Love Conquers All
By Kennedy Northcutt ©2012
Mac and Lacey are back. It’s Halloween and the ghosts and gouls are out in force. But more terrifying than things that go bump in the night are the demons of the past that haunt the unsuspecting and unfortunate. It was a dark and stormy night…
Heart-thumping terror. Bone-chilling horror. Blood. Smoke. Ear-piercing screams in the dead of night…
“What are you doing?”
“You heard me.”
“I…” A blush suffused a pale cheek and turned it a bright shade of crimson. “Apparently, I’m making an ass of myself.”
Lacey Stephens leaned back into the warm body behind her as she was wrapped in a strong embrace. A gentle kiss on top of her head sent her heart racing and a tiny shiver throughout her body.
“I couldn’t sleep, either.” Mackenzie Papadopoulos padded over to the coffee maker in the kitchen. “Weird dreams. Really weird.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Lacey said a little sadly. “I hate those.”
“Is that why you’re writing?”
Lacey slumped a little and rested her chin on a fist. “I wasn’t in the mood to go out to the barn. It’s kinda cold out there this morning.”
Mac glanced out the window over the sink. “Is that what I think it is?”
“If you mean snow? Yes, it is. Not much, but enough to keep Mindy from dawdling when I let her out earlier. Right, Minders?” Lacey absently scratched behind a floppy ear when the Australian Shephard sat up expectantly. “You’re such a good girl.”
“She’ll get used to it again, soon enough,” Mac finished up with the coffee and set it to brew. “Then there will be no stopping her. She loves snow.”
“She loves chasing rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels in the snow,” Lacey added. “I’m going to have Lester order a new pair of Uggs. My other ones are almost worn through from last winter. I’m not traipsing around out in that stuff with a pair of boots that don’t keep the wet out.”
“Ugh,” Mac groaned. “Tell me you’re not wearing that hideous green flannel shirt of yours, too. I thought I tossed it in the Goodwill bag with all that other stuff last spring.”
“You so did not,” Lacey glared at Mac, who turned her back on her and got the coffee cups ready. “Mackenzie Bridget?”
Mac cringed, but just kept on preparing their morning coffee. She added a small amount of French Vanilla creamer to her cup and left Lacey’s empty. She then poured coffee into both mugs and walked back over to her wife.
Mac held Lacey’s “Don’t talk to me until after my third cup” purple mug out to her. She wore an apologetic pouty face. Lacey rolled her eyes as she took the mug from Mac’s outstretched hand and took a sip.
“Mmm,” Lacey closed her eyes and savored the brew. Then her eyes popped open and she glared at Mac. “Don’t think this gets you off the hook for tossing my favorite shirt away, Chief.”
Mac sat down in a vacant chair and held her arms out. “Come here.”
“Why?” Lacey hesitated.
“Just do it, Stephens,” Mac ordered.
Lacey reluctantly set her mug on the table and slid into Mac’s lap. They sat there looking at each other for a long moment, before Mac slowly closed the distance and met Lacey’s soft lips. The kiss deepened, tongues caressed and it wasn’t long before Lacey had her arms wrapped around Mac’s neck and was pulling her closer.
“So,” Mac slowly pulled back just enough to stare into Lacey’s glazed eyes, “does that get me off the hook?”
“Not yet,” Lacey buried her fingers in Mac’s hair and pulled her close again.
Their passions ignited and soon they were both breathing hard. It wasn’t long before Mac lifted Lacey into her arms and carried her to the bedroom. Tossing her wife onto the bed, Mac pounced like a hungry tiger.
“Hey!” Lacey exclaimed as Mac landed on top of her. “Easy, tiger.”
Mac purred like a cat as she closed the distance between them again. Her lips met Lacey’s and she suddenly had wandering hands tugging at her nightshirt. She didn’t resist as the shirt was yanked and finally pulled over her head.
“Mmm.” It was Lacey’s turn to purr as her lips trailed down Mac’s throat and along her collarbone.
Not wanting to squish her wife too much, Mac rolled to one side and pulled Lacey on top of her.
“Dear Mrs. Stephens-Papadopoulos, you have much too much clothing on for my tastes,” Mac reached for Lacey’s oversized shirt and pulled it over her head, tossing it across the room. “That’s better.”
Mac then gazed in awe at the body of the woman she loved more than her own life. She could never get enough of those sweet curves or the small scars that still stood out prominently against the pale, smooth skin.
“Did I grow a third boob?” Lacey looked down at her chest and up again.
“No,” Mac grinned. “I’m just admiring the scenery.”
Lacey leaned in close without touching her lips to Mac’s. Her nipples lightly brushed against Mac’s and she felt a rush of molten fire coalesce deep within.
“I want you so much,” Lacey whispered against Mac’s wet lips.
Mac reached up and ran her fingers through Lacey’s hair, pulling her down so their lips met and their tongues rubbed enticingly together. Their bodies pressed against each other and nothing could stop the blazing fire that blazed between them.
Lacey trailed featherlight kisses down Mac’s firm, muscled body. She paused at each taught nipple and gave first one and then the other her undivided attention, before trailing lower. Mac groaned as a wet tongue traced a circle around her belly button and then plunged in. Waves of molten passion washed over her as she waited in breathless anticipation for…
“God, you’re so wet,” Lacey moaned as she removed the last barrier between them and Mac’s panties went flying to who-knew-where.
Mac didn’t have time to respond as fingers found her and plunged deep into her center, while hungry lips found her throbbing clit and Lacey’s tongue was soon setting a rhythm that had Mac’s heart pounding wildly in her chest. The world spun out of control as she felt the universe gather momentum and her hips joined the rhythm of her lover’s attentions.
She felt the pressure building with each thrust, until she thought she would explode into a million fragments of blinding light. Each breath was came out as a gasp as her body responded to every touch and movement.
“That’s it, sweetie,” Lacey encouraged breathlessly. “Come for me.”
And then Mac felt the fingers replaced by soft, warm lips and a tongue that sent her over the edge. Her mind exploded as her body shuddered and writhed with an orgasm that sent her soaring to heights only Lacey could take her.
Lacey stayed with Mac and rode out the entire powerful storm. She tasted the essence of her lover and reveled in the sweetness that spilled forth. It was enough to make her own body react, as she, too, shared in a moment that was nothing less than otherworldly. Her heart and mind sang when she realized she was the one who made Mackenzie’s body catch fire like that. It was a heady sensation and one that always left her in awe, even as they both slowly returned to earth.
“Come here, you,” Mac beckoned.
Lacey slid up the sweat-slick body and felt her own body tingle with the contact. Their lips met again and Lacey knew Mac was savoring her own sweetness on Lacey’s lips.
“I want to give you more,” Mac whispered against those swollen lips.
Green eyes smoldering with passion gazed into blue for a moment. Lacey was more than content to just lay there on top of her lover—to feel their bodies pressed against each other. But then she was lying on her back with Mackenzie’s dark hair framing her tanned features. Lacey reached up and pressed a palm against Mac’s cheek, tracing those exquisite features with her thumb.
“So gorgeous,” the words came out as a breathless whisper.
“Not as gorgeous as you, my love.” Mac pressed the backs of her fingers against Lacey’s cheek and gently stroked her brow. “God, I love you more and more each day. I am the luckiest damned woman in all the world to have found you.”
“Not as lucky as I am,” Lacey couldn’t help the tears that sprang suddenly to her eyes. “You’re my savior. My life.”
Mac answered by gently pressing her lips to Lacey’s cheek. Her tongue flicked out when the tears spilled down Lacey’s temples. She then let her lips show Lacey just how much she loved her. Pausing briefly at the pulse-point beneath Lacey’s ear, Mac reveled in the feel of the strong beat beneath her tongue. She then moved farther down until her lips latched onto a taught nipple. Lacey groaned, as Mac’s tongue danced and flicked over the sensitive nub. When Lacey cried out, Mac moved to give equal attention to the other breast. She traced a light circle around the aereola before savoring as much of Lacey’s breast as would fit into her mouth.
Nails dug into her back as Lacey clung to her, but Mac didn’t notice. And then her head was being lifted as strong legs wrapped around her lower body and she could feel Lacey’s womanhood pressed firmly against hers. They were both so wet, so very wet. Lacey’s mouth met hers in a crushing, bruising kiss that was both sensual and demanding. Their tongues thrust against each other as their bodies found a steady rhythm. The rhythm became faster, more demanding until Mac knew what Lacey needed.
Thrusting a hand between them, Mac found the thick, wet folds and quickly plunged in. Lacey’s cry of ecstasy against her lips was nearly Mac’s undoing as she continued a steady rhythm against Lacey’s thigh. Her fingers inside that fiery wetness, Mac used her thumb against Lacey’s clit to bring her lover to the pinnacle.
“Sweet Jesus…H…Christ!” Lacey cried out breathlessly as the first overwhelming waves of her orgasm crashed over her.
Lacey wasn’t alone. They both rode the waves that roll over them as they plunged into a fantastic world of color, light and sensation that can only be described as ethereal. Heaven and earth collided. The stars exploded. The galaxies all converged into one particle of unstable matter. And two souls became one in pure, unadulterated pleasure.
Bodies slick with sweat slowly returned to reality as they felt the last vestiges of their lovemaking recede. They were still breathing heavily as they clung to each other against the rumpled sheets.
“’s this how i’s gonna be forever?” Lacey couldn’t quite find the energy to enunciate each syllable.
“Hope so,” Mac panted, as she wrapped limp arms around her lover. “Don’t ever want to lose this.”
“Me either,” Lacey licked a trickle of sweat from one of Mac’s breasts. “Ever.”
They just lay there in each other’s arms. Neither woman wanted to move. Limbs sheened in sweat were tangled together. Lacey’s cheek rested against Mac’s breast. Mac’s cheek rested against Lacey’s disheveled hair. They were content to just stay that way. The world didn’t matter.
And then they both heard the clack of nails on the hardwood floor. A small whimper from Mac’s side of the bed told them their time together was at an end.
“Okay, girl,” Mac sat up and reached down for the discarded sheet. She pulled the sheet and comforter up and tucked them around Lacey, then kissed her on the temple. “Be right back.”
Lacey didn’t bother opening her eyes as she listened to her two favorite girls. Mac quickly donned her sleepshirt, panties and a pair of sweats. She then headed for the front door with Mindy on her heels. Lacey waited as Mac shrugged into her winter coat and slipped on a pair of clogs. The front door opened and closed. She barely had time to slip into a light doze before the door opened and closed again. Mindy made a beeline for her bed in front of the fireplace.
And Mac suddenly jumped into bed, stripping out of her clothing as she did so. Cold feet found their way beneath the covers.
“Yeow!!!” Lacey exclaimed, as her lover burrowed under the covers and pressed her body against Lacey’s. “What the—”
“Frickin’ cold out there,” Mac stretched out against Lacey’s warmth and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman in order to keep her from bolting from the bed.
“You are so not nice, Mackenzie Bridget,” Lacey scolded.
“I made you coffee,” Mac gave her a pouty lip.
“You gave my favorite shirt to Goodwill,” Lacey countered. “I have half a mind to…”
“Did you hear something?”
They both lay there listening for a moment. Then they both bolted from the bed and quickly donned the first articles of clothing they could find. Lacey ended up in a pair of her jeans and one of Mac’s sweatshirts that hung down to mid-thigh. Mac made it into a pair of jeans and a Go Army t-shirt just before someone pounded on the front door.
“Coming!” Mac called as Lacey beat feet out of the room.
Neither woman made it to the front door before three boys came bounding into the house followed by their harried mother.
“Auntie Mac! Aunt Lacey!” Dillan’s shout was muffled as he shrugged out of his coat and turned to face them.
Both Mac and Lacey took a step back from the masked face that greeted them. And the costume wasn’t much better.
“Exactly what are you wearing?”
“It’s a costume, Aunt Lacey!” He lifted the full-head mask to reveal a beaming grin. “Did I scare ya?”
“You sure scared me, little man!” Mac reached down and hoisted him into the air.
“Mackenzie! Put him down!” Lacey scolded. “Before you hurt yourself!”
“You know better than to scare people with that getup, Dillan Jeremiah,” Carrie stepped into the room behind her two older sons.
“But, Mama, I was just showin’ ‘em the Halloween costume you and Daddy got me for the corn maze tomorrow night. I can’t wait to scare the pants off all those people who are comin’.”
He tossed the mask onto the living room table and went to greet Mindy. She gave him a quick sniff and then scooted out from under him before he could hug her. The Aussie then made a beeline for Mac and Lacey’s bedroom, where she crawled under the bed to hide.
“I don’t think Mindy likes your costume anymore than we do, Deej,” Tanner said.
“What’s wrong with being a Walking Dead Decomposed Zombie?” Dillan crossed his arms and pouted. “You guys said this was supposed to be a scary maze for Halloween.”
“It’ll be scary enough with all the strobes, creepy music and black lights,” Jimmy added. “You’re just gonna freak everyone out if you go moaning and groaning throughout the maze in that getup.”
“But it’ll be fun,” Dillan was excited again. “I can’t wait!”
“Settle down, young man,” Carrie chided him.
“Do you wanna know what I’m going as, Aunt Lacey?” Tanner opened his coat to reveal a lab coat and scrubs. “A mad scientist. Dad got some dry ice and one of those static electricity balls. I also have a pair of safety goggles and have been practicing my mad-scientist laugh.” He demonstrated it for them.
“Creepy,” Mac said. She then looked at Jimmy. “And what are you dressing up as?”
“I’m too old to wear a costume,” Jimmy said.
At fourteen, Jimmy had come into his own. He was a freshman in high school and spent all his free time helping out at the ranch. He was also only an inch shorter than his father, who towered over most everyone at six-foot three-inches.
“You’re never too old to wear a costume for Halloween,” Mac put an arm around his shoulders. “You could pull off some really good ones, too. Tall and goulish Lurch from the Addams Family, for instance.”
“Or that helblazing vigilante motorcycle rider from Ghost Rider,” Tanner added. “Nicholas Cage is smokin’ hot in that movie.” All eyes suddenly turned in his direction. “Smokin’ hot? As in his head was on fire?”
“Since when do you watch movies like that, young man?” Carrie glared at her second-oldest. “I thought I told you…”
“It was rated PG-13, Mom,” Jimmy interrupted.
“Oh. Still…” She shrugged and didn’t say more.
“I just don’t think dressin’ up for Halloween at my age is such a good idea,” Jimmy said. “Some of the guys from school will be coming to the haunted maze and I don’t want them making fun of me when we go back on Monday.”
“Which is why we’re here,” Carrie said. “We need more help tomorrow night. Lester and Martha McGill agreed to help out with the concessions booth. Big Al and a few of the other men are helping BBQ burgers, hot dogs and there will be a corn roasting machine there. Some of the women from the historical society and the women’s auxillary will be manning game booths. And the Boy Scouts are planning on doing the dunk tank again this year.”
“So, what do you need from us?” Lacey asked.
“Well, Jimmy and a few of his friends will be keeping the maze going,” Carrie said. “But we still need a few more people in there to add some ambience. Maybe a witch and a gypsy fortune teller? We have the costumes already. Ben picked them up from town today. He also got a black cauldron, orange strobes, a crystal ball and some other fun additions.”
“If you say snakes or scorpions, I’m definitely out,” Lacey held her hands up in mock surrender. “I don’t do creepy crawlers.”
“Then you can be the gypsy fortune teller,” Carrie smiled. “I have a black wig, a colorful scarf and a dress that just might fit you.”
Lacey looked at Mac. “She’s kidding, right?”
“Nope,” Mac shook her head. “Just go with it, hon. There’s no way to get out of this shindig. It’s a family thing.”
“No warts and I am not wearing makeup that has to be removed with a sledgehammer,” she added.
“Deal,” Carrie smiled. “Well, lil bit, that leaves the witch outfit for you.”
“Can’t I be something a little…”
“She could be Lurch, Mom,” Jimmy added with a smug grin. “I would definitely wear a black sleeve and be Thing, then.”
The boys all snickered.
“Or I could be Johnny Blaze and light my head on fire,” Mac snorted.
“You would be a great Frankenstein,” Dillan piped up. “He was really tall and got to be green.”
“Except in black and white movies,” Tanner added. “He was gray in those.”
“Or you could be Frankenstein’s wife,” Lacey held her hands up claw-like and hissed like she had fangs.
“Wasn’t she short?” Mac shot Lacey a raised-browed glare and got an eye roll in return.
“You could be a zombie, like DJ,” Jimmy shrugged. “We could dress you up in some of Dad’s old clothes and get another mask.”
“Or she could be a scary scarecrow,” Tanner suggested. “We have enough straw in the barn to stuff you with, Auntie Mac.”
“Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” Carrie nodded. “You’ve got a pair of overalls and Ben’s got a few old flannel shirts he doesn’t wear anymore. We could certainly put something together before tomorrow night.”
Mac rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation. “Okay, a scary scarecrow it is, then. At least I don’t have to be a witch.”
“I’ll see if one of the girls from the high school can do the witch,” Carrie said. “Maybe someone from the drama club.”
“Try Brittany Parks, Mom,” Jimmy suggested. “She’s the goth chick who always wears black. She’s probably already half-way to being your witch. I’m sure she’ll love it.”
“And if that doesn’t work, you can always ask Mrs. Jefferson, my science teacher,” Tanner added with a smirk. “I’ll bet she’d get a kick out of stirring up a pot of dry ice and warm water. Not to mention she looks a lot like…”
“That’s enough, Tanner,” Carrie cut him off before he could continue.
Mac and Lacey hid chuckles behind their hands.
Mac was the first to recover. “Wanna stay for coffee, sis? The pot I made earlier is only half-empty. I can make more.”
“No, I’m good,” Carrie herded her sons toward the front door. “I’ve got to run the kids to school, yet. They missed the bus this morning.”
“Yeah!” Dillan chimed in. “Mom forgot to get us up and we got to sleep in! Woo-hoo!”
That earned him twin glares from his brothers as they all walked out the door. Mac wrapped an arm around Lacey’s shoulders as they both tried not to laugh.
“See you two for dinner tonight?” Carrie turned in the doorway. “We’re having roast beef, potatoes and carrots, and apple pie for dessert.”
Lacey held Mac close. “We are totally there, Carrie. Your apple pie is my absolute favorite.”
“Good,” Carrie nodded once. “Come to the house early and Mackenzie can help Ben finish up the decorations for tomorrow night.”
Mac rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Like you haven’t already had him working non-stop on those for the past week.”
Carrie just winked as she closed the door and left the two alone. They turned in time to see Mindy cautiously padding from the bedroom to her own bed in front of the fireplace. Mac released Lacey and pounced on the dog.
“Did DJ scare you, Minders?” She wrestled with the Aussie, who proceeded to tackle her and lick her face.
Lacey just shook her head as the two continued their playtime on the floor. She grabbed her coffee, poured it in the sink and filled her cup again. Then she sat down in front of her laptop and stared at the few words she had written.
“Ugh!” Lacey groaned. “I don’t know how people do this.”
“Do what?” Mac looked up from her place on the floor with Mindy sprawled on her chest.
“Write,” Lacey sipped her coffee. “I just don’t think I have it in me.”
Mac gave Mindy one last good scratch behind both ears, then got up from the floor and walked over to stand behind her wife. She read the few words on the screen while kneading Lacey’s shoulders.
“You have a pretty good start, there, hon,” Mac said.
“I have sixteen words, sweetie,” Lacey countered. “I don’t think it’s really all that good, especially since I was sitting here for well over an hour before you interrupted my creative process.”
Mac bit her lip to keep from tossing out a snarky reply. “Um, well, it’s a start, anyway.”
Lacey closed the laptop, stood up and was grateful for the strong arms that instantly enfolded her in a warm hug. She rested her cheek against Mac’s chest and savored the moment as she listened to the strong, steady heartbeat beneath her ear.
“I really wanted to write about what happened to us,” Lacey said. “But I just can’t bring myself to do it. Heather says I need to try, but I just can’t. Every time I sit down in front of my computer I just freeze. It’s like my mind shuts off and I can’t think of anything to type.”
“Maybe you’re trying too hard,” Mac rubbed small circles on Lacey’s back. “Or maybe you need someone to narrate it while you type it out.”
Lacey pulled back enough to look into Mac’s eyes. “You would do that?”
Mac stifled a giggle. “I’m not the storyteller, hon. You are.”
“And I can write all kinds of stories, except for the one I lived through.”
“Because it is still very real for you—for both of us. Those terrifying monsters and demons are still hiding in wait every time we close our eyes, Lace.”
She placed her hands on either side of Lacey’s face and held her for a moment. Then she gently caressed the small scars that were still slightly visible.
“I’m tired of always being afraid to sleep for fear that I won’t be able to wake up again,” Lacey said in a small voice filled with such pain and anguish. “For fear that I won’t ever see you again.”
“Not gonna happen, sweetheart,” Mac pulled Lacey close and tucked her head under her chin. She noticed how perfectly they fit together as she just held the shorter woman tightly against her. “I will always be here when you wake up, just like you’re always here for me when I have one of my nasties.”
Lacey sniffed back the tears that threatened. “You never tell me what they’re about.”
“Because they’re probably the same as yours,” Mac hurriedly replied.
Lacey took a step back, grabbed Mac’s hand and pulled her into the living room and to the leather couch in front of the fire. She waited for Mac to sprawl out on the couch and then settled in with her.
“Tell me,” Lacey said as Mac wrapped her arms around her and they lay there watching the flames flicker in the gas fireplace that had been upgraded just that spring. “I want to know.”
Mac sighed. “The crash, mostly. And the time we spent running from those guys in the desert.”
“You’re not being very forthcoming,” Lacey said. “I want details, Chief.”
Mac ran a hand through her own hair as Lacey turned to face her.
“Sometimes I find you…” she choked up and tears sprang to her eyes. “Sometimes the smoke is so thick that I spend hours searching. The guys are always there. Waiting. Watching. One particularly nasty dream has me trapped in the cockpit with smoke billowing everywhere, choking me and I can hear you screaming for me, but I can’t move…I can’t get to you. Can’t breathe and then…boom!...The whole place explodes and I wake up in a cold sweat.”
Lacey gently wiped away the few tears that spilled down Mac’s cheeks. Her chest constricted at the pain in Mac’s tone as she continued.
“And then there’s the one where the insurgents find us and…” She swallowed hard as more tears rolled down her cheeks. “I think of what those guys did to you—our guys. And it pisses me off so much that I can hardly breathe.” She made a fist and slammed it against the back of the couch. “Those fuckers deserved everything they got.”
“Shhhhh,” Lacey pressed her lips against Mac’s. “That’s all in the past, Mackenzie. They can’t hurt us anymore.”
“But they hurt you,” Mac swallowed hard again. “They…I should have been there. I should have done…something.”
“What? What could you do? They were kids who were looking for…Well, I don’t know what they were looking for, but…”
“They violated you,” Mac’s tone was hard and cold. “They had no right to…It pisses me off that no one was there—that I wasn’t there—when you needed help. And then it all just kinda got lost in the shuffle. Did you know those idiots got commendations for being injured and killed in the line of fire?”
“Wait, what?” Lacey couldn’t believe her ears.
“Yeah,” Mac agreed. “Willows told me they were all given commendations for their bravery, including the one who survived. He…” Mac stopped.
“Lives in Arkansas,” Mac said quietly.
“And no one saw fit to press charges for what they did to me?” Lacey sat up suddenly. “Not even the colonel?”
“You were the only one who knew who they were, Lace,” Mac explained. “And stuff kinda happened after the crash that kept us both pretty occupied.”
Lacey sank back down against Mac’s chest. Her mind was in turmoil over Mac’s revelation and she couldn’t quite put the pieces together.
“Did Willows happen to give you the guy’s name?”
“Jefferson, Pvt. Scott Jefferson,” Mac supplied. “He lives in Rogers, Arkansas, with his girlfriend and their two-year-old daughter. He was burned pretty badly and no longer has the use of his legs. He’s wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.”
Mac waited for a response, but got more than she bargained for when Lacey burst into a fit of wracking sobs against her chest. Mac tightened her hold on her wife and waited patiently for the sobs to subside.
“For getting you all wet.”
“I don’t care about my shirt, Lace,” Mac kissed the top of her head. “I love you and will never stop loving you for as long as I live, even when you slime my clothing.”
“I thought they were all dead,” Lacey sniffed back the remainder of her tears.
“Apparently not,” Mac waited a moment. “Willows wanted to know if you want to press charges against Jefferson. I forgot to mention it before.”
“It’s just my word against his,” Lacey said a little dejectedly. “Besides, I don’t think it would help at this point.”
“It certainly couldn’t hurt,” Mac grumbled.
Lacey drew back and looked at Mac. “How about we just enjoy this quiet time together, get through dinner with the family tonight and then make it through tomorrow’s festivities. Leave the worries of the world for another day—like maybe after the holidays?”
Mac chuckled. “Okay, fine. You win, Mrs. Stephens-Papadopoulos.”
“I always win,” Lacey grinned. “I married you.”
It was October 31st and all the little ghosts and gobblins were anxiously waiting for the sun to go down. Then All Hallows Eve would be in full swing and the hunt for candy could begin. Houses all over Jackson were decorated for the big day. Dried corn stalks bundled together and bright orange pumpkins dotted the landscape all over town, while ghosts, witches, scarecrows and green gouls hung from trees or decorated doors.
Shopkeepers and employees alike were dressed up in costumes—mostly of the cowboy variety. There was one Cruella DeVille roaming the streets of Jackson, while Roy Rogers rode around on his trusty steed, Trigger, and the Lone Ranger did the same on Silver. Downtown Jackson was a picture postcard for Halloween.
And the Flying BC Ranch was no different. It looked like Halloween and autumn collided and exploded all over the place. Fake maple leaves were strung everywhere with little twinkling orange and white lights in between. Corn stalk pyramids surrounded all the light posts with pumpkins and hay bales standing sentinel on the ground around them. Little white ghosts hung from the trees around the ranch house and a huge witch in striped red and white socks was “smashed” against the side of the barn. A few of the pumpkins had been carved with faces and scenes from Halloween. Battery-operated lights inside them would be turned on when the sun went down and they would transform into spooky Jack-O-Lanterns.
There were a number of booths lined up along the driveway and a dunk tank had yet to be filled with water. Three hay wagons with hay bales for benches were lined up and waiting. And the corn maze was all cut and ready to go. Everything was set for the evening’s festivities.
“You guys did a fantastic job,” Mac stood next to her brother and Blackie, the ranch foreman. “This place looks amazing.”
“This place looks like Halloween up and puked all over it,” Blackie commented. He then spat a gob of dark goo onto the grass near his feet and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Can’t believe the missus made us do all this work for just one lousy night.”
“She makes us do it every year, Blackie. And you complain about it every damned year, too,” Ben countered with a wry grin. “Some day you’ll be too damned old to help anymore and then you’ll complain about that, too.”
“Aww,” Blackie waved him off and shuffled away.
“Those bowed legs of his are barely holding him up these days,” Mac commented when Blackie was out of earshot. “He looks ancient.”
“Yeah,” Ben agreed. “He spends most of his time in the back office of the bunkhouse now.”
“And you still keep him on as foreman?”
“It’s the only job that doesn’t require him to be out on the range with the cattle,” Ben said. “He can’t sit a horse for more’n an hour at a stretch, and he won’t ride in the pickup while the others are on horseback. But he mans the radio in the bunkhouse and keeps everyone in line. And this is the only real home he’s ever known.”
Slapping his shoulder companionably, Mac watched the men finish making a pyramid out of hay bales for the kids. There were tunnels they could climb through and the bales were sturdy enough to climb all over.
“You’re a good man, Ben,” Mac commented.
“I’m getting’ soft in my old age, lil bit,” he winked at her.
“Yeah, I can see that,” she swiped the gray at his temple. “Won’t be long before you’re as old and bow-legged as Blackie.”
“You’re not that far behind me, little sister,” he shot back with a smirk. “Just wait until the gray starts appearing on that head of yours. You’ll see.”
“Never happen, bro,” she replied. “So, what are those for?” She pointed to several large tin troughs lined up along the edge of the grass.
“Dunking for apples, I think,” Ben shrugged. “Carrie and a bunch of women are in the house baking pies for the pie-eating contest.”
“This is turning into a real Halloween festival, instead of just a corn maze and hay ride, eh?”
“It’s a money maker, that’s for sure,” he nodded. “With the way things are going these days, we need all the help we can get. So, where’s your better half?”
“At the clinic,” Mac turned to look at the big white ranch house decorated in autumnal colors. “She said something about catching up on paperwork.”
“I thought the clinic was closed today.”
“It is. That’s why she’s catching up on paperwork while there are no patients to see.”
“Instead of here with you?”
Mac gave him a look. “Contrary to popular belief, brother dear, we don’t spend every waking moment with each other.”
“Coulda fooled me, lil bit,” he snickered. “The two of you have been on each other like fleas on a dog ever since that whole weird thing with her fathers.”
“I love her and she loves me,” Mac shrugged.
“And how have your sessions with your shrink been going?”
“Are you trying to pick a fight, Ben?” Mac glared at him. “Because all these changes in subject sound like you’re itching for one.”
“Just making conversation with my little sister.”
“It’s Halloween. Let’s just enjoy the day and leave all the other bullshit in the pasture, for now. Shall we?”
He held his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. I give up.”
Lacey just sat there staring at the numbers on her computer screen without really seeing them. She’d been sitting there for quite a while and had gotten very little done. Paperwork was still not her forte. She hated it. But it was a necessary evil and had to eventually get done.
She thought about the nightmare she had experienced the night before. It still lingered and made her feel raw and exposed. Too many memories. Too many images all jumbled together in a bewildering mix of death and horror and sand and heat and pain and...
Lacey let her forehead drop against her keyboard and blew out long breath. The demons and monsters were still fresh and alive inside her head. She couldn’t escape them. There was nowhere to run—nowhere to hide. They were always there, always lurking in the shadows and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.
“You okay, sweetheart?”
Lacey sat up and turned to find Mac standing in the doorway to her office. She was wearing a pair of overalls over one of her brother’s checked flannel shirts. There was straw sticking out of strategic places on the costume. Lacey stood up and went to Mac. She wrapped her arms around Mac’s waist and rested her head against her shoulder.
“What’s up, Doc?” Mac chuckled as she embraced her wife. “I love that line. Cracks me up every time.”
“Hardy har har, Chief.”
“So, what’s up?” Mac gently rubbed Lacey’s back.
“I hate paperwork.”
“Then hire someone to do it for you. It’s not like you don’t have the means, Lace.”
Mac pulled back enough to look into Lacey’s eyes. “Tell me what’s really going on. I know you had another nightmare last night.”
Lacey sighed. “Did I wake you up?”
“Stop changing the subject, Doc,” Mac frowned.
“Fine,” Lacey huffed as she laid her head back down against Mac’s shoulder. “I had another nightmare. It was…” She choked back a sob.
Mac hugged her tighter and stroked Lacey’s hair while she waited for the moment to pass. She knew from previous experience that Lacey would continue in her own time, once she had her emotions under control again. Mac’s job was to have patience and wait until the storm passed.
“Yeah,” Lacey continued. “I’m good.”
“I know you’re good,” Mac pulled back with a smile. “But I also know you need to talk. So talk.”
Lacey scowled. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Hey, just giving it right back to you, Doc. You would do the same to me.”
“I would,” Lacey half-grinned. “And I do.”
“Yes, you do,” Mac said. “So?”
Lacey was silent as she gathered her thoughts. Mac just studied her wife as Lacey moved to the chair behind the desk and sat down. Mac leaned against the doorframe and waited.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Lacey began. “I was in the desert and reliving the time we spent there. You weren’t there with me, but I somehow knew you were there somewhere. I was elbow-deep in surgeries and blood and—you know. Then everything got all jumbled and didn’t make any sense. My father was there—James, not Justin. He was in uniform and screaming at me to work faster, to save them all. I tried but couldn’t. Some died. Some came back to life and stood there with accusing faces. And then…” She swallowed noticeably and turned her gaze toward the window. Mac just waited. “You were there. And…” Lacey wrapped her arms around herself as tears sprang to her eyes. “It was so horrible, Mackenzie.”
Mac was instantly kneeling next to Lacey’s chair. “What, Lace? Tell me.”
Lacey tried to quell the flow of tears by impatiently swiping her cheeks as she looked up at the ceiling. Then she looked right into Mac’s pale-blue eyes, drawing courage from the love and life shining back at her.
“You were all bloody and wounded—torn, like you’d been to hell and back,” Lacey continued, her voice quivering with emotion. “You walked like a zombie up to me while I was elbow-deep in a patient’s abdomen and then you suddenly—collapsed. I dropped to your side, but too late. You just stared at me sightlessly and then…”
She couldn’t finish. The images were still too fresh in her mind. Then she was suddenly lifted into strong arms and held while Mac took her place in the chair. Lacey sobbed like a baby as she tried to push the images from her mind and couldn’t.
Mac held on tight and waited for yet another wave of wracking sobs to subside from her tormented wife. Lacey always seemed so strong and confident around others, especially their family. But there were times—times like this—when she couldn’t hold back and just needed someone to be there for her. And there were no words of comfort that Mac could offer to take away the pain and misery that hung over Lacey like a dark shroud. She rested her cheek against the pale head and let the love she felt for Lacey surround them.
“I love you,” Mac said quietly. “I love you so much.”
Lacey’s sobs slowly subsided until she sniffed. Mac handed her a wad of tissues from the box on Lacey’s desk. Blowing her nose and wiping the remaining tears away, Lacey finally sat up with a wan smile.
“Damn,” she sniffed and hiccupped. “I really hate when that happens.”
“But you feel better. Don’t you?” Mac gave her an encouraging smile.
“Yeah,” Lacey conceded with a nod. “I do. I always feel a little better after…” She shrugged. “Thank you.” Then she saw the big wet spot on the front of Mac’s outfit. “Damn, not again.”
Mac looked down with a chuckle. “Lacey Stephens-Papadopoulos strikes again.”
Lacey tried to dry the spot with some tissues. “You can’t go walking around with a big wet spot on the front of your costume, Chief. Why don’t you go back to the house and ask Carrie for another of Ben’s shirts?”
“And leave you out here alone? Not a chance,” Mac hugged Lacey to her. “I don’t care about my costume. Besides, it’ll dry soon enough. No worries. I’m more worried about you right now. These nightmares of yours seem to be getting more vivid and you are remembering a lot more than you were a few weeks ago. When’s your next appointment with Heather?”
“Next week,” Lacey replied.
“And you’re going to tell her about all this, right?”
“Yes,” Lacey sniffed again. “I can’t very well keep burdening you with all this shit.”
“No,” Mac sat up and pushed Lacey back enough so they were eye-to-eye. “This is not a burden, Lacey Justine. I am and will always be here for you, especially when the monsters and demons come to call. Don’t you ever forget that. Okay?”
“I…” Lacey put a palm against Mac’s cheek. “Okay. And just for the record, I love you, too. More today than ever.”
Mac smiled widely and cocked her head to one side slightly. “You’re not just saying that because we’re alone in your office with no one to bother us?” She then leaned forward and met soft, inviting lips in a gentle kiss.
Lacey wrapped her arms around Mac’s neck and their kiss deepened. Hands wandered enticingly until they were both breathless. It wasn’t long before Mac lifted Lacey into her arms and carryied her to one of the exam rooms where they continued where they left off.
The sun was just sinking behind the Grand Teton mountains and things were in full swing at the at the Flying BC Ranch. People were arriving from all over the greater Jackson Hole area to experience the fun and festivities. There was excitement and a slight chill in the autumn air as yet another wagonload of anxious revelers headed out to the Great Pumpkin Patch to find the perfect pumpkin. Kids climbed on and through the haybale pyramid, while everyone took a turn going through the haunted maze or at the various booths that were scattered throughout.
The aroma of BBQ, fresh hay and sweet cotton candy replaced the usual odor of horses and manure that usually permeated the ranch. Smoke from the three grills billowed up into a beautiful, clear-blue sky that was quickly darkening with the setting of the sun behind the mountains. There was also the eerie flash of light and strange sounds coming from the direction of the maze. And everyone was dressed up in costume in honor of Halloween. Not a single person who showed up did so without at least some form of costume. And if they did, Carrie was right there to greet them with a bandana and an inexpensive cowboy hat she had gotten a really good deal on from an online dealer.
Mac wandered around her section of the corn maze as fog from a machine hidden behind some stalks rolled around at her feet. The burlap hood with eye holes cut out of it she wore to hide her face was a little scratchy and so was the straw sticking out of her costume. She almost smiled at the memory of Carrie’s exasperation aimed at her for “losing” all the straw that Carrie had meticulously placed in the costume before Mac walked over to the clinic to check on Lacey. Their lovemaking had necessitated a complete removal of their clothing and it wasn’t until afterward that Mac noticed all the straw scattered on the tile floor around the bed. They had both laughed about that, until Lacey pointed out that Carrie would be fuming over it and Mac agreed.
Another persistent itch had Mac’s hair standing on end and it was all she could do not to reach beneath the burlap and scratch her face.
“Jesus H. Christ,” she muttered beneath the hood. “Whyever didn’t I just agree to be a damned witch? At least I wouldn’t have to wear this godforsaken thing.”
Another group of screaming kids came bounding around a turn in the maze and Mac turned in time to greet them with a loud moan. Two of the kids jumped back in fright, while the other two screamed and continued running past her. With the area around her eyes painted black, it was hard for anyone to see her eyes, which made the costume that much scarier. And Mac was enjoying playing up her role as the scary scarecrow.
The two kids who didn’t run and were standing there like scared little statues were both dressed up in costume. One was a princess and the other was the Incredible Hulk. Seeing the frightened looks on their faces, Mac decided to take pity on them.
“It’s okay, guys,” she removed her hat and hood so they could see her face. But the black around her eyes was still there. “I’m not really a scary scarecrow.”
Neither child spoke as they scooted around her and continued on their way with a few glances over their shoulders to make sure she wasn’t following them. Just then, two high school kids came bounding around the corner. Mac did her groan for them, but without the hood and hat on, she obviously didn’t scare them. They just laughed and continued on. Mac shrugged and scratched at the persistent itches on her cheek and nose.
“You really should put the mask back on, Papadopoulos. You’ll scare the kids with that face of yours.”
The familiar voice behind her made her spin around.
“Hey!” Mac smiled brightly and hugged the woman. “Well, if it isn’t the cavalry come to the rescue! How are you, stranger?”
“Good,” Dani Ellison stood there in one of Carrie’s token bandana and cowboy hat getups. “Really good. It’s great to be back. I missed this place a lot.”
Mac’s brow shot up as she looked the woman over. “Where’s Brenda?”
“Oh, she’s over visiting your better half, Stretch,” Dani said. “I said I would come find you and bring you to them. That is if you’re not too busy scaring the daylights out of the kids in here.”
Mac tossed the hood into her hat and tucked them under an arm. “I’m never too busy to catch up with old friends.” She wrapped her free arm around the shorter woman’s shoulders and steered them through the maze. “So, how’s life in…Where did you guys move to again?”
“Denver,” Dani replied. “Actually, we live in Golden.”
“Where the Coors factory is? Rocky Mountain…whatever they call it,” Mac added.
“Yeah. It’s a nice area and not too far away from Denver. We have a cabin near Lookout Mountain. That’s the place where Buffalo Bill Cody is supposed to be buried.”
“Huh,” Mac said. “Didn’t know that.”
“We didn’t either, until we decided to hike up there one day and found a museum up top. It’s pretty cool. Overlooks all of Denver. You can even see the Coors factory from up there.”
“Lace and I might just have to come for a visit, so you can show us all the sights.”
“That would be great. Bren works at one of the hospitals in Thornton. It’s a suburb just north of Denver. She’s been working a lot of crazy hours, lately. Doesn’t have a lot of time to do much.”
“And yet here you are.”
“Yeah. I put my foot down and told her we needed time away. Decided to come back here and visit friends and family. Halloween seemed to be the only time she had available, so here we are.”
“They don’t get a lot of action during Halloween?”
“They do,” Dani shrugged. “But they also work it so the doctors have at least one holiday off a year. Bren’s just happens to be this one.”
“Ah,” Mac nodded. “So what are you doing out there?”
“I got a job with the Forestry Service,” Dani replied. “Been clearing trails, keeping the fire lanes clear, giving tours and overseeing their search and rescue during my off hours. It’s been crazy busy.”
“Sounds like it.”
They reached the exit to the maze and stepped out into a crowd of parents waiting for their kids. There were red lights strung above their heads and a giant spider on the side of one of the ranch buildings that twinkled and blinked in orange and white. It’s web was dotted with baby spiders and a few insects that were “caught” there.
“I hate spiders, even when they’re fake,” Dani shuddered at the beady red eyes of the giant spider that seemed to be gazing at her.
“Ben and the boys made her,” Mac said. “They call her Melosa. Don’t ask me why. I think it has something to do with being a queen or something.”
They continued on toward the main drag, where the festivities were in full-swing. Kids and adults alike were dunking for apples. People walked by with caramel and candied apples, cotton candy and other food that made the mouth water. There were also cheers from the direction of the dunk tank where a large crowd was gathered.
“Your brother and sister inlaw went all out this year,” Dani commented, as they snaked through the crowd of witches, vampires, gouls, zombies, goblins and cowboys. “It seems way bigger than it was in years past.”
“It is,” Mac nodded to a few people she knew. “They decided to put up a website this year to see how many hits they could get and find out if there would be any more interest.”
“People had all kinds of suggestions,” Mac replied as she nearly ran into a pair of Tweedles who were short enough for her to miss. “You should see what some of the crazies came up with.”
“I can imagine.”
“Oh, there were some real doozies in there,” Mac chuckled. “One guy even suggested we set up a brothel with real prostitutes, like in the days of the Wild West.”
Dani snorted and rolled her eyes. “Pervert.”
“Ben and Carrie have been planning this thing for the past year,” Mac continued. “And I think it really came together pretty well. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.”
“Oh, yeah,” Dani nodded.
“Oh, yeah, what?” Brenda turned as the two women approached. She was wearing a bandana and hat that matched the ones Dani wore. “I see you found her.” Brenda stepped up and gave Mac a hug. “How’ya doin’, Stretch?”
“Good. You?” Mac returned the hug.
“Good,” Brenda Shubert replied. “I was just filling the gypsy in on all the poop. Not that she couldn’t just look into that crystal ball of hers and figure it out for herself.”
Lacey chuckled. “Yeah, I’m not really that good, there, Brenda.”
Despite her protests to the contrary, Lacey had finally agreed to Carrie’s insistence that her makeup be as gaudy as possible. She also wore a multi-colored scarf over her hair, which had been temporarily dyed black, in keeping with her costume. She had large hoop earrings in her ears and wore a low-cut peasant blouse, a skirt that had shimmering silver and gold dangling “coins” sewn into it that jingle-jangled everytime she moved, and a multi-colored shawl draped over her shoulders. She had so much jewelry on that her skirt wasn’t the only thing that jingle-jangled every time she moved.
“So, what was the name you guys finally settled on?” Mac leaned down to kiss her wife on the cheek. “Madame…”
“Camille,” Lacey frowned. “Madame Camille of Lower Romania, Seer of all and Mistress of Fortunes.” She rolled her eyes. “I think Carrie is taking this a little too far.” She waved her hands and all the rings she wore sparkled in the lights. “I can’t wait to get out of this crazy getup.”
Mac, who was staring at her wife’s plunging cleavage, looked up to find Lacey scowling at her. “Er…”
“Yeah, exactly,” Lacey pulled the shawl closed. “All the men around here are thinking the same thing you are. I’ve had more propositions tonight than I ever had while we were in the Desert.”
“Want me to stand here like a scarecrow and wait until they pounce, then scare the shit outta ‘em?” Mac grinned.
“You’re evil, you know that?”
“Not a bit,” Mac pulled Lacey to her feet and held her. “I’m insanely jealous and very much in love with my beautiful wife.”
“Oh, please get a room, you two,” Dani rolled her eyes and turned away from the couple.
“Yeah,” Brenda did the same. “You’d think they were newlyweds with all that mooning they’re doing.”
“You should have seen us earlier,” Mac smirked.
“Yeah, a full moon has nothing on that gorgeous ass of my wife’s,” Lacey added, checking the hind-end in question out as Brenda and Dani turned back around. “It is a fine piece of…” Mac slapped a hand over Lacey’s mouth, which earned her an evil glare.
“What my lovely wife is so eloquently trying to say is…”
“You are so dead, Chief,” Lacey managed to pry the hand off her mouth. “Just wait til we get home.”
Mac’s eyes widened and she swallowed hard. Both Dani and Brenda burst out laughing, until they noticed Lacey’s glare was turned on them.
“Er…do you…” Brenda motioned over her shoulder.
“Yeah, I think we should—you know,” Dani nodded emphatically. “We’ll see you guys later.”
Then they both hurried away and disappeared into the crowd.
“Nice,” Lacey turned her glare back on Mac.
“You’re the one who scared ‘em away, sweetheart,” Mac took Lacey into her arms and pecked her on the lips. “And with all that makeup you’re wearing, who could blame them?”
“Thank your sister inlaw for all this makeup,” Lacey said. “I can’t believe she made me look like freakin’ Tammy Faye Baker.”
“I see the resemblance,” Mac snickered and earned a slap on the arm. “Ow!”
“That so did not hurt and you know it,” Lacey watched a pout appear on her wife’s face. “And don’t think that look gets you out of your punishment later on.”
A grin of anticipation instantly replaced the pout. “Really?” She then looked pointedly at Lacey’s cleavage. “Can I…”
“No,” Lacey slapped Mac’s hand away, which earned her another pout. “Oh, give me a break.”
Mac’s lip jutted out even further. “I promise to behave if…” She wiggled her lip a little more and batted her eyes.
Lacey rolled her eyes in exasperation. Neither woman heard a third individual’s approach.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my favorite rancher’s sister and…” Maria Sandoval’s tone dripped animosity. “I can’t quite figure out what to call you, chica.”
Mac stiffened instantly and turned toward the newcomer with a glare.
“Hello, Maria, long time no see,” she said in a flat tone. “New boyfriend keeping you busy on your back?”
Maria’s eyes narrowed. “Jeffe is twice the man you ever were, Mackenzie. He’s very big and strong and…”
Lacey snorted. “Considering she’s all woman. And I should know.”
Maria glared at Lacey, who just glared right back in open challenge. Maria was the first to break eye-contact. Her expression softened slightly as she looked at Mac.
“I miss you, Mackenzie,” she licked her full lips enticingly and placed a long fingernail against her lower lip. “We had some really good times together.”
Mac started toward the woman, but Lacey put a hand out and stopped her.
“Let me handle this, hon,” Lacey said, as she took several steps toward Marie and stood toe-to-toe with her. “It’s my understanding that you tried very hard to goad Mackenzie into sleeping with you. Am I right?” She didn’t get a response. “But the truth is, she married me. We love each other and the sex is a-mazing. It’s more than just amazing. It’s fantasmagorical. Now, I’m sure you have been wetting yourself with fantasies of sleeping with my wife for months. But that’s just never going to happen. She’s mine and I don’t share. With anyone.” A snicker from behind her put a smile on Lacey’s face. “So, why don’t you just turn that overpriced breast enhancement and that bubble butt of yours right around and walk back to your boyfriend, before I decide to kick you while you’re down. Okay? Chica?”
Lacey then turned her back on the woman with a smug grin as she started walking back toward Mac, who was standing there with a wide grin of pride. Before Lacey could take two steps, however, Maria jumped her from behind and took her down hard to the ground. Mac didn’t even have time to react as Lacey reacted violently to the attack. A fist went flying, but Maria grabbed hold of Lacey’s wrist and held it in a death grip. She wasn’t ready to give up and Lacey wasn’t, either.
“Punta bitch!” Maria hissed, as she made a grab for Lacey’s other hand and missed.
The fist connected with Maria jaw and the woman got knocked to the side. It was Lacey’s turn to pounce and she did just that. With a feral shriek, she jumped on top of the woman and started beating on her like a woman possessed.
That’s when Mac decided it was time to intervene. She reached down and made to grab Lacey under the arms, but Lacey was too far gone to be deterred so easily. Without knowing what she was doing and suddenly lost in a sea of confusing flashbacks that included an overwhelming wave of helplessness she felt when she was raped in the Desert, Lacey lashed out blindly. Mac didn’t see the fist coming and felt the world explode painfully when it connected with the side of her face. She actually saw stars as she fell backwards and they weren’t the ones high above in the cloudless night sky overhead.
While Lacey was distracted for that brief instant she turned on Mac, Maria seized the chance to turn the table on the wildcat straddling her. She pushed Lacey with all her might and watched in satisfaction as her adversary fell backwards and rolled onto her stomach. Maria then jumped on top of her, pulled her arms up behind her and held them there with one hand. She then held Lacey’s face against the dirt and leaned in close.
Neither woman noticed the large crowd that had gathered around them, nor did they notice when Ben arrived to pick his sister up off the ground.
“Hey! What’s going on here?” He shouted, as he steadied Mac and then noticed the two women on the ground. “Maria? What the hell are you doing here? I thought Carrie told you to never set foot on our property again!”
“We’ll deal with another time,” Maria hissed as shoved hard against Lacey’s head, causing her to wince in pain. She then jumped to her feet and pushed through the crowd without another word.
“Okay, folks, show’s over!” Ben said to the crowd, who quickly dispersed and went back to the festivities.
Mac, in the meantime, gingerly knelt next to Lacey, who was still lying face-down on the ground.
“Hey,” Mac tentatively reached out to her wife, who was panting with her eyes closed. “Lace?”
“Give me a second,” came the mumbled response. “Think I’m gonna throw up.”
Quickly realizing the worst of it was over, Mac carefully helped Lacey to sit up. She then held her close as the episode slowly subsided and Lacey’s breathing returned to normal.
“What the heck happened?” Ben squatted to be on a level with the two women. “Why were the two of you fighting here in the middle of everything and everyone?”
“It was my fault,” Mac said.
“No, it wasn’t,” Lacey countered. “I lost my temper when that bi—er, woman jumped me from behind.”
Just then, Carrie came running in her clown costume. She stopped and stared at the two women on the ground for a moment, noting their disheveled appearance and the bruise forming on the side of Mac’s face.
“What in the world?” She turned to her husband, who merely shrugged. “Would someone please tell me what’s going on here? Margaret Shuster just came over and interrupted the pie-eating contest to say there was a catfight going on over here.”
Mac helped Lacey to her feet and they both just stood there getting their bearings in each other’s arms for a moment. Lacey’s blouse was torn down the front, revealing the lacy satin bra underneath. She had lost the scarf on her head when Maria jumped her and one of her ears was bleeding where a hoop had been torn free. Her makeup wasn’t any better, either.
“Did I do that?” Lacey gingerly touched the side of Mac’s face. “Oh, Mackenzie. I’m so sorry.”
Mac shrugged. “It’s okay. I know better than to try and stop you when you’re having one of your episodes.”
“Would someone please tell me what’s going on?” Carrie piped in.
“Come on, hon,” Ben put an arm around her shoulders and steered her away from the two women. “I’ll explain it to you while we get you back to your pie-eating contest.”
They walked away, leaving Mac and Lacey in as much privacy as they could get with all those people around.
“You want me to take you home?” Mac asked, as she fingered the tear in Lacey’s blouse. “I don’t think Carrie or Ben would be too disappointed if we went on home for the night. They have enough going on here to keep everyone busy until well past midnight.”
Lacey nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that. We can put some ice on that cheek of yours, so it doesn’t swell too much.”
“And I can take care of your ear. It’s bleeding pretty good, there,” Mac added. “Looks like she ripped the earring right out.”
“Yeah, I think she did,” Lacey touched the lobe in question and winced. “Ouch. Stings.”
“Come on,” Mac put an arm around Lacey’s shoulders and steered her toward the mass of parked vehicles. “Damned glad we got here so early or we’d be walking back to our place.”
“Yeah,” Lacey let her head rest against Mac’s shoulder. “I can’t believe that bitch showed up to ruin a perfectly good evening. I really wanted to do the bobbing for apples and wash some of this makeup off. See Carrie’s reaction when she sees me without all this crap on my face.”
“I think she was just getting revenge for your suggestion that she wear full makeup to match that clown outfit of hers,” Mac chuckled as they neared the truck. “And the boys weren’t much help, either.”
“Yeah,” Lacey grinned as she made her way to the passenger side and climbed in. “Digger was all excited to see his mother in full makeup—until he actually saw her. Scared the crap out of him.”
“He’s not a big fan of clowns,” Mac said as she climbed behind the wheel and started the pickup. “Never has liked them. Ben says it’s because the circus came to Jackson once and some jackass dressed in a clown outfit put his face right in DJ’s face as a baby. Poor little guy screamed for a good twenty minutes and hasn’t liked clowns ever since.”
“I’m not a fan of them, either,” Lacey scooted over until she could lay her head against Mac’s shoulder. “They creep me out. You never know what the person underneath all that makeup is really thinking.” She shuddered. “Now I’ll probably have a nightmare about stupid clowns.”
“No worries, Doc,” Mac wrapped an arm around Lacey’s shoulders as she maneuvered the truck through the sea of vehicles that were parked all over the place. “I’ll be right there to hold you when the scary clowns come to visit.”
“Thanks,” Lacey replied with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm.
Mac just kissed the top of Lacey’s head as she steered the truck onto the private dirt road that led to their home. It was pitch-dark and the headlights only illuminated about twenty feet ahead of them. There were still small patches of snow within the trees that hadn’t yet melted. The snow sparkled like jewels in the soft glow of the headlights. There were also a few wary creatures whose eyes shone yellow and green in the glow of the light. None of them ventured onto the road, however. They kept to the safety of the tall pine trees and undergrowth beyond.
“Do you think Mindy missed us much?” Lacey commented, as they pulled into the garage and heard the distinctive yelp of a certain canine.
“What do you think?” Mac released her hold on her wife and climbed out. “We’re coming, Minders!” She called loudly, as Lacey joined her and they walked up the steps to the house that was once a smaller cabin.
They were waiting until the following spring for the builders to add a second-story loft onto the additions they had already made. The living room was twice the size it was before and the fireplace was changed from wood burning to gas. It was faster to get going and provided more heat during the winter. Not to mention they didn’t have all the ash to clean out anymore.
The kitchen had also been redesigned. There was a center island, skylights and the refrigerator was twice the size of the old one. They also had an upright freezer out in the garage for all the meat her brother provided. The deck on the back had been expanded and a built-in grill now resided there permanently. Mac discovered that she quite enjoyed grilling steaks, burgers and a few other items. She was learning quickly, especially with tips and suggestions from the guys at the bunkhouse and the cookbooks Lacey gave her for her birthday.
They stepped into their dark entryway—another addition—and were met by a stub-wagging, excited Mindy. The Australian Shepherd rubbed against both their legs in her excitement to see them.
“Hey, girl,” Mac squatted to be on a level with the dog. She scratched Mindy’s cheeks and behind her ears before standing back up. “Did you miss us?”
“I think so,” Lacey said as she flipped on the lights in the kitchen and found a gnarled dog bone in the middle of the floor. “I also think she needs a new bone. This one’s looking pretty gross.”
“I’ll let Ben know,” Mac stepped up behind her wife and gave her a hug from behind. “Now, Dr. Stephens, shall we do something about this ear of yours?” She turned Lacey around to face her and examined the lobe more closely, then hissed. “Looks like she ripped the hole clean through. You won’t be wearing earrings anytime soon, hon.”
“I don’t wear them all that often, anyway,” Lacey winced.
Mac went to a cupboard above the sink and pulled down some anticeptic and a bandaid. “Physician heal thyself? Or would you rather I did it?”
Lacey pulled her hair back. “Be my guest, Dr. Papadopoulos.”
Mac quickly cleaned the lobe with a tissue and some warm water, then applied the anticeptic ointment and the bandaid.
“There, all better,” she straightened. “But if I see that little bitch around town anytime soon…”
Lacey reached up and pulled Mac down for a closer look at her cheek.
“She’ll probably steer clear of you for fear you’ll come after her,” she said, as she gently prodded the skin around the bruise.
Mac winced and sucked in a breath. “Do you have to do that, Doc? It kinda hurts.”
“Doctor knows best,” Lacey went to the refrigerator and pulled out a raw steak.
Mac eyed the steak warily. “You didn’t say anything about a barbeque. And it’s a little chilly and dark out there right now to be firing up the grill. I’d much rather sit in front of the fire in here and cuddle.”
“It’s for your bruise, silly,” Lacey handed the steak over to Mac and went to their bedroom. “I’m gonna take a hot shower and get all this dye out of my hair.” She peeked around the corner. “Wanna join me?”
Lacey then held the shawl out at arm’s length and dropped it on the floor. Mac stood there for a moment with her mouth hanging open, as the blouse quickly followed.
“You don’t have to ask me twice,” Mac hurried into the bedroom and shed her clothing on her way to the bathroom.
Lacey was already inside the corner shower and steam was billowing up to the ceiling.
“How hot do you have that water, anyway,” Mac said as she opened the glass door and stepped inside. “Holy shit!”
“Mmmmm,” Lacey stood right under the shower head. Black dye ran down the drain as she let the hot water rain down on her.
“Oo, I like,” Mac stepped in front of Lacey and pressed her body to Lacey’s.
Lacey opened her eyes and saw where Mac’s gaze was fixed. “Do they meet with your approval?”
Mac grinned. “Always.”
She then leaned forward and delved right into the wet exposed flesh in front of her with hungry lips. The water poured over them both and they became lost in each other as soap was exchanged and flesh met flesh.
“We need to take this to our bed,” Mac suggested as she pressed her body against Lacey’s. “I don’t think the water is the only thing making us wet.”
“Mmm,” Lacey leaned back against her wife and savored the moment. She ran her hands down Mac’s sides and hips, following the streams of water that ran over her wife’s body. “Really enjoying this.”
“Me, too,” Mac let her lips trail kisses down Lacey’s neck and shoulder as her hands caressed the twin mounds of flesh in front of her. “God, you’re so beautiful.”
Lacey’s hand delved further and found the wet curls. She slipped a finger into the wet folds and was rewarded with a gasp. Then Mac’s mouth met hers in a crushing kiss full of such passion and expectation that Lacey felt her legs go weak with wanting.
“We need to take this to our bed,” Lacey said breathlessly.
“Good idea,” Mac grinned, as she shut off the water, grabbed their towels and quickly dried herself off. “Yeouch!” She exclaimed as she was pinch on the backside. “Watch it, woman. Paybacks are a bitch.”
Lacey smirked. “And so am I.” She then sauntered to the bed, pulled back the covers and slid between the chilly sheets. “Brrr.”
Mac stood there with her hands on her hips. “Oh, now I suppose you want me to join you and warm up the bed for you?”
Lacey pulled back the covers and rested her hand on her bare hip while she propped her head up with her other hand.
“Or you could just stand there and freeze.” She then licked her lips seductively and slid her hand up her hip, along her side and to her breast. She continued to gaze at Mac as she ran a thumb over her nipple and brought it to stiff attention. She then licked a finger and ran it down between her breasts.
Mac literally sprang into action. She quickly flipped the lights off and jumped into bed without further incentive.
“Holy crap!” She exclaimed as Lacey ran a foot up her leg. “Your feet are like ice. What the hell?”
Lacey didn’t answer. Instead, she wrapped her arms around Mac and pressed her body against Mac’s. Just as she was about to run her lips along Mac’s collar bone, however, a phone rang out in the living room.
“Shit!” Lacey exclaimed as she rolled onto her back. “I think that’s for you.”
Mac pushed her face into her pillow and groaned. “Who the hell is calling at…” She looked up at the clock on Lacey’s side of the bed. “Oh, it’s only seven-thirty.”
“Why don’t you get the phone before whoever that is comes here in person and destroys this moment completely? I really don’t think I could handle an invasion right about now.” She shifted to her side, tucked her arm beneath her head and gave Mac a get-going-now look.
“Yes’m,” Mac climbed out of bed, padded buck naked to the living room and answered the phone.
She then returned to the room, climbed into bed and ran her foot along Lacey’s thigh with an evil grin.
“Yeow!” Lacey nearly jumped straight out of bed. “What the fuck was that for?”
Mac chuckled. “Paybacks, Doc. Told you they’re a real bitch.”
Lacey launched herself at Mac and climbed on top of her. “And I said I was the bitch.”
Pressing her lips against Mac’s, Lacey was rewarded when a wet tongue met her halfway. The kiss deepened and grew more heated. Soon they were both too overcome with mutual passion and need to trade words and it wasn’t long after that that their mutual cries of release brought a small whimper from the living room.
They fell into a dreamless sleep in each other’s arms and the rest of the night passed without incident. There were no nightmares and the ghosts and gouls left them alone in their private hideaway. Mindy didn’t even bother them once during the night.
When the sun rose the next morning and bathed the countryside in its warm, golden light, neither woman moved. Their bodies were still tangled together in their warm cocoon.
“Mornin’,” Mac’s voice was still hoarse from sleep, as she watched sleepy eyelids slowly flutter open.
“Mmmmornin’,” Lacey snuggled closer and rested her ear against Mac’s chest. “’S early.”
“It’s nearly noon,” Mac said after a quick glance at the clock.
“And it’s Saturday,” Lacey muttered. “Go back to sleep.”
“Can’t,” Mac gently rubbed circles up and down Lacey’s bare back. “I’m wide awake now.”
Mac felt lips nibble at the hollow of her throat and work their way lower.
“You sure you’re not awake?” She felt her whole body come alive.
“Positive,” Lacey replied, as she latched onto a taut nipple. “’S too much like the dream I was having.”
Mac brow shot up. “Dream?”
“Yeah,” Lacey suckled the breast beneath her lips. “Wonderful dream and you were in it.”
Mac pulled back with a groan as Lacey’s lips suddenly left her breast. She stared down at the woman who was frowning at her.
“You had a dream? Not a nightmare?”
“Really, Chief? You want to discuss this right now?”
Mac smiled. “Well, no, but…”
Those luscious lips found her breast again and all thoughts of dreams, nightmares, deserts, fathers and Halloween just melted away in a sea of bliss. And then they were both riding on warm waves of passion as their bodies came together and the world just fell away.
The ghosts of the past were laid to rest—completely forgotten in the love between them that burned like an eternal flame—and the future looked as bright and promising as the rays of sunlight that streamed through the blinds overhead. Two passionate souls chased the demons away and love really did conquer all.
(or is it?)
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