L’tempo, l’vento, I siori, le femme e la fortuna, iolta e I torn coma la luna.
The times, the wind, women and fortune, change with the moon.
—Tyrolean folk saying
Powell County Library
Magickal! Mystical! Metaphysical Fair
Selene rolled her eyes after scanning the posterboard sign propped next to the door of the library’s meeting room. In this era of online information, the local library must really be hurting for walk-in patrons if they had to resort to this sort of entertainment. She herself had almost had to be dragged here. The last thing she wanted right now was to have her palm or her aura read. In fact she refused to even consider it. Deep inside, where the truths she was afraid to examine resided, she knew all the indications for the unhappy ending she predicted for herself could be revealed today if she let her guard down.
Inside the meeting room, Selene and her long-time friend Sarah stood in front of a plastic folding table draped with a blue silk shawl and printed with silver stars and white crescent moons. Really, could it get any more phony? Selene thought. But Sarah giggled and nudged Selene, wanting to continue. A woman with shoulder length dark hair and piercing dark eyes watched them from the other side of the table, her hands toying with an oversized deck of cards.
“You first,” Sarah said.
“I only came here today because you wanted to, Sarah,” Selene answered. The woman seated behind the table continued to watch them closely. Sarah’s fidgeting and giggling made Selene feel like a teenager, definitely not a good thing in her estimation. “I worked late last night. I’m tired. Let’s just get this over with so I can go home to bed.”
“Sit down,” the woman seated behind the table invited, gesturing to the chairs placed in front of the table.
Selene glanced at the woman, certain she would see it was Sarah being addressed. But instead the tarot card reader looked directly at Selene. A shiver ran down Selene’s back at the woman’s unblinking dark-eyed scrutiny.
Selene shook her head. “I don’t want my fortune told.”
“Maybe you should allow me to take just a peek at the cards for you,” the woman insisted in a soft voice. “There might be interesting things in store for you. Things that you’ve never dreamed possible.”
“Right. Like what? Tall, dark, and handsome?” It sounded to Selene’s own ears like she was sneering at the woman’s talent, so she probably was. No, she definitely was. But the woman didn’t seem to take offense. “You never know,” the card reader answered softly.
Selene shrugged, turning her back and walking away, beginning a slow circuit of the other offerings lining the meeting room’s walls while she waited. Sarah took the proffered seat across from the tarot card reader and immediately became engrossed in whatever the woman proceeded to tell her.
Selene kept moving, afraid if she sat while she waited for Sarah she would fall asleep. Reiki she read on one card atop a blanket-draped bench. Life force healing through the laying on of hands.
Reflexology was printed on another sign taped to the door of a smaller adjacent room. Reflexes in the hands and ears and especially the feet correspond to every part, gland and organ of the body!
There were tables for Hypnosis. For Crystals and Meditation, and one for a devotee of something called Spirit Guides. That particular woman came prepared with large fold-out displays that explained how to identify and understand the messages sent by spirit animals to humans.
Part of her bored, a small part fascinated, and a large part amused, Selene wondered how these practitioners of alternative therapies managed to survive in southwest Wyoming. They must constitute a veritable underground belief system in a place populated by rough oilfield workers and their giant pickup trucks.
Only one of the many exhibitions caused Selene to stop long enough to actually read any of the literature scattered across the table top. Ghosts explained how the belief in spirits was ancient. Practices of spiritualism and ritual magic were not just intended to return restless spirits of the dead to their repose, but for the living to interact with them.
The explanation caught her attention because it jibed with her own beliefs. Animism one page of a brochure read: the belief that spirits existed in all things, animate or inanimate. The universe itself possessed a spirit, and the spirit of everything combined was universal. Selene knew this to be correct because her nona had told her so.
Selene was the last of a long line of streghe or nature witches. With a history stretching back before the time of the Etruscans, the old knowledge was now almost buried by the avalanche of Christian doctrine blanketing the fertile valleys of the Dolomites. By the time the belief filtered down through the years and distance from Europe to reach Selene the flame burned so low it had almost guttered out.
But not quite. She still believed in the ancient agrarian spirits, the gods and goddesses of Nature and fertility, agriculture and fecundity. Even though she lived in the dry high desert and had for her whole life. Even though her last true link with the old religion, her nona, had been dead for twenty years.
And that’s why, when she completed the circuit of the room and stood once more before the dark-haired psychic, almost against her will Selene extended her hand to receive the business card the woman held out to her:
Tarot * ) Divination ( * Clairvoyant
* ) Spells ( *
* ) Spiritual Healing ( *
20 years’ experience
“Call me,” Madame murmured, her finger tapping the card where her phone number was printed. “Make an appointment. Please. I can help you.”
In spite of the pull of modern rationality and the tendency to disbelieve, the inner voice strongly urging her to run before she made a choice whose consequences she couldn’t control, Selene stared helplessly into the deep pools of the woman’s hypnotic eyes. “All right” she was aghast to hear herself agreeing.
) * (
“What do you suppose she wants to help you with?” Sarah asked as they walked out to her car.
“How should I know? I don’t need her help. I’m fine.”
“She saw something.” Sarah nodded wisely. “You should listen to her. You know you’re unhappy; maybe she can tell you what you can do to fix it.”
The door of Sarah’s old Taurus squealed as Selene pulled it open. Once seated, she had to yank hard several times on the seat belt to get it to unwind enough to buckle across her lap. “I’ll tell you what you can do, you can buy a new car. This one is piece of shit.”
“Yeah. So what? I can’t afford a better car. And don’t change the subject. Are you going to call Madame Fortunata?”
“No. I. Am. Not. Now will you drop the subject, please?”
“You should call her, Selene.” Sarah ground the car’s starter and glanced over her shoulder before backing out of the parking space. Selene turned to look out the window so she wouldn’t have to meet Sarah’s eyes.
“One of these days. Maybe. Does that satisfy you? Are you happy now?” Selene wished Sarah would just drive and quit talking. They might be best friends, but Sarah pushed the limits sometimes.
“I think the real question here might be, Are you happy, Selene?”
Selene just grunted. She had a boyfriend and a lover, a house, and a job. Sarah had just one of those things, a boyfriend. So pray tell, if Sarah was so perkily cheerful all the time, with all she had in comparison to Sarah what reason did Selene have for not being happy?
"To the One I Never Forgot"
There’s nothing like sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.
Dusk descended. With only the glow of her laptop’s screen for illumination and with nothing that sounded more appealing than looking for clues by stalking people from high school on social media, Gianna propped her chin in her hand and continued to search. She was almost positive after so many fruitless nights that Zack wouldn’t have friended any of these people. They hadn’t ever liked him, and he had seemed oblivious to them and their exclusive groups. And she certainly didn’t care about connecting with any of them.
Zack was the only one she was interested in discovering. He was the first and only one she had ever been interested in. But wasn’t it just her luck that the people she really didn’t have any fond memories of were so easy to find online? Just a few keystrokes brought up their broadly smiling faces. Minus the braces and acne, it was true, but still not any more attractive than they had ever been although she suspected they were much more likely to invent exciting backgrounds and beautiful wives earning top salaries in their fields. Not to mention perfect little families of two children who had lots of adorable pictures snapped while traipsing along on fabulous vacations.
Her own profile was pretty skimpy. She avoided having a recent picture taken because she still saw the same skinny nobody she had been back then when she looked in the mirror. She owned her own company, but didn’t bring up its existence on her personal page. Most of her accomplishments and her education, along with her whereabouts, weren’t available for public consumption. In fact, the only people she was connected to on social media had sought her out. She spent her time online looking, not interacting.
The one Gianna tried so hard to find—just to see how he was doing of course, if he was happy, if he had a good life—seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth.
So far this had been yet one more wasted night. What did it say about her that she would rather stay home and look for Zack than start up again with somebody new? But the truth was she didn’t want anybody else. She had never wanted anyone else. She had only ever wanted Zack.
Yet the thought nagged: wasn’t it about time to give up? Anyone would tell her she had spent enough time chasing a dream. If her mother knew how Gianna spent her nights, she would try to get her back in therapy. So she didn’t confide in her mother. In fact, she hadn’t felt close to her mother in years...not since the last time Gianna had seen Zack. Six long years ago.
As she sat in the dark and the silence tapping keys, what the search engine brought up, as if it had been waiting for her to find it at just that moment of loneliness and bittersweet nostalgia, was a new website called To the One I Never Forgot. Similar to those sites where you could send an anonymous apology out into the ether for the unkind or downright cruel things you had done to other people and always felt bad about, this site was a place to post memories of, and explanations to, the one who got away. As much as the apology sites, To the One I Never Forgot was not specifically designed to reach the person who had been wronged or left behind. The anonymous confessions were designed merely to ease the guilt of the guilty.
Well, she was that, Gianna thought. Guilty. She had always felt bad about the way she had let Zack slip away without a word. She still couldn’t believe he could just disappear. He had to have had a reason, no matter how lame. Maybe if she took the time and wrote it all down, she would feel better about the non-resolution of their abruptly truncated affair. Maybe she could start to forget.
Before she could think better of it, she typed in a user name and a password, and created a profile along with a pretty, free stock picture of fireworks. And then she started typing.
To the one I never forgot,
I remember the first time I saw you. I was fifteen and starting a new school in a new town. I was late because Daddy had just got his new job and we hadn’t moved soon enough to register for the school year. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat breakfast, but my stomach felt sick as I walked into that classroom filled with people I didn’t know. Most turned their heads and stared at me as I clutched my book bag to my stomach while trying to find an empty seat. But when you turned and looked at me, I remember you had the biggest, friendliest smile on your face, as if you had just been waiting for me all your life and were so glad to finally see me. You had on this shirt, some kind of safari shirt, it had five or six pockets, even one on the sleeve. I remember thinking you must be big into science or computers; no one with a hint of fashion sense would be caught dead in a shirt like that. I found a seat and class started. I was still feeling too anxious to really hear much of anything that was said, until my name was called. When I looked up, the whole class had craned their heads around again to look at me. And nobody looked exceptionally friendly. Nobody except, once again, you. Again you had that warm, wonderful smile on your face when you looked at me, and in your smile I found confidence. I knew we were destined to have meaning in each other’s lives.
She stopped typing. Maybe that was enough. Maybe she had finally got it out of her system and could settle down to sleep. She signed the post Brown Eyed Girl, clicked SEND, logged off and closed the lid on her laptop, plunging the room into darkness.
The cowbell attached by a copper spiral to the front door chimed.
Emma’s hands stilled at the sound. She’d been standing at the glass display counter that faced the front door, hands busy untangling the delicate chains of a snarl of antique pendants that had arrived with the rest of what she’d bought at an estate sale the previous month. She hadn’t had time to thoroughly examine all the various items that she had acquired by the boxful. But now traffic in her store slowed with the arrival of cold weather and put a virtual stop to outdoor sales and auctions in southwest Wyoming for the year. She looked up, and when she saw who it was she forced her fingers to be still and not tremble.
She doubted if this visit was professional, even though he wore the full complement of official paraphernalia in Velcro pouches on his belt and clipped to his shirt beneath the faux sheepskin-lined winter jacket. He knew her well and would know she was asking, without asking, what he wanted. In the middle of a chilly workday. In her shop. Where if he wanted to start up again with the questions that she had no answer for, she couldn’t very well turn and run.
“Emma,” he said as he removed his tan ball cap with its seven-point gold sheriff’s department logo, which he held in one hand by its curled visor. He stretched out the opposite long forefinger with a clean, neatly clipped nail to give the chains she was working on a tiny bit of a swirl on the glass. Not enough to make the job of disentangling them harder. But enough to let her know he acknowledged he was interrupting her day. “Quite a mess,” he said of the situation with the pendants. Or of the situation between them, perhaps.
She couldn’t be completely certain at this point, what Clay meant.
She wasn’t sure what to say either. May I help you? or What can I do for you today? were both out of the question. He had made clear on several occasions since she moved out exactly how she could help him and what she could do for him. Some of his requests had to do with sex, between old friends, if friendship was all that remained between them. Those she steadfastly refused. But most of his appeals had to do with her moving back home. Which she couldn’t do, so there was no point in talking about it anymore.
“Place looks nice.” He nodded at the various Christmas displays which she had put up early in an effort to make herself feel better: the tree in the middle of the worn plank floor with its antique glass ornaments and strings of popcorn and colorful paper chains, the gifts in foil and ribbons of gold and red and green under the tree and distributed here and there among the rest of the store’s merchandise.
“Thanks.” She had spent many hours decorating the shop, even though her heart had hardly cooperated with the effort. She felt more like Scrooge than Santa this year. But it was her own fault, and so she just got on with things whether she felt in the proper spirit or not.
“I need something,” he said, and she thought, Oh boy, here it comes. And, truly, she didn’t know at this instant what her answer would be. Sometimes she dreamed about Clay and what had been between them, specifically the fleshy ax handle he carried in his pants and that he wielded so well and that she missed so much, and more generally what a good life they’d had together. She had been determined to leave him, but lately she had been questioning whether her decision hadn’t been rash. Perhaps, as Clay had insisted more than once and which she had refused to consider, there was another way.
But instead of the plea she expected from him, his regular entreaty for either a quickie or for her to come back home, he continued, “I need something special. For a woman. A special woman.”
He looked up. His hazel eyes glinted, crinkling at the corners as if he were holding back a smile from the lower part of his face but that he couldn’t entirely conceal from her.
She held her immediate reaction at bay. He wanted a gift for a woman, a special woman, and he made a beeline to her shop to buy it? The news that he was seeing someone else hit her hard, although it shouldn’t have. He was a man. A damned attractive man, if it came right down to it. Tall, well-proportioned and well-built, he was as physically compelling as he’d been when she first laid eyes on him in her late teens. If he let himself smile, he would display even white teeth along with the familiar endearing dimple in his right cheek. If he unclasped his webbed belt and let his pants drop to the floor with a clunk of holstered gun and pouches full of cop gear, she well knew he could show her another impressive part of himself, a part she had enjoyed the use of on many a memorable occasion.
She wanted to curl her hands into claws. She wanted to sweep the snarl of pendants from the counter. She wanted to cry out, to protest his involvement with anyone new, to grab him and reclaim him for herself. She could remind him they were still married. Neither had seen fit as yet to begin divorce proceedings, although she couldn’t have said why that was the case. But she didn’t cry or protest or grab at him. She couldn’t. Shocked at her own initial reaction, her hands still remained resting to either side of the pile of chains, and she forced them by sheer will power to hold their relaxed position.
“What is your price range?” she asked instead in as reasonable a tone as she could manage.
“Oh, money’s no object,” he replied with an airy wave of the hand holding his ball cap, as if she was unaware cops didn’t make near the kind of salary the local miners and oil and gas workers made and spent so freely.
He shook his head.
“Pictures or objets d’art?”
He grinned, but to his credit didn’t sneer at her use of such posh foreign terms. Again he shook his head.
“You weren’t thinking...jewelry?” God, she’d hesitated, almost choking on the word. She didn’t want to give away what she was thinking. She didn’t want him buying jewelry for another woman. Especially not in her store. She tried to hide that sentiment, but Clay hadn’t made it to patrol sergeant by being fooled by emotional women, especially one he knew so well. When he just gave a cool nod of his head, she asked, “A necklace, perhaps? It will take me a while to get the snarls out of these chains, but you can see what the pendants look like. There are all kinds of stones, emeralds, sapphires. There is even a rare black opal, very pretty. Or a bracelet? Or a squash blossom necklace? I have some lovely authentic Navajo pieces in silver and turquoise and coral on consignment.”
He was peering into the glass case under the pendants, not listening to a word she was babbling. He was looking at rings. Emma’s heart sputtered. Surely he wouldn’t ask to see rings.
“I’d like to see some of those rings,” he said, pointing to the top glass shelf of the old display case. He leaned over oak trim darkened through age and the touch of many hands over the years, his own hand resting where the palms of generations of people who stood before this cabinet to peruse and buy had rested.
So, Emma thought. Clay was changing tactics. No more asking her to come back. He obviously didn’t need her anymore. He’d come in today to announce by this oblique method that he had found someone new. Specifically, she suspected he had probably come in to her shop with every intention of punishing her. Show her what she had thrown away. Rub her nose in it. Make her eat dirt for ever leaving him in the first place.
Well, she supposed she deserved that. No matter how shocked she was at the thought that he had already replaced her. No matter how much it hurt. Why, until this very moment, had she never seriously considered that Clay would look for somebody else when she continued to refuse him? Somebody willing and female. Another woman to spend time with, expend his substantial randy sexual energy upon. To spend what spare money he had on.
He was a man with a big sexual appetite. If he didn’t want to fuck once a day there was something seriously wrong with him. Generally, he wanted it more than once.
She forced herself to slide open the glass doors in the rear of the display case and begin taking out the rings he requested. One by one, the lovely old boxes of velvet with satin linings came out, royal blue, deep purple, Valentine red. One by one she slowly lined them up beside the jumble of chains, taking her time and letting him consider. One by one, he silently debated and then shook his head no. Square-cut amethyst in platinum? No. Oval pink diamond in silver? No. Marquise-cut black onyx surrounded by brilliant-cut diamonds in white gold? No. The rings she chose got progressively older and more expensive. Heavy, with curlicues and much hand work, the vintage pieces were as beautiful on the back as they were on the side meant to be admired when worn. Their beauty didn’t seem to affect Clay any. He rejected them all.
Really, Emma was astounded. What did Clay Thorpe know about antique jewelry? How could he just shake his head negatively at all her pretty wares? “Maybe you would find what you’re looking for at the mall,” she suggested with a touch of asperity. He had heard her disparage the chain jewelers more than once and would know she was denigrating his taste. But in her opinion, industrial grade diamonds used on saw blades would be good enough for any new woman Clay was considering letting take her place.
“You haven’t showed me everything you’ve got, Emma,” he accused. “You’re holding back the best.”
Could he actually be referring indirectly to their situation? Would he dare accuse her? Up until now not a word of denunciation had passed between them. They had steadfastly refused to cast stones. But now that he’d found someone else, was the blame game going to begin?
His finger touched the glass. “That one. I want to see that one.”
She blew out a breath. He would. Emma felt her shoulders sag. He would ask to see the one piece in the entire store she was reluctant to part with. Despite the bills steadily mounting now that she lived on her own, she had hoped to hang onto the ring until her financial situation improved. Until she could take it home and admire it and keep it for herself. Over the years she had become almost inured to giving up beautiful, priceless things, things that she appreciated but couldn’t afford for herself. It was an unpredictable business, antiques dealer. Most of the time she made little money; sometimes she made a lot on a single item. She loved so much of what she bought, or else stocked on consignment for others, but the whole idea was to sell them. Not to have them for her own. Yet there were just those few certain pieces that cried out to be possessed and loved by her alone.
She could feel Clay’s eyes on her, watching and assessing as she continued to hesitate. At last she brought out the ring and set the box on the counter. It was truly an extraordinary diamond, a round solitaire with a weight of almost a carat and a half, surrounded by smaller diamonds set in a platinum linear Art Deco design. Even in the poor light from the hanging ceiling fixtures of the shop and the dim autumn light struggling to penetrate the front windows, the ring sparkled, bending and refracting and reflecting what little light was available, in a remarkable demonstration of a long dead and forgotten master gem-cutter and ‑setter’s talent.
Clay sucked in a breath. Even Clay, who would be the first to admit he knew little of truly valuable antique jewelry, had to appreciate this amazing ring.
“Put it on for me, Emma. Let me see what it looks like.”
“Clay.” She tried to forestall him. “This is a very expensive piece.”
“Well, I figured. Since you didn’t want to show it to me.” She caught his eyes glinting with repressed humor again. “Come on, cooperate with me. I’ve seen your financials, remember. I doubt if you’re doing much more business than you ever were. You can probably use the money from a big sale. Let me see what it looks like on your hand.”
Trying on jewelry so her husband could buy it for another woman? Everything in her rebelled.
The protesters were back.
Perris slammed on the brakes of her shiny new crossover SUV. Pounding her fist on the steering wheel, she watched the picketers link arms and form a line to stop her from getting through. It wasn’t yet seven in the morning on a cloudless spring day. She’d thought that by leaving early she could avoid the protesters, but overnight a tent city had sprung up in Wyoming’s high desert.
Blustery March weather had previously held the demonstration at bay. But during the first two weeks of April the weather warmed and the protest against Red Bluffs Mining had gathered steam, led by a young environmental guru who’d appeared out of nowhere to attract lurid, screaming headlines that had begun to immeasurably complicate Perris’s life.
Raptor season started in the middle of March, so this was her busiest time of year. She really didn’t have time to deal with Benjamin Collins and his so-called protest this morning. And yet there he stood, blocking the road, chanting the catchy slogans he’d coined, and smiling at her.
Smiling at her. Benjamin Collins was ruining her life for the sake of getting his name in the news, and he thought it all highly amusing.
Perris would admit the situation was ironic, if not humorous. At one time she might have found herself in agreement with Benjamin Collins and his negative opinion of open pit coal mining. But she’d matured since her college days, concluding she really needed a job in order to continue living and paying the bills, and it was probably a bit much to ask the world’s populace to live without cars or central heating or electricity while waiting to catch up to carbonless power generation.
Reality had set in for Perris with the need to earn her own living. She had scrambled for three years to get this job of environmental services officer at Red Bluffs Mining, moving from one lowly position to the next, one power plant to the next, until the job she wanted finally opened. Her duties entailed mitigating the impact the mine made on the environment, and she was proud of her role in protecting her birds of prey. She thought she’d found a way to put her beliefs to work in the business world, something she’d never thought possible in her college days when everything was more simple, all black and white.
But Perris’s efforts weren’t good enough for Benjamin Collins or his group, One Natural World. Whenever he had sporadically appeared at the mine site over the last month, she and Collins had come to vociferously agree to disagree. In her opinion, Benjamin Collins was a dangerous fanatic. He’d threatened her, but only at a distance. So far, he’d kept his attacks on her and the mine where she worked to the media.
She gritted her teeth as a uniformed officer approached her SUV, his face shaded by the wide brim of his brown Stetson. The Powell County Sheriff’s Department did a passable job of keeping the peace, although she couldn’t count on them twenty-four hours a day. Most of the officers remembered her or at least knew who she was. They were distantly friendly, and when they did show up in the mornings on the road to the mine, they got her through the picket line.
As angry as she was, something about this officer’s gait caught her eye. The tall, muscular man in the uniform approached with a familiar confident stride. Perris pushed aside dawning recognition along with an accompanying dizzy rush of gladness.
But she wasn’t sure. The finger she used to press the window button wasn’t shaking yet. She expected the officer to say something diplomatic like, It will be a few minutes before we can get the road cleared, ma’am.
Instead the voice said softly, “Hello, Perri. It’s been a long time.”
Once she heard the familiar timbre that still haunted her dreams, she couldn’t fool herself anymore that it wasn’t really Noah standing there. Her whole body commenced trembling.
Noah pushed the brim of his brown Stetson back. His lengthy perusal brought him to the realization that Perri looked good this morning. Real good. Anger had always given a tinge of healthy color to her cheeks and made her green eyes sparkle, almost akin to the look she had after a vigorous session in bed. She was as beautiful as ever. He knew a hello kiss with a tongue-mating session to get reacquainted was probably out of order, and so he meant to just drink his fill of the sight of her while he had the chance.
Perris gripped the steering wheel to still her quivering fingers. She remembered all too well the familiar intimacy in Noah’s voice. For a moment she forced herself to keep looking through the front windshield at the yelling protesters as she fought to control her breathing. Her heart beat frantically, like a sparrow trapped in her chest. That low resonance in his voice had once been enough to have her eagerly shedding her clothes while he grinned and tugged off his own. She could still feel his hands on her, hot on cool flesh, and the memory of what his hands had once done to her was enough to make beads of perspiration pop out and begin to trickle down between her breasts.
She turned her head slowly, as if afraid her rigid neck would break if she made too sudden a move in Noah’s presence. She looked at a familiar brawny chest straining the seams of a crisp white uniform shirt, and then her eyes traveled up the column of his corded neck. A square, smooth-shaven jaw framed generous lips curved into a smile tilted at one corner. Above a slim, straight nose were light blue eyes gone steel gray in the early morning sunlight. She remembered those odd, changeable eyes. Eyes that could glint silver with concern, or melt her with a baby blue gaze. Their present flat steel tint indicated strongly to Perris that Noah, too, was hiding his true feelings.
She hadn’t expected to see those mercurial eyes up close ever again. Or that lean jaw, thick blond hair, strong arms and long legs...Dammit, would you stop it! she chided herself. Just stop repeating that litany right now. You don’t miss Noah. You don’t need him, or any man, in your life.
Noah stared at Perris across a distance of years and two much changed lives. But five long years weren’t enough to prepare her to meet him once again. She realized with another jolt to her battered heart, that if she told the truth, maybe the rest of her life wouldn’t be long enough to forget Noah Dalton.
She dropped her eyes again to his immaculate white shirt with three stars on each collar point and the big silver star over his heart. She knew the significance of that shirt. Why hadn’t she seen its crisp whiteness coming toward her, recognized the meaning of the color that distinguished his rank from the tan shirts of his deputies?
Probably because Noah hadn’t been wearing white when she decided to leave him. When Perris divorced Noah five years before, he’d worn tan. He hadn’t yet been elected sheriff of Powell County.
She realized she still didn’t know what to say. She had no words, even after all this time, to explain the hurt panic that had sent her into precipitate flight. And maybe it was too late for explanations. If Noah wasn’t the same person she had left, Perris wasn’t the woman who’d been Deputy Noah Dalton’s wife either. A lot of changes had taken place in those years, not the least of which was that she was her own woman now.
A woman who took charge, got her way, bulled her way through if she had to. Without help from any man. Especially a big, strong, blond lawman who had thought it his duty while married to her to rescue her at every turn.
Take a Chance on Love
Chancie de Leur glanced at the two studiously casual men once more before dismissing her assistant for the night. Neither of the big, broad-shouldered men showed outward signs of awareness that they were being watched. Instead, they stood at military ease in matching green and beige uniforms. Hands folded in front of their belts, each of them held a right elbow hovering over the dull black butt of a holstered gun.
Judy Weinrich eyed the two troopers blocking the exit. “Are you sure, Chancie?” she whispered. “I can stay if you want.”
Chancie considered the two men glancing from the corners of their eyes at Judy. Their training would lead them to be suspicious of Judy’s spiky blond hair, baggy jeans, and pierced nostril. Judy looked like a teenaged rock fan instead of Screening Services’ ace assistant, but Chancie couldn’t have stayed in business without her. She’d become so used to Judy’s presence, she sometimes forgot how other people reacted to her appearance.
Chancie sighed and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Cops. Always ready to judge.
Then, she brought herself up short, doing an abrupt mental about-face. She, herself, was judging by appearances. So they were cops. So they wore uniforms. They also represented the new contract that would pay next month’s rent on this office.
She shrugged and grinned at Judy. “Get out of here while you have the chance. Go on your hot date before I change my mind and chain you to your desk.” She pointed through the open vertical slats of the wide front window, toward the glow of headlights penetrating the December dusk from the parking lot. “Parker’s waiting.”
Magic words. Judy grinned back, swooped a plaid flanneled arm over her desk for her coat, and nudged the two troopers aside in her hurry to get out the door. They gave ground unwillingly, but stepped back in tandem when a chill gust of night air hit them. The heavy wood entry door slammed shut and Chancie was left alone with two armed men.
She tore her eyes from the window and the sight of Judy’s slim form scrambling eagerly into the passenger seat of Parker’s shiny new sports car. What a mismatch: traditional, well-groomed Parker and music video-inspired Judy. Neither truly belonged in Hawk Point, Wyoming. But they seemed happy together, and Chancie realized she was a bit jealous of Judy. How long had it been since Chancie herself had so looked forward to meeting a man? For at least the last year, all her contacts with the male gender had involved business. With a jolt of longing, she wished that just once she could spend a minute with a man she hadn’t booked through Screening Services.
Shivering, Chancie turned from the window that sparkled around the edges with cold. She pasted on her professional smile, showing off the straight, white teeth that she’d finally been able to get fixed. So much had changed about Chancie de Leur in the last couple of years. She couldn’t afford to jeopardize any of her hard work now because she felt a little winter mooning for someone to love her.
“Young love,” she said brightly, nodding after Parker’s departing taillights. She tried to draw the patrol troopers into a friendlier stance, and also, she realized, a lighter attitude toward Judy Weinrich. Chancie knew she succeeded, with one of the troopers at least, when he raised nearly electric blue eyes to hers and smiled back.
The other remained distant, aloof, his dark brown eyes following the low slung car swinging out of the parking lot. Make, model, and license number duly noted, Chancie thought. Parker had better drive with extra care tonight.
“Well, gentlemen, who’s first?”
At last she had the second trooper’s attention. His dark gaze swung from the window to her, and suddenly she didn’t like him looking at her. His brown eyes drifted from her soft kid boots to the top of her highlighted bronze curls, and that unreadable blank stare sent a chill through her. She much preferred the bright blue gaze of the first cop. His sapphire eyes didn’t remind her of Kenny.
But she liked the dark-eyed trooper even less when he opened his mouth. “I guess I’m first, honey,” he said.
Chancie stiffened, her efficient calm threatening to snap. She didn’t like being called honey, and especially not in her office, the office she worked darned hard, long hours to keep going.
Self-doubts she’d thought long buried, made her throat tighten. Had she done something to indicate to this oaf it was okay to call her little pet endearments? She fast-forwarded in her mind from the moment of the troopers’ arrival to Judy’s departure, reassessing each movement and word. Her review turned up nothing out of order. But then, little usually was out of order in her carefully detailed life. She made sure of that.
No. She was tired, that’s all. The cop’s behavior was rotten, not hers. She retreated behind an icy wall of professionalism, taking a couple of steps backward to round the corner of Judy’s desk. Snatching up the top two forms from a stack of the proper five-part documents, she seated herself with a flick of her chocolate suede skirt.
“Name?” she said with as much frost as she could muster.
“Arthur Brinegar, honey,” he drawled. “What’s yours?”
She clenched her teeth. She didn’t grind; the orthodontist had drilled into her during months of work in her mouth that grinding one’s teeth was a nasty, immature habit one could break if one really tried. And Chancie tried, for the sake of a perfect smile. She still wore her plastic retainer at night so she wouldn’t inadvertently gnash her pearly white molars, even in sleep.
She locked gazes with the dark-eyed cop. How did Judy deal with it day after day? All the men, with their insufferable inflated male egos. The testing procedure that should have been humiliating instead seemed to bring out the lurking beast in some men. Chancie thought she’d seen it all when it came to male boorishness, and she was glad she didn’t have to test on a regular basis anymore. Judy did most of the testing. Poor Judy. She deserved every penny of the raise she’d been hinting she wanted for Christmas.
“My name is Chancie de Leur, Trooper Brinegar. I own Screening Services. Please remove your hat, coat, and the belt with all your paraphernalia.”
“The owner, huh? That’s what I call personal service. I’m real impressed.” Brinegar placed his dark green campaign hat atop his coat in one of the reception area chairs. Then he moved deliberately into her line of view, the black patterned handgrip on the heavy gun at his belt directly at her eye level. Raw power emanated from the man, from the gun. Chancie wondered if Brinegar got his kicks from trying to intimidate all people or just women.
“Knock it off, Artie.” The second trooper had sunk into one of the midnight blue bucket chairs lining the rough wood walls. Legs casually spread, he’d removed his uniform Smokey Bear hat and placed it with Brinegar’s on the seat next to him. He raised a hand to brush back glossy black hair before casually crossing his arms.
His hair color contrasted strikingly with his blue eyes. The planes of his face fit his skull tightly. Maybe a hint of Indian there, Chancie thought, as she stared at him. His broad chest tapered to slim hips and long, powerful legs.
She found herself drifting, assessing what she shouldn’t be in her line of work. Her gaze kept straying up those rangy limbs to his crotch. Her cheeks heated.
The trooper with the striking coloration smiled as if he hadn’t noticed where she was looking. He had gorgeous white teeth, she thought, as he said, “Quit hassling the lady, Art. Let’s just get this over with.”
Chancie yanked her attention back to business, struggling to keep her face professionally blank. Brinegar, deflated a bit by the tone of the other cop’s voice ruining his fun, removed his laden belt. The cop with the arresting blue eyes nodded. She could almost read the thought directed her way: It’s okay, lady.Killer smile, Chancie thought. I wonder if he’s married.