Disclaimers 2: There will be a tiny bit of violence scattered through the story, including one piece dealing with domestic battering and attempted rape. Nothing really intense though. There will also be some swearing scattered throughout the story.
Disclaimers 3: This is an adult alternative romance, which means that there will be sex between two consenting adult females later on down the line. If this bothers you, or is illegal where you live, then please read no further. You have been warned!
Copyrights: All characters mentioned in this story belong to me. Please do not use them, or any portion of this story without talking to me first. The song "Like We Never Had a Broken Heart" belongs to MCA Nashville, Garth Fandis and Trisha Yearwood.
Thanks: I would like to offer sincere and heartfelt thanks to the bestest <g> beta reader a bard could ever ask for. Thank you, Maggie Sheridan. Without your skills, patience, gentle guidance
And boundless encouragement, this story would never have seen the light of day. J
Part 1Chapter one
She was having a wonderful dream. A warm wet tongue was lightly teasing her ear, and it was feeling rather good. Then something very cool and not so wet plunged directly in her ear and exhaled in a loud 'Snoof'.
Her head shot straight up off the pillow. Her heart hammering, she looked around wildly. Then her eyes settled on a dark figure sitting next to her bed. The black triangular head tilted slightly, and blue eyes studied her with mischievous curiosity.
She lowered herself back down and turned so that she was nose to nose with the furry face. She glared at the unrepentant animal.
"You can be replaced with a goldfish at any time, you know."
Her answer was a belligerent growl and a muted 'woof'. She narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth for a retort, but the canine turned her back on her and sauntered to the bedroom door and paused, looking back at her expectantly.
Gazing at the dawning sunlight that snuck through her curtained window, she flopped over on her back and sighed. Feeling a slight movement at her feet, she looked down at the small butter golden canine that lay curled by her feet. The animal looked at her with sleepy, sympathetic eyes, then lowered her head back to her paws and closed her eyes.
Randi sat up and gently nudged the animal on her back and lightly scratched her belly.
"Oh no ya don't. If I have to get up with the dragon lady, so do you," she informed the squirming, stretching animal that decided if she had to get up, then this was a most pleasant way to do it.
Randi climbed out of bed and padded down the hallway, flanked by her furry companions. She stopped by the kitchen to pour herself a cup of freshly brewed coffee and silently thanked whatever gods might be listening for coffee makers with automatic timers. She continued on through the spacious livingroom to the foyer, where she opened the front door for her four legged friends. They both shot through the door and down the steps of the porch, scurrying into the woods to take care of business. Once finished, they got down to the serious business of playing.
Randi stood and watched the playful pair as they ran and wrestled in the crisp, early autumn air, wondering once again where this unlikely pair came from. They had just shown up on her property one day. The little one had been hurt; blood matted her fur from shoulder to mid-chest. She limped along gamely, being nudged, coaxed, and almost dragged by her midnight-black companion. They made it halfway to the porch before the smaller animal gave up and just lay down. The larger animal sat down beside her and alternated between looking up at Randi and giving little nudging licks to her exhausted companion. Randi took the hint and approached the pair slowly, murmuring softly so as not to alarm them. Gentle cinnamon eyes regarded her patiently as she gently examined the bloody shoulder of the smaller animal. The tall woman winced at the long deep gashes that marred the silken fur. "Well, this is bad," she said to herself as much as to the ebony canine that watched her intently. "But it can be fixed. You're going to have to let me get her inside if I'm going to help her." And, as if understanding, the larger animal backed up and let the woman pick up the little one and bring her inside. Randi sutured the little canine's wounds and made a place in the kitchen for her to rest and recover. The larger animal never left her side, except to answer nature's call and take small amounts of food and water that Randi provided. The little one recovered fairly quickly and, as if by unspoken agreement, they had been with the solitary woman ever since. Their devotion to each other, much like their sudden appearance in her life, was a mystery, but Randi had to admit, she enjoyed it.
Randi shook herself out of her reverie and looked up, taking note of the heavy gray clouds that were moving in quickly and efficiently, overtaking the sun. This doesn't look good, she mused to herself. Walking back inside the house, she flicked on the radio on her way to the kitchen. The radio was tuned to a local country music station, and she listened to Wynona rocking to the rhythm of the rain as she toasted a bagel and rummaged in the refrigerator for some cream cheese. She munched idly through the news and sports, paying close attention when Kip Kilbourne's too cheerful voice began to announce the weather.
"Well folks, it's time to stock up your pantries and break out those snowshoes. This is going to be a big one. There's a high-pressure system moving our way from the great white north, and it's gonna meet up with another fast moving front from the east. And three guesses where they're gonna meet up with each other. You got it! Cutters Gap, Pike Mountain, and surrounding areas are going to be hit hard. Snowfall should begin about mid-day today, and I don't look for it to stop until late Friday. Now this is Tuesday, folks. So think about that while you prepare. Especially you guys up there on the ridge, 'cause it's likely going to be a while before you can make it down here again. We'll keep you posted as things develop."
Randi sighed and ran her fingers through tousled raven hair, doing a mental inventory of what she would need to tide her over for at least five weeks. For that would likely be how long it took before the road leading to and from her secluded hilltop home would be clear. The list would be short, as she had a fully stocked pantry and an abundance of meat in the freezer housed in the garage. Perhaps some extra Kerosene for the emergency generator and another 50 pound bag of dog food for my furry friends, she mused to herself. Ooohh, and maybe Toby has gotten a new shipment of paperbacks in. Reading fanfic on the net is fine, but it's not real comfy reading when I'm in bed, even on the laptop. Ugh, I guess I'd better get this over with. Finishing her coffee in one gulp, she headed back to her room to shower and dress for the dreaded trip to Cutters Gap.
"Shit, shit, shit!"
Megan Galagher was lost. And she was not happy. What was supposed to be a 'scenic' route back to her native New York from a book signing in Manchester, NH was turning out to be the road trip from Hell. The attendant at the last gas station she stopped at '30 miles back' promised her that this road would lead her to the interstate within 20 miles. Obviously he didn't know what in the Hell he was talking about. She fumed to herself. Now here I am, driving down this narrow-assed road, around a mountain that looks like it's about to go avalanche any minute, with no clue where I'm going, and no friggin' interstate signs in sight. AARRGGHHH!
She spotted a sign that read Cutters Gap 3MI and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank you, God. Maybe they can give me some kind of clue how I can get to the interstate, or at least have a phone I can use to call the auto club and get directions and then, call my agent and let her know I'm still alive. My cell phone has been useless in these damn mountains. Breathing a little easier, she pressed a little harder on the accelerator of her Lexus and headed into Cutters Gap.
Randi navigated the winding road with a rumbling dread in her belly. She had driven this road, with its many sharp curves and 45 degree inclines, hundreds of times in the years she had lived here. The private road that led to and from her hilltop ranch was mostly treelined, but there were spots where the edge of the road dropped into little ravines, and if you weren't careful, you would find yourself losing the road and tumbling into the ravine. However the tall woman's dread had less to do with the road than it had to do with the trip into Cutters Gap. The people there were her friends, they had known the tall woman most of her life, but they knew. They knew of her shame. And after all this time she still saw the sympathetic looks, listened to the well-meaning advice to move on with her life. But she couldn't forget, couldn't move on, and couldn't bear the sympathy that she felt she did not deserve. So she became a recluse. Living a solitary life in her house high up on a hill that more closely resembled a mountain. Only venturing into town when she absolutely needed supplies. I can do this, she promised herself. Get in quick; get out quick, no problem. "Then why do I feel like I'm about to step into an alligator pit?" She said aloud to no one in particular.
Megan drove her Lexus ES300 down the middle of a street that looked like a throwback to the 50s. Small shops lined one side of the street, and 'professional' buildings lined the other, with diagonal parking on both sides. The young strawberry blond eyed the passing storefronts, searching in vain for something familiar. Jesus, no malls, no department stores, no Starbucks, not even a 'McDonald's. What part of the twilight zone have I wandered into? I don't even see a friggin payphone! Driving on, and ignoring the curious looks from people, Megan's hopes were dwindling. A gas station?I'll settle for a damn gas station. As if in answer to her plea, the writer spotted a row of cheerful green gas pumps at the edge of town. Set well behind the pumps was what appeared, to Megan's grateful eyes, to be a rather expansive convenience store. The large sign above the entrance read simply: TOBY'S GAS & GROCERY. "Thank you, Lord!" Megan sighed. Maybe I can at least grab something to munch on and use their phone.
Looking around as she pulled on the lot, Megan spotted the familiar blue and white booth. Pulling into a parking space set between the store entrance and the phone, Megan gathered up her dayplanner and exited the car. Pausing outside the auto, the petite author breathed deeply of the crisp cold air and took a moment to look around. As much as she hated being lost in the middle of nowhere, she couldn't help but admire the rustic feel of the small town and the beauty of the surrounding hilly woods, lush with snowcapped pines. Looking up, Megan decided she really didn't like the looks of the rapidly graying sky. All right Meg, sightsee later; take care of business now. Moving to the phone, Megan pulled her calling card out of the dayplanner and picked up the handset.
Charlotte Grayson was doing her best not to burst into flames as she patiently explained, once again, to the young writer on the phone that she could not provide him with a young woman so that he might perform some 'research' for the romance story he was working on. God help me! What ever happened to 'cruising the bars' for a date? The yodeling of her private phone interrupted her reverie. Thank God! "Look, Johnny, I've got an important call coming in. I can't help you with your 'research', you're gonna have to get a gal the old fashioned way; hit the bars." Disconnecting quickly, she grabbed her other phone, "Grayson" she barked.
"What ever happened to 'hello'?" the chiding voice on the other end inquired.
"Galagher!" The redhead bellowed. "Where on Gaia's green earth are you? I've been worried sick, you little shit. I haven't heard from you since you left Manchester. Your cell phone keeps telling me the party I'm trying to call is unavailable, and the weatherman's been damn near peeing himself over a major storm front that's coming through New Hampshire and Vermont on its way here. And we won't mention the book signing you're scheduled for at Barnes & Noble next week." The exasperated woman finished, finally drawing a breath.
"I'm fine Charly, thanks for asking." The strawberry blond chuckled into the phone. "First off, I'm about one hundred miles outside of Manchester, in a town called Cutters Gap. I'm surrounded by mountains, which is why you can't reach me on the cell phone. I got a little lost while looking for the interstate, so I stopped here to use their phone to call you and then call the auto club to get some dependable directions to the interstate. Yes, I've noticed the weather is looking a bit nasty, but I should be able to get directions, grab something to eat and be well on the highway before the snow hits. Does that about cover everything?"
"Yeah, well," the publisher replied, somewhat appeased, "you should have called me sooner. I was worried?I mean, I can't have my star writing talent gallivanting around the countryside and missing her appointments."
Megan smiled at the publisher's weak attempt at disguising her concern. "I love you too, Charly." The writer chuckled. "But I'm okay, and I'll be home soon. How's Eric doing?" Megan inquired about her live-in boyfriend, causing the red-haired publisher to grimace and snort.
"Oh, he's missing you terribly, Meg; he only goes out on the town four nights a week instead of five," she answered with no small amount of sarcasm.
Megan rolled her eyes. She was well aware of her publishing friend's dislike of her live-in lover. "Be nice, Charly. He's probably just lonely. I don't expect him to cloister himself in the apartment until I come home." She chided her friend.
"Whatever you say," the publisher grumbled.
There was a pregnant silence before the petite blond said, "Look Charly, I've got to go. I want to grab something to eat and get directions before the snow starts falling. I'll call you when I get clear of these mountains."
"Sure thing Meg," the redhead replied. "You be careful."
Megan hung up the phone and pulled her auto club card out and dialed the tollfree number.
Charlotte Grayson sighed heavily as she stared at the now silent phone. She worried about the young writer, perhaps unnecessarily as Megan often chided her, but she worried anyway. Megan Galagher had come a long way in the three years since Charlotte first saw one of the young woman's stories in an independent women's magazine. The publishing editor recognized the raw talent in that short tale and quickly sought out the author. They met for lunch in one of Manhattan's many small delis and Megan allowed her to read a rough manuscript featuring a beautiful, brainy, and deadly private investigator called Samantha Steele. And the rest, as they say, was history. The deadly detective became the heroine in several best selling mysteries, and Megan, the golden child of the book world. The older woman became her agent, friend, confidante, and surrogate mother. The last being a role that Charlotte would have gladly relinquished to the real thing, but Megan would have none of it. The friendship between the women was comfortable. Despite the twenty-year difference in their ages, they shared many of the same interests and saw eye-to-eye on almost everything?. Except Eric. Charlotte had not trusted the handsome, arrogant, and decidedly smooth young blond since she first laid eyes on him. The young man had simply appeared at one of Megan's' book signings bearing a red rose and exuding a hefty amount of humble charm. Megan fell for it hook, line, and sinker. And in no time at all, the unemployed drifter went from staying with friends to living in a New York high-rise, driving his own SUV, and sampling New York night life with a beautiful young author on his arm. Charlotte never hid her dislike or distrust of Megan's companion, but the writer steadfastly defended him, saying the older woman simply did not understand. In this one area, both women simply agreed to disagree. Before Megan left for her most recent book signing, the publisher hoped that he would go with her. He might be useless, but he would at least be company for her.
Lover boy declined though, pleading carsickness on long trips. Now Megan was lost and alone, and in spite of the writer's upbeat attitude, Charlotte had a bad feeling.
Megan let out an exasperated sigh as she listened to the overly cheerful recorded voice. "Thank you for calling Premier Auto Club, your 24 hour highway helpers. Due to heavy call volume, anticipated wait time for assistance is approximately 45 minutes. Please do not hang up and call back. This will only increase your wait time. Thank you for your patience." "45 minutes my ass!" The frustrated blond growled as she slammed down the receiver. "Oh well, maybe someone in here will know how I can get back to civilization."
A light snow was beginning to fall as Randi reached the fork that separated her road from the two-lane highway that led into Cutters Gap. Huh, it's starting earlier than they said it would. It doesn't matter, I'll still be able to get in and out and back up the hill before it gets sloppy. Checking briefly for any oncoming vehicles and seeing none, Randi punched the gas pedal and pulled onto the road that headed into town.
Megan was pleasantly surprised when she entered Toby's Gas & Grocery. The interior of the store was spacious, well lit, and seemed to have a little bit of everything. Off to her left were several mid-sized isles that carried the usual assortment of canned goods and sundries. The back wall sported two refrigerator cases. The long one carried an impressive variety of cold drinks, and the shorter one contained dairy products and cold cuts. Directly to her left there was a large cold case that held locally raised meats and poultry. Straight in front of her stood a long magazine rack that held a decent variety of magazines. There was even a section that boasted the latest in paperback books. Finally, to her right, a long counter that ran the length of the store. Half of which offered freshly prepared cold cut sandwiches and fountain sodas. The other half of the counter bearing the checkout registers. Oh yeah, this will work, Megan grinned to herself. Megan wandered up to the sandwich counter and eyed the selection of sandwiches listed on the handpainted sign.
"Good morning, young lady! And how are you this morning?" Boomed a deep masculine voice.
Megan turned at the greeting and watched as a mountain of a man ambled her way from the back of the store. He had to be at least 6'8", broad shouldered with thickly muscled arms. He had a barrel chest that tapered only slightly at his waist and thighs that resembled small tree trunks. Good God! I've seen smaller mountains. His shoulder length salt & pepper hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and his craggy face, though lined with age, was ruggedly handsome. As he approached her, it briefly occurred to Megan that she would hate to meet this man in a dark alley, but his warm open smile and gentle gray eyes quickly displaced that thought. Suddenly it occurred to Megan that she was gaping, and with a mental head slap she responded. "Oh! Uh, I'm fine. I was just looking at your sandwich selection and remembered that I skipped breakfast."
"Well now," he replied, "a little thing like you shouldn't be missing meals, young lady." He passed her and reached behind the counter, pulling out a high wooden stool. Whipping a hand towel from his back pocket, he wiped off the already clean seat and placed it in front of the counter. "Why don't you have a seat and let me whip you up my famous Turkey Breast and Bacon Special?" Before Megan had a chance to reply, her empty stomach loudly rumbled its reply. The petite blond blushed prettily at the amused twinkle in his eyes. "I'll take that as a 'yes'," he chuckled. As he set about preparing her sandwich, curiosity got the better of her and she wandered over to the stand that held the paperbacks.
"My name's Toby, by the way," the large man called from behind the counter. "And I'm sure you've heard this line before, but I swear you look familiar. Have you visited Cutters Gap before?"
"No, I've never been to this area before," Megan replied. Her eyes twinkled merrily as she spied a certain book in the rack. She picked it up and walked back over and lightly plopped it on the counter. "But you may have seen me before." She offered cryptically. Toby turned and looked down at the counter. His eyes grew saucer wide as he looked down picture of the pretty, petite blond woman gracing the back cover of the book, and then back up to the meadow green eyes of the living thing.
"Well, I'll be whipped," he exclaimed as he hurriedly wiped off his hands. "If it isn't Megan Galagher in the flesh." Holding out a large hand he continued. "Wait til I tell the missus that I shook the hand of the woman behind 'Samantha Steele, Private Investigator'. Some mighty fine reading, if I do say so myself."
Megan smiled and took the proffered hand in a warm handshake. "Thank you. I'm glad you like her. Sam is pretty easy to write for. She has a penchant for attracting murder, mystery, and mayhem, but she thrives on it."
"Heh, she also thrives on handing the bad guys their butts in a sling," Toby chuckled. "Black hair, gray eyes, six feet of muscle and attitude?. That's my kind of woman," the storekeeper mock growled. The petite blond shook her head and laughed.
"So what brings you to Cutters Gap?" The big man inquired as he handed the writer her sandwich and soda. "No offense, but it wasn't by choice," the blonde offered as she picked up the sandwich and took a bite, rolling her eyes and humming in delight at the heavenly taste. Causing the big man to grin proudly. "The attendant at the last gas station I stopped at, told me that if I kept straight on Highway 41, it would lead me directly to the Interstate in about twenty miles. That was thirty miles ago." The writer finished dejectedly.
The older man blew out his cheeks and scowled. "That last gas station you stopped at was in Knox City, right?" Megan nodded and he continued. "And, about ten miles out, Highway 41 split, right?" Another nod. "I don't suppose he told you that you would have had to branch off to the left, did he?" Megan sighed. "No, he sure didn't." The big man patted her hand reassuringly. "Well don't you worry young lady. You're not too far from the Interstate; you finish eating and old Toby will tell you exactly how to get there." Looking out the plate-glass window at the falling snow he added.
"You should be well on your way before the snow starts to stick." Reassured, the young woman dug back into her sandwich with gusto and the two talked some more about the daring detective.
Randi stomped her boot-clad feet to dislodge the snow that stuck to them. She had just finished filling the twin five-gallon cans that she had strapped to the back of her Jeep Cherokee, from the kerosene tank behind Toby's store. The snow had begun to fall harder and was accumulating quickly on the ground. The tall woman wanted to finish her supply run and get back up the hill before the driving became hazardous.
She opened the door and walked into the cheery warmth. Looking around, she spotted the big man talking to a petite strawberry blond. Toby noticed the statuesque brunette immediately, a huge grin creasing his face. "Randi," he bellowed. Excusing himself from the young woman, he exited from behind the counter, walked up to the tall woman, and wrapped her up in a big bear hug. "It's good to see you, girl. I was wondering if I'd see you before old man winter had his way with us." Randi returned the hug, allowing herself this small comfort from an old friend. Stepping back when he released her, she shrugged, "I figured I'd better grab some extra kerosene and food for my furry freeloaders." Almost as an afterthought, she added, "I also wanted to see if you'd gotten in any new books. I've got a feeling I'm going to need something to keep me from going stir crazy."
"Funny you should mention that," the storeowner replied with a twinkle in his eye. "We got a good shipment in last week, and this week we've even got one of the book writers." At Randi's quizzical look he chuckled, "C'mon, let me introduce you to someone." Slipping a big hand under her elbow, he led her over to the seated woman.
Megan turned in her seat to get a better look at the woman who'd just entered the store and who'd been quickly engulfed in the big man's arms; she nearly gasped aloud when the woman stood back. The vision before her was six foot tall, if she was an inch, with silken raven-colored hair that flowed gracefully across broad shoulders. Her black bomber jacket couldn't disguise her well-endowed chest and trim waist. Muscular Jean-clad legs seemed to go on forever before stopping at her charcoal-hiking boots. Dragging her eyes back up, Megan was captured by the crystal blue eyes, set off by thick dark lashes and high cheekbones. Good lord! Except for the blue eyes, that could be Samantha Steele come to life. Megan broke out of her reverie and stood as the pair approached her.
"Dr. Randi Oakes, allow me to introduce you to Ms. Megan Gallagher." The man-mountain grinned as the two women clasped hands. "The lovely Ms. Gallagher is the brains behind?"
"Samantha Steele," the tall woman finished, quirking a grin and releasing the smaller hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Gallagher. Samantha Steele is quite the popular detective." Randi was polite, but Toby sensed coolness in the quiet but normally friendly woman.
"It's nice to meet you, Dr. Oakes," Megan smiled. "And thank you. It's always nice to meet another Samantha Steele fan."
"I said she was quite the popular detective, Ms. Gallagher; I didn't say I was a fan," Randi returned demurely. Noting the looks of puzzlement on the faces in front of her, Randi explained. "There's a little too much bias in your stories for my tastes."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Oakes, I don't quite follow you." Megan was puzzled and more than a little flustered at the accusation.
Randi took in the faces of the two people in front of her, noting the confusion on one, and concern on the other. I'm not in the mood for this. I came in here for supplies, not a debate. "Look?never mind. Let's just say Samantha Steele isn't my cup of tea and leave it at that." With that, the tall woman started to turn away. She was stopped by a light touch on her arm.
"Please, Dr. Oakes," the small blonde pleaded. "I'd really like to know what you are talking about. I try really hard not to offend any ethnic or religious groups."
Randi sighed and turned, looking first at her friend, who stood with his arms folded across his massive chest and his bushy eyebrows furrowed in consternation, and then at the troubled expression on the small woman in front of her. "Ms. Gallagher, I've read quite a few of your stories. And, while they are gripping mysteries, they all have one recurring and disturbing trend. They all feature gay and lesbian characters. And those characters are always portrayed as being sick, twisted and immoral. That is a malicious, incorrect, and inflammatory stereotype, Ms. Gallagher, and I find it offensive."
Megan's confusion turned to cold indifference as she stepped back from the taller woman. "I call them as I see them, Dr. Oakes. Those kind of people are an affront to society, and serve absolutely no purpose in this world. I'm sorry if my portrayals of these individuals offend you."
Toby was stunned at the sheer venom of the younger woman's words. He stepped back as Randi stepped closer to the strawberry blond. Her narrowed eyes were chips of ice. "These 'people,' as you refer to them, are just that; people. No different from you, or your readers, except in whom they choose to love. They are your doctors, your lawyers, your friends, and your family. They have a hard enough time dealing with a society that won't accept them, and laws that don't protect them. They don't need to be the poster children for your small-minded prejudice."
"Well my 'small-minded prejudice' doesn't seem to bother the public-at-large, Dr. Oakes," the writer replied with smug venom. "As my book sales will attest to. If the faggots have a problem with it, they don't have to read it."
"Well, Ms.Gallagher, the 'public-at-large' also gobbles up the tabloids that feature women giving birth to three-headed babies," the tall woman smirked and shrugged. "Go figure." Gotcha! the tall woman thought smugly, as she saw the flush of anger creep up the smaller woman's neck. "And trust me, the 'faggots' don't read your books?we would rather read a grocery list."
Megan stared blankly for a moment before the words sank in. Green eyes sparked and full, pink lips grimaced in distaste. "A goddamned dyke," she growled. "I should have known." She spun on her heel and, grabbing her dayplanner from the counter, she addressed the storekeeper. "I appreciate your hospitality, Toby, but I think I'd better leave. The less time I spend around her," casting a glare at the stone-faced physician, "the cleaner I'll feel."
Toby didn't want it to end like this. He began to protest. "Aw, Ms. Megan, please?"
Megan cut him off, a plea in those fiery, green eyes. "Please Toby, just let me pay for my food, and tell me how to get to the highway."
The big man sighed and shook his head. "There's no charge for the food." He waved off her attempted protest. "No charge! Now, to get to the highway, just take a right when you leave here, and follow the road for about three miles. You'll see a?"
"The snow's getting too deep." Randi cut him off. She was staring out the window at the hard-falling snow. "If that's her car out there, it's not going to make it. She'd be better off waiting it out."
"The Hell I will!" the little blond snarled. "I'd rather end up face-down in a snow drift than spend another moment here with you." With that, she stormed out the door and ran to her car.
The doctor and the storekeeper stood and watched as the Lexus sped, slipping and sliding, onto the main highway. Gray eyes turned to blue and held for a moment before the tall woman shrugged. "She'll be back," Randi offered with more confidence than she felt.
"I hope so," the older man mumbled with some concern. He studied the floor for a moment before meeting her eyes again. "A little hard on her?weren't you?" He commented, not unkindly.
"Not as hard as she is, on people she doesn't even know," Randi shot back sharply. Instantly regretting her attitude with the older man, Randi ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. "Toby, what she's doing is wrong. There are people out there who think the way to improve society is to paint the pavement with some queer's blood; and the picture she paints of gay people only lends credence to that theory."
The big man pondered her words. "I never thought about that," the older man offered. "Truth to tell, I never picked up on the 'evil-gay-character' trend either." He grinned apologetically. "I guess I was just too caught up in the action."
The tall woman shook her head and smiled. "She does write a gripping story, I'll give her that."
The subject of the writer having been dropped, both were at a loss as to what to say next. Finally, the older man broke the silence. "When are you going to come to dinner again?" he inquired gently. "Kate really misses her culinary test subject, says she's tired of hearing 'not enough pepper' from me," he teased hopefully.
Randi bowed her head and sighed. I knew this was coming. "I don't know, Toby," she mumbled. "I'm just not ready to face people right now."
"Kate and I are not just 'people,' Randi?we're your friends. We have been ever since you first came to Cutters Gap," the older man rebutted, mildly scolding. He placed a caring hand on her shoulder. "And when will you be ready, Randi? It's been damn near a year! I can almost?almost understand your leaving the hospital because of the memories. But, honey, I cannot, for the life of me, understand your walking away from a brilliant career and cutting yourself off from everyone that cares about you." Tucking a thick finger under her chin, he nudged her head up until his eyes caught hers. "It wasn't your fault, child."
Randi felt the familiar ache wrap itself around her chest and begin to squeeze. Her eyes and throat began to burn, and she knew that if she didn't get away soon she would fall apart?again. Gathering up her dwindling self-control, she patted his hand and smiled crookedly. "I'm getting there, Toby," She lied. "I just need a little more time to get through this. Can you give me that?"
The storekeeper knew she wasn't being completely honest with him, but knowing how skittish she was right now, he didn't want to push. "Okay," he smiled reassuringly. "I can do that."
Randi let go of the breath she didn't know she was holding. "Great! Well, I guess I'd better finish up and get out of here before Ms. Poison Pen comes back," she mock-shuddered, then headed toward the books.
I can't fucking believe it! Megan seethed, as she sped down the snow-laden road. She has the nerve to be offended by my writing when her whole lifestyle is an offense. Huh, wait 'til she sees my next story; I'll really give her something to be offended about. The small blond grinned evilly at the thought. She frowned again as another; more troubling thought came to mind. I can't believe how much she resembles Samantha Steele; ugh! "Well, Sam," she mused aloud, "you're about to get a thorough makeover, girlfriend."
Megan slowed the car as she came to the fork that separated Randi's road from the highway. "Damnittohell!" the writer cursed aloud, "Toby didn't mention this in his directions." He hadn't finished giving directions before 'Dr. Dyke' butted in; a little voice reminded her. "She should have minded her own damned business," Megan grumbled. She studied the road, searching for some kind of sign that would tell her which way to go. Finding none, she resigned herself to turning around and going back for more directions. She paused when she noticed faint tire tracks in the road to her right. "Well, somebody went this way," the author concluded, not knowing that they were the tracks Randi had made on her way into town. Satisfied with her decision, the writer stepped on the gas.
Megan negotiated the curvy road with growing unease. The snow was getting deeper; making it harder to maintain control, and the writer was beginning to worry. "This isn't working. I'm going to have to turn around," the writer mused aloud. "God, I just hope she isn't there."
She was so intent on finding someplace to turn around; the writer didn't see the small, speckled fawn emerging from the trees until she was almost upon her. With a shrieking curse, the blonde hit the brakes and swerved to the right as the frightened animal bolted to the left. Desperately trying to regain control, the writer spun the steering wheel back to the left, bringing the front end back to the road, but losing the rear end as it fishtailed off the shoulder. The rear wheel buckled on impact with a low lying tree stump, and the laws of momentum flexed their muscles as the Lexus somersaulted three times through the snow-covered brush before coming to rest, wheels down, against an unforgiving maple.
Continued in Part 2...