Authors: Ruth Wind
“Clicking is not the right word,” Juliet said. Blooming, maybe. She looked at his mouth, and could not even remember when she had so longed for a kiss. “It isn't your imagination,” she said, and swallowed.
“That's what I thought,” he said, the voice rumbling out of that deep chest with the depth of a drum. His nostrils flared as he looked at her mouth, at her breasts, back to her face. “Probably shouldn't do anything about it, though.”
Honestly, what was this? This narcotic spell he cast? Would he kiss her? Would she let him?
“I can be strong, princess,” he said, “but not if you keep looking at me like that.”
Silhouette Intimate Moments
Breaking the Rules
Her Ideal Man
For Christmas, Forever
Rio Grande Wedding
The Diamond Secret
Silhouette Special Edition
Strangers on a Train
Light of Day
A Minute To Smile
Walk in Beauty
The Last Chance Ranch
Meant To Be Married
is the award-winning author of both contemporary and historical romance novels. She lives in the mountains of the Southwest with her two growing sons and many animals in a hundred-year-old house the town blacksmith built. The only hobby she has had since she started writing is tending the ancient garden of irises, lilies and lavender beyond her office window, and she says she can think of no more satisfying way to spend a life than growing children, books and flowers. Ruth Wind also writes women's fiction under the name Barbara Samuel. You can visit her Web site at www.barbarasamuel.com.
For Madi Nance.
Remember, you are a princess, and princesses
can do anything they set their minds to.
uliet,” said her sister Desdemona over the phone, “I'm in trouble. Real trouble.”
Juliet, scrunched in a TV-watching coma on the couch, cleared her throat. “Yeah?” Desi's voice had been so bland Juliet didn't immediately see any reason to get excited. Or sit up for that matter. She chose an M&M out of the bowl in her lap. “What's wrong?”
“I have a shotgun in my lap,” she said distinctly, “and I need you to tell me why I shouldn't shoot my lying pig of a husband when he comes through our front door.”
Juliet sat up. M&M's scattered across the bare wooden floor, because until that minute, she'd been eating the candy and watching her new favorite soap
opera. It was important, she had decided, to eat the candy in order of color: first brown, because they were so boring, then yellow, because that was close to brown, then green for grass, then red.
In order to keep herself from eating an entire king-sized bag in five minutes flat, she'd also made some rules about how to eat them, once they were sorted into colors. She could only put one in her mouth at a time, and she wasn't allowed to bite themâonly suck the candy coating from the chocolate, then let the chocolate melt in her mouth. If she followed the rule, the bag would last through both
The Guiding Light
Days of Our Lives,
and then it was time for lunch.
Juliet liked structure. Since she'd been asked to take a leave of absence from her Los Angeles firm, there was no real structure to her life at the moment. She made do with what she could getâcandy rituals, reliable television programs, meal times.
But thisâ! A crisis was even better than structure. In a crisis, there were steps to follow, a plan to make, a defined course of action. In this crisis, for example, she knew exactly what to do first. She put the bowl to one side and brushed blue M&M's off her lap.
“Desi?” she said gently. “You have a gun?”
“Of course I have a gun! I live in the wilds of the Colorado Rockies.” She sniffed, the kind of thick-sounding snort that came after serious crying. “There are mountain lions up here.”
“But you're holding it now? The gun?”
“Yes.” Her sister now started to sob at the other end of the phone, that desperate, end-of-my-rope kind of
crying Juliet had heard too often as a volunteer at a community center for immigrant women in L.A.
“Yes,” Desi repeated. “He's out with his mistress and he knows I know it and I've told him to get out of my house and go get a divorce, but he won't do it, because he won't give up his half of the land, and I don't know what to do!”
“Desi,” Juliet said, making her voice both smooth and authoritative, “take the bullets out of the shotgun and throw them out the window.”
“He deserves to get shot,” she insisted.
“No doubt,” Juliet agreed, “but if you kill him, you'll go to jail. And that would be a very bad thing for you. Do you hear me?”
A sob came through the phone. “Who would convict me? A lying, cheating scumbag who will not move out of my house and instead is torturing me like this? This has been going on for three months! He deserves it!”
“Yes,” Juliet said again. “Desi, please, sweetie, take the bullets out of the gun and go throw them out the window.”
“They're not technically bullets.”
“Whatever you call them, sis. Get rid of them.”
There was a little rattle on the line, the sound of the receiver being put down. In the background, Juliet heard a clank, and Desi came back on. “Okay,” she said in a raw voice. “I threw the shells out the window.”
Juliet let go of her breath. “Good. Very good.” She knew the very next thing to do, too. “I'll be there tomorrow, okay? Don't do
until then. Promise me?”
Desi's voice was small. “Okay.”
“Think of your wolves. Who will take care of them if you go to jail?”
A long quiet burned down the wire. “You're right,” Desi said at last, and there was another kind of brokenness to it. “Please come, Juliet. I really need you.”
“I'm on my way, sis.”
he skies were heavy over the mountains of Mariposa when Josh Mad Calf fastened his daughter into her car seat in the half-back bench of his massive pickup truck. The four-year-old wore a blue knitted hat on her glossy dark head, and her eyes had the glazed blankness of mid-afternoon. “Sleepy, kiddo?”
“Don't call me that!” she said, glaring at him.
He chuckled and touched her nose. “Okay, rabbit.”
“Not that, either!”
“Dad-DEE!” she complained.
“Sorry,” he said, grinning, and tucked a few bags of groceries around her feetâa handful of supplies for himself and his friend Desi, just in case the threatening
snow turned into a blizzard. As he slammed the door firmly, he narrowed his eyes and looked up. Burly blue mountains surrounded the town, and clouds had moved halfway down their sides, hiding the entire line of ridges and most of the still-bare ski runs.
They wouldn't be bare long. A few cottony bits of snow were spitting out of the sky, but it would be a few hours until the heart of the storm moved in. By then he and Glory would be tucked into their snug house, a fire roaring in the potbellied stove, soup bubbling on the stove for their supper, a dog snoring on the hearth.
A good life. Good enough. In the old days, he'd imagined a woman for himself in that pictureâa mother for Gloryâbut that had turned out badly. Very badly. As he headed away from town on narrow roads, he remembered to be grateful. Grateful for simple things like his daughter safe in his care, knowing she'd be fed well tonight and sleep in a clean, warm bed.
It hadn't always been that way. He looked in the rearview mirror and saw that she'd fallen asleep. Her cheeks were rosy, her dark eyelashes a half oval. He could never get over the fragility of her closed eyelids, the sweetness of her perfect skin, her tiny fingernails.
Several miles into the mountains, he turned off on an even narrower road, this one dirt, and bumpy. It looped around wooded landscapes alongside a stream, and opened finally into a pristine meadow, with spectacular views of the high, craggy peaks of the San Juan Mountains. Well, there was a view on clear days, anyway. This afternoon, only the blue lower skirts showed beneath blouses of thick clouds.
A collection of low outbuildings spread out to the east of the meadow. In the center was a small, neat house built of pine. Smoke came out of the chimney. Josh smiled to himself as he followed the driveway around to the front of the house. Desi would have the kettle on. Maybe he'd have a cup of coffee before heading home. She'd been going through a rough time.
As he rounded her house, his smile faded. A grim tableau was playing out in front of the little house. Desi, a tall sturdy woman with a glossy black braid, was standing on her back steps, a rifle in her hand. Her expression was grim.
The rifle was pointed at Claude Tsosie, Desi's soon-to-be-ex-husband, who also sported a long black braid. He wore a jean jacket and boots, and silver jewelry on his wrists. Josh shook his head. He'd never really liked Claude, an artist who lived too much on his talent and never spoke the truth if there was a way around it, but he didn't especially want to see him dead.
A third, unexpected player was a fragile-looking blond woman who stood by her car, frightened and obviously unsure of what to do. Her boots were the city sortânot high-heeled, especially, or pointed, but square and polished. Wouldn't be worth a damn in the snow that was coming. She looked over at Josh's truck, entreaty on herâhe saw nowâvery pretty face.
From the glove box, Josh took his badge. He was a tribal policeman and technically had no jurisdiction off the reservation, but Claude wouldn't pay much attention.
He glanced over his shoulder to see that Glory was still sound asleep, and climbed quietly out of the truck.
Juliet stood frozen by her rental car, praying that Desi would not actually kill her husband. At the moment, the decision seemed to rest on Claude, who had by turns been cajoling Desi, then turning toward Juliet.
“Sister,” he said in his reedy, sexy voice, his hands spread out in appeal, “can't you talk some sense into her? I just want to get a few of my things, and then I'm gone.”
From the porch, Desi said, “Don't try to drag her into this. Get into your truck and drive out of here before I shoot you.”
Juliet, once very good in a crisis, wrapped her arms around her ribs and tried desperately to remember how her old self would have handled this scene. She couldn't remember. Sometimes lately, it seemed there was a sinkhole in the center of her life, and all sorts of things were falling into it. Memories. Jobs. Maybe her fiancÃ©.
How to handle a crisis.
So, when the big black truck pulled into the drive, Juliet was relieved. She wouldn't have to keep Desi from shooting Claude, or keep Claude from trying to take things that were not technically his. Juliet clasped her thin coat closer to herselfâSouthern California did not require the kind of coats you needed in Coloradoâand gave the person in the truck an urgent expression:
In a moment, the door opened and a man climbed down and closed his door with odd gentleness.
Juliet blinked. He was obviously Native American, with hair the color of ink tumbling in a straight heavy gloss down his back. Tall, square-shouldered and lean,
he wore a sheepskin jacket and jeans and had long, capable-looking hands.
But it was his face that captured her. Eyes as large and dark as a deer's, with a generous mouth to balance cheekbones as severe as a cliff. Not beautiful. Not even handsome, particularly.
Especially now, as he advanced toward Desi and Claude. It was as if an aura came with him, a force field. Juliet wishedâsuddenly and fiercelyâthat she had learned that trick.
He moved without hurry across the yard. As he approached, he said, “Claude,” and his voice rumbled out of his chest, as if a grizzly bear was doing the talking. The sound was low and full, an umbrella of protective sound. “You know you aren't supposed to be here.”
“I just want to get my stuff,” Claude responded.
“Get out of here,” Desi said in a raw voice. Her face was blotchy with tears or anger or both. She raised the rifle to her shoulder. “Get. Out.”
Claude raised his hands. “Take it easy.”
From somewhere to the east came a howl, long and chilling, and then another and anotherâDesi's wolves, crying out from their sanctuary, as if they knew what was transpiring. The wolves were her special project, rescued from every imaginable situation, and the sound of their howls was chilling and primitive.
No one moved.
And then, as if the sky had been ripped open with a knife, it started to snow. Juliet looked up in amazement at gigantic flakes, as big and thick as slices of white
bread, tumbling out of the sky. They stuck to the three dark heads to make lacy caps, and with that odd sense of disconnect that had plagued her so much lately, Juliet lost interest in her sister and the scene, and held out a hand to catch a snowflake. They touched her palm and melted white to silver. Pristine. Unspoiled.
The stranger's voice brought her attention back to the scene. “Desi, please put down the rifle. We all love you and need you and this is not the answer.”
“Tell him to get off my land and I'll put down the rifle.”
“It's not just your land!” Claude protested, taking a step forward.
Desi fired, striking the dirt by Claude's foot. He yelped and jumped backward, “All right. I'm leaving. Crazyâ”
Desi calmly took another bullet out of her pocket and began to reload.
Claude climbed into his three-quarter-ton pickup truck, a vehicle even Juliet could recognize as fully loaded. The engine sounded like a semi as he fired it up and backed away. He rolled his window down. “Desi, babe,” he said, one last attempt. “Can't weâ”
talk to me again,” Desi said.
The other man, the Indian, banged the flat of his hand on the truck, as if urging a dog or a horse to get along down the road. “Move on, Claude. It's done for today.”
And, finally, Claude pulled away, his truck roaring down the dirt road. Not even gravel this far out, Juliet had discovered to her dismay. By midwinter, it would be practically impassable.
The stranger approached Desi, who stood on the porch with a blank expression on her face, and plucked the rifle out of her hand. With an expert gesture, he cracked open the barrel and emptied it. “I hate to leave you out here without protection, Desi,” he said in that rumbling voice, “but I hate more to see you kill him, and end up in jail.”
“You can't take my gun, Josh,” Desi said. “I promise I won't kill him.”
Josh kept on with his task.
At last Desi seemed to realize Juliet was there, and gave her sister a wan smile. “Hi, baby,” she said.
The stillness broke around Juliet. She dashed across the yard and flung her arms around her big sister. “I'm here now,” Juliet said. “We have each other.”
And in a most un-big-sisterlike way, Desi broke down, tears streaming out of her eyes as she clung to Juliet. “Thank you. I'm sorry, I love you, I wish I could be stronger for you right now, but I'm just falling apart.”
The man put his hand on Juliet's shoulder, and she startled violently, breaking away from her sister's hug, and backing away in a most inelegant way. Her left eye started that weird twitching thing it kept doing lately.
“Let's get her inside,” the man said, appearing not to notice. “In case Claude gets mad and comes back.”
Juliet nodded jerkily. She was oddly aware of the back of her neck, of the top of her head, parts of herself she never noticed. She looked at his shoes. They were sturdy, steel-toed boots. Serious and stable. He wore jeans that were just tight enough to show his lean, muscular thighs, and a sheepskin jacket that had been
worn a few seasons. He smelled of leather and morning, an oddly compelling combination, and she wanted to lean closer, take that scent more deeply into her lungs. She swayed, dizzy from travel or danger or him.
He looked at her closely. “Are you okay?”
FiancÃ©, she told herself. Remember Scott. She nodded, a little too enthusiastically. “Fine.”
“That was a tough scene to run into.”
She nodded, lifted a shoulder. “I really am okay.” Fear wasn't the problem these days, except the weird twitch and that exaggerated startle reflex. It was more this sense of not being able to really connect to anything that was driving her crazy.
The man said, “My daughter's asleep in the truck. Will you keep an eye on her until I take your sister inside?”
“Sure, of course.” She pointed a thumb over her shoulder. “You want me to go stand there?”
But he'd already gone inside, nudging Desi along. Juliet stood on the porch and looked at the big truck, disappearing now under a thin covering of snow. It looked fake, as if someone sprinkled it out of some big box overhead, clumps falling out every so often to land with a puffy splash on the hood. She tugged her sleeves down over her hands and went to stand by the truck.
As if marauders might be coming to fling open the door and steal the little girl away.
Now that the drama had died down, the air was utterly, completely still. It almost held a sense of tension, as if the air were waiting for something. A gunshot? A cry?
No, none of those. Using a trick one of her therapists taught her, she pushed the dark thoughts away and willfully reached for good ones. The silence was waiting for what
thing? Laughter. Happiness. A bluebird.
She snorted to herself. Yeah, right. A little bluebird of happiness right here in the falling snow.
The man came out of the house, and she thought again what a sharp, strong face he had. A ripple of nervousnessâor maybe attraction?âmoved through her. His hair, straight and thick, was so black it sucked light into it. “Hello,” he said, “I'm Josh Mad Calf.”
He grinned. His eyes crinkled gorgeously at the corners, sending a fan of sun lines into his dark cheeks. “Mad Calf,” he repeated, enunciating carefully.
“Thanks for saving the day.”
“All in a day's work, ma'am,” he said, and winked. “I'm just going to get my daughter from the truck. Why don't you go in and keep your sister company?”
“Right. Yes. Good idea.”
In the kitchen, Juliet put the kettle on the tiny, two-burner stove and turned on the fire beneath it, bemused by the bright blue flame that burst to life with a little pop. She had an electric stove at home. Gas seemed old-fashioned, though her friend the chef swore it was the only possible heating element for a serious cook.
Not that Desiâor Juliet for that matterâwould ever qualify. Both had been too busy to learn to cook, really. And it wasn't as if their mother was the sort to have taught them. If Carol Rousseau had ever in her life
cooked anything more complicated than a cup of tea, Juliet would be very surprised.
With the water on to boil, Juliet looked around to see what had changed since her last visit. The cabin was small, only two rooms; the kitchen/living area, and the sleeping area, with a bed and a futon and desk, plus the postage-stamp-sized bathroom. There was a very small generator for electricity, and the stove ran on propane. Two potbellied stoves, one in each room, provided heat.
Primitive, but not as primitive as it had been. At least there was a toilet and a tub nowâthings that had been missing the first couple of times Juliet had come to visit. Desi and Claude had built the cabin themselves, a little at a time, and the planâat least until the marriage had started falling apartâhad been to add a room every year.
Juliet found visiting fun for a week or two, but it got old to have to be so careful with everything she used so casually in the city, things a person took for granted. Water, electricity, heat. Desi didn't take long hot baths, as Juliet did in her old Hollywood condo, or leave the water running when she brushed her teeth, or play the television for company. Desi didn't actually own a televisionâshe said they used too much power, and without a dish, there wasn't much reception anyway.