Susanne M. Beck (Sword’n’Quill)

Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation. That’s right, this is an ‘uber’ story. It’s also a sequel to my novel, Redemption. You really will want to read that first before tackling this one. Some may bear a resemblance to characters we know and love who are owned by PacRen and Universal Studios.

Violence and Naughty Language Disclaimer: Yup, both. Not as much of either as in Redemption (I’m saving that up for "Restitution"), but there is some of each here.

Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, there’s that too. This piece deals with the love and physical expression of that love between two adult females. There are some graphic scenes located within this piece, but I have tried to make them as tasteful as possible so as to not offend anyone’s sensibilities. Let me know if I’ve succeeded.

Dedication: There are so many people to thank for this effort. First is Candace, who once again was there to read this novel in its entirety all in little AIM blocks of 50 characters or less. Her nightly feedback was sorely needed and gratefully received. Thanks also to MaryD and Lunacy for providing much needed and invaluable beta assistance. And, finally, a huge debt thanks to the self-proclaimed "Quillies" for reading the beta version of this and giving insightful feedback as well as putting up with and calming a bard’s emotional roller-coaster of emotions. Thanks, guys!!

Feedback: As always, is most welcome. It not only makes this ‘job’ of writing (which is really a love) much easier, it also makes me better at it. And that is my goal. To become the best writer I can be. If the spirit moves you, you may reach me at  with any questions, concerns or comments.

Final Thought: Retribution is the second in what will eventually become a trilogy. Redemption, obviously, was first. Then Retribution, and finally Restitution. Thanks to everyone who gives up a little of their time to come along on this journey with me. I can only hope that I’ll never let you down.

Final Disclaimer: As with Redemption, this story will be posted in blocks of thirty or so pages per night. It is fully completed, down to the last punctuation mark, so I won’t leave you hanging. J Promise.


The next morning dawned clear and hot. I was up before the sun, though that had a great deal to do with the fact that I hadn’t really slept at all during the night. Much as it shames me to admit, I spent morning’s moon-shadowed hours with both ears peeled for the slightest sound of Ice’s footfall in the hallway outside my door.

Not that that would have helped any, of course, should Ice have been so inclined as to desire an escape in the middle of the night. The woman was more silent than fog, and twice as stealthy.

Still, keeping my eyes open had a sort of talismanic feel to it, and so, as a promise against an uncertain future, I sacrificed a few hours of sleep to stand guard against the possibility of my darkest nightmare coming true.

My morning routine completed, I stepped out into the still-dark hallway and tried desperately not to look as if I was checking up on my lover, which, of course, I was. The corridor was empty and quiet. Giving in to my need to know, I walked softly to Ice’s room and grasped the doorknob.

Just a quick peek, I promised myself. Just to be sure.

Before I could think to do more, the knob turned from the inside, pulling me inward when the door opened, and landing me in Ice’s surprised arms.

"Hello," I said, blushing. "Fancy meeting you here."

A raised eyebrow was the reply.

"I was . . .checking to see if you were awake yet?"

The eyebrow raised higher.

I sighed, knowing only the truth would be enough to satisfy her. "I wanted to make sure you hadn’t decided to leave."

"Don’t trust me, huh."

"I do trust you, Ice. You didn’t . . .exactly tell me what your decision was going to be."

"Probably because I haven’t made one yet."

"Well, you’re still here. That’s something, at least."

A corner of her mouth lifted briefly. "It’s somethin’, alright."

Coming to the tips of my toes, I placed a small kiss on that upturned corner, then stood normally again, pleased at the small victory which had kept her home, at least for the moment. "Could I interest you in some breakfast?"

"Nah. I’m just gonna head over to the garage and get started."

"Mind some company?"

She looked down at me, an amused smirk in her eyes.

I scowled. "Alright, so I’ve never owned a car. I think I have the mechanics of pumping gas down straight, though." I gave her my best mischievous grin. "You just put the nozzle in that little pipe that comes out of the back of the car underneath, right?"

Rolling her eyes, she let me go and gave me a push back into the hallway, following me out and closing the door behind her. "Let’s go."


It was still rather dark as we made our meandering way through the heavily shadowed forest on our way into town. In deference to the almost cathedral-like atmosphere of the newly awakening day, we kept our silence, leaving only the sound of our footfalls upon the heavily carpeted ground as signs to mark our passing.

When the trees gave up their hold on the land and we stepped into the town’s border, I noticed a small crowd gathering in the distance, near Pop’s garage. Something about the scene struck me as odd, and after staring at it for a moment, I noticed that the gentle breeze was rustling the blinds which covered the large plate-glass windows of the gas station, from the inside.

"Ice?" I asked, puzzled, to a partner who had moved off during my musings and was rapidly gaining momentum, walking with a determined stride toward the slowly gathering crowd. "Shit," I muttered, moving after her at a sprint.

Slipping my way through the group, one of which was a shining purple object wearing Millicent’s face, I came to a stop next to Ice, who was kneeling on the ground, glass shards scattered around her like trumpery diamonds. Laying next to my partner, crumpled in a tattered and bloody heap, was Pop, his left cheek zippered open and spilling a river of blood. His nose was squashed almost flat against his face, and his eye, which had only been faintly puffy the day before, had almost exploded with swelling. One arm bent at an odd angle above the elbow, obviously broken in at least one place.

I watched as Ice’s long fingers gently probed an area in his neck, obviously searching for a pulse. "Is he . . . ?"

She looked up at me, eyes simmering with anger. "He’s alive. Just badly beaten." Shifting her gaze from me, her eyes lanced through the gathered crowd. "Who did this."

The men and women looked at one another, their feet shuffling uncomfortably against the dusty ground.

She came slowly, gracefully to her feet, a giant among dwarfs, filling the area with her intense presence. "I won’t ask again."

From the back of the crowd, a young man stepped forward, his hands stuffed deep into his pockets. "Three or four guys, I think. I only heard ‘em when the glass started breaking. By the time I got here, they were driving off on their bikes. He was like that when I got here." The young man shrugged, face flushed pink with what I guessed was embarrassment.

"Anyone else see anything?" Ice asked, her face set in lines of anger.

No one came forward.

Pop moaned, and Ice squatted quickly back down again, offering what comfort she could, which was, in truth, not very much.

A thought came into my head. "Did anyone call an ambulance?"

Again, an embarrassed silence.

I turned to Millicent, the only face I knew. "Would you . . . ."

She held her dog in front of her as, perhaps, a shield, though against what, I didn’t know. "Oh, I couldn’t possibly . . . ."

Ice looked up from her position at Pop’s side. "Call an ambulance. Now."

"I’ll do it," I said, stepping forward to head this particular argument off at the pass.

"No. I need you to stay here." She looked back up at Millicent. "Do it."

"I’ll do it," the young man who’d made his sheepish report interjected, moving off toward Pop’s destroyed office before anyone had a chance to stop him; no doubt interested in redeeming himself in the eyes of his neighbors.

Giving a short nod, Ice again rose to her feet, giving one last menacing glare to Millicent before turning away and stepping out of the circle of bystanders. "Stay with him," she said to me.

"Where are you going?"

"To take care of some business."

"Then I’m going with you."

She rounded on me, then, eyes hard as diamonds which glittered with both anger and anticipation. I stood my ground, arms crossed tight over my chest, not giving an inch. "There are more than enough people to look after Pop until the ambulance comes," I reminded her. "And I want to get to the bottom of this as much as you do."

That got a slight smile out of her. "Even if it means cracking a few skulls?"

"That wouldn’t be my first choice, no." I cleared my throat. "But if a few hormonally challenged idiots want to prove how macho they are by beating up an old man, then they deserve whatever’s coming to them." And boy were they in for a rude awakening when they found exactly who, and what, was coming to them.

"Let’s go then. I’ve got some asses to kick."

As she began to walk away again, I stopped her with a hand to her arm. "Ice?"

She turned. "What now?"

"Um . . .where are we going, exactly?"

Her eyes twinkled with a mad sort of mischief. "You’ll see."

"That’s what I thought."



We arrived at our destination with alacrity, if not in style, riding as we were in another one of Pop’s old junkers, which had seen better days several decades ago, and new a decade or so before that. Another classic, Ice had said. A classic what, she didn’t exactly reveal, but a classic nonetheless.

Who was I to doubt her?

I stepped out of the car after pulling on the rusted door handle for several frustrating seconds, wiping dust and other accumulated, and thankfully unknown, debris from my shirt and pants as I did so. We had pulled in front of a run-down old shanty which, by the sign above the door, also doubled as a tavern.

"The Rusted Nut. Charming." A misnomer if ever there was one, of course, since the establishment, from the outside at least, was anything but charming. I had my doubts that the view from the inside would be any more so.

On the weed and glass strewn lot in front of the building stood four motorcycles of the type my father used to call ‘hogs’. I laid my hand on the gas-tank of the one closest to me. "Still warm." I looked over at Ice, who was assessing the building with expert eyes. "How did you know?"

I received no reply as my partner stepped silently onto the rotten, sagging porch which ran the length of the bar. Prudently, I stayed where I was as she crossed to the door and eased her hand around the thick knob that jutted out from the weathered wood. After a moment, she stepped away, giving the building another assessing glance.

Then, without word or warning, she drew back her leg and launched a truly spectacular kick, literally blowing the door inward in a squealing shower of wood splinters and rust. She followed the door into the building, and I came in right behind her, attaching myself to her left shoulder.

Four young men and one older bartender looked up, comical astonishment frozen on their faces, and upraised beers frozen in their fists.

"Hello, boys," Ice rumbled, her voice low and sensual. "Worked up a pretty big thirst, have you?"

"We’re closed, lady," the bartender said, a bar rag in one ham-sized fist. "Get the hell outta here before I call the cops."

Perching one hip on the corner of a more or less solid table, Ice fiddled with the thick silver bracelet on her left arm, a gift from me several months back, and one she hadn’t taken off since the giving. "Oh, don’t let me stop you," she replied, eyes seemingly absorbed in her task and not bothering to look up at the no-doubt dangerous men sharing space with her. "I’m sure the police would be very interested in hearing why your young friends here seemed to have worked up such a sweat so early in the day, hmm?" The smirk on her lips was quite knowing, and I’m sure I saw at least one of the men pale at the implication.

The other three, however, clearly weren’t as observant. The largest of the trio, a stout tree with bendable appendages, stood, slamming his mug of beer down on the table and managing to douse his pants with the sudsy liquid. "What the fuck are you talkin’ about, bitch?"

Since I couldn’t resist, I didn’t. "She’s talking about the trip you made into town this morning." I met the man’s angry stare dead on, hands on my hips. "I’m sure it took a lot out of you, beating the crap out of a defenseless old man like that."

"You die, bitch!" The behemoth tossed aside the table in front of him as if it were made of balsa.

Ice stepped in front of me, and I whirled around, grabbing the first weapon that came to hand, which happened to be an old and splintered pool cue keeping lonely watch on a rack just inside the now useless door.

I didn’t have time to be scared, didn’t have time to wonder what would happen if the bartender followed through on his threat to call the authorities. Adrenaline rushed through me like a speeding train, spurred on by the memory of Pop’s crumpled and bleeding body lying amidst the shattered ruins of his shop.

The man lumbered forward, his fists clenched and his face beet red, even beneath his short, red-blonde crew cut. His advance was stopped cold, however, by a solid right to his jaw which sent him stumbling back toward his compatriots, arms pinwheeling for balance and failing in their task.

The other men seemed too stunned to move, and when he crashed through their ranks, they let him fall backward, turning another table into kindling. Jumping back to his feet, he pushed his useless buddies out of the way, swiping at the blood trickling from his mouth with the back of his hand and examining it closely. His muddy hazel eyes rose slowly to meet Ice’s. "Ya know," he said in a conversational tone, "you and your little friend there are mighty fine pieces of ass. I wouldn’t have minded fucking you both senseless after I taught you your lessons. But now . . . ." His voice trailed off as he reached for an empty beer bottle standing on one of the few remaining tables. Hefting the bottle by the neck, he smashed it against the edge of the table, leaving a deadly, if crude, weapon in his hand. "Now, I think I’ll just see how many other holes I can poke in you before you die. Then I’ll fuck ya." He grinned, lips bloody and twisted. "How’s that sound to you, bitch?"

"Like you don’t go out on very many dates, maggot." She smirked. "At least, not outside the morgue."

Bellowing in rage, the man rushed my partner, swing the broken bottle wildly as he did so. At the very last second, Ice side-stepped his charge, allowing his momentum to carry him into the lone pool table and double over on top of it, though not before he had managed to use his weapon to slice her above her left elbow.

Her smile was glacier cold as she rubbed the blood between two long fingers. "That wasn’t very nice," she purred to the man who managed to straighten up and turn once again to face her.

His eyes sparkled with glee as he noticed the damage he’d done. "There’s more where that came from, bitch."

"Let’s see whatcha got then, handsome." She beckoned him with her hands, waggling her fingers enticingly.

Before he could get more than two steps away from the pool table, the man suddenly found himself quite weaponless as a booted foot snapped his wrist and sent the jagged bottleneck flying across the room to shatter completely against the front of the bar. He dropped like a head-shot deer, grabbing his wrist and howling in agony.

That, apparently, was the impetus needed to finally kick the brains, minute though they were, of his companions into gear. As a unit, they turned toward the both of us, expressions of anger stamped heavy on their faces. One reached into the pocket of his tattered jeans and pulled out a butterfly knife, which he opened with a series of fancy moves that would have been truly impressive, had he not almost cut his own leg off while performing them.

They started forward, all attention completely on the dangerous menace that was Ice and ignoring me completely.

Which was just the way I liked it, though not for the reasons you’re probably thinking.

My own safety wasn’t something that interested me right then. Helping my lover was.

Like a lion culling the weakest antelope from the herd, I stepped in, cue in hand, and turned one of the onrushing thug’s attention to me. He grinned a little, shrugged, and obliged me by balling up one huge, freckled fist and launching it in the direction of my face.

Dodging my head to one side, I allowed his fist to rustle the air past my ear, then used my ersatz staff to deliver a hard, stinging blow to his forearm. As he yelped in pain, I swung the thicker end of the cue up and across, cracking it against the side of his head and using just enough strength behind the blow to stun him. I’d learned my lesson well with Peter, and had no intention of traveling back down that particular pathway to Hell ever again.

His eyes went glassy and he staggered as his hand slapped against the rapidly forming welt I’d raised on his scalp. Weapon still to hand, I ushered him backward until the edge of the pool table smacked against his behind, then pressed hard until he was half standing, half laying across the table on his back. Then I placed the butt of the cue between his nipples and pushed.


"Stay down."

He didn’t respond, but by the look on his face, I knew he was considering doing something stupid. A quick jab to the sternum, however, seemed to change his mind, and he relaxed back against the table, settling for what I imagine he thought was an intimidating scowl.

Which, of course, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. To me, anyway.

Now, I realize that turning my back to the action was not the brightest of things to do. But if experience taught me anything, it was that Ice was more than capable of protecting my back, and her own as well, without any help from me.

When the butterfly knife wielded so inexpertly by one of the men came skittering to a stop next to my right foot, I grinned, knowing my trust in my partner was indeed well-placed. So, instead of turning back around to view the action, I continued to keep watch on my ‘prisoner’ and played a game with myself, imagining the actions that went with the sounds I was hearing.

Two grunting exhales meant twin blows to overfed bellies. The distinctive sound of fist against flesh, followed by the sound of yet another table being splintered to firewood could only be an uppercut to the jaw, launching the unfortunate up and away. A high pitched squeal just had to be a knee to the privates.

Even I winced at that one, then bestowed a sweet grin upon my suddenly sweating captive. "Bet that hurt, huh?" I couldn’t resist rubbing in.

The sound of bone hitting bone, followed by twin thuds, meant that Ice had finished Act Four of her martial ballet by slamming her two friends’ skulls together, as promised, and allowing them to drop, undoubtedly unconscious, to the floor.

The space beside me was suddenly filled with her warm, energy-filled presence, and I took a step away as a tanned hand reached down and grabbed the idiot I had dealt with by his ragged collar, introducing him to the far wall in a way that was all her own.

She held him there easily against the splintered wood, his toes barely in contact with the floor beneath his feet. She smiled, a slow, dark one that was full of vengeful promise. "Since you’re the only one awake at the moment," she began, thrusting him harder against the wall for emphasis, "I’m gonna explain a few things to you, alright?"

Staring wide eyed at my lover, the man could do little but nod. Emphatically.

Ice’s smile broadened. "Good. Looks like you’re the brains of the outfit." Her expression then became deadly serious. "First thing. If you ever so much as think about touching one of my friends again . . . ." Her voice trailed off as she leaned in close. "I’ll kill ya. Understand?"

The man nodded again, fat beads of sweat dripping down from his wrinkled forehead.

"Second thing. If I ever see you or any of your buddies in my town again, I’ll kill ya. Am I making myself real clear, maggot?"

"Y-yes," the man squeaked.

"Alright then. As long as we understand one another." She set him on his feet again, then brushed his wrinkled shirt smooth with the palms of her hands. She made as if to turn away as a huge sigh of relief gusted from the man’s lungs, then turned back again, the smile once more on her face. "Oh yeah. Here’s the third thing." Pulling her arm back, she cocked her fist and drove it into the man’s nose, flattening it in a nauseating crunch of shattered cartilage. "Pop says hello."

Eyes rolled back in his head so only the whites showed through, the man slumped peacefully to the ground, out for the count.

Shaking her head in disgust, Ice stepped over the fallen body and walked toward the shattered door. Then she looked up at the bartender, who was still standing behind his bar, frozen to the floor as if he’d been lacquered there, bar rag dangling from one useless hand. "If you’re thinking of calling the cops over this little disagreement, I suggest you think again. I have twenty witnesses back in town who saw what your friends did to Pop and his shop." She quirked a grin at him. "And I’m sure I can dig up twenty more who will swear on bibles that my partner and I were rescuing babies from wells around about the time we were supposed to be making a mess of your fine . . . establishment." A shrug of broad shoulders. "So be smart and put paid to this, alright?"

The bartender didn’t respond; just continued to stand there, frozen, staring at us both through glazed eyes.

Snorting and shaking her head, Ice stepped over, around and through the debris she’d made and out into the sunshine once again.


The ride back into town was quiet, as I’d known it would be. Not the most loquacious of women even in the best of circumstances, I’d learned the hard way that Ice really shut down after a fight. It was her way, I suppose, of taming the beast she’d unleashed lest it turn on her and seek its bloody sport among those undeserving of its vengeful wrath.

My only remark, a question about the cut in her arm, was answered in a monosyllabic grunt that I had no trouble translating.

Besides, it had already stopped bleeding.

Our arrival in the town went unheralded, as the crowd from earlier had dispersed, most going back to their day jobs, no doubt. The only one who remained was the young man who’d witnessed the attack. He had appropriated a janitor’s broom from somewhere and was sweeping the glass from the ground in long, if somewhat morose, strokes.

Tom Drew, one of the plumbers, was putting the finishing touches on the plywood he’d put up in lieu of a window, and turned around to greet us with a smile as we stepped out of the car. Wiping his hands off on his ever-present red handkerchief, he walked toward us, his eyebrow furrowed as he took in the cut on my partner’s arm, as well as our state of general dishevelment.

"Out grizzly huntin’?"

Ice smiled slightly. "Nah. Just took out some trash."

After a moment, he nodded sagely, stuffing the handkerchief back into one pocket of his overalls. "Would have tended to it myself if I hadn’t been standing hip deep in old Mrs. Symmond’s waste water at the time." He shook his head in disgust. "Damn pipes picked one hell of a time to burst."

My partner shrugged. "I took care of it."

"Did Pop get off ok?" I piped up from my place beside Ice.

Tom nodded. "Yeah. I got here just as the ambulance pulled up. He was awake and grousing, like he always does. I’m sure he’ll be fine after a sleeping pill or two."

"That’s good to hear," I replied, relieved. I looked at him more closely then, sensing that he knew more than he was telling us. "Is there something else?"

He looked at both of us, then over where the young man, whose name, I later learned, was Richard, continued his sweeping duties, before returning his gaze to us again. "Want to go inside the station for a cold drink? I know I could use one."

I looked to Ice, who nodded her acquiescence, and together we followed Tom into the shadowed confines of Pop’s office. Reaching into the cold case, he pulled out three cans of Coke, handing us our drinks before leaning back against the counter and pressing the cold can against his sweaty forehead and sighing with relief.

Ice left her soda unopened until Tom pop the top of his can and guzzled the cold liquid down in one healthy gulp, then let out a healthy belch. "Ahh. Hits the spot." He tossed the empty can into the wastebasket, then looked over at Ice, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Those idiots you took care of today are a little bit more than your average, run-of-the-mill thug. Or, at least, they like to think they are."

"What are they, then?" I asked, my curiosity peaked.

"They like to think of themselves as some great extortionist clique." He laughed lightly. "Problem is, they’re not very good at it. They came down here a few times and tried to get ‘protection’ money from some of the businesses around here." He laughed again, shaking his head. "In a backwater town like this. Protection money. Protection from what?"

"Them," Ice replied with the wisdom of one who knew exactly what she was talking about. "You give them money, they don’t beat the crap outta you. I take it Pop didn’t accept their kind offer?"

Tom snorted. "None of us did. I ran ‘em out myself a few months back. Haven’t seen hide nor hair of ‘em since. Till now."

"So what happened?" I asked.

"Pop’s pretty stubborn. The Rusted Root’s their hangout, and I warned him not to go back there." He blushed to the roots of his hair. "I guess I should have been harder on him. I knew he wouldn’t listen." He sighed, looking down at his hands. "It almost got him killed."

"You can’t blame yourself, Tom." Reaching out, I laid a hand on his arm. "Pop’s a grown man. He knew what the consequences could be. He chose to take the risk anyway. That’s not your fault." Turning to Ice, I smiled ruefully. "I’ve been known to do the same thing myself, on occasion."

She tipped her head in acknowledgement before turning back to Tom. "My guess is they’ll be a little too busy licking their wounds to make a return visit just yet. When they do come back, we’ll just have to make sure we’re ready for them."

"Sounds like a plan." He rubbed his large, callused hands together, grinning. "I’d like a chance at ‘em myself."

"Let’s not tempt the Fates, alright?"

He blushed again, giving Ice a ‘caught in the cookie jar’ grin. "Yes’m."

Nodding, Ice finished off her own drink, then crushed the can and tossed it into the waste-bin. "Alright, then. Seems I’ve got a station to run for longer than I intended. Best get to it."

"My brother and I will help as much as we can." He gestured out the open door. "Would you let Richard stay and help? He feels pretty bad about not being there to stop what happened."

"He wouldn’t have been able to do anything," I protested.

"Yeah, I know that, but he doesn’t. He’s just a kid, still, you know? Kid in a man’s body. He wants to make up for things somehow. This would probably be the best thing for him."

After a moment, Ice tilted her head in acquiescence. "Fine. Let’s go, then."

And so we did.


It was done. Finally.

After what seemed like eons of working, planning, sweating and dreaming, our home was finally completed and waiting for us to move in.

The last of the details had fallen into place the night before, and I had spent the evening in happy anticipation, only to have my hopes dashed the next morning when Ice met me in the hallway, brushed a gentle kiss upon my waiting lips, and told me she’d be back later in the evening after finishing up her work at Pop’s garage, before continuing on her way.

"But . . .I thought . . . ."

She turned, long hair fanning over one shoulder like a matador’s cape. "What?" Her expression showed polite interest, but nothing more.

I sighed, then looked down at my feet. "Nothing," I mumbled.

The sound of her approach was strangely muted in the long, dim hallway, and I only looked up when a gentle hand beneath my chin urged my head to tilt in that direction. "What is it, Angel?"

I sighed, realizing how juvenile my request would likely sound, even to my own ears. I’m sure I was blushing, but with the intense heat Ice always radiated bathing and burning through me, it was difficult to be positive on it. "I . . .um . . .thought," I cleared my throat to ease the sudden ‘Stevie Nicks’ quality in my voice, "since the house is ready and all, we could start moving our things in?"

I didn’t mean for it to come out as a question, but there it was, my timidity laid bare for the world to see, as it were.

My lover smiled; that soft, loving one she gifted me with on occasion; the one that turned my insides into warm mush. "Why don’t you go on ahead? I’ll move my stuff in when I get back."

I shook my head. "I kinda wanted us to do this together, as incredibly sappy as that sounds."

Her smile deepened, reaching all the way up to her eyes. "It doesn’t sound sappy."

I threw one of her own hiked eyebrows right back at her, something I’d become rather proficient at, if I do say so myself.

She chuckled, a low, deep rumbling in her chest. "Alright, it’s pretty sappy." She gathered me close and hugged me gently in her strong arms, before pulling away again and pinning me with her gaze. "Tell ya what. I promised Pop I’d help him out with a few things he’s working on. If I promise to make an early day of it, will you wait for me? We’ll move our stuff in as soon as I come back."

As compromises went, it was a fair one, but that didn’t stop me from seriously considering petulance as my next course of action. Only the realization that it would have exactly the opposite reaction from Ice as the one I’d hoped to achieve stayed my hand. "Alright," I said, pretending a long-suffering attitude that had more than a grain of truth in it. "I suppose I can do that. Just know that it’ll be killing me."

She shook her head, then kissed me once again, then left me dazzled in the hallway thanking god that the walls holding me up in lieu of my suddenly turned-to-jelly legs were solid.

So there I sat, in my bedroom, on my bed, staring out the window at the very top of the roof of our home. I felt like a child on Christmas morning, up before the dawn and staring at a pile of presents she can’t touch until her parents wake up. Each minute took its own sweet time strolling by, smirking at me as it passed. Even the sun seemed to partake in the conspiracy, deciding for the first time in its long life to take a much needed siesta before continuing on its westward journey.

As a way to pass the time, I thought back over the last few weeks, when everything seemed to fall into place and we were finally able to turn four walls and a roof into a home fit for living.

The house was almost fully furnished, and while not, perhaps, with objects we would have chosen had we been independently wealthy, the items in question were well made, sturdy, and, to me at least, aesthetically pleasing.

Since money was an object, I had to fall back on a skill I’d learned when becoming the ‘get it’ girl in the Bog. Barter. And it was pretty pleasing to see that I hadn’t lost my touch in the intervening months.

The couch, chairs, tables and rugs were actually the easiest to obtain in this manner, especially since I wasn’t really bartering for them at all. Pop, a man who it was said could squeeze a penny until it begged for mercy, had come by the furniture quite honestly, relieving as he did the burden of the unfortunate soul who’d been bullied into removing it from Millicent’s sight during her gargantuan—not to mention tasteless—redecoration phase. The items were stored in the large shed attached to his home, keeping company with various and sundry other objects, prosaic and non, which had struck his fancy over the years.

I didn’t know that, however, when I approached him on the day he returned home from the hospital after a two night stay with his arm in a cast and his face topographic map from the beating he’d received. I had only come to offer my help in performing the basic domestic duties which his injuries would make difficult for him to do on his own.

Being the person he was, Pop wouldn’t take no for an answer until he had me swear a practical blood oath that I’d take the furniture in question off his hands at a very reasonable price.

In other words, for free.

Like its predecessor, this cabin had a huge expanse of windows which needed covering of some form or other. Mrs. Symmonds, she of the broken plumbing, was an outstanding seamstress, even though legally blind. As payment for wonderfully rendered curtains, as well as a truly spectacular quilt which lies atop our bed to this day, I agreed to read to her during her daily labors. Unfortunately for me, her reading tastes equaled my mother’s. Which is to say, she enjoyed torrid romance novels of the type which can be found in the cashier’s rack of any discount department chain around the world.

Several times during the reading of such novels, if they can truly be called such, I was sure I was just a degree or two away from setting off the heat detector with my blushing as I articulated such phrases as ‘towering manhood’ and ‘gates of Venus’ and ‘pleasure pearl’.

Still, a little emotional discomfort was a small price to pay for such beautiful work, and so I set about my appointed task with determination, though not much relish, to be sure.

Pots, pans and assorted other kitchen objects came at the cost of two week’s labor as a waitress in the café while one of the others took a well-deserved vacation.

And so it went, slowly, until the cabin came to be filled with objects we were both pleased to own.

The sudden closing of the downstairs door roused me from my musings and fluttered my heart in happy anticipation. The soft sound of conversation muted by my own closed door, and then I was able to track Ice’s progress through the house by the distinctive, if rather soft, sound of her tread.

A moment later, and another door closed, followed close behind by the sound of the shower being turned on full blast. Scarcely three minutes later—so timed by the clock on my bedside table—the shower was silent once again and I pictured my lover wiping down that glorious body of hers.

A body which, by night’s end, I would know in intimate detail once again.

That thought sent an ocean of blood speeding for parts south and I rode the wave, feeling a happy grin stretch the muscles of my face. I was ready.

Oh boy was I ready.

A few moments later, and I was treated to the sight of a freshly bathed Ice, her still damp hair glistening in the afternoon’s slowly waning light and her cheeks still flushed from the heat of the water she’d bathed in.

Did I mention I was ready?

She smirked at me. "You all packed?"

I smirked right back. "Only since this morning. After all, what else did I have to do with my time while you were lollygagging around doing God knows what with yours?"

Rolling her eyes, she shook her head and held out her hand, helping me to my feet. "Let’s get this show on the road, then, shall we?"

"You won’t hear any complaints from me!"

After a quick stop in Ice’s room to pick up her box of meticulously packed belongings, and a slightly longer pause to thank Ruby for her kindness yet again, we finally made it outside before the early Autumn sun had sunk completely behind the lake.

I felt a sense of déjà vu rush through me as I heard, faintly, the sounds of voices at the bottom of the small hill where our cabin stood. Unlike last time, however, Ice seemed at her ease, content to walk along side me without displaying even one iota of curiosity over the sounds I well knew she could hear even better than I.

Which, of course, made me even more nervous.

Several more steps and we were at the breast of the hill and looking down at what seemed fully half the town gathered around our newly built home. A garish purple ribbon was tied up in a neat bow and strung across the doorway of the cabin, apparently waiting to be cut by the both of us, as if we were some famous figures and our simple cabin was a brand new office building or hotel or something equally as grandiose.

Several portable grills had been hauled onto our property and the smells of slowly cooking meat and vegetables caused my mouth to water and my stomach to announce its sudden need to be part of the action.

A large bonfire blazed merrily in a carefully cleared space to the west of the house, and the silver beer-kegs stored somewhat nearby winked in its flickering light.

Pop, his long cast reduced now to one that ended below the elbow, gave us both a cheery, and I’m sure half drunk, grin, beckoning us wildly with his good arm.

The party had, apparently, been going on for some time, if the somewhat slurred greetings we received were any indication. Plastic cups of foaming beer were raised, and spilled, in salute to us as we stood at the top of the hill, taking in the scene below.

"You knew about this, didn’t you," I muttered to my oh-so-smug partner, chancing a soft elbow to her muscled side.

"Only when I came back to the house."

"And you didn’t think to mention it?"

The smirk deepened. "I was sworn to secrecy."

"I’ll just bet you were." Still, I couldn’t help but laugh. I’d always enjoyed parties as a young girl, and something told me I wouldn’t mind them so much as an adult either. "Shall we join them, seeing as we’re the guests of honor?"

A long arm pointed the way down the hill with an open hand. "After you."


The party lasted a good long time and though I’ve never had much of a taste for liquor of any sort, I must admit that after a few cups of Pop’s special beer, I had a hard time remembering just why it was that I didn’t like the stuff.

Of course, after a few more cups, I would have had trouble remembering my own name, so I chose, for me, the wisest course of action, which was to abstain after just two.

Or maybe it was three.

As I’ve said, Pop’s brew was a potent concoction.

The man in question finally came forth near the end of the evening, handing me a pair of scissors and Ice a set of door keys. Cheering loudly, the crowd urged us over to the beribboned door for the final act in the night’s play.

Taking the scissors to hand, I made some insipid speech which, mercifully, escapes my mind to this day (I told you about Pop’s beer, remember) and, with a silly grin, cut the ribbon, making clear the path to the door.

With her usual no-nonsense style, Ice simply walked up to the door, inserted the key into the lock, turned, and opened it wide.

The crowd cheered, then fell quiet as the scent of cedar and fresh paint wafted out to greet me, elevating my already giddy mood even more. After a moment, I became aware of the silence behind me, and slowly turned to see the crowd eyeing us somewhat expectantly. With a brain not quite operating on all cylinders, I stared out at the gathered group of my neighbors, wondering if someone would be kind enough to tell me what came next, since it was obviously something of no small import.

With no answers immediately forthcoming, I turned back to the door where my partner stood, the question plain, I’m sure, in my eyes.

The world spun then, and not from the alcohol, as I was lifted like a new bride into the strong arms of my intended and carried cross the threshold in the most wonderful of ways.

That seemed to be the action the crowd was waiting for, because they erupted into a spontaneous cheer that I was sure could be easily heard across the lake, and perhaps even further than that. The cheering muted somewhat as Ice closed the door with her heel, then set me down gently on the varnished boards of our floor, steadying me with one hand to my shoulder.

You couldn’t have wiped the grin off of my face with a jackhammer and some TNT.

I snuggled into the length of her lean body, resting my head against her shoulder as we watched the crowd cheerfully disperse through the small window by the side of the door.

"That was really sweet of them," I said finally as the last of the grills and half-empty kegs were loaded aboard several pick-up trucks which littered our driveway.

"It wasn’t bad."

A tanned hand came into my field of vision and gently closed the blinds, shutting us off, for the moment, from the outside world. That same hand then flipped the switch near the door and the small alcove we were standing in became bathed in a soft, white light.

Breaking away from Ice, I turned and took in the fresh, gleaming beauty that was our home. "I can’t believe it," I whispered, as much to myself as to my lover. "After all this time, it’s finally here. Finally."

I just wanted to stand there for long hours and take it all in, which was impossible from where I was standing, but even that small alcove was the most precious thing I’d ever seen, unless one counted as I did the quiet presence standing beside me.

"How about if I build a fire?" Ice asked. "It’s gonna get chilly tonight."

I nodded a bit absently, too wrapped up in this blanket of warmth I’d pulled over myself to notice much of anything at that moment. I knew when she left me though, the absence of her warm body allowing the faint chill in the house to seep in, raising goosebumps on my skin.

The chill gave me the impetus needed to stop playing statue and move away from the door, which, though labeled as the ‘front’ door, was really in the rear of the house. It, as I’ve already written, opened into a small alcove, which in turned opened into a huge glassed in porch of sorts which ran along the back and one side of the house in an "L" shape. To the left of the door, as I faced away from it, were the usual porch accoutrements, a swinging lounger and some wooden chairs Pop had pressed upon me as well as two small glass-topped tables and a small reading lamp. To the right, and along the same wall as the alcove, was another door which led to the stand-alone kitchen which, though bearing little more than a stove, refrigerator, some pots and pans and a few dishes and glasses, was a room I was looking forward to getting to know a little more.

Staying with Ruby, I’d discovered a joy in cooking which I’d never had before. I suppose it was the teacher I had. Ruby was much more patient than my own mother, who, after watching me for a few scant seconds, would invariably throw up her hands in maternal disgust and insist on doing things herself.

With the pressure off, I discovered that not only did I enjoy the art of cooking, I found that I was pretty good at it as well, if I do say so myself.

Standing in the kitchen and looking outward, the short arm of the "L" came into view, an area totally empty at the time, but would be used as a storage area of sorts more commonly called a ‘mud room’, where the washer and dryer would be hooked up, as soon as we had enough money to buy them.

Directly opposite the alcove which bore the ‘front’ door was yet another door, and it was this door which led into the house proper.

Taking in a deep, happy breath and filling my lungs with the smell of newness, I stepped through that door and into the main body of my new home. This part of the cabin was, basically, one gigantic open area, with the dining, living, and reading rooms separated only by the differing types of furniture in each.

Along the back wall, the one which fronted the glassed in area where I had just been, was a long line of exquisitely made cabinetry which was broken in the middle by a huge—and I do mean huge—fireplace. Large enough for Ice to stand in without stooping over and wide enough for her to hold both arms out to their fullest extension without touching either side, the fireplace had been the center of many a family gathering in my youth, and I very much hoped for it to be that way again.

Turning away from the wall that housed the fireplace, the first thing that came to my vision was the view of the moonlight playing on the lake; a view made possible by an entire wall made up of windows, windows which looked out not only upon the pristine blue of the lake, but also upon the screened porch which ran the entire length of the front of the house.

The dining room, with its large and solid oak table, was to my right. In front of me, opposite the fireplace, were the couches, tables and chairs that made up the living room. To the left of that was the cozy library with its recessed bookcases taking up space on two walls, its comfortable chairs and the small lamps which rested on corner tables.

Another recessed alcove stood next to the fireplace, and in that alcove was the bathroom and what had been, in the cabin’s first incarnation, the master bedroom. It was now assigned visitor’s duties because of the one change I’d made to the original specs of the cabin.

A set of stairs shared space with the library to the extreme left of the house, steps which led up to a loft which, like the porch below it, ran the entire length of the cabin. When I’d stayed there as a young girl, the loft had been broken up into four separate bedrooms, each with its own walls and door. Now, however, there were no walls and no doors, just one gigantic open space that made up the master bedroom.

The loft was bordered on one side by a huge window, and on the other by a wooden railing styled to look like a weathered split-rail fence which allowed one to look down into the rest of the cabin when standing before it. It didn’t, of course, allow much in the way of privacy, but the open, airy feel, plus the immense size of the newly converted room more than made up for that, in my opinion.

Sighing in pure, unadulterated bliss, I turned to see my lover watching me, an expression of amused fondness on her face. I walked over to her, enjoying the heat of the now roaring fire on my skin as I did so, and wrapped myself against her body like a limpet, soaking up every precious second of this time.

I took in her scent, the scent of the house, and the scent of burning logs and committed it all to memory; a memory I’d pull out again and again to savor when the days were long and the nights, longer.

"Thank you," I whispered against the fabric covering her chest. "It’s everything I dreamed of, and so much more. You made my dream come true."

"You made your own dream come true, my Angel," she rumbled, pressing her cheek against the top of my head. "I just helped out a little, that’s all."

In no mood for arguing, I simply wrapped myself more tightly around her, closing my eyes and feeling on top of the world.

And when Ice’s close presence, the warmth of the fire at my back, the excitement of the day, and two—or was it three?—glasses of Pop’s brew combined to make me yawn for the third time in as many minutes, Ice pulled gently away from me, grated the fire, and, grasping my hand gently, led me toward the steps that led to the bedroom.

Our bedroom.

That thought caused the sleepiness to vanish as if it never were and each step up the stairs caused me to be come more awake, more aware, and definitely more excited.

Coming to the top of the stairs, Ice released my hand and allowed me to precede her into the loft, which I gladly did, taking in everything around me with wondering, and appreciative, eyes.

Then I stopped when something struck me as odd about the bed we had both chosen, a huge king sized wonder that made a very large dent in whatever savings we’d heretofore managed to accumulate.

It wasn’t the bed per se, but rather the headboard that seemed . . .different.

Walking to the foot of the bed and looking at the headboard straight on in the light of the fire flickering below, the difference struck me and the breath left my lungs at about the same time the blood left my brain, causing me to feel just the slightest bit faint.

"Oh my god," I whispered, awestruck.

Where a simple cherry headboard had stood before, a massive walnut one stood in its stead. In the center was a meticulously carved oval, and within that oval , carved in bas relief, was the most gorgeous rendering of a bonsai tree that I’d ever seen, and believe me when I tell you that I’ve become quite an expert on all things bonsai over the years, being Ice’s partner as I am.

Dumbstruck, I turned to look at Ice. "Where did you get this?"

The faintest of blushes highlighted her features, nearly hidden by the flickering firelight. "I made it," she said simply.

"You made . . . . You made this?!?"

The blush deepened as she nodded slowly, her expression telling me she was unsure how I was taking her magnificent gift.

Tears trebled my vision as I held a hand out, silently asking her to join me by the bed. When she came, I wrapped her in a hug so tight that an atom would have been hard-pressed to get between us. "If I live to be a thousand, I don’t think I’ll ever see anything more beautiful," I whispered, my voice muffled by tears as well as by Ice’s chest where my lips rested.

After a moment, she pulled away and wiped my tears with gentle fingers. "Please don’t cry, Angel."

"I can’t help it. Every time I think I couldn’t possibly be any more loved, you go and do something like this." I smiled a watery smile. "You touch my soul, Morgan. That’s where the tears come from."

She smiled at me, rested her fingers tenderly against my cheek for a moment, then gathered me back into the wonderful nest of her arms, placing a gentle kiss on the crown of my head. "You are loved, my sweet Angel. More than you will ever know."

Her poetic words, all the more beautiful for being so rare, only caused my tears to fall that much harder. As I rested my head against her chest, I looked again at the magnificent carving that appeared to live and breathe and dance as the light from the fire played over it. "Does it have a name," I asked finally, well remembering my lover’s penchant for naming her trees.

"The Freedom of Desire," she whispered, her lips just brushing against the exquisitely sensitive shell of my ear.

My body erupted into flames to rival the hottest fire nature had to offer, and when her tongue grazed along the path her lips had made, followed by the soft nip of her sharp teeth, I was well and truly lost to the searing heat of our joined passion.

Strong arms lifted me up and placed me in our bed with a tenderness reserved for priceless objects while lips and tongue and teeth moved slowly down to continue their assault, this time on the flesh of my neck; flesh that was flushed rosy with the heat that Ice was generating within me.

A shift of the mattress and suddenly I was covered with a living blanket, enveloped in the intoxicating scents of primal musk and exotic spice, the fire within burning ever hotter when full, wet lips searched out and found my own, setting my body to writhing beneath the heavier weight of my lover.

The kiss deepened and I tasted the deep moan that rumbled from her chest. Tasted it, savored it, and returned it with one of my own as her fingers threaded themselves through the shortened locks of my hair. Her lips parted and I took her tongue into me, worshiping it with my own as our bodies danced in tandem atop the bed sheets.

After long moments of bliss, her lips left mine and I felt the scrape of her teeth along my jugular as her hands slipped from their hold on my hair, trailing down my body in an electrical current of passion. A strong thigh parted my trembling legs while her hands worked the fly of my jeans, tugging it down forcefully as she grunted her need into the hollow of my throat.

A teasing hand slipped past the barrier of my briefs, fingers bathing themselves in the slickness found there as a wicked grin curved the corners of her gorgeous mouth and a darting tongue teased out to wet lips ripe for kissing.

Withdrawing her hand, she rolled up to her knees, yanking my jeans and underwear off in one fluid move and tossing them on the floor beside the bed. The faint chill of the air against my heated skin provided a pleasure all its own.

A pleasure that was quickly surpassed when she then straddled my naked hips and slowly removed her T-shirt, baring her magnificent breasts to me. Unable to stop myself, I reached up and covered them with my hands, feeling them tighten and grow full beneath the tender flesh of my palms. Backlit by the fire, she was my dark goddess, all primal heat and intoxicating beauty.

Her eyes glittered silver beneath long lashes and her hips took up a slow rocking, and I could feel the molten heat of her even through the thick denim of her jeans as they rode against my own heat in a rhythm that had my hips pumping against her, begging for more contact.

"Harder," she growled, and I squeezed her breasts more firmly, then took her straining nipples between my fingers and squeezed hard enough to cause the whites of her eyes to show as her thrusts against me became stronger, causing my own arousal to double until it was all that I could do not to just surrender to the edge that danced at the edge of my vision.

She leaned down closer then, her fragrant hair falling in a curtain around my head, and rested the weight of her upper body onto clenched fists on either side of my shoulders. Her hips slipped down and in between my splayed legs as her thrusts continued, accompanied by guttural grunts with each forward motion or her body.

"Harder," she growled again and I could do nothing but obey as stiff fabric of her jeans slid against me again and again without pause or mercy. My legs lifted of their own accord, my ankles locking behind her bent knees, lending strength to her thrusts.

Her long, graceful neck arched backward, exposing her throat as a long, low moan erupted, filling the air with its primal sound.

"Oh god," I whispered as I watched her climax run through her, darkening and heating her skin with a rosy flush. "Dear, sweet god.."

White teeth gleamed and jaw muscles bulged as she rode out the last of her orgasm with a few more thrusts against me. Then she slumped down full on top of me, panting into the skin of my neck as her hot lips nuzzled against my flesh, gently suckling as she regained her breath.

Her lips became more insistent as she began to regain her strength, sucking at my pulse-point as if to take the beating of my heart down deep into her. Her hands unclenched and began to re-map the terrain of my body, skimming firmly over the hills and valleys they found there, exciting me still more with the fierce passion in her touch. Finally they came to rest at the collar of my T-shirt and, with a great rending tear, exposed the rest of my body to the heady heat of the night.

She was relentless, ravenous in her tasting of my breasts, lapping up the sweat bathing them as a cat to cream, leaving no square inch of tingling flesh untouched. Her hands continued their own relentless trek, her palms, callused from her long labors, teasing and taunting me as I writhed beneath her merciless attentions, never staying in one place long enough to give me even the briefest hint of relief.

But it was there, oh yes. I could see it, feel it, taste it, smell it with every teasing nip of her teeth, with every heated caress. It was there, painted on the insides of my eyelids, humming in my ears, promising freedom.

Promising salvation.

And then, when she had wound me up so tightly that it felt as if every atom of my body was being bathed and stroked and wonderfully loved, her hot, wet mouth cupped over me, moaning into my greedy flesh, and with the first touch of her wondrous tongue, the salvation I had so desperately sought was mine and I flew, higher and harder than I ever had before.

My body convulsed in joyous release as my fingers threaded through the midnight black of her hair, using it as an anchor to keep from flying completely away and becoming lost within the bliss I had become.

And when the summit was reached and I found myself tumbling heedless down the other side, she filled me full, curling her fingers and stroking me within and without, mixing slowness with quickness, gentleness with ferocity, feeding me, lifting me until the scream of my release echoed loud in my ears.

And then she gentled me as a trainer calms a skittish colt, her fingers curled tight and nestling gently against my womb, her lips bestowing tender kisses designed not to arouse but to calm, and I came back into myself in the sweetest of ways, to find her head resting on my thigh, her chin tilted up to look at me, a joyous, happy light shining from the blue of her eyes.

"God, I love you," was all I had breath to say as I stroked the sweaty hair from her brow, my body bathed in the love of her eyes.

The smile she gave me stopped my heart, its sheer brilliance telling me more than words ever could.

After a moment, she gently withdrew and slid up beside me, molding our bodies together and stroking my back soothingly. I reached up to kiss her, and the taste of myself on her lips sent renewed energy from somewhere racing through my body. But she pulled away, her thumb running along my lips, and she slowly shook her head. "Rest now, sweet Angel. We have all night."

Too sated to be much disappointed, I gave into my languid body’s stronger craving and felt myself fall asleep within the warm, tender strength of her arms, safe in the knowing that she would keep watch over whatever demons might think to invade my dreams.

And with her standing guard, they didn’t dare.


Late the next morning, I awoke to the pleasant weight of Ice’s head resting on my lower abdomen. Her sleep-tousled hair partially hid her face from me. Tendrils of it stirred gently with each long, slow exhale, tickling against me and raising goosebumps across my flesh.

Her breath was cool on the skin of my slowly awakening body and I resisted the urge to squirm, realizing yet again what a wonderful rejuvenator sleep really is. As if sensing my predicament, she stirred, just slightly, tightening her hold around my thigh and rubbing her cheek against the skin of my belly in an unconscious gesture full of trust and love.

I held my breath against the possibility of her awakening too soon, wanting nothing more at the moment than to cherish the rare chance to watch her in sleep, then relaxed as her own breathing once again deepened in slumber.

The Autumn sun streaming in through the window cast her in burnished bronze, a living sculpture made by the finest of craftsmen in the image of a goddess called to earth. I watched as the swaying trees outside the window moved interesting shadows over her naked skin, highlighting, then obscuring, the thick muscles of her back.

As I looked on, I tried to think back to a time I had been more at peace and couldn’t. Even the ever-present specter of justice failed to hold sway over me that morning.

I was loved. I was safe.

I was home.

Lifting my hand, I gently stroked her hair, allowing my mind to drift aimlessly over everything and nothing, content in the tranquility of an early fall morning.

She stirred again, likely under the effects of my languid petting, and nuzzled my belly once more before placing a kiss on the inside of my right thigh, and then my left. Then, her body bed warm and sleep soft, she rose up beside me, drawing me into her arms and capturing my lips in her own in a kiss which left my senses reeling.

"Morning," I said, my voice suspiciously husky, when she finally pulled away.

"Mmmm," she rumbled, smacking her lips, "that it is."

"Sleep well?"


"Good." And with a grin full of devilment and a heart full of lust, I slid down her body and took a patiently waiting nipple into my mouth, humming with delight when it grew firm beneath the suckling strokes of my tongue.

Ice’s gentle murmurings and her guiding hand to the back of my head encouraged me to give full vent to my morning passions. Her body responded instantly to my increasingly bold touches and I felt her breathing go labored as my hand trekked southward, skimming the flat, muscled plane of her belly and feeling it contract beneath my fingers.

And when I delved deep into her wet heat and felt her clenching, welcoming grip on my fingers, the low, responsive moans in my ear let me know that heaven, far from being unattainable, was a simple bed in a simple cabin in a backwater town miles away from anywhere.

And that’s exactly where I wanted it to be.


Time is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s in the hands of a greedy miser doling out seconds like moth-eaten dollars. And sometimes it’s in the hands of a downhill skier, rushing by so quickly that you can only stop and wonder where the days have gone when you look in the mirror and spot your first gray hair. Not that I’ve found any yet, mind you, but I’m sure you get my point.

To say that our first few weeks of co-habitation in our new home were filled with carnal and spiritual bliss would be overstating things by a good margin. Well, perhaps not the ‘carnal’ part. That was most definitely bliss of the highest order, and, if I’m to be totally truthful, still is.

But there were bumps along the road which, I suppose, happen to any couple setting up housekeeping for the first time. The roadblocks were a great deal smaller than when I had spent time doing the very same thing with Peter years ago, but they were there nonetheless and, given the love I have for Ice, were far more jarring to me than similar problems with my deceased husband ever were.

One of the first things I discovered was that my love of open spaces might well have put a nail into a coffin not even built yet.

If there is any one thing that Ice guards more zealously than her privacy, I haven’t found it yet. Even in the Bog, the very antithesis of a secluded retreat (even in solitary, you’re watched more closely than a hawk choosing his dinner menu), she managed to make it quite clear to all and sundry that if she was in her cell and her door was closed, god help the woman, guard or inmate, who attempted to intrude without a written invitation.

But in a cabin with few rooms and even fewer doors, a private space for either of us was something sorely lacking, and something I wished at the time I had had the foresight to think of before the place was finished. Particularly when I moved my ‘classroom’ from Ruby’s study to our house and young people seemed always to be underfoot. Paying gig or not, it began to get a bit much, even for so gregarious a soul as myself.

However, since spilled milk only gets sour when you shed tears over it, the only real choice we had was to just go ahead and make the best of the situation.

One of the first changes I made was to turn the back porch into a classroom of sorts. It was comfortable, brightly lit, and glassed in to protect us from the elements. It also kept curious eyes out of the main part of the house, unless the bathroom needed to be utilized, and when that happened, they went accompanied by me.

That way, when Ice came home, all she needed to do was go into the main cabin and close the door behind her, giving her all the privacy she needed after a long day working with people. At least until ‘school’ was out and I came inside to join her.

She always seemed more than ready to see me by then.

As for myself, well, I’ve never really needed all that much private time. And when I do crave it, a long, luxurious, solitary bath complete with sweet smelling bubbles, candles and a good book fills the bill quite nicely.

As Autumn’s chilly hold on the weather deepened, I also began to notice signs of restlessness in my partner. Ice has always been, and I believe always will be at heart, a woman of action. The building of our home, combined with the hard work Pop gave her to do kept her mind and body busy during the long spring and summer months.

But now, with the cabin built and the work slowing down with the ending of the summer tourist season, there really didn’t look to be that much for her to do besides chopping logs for our ravenous fireplace, a task which she took to with a relish usually reserved for a blind person gaining sight.

And so, the restiveness began to assert its hold. It showed itself in small ways. Like when she began to leave the warm nest of our shared bed at ungodly hours of the morning to strap on running shoes and go charging through the forest at breakneck speeds, perhaps chasing her demons, perhaps running from them. There was also the meticulously stitched canvas bag filled with god knows what suddenly hanging from the eaves in the corner of the house. Sounds of her beating it into quivering submission became a nightly occurrence around the ol’ homestead. Though, to be honest, I’ve done my share of damage to that bag in the time we’ve been here. Self-defense skills, once learned, need to be kept up as silver needs to be polished to avoid tarnish.

Besides, it was fun to have a crack at something that didn’t hit back. Much, anyway.

But, since the winter’s snows weren’t far in the future, I knew that even these activities would soon be but a memory. And if she couldn’t keep her body busy, I needed to find some way of keeping her brilliant mind that way.

And then an idea came to me and I kicked myself for not having thought of it sooner.

As I got to know him better, I developed a sort of kindred-spirit relationship with Pop. Like I had been in the Bog, he was the man to see if you needed something you couldn’t otherwise get your hands on. He had his fingers in a great number of pies, and if he liked you, he wasn’t at all adverse to sharing the spoils. For a price of course. Though in my case, the price was so low as to be negligible.

And so I went to him on a certain Fall day with several requests, and, with a knowing glint in his eye, he accepted the challenge and agreed to do his best to get me what I needed. With Pop on the case, I knew my merchandise was as good as in my hands.

Sure enough, not more than a week went by when I received a call asking me to come and retrieve my packages. And for the price of one home-cooked meal, I took home some things that I hoped would help get Ice through the long winter ahead.

She came home that night, sweaty and disheveled from a day cutting wood, not only for our own fireplace but, by the amount of moisture gluing her shirt to her body, for half the town as well. She had also been helping some of the townspeople replace the roof on Mrs. Symmonds’ house before the snows set in.

After letting her shower, sharing dinner with her, and talking about nothing important, I handed her a slim square box wrapped up in pretty paper.

I was treated to a raised eyebrow before she looked at the box in her hands, turning it over in the light.

"Well?" I asked, impatient as always. "Aren’t you gonna open it?"

"I dunno. Will it bite me?" Her grin was one of pure devilment.

"No. But I might if you don’t open the damn thing."

"Oooo. Now there’s a frightening thought." Her eyes positively radiated amusement.

I gave her back my best scowl, and considered throwing in a pout for good measure. I was pretty sure I could even manufacture tears if it would get her to open the box faster.

With a truly pious look of beleaguered long-suffering, she set to opening the gift I’d given her, ripping the paper down to the box below, setting aside, then opening the box itself. Her gaze, when it finally met mine, held within it an interesting mixture of curiosity and fondness. "Brings back some memories," she said, smiling.

I returned her grin. "Yeah. Mostly stupid ones, for me. Still, if you hadn’t asked, I never would have met you, so my naivete aside, they’re pretty good ones."

Walking over to me, box in hand, she gave me a gentle kiss on the lips. "Thanks."

"You’re welcome. It . . .um . . .it’s part of a larger gift. If you’ll follow me?"

After a moment, she nodded and followed me to the door beneath the stairs which led to the front porch, whose screens were covered with glass windows in anticipation of winter, and therefore made a perfect home for my gifts.

Turning on the recessed lights we had installed, I stepped back and allowed her to precede me onto the porch. I stood in the shadows, waiting and hoping against hope that she’d be pleased with my gift.

The expression on her face when she turned to look at me left no doubt in my mind that she was.

"I . . .um . . .know you were never able to get the ones you left behind, so I figured that you could just replicate them here." I shrugged, the tiniest bit embarrassed. "Or do whatever with them."

I wanted to say more, to perhaps explain myself better, but found myself suddenly engulfed in an embrace I never wanted to leave.

Ya done good, Angel, I heard Corinne’s voice say in my mind. Ya done real good.

And with a shift of her strong body, I felt myself borne aloft and carried with the utmost grace and gentleness out of the porch and up to our bed.

To be thanked, properly, for the four bonsai trees spending their first night on a long table on the porch of our home.


If March is said to sometimes go out like a lion, October went out like a sunning rattler who’d just had his tail stepped on by an annoying tourist trying to get that ‘perfect’ shot of the wife and kids in front of the Grand Canyon.

Which is to say, a very nasty mood indeed.

The rains moved in, apparently liked what they saw, and decided to stay around a good long while, loitering like a guest who wouldn’t know a hint if it hit him between the eyes.

Everything in town came to a halt and our neighbors began to make nervous jokes about arks when the lake began to overrun its boundaries and started to encroach on the surrounding properties, most of which were year-round housing for the town’s residents. Ice and I kept pretty busy helping our friends and neighbors weatherproof their homes and prepare for winter’s long siege.

One afternoon saw the sky dark and dangerous. Just a degree or so below freezing, the storm unleashed its fury, sending sheets of sleet pounding against our windows as if trying desperately to get inside. Outside, the world looked like a fairyland, the trees hooded in cloaks of shimmering ice.

I sat on the couch in front of a roaring, toasty fire, wrapped comfortably in my warmest robe and listening as Ice idly hummed along to an aria playing on our sound system as she leafed through some magazine or other. The paper sat on my lap unread as I took in the beautiful sounds of her voice, allowing the music to flow over and through me, warming spots even the fire couldn’t touch.

Leaning my head against the back of the couch, I closed my eyes and smiled, pleasantly sleepy and very much content with my lot in life at that particular moment. While Mother Nature spewed out her worst, I was warm, and dry, and loved.

Ah yes, and well loved at that. We’d spent most of the morning and part of the afternoon in a loving tangle of insatiable passion, relishing the opportunity to do so whenever our desires took us without fear of prying eyes or ears.

I let those thoughts flow through my mind and body, smiling wider at the tightening in my groin from the sensations they produced. Then I opened my eyes and shook my head, chiding myself for my foolishness. Picking up the paper and shaking it out, I lazily flipped through the pages of newsprint, looking for something to spark my interest.

A subscription to the New York Times had been a housewarming gift from Ruby, whose newspaper I had always pilfered while staying under her roof, depriving her of her much beloved crosswords. While I didn’t miss living in the U.S. per se, it was still nice to keep up on what was going on over there occasionally and so the paper was a welcome gift.

Turning to the world news section, I idly scanned the headlines, looking for anything of interest, when something caught my eye. I stopped, blinked, and read again. And then again. When I finally looked up, it was to find Ice watching me intently.

"You alright?"

"I . . .don’t know. I think so. I’m just . . .not really sure, I guess."

Laying her book down on the table, she rose gracefully to her feet and came to stand behind the couch. "What’s up?"

I handed the paper to her. "Would you mind reading this over and telling me if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing?"

After a moment, the paper was handed back down to me again. "Yup."

I looked back over the printed text, trying to wrap my mind around what it was telling me.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA (AP) - America's oldest female inmate will soon enjoy her first taste of freedom in 45 years.

Corinne Weaver, 71, is set to leave Rainwater Women's Correctional Facility near Pittsburgh on Thursday. Weaver, serving a three consecutive life sentence term for the poisoning deaths of her four husbands, was granted a pardon last month by Governor George Green.

Weaver’s case was taken up by human rights activists after she recently suffered a series of strokes that left her confined to a wheelchair.

"It's inhumane to keep an elderly woman locked up in her final years in her condition," said Al Merman, president of Human Rights Now!

After numerous letter writing campaigns and many protests staged outside the governor's mansion, Gov. Green relented. "I've reviewed Mrs. Weaver’s case," the Governor said at a press conference on Monday, "and I find she is no longer a threat to society. The right thing to do is to let her have her freedom."

Green's main opponent in next month's elections, Sam Jones, was quick to support Weaver’s case. "It's a shame the governor had to be hounded into this decision," he said. "It's obvious this woman will only suffer more by staying in a system in sore need of serious reform."

Weaver’s lawyer, Donita Bonnsuer, a known Human Rights activist, was unavailable for comment.

"Did you know about this?" I asked, trying to keep the accusatory tone from my voice. I knew that Ice had, from the time she left prison for the first time, always kept tabs on Corinne, keeping her safe from predatory inmates who thought beating up little old librarians was the height of fun and games. To think that Ice would keep the news of Corinne’s failing health, let alone her pending release, from me was making me very angry indeed.

"Not about the strokes, no." She came to sit down beside me, not touching, but close. "I knew about the protests, and Donita told me that there was a good chance she’d get her parole granted, but she asked me to cut off all contact with Corinne. For the same reason I left you alone when I escaped."

"So you couldn’t be linked to her."


"But why didn’t you tell me?"

Ice sighed. "Because I didn’t want to get your hopes up." She turned her head to look at me. "Look. I know how much Corinne means to you. She means a great deal to me too. I just wanted to be sure before telling you anything, one way or another. If that was a mistake on my part, then I’m sorry."

I sighed as well. "I appreciate why you think you had to keep this to yourself, Ice, but I’d really rather be treated as an adult by you. I’m not a child, Morgan. I can deal with disappointments, you know."

Ice looked down at her hands resting in her lap. "I know," she replied softly. "I just don’t like to see you have to. Especially if I can help it."

Touched by the sweetness of her gesture, even if I didn’t agree with it, I pulled her over into a heartfelt hug, happy when she finally lifted her arms to return it. To let her off the hook, I changed the subject, slightly. "What’s going to happen to her?"

"Donita will help her out, I’m sure. Just like she was willing to help you. Corinne’s got a lot of money stashed away. She’ll be just fine."

I breathed heavily into her shirt. "I miss her."

She rubbed my back soothingly. "I know, Angel. I do too. Corinne’s a good person."

I pulled away slightly. "I hate to think of her all alone down there. Sick. Not able to walk. Surrounded by strangers. Even in prison, she had her books, her job, her friends. Now what does she have?" I looked down at my own hands. "All the money in the world won’t get those things for her now."

"She has Donita," Ice replied gently, chafing my hands in her own. "And Donita has a great number of contacts, Angel. People who will be happy to befriend Corinne without a thought to how rich she is. She’ll be well looked after, believe me." Her eyes blazed into my own. "I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true."

I nodded, then looked down at our joined hands. "I know. I believe you, Ice. It’s just . . . ." I sighed again. "I want to help her. She’s done so much for me and I just want to give something back to her." After a moment, I looked up at her again. "After she’s released, do you think there’s any way I could contact her? Even for just a second? To convince myself she’s alright? I’ll understand if you think it isn’t safe. I just need to be sure, that’s all."

After a moment, Ice smiled at me and squeezed my hands. "I’ll see what I can do."

And that I believed.


The days stretched slowly into weeks and finally, the winter snows came to lay claim on the land. The holiday season was quickly approaching and a winter-gloomy town seemed to brighten just slightly at the prospect. Trees and wreaths started appearing through windows and doors and the people all seemed to be a bit friendlier—not that they weren’t friendly already—greeting everyone they passed with a cheery ‘Happy Holidays!’.

Ice wasn’t home much during this early part of winter. Though the work at Pop’s station might have dried up for the moment, there was still plenty of other work to be had if one only knew where to look and was willing to sweat for it.

And Ice, of course, knew how to do both. In spades.

For myself, I kept busy with my students, their number growing ever larger as children from other towns began to pay me weekly visits for tutoring sessions. I also spent a good deal of time with Ruby, talking about nothing in particular, just enjoying her company and her delicious coffee.

Though I resolved not to, I found myself asking Ice quite a few times about Corinne. Her answer was always the same. "I’m doing my best, Angel."

To keep my mind off upsetting her too much with my incessant questioning, I turned my thoughts to other things. Namely what to get my absolutely impossible to buy for lover for Christmas. The book signed by Solzhenitzyn was one of the few things to survive her escape from the Bog intact, and the four bonsai trees I’d purchased were doing incredibly well under her talented hands. A new set of mechanic’s tools, while practical, seemed hardly the romantic, or meaningful, gift I wanted to give her on our first Christmas as free women.

It had to be something special. Something rare. Something perfect.

And then I had it. An absolutely perfect—to my mind, at least—gift. There were only two problems. One was to see if such a gift even existed. The other would be going about finding it if it did indeed exist.

So, of course, I went to Pop with both problems. And with his usual knowing grin, he resolved to help in any way he could.

I returned home well satisfied.


To Be Continued...Part 5


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