Mountain Memories

By Kennedy Northcutt ©2011

For disclaimers, see Part 1 .

Note: This part contains graphic sex and angst. There is also mention of a previous rape that occurred in Desert Dreams.

Feedback is appreciated ( ). You can also get updates on my blog ( ) or friend request me on Facebook. Be warned: I keep a personal muse wrangling bodyguard around for the express purpose of weeding out rabid fans and exterminating psycho stalkers.



Part 9


Chapter 18

“Mmm, I love this,” Lacey absently played with a dark lock of silky hair. “The world outside these walls can go to hell. I'm staying right here forever.”

Mac chuckled, as she made tiny circles on the bare back of the woman pressed against her. “I still can't believe I let you talk me into it.”

Lacey lifted her head and looked into Mac's sleepy blue eyes, then thrust out her lip in a playful pout. “I did no such thing.”

“Oh, yes you did, Lacey Stephens,” Mac confirmed with a quick wink. “And I think it's actually worth it.”

Lacey lowered her head to the bare chest beneath her chin and planted a wet kiss on the warm skin. “I certainly think so. I'm not complaining one bit.”

Lacey threw a bare leg over Mac's and reveled in the feel of skin on skin. She then trailed feather-light kisses along each of her lover's breasts and down to her belly button.

“Oo, prrrrrrr,” Mac responded to the intimate licks and kisses. “I could really get used to having the heat on in this place.”

“Want me to turn it up even more?” Lacey's head came up and she shot Mac a saucy grin.

Lacey didn't wait for a reply, as she continued to taste the salty-sweet skin beneath her lips. She managed to reach the dark triangle of curls and paused to inhale the heady aroma of Mac's arousal.

“God, you smell absolutely scrumptious, Chief,” Lacey groaned. “Even better than Carrie's fried chicken.”

“You are so going to pay for that, Doc,” Mac replied on a whimper, as she felt Lacey's warm breath against her heated flesh.

“Promises, promises,” Lacey teased with a playful grin, as she stuck her tongue out at the woman watching her intently.

Lacey hovered over Mac's sex a moment longer, before she could stand it no longer. Then she delved in and was rewarded with a loud moan of pleasure. She ran her tongue over the silky sweet folds and inhaled deeply.

“God, I want you so bad,” Lacey moved between Mac's legs and paused to take in her lover's exquisite form. “Do you know how beautiful you are? You're like a damned goddess all stretched out and waiting for God himself to come down from heaven and take you home.”

“Laceyyyyyy,” Mac whimpered. “Pleeeeease…”

Lacey grinned as she lowered her head to the dark triangle, parted Mac's wet folds and flicked her tongue out to taste the sweet nectar of her lover's sex. She gently found Mac's engorged clit and began a slow and steady rhythm that she knew would bring to the very edge of arousal. Her tongue darted in and out of the wet opening in time with the rhythm of Mac's thrusting hips.

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Mac panted when she felt her body ignite with the flames of desire that suddenly burned within. “Sweet Jesus. Sweet Jesus! Sweet…don't…stop…YES!”

Mac had no idea she was gripping the sheet beneath her with tight fists, as her body continued to ride the waves of her ultimate release. Every thrust of that silken tongue sent pulses of ecstasy to her core. She wanted nothing more than to continue to enjoy every sweet sensation, but her body had other ideas. She felt her climax building to a fever pitch and knew she couldn't hold back forever.

The first shudders tore through her like wildfire and burned a path right to her very center. Her hips rose off the sheets and Lacey was right there with her.

“I've got you, baby,” Lacey's words seemed to drift to her from far away, as Mac rode the last waves of a climax that nearly sent her into unconsciousness.

And then she was slowly drifting back to earth on a cloud of bliss and the gentle strokes of the woman she loved. Her heart swelled to near bursting, as her eyes fluttered open and a pair of sea-green eyes were there to greet her.

“Are you okay?” Lacey's voice held a note of concern. “I thought I lost you there for a second, Ace.”

Mac breathed out a heavy sigh. “Never better. Never…

She then wrapped her arms around the naked torso of the woman spread eagle above her and soundly kissed her. Their tongues danced and Mac tasted her climax on Lacey's lips. The kiss deepened and soon Mac reversed their positions. She looked down into eyes shining with love and smiled.

“I do believe I owe you one, Doc,” Mac cocked her head and gazed into the look of confusion staring back at her. “Carrie's kitchen?You? Me? A little foreplay before dinner?”

“Oh,” Lacey's expression turned sheepish. “Forgot about that.”

“Yeah, well I didn't,” Mac kept Lacey pinned beneath her. “And I always keep my promises, Dr. Stephens.”


Mac lowered her head and flicked her tongue at an enticing earlobe. “Shall we play doctor, doctor?”

“Doctor doctor?” Lacey squealed when a pair of perfect teeth latched onto her earlobe. “Didn't know there was such a game.”

“Oh, I intend to give you a little lesson in the rules of this particular game,” Mac grinned evilly, as she took Lacey's mouth in a bruising kiss. “Anatomy 101 won't hold a candle to Sex Ed., Papadopoulos style.”

Lacey felt her own libido kick into overdrive, as Mac's lips found her pulse point.

“I don't suppose you have any props in this place, do you?” Lacey whispered against Mac's hair. “I'd really love to feel you inside me when—”

Mac lifted her head and gave Lacey a raised-browed look. “Props?”

“Toys?” Lacey clarified. “You know, vibrators? A strap on?Dong?Dildo?”

“Er…yeah, I know what a sex toy is, Doc,” Mac couldn't help the blush that suddenly infused her cheeks. “I just didn't think…”

“Well, don't,” Lacey cut her off with a finger to her lips. “Just answer the question, Mackenzie.”

Mac grinned. “Be right back.”

Quickly leaping from the bed completely naked, Mac crossed the room to her dresser and rummaged in the bottom drawer. She pulled something from beneath the disheveled clothes and turned, holding her prize behind her back.

“Close your eyes, Doc,” Mac ordered, as she approached the bed. “Close ‘em.”

“Oh, come on…”

“Nope,” Mac shook her head adamantly. “You are not in charge this time. So, close your eyes or no dice.”

With a resigned sigh, Lacey did as she was told. She then turned on her side and flipped her hair in what she hoped was an enticing display of femininity. She propped her head on her hand and waited.

“Keep ‘em closed,” Mac said, as she quickly pulled the strap-on into place and adjusted it against her wet curls. There was a small nub that sat against her clit and it was all she could do not to groan as it came into contact with her engorged flesh. “Don't peek or so help me.”

Lacey snickered. “Why do you sound like you're in pain, Chief?”

Mac returned to the bed and gingerly climbed across it towards her waiting lover. “Not in pain, exactly,” she managed to utter. “Just really, really…um…er…ready?”

Lacey chuckled and let her shoulder-length hair fall around her breasts. “Must be some toy.”

Mac paused to gaze at the woman lying on her side against the burgundy flannel sheets. The heat was on in the house, so the comforter was on the floor. Firelight from the next room flickered on Lacey's body and cast a warm glow on her creamy skin.

“Beautiful,” Mac breathed out, as she reached out and ran a hand from Lacey's foot to her hip. She then replaced her hand with her lips and tongue. “No peeking.” She glanced at her lover's face and saw that her eyes were still closed.

“Not a chance,” Lacey let the hint of a smile touch her lips. “I've waited a lifetime for this.”

“Me, too,” came the husky reply, as Mac continued to deliver feather-light kisses along the creamy skin glowing in the dim light. “So soft.”

Lacey let her hand roam until it reached Mac's shoulder-length tresses. “Like silk,” she said, as she let her fingers explore Mac's hair.

Mac's lips found one of Lacey's ribs. She grinned when Lacey jumped as her tongue darted out to tickle the warm skin and a small scar on Lacey's ribs. She lifted her head and looked up to find Lacey staring at her with passion smoldering in those sea-green eyes.

“You're not supposed to peek,” Mac said.

“Can't help it,” Lacey moved closer and took Mac's face in her hands. “You're just so beautiful that I can't stop looking at you, Mackenzie. The firelight dancing off your skin is amazing. You're a picture of perfection and one hell of a gorgeous woman.”

Mac marveled at the intensity of the gaze locked with hers. “You, too, Lacey.”

Mac closed the distance and pressed her lips against Lacey's. She felt the lips beneath hers part instantly and opened her own to meet the tongue that darted out. Their tongues caressed across the short distance and the kiss deepened. Mac pushed a hand into Lacey's hair and pulled her closer, until they were in each other's arms again.

“I want you, Mackenzie,” Lacey released a shuddering breath and pressed her palm against Mac's cheek. “I want you inside me. Now. I need you now, sweetheart.”

Mac couldn't call up the will to argue, so she merely nodded. The strap-on was pressed almost painfully against her sex and it was all she could not to rip the damn thing off. But the pleading in Lacey's tone was enough to instantly drive all coherent thought from her mind. And then Lacey was on her back with her legs spread wide and all rational thought fled Mac's mind in an instant.

“Take me,” Lacey encouraged with a warm smile, as Mac moved between her legs and pressed the tip against Lacey's opening.

It wasn't what Lacey was expecting. The instant Mac thrust inside her a flashback hit Lacey with such intensity that she was no longer aware of her surroundings. All she knew was the pain and agony of those memories of another time—another place. Rough hands grabbed and held her and she was powerless to stop her attackers.


Lacey's sudden scream froze Mac in place instantly. She quickly jumped away and scrambled off the bed. An moment later the strap-on was lying on the floor and Mac had a sobbing Lacey in her arms.

“Lacey, shhhhh,” Mac held the trembling woman against her and stroked her hair. “I'm so sorry. I completely forgot. It's going to be okay. God, I am such an idiot. What the hell was I thinking?”

Lacey sniffed, as the world around her came back into focus and the sudden flashback receded into the back of her mind. Mac's room, the flickering firelight and the warm feel of arms wrapped around her put everything back into perspective.

“Oh, God,” Lacey groaned, as she realized how she'd reacted.

“I am so sorry, Lac,” Mac apologized, as tears streamed down her face. “I should have known better…”

“Shhh,” Lacey pressed her palm against Mac's damp cheek and rested her forehead against Mac's jaw. “It's not your fault. It's mine. I completely forgot about…” She swallowed down the bile that leaped into her throat. “God, I can't believe how stupid I was not to think that wouldn't come back to bite me in the ass.”

Mac let out a half-chuckle, half-sob and rubbed her cheek against Lacey's palm. “I'll burn the damned thing…”

“No,” Lacey lifted her head and looked into Mac's watery gaze. “Don't burn it. Just…” She finished with a shake of her head.

“I'll put it away, then,” Mac finished for her. She then kissed the top of Lacey's head and let the tears slowly subside.

“I can't believe I ruined a perfectly good moment like that,” Lacey said between sniffs. “I am such a…”

“Don't,” Mac interrupted. “You didn't ruin anything, Lacey. It's not your fault. You're not to blame for what those assholes did to you in Iraq. And this was just stupid.”

Lacey tried to swallow down the sob that tore through her. She couldn't help the well of emotion that Mac's words released inside her. It was more than she wanted to deal with, but she couldn't seem to stop the tears.

“Fucking bastards had no right!” Lacey railed, as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Why? WHY!?!”

Mac held on for dear life as the woman in her arms was overcome by an intensity of emotions that neither of them were expecting. It was like a dam suddenly broke and a tidal wave of pent-up emotions just spilled over. There was no stopping it, so Mac just held on for dear life.

“Sorry,” Lacey uttered on exhausted hiccups, as the tears finally subsided.

“For what?”

“For soaking you to the bone,” Lacey injected some humor, as she rubbed Mac's wet chest. “I think you're going to have to change into some new skin after this.”

Mac chuckled. “My skin will dry, Doc. I'm just glad you're still with me. I was beginning to wonder, there, for a moment. That was some emotional rollercoaster.”

“Yeah,” Lacey sniffed and wiped her cheeks with a corner of the top sheet.

Mac jumped from the bed, grabbed a box of tissues and returned to Lacey's side. “Here. These will probably work better and won't require us to change the sheets before we bed down for the night.”

Lacey took a tissue and blew her nose. “Thanks,” she smiled wanly through swollen and puffy lids. “Can't believe I went all psycho female nutcase on you like that.”

“Better than going psycho ninja, I suppose,” Mac blew her own nose and emerged from behind the tissue with a smile. Her expression then quickly sobered. “I'm not a psychologist or anything, Doc, but I sure think you have a royal case of post-traumatic stress disorder. And PTSD isn't something to mess with.”

Lacey tossed the used tissue onto the nightstand next to the bed and grabbed another. “I know. I was being treated for it before my father—” She shook her head as more tears sprang to her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “Fucking bastard.”

“Seems to be an ongoing theme with you these days, Lac,” Mac pulled the woman back into her arms. “Want me to hire a hit man to take him out? I can take a little trip to…What's the nearest metropolitan area where one might hire a hit man, anyway? Chicago? New York?”

Lacey snickered through her tears. “Down, there, tiger.” She patted Mac's chest and took a wad of tissues from the quickly dwindling supply. “Despite my chosen vocation and stint in the military, I am not a proponent of violence. Not even if the fucking bastard deserves to have his finger and toe nails ripped out one by one while a red-hot poker is pressed against his bare skin until it melts while he screams in agony.”

“Oo,” Mac winced. “Remind me not to get on your bad side, Doc. You scare me.”

“I scare me, too,” Lacey chuckled, as she let herself relax against the warm body pressed against her own. “This feels nice. Can we just stay like this forever?”

“Works for me,” Mac rubbed gentle circles against Lacey's bare back. “I got nothin' planned for the next...” She shrugged. “Forty or fifty years work for you?”

Just then, the sound of a country and western ringtone issued from the dresser and brought both women up short.

“What the…”

“My phone,” Mac reluctantly released Lacey and climbed out of the bed with a sheepish half-grin.

“Who the hell would be calling you at…” Lacey glanced at the clock on the nightstand. “It's well after midnight. Seriously?”

Mac grabbed the phone and glanced at the display. “Hello?” She answered it immediately. “Ben? What the…” She was cut off by the voice on the other end of the line. “We'll be there as soon as we can.”

Lacey watched Mac flip the phone closed. “Was that your brother? What did he want? Why is he calling so late? And why did you set his ringtone to a Western theme? Was that Gunsmoke?”

Mac leaned against the dresser with her back to Lacey, as she gathered her thoughts.

“We need to get dressed and head to the main house,” Mac slowly turned around and kept her expression completely neutral.

“Mackenzie, what is it?” Lacey caught something in Mac's expression that didn't bode well and set warning bells off in her head. “Tell me what's wrong.” She moved across the bed and was at Mac's side in an instant. “What happened? Is it Ben? Was that Carrie on the phone? Did something happen to your brother?”

Mac put her hands on Lacey's shoulders to stop her. “No,” she shook her head sadly. “It was Ben. He said your sister called with some news. She wants you to call her as soon as you get to the house. Ben and Carrie will be waiting for us after they get the boys to bed.”

“So, why don't I just call her here from your phone?” Lacey glanced at the phone still in Mac's hand.

“Lacey, please,” Mac didn't keep the pleading note from her tone. “I just think it's for the best that you call her from the main house. As much as you lean on me for support, I don't think even I'm strong enough to handle this one.”

Lacey's eyes widened and she swallowed with difficulty. Realizing that a fresh bout of tears was riding just behind the thin veil that separated her sanity from all the shit that had happened recently, Lacey merely nodded and grabbed her discarded clothing. She quickly donned the underwear, jeans, polo and sweatshirt, then sat down on the edge of the bed to pull on her hiking boots.

Mac also dressed quickly and headed toward the front door. She grabbed the keys to her truck and her coat, then paused with her hand on the door knob.

“I'll go start the truck and get it warmed up for you,” Mac said, before she stepped out into the starry night.

Lacey sat there for a moment and just stared sightlessly at the floor. Her mind raced with a myriad of possibilities. Her sister? Could something have happened to Bill? Lacey hoped not. Bill was a decent guy, even if he was a United States Congressman. Even so, he was still a decent guy. Lacey liked him. And, more importantly, Lily loved him. She didn't love being married to a U.S. Senator and playing hostess to the mucky mucks in Washington, but she did love Bill Trent and was happy to be his wife. If that meant she had to occasionally show up in Washington, D.C. and attend the various balls, parties and social gatherings that were part and parcel to being the wife of a senator, then so be it. Lily was happy to do so.

“Are you coming, Doc?” Mac stood in the doorway of the bedroom in her rancher's coat. “You'll need your coat. It's pretty cold out there.”

She held the ski jacket at the ready.

Lacey slowly stood up, walked over to Mac, turned and slipped her arms into the jacket. Her thoughts were still awhirl with possibilities, as Mac handed her hat and gloves over.

“The sooner we get to the house, the quicker you'll know what's going on, Lac,” Mac said, as she put an arm around the smaller woman's shoulders and guided her to the front door.

“You know, don't you.” It was a statement of fact, not a question.

“I know the news is dire,” Mac answered, as they stepped out into the chilly night air and their breath clouded around them. “I really don't know any more than that, Lacey.”

“Okay,” Lacey felt the strong arm leave her, as she climbed up inside the pickup and wrapped her arms around herself.

“Put your seatbelt on, Doc,” Mac said, as she settled into the driver's seat and buckled herself in.

They rode in silence along the pitch-black dirt road that connected Mac's property to the main house. There was really nothing either of them wanted to say. Their night of lovemaking had been ruined by Lacey's unexpected flashback and now they were headed to the main house for bad news that neither one really wanted to hear.

“Are you okay, Doc?” Mac glanced over to find Lacey leaning her head against the window next to her.

“Tired,” Lacey answered dejectedly. “Why me?” The words came out barely above a whisper, but Mac heard them just the same.

“I don't know the answer to that, Lac,” Mac shook her head and kept her eyes on the road ahead.

“Am I a bad person? Did I do something to deserve all this?”

Mac didn't think. She merely slammed on the brakes and stopped the truck right there in the middle of the road. She released her seatbelt and slid across the seat until she had Lacey in her arms.

“No way, Lacey Justine Stephens,” Mac replied, as she pressed her cheek against Lacey's hair. “None of this is your fault.”

“Then why?” Lacey couldn't help the tears that slid down her cheeks and spilled onto the suede of Mac's coat. “Why the hell are the fates or God or whatever it is dumping all this shit on me? I feel like…I feel like the whole damned world is conspiring against me!”

“I know,” Mac just continued to hold Lacey tight. “None of this is fair. Matter of fact, all of it sucks big hairy donkey balls.”

That got a snort and sniff out of Lacey, who was then laughing and crying at the same time.

Mac stroked Lacey's hair with one hand and held onto her with the other.

“I don't know why any of this is happening, Lacey,” Mac reassured. “I just know that I'm here for you. I love you too much to let you go through this alone. I'm in it for the long haul, sweetheart. You're stuck with me. So you better just get used to having me around for a long, long while. ‘Cause I'm not letting go anytime soon.”

Lacey clung to Mac's sleeve. “I'm counting on it, Mac. You're the only thing keeping me from running screaming into the night right now. If you weren't here…I don't know if I could go on. You're my only lifeline in this fucking upside down world gone crazy.”

“We'll find a way to right it together,” Mac reassured with more confidence than she felt at that moment. “I know we will.”

Lacey's tears finally subsided enough for Mac to return to her place behind the wheel. She glanced over at the sniffing woman one last time before she put the truck back into drive and continued down the dark road.


They reached the house a little after one in the morning. Mac parked near the back door and was glad for the flood light that cast a warm glow over the yard. She glanced over at Lacey with concern. The woman hadn't spoken a word during the remainder of the trip. She just sat there staring out the front windshield with a forlorn expression on her tired features.

“We're here,” Mac stated the obvious in the hope of getting a reaction.

She wasn't disappointed.

“Oh,” Lacey sat up in the seat and looked at the house. “That was quick.”

“I'll be with you the entire time, Lac,” Mac reassured. “Carrie and Ben are here for you, too. Truth be told, I think they're as much in love with you as I am. The boys, too. You sure charmed them all during dinner tonight.”

Lacey smiled wanly. “I don't know if I can do this, Mac.”

“We don't know what the news is, yet, Lacey,” Mac placed a hand on top of Lacey's on the seat. “For all we know, maybe your no-good excuse for a father died in a car accident or a fiery plane crash or was hit by a freight train.”

“He's not my father,” Lacey corrected in all seriousness. “I still don't know who is, either.”

“Okay, well, we're not going to find anything out by sitting here in my truck,” Mac squeezed the hand in hers. “We need to go make that call, Doc. Get it over with and deal with whatever comes our way.”

Lacey glanced at their joined hands, turned hers so they were holding hands properly, and squeezed Mac's.

“Don't let go, okay?”

“Never,” Mac scooted over on the seat and kept a firm grip on Lacey's hand. “Let's go make that call.”

Lacey opened the door and slid from the seat with Mac right behind her. As promised, Mac didn't let go of her hand as they made their way toward the back door. Just as Mac reached for the handle, Ben was there to push the door open for them. The look on his face told Lacey more than she needed to know.

“That bad, huh?” Lacey shot him a wan smile, as she and Mac entered the mud room and shed their coats. “Sorry to keep you guys awake like this, Ben.”

“Not a problem,” he followed them into the kitchen and ushered them into the living room. “Carrie has the phone. She figured it would be best to do this where we'll be most comfortable.”

Mac glanced at her brother and the two exchanged a silent look over Lacey's head. Then Ben mouthed a question to Mac, who merely shrugged.

“I'm right here, you two,” Lacey glanced up at the two siblings who had similar features—except that Ben was almost totally gray and Mac wasn't. “And I can see you out of the corner of my eye.”

“Sorry,” Ben said, as they stepped into the living room.

“For what?” Carrie stood up to greet them. “Why are you apologizing, Benjamin?”

Ben walked over to his wife and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, then shot Mac and Lacey a sheepish half-grin.

“Can we just get this over with?” Mac cut in. “I really don't think there's any need for anyone to apologize, by the way. Ben was just wondering how Lacey is doing and I shrugged that I didn't know.” She then looked right at Lacey. “You've been a little too quiet since we left my place.”

“I'll be better when I know what's going on,” Lacey said and squeezed Mac's hand. “Like Mac said. Can we just get to it?” She then caught Carrie's raised-browed look. “Excuse my manners, Carrie. I'm just a little on edge.” She glanced up at Mac who was watching her with concern. “It's been a really long night.”

Carrie noticed the joined hands and Lacey's seeming reliance on Mac for support. “Did something happen between you two that we should know about?”

“We're not pregnant, if that's what you're mean,” Mac deadpanned and received the desired response as Carrie smiled and Ben chuckled. Lacey, however, remained stoically silent. “Can we just make the call, guys? Lacey isn't in the mood for my crass humor at the moment.”

“Not even if a pair of hairy donkey balls came in here and traipsed across the room dressed in a silk nightie,” Lacey added with a sad smile.

Carrie and Ben exchanged a quick bewildered look, then Carrie handed the phone over to Lacey.

“Do you want us to leave the room?” Carrie asked soberly.

Lacey's heart was racing as she took the phone from Carrie's outstretched hand and held it close. Her own hands shook and it was all she could do to hold it together. Then Mac wrapped her arms around Lacey from behind and just held her.

Taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm her frazzled nerves, Lacey met Carrie's steady gaze. “Stay…please. We…I might need the extra support. And you guys have been really great. I want you to stay.”

Mac nodded to both of them in silence, as Lacey punched in her sister's cell number by heart. She quietly guided Lacey to the loveseat and sat down with the smaller woman in her lap.

Lacey pressed the phone against her ear and waited.

“Hey, sis,” Lacey said when Lily answered on the fourth ring. “Yeah, it is pretty late here, too. What's up? I trust you have a really good reason for interrupting my beauty sleep.”

Mac snickered, while the other two just rolled their eyes from across the room.

“Mac is here,” Lacey continued. “And so are Carrie and Ben, Mac's brother and sister in-law.” Silence descended over the room, as Lacey listened intently to what her sister had to say. “Are you sure?”

Mac looked at Lacey's face and watched the color drain from it. The phone suddenly dropped into Lacey's lap, even though she still held her hand next to her ear.

“Lacey?” Mac glanced from the phone to Lacey and then picked up the phone and held it to her own ear. “Lily? What did you say to her? What's going on?” Mac waited for the frantic reply, as Lily quickly told her everything. “She's dead? You're sure? Could there be some mistake?” Another quick pause, as Mac listened. “No, I understand. I just don't think your sister was ready to hear the news. I'm sorry to hear about your mother, Lily. My thoughts and prayers are with you.” She paused again to listen. “I know how difficult this must be for you. You have the main number. Please feel free to call if you learn anything else.” Another quick pause. “Yes, I'll be sure to tell her for you. Take care, Lily. We'll be in touch. Goodbye.”

Mac ended the call and wrapped her arms around Lacey, who was still staring off at nothing.

“What can we do?” Carrie sat forward with Ben right there next to her. “How can we help?”

Mac sighed heavily. “I don't know.” She kissed the top of the still head beneath her chin. “I don't really know what to do.” She then rested her lips against Lacey's hair. “Talk to me, Doc. Come on. Talk to me, please.”

“She's dead,” Lacey said in a tone completely devoid of emotion.

“Yes, I know,” Mac replied. “I'm sorry.”

“Someone shot her and she's dead,” Lacey continued in the same lifeless tone. “The police don't have any suspects. All they know is she stepped out of the limo and someone shot her.”

Mac caught the twin looks of concern Carrie and Ben gave her. “I know, sweetheart. Lily told me everything.”

“I…” Lacey swallowed down the bile that suddenly sprang to her throat. “I think I'm going to be sick,” she managed to choke out.

Mac didn't hesitate. She lifted Lacey into her arms and rushed her to the nearest bathroom. She set Lacey on the floor in front of the toilet and pulled her hair away from her face just in time for Lacey to heave the entire contents of her stomach into the toilet.

The heaving continued seemingly without an end in sight, until Lacey was no longer throwing anything up. Dry heaves continued, as her body persisted with its violent rebellion.

“I think…I'm dying,” Lacey managed to choke out between dry heaves, as tears streamed down her cheeks.

Mac looked up as Carrie stepped into the doorway. Abject misery and worry were reflected in Mac's gaze.

“This isn't normal,” she said, concern for Lacey dripping from every word.

“Ben is on the phone with Dr. Hanson,” Carrie replied. “They'll come up with something. Don't you worry.”

“I can't help it,” Mac held Lacey's forehead over the bowl to keep her from hitting it on the hard porcelain. “I've never seen anyone get so violently ill like this before. Not even Hank when he was drunk.”

“I know,” Carrie agreed. “Me either. DJ came pretty close once. He ate something that didn't agree with his little tummy and ended up throwing up all night. The doctor finally told us to give him some anti-nausea medicine to settle him down. He slept for nearly two days afterward, poor little guy.”

“Just…kill…me,” Lacey's voice echoed inside the toilet.

“Hey,” Ben appeared in the doorway with a syringe in hand. “I think this might help.”

Mac eyed the syringe with trepidation. “You do know that they gave her some pretty powerful stuff in that hospital they had her in, right?”

“It's just a sedative, li'l bit,” Ben reassured, as he knelt next to the still-heaving woman. “Doc Hanson says it will calm her down and help her sleep. Nothing more. And, to answer your question, yes, I do know what they did to her in that place. You said she mentioned Thorazine as one of the drugs they had her on. This isn't Thorazine, Mac.”

“Okay,” Mac nodded hesitantly, as Ben inserted the needle into Lacey's arm and pushed the plunger. “But I'll kick your sorry ass if she has any ill effects from whatever it is you're giving her.”

“I hope it's…a goddamned…equine tranq,” Lacey choked out. “Son of a…”

“I've still got ya, Doc,” Mac kept her hand against Lacey's forehead and wrapped her other arm around the woman's middle. “Just hang on and let the sedative do its job.”

Lacey panted, as she felt the sedative taking effect and a warm lethargy take hold. She felt sweat bead her brow and upper lip from her exertions, but didn't have the energy to wipe them away. The heaving slowed and finally subsided, as her lids became too heavy to remain open.

“Can you get me a wash cloth, Carrie?” Mac's voice penetrated the lethargic haze that came over Lacey.

She then felt a cool, damp cloth against her forehead and was grateful for the relief. She felt herself being pulled down into sleep and tried hard not to let the darkness overtake her.

“Don't fight it, Lacey,” Ben's words sounded muffled to her ears. “Just let go and sleep. It'll do you good.”

Mac waited patiently for the woman in her arms to become a limp ragdoll. She then pulled Lacey against her and lifted her up off the floor.

“I readied the guest room upstairs,” Carrie said. “It's the one next to your old room. The one with the queen-sized bed. You'll both be much more comfortable there than in your old room.”

“Thanks, Car,” Mac replied, as she climbed the stairs to the second floor. “Thank you both for being here for us.”

“Sleep well, sis,” Ben said, as Mac disappeared from view. He then turned to Carrie and lowered his voice. “I hope to God that poor woman doesn't have any more crap thrown her way. I really don't know how she's kept her sanity up ‘til now. Good God, Carrie. If that were you or me—” He finished with a sorry shake of his head.

“But it's not,” Carrie wrapped a comforting arm around him and steered him back towards the living room. “Besides, Lacey Stephens is one very lucky woman to have your sister there to watch over and protect her. Those two were meant to be together.”

“Well, let's hope Lacey doesn't fall apart before all is said and done,” Ben said, as he dropped an arm around her shoulders. “I don't think Mac would ever be the same without that woman.”

“Let's hope it doesn't come to that,” Carrie rested her head against his shoulder. “For both their sakes.”



Chapter 19

Mac drifted up from sleep to find herself wrapped protectively around a snoring Lacey. Her chin rested on the blond head, as Lacey continued to sleep soundly. Not wanting to disturb the exhausted woman's peaceful slumber, Mac carefully extricated herself from her warm cocoon and slipped from the guest bed.

She padded over to the chair where she'd removed her sweatshirt and shoes the night before, grabbed them and quietly slipped from the room. After a quick trip to the bathroom, Mac made her way downstairs and toward the welcome aroma of freshly brewed coffee, bacon and something else she couldn't quite identify.

“Mm, smells good,” Mac ran a hand through her disheveled hair, as she sat down at the kitchen table and poured herself a cup of coffee from the carafe Carrie set in front of her.

“Hello, there, li'l bit,” Carrie returned to the oven and checked the egg dish in the oven, then turned the bacon in the cast iron skillet on the stove. “How'd you sleep?”

“Like a log,” Mac sipped her coffee and wrapped both hands around the warm mug.

“And Lacey?” Carrie removed the bacon from the pan and dropped the strips onto a paper towel. “How did the sedative you gave her work?”

“She didn't move at all once I got her tucked into bed,” Mac shot Carrie a lopsided grin. “I know you have that rule about me sharing a bed…”

“Nonsense,” Carrie waved the tongs she was holding. “That particular rule only applied when you were a teenager trying to bring home a different girl every other week. You're a grown woman, now, li'l bit. It's none of my business who you sleep with.”

Mac got up and carried her coffee over to the counter next to the stove. She then leaned against the counter and continued sipping the dark brew.

“I'm worried about her, Car,” Mac admitted with a tired sigh. “She's been through so much lately. And now this.” She shook her head sadly. “Lacey doesn't deserve any of this.”

“No one does, li'l bit,” Carrie pushed the hair behind one of Mac's ears in a motherly gesture.

“What do I do?” Mac turned her watery gaze on Carrie. “I don't want to see her in pain anymore. But I don't know how to help her.”

“You are helping her, Mackenzie,” Carrie rubbed Mac's shoulder. “Believe it or not, loving her and being there for her goes a long way with someone like Lacey.”

Mac swiped at her eyes. “She needs more than I can give her, I'm afraid. She said so yesterday, after…”

Carrie put her fingers under Mac's chin and turned her head so she was looking at Carrie. “What happened between you two yesterday, Mackenzie?”

“Nothing,” a tear spilled down Mac's cheek. “I was just an idiot and didn't think about what I was doing before I…I did it.” She met Carrie's steady gaze. “She was raped in Iraq, Car. She was raped by three of our own, because…because of me—because of our relationship. It was one of those stupid things that no one could have foreseen. She's a doctor, for cryin' out loud!” She slammed a closed fist against the counter. “Sons of bitches got what they deserved, too. Two of them paid for what they did with their lives. I'm not sure what happened to the third. He was alive the last time Lacey saw him.”

Carrie tried to keep her expression composed, but was losing the battle. The pain in Mac's sky-blue eyes was enough to bring tears to her own eyes. But learning what Lacey had gone through as a soldier in Iraq was beyond anything she could have ever imagined.

“He died,” Lacey's emotionless tone had both women turning in surprise to find her standing there.

She stood next to the center island in her rumpled sweatshirt. There were dark circles under her dull green eyes and her hair was a tangled mess.

“What?” Mac sniffed back her own tears and impatiently wiped her eyes.

“He died on the flight back here to the States,” Lacey added in an emotionless tone. “There were burns over 80 percent of his body and he went into shock. They couldn't save him.”

“How did you find that out?” Mac walked toward Lacey.

Lacey crossed her arms over her chest and sidestepped Mac's advance. “I don't really remember. I just know someone mentioned it.”

Carrie noticed the subtle rebuff Lacey gave Mac. She also noticed how distraught the blond woman appeared. Lacey's shoulders were hunched and she looked like someone who was about to explode.

“Would you like some coffee, Lacey?” Carrie offered with her customary warm smile.

“Yes, please,” Lacey gave Carrie a hesitant half-smile, while refusing to meet Mac's gaze. “Thanks, Carrie.”

“Not a problem, hon,” Carrie said as she took a mug from the cupboard next to the sink and poured coffee directly from the coffeemaker. “Here you go.”

Lacey took the mug from Carrie and sat down at the kitchen table. She made sure to sit in the chair at the end of the table, so Mac couldn't sit next to her.

Mac took note of the maneuver and caught the guarded expression on Lacey's face.

“Carrie, can you excuse us for a few minutes?” Mac said, as she leaned against the countertop of the center island.

“Sure, li'l bit,” Carrie replied. “I'll just go make sure the boys are ready for school. The bus'll be here in half an hour.”

Mac waited until her sister in-law was gone before turning her full attention on the woman at the table. Lacey was hunched down in the oversized sweatshirt and looked even smaller than she actually was. She was also avoiding eye contact with Mac and it sent warning bells through her dark head.

“I'm sorry about your mother, Lacey,” Mac began. “I know you're hurting…”

“You know nothing!” Lacey snapped and slammed a fist on the table, much to Mac's shock.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Mac sat down in the chair closest to Lacey, but made sure not to touch her. “What's gotten into you, Lac?”

Lacey slowly lifted her head until she was glaring at the woman in front of her. “Were the drugs your idea, Mackenzie?”

Mac's eyes widened. “No.”

“After everything I've been through, lately, you didn't think to stop your brother from filling me with more drugs? How could you, Mac? How could you!?!” She slammed her fist on the table again and it was all Mac could do to catch the half-empty carafe of coffee before it spilled.

“Lacey, it wasn't like that,” Mac turned pleading eyes on the angry woman. “Ben called the family doctor and he was the one who suggested the sedative. You were puking your guts out, sweetheart. We had to do something…”

“You drugged me, for Christ's sake!”

Lacey abruptly stood up and walked over to a nearby window. She stared sightlessly out at the snowy landscape and the mountains beyond, as she wrapped her arms around herself. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. All she really wanted to do was hit something—someone.

“I'm sorry,” came Mac's quiet response.

“FUCK YOU!” Lacey rounded on Mac in wild-eyed fury. “FUCK YOU ALL!!! You goddamned know the hell I went through with those drugs in that godforsaken hellhole in Louisiana, Mackenzie! And you still let your brother…”

“NO!” Mac stood up and closed the distance between them in two long strides. She grabbed Lacey by the shoulders and locked gazes with her. “That's not true and you damned well know it, Lacey Stephens! It was not the same thing. The drugs they gave you down there were meant to subdue you and keep you under their control. Ben gave you a sedative to help you relax and let you sleep. He wasn't trying to control you. It's NOT the same!” She then lowered her voice. “It's not.”

Tears streamed unchecked down Lacey's cheeks as she gritted her teeth. “I…” She lifted her arms and tried to shake off Mac's grip, but couldn't. “Let me go,” she said in a low voice that brooked no argument. Then her voice lowered to a pleading whisper, “Please.”

Mac released her hold on Lacey and took a step back. “Lacey…”

“No!” Lacey shook her head and turned her back on Mac, as tears streamed unchecked down her cheeks. “Please just leave me alone, Mackenzie. I can't deal with this right now. I can't deal with you right now.”

Feeling as if she'd just been stabbed in the heart, Mac took several steps back until she ran into the center island behind her. Deep down she knew Lacey didn't mean what she was saying, but the realization didn't make the words hurt any less.

“Fine,” Mac finally found her voice. “I have things to take care of, so I'll just go.”

Mac left the kitchen without another word, while Lacey just stood there staring out the window with tears streaming down her cheeks. Everything became a fuzzy blur in front of her, as Lacey felt her heart break and her world shatter into a million pieces.

She wanted to call Mackenzie back and apologize for being such a cast iron bitch, but she had no idea how to do that. So she merely stood there and let the tears fall unheeded.



Mac heard Carrie's voice behind her, but kept right on striding purposefully toward the barn. Her anger at Lacey increased with each step. By the time she reached for the barn door, she was good and pissed. She needed to vent her frustrations on something and knew she couldn't take it out on her sister in-law. Carrie didn't deserve that.

“Mackenzie Bridget!”

Mac yanked the door open and strode purposefully into the dim interior of the barn without a backward glance. She continued on and grabbed a pitchfork from the wall as she passed it. She then climbed the wooden ladder to the hay loft above and jabbed the pitchfork into one of the hay bales with such force that alfalfa went flying everywhere.

“Do not make me come up there, Mackenzie Bridget!” Carrie's shout carried up to Mac, who was busy pitching alfalfa from one side of the loft to the other in anger. “You know I hate it up there! Come down here, this instant, and tell me what the hell is going on! I heard the two of you screaming at the top of your lung in there! And she just drove off in your truck to God-knows-where!”

The wind suddenly left Mac's sails, as she threw the pitchfork like a javelin across the loft and watched as it embedded horizontally in a hay bale stacked against the far wall. She sat down on the bale next to her and put her head in her hands, as she inhaled deeply of the pungent aroma of alfalfa wafting around her.

“Mackenzie?” Carrie poked her head up through the square opening and caught sight of the woman. She finished climbing the rest of the way and walked over to sit next to Mac, gently rubbing the dark-haired woman's back. “Talk to me, sweetheart. Tell me what happened.”

“I fucked up again,” Mac grumbled from beneath the hands covering her face. “I yelled at her and stormed out of there like a petulant child.”

“Well,” Carrie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It's not the first time you let your temper get the better of you, Mackenzie. I'm sure it won't be the last.”

Mac snorted. “She pissed me off.”

“She's hurting,” Carrie continued to rub Mac's back. “Sometimes people strike out at the ones they love when they're hurting. Subconsciously, I think we know it's safer to do that than to actually strike out at the ones who truly deserve our anger. She loves you enough to trust that you'll be there for her.”

“She's pissed because I let Ben give her a sedative,” Mac sat up and set her jaw in her hands, as she rested her elbows on her thighs.

“She's upset and hurting because her mother is dead, Mackenzie,” Carrie corrected. “Being pissed at you is just one way she's trying to deal with the pain of that loss. In psychology, it's called misdirection or deflection. At least, those were the terms we used when I was in school. Of course, that was eons ago, so…” She shrugged. “They've probably changed the terminology, since then.”

Mac gave Carrie a bewildered look. “What are you babbling about, sis?”

“Never mind,” Carrie waved her off and then met locked gazes with her. “The important thing is that Lacey is hurting. Lashing out at you is her way of dealing with emotions she probably has no idea how to deal with. She needs help, Mackenzie. Help you can't give her. Psychological help. She needs to talk to someone and work through everything that's happened. She needs to see a professional therapist.”

“I know,” Mac conceded. “I know. I just don't know where to even start looking for someone she'll trust enough to talk to. Her last therapist helped get her committed to that hellhole in Louisiana.”

“I know a few people,” Carrie said. “Let me make some calls back at the house. Maybe one of my friends from school can help her. A few of them graduated with degrees in psychology and at least one earned her doctorate in psychotherapy. I think Laura might just be the one you're looking for.”

“Okay,” Mac nodded. “In the meantime, what do I do about Lacey? You said she took my truck?”

“Yeah,” Carrie nodded. “Don't ask me where she is, though. She peeled out of here so fast I didn't see which way she went.”

“I think I probably know,” Mac stood up. “Can I borrow one of the Jeeps? It'll be faster than riding one of the horses.”

“And a lot safer,” Carrie stood up next to Mac, who towered over her by nearly a foot. “Ben said there's a storm coming. It should be here later this afternoon.”

“Good to know,” Mac started for the opening to the loft. “I'd better get going, just in case. I'm pretty sure she went back to my place. But you never know with Lacey.”

“I hope you're right, Mackenzie,” Carrie followed her down the ladder and breathed a sigh of relief when her feet were back on the dirt floor below. She then glanced back up at the opening overhead. “And do me a favor, will you?”

“What's that?”

“The next time you decide to throw one of your temper tantrums, could you please do it down here, instead of up there?” Carrie pointed above her head. “I really hate using that rickety old ladder every time I have to chase after you. Tanner tends to do the same thing when he's in one of his moods. I'm afraid one of these days I'm gonna miss a step and end up flat on my back on this hard dirt floor.” She stamped her foot to emphasize her point. “Then where will you all be without someone to cook for you?”

Mac chuckled and put an arm around the short woman's shoulders. “Okay. Deal.”



Chapter 20

Lacey sat on a boulder and pulled her ski jacket up around her neck to ward off the sudden chill in the damp air. It was getting colder and the wind had picked up. She hadn't remembered to grab her hat and her ears were numb. So were her fingers. But she didn't care.

Tear stains streaked her cheeks and her eyes were puffy from crying. But there were no tears left as she gazed out at the picturesque view in front of her. It was probably a good thing, too, because they would probably just freeze on her face in the icy wind.

Lacey didn't care. She didn't want to care anymore.

She was beyond caring—about the cold, about the emptiness that had settled inside her—about everything. She was just empty. And this time it wasn't drugs that were making her feel like a pit had opened up and swallowed her whole. No. Not this time. Drugs had nothing to do with it.

“Who?” Lacey's voice was husky from crying. “Who killed you?”

And that was the question foremost in Lacey's mind. Lily said their mother was shot and killed after getting out of the family limo. She was shot in the back on a busy sidewalk as she walked away from the limo. There was no robbery. No one stood there with the smoking gun in their hand. And, of course, no one saw a thing. The only thing anyone remembered was the black limo pulling away almost immediately.

Her brow furrowed, as she tried to put the pieces together and imagine what could have happened. Could Wilson shoot her mother? Lacey immediately dismissed that notion. Travis Wilson had been driving for them for years, even before Lacey went off to college. He enjoyed his job and never complained when he received the call to drive a member of the family someplace. No. It wasn't Wilson. Besides, how could he shoot her mother while she was on the sidewalk and he was still in the car? Then again, how could he just speed away like that?

But if not Wilson, then who?

Lacey felt a shiver race down her back, as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped another few degrees. It was getting downright cold out there and dark clouds were rolling in from the west. Lacey knew a storm was brewing, but she still didn't have the will to move from her place on that lonely boulder.

It was peaceful out there in the open air amid nature's majestic beauty. Tall pine trees towered over her and cut down some of the wind. There was still snow on the ground, too. That's why Lacey finally settle on the boulder.

After she had pulled up to Mac's place and parked the red pickup in the garage, she had decided against going inside. She knew it would be warm, but she just couldn't bring herself to enter the house. She wanted to be out in the open to sort through the myriad of confusing thoughts and emotions that were roiling around in her head.

That's why she had started walking. The snow was sometimes nearly impassable on her chosen path, but Lacey just kept right on going.

She tried to keep to the trees as much as possible, because there was far less snow on the ground beneath the fir canopy. But sometimes she was forced to deviate slightly from her chosen path and plod through calf-deep or thigh-deep drifts. She really didn't know how long she'd been going before she was finally too exhausted to continue on. That's when she spotted the boulder she was now perched upon. It just seemed like the perfect spot to stop and catch her breath.

Lacey looked up at the darkening sky and realized she'd been out there far longer than she'd intended. And she was still no closer to figuring out who had killed her mother or why. The sun was just barely visible through a small break in the clouds to the west and Lacey realized it was quickly descending behind the peaks of the majestic Grand Tetons.

And that's when she felt the cold penetrate deep into her bones. Her hiking boots weren't snow boots and Lacey realized her feet were nearly frozen. She pressed her hands to her ears and felt the cold penetrate them, as well.

“Shit!” She exclaimed, as she looked around and realized night was quickly descending over her little secluded hideaway.

She glanced down at the snow and saw her faint footprints. But the footprints were quickly fading in the waning daylight. And then a lone snowflake drifted down and settled on her cheek. Another followed the first and soon it was snowing in earnest.

Lacey jumped down from her perch and huddled deeper into her coat. But even her ski jacket wasn't enough to chase the bone-deep chill away. She stood there for another moment, then decided she needed to find her way back to Mac's house. With her hands tucked under her arms and her coat pulled up as high as it would go around her neck, Lacey followed her tracks in the snow in the fading light of day.


Mac worried frantically as she stood on the pine balcony of her cabin in the woods and watched the flakes drift lazily down from the dark sky. Lacey was out there somewhere. Mac knew it. She just didn't know where the woman had wandered off to.

After returning to her place in one of the ranch's three Jeep Cherokees, Mac found her pickup parked in the garage with the keys still in the ignition. She immediately went into the house and searched every room, calling Lacey's name all the while. But the woman was nowhere to be found.

Mac then searched the barn and the surrounding area, finding no sign of Lacey anywhere. Hoping that the angry woman had merely gone for a walk and would return to the house in due time, Mac stoked the fire, turned up the heat and ate half a package of Oreos dipped in milk.

When Lacey still didn't show up, Mac decided to call the main house to see if she'd walked there. Carrie answered and assured Mac that Lacey wasn't there. She then asked if Mac wanted her to send the ranch hands over to do a search. Mac told Carrie she didn't think it was necessary, but that she would call back if she didn't hear from Lacey soon.

Mac realized, as the snow fell heavier than before, that it was time to give Carrie another call. It was pitch black outside and the temperature had dropped to the point that even Mac felt the cold inside her rancher's coat. A whimper behind her pulled her attention back to the closed sliding door and the puppy sitting just inside the house.

“I know, girl,” Mac opened the door, reached down to rub the puppy's head, and then stepped inside the warm room. She quickly shed her coat and hung it next to the fireplace to dry. “Let's give Auntie Carrie a call, shall we? I think the boys need to get out here to help us look for Lacey.”

Mac reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her cell phone. In that same moment, Mindy suddenly darted toward the front door with a loud bark.


Mac barely uttered the word before the front door flew open and a huddled form stumbled in and collapsed on the bench just inside the door.

“Holy shit!” Mac raced to Lacey's side and lifted the shivering woman into her arms. “Lacey?”

“C-c-cold,” Lacey shivered uncontrollably, as Mac moved them to the fire and started peeling Lacey's coat off.

“No shit,” Mac was none too gentle as she yanked the ski jacket off, then tugged unsuccessfully at Lacey's damp shirt. “What the hell were you thinking, Lacey? You're not dressed for the outdoors, much less for this kind of weather.”

“N-n-n-nottttttt…” Lacey's teeth were chattering so badly and her jaw was clenched so tightly that she could barely speak.

“You're a damned ice cube, Doc,” Mac pushed Lacey's wet hair back away from her face and looked at her with open concern. “We need to get you warmed up or you're going to succumb to hypothermia.”

Mac left Lacey sitting there in her damp clothing and put several more logs on the fire. She then went into her bedroom, yanked the comforter off the bed and returned to the living room with it in her arms.

“The clothing needs to come off, Lac,” Mac tossed the comforter on the floor and knelt next to the shivering woman.

“P-p-pervvvv…” Lacey couldn't finish the thought and merely glared at Mac as her teeth chattered.

“I won't lie,” Mac shrugged out of her own clothing. “Making mad passionate love to you in front of this roaring fire would be a dream come true. I just don't think we should jump to that particular step until after we have you thawed out. And to do that, I need to get you out of your clothes.”

Once her own clothes were in a neat pile on the floor, Mac quickly went to work removing Lacey's. She grazed Lacey's cheek with the back of one hand and noticed how icy the woman's skin was.

“Come on, Doc. Work with me here,” Mac looked up to find Lacey's eyelids drooping and her eyes rolling back in her head. “Do not go to sleep, Lacey. Come on now. Wake up.”

“T-t-t-tiredddddd,” Lacey continued to shiver, despite the warmth from the roaring blaze next to her.

“I know,” Mac worked to untie the soaked lace of a hiking boot and paused to press her palm against a cold cheek. “But you can't sleep, yet. Do you hear me? That's the hypothermia talking. Your body wants to shut down. You can't let it. So, fight, damn you! Fight!”

Lacey nodded and met Mac's steady gaze. Her bottom lip continued to quiver, as her body started to feel the warmth from the fire.

Then Mac's cell phone rang.

“Hello?” Mac answered it on the second ring. “Yes, Carrie. She just walked in the door a minute ago. I'm trying to get her warm. Can I call you back?”

Mac didn't wait for a response. She merely hung up and tossed the phone aside, then returned to her task. She managed to free one damp socked foot from a hiking boot and then removed the sock, as well. She went to work on the other boot and found it just as difficult.

“How're you doin', Doc?” Mac glanced up to find Lacey watching her intently. “You okay?”

Lacey nodded instead of answering. The shivering was slowly subsiding and the lethargy was hitting her hard. But, as a doctor, she also knew Mac was right. She couldn't go to sleep while her body was still half frozen. She might not wake up again. Hypothermia wasn't the silent killer for nothing.

“Talk to me, Doc,” Mac said, as she continued to work the knot free from the hiking boot. “Where did you go?”

“W-went f-f-for a w-walk,” Lacey answered through her chattering teeth, as she wrapped her arms tightly around herself. “D-didn't r-realize it was g-g-getting d-dark until it was t-too l-late.”

Mac glanced at the sliding door and saw the snow swirling against the glass. “We're in for a pretty good storm tonight. Good thing you made it back when you did. Weather turns fast around here. And it isn't forgiving.”

“Y-yeah,” Lacey felt a warm body slide up against her hip and absently reached down to run her numb fingers through Mindy's soft, warm fur. “G-got c-cold r-really f-f-fast. D-didn't r-realize I w-walked that f-far a-away, ‘t-til I st-started b-back. I s-saw the light from th-the d-door and f-f-followed it home.” She glanced at the sliding door

Mac removed the second boot and sock, then gently rubbed the icy feet in her warm hands. She knew she couldn't stop with Lacey's feet, though.

“Can you stand up for me?” Mac got to her feet and bent down to offer a helping hand.

“I th-think so,” Lacey made the effort to stand and was grateful for the arms that steadied her when her knees buckled. “Whoa.”

“I got ya,” Mac wrapped one arm around Lacey's middle and used the other to help the woman strip out of her remaining clothing. “Just lean on me and we'll get this done in no time.”

Lacey leaned into the warm body behind hers and was grateful for the support. Between the two of them, they finally managed to get her stripped down until she was only wearing her underwear. They stood there for a moment longer, then Mac slowly lowered them to the rug and pulled the comforter around them both.

“There,” Mac said when she had Lacey snuggled against her chest and the comforter around them both. “How's that?”

“B-better,” Lacey mumbled. “Much b-better.”

“Stay with me a little longer, Lac,” Mac gently stroked Lacey's bare back once she adeptly released the woman's bra and tossed it aside.

“Keep d-doin' that and I w-won't be able t-to,” Lacey grumbled.

“If I don't, my hands just might wander to other…um…places,” Mac replied. “ Brr , your cheeks are still really cold.”

Lacey moved her feet until they were tangled up in both the comforter and Mac's legs. “My ch-cheeks aren't the only th-things that are st-still c-cold.”

“Holy…” Mac jumped when one icy foot pressed against her calf.

“Sorry,” Lacey snickered against Mac's chest. “C-can't help it. Y-you're warm.”

“And you're a little frozen icicle, Doc,” Mac teased with a gentle smile.

They lay there in each other's arms for a while, as Lacey finally felt her body relax into the warmth that enveloped her. She could still feel the bone-deep chill that had permeated her entire body during her long trek back to the house, but it was slowly receding with each passing moment.

“'s nice,” Lacey snuggled deeper and just breathed in Mac's scent.

“Yes, it is,” Mac agreed, as she settled her chin in its customary position on top of the blond head, while her hand continued to gently stroke lazy circles against Lacey's back.



“I'm sorry.”

“For what?” Mac was so caught up in the moment that she completely forgot everything else. “Putting your cold foot on my leg?”

“No,” Lacey felt tears spring to her eyes again, as her throat closed up with emotion. She cleared her throat and finally found the words to continue. “I'm sorry for treating you the way I did this morning. I didn't mean anything I said. I was way out of line.”

Mac closed her eyes, as Lacey's words from that morning came back to her. “I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have said the things I said, either. And I shouldn't have let my brother…”

“No,” Lacey shook her head. “You did what you thought best, Mackenzie. I was crazy with grief last night and couldn't stop my body from reacting the way it did. You and your brother did the right thing. I'm sorry for not seeing that sooner. I should know, by now, that you're just doing what's best, especially when I don't realize that's what you're doing. I'm sorry I yelled at you and accused you of…” She finished with a shrug. “I'm not always looking out for my own best interests. It's hard to do that when I don't always know what's best. I guess it comes with being a doctor. I'm used to looking out for the needs of others, not myself.”

“It comes with being human, Lac,” Mac corrected. “It's a lot easier to see what's best for someone else than it is to see what's in our own best interests. Sometimes we're just too close to the situation to realize it.” Mac rubbed her cheek against Lacey's hair. “And sometimes it's good to have someone who will point things out for us. But we also need to listen to what they say—really listen.”

“Are you sure you're not a psychologist, there, Chief?” Lacey chuckled. “You really have some good insights into the human condition going on in that beautiful head of yours.”

“I'm learning to listen,” Mac replied with a half-smile. “Apparently, even crusty old Army pilots can learn a thing or two.”

They lay there for a while with only the crackling of the fire to break the silence. Mac continued to absently stroke Lacey's back with her fingertips, as she felt the smaller woman's body start to warm up.

Lacey, on the other hand, couldn't keep her mind from racing in the silence that stretched between them. Her thoughts kept turning to her mother and to what had happened to her.

Lacey sighed. “I'm not sure I can get through this, Mac,” she said in a small voice. “Someone killed my mother and no one knows who did it.”

Mac lifted a hand to Lacey's hair and stroked it. “I know, Lac. But the police are working on it. They'll catch her killer.”

“I don't even think I can go to her funeral, whenever that will happen,” Lacey sniffed back more tears that sprang to her eyes.

“I'll go with you and be there every step of the way for as long as you need me,” Mac volunteered.

Lacey shook her head. “That's not what I mean. The MPs will probably show up to take me into custody the instant I show my face in Houston.”

“Oh,” Mac replied. “Yeah. I guess that is definitely a problem.”

Fresh tears spilled down Lacey's cheeks and she just let them fall onto the warm skin beneath her cheek. “I'm going to soak you to the bone again.”

Mac kissed the blond head below her chin. “No worries, Doc. I think I'm fairly water-proof.”

“I should be there for Lily's sake,” Lacey said after the tears finally slowed. “I am her older sister. It's high time I start acting like it, instead of always relying on her to be there for me.”

“Lily has Bill,” Mac pointed out. “I'm sure he's on his way to Houston, right now.”

“Yeah,” Lacey kissed a few of her tears from Mac's wet skin. “And I have you.”

“Yes, you do,” Mac resumed her gentle stroking of Lacey's hair. “I'm here until you tell me otherwise. Probably won't leave even if you decide tell me to take a hike.”

“I just returned from a very cold hike,” Lacey groaned. “I don't think I'll be telling you to take one of those anytime soon, Chief.”

They both chuckled at Lacey's little joke.

“Hey, Doc?” Mac said after a long silence descended over them.


“Are you warm enough now that we can move this to the bed?” Mac shifted uncomfortably on the hard floor. “This floor is too hard for these old bones to take anymore.”

“Can we manage to do it while still wrapped in this comforter?” Lacey mumbled from her warm cocoon. “And you're not that old, Chief. I actually think I might be older than you are.”

“I'll turn the heat up higher just for you,” Mac offered. “And I don't think so on the age thing, Doc. I'll turn forty this fall.”

“Deal,” Lacey quickly sat up, much to her companion's chagrin. “Let's go, Chief. I'm not getting any warmer here. And I'm thirty-eight. So I guess you win. Hm. Go figure.”

They managed to work in tandem to get to their feet and move toward the bedroom. As they passed the thermostat, Mac quickly reached over to adjust the temperature again. The gauge already said it was 75 degrees in the place. But Mac knew Lacey needed the heat more than anything. So she hit the button a few times until the digital display read 80.

“There,” Mac wrapped her arm back around her smaller companion, who was pressed enticingly against her body. “It'll feel like a sauna in here in no time.”

“Mm,” Lacey pressed her lips against the underside of Mac's breast. “I can think of other ways to turn up the heat in here, old woman.”

Mac suddenly felt her libido kick into overdrive, as she threw caution to the wind and moved them into the bedroom. She opened the comforter and let Lacey crawl under the sheets ahead of her, then tossed the blanket onto the bed.

“Brrrr,” Lacey quickly burrowed under the covers and waited for Mac to join her.

She didn't have long to wait. Mac's warmth was there a moment later and Lacey quickly pressed herself into the woman's side.

“You okay?” Mac shifted onto her side and pulled Lacey close against her.

“Absolutely,” came the muffled reply beneath the covers. “Never better.And definitely much better than I was earlier.”

“I'll bet,” Mac briskly rubbed Lacey's shoulders. “Don't want you catching any bugs, now, do we?”

“I won't,” Lacey's voice drifted up from her warm cocoon. “I don't get sick.”

Mac glanced down with a frown. “How can you be so sure about that?”

“I just don't,” Lacey shrugged, as she wrapped her arms around Mac's body. “It think it's a doctor thing.”

“Even doctors get sick, Lac,” Mac countered.

“Not this one,” Lacey tickled Mac's side and was rewarded with a yelp from her.

“Hey, watch it.”

“I am,” Lacey grinned saucily as she dropped a kiss on top of Mac's breast. “Mm, I think I'll also have a little taste.”

Lacey's warm mouth latched onto Mac's nipple and all coherent thought suddenly fled. A slow burn instantly ignited in her groin and it was all she could do to remember that they were naked for a reason.

“Um, Doc?”


“Is this really wise?”



“Shh, I'm busy, here.”

Mac closed her eyes as a myriad of sensations suddenly chased up and down her body with the flicker of Lacey's tongue against her heated flesh.

“Ooooooh, lordy.”

Lacey chuckled and then continued her assault by trailing feather-light kisses along Mac's length. She also trailed her fingers along the soft skin of Mac's side, across her hip and down. She could feel the woman respond to her touch. It warmed her even more to know that she could arouse her lover with a mere touch and lick.

“Are you sure about this, Lac?”

“Why are you still talking?” Lacey met Mac's gaze and felt her heart swell at the smoldering eyes gazing back at her.

“Not talking anymore,” Mac pulled Lacey up until their lips met and her body covered the smaller woman's. “Definitely shutting up.”

Lacey wrapped her arms around Mac's neck and pulled her closer as their kiss deepened. She reveled in the feel of Mac's tongue against her own and the body that covered hers like a second skin. Everything about Mac set Lacey's senses on fire with desire, as she pressed herself deeper into Mac's warmth.

Then she felt Mac's fingers trailing a fiery path down her body. She pulled back enough to allow those fingers access and groaned when they found her wet folds. Lacey wrapped a leg around Mac's thigh and pressed herself closer as those insistent fingers probed deeper.

“God, you're so wet, Lac,” Mac breathed against Lacey's lips when they parted for air.

Mac then plunged deeper and pressed her thumb against Lacey's throbbing clit.

“Oh, yeeeessss…” Lacey's head arched back to reveal her slender neck and Mac took advantage.

She pressed her lips against an enticing earlobe and suckled, as her fingers continued to bring Lacey closer to release. She was careful not to make any moves that might in any way resemble the rape Lacey experienced in Iraq, but that didn't stop Mac from keeping a steady rhythm that she knew would bring the desired result.

Lacey couldn't get enough of Mac, as her body responded to every stroke of the fingers buried deep inside her. She was on fire as Mac played her like a lyre. Every thrust brought her closer to the climax she knew was coming. The breasts pressed against her own sent desire pulsing to her center and only added to her body's response. She was on fire and wanted nothing more than to feel the sweet release she knew was only seconds away.

“Fuck me!” Lacey cried out, when she felt the first shudders of her climax flutter deep within.

Mac's mouth found hers and swallowed any further cries, as Lacey's body arched off the bed and her mind exploded with the force of the orgasm that tore through her. A million colors danced behind her tightly closed eyelids, as the world spun and her body shuddered uncontrollably.

“I gotcha,” Mac lowered herself next to Lacey and pulled the panting woman close. “I gotcha, sweetheart.”

Lacey sank into the arms of love, as she slowly returned to earth with Mac's whispered words in her ear. It took her several moments to catch her breath. When she finally did, she pressed a palm against Mac's soft cheek and guided her lover's lips to hers for a gentle kiss.

“I love you, Mackenzie Bridget,” she said as her eyes sparkled with unshed tears.

“I love you, too, Lacey Justine,” Mac brushed the tips of her fingers against Lacey's flushed cheek, as she gazed into shining sea-green eyes. “You're more beautiful than a golden sunset over the mountains. You know that? Especially in my arms like this.”

A single tear spilled from Lacey's lashes. Mac caught it on the tip of her index finger and held it. Lacey then reached out, captured Mac's hand in hers, and kissed the fingertip with her tear on it.

The spell was suddenly broken when a huge yawn escaped Lacey, surprising them both. Lacey slapped a hand over her mouth and looked at Mac in wide-eyed wonder. Moments later, her lids slowly drifted shut, as the lethargy returned full force.

“I'll get the lights,” Mac quickly jumped from the bed, padded over to the light switch and doused the lights. She jumped back into bed, snuggled up to Lacey and wrapped her arms around her with a contented sigh. “'Night, sweetheart.”

“Don' wanna…sleep,” Lacey grumbled, as she snuggled into the crook of Mac's arm.

Mac smiled and settled her cheek against Lacey's. “I know, Doc,” she whispered, as she grasped Lacey's hand in hers. “Go to sleep now. I'll be right here when you wake up.”

Lacey struggled against the lethargy that was quickly pulling her down into a deep chasm of darkness. She didn't want to sleep. She wanted to stay awake and enjoy the warm sunshine of Mac's love that surrounded her. Her body ached for Mac's touch, even as sleep continued to drag her down into its depths.

Then fingers lightly brushed the hair at her temples and massaged her scalp. Lacey couldn't fight the pull any longer and finally just gave into it. Sleep wrapped itself around her mind, as Mac stayed wrapped around her body and soon they were both snoring softly in the quiet, warm room.


Chapter 21

“Did you manage to deliver your little load without waking them up?” Ben reached down and absently rubbed the head of a certain Australian shepherd puppy that licked his fingers enthusiastically, as he watched his wife move around the kitchen.

“Packages delivered,” Carrie paused with a dish cloth in one hand and a pan in the other. “Safe and sound. Blackie also grabbed the Jeep and brought it back. He said they need it to get the roads plowed.”

“You didn't really answer the question, Car,” Ben stood up, crossed the room and wrapped her arms around the busy woman. He then planted a kiss on her lips. “Did you wake them up?”

“No,” Carrie shook her head, as she tried to extricate herself from Ben's hold on her. “They're still sound asleep.”

He kept a firm hold on her and pinned her to the counter next to the sink.


“Mama,” DJ's sleepy and congested voice interrupted them. “I feel yucky.” He then coughed a croupy cough deep in his chest.

“Oh, honey,” Carrie handed the pan and dishtowel to Ben, then dropped down to her son's level. “Come here.”

The six year old shuffled lethargically over to stand before his kneeling mother and didn't pull away when she reached out to put a hand on his forehead. He sniffed and wiped his nose with the sleeve of his Spider Man pajamas, then coughed again.

“He has a fever,” Carrie stood up, crossed the room to a cabinet near the bathroom, pulled a thermometer out and shook it several times. “Keep this under your tongue until it beeps, Deej.” She then waited for him to open his mouth.

Once the thermometer was in his mouth, DJ was grateful when his mother sat down at the kitchen table and pulled him into her lap. She held him close and gently stroked his fevered brow, until the thermometer beeped. Then she removed it from between his lips and looked at it.

“102 point six,” Carrie glanced at Ben with concern. “Well, I guess that means you're staying home from school today, young man.”

“Aw, do I hafta?” The protest didn't carry much behind it and was followed by a hacking cough. “Mrs. Simpson is bringing her new puppy into class today. I wanted to be there to play with it.”

“Well, sport,” Ben came over and ruffled his son's hair. “I guess you'll just have to enjoy Mindy's company, instead. She'll make sure you do as your mother says, won't you Mindy?”

Wagging her stubbed tail, Mindy answered with a quick yip and then put her front paws on DJs lap. She sniffed his nose before licking his cheek, much to Carrie's chagrin.

“Down, Mindy,” Carrie ordered. “You can keep him company in his room. Just stay off the bed.” She stood up with her son in her arms.

“Here, let me take him for you,” Ben quickly took the gangly boy into his arms and carried him from the room. “Come on Mindy. Let's give your Aunt Carrie a break for a while. We'll both keep Digger company until he falls asleep. Maybe we can teach you a trick or two to take back to your mom.”

Carrie sighed and just rolled her eyes. Then she went to the sink and looked out at the newly fallen snow on the ground outside. There was more than a foot of it out there. She knew it because she'd just returned from a trip to her sister in-law's place and had experienced a few close calls, even in her four-wheel-drive Dodge Ram pickup.

Her thoughts then turned to the two women she had left sleeping in the cabin and a blush infused her cheeks. She hadn't meant to catch the eyeful she had, but the place wasn't all that big, either. After knocking several times, Carrie had decided to just brave Mac's wrath and walk inside to drop off her burden.

She entered the kitchen, set the bags of groceries on the counter and was about to leave, when she saw that the fire had burned down to mere embers. She didn't even think about the fact that the cabin was the warmest it had ever been since Mac had moved in. She merely knelt in front of the fireplace and quickly got the fire going with a couple large logs.

Then she turned and found the bedroom door wide open and two sets of bare feet peeking out from beneath the covers of the bed. As she stood up, she realized the feet were tangled together and then she looked right at the two women sleeping soundly in each other's arms. And Carrie instantly knew neither woman was wearing clothes.

That's when she grabbed her purse from the bench next to the front door and left without a backward glance. It was only after she'd been standing next to her pickup for a minute or so that she realized Mindy was sitting there expectantly beside her.

Picking up the dog in her arms, Carrie climbed into the truck and returned to the main house without a word. And now she just stared out the window at the men working to clear the snow from the main area around the house. Two were shoveling the walkways from the house to the barn and some of the outbuildings. Others were using the plows attached to the front ends of the three Jeep Cherokees to clear away the bulk of the snow from the roads and drives.

Carrie wasn't really seeing any of it.

“You okay?” Ben walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, then kissed the top of her head. “You seem a million miles away, hon.”

“I'm fine,” Carrie put her hands on his arms. “Just thinking.”

“About my sister?”


“You never said what happened or why you came back here in such a huff,” Ben continued.

“It's not important.”

Ben turned her to face him and put his hands on her shoulders. “She's a grown woman and can make her own decisions now, Car. You gotta let her.”

“It's not that,” Carrie waved him off.

“Then what is it?” He persisted. “Is it Lacey? Do you know something that I don't? Or that Mac doesn't? ‘Cause if you do, you need to tell us.”

“No,” Carrie shook her head. “It's not Lacey. It's not anything, Ben. I'm just trying to keep some perspective with all that's been going on with those two lately.”

“Perspective?” Ben eyed her in confusion. “What's that supposed to mean?”

“Your sister has always been one to throw herself into a relationship with blinders on and then jump right back out with her ass on fire,” Carrie put some distance between them and crossed her arms over her chest to ward him off. “I think she's doing it again, Ben. And this time she really can't see how much of herself she already has invested in Lacey Stephens. I think she's going to get hurt or lose herself…or worse.”

“Carrie,” Ben closed the distance between them and wrapped her in a hug, despite her aloofness. “Welcome to my sister finally falling head over heels in love with someone who won't put up with any crap. My sister has finally grown up. You should be happy about that.”

“Yeah, I should,” Carrie uncrossed her arms and hugged him back. “I just don't want to see her get hurt this time, Ben. She went through so much when your dad died and you moved here. And then there was all that stuff that happened after Derek was killed in Iraq. Those endless nights of worrying if she would come home. The phone calls at all hours. The police showing up on our doorstep or calling to tell us she was safe in a jail cell for the night and was sleeping off another bout of drinking.”

“Mackenzie has done some really stupid things,” Ben confirmed. “I'll give you that. But I really think this relationship with Lacey is different. You saw the two of them at dinner the other night. I've never seen my sister so animated and happy. She was actually glowing with love every time she looked at Lacey. And did you see how she kept holding Lacey's hand? She never did that with any of the others. It just seemed so natural for her to do it, too.”

“Okay, fine,” Carrie pulled back enough to look up into his pale blue eyes. “I'll concede the point. Mackenzie is finally in love. And it appears that her chosen partner is just as much in love with her. I get it. Now, tell me how your son is doing.”

“He's really sick,” Ben replied. “He probably needs some pain reliever and a good dose of motherly love. But right now he's out like a light with Mindy on the floor next to his bed.”

“Do you think we should take him to the doctor?”

“Why? We have a doctor right here at the ranch. Remember?”

Carrie's confusion quickly gave way to understanding. “Ah, yes. Forgot about that. Maybe I'll give Mackenzie a call and see if they're up and going.”

“Ah, so they weren't awake when you dropped the groceries off,” Ben looked at his wife closely. “Tell me you didn't barge in on them while they were still sleeping, Car.”

“I didn't barge,” Carrie's expression turned sheepish. “But I did put most of the groceries away before I got the fire going and caught a glimpse of their bare feet peeking out from your sister's bed.”

“Aha!” Ben exclaimed. “That's why you've been all sulky since you returned from Mac's place. I knew there was something bothering you. I knew it!”

She rolled her eyes at him. “It's not like I haven't seen your sister in bed with another woman before, Benjamin.”

“Yeah, that time she was with…Who was it again?” He pretended to think hard about the answer.

“Angie Pickford?” Carrie rolled her eyes again. “I can't believe your sister ever gave that slut the time of day, much less slept with her right under our roof.”

“There was no accounting for Mac's terrible taste in women back then, Carrie,” Ben went to work on the dishes piled in the sink. “And it wasn't like there were all that many women to choose from around here when she was growing up, much less lesbian women.”

“In redneck cattle country?” Carrie feigned disbelief. “Surely you jest.”

“Mac used to say there was only one gay bar in all of Wyoming,” Ben chuckled as he filled the sink with soap and water. “And it wasn't anywhere near Jackson.”

“Where was it, then?”

“I don't know,” he shrugged. “She never did say.”

“Maybe she didn't know,” Carrie joined him at the sink. She rinsed and then dried the clean dishes he handed to her.

“Maybe there really never was one,” Ben shot her a knowing look. “That's probably why she ended up hanging out and getting drunk at every redneck establishment within a fifty-mile radius.”

“You don't think there are other gays and lesbians in Wyoming, Ben?” She shot him a skeptical look. “What about that movie that came out last year.Brokeback Mountain? Where was that supposed to take place, anyway?”

“It was a movie, Car,” Ben just shook his head at her. “Not real life.”

“Most movies these days have some basis in reality, Ben,” Carrie replied. “I'm sure it wasn't just some fictitious fantasy dreamed up by one of those Hollywood types. I'm sure there are gays and lesbians here in Jackson, too. Your sister sure found enough women who were willing to sleep with her.”

“My sister's lovers weren't all lesbians, Car,” Ben stopped washing long enough to give her a raised-browed look. He then continued to stare at her. “Most of them were just experimenting for one reason or another.”

“Didn't make it any easier on Mac,” she shot back. “Do you really think your sister is so special that she's the only lesbian in all of Teton County?”

“So, what part of her getting the shit kicked out of her for liking girls didn't you get?” He resumed his washing. “Or did you forget that she used to come home from school with a black eye or bloody lip or some other cut, scrape or bruise, at least once a week until she was big enough and strong enough to fight back?”

She slapped the dish towel on the counter in frustration. “Who do you think cleaned and bandaged her up every time she came home bleeding all over the kitchen floor?”

“Okay, so maybe she was the only one who was open about who she was,” Ben conceded. “The others were just too scared to come out of the closet.”

“And Mac was too pigheaded to acknowledge that a closet even existed,” Carrie let the hint of a grin show. “You two share that in common.”

“I'm not gay,” Ben flicked some water at her.

“No, but you are pigheaded,” Carrie turned a saucy grin on him.

He plunged his hands into the soapy water and held them up in front of him like talons. Carrie immediately backed away and raised her dish towel in a defensive mode.

“Oh, no, you don't, Benjamin Anthony Papadopoulos,” she warned and then she noticed he was dripping soapy water onto the floor. “Hey! You sure as hell better clean up your mess before someone slips and falls!”

He shot forward and wrapped his soapy arms around her in a bear hug.

“Gotcha!” He exclaimed before he kissed her soundly on the lips.

“Oh, you are so dead,” Carrie growled as his lips lifted slightly from hers.

“Promises, promises,” Ben kissed her again to silence any further protest.


Chapter 22

Lacey drifted in a peaceful haze and enjoyed the silence and warmth that surrounded her. She was wrapped in a cocoon and wasn't willing to move away from the body pressed against hers. Mac's steady breathing tickled her ear and still she resisted the urge to move.

Then a strange ringing and buzzing from the other room caught Lacey's attention. She shifted slightly and felt the arm against her bare midriff move ever so slightly.

“You awake?” She asked quietly.

“Mm,” Mac uttered sub-vocally.

“I think that's your phone going off in the other room,” Lacey rubbed Mac's forearm and then joined hands with her. “Do you want me to go get it for you?”

“No,” Mac mumbled, as she kept a tight hold on the fingers clasped with hers. “They'll call back or leave a message if it's important. Don' wanna move.”

Lacey lifted their joined hands and brushed her lips against Mac's knuckles. “Me, either.”

She then turned over to face the woman lying on her side next to her. Lacey reached up and brushed Mac's bangs back from her forehead. Her breath then caught when she saw a pair of sleepy blue eyes gazing back at her.

“Mornin',” Lacey kissed Mac's nose, her cheek and then her lips.

“Not sure you wanna be doin' that,” Mac grumbled when the kiss ended.

“I love kissing you,” Lacey pressed her body close to Mac's. “Why are you so warm, by the way?” She then reached up and felt Mac's forehead. “Are you coming down with something?”

“Pilots don't get sick,” Mac cleared her throat and winced at the scratchiness there.

“Everyone gets sick, Mackenzie,” Lacey cocked her head, as she continued to look closely at her lover.

“Not you,” Mac let her eyes flutter closed. “You said so yourself.”

“Doctors make lousy patients,” Lacey brushed the backs of her fingers against Mac's cheek. “That's why we try not to get rundown. Besides, we get more than our fair share of illnesses during residency. I was sicker than a dog for months and months until my body finally adjusted to all the crazy hours I was working. Antibiotics and Benadryl were my two best friends.”

Mac propped her head against her hand. “I'll be just fine and dandy once I'm up and moving. It's probably just a late-winter cold. Not a big deal.”

A sneeze caught them both by surprise, as Lacey took the brunt of it right in the face. Mac quickly wiped Lacey's face with the edge of the sheet.

Lacey scrunched her face and kept her eyes tightly shut. “Thanks a lot.”

“Sorry,” Mac looked like a little kid who had just been scolded. “Didn't know that was coming or I would've turned away.”

“It's okay,” Lacey gingerly opened one eye and then the other. “I've had worse than spit hit me in the face.”

“Blood?” Mac winced.

“That, too.”

“What's worse than blood and spit?”

“You really don't want to know,” Lacey shuddered. “Suffice it to say, the human body contains some rather disgusting liquids and gasses that are sometimes released at the most inopportune moments.”

“Ew,” Mac winced. “You're right. I really don't want to know.”

“Camel spit can also be quite disgusting, too,” Lacey added in all seriousness.

“You got spit on by a camel?” Mac couldn't believe what she had just heard. “By a real live camel?”

“Twice,” Lacey confirmed. “Not a trip I'll ever forget.”

“Where in the world were you?”

“Egypt with my parents,” Lacey replied. “They thought it would be fun to ride camels to the pyramids. It royally sucked. We were all burned to a crisp by the time we returned to the hotel in Cairo that night. And don't get me started on why I got spit on twice. Fucking camels are meaner than a swarm of angry bees, especially when you get too close. I also got bit right on the ass by one of them. Couldn't sit for days.”

Mac tried not to laugh but couldn't help it. But then the laughing turned into coughing and she groaned her displeasure.

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up, Chief,” Lacey scowled at her. “I'd like to see you try it sometime. The actual riding wasn't so bad. Of course, I was only about twelve at the time. It was a grand adventure and I was all for grand adventures in those days. Kept my mind off…other things.”

Mac recovered from her coughing fit and sobered at the forlorn look that came into Lacey's eyes. “Man, I wish I'd been there for you. I would have beaten the shit out of that asshole for what he did to you. And the camel, too.”

Lacey shrugged and absently tucked the hair behind Mac's ear. “No one knew. He made me keep it a secret and threatened to send me away forever if I told anyone. Didn't even mention it to my best friend at school. And then I went off to college and didn't give any of it another thought.”

“Yeah, well…” Mac brushed a finger down the side of Lacey's face. “I'm here now. I'll keep that sorry son of a bitch away from you. He'll never hurt you like that again.”

“Let him try,” Lacey snickered with an evil grin. “I'll use my lethal super ninja combat skills on him and kill him dead.”

“Oo, I love it when you get all feisty like that,” Mac pulled Lacey closer and planted an open-mouthed kiss square on her mouth.

“Thought you didn't want to get me sick, there, Ace?” Lacey gave Mac a playful grin, as she ran a finger along the skin of Mac's jaw line.

“Oh, crap,” Mac ducked her head. “Sorry, Doc.”

“No worries, hon,” Lacey put a finger beneath Mac's chin and lifted it until they were looking at each other. “My super ninjaness also includes magical viral repelling powers.”

Mac snickered. “Seriously?”

“Probably not,” Lacey shook her head. “But it sounds really cool, doesn't it?”

“Wish I had lethal super ninja combat skills and viral repelling powers,” Mac gazed deeply into Lacey's eyes and noticed light yellow flecks in the irises. “I'd use them to get rid of all the assholes in the world.”

“Hm,” Lacey leaned in and brushed her nose against Mac's ear before her tongue brushed enticingly against the pink lobe. “I can think of some much better ways to use these super ninja…Oh, whatever.”

And then the phone in the next room went off again.

“Rats!” Lacey pulled back and slapped the mattress in frustration, as Mac sat up. “Who the hell is interrupting…”

Mac quickly scooted off the bed and raced into the living room to retrieve her cell phone. Lacey just sat there with the bed sheet pooled around her hips and marveled at the view. She gave the guy's whistle when Mac disappeared from view.

“Mighty fine view,” Lacey commented to herself, as she anxiously awaited for Mac's return. Then the woman was standing with one arm stretched upwards, as she leaned against the doorway. “Oo, me likey that pose very much, sexy woman.”

“That was the head of the Teton County Search and Rescue,” Mac's expression was sober, as she padded over to the edge of the bed and sat down. “They have a situation and need all hands on deck.”

Lacey's expression fell. “You're leaving? So soon?” She then pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them while sporting an adorable pout.

“I have to go,” Mac glanced at the phone still in her hand. “It's one of the things I do around here. They need my piloting skills, and I need to keep flying. I promised the guys I would take the next call when I got home.” She then tossed the phone onto the bed and leaned close to Lacey. “Besides, I thought I could convince one of the finest doctors to ever serve in the United States Army to come along for the ride. Maybe introduce her to the crew around here and get her to help out wherever she's needed.”

Lacey's expression brightened. “You want me to come with you?”

“Only if you want to,” Mac cocked her head. “You don't have to if you're not ready. This kind of thing isn't very predictable. Things could get ugly. Sully didn't elaborate on the situation. He had some additional calls to make and could only tell me he needed all hands on deck for this one.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Lacey couldn't keep the uncertainty from her tone.

“I want you with me always, Lacey,” Mac took both of Lacey's hands in hers. “Of course I want you to come along. I'm just not sure we'll be doing the same things. My job mostly entails waiting around until there's a break in the weather and then flying around as a spotter. Your particular skills—ninja combat skills aside—will definitely be more valuable than mine until the weather clears. We only have three doctors on scene for a search and rescue. The rest stay at the local hospitals and wait for any casualties to be transported in.”

“Sounds just like old times,” Lacey gave Mac a conciliatory half-grin. “Count me in. Just don't ask me to go flying with you, Chief—or anyone else for that matter. No longer a big fan of helicopters. Besides, I don't think you could get me up in another one after what we went through.”

Mac kissed the backs of Lacey's knuckles. “I hear ya, Doc. No helicopters. Promise.”

Lacey smiled, reached up and ran her fingers through Mac's hair. “You sure we can't just stay here and enjoy each other's company for a little while longer?”

Mac put a finger under Lacey chin and tilted her head up, then brushed her lips against the inviting lips parted enticingly in front of her. “I'm sure.”

Lacey jutted her lower lip out in a childish pout. “Rats.”

“Come on, Doc,” Mac playfully swatted a bare hip. “The day's a waning. Time to get dressed and eat something before we head out.”

“Did you forget?” Lacey frowned and crossed her arms over her bare breasts. “There is nothing to eat in this place, Mackenzie. We didn't have the chance to go shopping yesterday.”

Mac padded out of the bedroom and came back with a large muffin that she tossed at Lacey. “Will that work?”

Lacey caught the muffin and just looked at it in astonishment. “Where…”

“Carrie came in while you were sound asleep and dropped off a load of groceries,” Mac replied. “She also included some fresh-baked treats with the groceries.”

“Carrie was here?” Lacey gave Mac a wide-eyed look.

“Yep,” Mac grinned. “And she saw us in bed together. Sucks to be her.But serves her right for looking in on us. I hope she got an eyeful and never does it again.”

“You saw her…She saw…” Lacey finished with a squeak that soundly a lot like the sound a mouse would make.

“We were burrowed under the covers, Doc,” Mac shrugged, as she moved to her dresser and pulled some clothing out. “I'm gonna take a quick shower while you sit there and enjoy your muffin.” Mac disappeared, but then popped her head back around the corner. “Unless you want to join me.”

Lacey looked from the muffin in her hand to the head peeking at her in the doorway. She then scrambled from the bed with muffin in hand and raced toward the doorway.

“I kinda figured,” Mac commented, as Lacey passed her with a huge bite taken out of the muffin and her cheeks bulging.

“I'm warning you, Chief,” Lacey said, as she managed to swallow the mouthful. “I like my shower hot enough to sear your skin right off.”

Mac closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman from behind. “Me, too,” she said, as she playfully squeezed a firm breast. “God, I could eat you for breakfast, Lacey Justine.”

Lacey quickly shoved the remainder of her muffin into her mouth, as they moved into the small bathroom. She then turned in Mac's arms with her back against the glass shower door, got up on her tiptoes and planted a muffin-flavored kiss on the tall woman's lips.

“Mm, blueberry,” Mac licked her lips and pressed her body against Lacey's. “Maybe I will just eat you for breakfast.”

“Not before I eat you first,” Lacey splayed her hands on Mac's bare back and then dropped a kiss onto the swell of one breast. “You definitely taste better than muffins.”

Mac braced her hands on either side of the shower door, as Lacey's lips found a taught nipple. “Jesus, Doc,” she hissed. “You're gonna be the death of me.”

Lacey lifted her seductive green eyes and gave Mac a saucy grin. “What's the matter, Chief? A little playtime in the shower not on your busy schedule for today?”

Mac pulled the glass door open and started the water. She then returned her attention to the woman in front of her.

“We're not actually in the shower yet, now, are we?” She ran a finger down between Lacey's breasts and stopped at her belly button. Lacey yelped. “Oo, ticklish, Doc?”

Lacey grabbed Mac's hand and held it away from her to stop the assault. “Not fair, Chief,” she growled a warning.

“Oh, but so much fun,” Mac tested the water with her other hand. “Is this hot enough for you?”

Lacey looked at the steam rising from behind her. “Oh, I'm sure it is. And soon to get hotter.”

Mac pulled Lacey into the shower with her and closed the door behind them. “Soap?” She held the cake of Irish Spring out to the shorter woman.

“Yes, please,” Lacey turned her back and Mac and shot her a grin over her shoulder.

“Oh, we're definitely going to be late,” Mac ran the bar under the spray for a moment and then rubbed it vigorously between her palms until she had a good lather going.

She dropped the soap back onto its tray and went to work on the wet skin in front of her. Every stroke of her fingers brought the desired results, as Lacey responded to her touch with eager whimpers. Mac pressed her body against Lacey's and reveled in the feel of the soapy slickness, as the spray ran down her own back.

“God almighty, Doc,” Mac moved Lacey's hair aside and nuzzled her neck.

“I should be the one pleasuring you,” Lacey groaned as Mac's hand found her wet curls. “Holy…”

Lacey slapped her hands against the tiled wall in front of her and braced herself, as Mac's slick fingers entered her. She then lowered one of her own hands and snaked it behind her until she had a firm grip on one of Mac's buttocks.

“Let me turn around,” Lacey panted, as Mac pressed closer. “I want…”

Mac complied and immediately took Lacey's mouth in a searing kiss, as the water continued to pour over them both. She then braced her hands on the wall on either side of Lacey's head, as she pressed her body against Lacey's.

“You taste so good, Doc,” she breathed against Lacey's lips.

“Blueberries,” Lacey teased with a snicker, a she splayed her hands on Mac's backside. “And you feel so good that I want to bury myself inside you, Chief.”

Lacey then licked a drop of water off Mac's chin, as she pulled her closer. She nipped the collar bone that was at eye level, as her hands kneaded the firm backside.

“Yipes!” Mac watched as Lacey glanced up at her beneath hooded eyes. She then moved aside just enough that the water sprayed Lacey directly in the face. “Paybacks are hell, Doc.” She snickered, as Lacey blew water out her nose.

Lacey retaliated immediately by taking one of Mac's breasts fully into her mouth and teasing the nipple with the tip of her tongue. She continued to knead Mac's backside, then moved her hands lower.

Mac was beside herself with desire at the sensations that were coursing through her. One of Lacey's hands came around and found her center. That was all it took for Mac's knees to nearly give way right there in the steaming spray. She barely managed to remain standing, as the water continued to pour down her back.

Lacey swallowed a cry of pleasure from her lover, as their lips met in a fiery kiss that took their breath away. Her back was pressed against the chilly tiles, but she didn't care. All she knew was the silky feel of the warm folds against her fingers. She continued working her magic until Mac was whimpering and panting against her mouth. And then she felt the first shudders of her lover's climax and pressed her body closer.

Mac couldn't believe she was still standing as the last shudders rocked her to her core. Her entire length was pressed against Lacey and she suddenly realized the woman was being squashed against the shower wall, as the water continued to pour over both of them.

“Sorry about that,” Mac pulled back enough to give Lacey some room to breathe.

“Not a problem, Chief,” Lacey reached around Mac and retrieved the soap. “My turn.”

“Oh, I don't think so,” Mac quickly snatched the soap and began running it over her own body. “I'm still not sure how I ended up repeating the benefits of that particular bout of lovemaking.”

“Heh, heh,” Lacey decided to give up on the soap and grabbed the bottle of shampoo on the shelf above her head. “I guess I'm just a master at taking charge of a situation, Chief.” She poured a generous helping into her palm and tossed the bottle at Mac, who barely managed to catch it without hitting her head on the shower head. “Comes with the territory.”

“A master of bullshit, more like,” Mac set the shampoo back on the shelf and continued washing her body.

“Oo, burn,” Lacey shot back, as she lathered the shampoo into her hair. She then wrapped her arms around Mac's soapy body and kissed her chin. “Do I need to show you just how much of a master I am?”

Mac ran her fingers through Lacey's soapy hair. “How about we finish up here and get going, instead? Then you can show me all your numerous skills when we get home tonight.”

Lacey cupped one of Mac's breasts and ran her thumb over the taught nipple. “I suppose so. But I can't guarantee that I won't be thinking about you during every single moment we're out there. I can feel my juices flowing in anticipation.”

“You are definitely going to kill me, Doc,” Mac groaned, as Lacey scooted around her with a chuckle and moved under the steamy spray to rinse her hair.

Mac quickly washed her own hair, then watched Lacey step out of the shower ahead of her and shut the door.

“Towels?” Lacey called from the other side of the shower door.

“Around the corner, in the closet,” Mac answered, as she finished rinsing her hair.

Mac could see Lacey's blurry figure disappear and reappear in the small bathroom. She shut off the water and opened the door to find a fuzzy blue towel held toward her. Mac took the towel and quickly dried herself off. But she couldn't keep her eyes off Lacey's naked body, as she bent forward to wrap the towel around her hair. And then she playfully pinched Lacey's bare backside.

“Yeeeouch!” Lacey flipped the towel back on her head, as she suddenly straightened and glared at Mac. “Was that really necessary?”

Mac tried to act casual. “Just givin' you a taste of your own medicine, Doc.”

“Oh, you will so pay for that,” Lacey absently rubbed the spot. “Just wait until later. I'll show you what kind of medicine works best on a difficult patient.”

“Promises, promises, Dr. Col. Stephens. Or is it Col. Dr. Stephens?” Mac grabbed her clothing, walked out of the bathroom and disappeared into the bedroom.

She wasn't quite prepared for the attack that the five-foot-three-inch spitfire launched at her back. She tumbled forward and landed face-first on the bed in her underwear.

“Oo, you wanna…” Mac barely had time to turn over before Lacey was straddling her and grinning slyly down into her face.

“Did I ever mention that I don't fight fair?” Lacey grabbed both of Mac's hands and held them on either side of her head.

“You're just lucky my dog isn't here to protect me, Doc,” Mac said. “Mindy…”

Lacey didn't let Mac continue, as her lips descended and took Mac's mouth in a searing kiss. The kiss deepened, as Mac responded instantly. And then her hands were free to roam over the naked body perched on top of her. She explored Lacey's bare skin and paused in all the right places.

“We're never gonna get to the rescue staging area at this rate, Doc,” Mac breathed against Lacey's damp hair.

“Spoil sport,” Lacey sat up and pushed her damp hair back impatiently. “You're no fun, Chief. All work and no play…”

She was suddenly flipped over until she found herself pinned beneath the evilly grinning woman.

“What was that about all work and no play?” Mac chuckled, as she held Lacey's hands above her head against the mattress.

“So not fair, Chief,” Lacey pouted.

“All is fair in love and war, Colonel,” Mac teased. “You of all people should know that.”

“Does this mean we're staying here?” Lacey asked.

“Nope,” Mac shook her head and ran a finger down the soft skin between Lacey's breasts, before she released the blonde's hands. “It means we need to stop goofing around and get going.”

Mac then stood up and grabbed her jeans. She quickly pulled them on before Lacey could distract her any further.

Pfft! You're no fun,” Lacey groused, as she padded into the guest room where they'd stored the clothing she'd purchased in town.

Lacey grabbed her clothes and returned to Mac's room. When she got there Mac was fully dressed and wore a pair of snow boots Lacey didn't recognize. She then saw a parka lying on the freshly-made bed.

“Gee, Chief,” Lacey quickly slipped into her underwear and adjusted the straps on her burgundy bra. “I was only gone for a minute. Are you suddenly endowed with superhuman speed or something? That bed was completely rumpled when I left the room. And when did you decide to head off to Antarctica?”

Mac glanced down at her attire. “What?”

“Nice boots and parka, Chief.”

“Uh, yeah,” Mac picked up the red parka with a TCSAR patch on one gray sleeve. “It's my gear. We'll need to set you up with something warmer than your ski jacket and hiking boots for this trip, Doc. You'll freeze out there, otherwise.”

Lacey pulled on a black Under Armor shirt and matching tights to keep her warm. She then donned a turtleneck, her jeans and a pair of heavy wool socks. She shot Mac a skeptical look.

“I don't own a pair of snow boots,” Lacey replied.

“No, but the boys do,” Mac grinned. “I'm sure you'll fit in a pair of Jimmy's old boots.”

Lacey shot to her feet with her hands on her hips. “Oh, seriously?”

“Hey,” Mac shrugged. “You're just about his size just before he had his growth spurt last year. Or maybe we better put you in Tanner's old ones. He's probably more your size.”

“Oh, that's nice, Chief,” Lacey scowled. “Now you're telling me I'm the size of a twelve year old?”

“No,” Mac's grin widened. “His old boots are the ones he wore last year—when he was eleven.” She then chuckled as she left the room.

“Nice. Really nice,” Lacey groused as she pulled a Thinsulate-lined fleece sweater over her head and followed Mac to the living room. “Next thing you'll be telling me is that I'll have to wear your brother's parka.”

“No, but that does give me an idea,” Mac kissed Lacey on the tip of her nose. “We definitely need to make a stop at the main house before we head out.”

“Great,” Lacey grumbled. “Why do I get the feeling I'm gonna look like Nanook of the North when all is said and done?”


Continued in Part 10

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