemporary of RJ’s grandmother, pulled on her white gloves, buttoning the small pearl at the wrist, and adjusted her handbag on her arm. "That’d be very nice, Ruth Jean, thank you." She held out her arms and Flea happily jumped into them, purring when Mrs. Amos gave her belly a good scratching.

RJ winced at the use of her much-hated full name and muttered, "My pleasure, ma’am." The young woman knelt and scooped both bags into her arms, then prepared for what would no doubt be an excruciatingly slow walk back to Mrs. Amos’ house.

"How’s your mother, Ruth Jean?"

"She’s fine, ma’am. Busy as always, puttering around the house. It’s this week I think she’s planning on painting the dining room. She wants it done before Easter, you know."

"Of course. Your mother’s Easter brunches are legendary. Mr. Amos and I are looking forward to it, as always."

"Hmm, yes, ma’am, that they are."

"So," Mrs. Amos primly adjusted her handbag again, her gait so short and slow that RJ began to wonder if they were moving at all. "Mavis mentioned that the diner was busy yesterday."

RJ groaned.

Flea laughed. Sort of. Hell, even she felt bad for RJ. Sort of.


Does everyone have to know my business? What a town of busy bodies! You’d think we’d gone out back and necked under that old tree. Not that that was a particularly bad idea, but it hadn’t happened and wasn’t likely to now that the young woman had moved on. RJ rolled her eyes, hoping Mrs. Amos wouldn’t catch the gesture and rat her out to her mother. "Yes, ma’am, we had our share of folks that were just plain lost due to that detour."

"Mavis mentioned one young woman in particular."


Of course she did. Mavis is a gossipy fishwife if there ever was one! "She did, did she?" Oh, yeah. The whole town was talking about the blonde. Leigh, wasn’t that what she told Pete? She hadn’t caught a last name.

"Oh, my, yes." Mrs. Amos nodded. "Mavis told me she was a pretty thing about your age, driving a big red truck, if you can imagine that."

"That she was."

"Pretty or driving a big red truck?"

"Both," RJ allowed begrudgingly.

"Did you speak with her?"

"Not all that much." RJ shifted the bags in her arms. What did she buy? Bricks? "There were logs to be split. I was busy."

"I see," she snipped. "You’re always too busy taking care of other things before yourself, aren’t you, RJ? Looking out for other folks first, that’s what you do. You know, you might want to look around you and see that it’s okay to take care of yourself once in a while."

RJ sighed quietly. "Yes, ma’am." God, my mother’s been visiting with her too often! "But you know that my parents raised me right."

"That they did, dear." Mrs. Amos patted RJ’s hand as the women slowed even further so two little girls on bicycles could zoom across the sidewalk in front of them. "You’ve always been a delight, except for those wicked puberty years, of course."

RJ smiled insincerely.

"Occasionally you just have to take time for yourself. I’m sure this lady wouldn’t mind," she stroked Flea lovingly, and RJ swore she saw the cat stick her tongue out at her.

"I’ll remember, I’ll remember. But sometimes It’s easier said than done, Mrs. Amos." It’s not like Glory is chock full of eligible women who can’t resist my significant charms, now is it? "But if the chance should arise again, I’ll certainly think on it." Hell, even if the chance doesn’t present itself again anytime soon, I’ll be thinking about the blonde.

"You do that, Ruth Jean."

After delivering Mrs. Amos and her shopping safely home, RJ headed over to the hardware store to pick up the paint that would be required to spruce up the dining room in her parents’ house.

She looked down at her furry little companion. "This place is going to be just like the last, you know?"

Flea licked her lips. More root beer?

"Well," RJ huffed, placing her fists on her hips. "Glad to know you’re on my side in all of this, pal. You could stand to be just a little more encouraging."

This time Flea ignored RJ completely. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand it was a whiny human. Wasn’t it nap time again?

At Flea’s obvious snub, RJ said, "Thanks so much." Shaking her head, she entered the store.

"Good morning, RJ," the woman behind the counter offered as RJ came through the door. She turned down the blaring radio.

"Mornin’, Mrs. Morgan. I’ve come to fetch the paint for my mother."

"It’s all boxed up and ready for you. I put it on your tab." Alice Morgan gestured with her chin. "Right there by the door. A gallon of robin’s egg blue and a quart of trim paint. I imagine you’ll be busy for a few days."

RJ smiled and nodded as she looked into the crate. She was grateful that it seemed that at least one person wasn’t interested in what had happened at the diner yesterday.

Alice leaned forward and whispered loudly to RJ, "I also slipped that new red shirt I made for you into the box. You might want to wear it down to the diner next time you go. I’m betting the trucker would like you in a red shirt."

RJ’s shoulders slumped. So much for that theory.


One end of Leigh’s route started in South Dakota. It ran from Sioux Falls to Rapid City, to Buffalo, Wyoming, and then into Montana. From Billings she went to Helena and Missoula and ended in Seattle, Washington, before she turned around and drove back. Three ten-hour days of driving from end to end if Leigh didn’t count traffic, construction, detours, poor weather or the occasional need to pee. Then a half day in Seattle and Sioux Falls to load, unload and load her cargo again, and she was back on the road. It was a grueling, endless loop that Leigh ran for three weeks straight then took a full week off.

It wasn’t the type of run most people could handle on a continuous basis, but Leigh’s clients paid premium rates for her reliable service, and she continued to push herself hard. In just under two years, she’d earned enough to fully pay off her father’s truck, give a lump sum to both of his ex-wives, each of whom had a couple of children by her father, and put a tidy sum in a jar under the truck seat, besides. Hell, the kids were all sweet, even if her dad’s ex-wives weren’t, and Leigh figured they shouldn’t have to suffer just because her father died with only enough life insurance to bury him. Nearly twenty years separated her from the oldest half-brother, and a part of her was sad that none of them would really know her or her father. Their moms had both remarried, and there wasn’t any place in their lives for a sister they never knew anyway.

A few more years of trucking and Leigh planned to sell her rig while it still held most of its value. She was bound and determined to get a normal life and do whatever it is non-trucking people did. She hoped it included more sex and that hemorrhoids wouldn’t be an occupational hazard.

She’d pulled away from the diner right after her shower, telling herself not to give into temptation and take one long last look at the beauty chopping wood. She’d been completely unable to resist the impulse, of course. Leigh didn’t have the willpower of a gnat. Since then she’d made good time and was already enjoying the quiet beauty of Montana.

"Breaker 1-9, this is Red Rooster looking for Tom– errr … Leigh." Rooster knew better than to call Leigh ‘Tom Cat’ over the airwaves … at least while he figured there was a chance she’d hear him. After all, he still hoped to have children someday. "You out there, Leigh?" He hated breaking protocol by using her real name. But she left him little choice.

She pushed the button on her radio that allowed for hands-free communication as she passed a slow-moving station wagon loaded with kids. "Hiya, Rooster. Let’s take it to down to Monday." That was the code her daddy used when he wanted to switch from the main channel to just have a little more privacy. Monday was the second day of the week, so Leigh adjusted her radio frequency two channels down.

"Will do, Leigh. See you there."

Another few seconds and Rooster’s voice filled her cab again. "Well, now, ‘bout time you started listening to the radio again. I’ve been trying to get you since yesterday."

Leigh snorted. "If I sat around and listened to you boys all day, I’d be as full of shit as you are."

Rooster laughed. "Can’t argue with that. Everything okay, though?" He’d been a longtime friend of her daddy’s and tried to check in on Leigh every once in a while. The man had given Leigh her first beer. Okay, she was nine years old at the time, but he only let her drink half. In his mind, he was practically her godfather.

"Everything’s fine, Rooster." Leigh’s eyes filled with unexpected tears, and she wiped them away angrily. "You don’t have to worry about me."

"I didn’t say I was worried," the man lied. "I just asked how you were. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of you in nearly two months."

"I’ve been busy."

"Driving? Leigh, we’re all busy driving. That still doesn’t explain why I haven’t seen you."

"Rooster," Leigh drew out his name menacing. "I’ve been busy." She enunciated each word so precisely that Rooster knew the subject was now officially closed.

But he couldn’t help but adding, "I’m going to stop at Rosie’s tonight." Rooster didn’t phrase it as a question, but he knew by the long silence on the other end of the radio that Leigh was thinking about it.

Leigh glanced at her odometer, then her watch. "I’ll be there," she finally said, clicking off her radio before Rooster had a chance to reply.


It was nearly 8:00 p.m. when Leigh pulled into Rosie’s Truck Stop. She could already see Rooster’s royal blue rig parked alongside another dozen trucks, several of which she recognized. Leigh eased the truck into the long spaces designed for her type of vehicle and killed the ignition. She hadn’t been avoiding this place, just not going out of her way to stop.

Leigh unconsciously gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. What the hell is wrong with me? Last night her dreams had been filled with piercing green eyes. In fact, Leigh felt as though she’d been set on a low burn ever since she stopped at Fitz’s Diner. Her knuckles turned white against the large steering wheel. Time to do something about that, she thought determinedly.

The short woman jumped out of the truck and marched through the door at Rosie’s. In the back, waiting on a table was a waitress in a tight pink outfit. She was a little older than Leigh, with long, light brown hair and healthy curves in all the right places. The waitress leaned over to reach for a glass, and Leigh’s eyes opened a little wider. Oh, yeah. Come to mama. She took a step toward the woman only to be held back by Rooster.

"Whoa there!" Rooster’s gaze drifted toward the waitress, and he shook his head. "Time for that later." Leigh heard several sniggers from a table behind her and a mumbled ‘Tom Cat’ or two. "Come join us."

Leigh wanted to shrug Rooster’s large hand off her shoulder. But she didn’t. Instead, she drew in a deep calming breath and turned to face the enormous man. Rooster was six and a half feet of pure, unadulterated blubber. Even his chins had chins. He was as carrot-topped as Lucille Ball, hence his unimaginative nickname. "Hi, Rooster," Leigh said softly, suddenly feeling terribly guilty for not seeing the old family friend in the last couple of months.

"Wow!" He gently touched Leigh’s swollen cheek. "I hope she was worth it."

"Very funny." And I’m sure she would have been.

"Hello, Leigh. Or is it Slugger now?" Rooster smiled gently and wrapped his arm around her shoulders to guide her back to his table where several other truckers who Leigh knew almost as well as she knew Rooster were sitting. "I see you haven’t grown any," the big man teased. "I was holding out hope."

Leigh chuckled to herself. "Do you have any idea how old I am, Rooster?"

The man’s brow creased deeply as he thought. He’d known her daddy forever. But Leigh was just a tiny thing — compact and strong, but short as hell. He thought harder. She had to be at least eighteen to drive Tom Cat’s truck. Hmm … She’d been at it for a while now. "Nineteen?" he hazarded, hoping he was within a few years either way.

"Jesus, Rooster," Leigh snorted. "I’m going to be twenty-eight years old next month. I’m not going to grow any more!"

"Twenty-eight?" Rooster blinked. Damn. He began to wonder if the things his wife said about beer were true. Were all his brain cells were really dissolving like Jell-O on a hotplate? "Okay, Ethel." he mumbled, crossing his heart. "Light beer for a week. So help me, God."

"Tom Cat!" A man at Rooster’s table stupidly called out when Leigh pulled out a chair.

Without hesitation, Leigh smacked him in the back of the head, sending his baseball cap into his chili. "God dammit, To– "

Leigh’s evil stare stopped him mid word.

"Leigh," he finished awkwardly, aware that Rooster was now laughing at him. "That was my Braves hat, after all!"

"And now you’re down to a million minus one. Live with it. And don’t even ask about my eye. I’m not telling and that’s final."

A round of whining moans met Leigh’s pronouncement.

Leigh raised her hand, indicating she needed a waitress. A shiver chased down her spine when the bony woman with dishrag-limp gray hair and a space between her front teeth you could drive a truck through — even Leigh’s enormous truck — waved tiredly back.

"Did you have to call over the butt-ugly new waitress?" Rooster complained. He tossed his napkin on his plate, which held nothing but crumbs. "Now you’ve made me go and lose my appetite."

"What?" Leigh spread her hands open. "I’m hungry. Besides, nothing has ever made you lose your appetite. And she’s not that ug– " Leigh stopped when the woman sidled up to the table.

"I’m Stephanie." The haggard, middle-aged woman pointed to her nametag for those too stupid to understand what she was saying. "Your waitress."

Leigh nodded slowly. "You’re new here, right, Stephanie?"

"Hell, yes." She stuck her hand up her blouse and began adjusting her bra.

Leigh wondered why she bothered wearing one at all. Two strategically placed Band-Aids would have done the trick nicely.

Stephanie popped her gum. "Who would work in this place, serving these slobs, for any longer than they had to? The tips suck."

"Gee, I wonder why," Leigh deadpanned.

"’Cause these guys are cheap-asses," Stephanie answered, oblivious to Leigh’s sarcasm. Seeming to suddenly tire of the most stimulating conversation she’d had all day, Stephanie droned, "What’ll you have?" She pulled a pencil out from behind her ear and turned bored eyes to Leigh.

"Hamburger with the works, onion rings, and iced tea."

Stephanie nodded and popped her gum again before turning around.

When the waitress was out of earshot Leigh leaned forward and looked at Black Jack, who was, unsurprisingly, a black man named Jack. "I guess there’s finally a waitress at Rosie’s you won’t try to bed."

Black Jack suddenly began to sink lower in his chair.

"Oh, my God," Leigh whispered loudly, her face twisting into the same expression she usually reserved for when she had to scrape roadkill from between the grates of her truck’s grill. "You slept with her? That’s just so … so …" she gestured wildly.

"Disgusting," Rooster offered helpfully.


Black Jack didn’t have to ask Leigh to keep his little indiscretion from his wife. There was a code among truckers. What happened on the road stayed on the road. Where it belonged. "I shouldn’t have done it."

"No shit. And your wife is a good woman, Black Jack," she reminded pointedly. Sure, he chased the waitresses at the diner. But it wasn’t like he’d actually caught any before. She’d thought of it as harmless fun. Until now.

Black Jack looked properly chastised.

"God, you guys are so gross." The blonde woman snorted. "And you wonder why I like women. Single women."

Rooster scratched his neck. "No, we don’t, Leigh."

All the men nodded their agreement, causing Leigh’s eyebrows to crawl up her forehead.

"We understand completely." Black Jack sat up a little straighter. "We like them, too. In fact –"

Leigh leaned over and clamped her hand over Black Jack’s mouth. "Please don’t tell me. I’m already having trouble sleeping. Nightmares won’t help." The waitress who had caught Leigh’s eye earlier strolled past Leigh’s table, untying her apron, her hips swaying gently with every step. The blonde smiled broadly.

"Well, boys, it’s been real." She leaned over and kissed Rooster on the cheek. "I’m not hungry." At least not for burgers. "You can have my dinner." Leigh tossed a ten-dollar bill on the table. "The change is for Stephanie," she warned the men before following the waitress out the front door.

Rooster pushed his plate out of the way in preparation for Leigh’s. Good food should never go to waste.

"You still worried about Tom Cat?" Black Jack asked at the same time the diner door closed.

He hadn’t talked to Leigh about her life or what was going on with her. But she seemed pretty much the same as always. Maybe a little tired looking. But trucking was a hard life. Nobody knew that better than Leigh. "Nope." Rooster unbuttoned the top button of his jeans. A man had to be comfortable. "I think Tom Cat is doing just fine."


"You ignored me."

"I did not."

"You did. And I should make you beg because of it."

A soft laugh. "You did make me beg."

"No, that was me."

Leigh yawned and snuggled back into damp sheets that felt cool against her overheated skin. Her chest was still heaving, and she consciously made an effort to slow her pounding heart. "Oh, yeah."

The naked woman half-sprawled across Leigh drew the very tip of her finger up from Leigh’s belly button to the baby-soft valley between her breasts.

Leigh arched into the sensual touch despite herself. "Judith," she said softly. "You trying to kill me?" She reached up and grabbed Judith’s hand, kissing each fingertip before laying it back on her belly. But no sooner had she let go of the hand before it began to wander again.

"Stay tomorrow."

Leigh closed her eyes. "I can’t. You know that."

"Can’t or won’t?"

Leigh sighed heavily.

"Don’t say it, don’t say it. You’ve got a schedule to keep." Judith’s fingernail grazed Leigh’s nipple, earning her a soft growl as Leigh’s desire began to flare again. "Why do I always let you do this?"

"The same reason I always let you do this," Leigh whispered as she began to softly kiss Judith’s neck. "It feels great."

The waitress gasped and shifted herself until she was fully on top of Leigh and straddling one thigh. "There is that," she groaned when Leigh’s hands found their way to her hips and she began to slide against the sweat-slicked skin. "Are …" she swallowed hard as her hips picked up a steady rhythm. "Are … God … Are you ever going to stay?"

Leigh’s hands froze, and she looked up at Judith seriously. She was slightly panting. "Probably not."

Judith leaned down and kissed Leigh hard, her own body moving once again. "That’s what I thought."


The next morning Judith woke up in an empty bed that smelled like Leigh and sex. On Leigh’s pillow was a note. She smiled a bittersweet smile and unfolded the small slip of paper. Leigh always left a note.


No matter what anybody says, the most delicious thing at Rosie’s is

not the hamburgers. Take care, Judith. I had a wonderful time. Thank you.

— Leigh

Judith chuckled and tucked the note into the drawer of her nightstand. If she tried, she could almost hear the hum of Leigh’s truck in the distance.



Chapter III


"I’m not. I’m not!" Leigh tapped the steering wheel in an uneven, listless pattern. "I’m not getting sleepy." She shook her head from side to side and tried to focus on the road. She’d been driving through thunderstorms for hundreds of miles, and the rain had finally given way to one of the densest night fogs the trucker had ever seen. She’d encountered numerous wrecks along the way and knew better than to park her truck along the roadside — even with her fog lights on. Besides, she had miles to make up. Thirty miles per hour is no way to drive ‘cross country, she thought glumly. It was the middle of the night, and Leigh was miserable.

She blinked rapidly, but the motion still didn’t clear her vision completely. God, even I have my limit. "Need a place to stop." Sleepy blue eyes scanned the roadside. She was halfway between nowhere and the boonies. And yet …

"I think … yeah." Leigh nodded a little. "It can’t be too far away." It wouldn’t be on her map, she knew. She’d checked after driving away a few weeks ago. Apparently, Glory, South Dakota, was too small to warrant even a tiny dot. Leigh passed through this area every week on her route and had considered pulling off the Interstate and finding Fitz’s diner just about every time she drove by. But the road construction was over, and the detour was gone. And she realized that even if she wanted to find it, she really didn’t know exactly where Fitz’s was. Other than it was twenty miles from Glory. Wherever that was.

Leigh sighed. There was more to it than that, and she knew it. Her last, albeit brief conversation with RJ had made her hesitant to return. They hadn’t exactly argued, but still, it was awkward. Why, oh why, did she have to drive such a piece of shit? Leigh didn’t even know what kind of car Judith drove. Had never even thought of it. Ignorance, she decided, truly was bliss.

Taking a chance Leigh pulled off on the very next county road and headed north. She had to slow to no more than ten miles per hour when even her truck’s powerful low beams weren’t cutting through the dense curtain of hazy moisture. Another hour passed, and when she was certain she was good and lost Leigh pulled onto a wide dirt road and drove only about fifty feet. She eased her truck to the side, killing her engine and lights. Leigh half-expected to see the blinking ‘ritz’s’ sign in the distance. But she didn’t.

Unbuckling the seat belt, she popped open her door and dropped down onto the wet ground. The air felt heavy against her skin and fine mist instantly enveloped her, dampening her hair and clothes. She pulled in a deep breath of fresh, moist air. "I’m totally lost," she moaned, her eyes scanning her surroundings. She saw nothing but mud, prairie grass and fog. Leigh rubbed her temples and debated relieving herself outside. It wasn’t like anyone was going to see her in this weather and at this time of night. But then she remembered the ticks that had attached themselves to her ass while she was squatting a few years ago. Scowling, Leigh unconsciously rubbed her butt. Their removal was even more humiliating than their discovery. No, morning would be soon enough.

It was so dark she didn’t bother to close the curtains in the small living space of her cab. Instead, she stripped down to her panties and crawled into bed, pulling up the soft sheet. Her eyes fluttered shut and she exhaled slowly. Her body relaxed immediately, and she tumbled into a deep, dreamless sleep.


The male squirrel wearily sat up and cracked open his beady black eyes. "Where am I?" He looked around the back of what appeared to be a moving truck. Moving? "I’ve been kidnapped!" he wailed piteously. "Stolen from Potter Park. Torn from the breast of my community in the prime of my life!" The rodent tried to bury his head in his arms as he sobbed. But sadly, his stubby appendages were too short. Damn God and her sick sense of humor!

"You have not been kidnapped, fool," his long-time mate hissed. "You went on an all-night bender and passed out drunk!" The larger squirrel kicked at the half-crushed beer can that the male was leaning against.

He only groaned, looking at the can. It was white with black letters that proclaimed, ‘Beer’. Generic beer? When he pushed off the can it rolled over and the back was revealed. ‘Suitable for human consumption.’ Oh, the misery! How low had he stooped?

The sound of a honking horn caused the female to reach up to cover her ears but, like her mate, she couldn’t reach them without ducking her head awkwardly. She repeated her husband’s virulent curse, not knowing the chain of events their simple words would set in motion.


RJ blew on the embers, igniting the tinder so the flames would grow and consume the larger sticks. Once she was satisfied the fire was doing all right without her, she stood and picked up her beer from the table. Taking a drink from the long neck bottle, she watched the fire grow. I’m a firebug. It’s a good thing those stories my mother told me about playing with matches weren’t true.

Flea stood up from her spot in the very center of the picnic table and gave a good cat stretch, her arms outstretched in front of her, purring all the while. Then she proceeded to dig her nails into the table; it was the perfect scratching post.

"Ruth Jean Fitzgerald! What is it you that you think you’re doin’?"

"Mother?" RJ whirled around, quickly putting the bottle behind her back and spilling most of it down her legs when she did. "Damn," she muttered as she tried to surreptitiously toss the bottle away. Now I look as though I’ve pissed myself. I am twenty-seven years old. It’s not fair!

Flea smiled and plopped back, content to watch the show. She hated beer anyway, unless, of course, it was root beer.

Katherine Fitzgerald crossed to the picnic table, placing two large milkglass bowls down. RJ tried to look into the bowls, sure that they would be holding potato salad and coleslaw, both of which her mother made the very best of.

"Playin’ with matches?" The stout woman waggled her finger at RJ. "You know that causes people to wet the bed."

"Mo– " RJ swallowed hard at the look on her mother’s face. "Excuse me for interrupting, ma’am."

Katherine nodded and cleared her throat. "As I was saying … was that a beer you were drinkin’ at this hour of the mornin’?" She leaned over and discreetly sniffed the air, making a face at the odor now wafting from her oldest daughter.

RJ sighed and nodded; there was no use in denying it. Besides she really did smell like a brewery now that she was wearing most of her drink. "Yes, Mother, it was."

Katie gave RJ her famous exasperated look. "I don’t know what I’m going to do with you." She threw her hands in the air. "Your short hair, your drinkin’ and smokin,’ and don’t think I haven’t heard you cussin’."

"Mother …"

"There’s not a respectable person who’d have a thing to do with a heathen such as yourself."

RJ sighed again. Normally she only got the lecture on Sundays, but with the town social being today, apparently Mother Fitzgerald felt the need to get it out of her system.

Flea sniffed and licked her lips, hoping Mrs. Fitzgerald remembered the olives in the potato salad. That was just the way she liked. But either way, Katie was a good mother. She should have been a cat.


One by one just about everyone in town began to arrive at Fitz’s. It was going to be a lovely day. The grass was still a little damp, but the light spring breeze and warm sun had mostly taken care of that. The enormous outdoor grill was going strong and would cook enough food to last the entire day. Picnic tables covered with bright red and white checked cloths dotted the grassy area behind the diner.

"Hey, you!" a strong male voice boomed from behind RJ. She slowly turned to face a young man about her own age and height. He had a head of bright red hair and his blue eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, but his smile was familiar. Liam Fitzgerald held up two long necks. "I’ll trade you a beer for a smoke."

"Yeah, and if Mother is lurking about I’ll get the short end of her temper again, Big Brother. No thanks."

"Mother is in the diner with Mrs. Amos and some of them old hens. You’re in the clear." He bumped shoulders with RJ. "Has your big brother ever led you astray before?"

"Do you really want me to answer that, you silly bastard?"

"Nah," he laughed. "No need." He jiggled sweating bottles, clinking them together. "So how about it?"

RJ snorted softly at her own lack of willpower and fished her Lucky’s out of her pants pocket. She tapped one from the pack and exchanged it for a beer. Taking a tiny box of matches from her pocket, she flicked her nail against a match tip, causing it to flare to life.

Liam bent and lit the cigarette, taking a deep drag as soon as he was able. He spit an errant piece of tobacco from the end of his tongue and took a seat on the picnic table, smoke swirling around his head. His bright blue eyes tilted skyward. "It’s a beautiful day. Going to be good for the picnic." He waited a moment before saying, "I hope that Mary comes down today. It’d be a shame to miss her."

RJ’s arched an eyebrow at her brother. "You be careful there, Liam. If Mother and Father find out you’re trying to get your hooks into one of those O’Rielly girls there’ll be hell to pay." And I would know. She smirked inwardly, thinking of Mary’s older sister. RJ stopped smirking, however, when she remembered the pretty brunette had taken up with the postmaster and they now had six kids.

"Are you gonna be telling on me, Little Miss ‘I wonder where the cute blonde trucker went to’?"

RJ choked on her beer and tried to hide the grin. But Liam was right. She hadn’t been able to think about anything since. And even her stash of ‘special reading material’ didn’t touch the ache that had appeared along with Leigh. "No, of course not. I’m just saying be careful, that’s all. I think Mary is a pretty girl." RJ shrugged. "She likes you well enough, I’m thinking."

"You know this to be fact, do you?" Liam perked up and looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was around and listening. "How would you have this information, Ruth Jean? Don’t be holding out on me now." He suddenly sat up a little straighter as if the light bulb in his brain just blinked on. "And just how well do you know Mary O’Rielly? Hmmm?"


Leigh opened her eyes slowly, blinking at the bright sunshine. She swung her feet over the side of the bed and her bladder immediately protested the movement. "Oh, man. Bathroom now."

The trucker yawned and slid into the front seat with a little more urgency than usual. She automatically reached for her sunglasses and then seatbelt, wiggling a little as the cool strap covered her breast. She looked down and blinked stupidly, realizing she’d strapped herself into her front seat wearing only her panties. Leigh laughed, wondering just how many free truck washes she could score if she rode around like this. She unbuckled her seatbelt and glanced up to find …

"I’ll be God damned! I drove right by it last night in that fog."

Not five hundred feet down the road she’d turned off last night sat Fitz’s diner. The ‘F’ on the sign had been repaired. But the lights either weren’t working or not in use during the daylight.


Fitz’s equals bathroom. Fitz’s equals shower. Fitz’s equals good, hot food. Fitz’s equals buff, butch, beautiful woman chopping wood in skimpy undershirt with no bra on! Leigh’s mind screamed. The young woman scrambled behind the curtain in her cab and tugged on a pair of faded blue jeans and a mint-green polo shirt. She tucked the shirt in and skipped the belt, wiggling her feet into a pair of comfortable, well-worn high top sneakers. Leigh ran her fingers through her hair and grabbed the bag that contained her toiletries, a fresh pair of panties and a bra.

She was sliding across the front seat to get out when she suddenly stopped and began digging through her bag. When she found the antiperspirant she made quick use of it before tucking it back into the sack. She’d already insulted RJ’s truck; the last thing she needed to do was come walking back into the diner smelling rank.

Instead of driving to the diner, Leigh jogged the five hundred feet. It was beautiful out and by the high position of the sun she could tell it was early afternoon. She’d slept for nearly ten hours, but felt worlds better for it.

The small parking lot was full of mostly old beaters, though she spotted a shiny new Taurus and a 1980s model Chevy Caprice near the diner door. As she got closer she could see throngs of people milling in and about the diner. The air smelled like BBQ, and Leigh’s stomach growled appreciatively. It’s a party. I wonder if she’ll be there.

When Leigh pushed open the diner door, the conversion in the small building ground to a halt. Even the song on the jukebox seemed to end at that very moment. Nearly every set of eyes in the place turned to Leigh and stared.

Leigh could feel her face growing hot. She looked over to Mavis helplessly. "Am … uh … Am I interrupting something? I mean, are you guys closed? I didn’t–"

"Oh, don’t be silly. C’mon in. This is a little town party, but we’re still open, see?" Mavis gestured toward a harried-looking family of travelers that brushed by Leigh on their way out the door. With Mavis’ warm smile, Leigh began to relax.

Then the chubby woman turned around and announced in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. "It’s just Leigh."

A collective ‘ahh …’ rang out and then, as if by magic, the noise in the diner rose back to its usual level as silverware clanked and people laughed and talked as they ate their lunches or drank their coffee. The diner’s patrons all went back to what they were doing before Leigh walked in. All except Katherine Fitzgerald.

"I don’t mean to be rude, Mavis. But –"

"You know where it is?"

Leigh nodded quickly and wove her way through the tables to the bathroom in the back of the diner.

Katherine sidled up to Mavis, and both women stared at the door Leigh had just passed through. After a few moments Katherine needlessly asked, "So that’s the little thing that’s got the town so abuzz?"

"She’s the one caught RJ’s eye," Mavis corrected.

Katherine crossed her arms over her ample bosom. "I don’t like her."


"Well, I don’t!"

"You’ve never even spoken to her. She seems like a nice enough girl."

Katherine chose to ignore Mavis’ affirmation. "Does Ruth Jean know she’s back?"

Mavis snorted a little. "If she did, don’t you think she’d be sniffing around in here instead of playing with the grill out back?"

Before Katherine had a chance to answer, RJ strode in from outside. She headed straight for the bathroom to get cleaned up, but before her hand hit the knob, the door opened and Leigh stepped out. She was carrying her backpack slung over her shoulder, and her hair was wet.

RJ’s eyes widened. "Well …" She swallowed. "Hello."

Leigh felt a smile tugging at her lips at the sight of the tall woman. She was suddenly very glad she’d had time to brush her teeth and wash her hair in the small sink. "Hi." Her gaze drifted from deep green eyes down to RJ’s leg and she winced. "Looks like you didn’t get here soon enough." Her face scrunched up into a smile; she could smell that it was beer but wasn’t above having a little fun.

RJ’s shoulders slumped. She just couldn’t seem to catch a break when it came to this woman. "You see, I spilled a beer and I was just going to try to get it off my pants." She grinned. "It’s not what it looks like, really."

"It never is." Leigh peered down at RJ’s leg again, shaking her head. When she looked back up, she couldn’t help but notice Katherine Fitzgerald was staring at her with a look that could only be described as intense dislike or severe constipation. Leigh was betting on the latter since they were standing in the ladies’ room doorway. "Who in the hell does that woman think she is?" Leigh mumbled, tilting her head toward Katherine. "She’s giving me the creeps."

RJ bit down hard on her cheek to keep from laughing. She leaned over and whispered, "Why that would be my own sainted mother, thank you very much. If you’d like to just get it over with and call me younger sister a whore you will have insulted all the women in me life."

Leigh closed her eyes. "Oh, my God." First RJ’s truck, now her mother. With her luck, she’d have slept with her sister too, and she’d be one of the several women who had taken a scissors to her already limited wardrobe over the years. God, she hated when they did that. "I am so sorry," she said genuinely. "I always seem to be apologizing around you."

"It’s all right. Really it is. There are days when she gives me the creeps too." RJ gestured toward the back door. "Let’s make a quick exit out the back."

Leigh nodded silently. She was more than willing to follow RJ out of the diner and away from the intense gray eyes that belonged to Katherine Fitzgerald.

Once they stepped out back, RJ clasped her hands together rather nervously. "Can I get you something to drink?"

Leigh looked at RJ’s pants again and laughed. "No thanks. I think I’ll help myself." She strode past RJ over to where there was a table covered with a washtub full of iced drinks.

RJ decided to give up beer for the rest of the day. She wanted to keep her wits about her now that Leigh was here. She reached for a pitcher of lemonade and began pouring it into a paper cup. "So what brings you back this way?"

Leigh dug a Pepsi out of the ice. She looked at the glass bottle for a second. Where the hell did they get these? "Well, I needed to stop last night and I figured I was close to Fitz’s." She shrugged one shoulder, grunting a little as she tried in vain to twist off the soda top. "Frankly, I can’t believe I found the place. But here I am."

RJ watched her for a moment, then extended her hand for the bottle.

Leigh wordlessly passed it over and watched carefully as RJ lined the cap up against the edge of the table and gave it a hearty smack, taking the cap off in one swift motion.

RJ passed the bottle back, careful to hold it away from both their bodies as a little brownish foam erupted out the top. She took a seat next to Leigh on the bench. From behind her glass of lemonade, she offered quietly, "I’m glad you found your way back."

Leigh regarded her carefully for a moment. "Me too. By the way, I don’t think we’ve ever really been introduced." Leigh wiped the hand that was damp from her frosty Pepsi bottle on her jeans before holding it out. "I’m Leigh Matthews."

The brunette gently took Leigh’s hand and gave it a firm squeeze. "RJ Fitzgerald, at your service, ma’am." Boy, would I like to service you.

Leigh smiled broadly and spent several long seconds imagining the many ways she’d be happy to let RJ service her. RJ still hadn’t let go of her hand.

Flea snorted and jumped up from the table. There was only so much she could take before gagging out loud.

Leigh set down her Pepsi. "The pleasure is all mine, RJ." She paused for just a second before her curiosity got the best of her. "Is it okay if I ask why your mother was glaring at me? Usually it takes somebody’s parents at least a day to start to hate me."

She shrugged, clearly embarrassed. "It’s a mother thing, you know. And um …" she cleared her throat softly. "I may have mentioned you a time or two. My mother’s just a tad protective."

Leigh leaned forward, suddenly all ears. "Mentioned me?" And you hardly look like the type who needs protecting.

"Well, yeah. It’s, ah," she cleared her throat gently. "Not often that we get attractive blonde truckers through here." RJ glanced up at Leigh and held her gaze. "I may have mentioned that a time or two."


She thinks I’m attractive? A slow smile spread across Leigh’s face. Looks like they’d both been thinking about the other. She could see that RJ was blushing and she quickly said, "Don’t worry about it. I’d say your mother’s instincts are dead on. I’m basically trouble," she admitted freely. "Your mom just saved me the chore of having to do something incredibly stupid for her to dislike me. But um … well, if we get to know each other I guess you’ll figure that out for yourself."

RJ’s brows drew together, but she didn’t press for more information. What does that mean? From where I’m sitting she doesn’t seem like a stupid person.

Blue eyes flickered around the crowd. "So what sort of party am I crashing?" And why am I still here? I’ve got to get back on the road if I’m going to make it to Sioux Falls on time.

"There’s nothing I’d like better than to get to know you, Leigh Matthews. And you’re not really crashing a party. It’s just a town cookout. We use them just as an excuse to cook and eat good food. They usually last all day and well into the evening. Can you stay for a bit? Or do you need to get back on the road?" RJ glanced in the direction of the road.

"Oh, no. I can stay," Leigh said a little too quickly. Mentally, she kicked herself. Lord, I’m so pitiful.

"Good." RJ sat up a little straighter, proud of herself for having the courage to ask her to stay. "It may not be the most exciting thin’ you’ve done in a while, but there’s always good food. So where are you headed next? Someone waiting on you at home?"

"No." Leigh shook her head, and her normally bright smile was suddenly edged with sadness. "Nobody’s waiting," she said quietly.

"Then it seems like I’m a very lucky person today." RJ raised a single eyebrow. "Would you like to take a walk with me?" She whirled around and shot a dirty look at every pair of eyes that were fixed on her and Leigh. "So folks will quit staring at us like we’re doing something we shouldn’t be doing," she said this just loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Sure." Leigh jumped up from the table. She wasn’t anxious to explain to RJ, at least at this very moment, that she’d sold her and her dad’s small house nearly two years ago, that she only maintained a post office box in Seattle, and that she lived in her truck. Even if it was a really nice truck.

As they moved away from most of the crowd, the blonde found herself with the urge to take RJ’s hand as they walked. Instead, she stuffed her hands in her front pockets, keeping her eyes trained on the ground in front of her.

RJ walked slowly, turning around and walking backwards so she would always have Leigh in sight. "I’m sorry about that back there. They tend to be a bit nosey. We’ll have more privacy back here. That way you won’t feel like they’re all talking about us and they can feel free to do so. They’re the biggest bunch of busybodies you’ve ever met, but they mean well." She grinned. "I swear to you they’re harmless enough."

"They’re okay with thinking …" Leigh gestured awkwardly between them. "That there could be something between us. Sort of. Potentially?" If I have anything to say about it. She was used to stolen moments of privacy in bathrooms or cars or cheap motels with women who wouldn’t want their affairs known mainly because Leigh was a woman. It was a little disconcerting to think that the people at the picnic were watching them with curious eyes that still held no malice.

Leigh looked up at RJ, who was smiling as she walked. She didn’t seem worried. Of course it didn’t escape Leigh that they were moving in the opposite direction of RJ’s mother. The bright white smile intrigued Leigh, and she found herself wanting to know more about this woman. "So what do you do for a living, RJ?"

"Oh, me?" RJ spread her arms wide open. "I’m a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ type. I do a little of everything. I’m what you might call a handyman." She grinned and wiggled her brows. "I like to work with my hands."

The shameless flirting wasn’t lost on Leigh. In fact, the only thing unusual about the words was that she wasn’t the one saying them.

"I also do a little bit a work for the town of Glory. City Council has made me a guide or Welcome Wagon of sorts."

"Welcome Wagon?"

RJ tilted her head down as she spoke. "Sure. When we get a new resident, I show them around, help them find a place to live, a job, that sort of thing."

"Sounds interesting." You sound interesting. And you look good enough to eat. Pun intended.

"I suppose." The light spring breeze tossed RJ’s auburn locks, sending a tussle of hair normally combed back over her forehead nearly into her eyes. "It’s not so much, really. Glory is a small town, and we don’t get that many new folks. But I do me best."

Leigh opened her mouth to warn RJ that she was only two paces from walking right into a shed. But RJ spun around, threw open the door and growled loudly, "All right, you little monsters. Take your cigarette-smoking backsides outta here! I know every single one of your mothers and fathers besides." A small group of kids ranging from ten to twelve years old stared at RJ with round, guilty eyes. Too stunned to even move.

RJ put her hands on her hip and glared at down at the little delinquents. "Move!"

Leigh laughed as a gaggle of boys and one tomboyish- girl scattered like roaches caught by the kitchen light, both she and RJ knowing instantly that the lone girl was leading the pack of troublemaking boys. "I can see that you’re going to be a bad influence. You’re taking me someplace where naughty things happen, aren’t you, RJ?" she teased mischievously.

"Well, if you’re twelve and you’ve just snitched a smoke from your father, and you’ve come out here to have it, I guess so." RJ licked her lips and leered at Leigh. "But if you’re an adult and you’re both of the same mind, could anything you decided to do really be considered naughty?"

"Absolutely not," Leigh said softly. She was definitely liking the direction of this conversation and took a step closer to RJ. "And I never said there was anything wrong with naughty." She quirked a playful brow. "Naughty and I are intimately acquainted."

RJ laughed. I’ll just bet you are, lass. "Well then, let’s get comfortable, shall we?" RJ reached through the window of the shed just above the bench and pulled out a blanket. "Sometimes at night I come out here and look at the stars. I’ve found it’s better if you don’t get dirt in your shorts."

Leigh coughed a little on the stale smoke that still filled the shed.

RJ’s face creased into a frown. "Not to worry, we’re not staying in the delinquent hideout. C’mon." She grabbed Leigh’s hand. "Would be nice to cloud watch, wouldn’t it?" Without waiting for Leigh to answer, RJ snatched up the blanket and exited the shed, tugging Leigh behind her. She carefully spread out the blanket on a patch of grass beneath a large tree that stood alongside the small structure. The tree was on a slight hill and the grass on top was almost completely dry, despite the storms of the day before. While they could still just barely hear the music from the party in the background, they were tucked well out of sight.

RJ let go of Leigh’s hand and flopped down on the blanket, lacing her fingers behind her head and crossing her long legs at the ankle. She gazed up into the bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. After several seconds had passed and Leigh still hadn’t joined her, RJ said, "Sit down, lass. Don’t be pretending to be shy." The tall woman smothered a grin. "I have a feeling you’re just about as shy as I am."

Leigh snorted to herself and joined RJ on the blanket, suddenly feeling like she’d just met her match. "Won’t we get wet?" She could see the puddles all around them.

"Nah. We’re on a high spot. Lay back and close your eyes."

Leigh looked at RJ hesitantly.

"C’mon. I haven’t bitten anyone all morning. You’re perfectly safe here." For the time being.

"Said the spider to the fly," Leigh mumbled.

"I heard that."

"Heard what?" Leigh’s eyes went round and innocent.

RJ laughed, despite her attempt to keep a stern face. "Aren’t you afraid of getting struck between the eyes with a bolt of lightning for telling such lies?"

Leigh scooted closer to RJ and lay down. "Oh, I’m sure I’ll get a bolt in the kisser one of these days. But it won’t be for telling lies."

"You’re right." RJ rolled over and pinned Leigh to the ground by the arms. "It will probably be for the delinquents catching us doing –," she bent down and lightly kissed Leigh’s neck, hearing a tiny gasp, "– this. And –" Another kiss. "This."

"Can’t live forever," Leigh muttered happily.

"Tell me something interesting about yourself, Leigh Matthews."

Leigh’s eyes fluttered closed, and she threaded her fingers into silky reddish-brown hair, tugging RJ’s body closer. "Now?" she breathed. RJ’s kisses felt as good as she’d imagined they would. Soon she’d be nothing more than a puddle.


"I’m …" Leigh licked her lips and groaned. "Ooooo, that’s nice. I’m not sure I know anything interesting." She tilted her jaw upward to give RJ better access to her tender throat.

"I’ll be the judge of that."


"Why are you here?" the male squirrel groaned. He’d vowed never to be seen with her again.

"You don’t remember?" The female squirrel put her hands on her hips and glared at the smaller squirrel.

"Ummm …"

"Never mind." She sat down next to the male on the crushed beer can. "It’ll be quicker if I just tell you. We were doing the chicken dance–"

"On the fraternity hayride that was going in the park. Right. Go on."

"I was there with that really cute gopher from behind the north bench."


"Sterile drunk."

"I’m not sterile!"

"You’re right. I’m pregnant."

The squirrel fell backwards off the can. "Noooo!"

Just then the truck came to a stop and the driver got out, a thermos in hand.

"This is our chance," the male declared. "Come on!"

The squirrels jumped out of the truckbed, their tiny paws slightly sinking into the damp ground in front of Fitz’s diner.

"Where are we?" the female wondered aloud.

"I don’t know. Looks like a godforsaken wasteland to me, but I’m not going to discuss it in the parking lot." He was sure that chunk of squirrel he’d seen on the road a while back was his old high school sweetheart. Either that or his boss. He couldn’t be sure. Despite what they liked to say, they really did look all alike.

"Look." The male pointed. "A tree."

They both scampered around the diner, around the milling people and over to a tall tree alongside a small shed. "Continue with your story," the male said.

"There’s not much more to tell. Libations were flowing, and you fell off the wagon. Literally. Loser."

The male’s eyes widened as the night came rushing back to him. The hay wagon had stopped alongside a pickup truck and he’d seen his mate with that nasty gopher. In his rage he began to shake, then fall; the last thing he remembered was yelling, "Die bitch, die! I’m taking you with me!" as he pulled her over the edge with him. They had been on the very top of a tall stack of hay bales and the pickup truck had been Japanese. He couldn’t believe they’d survived.

The squirrels darted up the side of the tree, climbing high into its branches where they felt safe.

Panting, the male squirrel glanced down and saw a blanket with two female humans on it. The bigger human was suckling the smaller one. He cocked his head to the side. Wasn’t she a little old for that? Wait. "Those humans look familiar."

The female followed her mate’s line of vision. "The humans we spy on back home!"

"Not quite."

"The hair ..."

She squinted. "The eyes ..."

"Just a little different. But not much. Same builds. Same wonderful screen presence no matter the location or genre." She rolled her eyes. "We all know what they’re going to look like."

"Genetic mutations because of the inherent weakness of their race?"

"Or lazy writers."

The women below talked and kissed and talked a little more, until the talking turned into broken whispers and the kissing grew more and more fevered.

The female squirrel watched as her mate walked out to the edge of a rickety branch. She could see there were many dead and dry branches mixed in among the new buds, and as her mate began to jump up and down, the twigs fell on the women below.

"What the –"

Leigh’s hand shot to her forehead when a good-sized piece of wood landed right on her head.

RJ was pelted in the back, causing her to interrupt her kissing.

Both women stood up and stared into the tree.

"What are you doing?" the female hissed. "Are you insane?"

"Bwahahahahahahaahahahah!" the male laughed hysterically, jumping even harder. "Come on, join in! They’re only humans!"

Just then the branch beneath the male gave way and he began to plummet to earth.

The female did at least have the decency to wave goodbye.

The male pawed the air and flapped his arms … but sadly, he was not a flying squirrel. So he dropped like a stone. His landing, however, was buffered by RJ Fitzgerald’s head.

"Jesus!" Leigh screamed and took a large step backwards when the rodent fell from the sky and landed squarely atop RJ, who, of course, began to yell, curse and spin in circles, trying to pull the squirrel out of her hair.

Before RJ could dislodge the squirrel, Flea appeared from out of nowhere and sprang into action. She bounded up from the ground and attached herself to RJ’s head in an attempt to dislodge the frightened, flailing squirrel.

The female squirrel’s eyes widened.

Leigh stepped forward to try to help, but there was nothing to be done. RJ lost her balance as soon as Flea pounced. The tall woman ended up tumbling down the hill, skidding to a stop in a large puddle of sun-warmed mud.

Leigh took off down the hill, sliding as she tried to make it to RJ in time. She’d seen the movie ‘The Birds’ when she was a kid. Who knew what a squirrel could do?

Flea used lightning-fast paws to fling the squirrel away from one of her favorite humans. She wanted to pursue the furry beast, but decided to allow his escape in order to stay with her traumatized woman. Her high-maintenance kind had had to seek therapy over much less. Flea’s golden eyes narrowed. She and the little squirrel would meet again. Oh, yes her mind purred. We’ll meet again.

"God, are you okay?" Leigh knelt down, heedless of the grime and pushed mud-soaked bangs out of RJ’s eyes. She peered down at her with concerned eyes.

RJ panted and flicked mud from her hands, realizing now she must be a right mess. A muddy mess that smelled like warm, wet, stale beer. "I’m fine. My ego is in shreds, and I’m really sorry to expose you to all this, but I’m fine." She sighed and looked at herself. "I should probably go get cleaned up. I’m so sorry, Leigh."

Leigh looked at RJ regretfully. "I suppose so." The voices from the party had grown louder and she suspected their respite from the crowd was just about over anyway. Leigh leaned in and lightly kissed RJ on the lips. "It’s been an adventure, RJ. But, yes, you do need to get cleaned up. And I need to go anyway." She was a little surprised at how tempted she was to say she’d wait for RJ to shower and hang around for the rest of the party. But the trucker tucked that thought away for future examination. Bracing her hands against her knees, she stood and reached out for RJ and said the only thing that she could think of at the very moment. "I’ll be back."


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