A White Cat For Christmas by Cherime MacFarlane

Busy in the kitchen when the phone rang, I almost let it go to voice mail because my hands were full of bread dough. Some instinct caused me to grab it, thank heaven.

"Mom, where are you? You should be home from work by now."
A White Cat For Christmas
A White Cat For Christmas by Cherime MacFarlane
"Lisa! Honey, are you at the house? When did you get in? I thought you weren't due for a couple of days, but you're early!" "I got a chance to fly home sooner and thought I'd surprise you. I wanted to fly down with you to meet Niky in Seattle. But where is Bo? Nothing happened to him that you're not telling me?" "Bo's fine. Nothing's wrong." Everything's right, but I wanted to surprise you. The thought flitted past as I scrambled for the right way to handle this. First, I need to get my dear daughter where I can break the news in person. How to get her here without lying posed a problem. "Look, Honey, let me give you the address. Come on over, I can't wait to see you! I'm in the middle of something and can't break away right now. I'm about to put bread in the oven. It should be ready in forty-five minutes." "Mom?" Good grief! I heard me come out of my daughter's mouth. The 'what are you trying to put over on me' question sounded clear as a bell. "The oven is hot. The timer just went off, and I must get the pans in before the bread rises too much. Take this down. When you get here, park over to the side in front of the motor home. Can't wait to see you, hurry." After giving her directions, I broke the connection. As soon as I got the bread into the oven, I wiped my hands on a towel and reached for the phone again. I told the thing to call Mike, mobile, and waited for him to answer. "What's up Honey-chile?" "Lisa's back. She's at the house and on her way over. I wanted to warn you that a strange car will be parked in front of the motor-home when you get here. No going into stalk mode." "She's early." "Yes. And I'm nervous. How is she going to take this? I should have told her something." "Slow down, Ange. Take a deep breath. If she's anything like her mom, there will be some hard questions, but she loves you, and it's going to be fine." "Yeah, yeah. Just get on home. No delaying because you don't want to get in the middle of a 'family thing'." A deep luscious chuckle bounced around inside of me. The man should be illegal. "On my way, Ange. I'll leave the gun in the safe in the garage." By now I'm so used to him carrying a concealed weapon, I didn't give it a second thought. "Good idea. That's one of the things I love about you; you're like a hound dog, smarter than you look." His laughter eased some of the nervousness skittering around inside. "One of these days, Ange, you'll give me an actual compliment, and I'm gonna fall over from shock. Don't worry, Baby. It'll be okay. On the way." I knew it would be fine because we were together now. It was a shame it had taken so many years to find each other, but so wonderful that we did. I was a grown woman, so what if I lived with a man? Maybe I should ask Lisa what she had been doing over in Europe all winter? That might give her something else to think about. I had planned to meet the kids in Seattle. Mike scheduled a whole week off, and we had reservations at a very swank hotel in Washington State. Of course, it had a gym, the one thing he wouldn't compromise on. I understood why. His business demands he stay in top shape. It can be dangerous. Our plan was for me to meet the kids at the airport. After giving them the news that their mother had a live-in lover, we would have dinner somewhere upscale and the kids could all get acquainted with him. I should have known better. Lisa was always the impulsive one. Expect the unexpected was the watch word with that girl. The child kept me on my toes for years. Never a bad child, the girl got into stuff, she had to experience things. Case on point, dashing off to backpack around Europe in the winter. My oldest child isn't afraid of anything. Fearless, she broke an arm and sprained her ankles countless times. I cannot count the number of stitches that have graced her body, and I should have purchased stock in a gauze and tape company the day the child began walking. Niky didn't frighten easily either. The primary difference between the two was in execution. My son always took that half second to assess the situation before he dove in. Where Lisa possessed brains, Niky ranked as a certified genius. Lisa and I are in awe of his ability to think. A year younger than his sister, he finished college before she did. Both children had scholarships, and they each worked the whole time they went to school. As they grew up, I worked nights, caught a few hours' sleep, then lessons took place. I home-schooled them because the land we lived on sat too far off the road to catch the bus. I didn't want my babies walking home by themselves. Moose are a real threat on our driveway. My narrow access road is a mile off the street that cuts back into the hills. Someone designated the tract a subdivision many years ago, but never developed it due to a lot of swamp. We have always lived out in the hinterlands. Even though they were home alone at night, I wasn't far. The pay at the gas station and combination quick store wasn't the best. But once the land got paid off, and all I had to find were land taxes, utilities, and food, it was sufficient. And we had all day together. As soon as their lessons got completed, we did other things. We went fishing and camped out a lot. There are lots of trails to hike in the summer. And we went cross country skiing in the winter. A friend down the road had two kids we took with us on some of our weekend jaunts. The library was the highlight of our week. All of us read everything we could get our hands on. Books littered every flat surface in the house. Once the kids were in college, I moved to the day shift. I still worked at the same old job. The store was only ten miles from my place, and easy to get to in winter. This area has grown up enough that the business could support a raise now and again. This last Christmas was the turning point in my life. When I saw that kitten, so tiny and all alone, my heart wouldn't allow me to forget the poor little thing. It led me to try to rescue the little kitten, And that brought me to Mike. A wave of wonder at my good fortune swept through me. He was right, everything would be okay. The children I raised were good solid people. I knew they would want me to be happy. When the doorbell rang, I went to answer it with most of my nerves under control. My kids love me. Questions would come, but I had answers. The dog barked uncontrollably; Bo jumped up and down and his tail thrashed. He knew who waited on the other side of the door. As soon as I opened it, the dog hit Lisa hard enough to knock her off the small porch. I grabbed her hand, and pulled her inside, dog and all. We got Bo under control and the door shut. I took hold of his collar and forced him to sit. Lisa knelt to give him a big hug. While holding on to the dog, she glanced up at me and arched one eyebrow. "This is some place, Mom. How about you tell me what's going on here?" She stood, snapped her fingers and Bo, who had got up on all fours, sat. Lisa looked around the entry way and shook her head. About that time, Vixen came over to see what Bo was making such a fuss about. The beautiful white kitten rubbed against my leg and looked up at Lisa with her odd colored eyes. One eye was green and the other blue. Research told me that was a good thing because white cats were often deaf unless they had different colored eyes. Vixie wasn't deaf. "Oh, my. Aren't you just the prettiest thing!" Squatting down, Lisa reached out to let the kitten smell her fingers. With a stretch, Vixen turned and placed her front paws on my leg with a mew. She isn't terribly vocal unless angry. Nor was she loud. But Vixie made her wants known and expected things to be handled in a reasonable amount of time. My cat is spoiled. I knew she wanted up. When I reached down and picked her up, she cuddled her head against my throat. Her message to the newcomer came through just fine, 'this is my human'. I opened the closet door for Lisa so she could hang her jacket. That done, I led the way into the living room and around the corner to the kitchen. Taking up a position in front of the sink, I turned to watch my oldest child gradually make her way into the big room. Her eyes took in everything slowly. "Jeeze Louise!" She murmured before looking at me. Her gaze took in the stainless appliances and the granite counter tops. "Okay, what gives? What in the world is going on here?" "It's all her fault." I stroked the kitten, and she gave a loud rumbling purr. "What do you mean by that? How is your being here the kittens doing?" "She's my Christmas Cat, my Christmas present from Mike." "Mother! Who in the hell is Mike?" Lisa's voice rose, she was fast becoming exasperated with me and my obtuse answers. But, hallelujah, the cavalry arrived. "That would be me, Hamilton Michael Reston, Mike. And you must be Lisa." I stuck my hand out toward Angie's daughter. As soon as I got the phone call from Ange, I knew the business was closed for the balance of the day. As much as she tried to conceal it, Angie was nervous; I heard the tiny little tremor in her voice. She and the kids had been a unit against the world for a long time. Since she home-schooled them, they spent more time together than most parents do with their children. They might be grown and out of the house, but that didn't mean they wouldn't have something to say about the two of us living together. I had hoped to get this done all at once with both her son and daughter in the same place. Ange described Lisa, and as I thought about it, we should have expected the girl to turn up early. From what I understood, Lisa was the most volatile of the two. It might not be so bad this way. No matter, the dice were rolling, time to deal with it all. I had been on my way to Anchorage. I called my client next and advised them the paperwork would get picked up tomorrow before noon. Several calls later, I had rearranged my schedule to give me a clear block of time this afternoon. While on the phone, I made reservations at the local family restaurant. I didn't want Angie to worry about cooking. If they decided not to eat out, we could always order pizza. I wanted to be ready for anything. It needed to be as easy as possible for my girl. The less stress the better. Lisa shook my hand as she took me in. The young woman shot a quick glance Angie's way before looking back at me. "This is your place?" Lisa pulled her hand from mine. "Yes, it is," I responded. The girl folded both arms across her chest. "Bet if I took a look, all Mom's clothes that aren't at home are hanging in your closet." It was part observation and part accusation. I laughed. "You planning on being an investigator?" She eyed me for a moment before replying. "Of a sort. How about we stick to the subject? You," Lisa turned to Angie. "Moved into this man's house. Exactly who is he, and I don't mean just his name, and how long has this been going on?" Ange buried her face in the cat's soft, white fur. Both of us turned to watch her. The woman broke into a giggle. Later, I intended to ask what was going through her mind at that moment. Lisa looked at her mother with a horrified expression. Giggling was something I almost never heard out of Ange. Whatever it was, it must have tickled her funny bone good. I chuckled. The time had come to get it over with and come clean. Angie spoke first. "Lisa, I've been living here since New Year's Day. All my clothing is in the master bedroom closet, and that's where it's staying until he tosses me out." "Mother!" Lisa hissed out through her teeth. "What in the hell have you done?" I slid past the girl and put one arm around Ange. As I kissed the top of her head, the cat slithered out of Ange's arms and reached for me. With a grin, I responded to Lisa. "You don't need to worry about it. I'm keeping her; her, the cat and the dog. Why don't we get something to drink and sit down on the couch? We'll tell you all about it." Then I stroked the kitten who purred in my ear. "It's all the cats fault. Come on, let's get comfortable." At 10 degrees below zero, no animal should be without shelter. I glimpsed the little kitten on the way to work. When my shift ended, I wanted to rescue the kitty. That evening it was time to give it a shot. Armed with a couple of pop top cans of cat food and the old blanket out of the car, I got into 'hunt down the kitten' mode. The poor little thing, what I had seen of it, appeared white. Or at least, the animal probably would be after a good bath. The scrawny thing hung around an old shack. I drove by the place all the time. A house sat on the property, located well back on the land and away from the road. The shack appeared to have been a garage at one time. I wondered what kept the old building from collapsing in a heap. One side leaned toward the driveway. I thought if we got a heavy snowfall before Christmas, the roof would probably cave in. The weatherman had predicted a major dump of snow in a day or so. If the kitten happened to be inside when the thing collapsed, it might be crushed. In three days, it would be Christmas. I prayed it would be possible to corral the baby that evening. If not, I intended to try again early in the morning. Was there only one kitten? Were there others? I hadn't seen a Momma cat, was Momma there too? All those thoughts went through my mind as I got out of the parked car. Huddled in my thick winter coat, I popped the top on a can of cat food and walked around the building. No one had been on that side of the monstrosity since snow fall. I had to carve a trail through calf-high drifts and was glad I kept a pair of boots in the car for emergencies. On the left side, I found a place where it looked like some animal regularly squeezed in and out underneath the foundation. I guessed the kitten hid out under the hovel. In south-central Alaska at this time of year, I go to work in the dark, and it is almost dark when I reach home. A small flashlight is a necessity, and there is one in my purse. But as dim as the light was when I turned it on, I needed fresh batteries. A kitten that small wouldn't be old enough to hunt, so I left the food. Since I saw nothing of the cat, I assumed I would return in the morning. In the meantime, I would make sure the poor little thing got something to eat. I hoped kitty would get to the food before the stuff froze in the can. Probably the animal ate snow for water. I hated to leave but had no choice. With the batteries in the flashlight dying and no other light source, I was through for the night. At home, setting the alarm ensured I would get up on time. Early in the morning, well before dawn, I got moving and prepared for phase two of Operation Rescue The Kitten. I put my lab-husky cross out to do his business. As he trotted around, sniffing his territory to make sure no interlopers had invaded his yard overnight, I got breakfast going. As soon as the coffee started perking, I opened the front door and called Bo. The pulley rattled down the wire as he dashed up. It was breakfast time, and he knew it. While he gobbled his food, I put together two scrambled eggs and made a cup of coffee. Not exactly sure when I would get home again, I got Bo out one more time, just in case. He would go back inside before I left. As cold as it was, I couldn't leave him out for an extended length of time. We didn't have a heated water bowl nor a warm enough dog house. I craned my head to the left to check on the timer. A quick look at the L.E.D. light at the end of the extension plugged into the box, reassured me that the block heater did its job. Then I hit the remote start button for the car to warm it up a little before I left. The big thermometer on the porch said the temperature still hovered at -10 degrees. It wasn't as cold as the weather man had predicted, thank goodness. And I hoped the poor little kitten would be cooperative. I hated leaving that cute baby under the dumb shack last night. It didn't understand the danger. Some home owners can get down right nasty about trespassing. If the owner of the place didn't get upset over my trying to capture the animal, it would make things easier. I didn't see a 'no trespassing' sign last night, not that I was looking for one. I had already decided to chance it. The kitten wouldn't make it if the temperature dropped any lower. If I ran afoul of the owner, the plan was to try to convince him it was in his best interest if I took the kitten. If an animal died under the garage, it would only bring scavengers to their property. Granted, it was a stretch, but I intended to use any argument I had. After filling the thermos with the last of the coffee, I blocked off the loft stair to keep the dog out of my bed. Bo insisted on sleeping on the couch when I wasn't looking. I chose to overlook that transgression. But that comfort loving animal was going to stay the hell out of my bed. I grabbed a pair of leather work gloves which I shoved in the pocket of my parka. After shrugging into the jacket, I picked up the cardboard box that held the canned food. It was time to head out. If I got everything in place before the sun came up, I might have a better chance to nab the kitten. The best possible scenario would be to catch the cat when it ventured out from under the building. If it were far enough away from the garage, I could place the box in front of the hole to block it off. I only needed a few minutes. If I could keep the kitten from scrambling back under the foundation, I might get a chance to scoop it up. In the trunk, I carry a little trenching shovel on the off chance I might have to dig my vehicle out of a snowbank. It's not large, but I hoped to use it to break down enough of the snow alongside the garage for a flat place to set up the camp stool. I needed a place to sit that put me above the snow. Another use for the shovel would be to block off the entrance to the hidey hole once the kitty got rescued. It would keep other animals out from under the old thing for a little while. Once packed snow freezes solid, it's hard to dig through. Daylight grazed the top of the mountains when I reached the corner lot. I parked my car on the street, got out and checked to make sure I wasn't too far into the lane. It seemed I had pulled far enough off the actual road to allow other vehicles to pass safely. A ticket for obstruction of traffic wouldn't help. Next, I opened the rear driver's side door and pulled a fresh can of food out the box. Walking along the edge of the road is always a dangerous slog in winter. Snow berms make it difficult to walk, and the possibility of being hit by other drivers is all too real. At least in daylight, they might spot a pedestrian, and not knock them into kingdom come. On reaching the drive, I turned into it with a sigh of relief. I approached the garage without making too much noise and started around to the other side of the old building. I had to kick the snow aside with my boots to widen the trail. Now I could see where I was going. Everything is easier in daylight. Half of the food I left beside the hole last night got eaten. But the rest froze solid in the can. That was okay. I planned to put the tin on the floorboard of the car right up under the heater. Once the food defrosted, the kitty could eat it later. I'm good at imitating cat speech. With the trenching shovel in one hand, in case I got lucky, I tried to lure the kitten out by making kitty noises. I can't chirp well, but I can make that, "here I am and I'm a friendly kitty," noise. When that didn't work, I figured it would be a long haul. I trudged back over to the car. After taking the little camp stool out of the trunk, I grabbed the box with the thermos inside and headed back to the garage. Downwind of the hole, I waited for a chance at the kitten. The sun warmed the side of the garage when a dirty little white head peeked out. One paw eased out, and the kitten sniffed the air. Poised to slam the shovel down across the opening as soon as the little thing got all the way out, a man yelled at me and the coffee went flying. "Lady! What the hell are you doing on my place?" The older model car parked out on the side of the road next to my driveway caught my attention as soon as I turned the corner toward home. Foot on the brake, I slowed down, and went into stalk mode. I'm a bounty hunter, skip tracer, and investigator. It doesn't do for my kind to be careless. The ones that are, don't survive long in this business. I've been shot at, bashed over the head, threatened by a little woman with a big knife, and had an old lady order me off her property with a scatter gun. After parking the truck on the side of the road, I reached for the binoculars in the bag behind the seat. The first thing I checked was the license plate. The letters and numbers hid behind a layer of caked snow. Where was the driver? I surveyed the area around the old garage and spotted a figure sitting on something close to the side of the building. It seemed I needed to investigate this. "Well, now," I muttered. A quick check of the rear-view mirror revealed no cars in the lane behind me. I backed into a driveway and turned around. There is another way to my place. Off the side street, there is a second driveway that gives me another entrance to the back yard and my secure storage. The side street cuts into this road about a mile from where I had parked. It loops around and comes back to the main road several miles behind me. If I drove in from the main road at the front of the house to the attached garage, I would expose myself to my uninvited visitor. Not happening. Instead, my quickly hatched plan was to use the side street. I drove back to the first turn and traveled the loop back to my place. First, I wanted the license plate number, and I intended to get it without being seen. I knew it could be done, but the operation would require a little subterfuge. My place sits on an acre and is on the corner. The lot is deeper than it is wide. I never cleared the fringe of trees and brush along the side street that feeds into the road. It might make it easier for someone to take a shot at me, but it makes it harder for people to see the house. Everything in life is a tradeoff. I passed the side entrance to the house and storage yard and parked on the side street. After sliding out of the truck, I shut the door without slamming it and walked around on the edge of the main road to a point closer to the vehicle. The binoculars gave me a good look at the front of the car, and the person on the other side of the building couldn't see me. The snow encrustation wasn't as thick on the front bumper. I took my cell phone out and entered the license plate number into a note. With the plate number I wanted, I turned around and walked back around the corner to my vehicle. After backing the truck up past the side entrance opening, I went in through the back way. Lots of other guys, some kids, and some who wish they were still kids, put exhausts on their vehicles designed to make a lot of noise. They think it makes the vehicle bad-assed because you can hear them coming miles down the road. My truck is as quiet as I can make it. In my line of work, broadcasting your presence is asking to get hurt. I've got a hook up in the back yard where the storage shed is for just such contingencies as this one. I can plug my truck in back there if necessary, or a vehicle I'm holding in secure storage. This truck must be ready to roll at a moment's notice. I can't plug it in and wait around if I get a call out. With the Taurus Ultra Lite out of the shoulder holster, I approached the back door to the house with caution. All the lights on the enclosed panel beside the back entrance to the garage were a go. Once inside, I checked the security box. Everything still looked good. Whatever the person sitting next to the garage was up to, they hadn't tried to gain access to the house. First things first. Who owned the car? I wanted the name of the registered owner. I unzipped the parka the rest of the way and tossed it on the couch. There wasn't time to put it away. I wanted an answer and went straight to the office. While the computer booted up, I took a bottle of water out of the small fridge under the counter against the back wall. It's amazing how dry you can get in the middle of winter. It took longer for the computer to boot up than it did to run the plate, her plate. Angelina Jo Brown owned the car or, at least, was listed as the owner. The tags were current. Next question, does Ms. Brown live around here? I got the answer to my query in about the same time as it took to look up the plate. I'm good at this stuff. It's like hunting; only you're hunting for information. The saying that people are creatures of habit is correct. Even those trying to hide get into ruts that will give them away to anyone patient enough to wait for the mistake. They will make a mistake that's a given. I'm patient, and willing to keep making the rounds, checking every so often to see when the varmint's little head will pop up out of the hole. Fifteen minutes later I know where Ms. Brown lives. How long she has owned the place she lives in, and where it's located. She has two kids. The fishing license database gave me the information that both children are young adults. The only court records I could find on Angelina were for speeding tickets. A couple of them caused my eyebrows to raise. The little lady liked to drive the old clunker fast. I doubted I would need the pistol, but had no intention of being blindsided. After shrugging back into the parka, I went out the front door and walked toward the end of the drive. It was time to find out why Ms. Brown had picked today to fool around on my property. Curious as hell, in the back of my mind I doubted she had a vendetta against me. So, what on earth was the woman doing down there? A short time later as I walked away from the garage and my confrontation with Ms. Brown, I shook my head with a chuckle. She was trying to catch a feral cat. I wondered if she knew how futile that might turn out to be. But the woman had guts. I'm not a small man, and I tried a little intimidation on her. Ms. Brown didn't back down one inch in defense of her mission to save the animal. Inside the house, while trying to decide what to eat, I thought about Ms. Brown. She had a plan. She also had expressive hazel eyes and a full mouth. A poker face, not so much. Thank you was the least of what she wanted to throw at me in the way of epithets. For the sake of the little kitten, she swallowed her pride and said it. Ms. Brown called the old building an eyesore, and she was correct on that count. Eyesore is the right term. I had to admit it. The old shed outlived its usefulness about a decade ago. Nothing got done about its sorry state because I didn't have time. This business devours my time and running it on my own is a 24/7 proposition. When not in the field, I'm cooped up in the office, searching for people on the computer. Not having a life is getting to be a real pain. It had come to the point where my friends were meddling in my affairs. The last date I went on was a set up by a friend of mine and an unqualified disaster. As I turned away from the kitchen window, I hauled sandwich makings from the fridge. Now, I had a guy to run down. After concocting a ham and cheese sandwich, I went back into the office for a round of research. No rest for the self-employed. Miserable, loudmouthed man! The kitten retreated into the hole when everything went flying. "Damn! See what you did. Now the poor little thing is scared silly and -." He stepped around the corner of the garage and glared at me. "This is my property. What are you talking about?" Even allowing for the bulk of the parka, I could tell this was a big man. The hood was down on the jacket, and he had on a watch cap. His eyes were dark and his mouth a thin line as he stood, hands on hips, in the classic male domination pose. "I'm trying to catch the kitten you scared the life out of. I want to get it out from under there before it dies. I'm not doing one blessed thing to your fantastic property. And if this eyesore is any indication of how you take care of things, you do a piss-poor job." Intimidation tactics be damned. "Kitten? Where?" The enraged home owner's voice slipped into 'what the hell'. "I don't see a cat." "Of course not. After bellowing like a bull moose after a cow in heat, you scared the poor thing back under this piece of garbage you need to get rid of." I couldn't help myself. Out of sheer frustration, I stamped one foot into the snow, hard. At the same time I swung my boot forward. It caused a small squirt of snow to fly upward toward his mid-section. "Shit!" I mumbled. "Sorry! But I'm afraid the kitten will freeze if the temperature goes any lower. I'm trying to help the poor thing." With one gloved hand, he brushed the snow off his coat. "That a can of cat food?" he inquired, as he looked down at the hole. "Yes. It's too young to hunt. I don't know how the little thing survived until now. I think it's alone. There doesn't seem to be more than one animal using the hole." "And how are you going to catch a feral cat?" "Kitten, it's just a baby. If I can catch it, I'll take it home and get it straightened out." "You still haven't told me how you intend to capture the thing. Were you going to throw that over it?" his gloved hand motioned toward the box. "No." I picked up the trenching shovel and waved it at him. "I planned to use this to block the hole. The box was a last resort kind of thing. If it tried hard enough, it might get through the cardboard, but not through the shovel blade." I pulled the leather gloves out of my pocket and waved them at him. "These would have kept it from scratching me." "Yeah, probably so. The shovel is a good idea. I guess you thought this through well enough." Damn, but the man had an insulting way about him. Everything he said put my back up like an angry cat. I decided I wasn't sorry about getting junk on his parka by accident. "If you want to continue trying to catch it, you have my permission." Lord, did I ever want to tell him what he could do with his wonderful 'permission', but for a change, I shut my mouth. Instead, I folded my arms across my chest. Mouth closed in a thin line, those dark eyes gave me a silent once over. Then he chuckled. "Cat got your tongue? How about a 'thank you'?" I had a feeling he knew what I wanted to tell him and thank you sure as hell wasn't it. The glare changed to a twisted grin. What a pain in the ass. "Thank you." I got the words out as much as it chapped my behind to say them. The grin widened. "Well, good luck with the hunt." "I'm done for the day. I doubt the kitten will come back out again for a while. I'll leave the food and try again tomorrow. Will you tell your family I have permission to catch the kitty? I wouldn't want to be run off with a shotgun." He didn't respond to my request. Instead, he eyed me quizzically. "Tomorrow is the day before Christmas Eve. Don't you have things to get ready? People to be with?" With a shake of my head, I dismissed his question. "Not now, the kids are both Outside." "'Kay. And don't worry about anyone getting in your way again. It's just me up at the house. No problem." He turned away and took a step around the corner then leaned back again. "And the shotgun isn't loaded. Later." As I sat back down on the camp stool, I figured I might as well finish what little remained of the coffee before heading home. I was here, and the sun shone on the wall. Kitty might decide to come out and lie in the warmth. It felt like the temperature had come up a few degrees. I guessed it was somewhere around zero. Even in the brisk air, the rays of the sun felt good. This kind of day can be deceptive in Alaska. It can entice you into doing more than you should outside. I knew better than to get overheated. Sweat soaked clothing can cause hypothermia. You don't have to be under-dressed to get into trouble. Taking it easy, I enjoyed the day while sipping the last of the coffee. The owner of the property insinuated himself into my thoughts. I do not care for the me-man, you-woman, alpha male crap. However, there is a cadre of that kind living here. The 'Last Frontier' mentality is alive and well in Alaska. I've read my share of he-man romances that tend to depict men as men and women as stupid little twits. I try to avoid those kinds of stories as much as possible. Any woman who chooses this life is not a shrinking violet. Two women have come in first in the Iditarod dog race. For a while, there was a T-shirt circulating that said: "Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod". Those ladies were tough as they come, and not a one was less female for having run that race and won. I raised two kids by myself in this country. The man who decided he wanted to be a big tough Alaskan, became a shriveled, whiney brat after the first winter. He left, I stayed. It wasn't easy paying off the property by myself, but I got it done. All these years spent living in a cabin with two kids wasn't exactly a walk in the park either. But we had fun. That caused a smile to come to my lips. We sure had a good time. Our entertainment came from camping out, fishing and road trips when we couldn't think of anything else to do. I didn't bother to mention to Mr. Irate Homeowner that one kid was off on a grand tour of Europe. Yes, in the middle of winter no less, all by her lonely. The last I heard from her, Lisa was on her way to check out the Costa Brava in Spain. A little chuckle escaped me when I pictured people staring at my beautiful baby, all five feet of her, running around in shirt sleeves while everyone else froze. Her last letter had me laughing so hard; I cried. I would have loved to see her in a bikini in Brighton, England, when everyone else sat wrapped up in blankets. Niky, the baby of the family, her younger brother was doing just fine in basic training. He hoped to make it to Seattle for St. Patrick's Day. We planned to meet there and see the sights. He would go on to where ever the military told him to go, and Lisa and I would come back here. She planned to begin graduate work in the fall out of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It never ceases to amaze me how the land-locked UA, Fairbanks can manage the oceanographic program. That has always boggled my mind. Lisa intended to work in the program up there. A movement caught my eye. The kitten's little pink nose poked out of the hole. One white paw crept out, and just when I thought I might get another chance, a miserable raven squawked from the top of a nearby tree. The little thing darted back under the garage. I tossed down the last of the coffee and got ready to go. Today turned into a lost cause. Black wings flashing in the sun, the raven moved closer to the possibility of an easy meal. It wanted the cat food. There wasn't any way I could keep the bird from getting it short of building a cage around the can. Ravens have strong beaks. I have seen one peck a hole in the top of one of the thick plastic garbage cans to get to a tempting morsel. On one occasion, on our way back from Homer, they smelled the seaweed I wanted to bring home for fertilizer for the garden. The horrid things pecked holes in the garbage bags as we ate lunch at a fast-food joint in Soldotna. I had to chase the birds off with a towel from the back of the old crew-cab pickup. The kids thought the whole thing was funny as hell. They laughed while Mom screamed at the lousy ravens. The birds squawked in protest because I was holding out on them. In the end, we had to get in the truck and drive away to out run the things. Cold or not, this called for desperate measures. I took off my left glove, I needed my right hand to drive with, I grabbed the can and scooped up a good-sized lump of the food and shoved it into the hole. "Take that you little black bastard!" I shouted up at the raven. It would get the bulk of the can, but the kitten would have something to eat, anyway. With reluctance, I gathered up the camp stool and hung it on my left arm. I had to get to the car and wipe my hand off before the cat food froze on my fingers. I couldn't put the glove back on. I have a stash of restaurant napkins in a plastic bag in the back seat of the car. They come in handy for lots of things. Just this moment one allowed me to get my fingers clean enough so I could put the glove back on. It was time to get home. Bo would need out again. If I stayed gone too long, I had no bitch coming if he made a mess. When I'm home, the dog is worse than a kid, in, out, in, out. But I can’t say I mind too much, he's good company. When Lisa got back, we would fight over Bo. If she thought she got to take that dog off to Fairbanks, she had best think again. To my mind 'Mom, will you take care of Bo?' meant forever. I didn't plan on losing the argument; it wasn't an option. I hated to leave without giving it one more try but did so. Tomorrow morning, I would be back. God, did I hate leaving the poor little thing in that wretched situation. With a sigh, I started the car and drove home. I got out of the office and into the kitchen in time to see her walk out of the driveway. As I watched the woman, for a moment I wondered if I had made a big mistake in letting her stay. If she hurt herself, would she try to sue me? How much trouble would that get me in with the insurance company because I allowed her to try trapping the cat? Could a feral cat be termed an 'attractive nuisance'? I watched her as she walked off the property, I didn't see any stiffness about her movement. But it was good she left when she did because I considered going out there and telling her she had been in the cold too long. As bulked up as she looked when I first spoke to her, it seemed she had on winter gear. With one hand on the counter, I kept an eye on her to make sure she got the car started. Ms. Brown would be here tomorrow. I had no doubt. Down at the corner, the car made a U turn on the side street. When she drove past, Ms. Brown took another look at the old garage. She was really into this kitten thing. Hungry, I opened the fridge and glanced at the contents. Damn sad! Bread, lunch meat, mayo, mustard, and catsup made up the bulk of the meagre contents. A full six pack of beer shared beverage space with a bunch of bottled water. I didn't plan on opening the vegetable bins. Anything that might be in there may have morphed into a science experiment or started growing again. I've had a few things put out shoots from their tops when they sat long enough. One lousy ham and cheese sandwich didn't quell the hunger pangs. I'd spent a fair amount of time during the day traipsing around two deserted places looking for a guy to serve a summons on. Any real exertion in the cold gives you an appetite for protein and fat. I needed something to replace the calories I'd already burned off. Much as I didn't want to go out again, it looked like I needed to take a drive into town. A big, fat, greasy burger had my name all over it. It was a pain in the butt, because when I finished eating the thing, I would need to come home and spend at least an hour in the gym. I needed some real food in the house. Something worth eating in the cupboard or the fridge. A lean steak would be nice, but I didn't have time to sit around in a restaurant waiting for someone to cook one. Down, dirty and quick was a necessity. That meant a trip to the takeout line. The way my day went there was a fifty-fifty chance I would get a call out tonight, and I needed to be ready if it happened. I bypassed the beer and pulled a bottle of water out of the pack. One of these days I needed to hire a helper or retire. And retiring had begun to sound better as this marathon of working went on. I felt like a slave, and the hell of it was I enslaved myself. It might not be so bad if I had someone at home -. Where the hell did that come from? I wondered. Then my gaze strayed out to where she had parked the car. She and the car were gone, but I could picture the woman in my head. This was not a good thing. I was a free agent and didn't answer to a soul. Yepper, you're all alone in this big house. You might drop dead tomorrow, and it could be weeks before anyone missed you. Grand thought. Fantastic idea. Sometimes the things the human mind comes up with are just plain horrid. But that one had a grain of truth none the less, my errant brain pointed out. Which sucked big time. Christmas was smack dab in my face, and I didn't have anyone to share it with. No family, no kids, not even a dog. Even that kitten had someone, the woman trying real hard to rescue it. Wasn't I worthy of rescue? Good damn question. My ex would tell anyone who asked, 'no way.' Was I as bad as she claimed? I didn't see how any human could be as awful as the woman assured me I was before she split. I paid my bills, I didn't get drunk and beat on people for fun. I've never been in jail, ever. The extent of my lawlessness amounts to parking tickets, which I rack up like store receipts. As much time as I spent in the courthouse that was a given. If you found a parking spot, odds were the meter would run out before the judge quit talking. The urge to get that juicy burger fell flat on its face. A nasty little devil of insecurity accompanied by a case of the blues reared its ugly snout. I told myself all would vanish if I went out, found a willing partner and got laid. I stared at the keys on the counter, then glanced at the door to the garage. No, that wasn't the answer either. I was lonely, and a quick wham and bam wouldn't fix things this time. Angelina's worry over the kitten opened a door I'd kept closed for far too long. I wanted someone to care about what happened to me the way she cared about the kitten. The ache inside felt the size of Denali. If I couldn't find a way to fill this hole, it might take me out for good and all. Screw work. Beer thirty, it was time to shut off the phone and take a little time for me. The six pack might take the edge off. If nothing else that much beer would knock me out. I didn't want to think about any of this. If I wallowed in poor, pitiful me any longer, I would go out to some bar and get shit faced. That could cost me my license. I was better off to stay home and drink my ass into bed. Everything always looks better in the morning. It's not so much that shit is better, but sunlight has a way of cheering you up no matter what. The other thing different about this morning was a resolve to check up on Ms. Brown. I wanted to find out everything about her. Truthfully, I wanted to know if a man was hanging out on the fringes somewhere. Before she got back here, and I knew the woman would be back, I got up and got out of the house. I didn't bother to argue the legalities or the ethics of what I planned to do. I watched her turn onto the road from her driveway and gave her fifteen minutes to make sure she wasn't coming right back. Then I drove up to her house, got out of the truck, and looked around. A one-bedroom place, I guessed it had a loft. On peeking in a window, I discovered she owned a big dog. The animal being inside told me she cared about the critter. It was too cold for the dog to be outside, but that wouldn't matter to some individuals. Another old beater vehicle sat parked with its nose next to a shed. I knew who owned this one, her daughter, Lisa. Not a sign of a man around. The place had some years on it but looked to be well maintained. That was her doing; I was certain of it. Ms. Brown seemed to be available. So, what did I want to do about that? We hadn't got off on the best footing. But if I backtracked and took my time, maybe I could turn this thing around. I left her house and figured I'd go out for breakfast. I wanted to give her an opportunity to catch the kitten. An attack of guilt hit, and I reluctantly turned on the cell. After getting out of her driveway and down the road the phone pinged. Turning off the thing guaranteed me a quiet night. One I was about to pay for in spades. It seemed breakfast would be a quick trip to the drive through. I pulled off the road and went through the messages. Time to get into Anchorage. One of my clients was sitting on a service someone neglected to put into my box at the courthouse. That meant a quick trip to town to grab whatever it was. Half the day was shot already. Next morning went no better. Now the kitten seemed scared of its own shadow. I waited around until afternoon without even catching a glimpse. As I was packing up to leave, Mr. Big Man turned up again. I didn't want to interact with him at all, fearful of hearing how a dumb little kitten didn't matter in the big picture. That was judgmental; I'll admit it. If I had a dollar for every time a mighty hunter disparaged a cat, porcupine or a squirrel; I'd have a tidy nest egg. Some bastards go out of their way to hurt little creatures trying to scurry across the road. I break for animals; I can't help myself. It's possible one day someone might hit me while I dodged a slow-moving porky, but what the hell. I have full coverage on the car; I would get it repaired or get another one if it happened. But he surprised me and didn't come up with the 'who gives a shit' line I expected. "No luck, huh?" With the zipper on his parka half way up and unlaced boots, it looked like he jammed on his gear to come down and see what I was up to now. With a shake of my head, I acknowledged the truth of the matter. "A damn raven frightened it back inside yesterday, and I haven't seen a whisker all morning." "So, were you planning on taking it to a vet?" "Sure. After the holidays are over. I want time to clean it up and let it get used to my dog. Then I thought I would take it in and get it fixed, wormed and all that junk." "You'll cut the poor little bastard's balls off if it turns out to be a guy?" The man had a seriously bad mouth on him. "I plan to do the same if it's a boy or a girl cat. They live longer, and male cat piss stinks to high heaven. I don't intend to live with a spraying male animal." A huge laugh erupted out of him. The damn man grinned like a big ape when he stopped laughing. "Now that conjured up quite a picture in my head, lady. You gonna give it another try in the morning?" "Yes. I'm scheduled to go back to work on Monday, so the day after Christmas is the only day I have left if I can't make this work tomorrow." With a nod of his head, he picked up the camp stool and followed me back to the car. "I hope you have better luck in the morning. You might bag a cat for Christmas." In the car, I started it and rolled down the window. It felt like I was getting a headache. I rubbed my forehead with two fingers. "I'll be back a little before dawn." "Take it easy, you'll get him. You're too persistent to lose." He slapped the roof of the car with one hand. "Get some rest. Start fresh in the morning. The temperature should hold steady for the next couple of days. It'll work out." The man was trying to be nice. While driving away, I wondered how long he's been living in the big house all alone. He's a nice enough looking man, why isn't there a woman in attendance somewhere? That question intrigued me, I must admit. Which brought me around to what the man does for a living. Whatever it is, he sure doesn't advertise. Real tightly wound is the way I would describe him if asked. A little more relaxed this afternoon, he still gave off a whiff of 'don't ask'. I wondered if he might be gay. That is something to keep to one's self in this state, and might answer the question why there's no female around. He has no mailbox out front and no marker giving the address or even a name at the front of the driveway. He is one private man and that had every curious cell in my body itching to know more. On impulse, I drove around the side of his property that faces the side street. I slowed so I could get a good look. The cyclone fence in the back caught my eye. The thing had circles of barbed wire on top; this is serious security stuff. I also see how he sneaks past me onto the property. His big pickup is parked in the backyard up close to a post fitted with an enormous bank of electrical outlets. A person could plug in at least half a dozen cars back here. The fenced yard is large enough to hold a few motor homes and a boat or two along with several cars, but stood empty. Who in the hell is this man? What was I toying around the edges of? Whatever he does is none of my business. I'm not in a relationship with him. We are barely acquaintances, so there's nothing for me to get nervous about. All I'm trying to do is rescue a little kitten. Angelina! My let's-get-honest conscience poked a hole in all my justifications. Okay, the man is a serious hunk and I haven't been laid in a long time. What's that got to do with anything? And let's not forget that I am now the proud owner of an empty nest. The two kids who kept me busy and uninterested in local males are no longer guaranteed diversions. It occurred to me that the only company I have at home is a dog and real soon, one cat. With a sigh, I resigned myself to good books for who knows how long. I could breed animals and live vicariously through them. That is so not funny, not one damn bit. Something I haven't experienced in a long time is settling into my psyche, the blues. The house is clean; there's not much to do in the way of laundry. I don't have a reason to drag myself out of the house up to the only all-night laundromat in the valley. The twenty-four-hour grocery is open. But there's no need to go there simply to get out of the house. Why bother to waste gas and time when I can sit inside and be warm, lonely, and slightly depressed. All the time I've lived here, the lack of noise has been a blessing. Not this night. I need to get my hands on that kitten. The little thing would give me something to do. Asking for more hours at work isn't the answer. I'm aware of what the real solution is; I need a partner, someone to do things with and for. Did I do the wrong thing all those years ago when I didn't turn tail and leave with my ex? I thought about the strong, self-reliant children I raised and all the fun we had over the years. I'd been through this before; going back into the rat race of jockeying for position in the business world, and fighting with the school over what I wanted the kids to learn as opposed to what the system taught, had me shaking my head. The answer was no. I wasn't happy with that life before I came up here. After a taste of freedom, I wouldn't last half a year in the Lower 48 states. My kids can balance a checkbook, reconcile a bank statement and know how to budget. Each of them has a savings account and a healthy work ethic balanced with a love of nature and the outdoors. We knew how to play. I kept track of the local happenings at school and made sure things like dances and stuff included my kids. There were church groups and things that provided that needed interaction with other kids their own age. Not to mention, I made friends that way too. There were other parents in similar situations. Most chose the public-school system, a handful didn't. But there was no one special. In the quiet house, lying in bed, I contemplated what would happen if I didn't show up for work. How long would it take before someone sent the Troopers over for a welfare check? A day, maybe two? The isolation I had loved felt so empty. When I rounded the corner, Angie's car sat in the driveway. I wanted to stop and talk to her but didn't have time. That being the case, it might be better if she didn't see me at all. Somewhere inside that little voice nagged at me insisting I felt guilty over having checked her place out. I quashed it. If I investigated that thought, I might discover something I didn't want to delve too deep into. I chickened out, backed up and went the long way around. After parking the truck in the backyard, I plugged in the block heater. An outstanding repo operation might bear fruit. I hoped to get a chance at the vehicle soon. Alaska is funny about repo stuff. You can't take a vehicle unless you can get the grab done without moving something else. The vehicle, a late model Chevy, eluded me for the last month. The owner of the Chevy always parked in the driveway with an older model car right behind it. One of these days he would slip up. I suspected the older car belonged to a kid. That's how the registration looked. The guy must be hoping if he made it through to a Christmas bonus or something, he would catch up the payments. Unless his employer gave out a couple of thousand, it wouldn't work. Realistically, he couldn't pull this one out of the fire. I disliked nabbing the guy's ride at Christmas, but the debtor was too far in the hole, and his bank was having conniptions. The collection's manager made a few threats, hinting he could find someone else to do the job. My reply, 'have at it' shut him up for the time being. Repo is difficult at best in this state. You must put the item in secure storage on top of not being able to move another vehicle. Anyone who wants the job is welcome to it. The collection manager backed down when I suggested he might try it. The whole thing had me down. I thought about going somewhere else for the holidays, but short of traveling to a Buddhist country I doubted escape from Christmas was possible. Most Buddhist countries are hot as hell with a humidity factor that might cause cardiac arrest in an Alaskan. About that time the cell phone went off. The next-door neighbor I bribed to tell me when the guy made the mistake of parking out on the street, called. Time to get this show on the road. Then again, why? Do I want to listen to the guy whine about Christmas and how I should give him a break? And the wife and kiddies, do I want to see them crying their eyes out? I'd feel like a piece of dog shit and the only one getting any satisfaction would be the bank manager, the one with the shitty attitude. His bottom line would look marvie-wonderful for the end of the quarter while the rest of us would be in varying stages of misery. It flat wasn't worth the pain. I decided the jerk could do without crossing that one off the books for the end of the year. Every year I have open invites to two separate office parties. The more I considered my situation, the less I felt like working. My bills were all paid up until the end of January. I didn't have a reason to be working during the holidays. After a brief hesitation, I decided to check one of those parties out. That was a much more enjoyable use of my time. Screw the bank. Christmas Eve was the following day, I needed time off and made up my mind to take it. Hell, I couldn't think of one good reason to be working at all until after New Year's Day. My mind threw in that other word, alone. Okay, so I might spend a few days alone. I'd missed out on a ton of new movies during the year. I could spend time on the couch with microwave popcorn and catch up. I paid the satellite company big bucks for channels I hardly ever got to see. Several books sat on the end table. They looked like good ones when I picked them up back in the fall. One, I read through a whole chapter before falling asleep on the sofa, dead tired. I got back in the truck and roared out of the drive. On the road, I called the receptionist at the law office to let them know I intended to join the party. I've known all three of the attorneys' since they started out, struggling to make it, just like me. Both paralegals are nice. It should be enjoyable. The young receptionist told me they would meet at one of the fancier restaurants in town at about 11:00 am. The office party was a brunch affair. I agreed to join them at the restaurant. Grocery shopping sounded like a good way to kill a little time before the party. Instead of the usual heat and eat junk, I would get real food. Steak and crab legs sounded appetizing. So what if I had to cook? Anyone with half a brain can cook that stuff. I would treat myself to a Christmas feast. I checked out the pastry department. After vacillating between the slice of cheesecake and a whole one, I broke down and bought the entire thing. That's what gym equipment was for, removing all the fat after we put it on. I didn't have that much fat on the old bones, mostly because I'm always eating sandwiches. But I have breakfast down to a science. Microwave bacon and a small cheese omelet accompanied by copious amounts of coffee, and I'm good to go. Because I never know when I'll get home to eat, I try to get a reasonable breakfast. I also keep a bag of beef jerky in the truck. While touring the aisles attempting to see if anything else tickled my fancy, I happened on the pet department. I wondered if she would catch the kitten. Nose to nose with a bunch of kitty treats, I grabbed several bags of different flavors and tossed them in the cart. I wasn't sure why I did. Late in the afternoon, I made the turn and Angie's car still sat in the driveway. If the car was still there, she hadn't had any luck. Rather than go in the main drive, I took the back route. No use messing things up for her if she was still trying. After unloading the groceries, I caught sight of her getting up from her seat. She was giving up for the day. Too bad! I thought to myself while hurrying out the door and down the driveway. A can of cat food sat in the middle of the open space in front of the garage. One raven swooped down and pecked at it, hoping he missed something. I got the picture; the birds made things difficult for her. One glance at the woman's face told the story. Disappointment was in the droop of her lips and sad eyes. I tried to encourage her. It was a genuinely compassionate thing she was attempting to do. A twinge of sadness for her and the kitten hit me. Time to put the dog out. I opened the door and took a good look at the sky. Clouds were moving in. It seemed we would get more snow. The only good thing about it, the temperature came up to 15 degrees. After several days below zero, anything over that feels warm. I got something to eat, then left to deal with the kitten. The big guy was nowhere to be seen when I parked my car off to the side in his driveway. I noticed what appeared to be fresh tracks turning out onto the pavement and guessed he was up and out early. Bundled up, coffee thermos in hand, I went to sit in my usual spot. I hoped the kitten would get used to having me around. As soon as the sun came up, I opened a fresh can of cat food and placed it close to the edge of my camp stool. With a flutter of feathers that damn opportunistic raven came to join the party. "You miserable sack of feathers, get out of here!" I yelled. It landed on the ground, far enough away to keep from being hurt. The thing fluffed itself up, turned one black eye in my direction with a grunt, and bitched me out. The miserable bird wouldn't help matters. With all the noise going on the kitten wasn't coming out of hiding. I got an idea and picked the can up. I walked up toward the house and understood why the old garage went to hell. The big guy had a nice two car overhead door attached garage on the side of the house opposite the side street. He must have stored stuff in the shack until it became too run down to use. I walked around the side of the fancy garage and came face to face with a late model RV. Whatever he did for a living paid well. The motor home wasn't huge but looked like it might carry a toy or two. He would be into off-road sports. It occurred to me I was once again getting a trifle, perhaps a lot, judgmental. If the guy worked hard why shouldn't he have a few perks? Okay, so all our budget ever covered was a tent and light sleeping bags. We got out into the wilderness. The kids and I took advantage of the Alaska lifestyle as often as possible. This man had every right to do the same. Today was a holiday for a lot of workers, but it seemed he was out working now. Time for me to climb off the judgment seat and let the poor man be, being alone is enough misery on its own. I got on with my plan to lure the damn bird away from what I hoped to do. With a clunk, I dropped the can of cat food over near the far back corner of the RV. They say birds are the descendants of dinosaurs. If you ever need to deal with a raven, you will come to believe they're correct. If ravens got as big as those velociraptor things, humans would be an endangered species. I knew the bird followed me. I heard the grumbling about my making it fly around to get what I should give out without a fuss. With the toe of my boot, I pushed the can just under the body of the vehicle. Let the little feathered bastard work for it. But the whole scenario was too much drama for the frightened kitten. By 2:00 I gave up. The temperature had come up a lot. If I kept coming back after work each evening, the kitty might get used to seeing me and venture out. I wondered if I should make things a little harder. There was beef jerky in the car. I broke off a tiny piece and placed the meat right under the edge of the foundation. A little to keep the kitten going might be better than keeping it well fed. If kitty got hungry, luring it out might get easier. I hated not leaving the can of cat food for the kitten. Several ravens fought over the can I left up at the house. But I needed to go home and get stuff done. Bo kept giving me a 'why can't we go for a walk' look all yesterday evening. I knew he wanted to get off the run. The dog needed a little attention. There was only one more day and then back to the grind until New Year. After that last holiday, I would work steady for all of January. It was a long slog until February. February is the bad month. Not quite spring and God, how you wished for a break. By then all the State above the Southeast part resembles a grouch from hell. I suppose that's one good reason to party hearty over the Christmas and New Year holidays, that's all you get until spring. So, I called a halt to Operation Bag The Kitten while I had enough light to get home and take the dog for a walk. Bo was happy to see me and even happier to see me grab his leash. As we walked down my long driveway, snow began to fall. The flakes were of the dry, powder variety. I knew the ski lifts would do a lot of business over the end of December until the First. I never got into downhill skiing. Snow boards terrify me. But walking in the cold with the dog suited me fine. Crisp and clean, the fresh air invigorated me. By the time we got back to the cabin, my cheeks were pink from our excursion. The dog was happier, and my mood had lightened. I had several days before work got rough once more. There was still time to try again. The steak tasted great and the crab even better. What's hard about cooking crab? Boil water and throw the legs in the pot. Takes maybe five minutes for them to turn red. I grabbed the slip pliers and attacked the long, thin king crab legs. With some melted butter in a small saucepan, dinner was served. I had one of the pay-for-view movies ready to go. All I had to do was put the popcorn in the microwave. But I had one little problem; I couldn't get the picture of Angie's face out of my head. The disappointment on her features bothered me. Add Christmas Eve and nighttime to the mix and I couldn't settle. She had worked hard to rescue the cat. The woman has a soft heart. My ex-wife said I was a jerk. Well, aren't we all jerks about something? But her constant harping on me about my lousy ways left me wondering if I'm any worse than other guys. I don't curse a lot, never have. One good reason is it's not a good habit to get into with some of the clientele and places I find myself. Judges do not look with favor on witnesses whose vocabulary comprises nothing but four-letter words. Depositions filled with f bombs do not read well in court. Some clients of the attorney firms I work for are not ready to put up with someone who can't speak a sentence without an epithet. A 'hell' or 'damn' here or there isn't likely to be a deal breaker if it comes out in the heat of battle. Otherwise, a clean mouth keeps the clients coming. Through the years, I've earned a reputation for saying what I mean, doing the job, and being able to mingle in polite society. That was another reason I had two standing invitations to office parties with two high-profile attorney firms. I can talk hunting and guns with the guys, and chat with the ladies. I understand how to laugh and joke around with females without having them think I'm hot for their bods. Being able to walk into a firm of attorneys and not have the receptionist and paralegals head for the john or the kitchen is a real big check mark in your favor in Alaska. After all, the secretaries, paralegals, and receptionists run the firms. For some reason it seems attorney firms attract beautiful women. With the ratio of men to women being heavy on the male side, some men can't seem to keep their tongues in their mouths. That doesn't mean I don't see and appreciate a good looking body; it means I've got enough sense to keep my mouth shut. By the time most of the ladies reach the point of having sufficient education to do those jobs, they're married and have kids. With all that said, the jerk is still in there. Angie will be alone this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Is my first thought all about how sweet she seems? No, my first thought is 'what does she look like when all the clothing comes off'. It's true, men are pigs. Any honest man will admit it. My ex had a point, I'm a jerk, and some things aren't likely to change soon. But I have learned to ride herd on those kinds of instincts. It can be a real pain growing up; you start to understand things you'd rather ignore. Darkness fell as I watched through the window. I didn't need a light to tell me where the old garage was. I know every inch of this place and can walk down to the garage without a light. I knew two other things; the cat was nocturnal, and the ravens weren't. The feathered freeloaders were all sitting on their roost and would be there until morning. I had a better chance to bag the kitten than Angie. I could do that for her. The idea must have been simmering away in the back of my brain. The two bags of kitty treats sat on the counter next to the bags of popcorn. It looked like I would work on catching the cat. Since I knew where to find Angie, once I captured kitty, I could take it to her. I'm positive she will be pleased to have the little thing. With all the work she's put in trying to catch the cat, she would be grateful. Exactly how grateful? What did I want in exchange for being a nice guy? Those two questions rolled around in my head as I got ready to go trap the kitten. I can light this acre up like an airport. The driveway can be lit up, and there are halogen yard lights on all four corners of the lot. I often use the cyclone fenced yard in the back as secure storage for vehicles because it is. So why didn't I bother to tell Angie that? Because I wasn't actively involved in the rescue and therefore, wasn't putting all my mental resources into play. All the lighting can be turned on separate from the other banks. Each one has its own switch. I didn't want to scare the animal; I wanted the kitten to come out from under the garage. The only lights I planned to use were those lighting the driveway. That would give me enough light to see what I needed to do. Since Angie had knocked down some of the snow close to the hole, I would put out a camp stool and wait for the little thing to surface. In the garage, I took down one of my fishing nets. A small landing net would be the perfect tool for a kitten capture. First, I had to lure it out far enough into the clearing around the garage to flop the net over it. That was where the kitty treats would come in. I made a pot of coffee and filled the thermos. It might take a while. No telling how long it would take for the scent of the treats to work. In the meantime, I planned on staying warm. With the right boots, underwear and parka, you can be comfortable at these temperatures. With the thermometer hovering at 1 degree above, I could stay out for an hour or hour and a half and not get too chilled. It doesn't help that I must stay still, but that's the way it goes. With a full-face mask and armed with the net and treats, I grabbed the camp stool out of the camping gear in the garage and went out into the cold night. Stars are beautiful when it's cold as hell. They seem to shine brighter in the frigid air. Sprawled out on the stool, I watched the night sky at the same time I kept one eye out on the trail of treats. A few inches past the opening the kitten used was a single treat. Another one sat beyond it. Two more sat a little farther out. All pointed to a nice little pile of assorted treats far enough out that if the kitten munched on those, it was mine. Patience is a virtue. Any good hunter has the patience of a saint. I sat in the cold for about forty-five minutes before the little nose poked out of the hole. Its whiskers bouncing, the kitten snagged the first treat with a paw and drug it into the hole. Behind the mask, I grinned. The scrawny thing was about to get trapped. Once more the head emerged from the hole, and the animal tried to grab the next lump of goodness with a claw. No go. That tidbit sat out of reach. The entire front part of the cat slid out of the hole, and I stayed still as a stone. It wiggled its hindquarters and pounced on the second treat. This time, the kitten didn't bother to run back to the hole. The hungry cat devoured the food. The kitten was committed. Little pointed ears twitching, the animal scarfed up that one and realized a third one lay farther out. Caution motivated it to make sure the area was free from danger. Its small head swiveled all around, but its gaze didn't register me sitting in the shadow of the garage wall. It sure was a cute little thing, and I saw what Angie did. Its tail and ear tips were still intact. Good. Cats with frost-bitten ears and tails aren't at all pretty. Cautiously, one paw at a time, with its little body lowered into a stalking posture; the kitten approached the pile of treats. I lifted the net into position and waited. Almost ready to pop the net over it, I gave the little thing enough time to get its tiny nose buried in the pile before flopping the net down. For an instant, it froze before a God-awful yowl left its mouth and shattered the silence. I didn't give my prey time to do anything. With its little claws going for the netting, I reached down and picked the cat and the net up. I had the animal and didn't let go until I was back inside. I removed the cat from the net carefully and tried to keep one hand on its dirty little body at all times. If I let go, God only knew where it might hide. There were far too many places an animal this small could hide in around the house. No, kitty was going on a trip right now. I grabbed the keys and hit the button on the remote start for the truck. At the same time, I worked to keep the animal from running off. Without the net, I could grab the kitten by the scruff of its neck. At that point, I realized how tiny it was. It attempted to get away; all four paws clawed like mad as it tried to get purchase on something. As I held it out and away from my body, I wondered if I had anything to put the kitten in for transport. A quick mental rundown left me with the thought that nothing I had would be safe for it to ride in. Still holding the cat by the scruff, I placed it on the counter for a minute. Its claws didn't do well on the granite. I pulled one glove off with my teeth and stroked the terrified animal while talking to it quietly. "Easy, kitty cat. I'm gonna take you to someone who'll take good care of you." I recalled our conversation about 'fixing' the kitty and laughed. Was it a male or female? A quick inspection under the kitchen light did not reveal any balls to be snipped. "A girl kitty are you? Sorry, kid, but your new mom will make sure you stay inside and keep you out of cat trouble." When I talked to the kitten it seemed to calm down. Driving wouldn't be easy if I had to hold onto it all the way to Angelina's place. Since I wore thermals and a thick, lined flannel shirt under the parka, I took a chance and put the kitten inside the jacket and zipped the thing closed. It amazed me when it fastened its little claws into the shirt right about at heart level and calmed down. On the way over to Angie's, I thought about her being alone for the holidays. Alone as I was. A New Year's party I got invited to came to mind. I left the invitation hanging because I didn't feel like being set up with a date again. But bringing a date I chose sounded like a grand idea, and I knew who to ask. I got a phone call from both the kids for Christmas. With one eight hours away and the other in basic training, I didn't expect it. Niky couldn't talk long, but 'Hi, Ma, Merry Christmas and I love you' always works for me. Lisa and I didn't speak too long, but just hearing from her and knowing she was well, made my evening. This time of year, full dark is at 4:30. By this time, the snow began to pile up, and I figured I might as well clear the walkway to the house. I don't have a garage with access through the house. So keeping ice melt and grit on the walkway is essential as is keeping the snow off it. After clearing the walk, and making sure the car got plugged in, I wanted a pot of tea and felt like settling down to read. I had a book to finish. Not in the mood to cook, I made a sandwich and ate that. Since it was Christmas Eve, I had the crock pot set up on the counter with a small roast in it for the next day. Between the aroma of roasting meat and the tea, the house was warm and comfortable. I've got a couple of pairs of men's flannel p.j. bottoms I wear around the house. The bottoms and a long-sleeved extra, extra large T-shirt pass for lounge wear in my house. The minute I walk in the door the bra and panties come off and get tossed into the dirty clothes. As I settled in for the evening, I caught the flash of headlights. You don't find yourself on my driveway by accident. Almost a mile back into the trees, it is off the road and not too many people know how to get here. As high as the headlights were off the ground, someone was coming to visit with a big pickup. I discounted any possibility of health problems with the kids. It had only been a few hours since I heard from them. There was no reason for the Troopers to send anyone back in here. I mentally ticked off who in the world might be visiting. No one came to mind right away. I didn't plan to get dressed, but being a woman alone back here off the beaten track makes caution a good idea. I took the little automatic pistol off the top of the cabinet by the door that holds outdoor gear and slipped it in my p.j. pocket. Not paranoid, I am careful. The clock said 9:00 pm, I was alone, and it was two miles out to the main road after leaving the driveway. I watched through the window as the truck pulled in and when the inside light came on I was shocked to see big Mr. Irate Homeowner at my door. The first question I had when I opened the door was, "How the hell did you find me?" The big man bailed out of the truck, turned around to get something and strode up to the front door I held open. "It's what I do for a living, find people and things. Brought you a present. Can I come in? You need to shut the door anyway, no use letting all the heat out." Speechless, I let the big guy in and closed the door behind him. "Present?" That was about all I could stammer out. The guy and I were about to have a serious talk. He unzipped the parka and all thought of being irritated with him flew out the window. The dainty head of a big-eyed kitten poked out of the opening. I reached for the kitty that launched itself away from him. "Dang!" He yelped. "That cat of yours has sharp little claws." As I held the kitten to my chest, I grinned. "How did you get it? That damn raven made so much racket I didn't have a chance earlier today." "Thought as much." After shrugging out of the bulky jacket, he spotted the coat tree by the door and hung it up. "I saw where you parked. Then there was the empty cat food can in the middle of the yard. It had bird tracks all around it." "Sorry. I didn't mean to leave you a mess." I felt a pang of guilt for leaving the can for him to dispose of. Bo slid his head up against the big guy's leg. My visitor leaned a little to one side and scratched behind the dog's ears. Right off the bat, Bo became best friends with the man. Then he grinned at me. "Angelina, what do you like to be called, Ang, Angie or 'Lina?" "Showing off, are you? I'm not telling you until I know who you are. How about a name, Mr. Bounty Hunter?" With a broad smile that crinkled up his dark eyes, he nodded while still scratching the dog's ears. "Hamilton Michael Reston with a Christmas delivery, at your service, Ms. Angelina Jo Brown. I'm a finder of lost objects, lost people and the server of notice of due process for several attorneys in this town." After taking a glance at my right-hand pocket, he nodded. "I see you're a cautious woman. That's commendable, given you live alone out here in the God forsaken boondocks. But I haven't accosted a woman in ages. That handgun is pulling your pants down a little on your right side. If it keeps that up, you might wind up looking like some ditzy kid. Oh, and you can call me Mike. Ham is a terrible nickname." I giggled, something I hadn't done in ages. "Okay. You have me there." As I held the kitten close to my chest with my left hand, I removed the gun from my right-hand pocket and put it back on the shelf. When I glanced down at the little thing, I noticed it wasn't quite as dirty as it first appeared. I saw no reason to give the poor thing a bath right away. Fleas are few and far between up here. Since this baby was crawling around under a foundation, I guessed dust in its fur made it look dirty. Mike grinned at me. "You don't have to worry about some male spraying all over the house." The man's smile was 100 watts. "I'm sure you are the proud owner of a girl kitty." "Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your catching her. Day after tomorrow I go back to work and was planning on spending every spare minute trying to get this little baby." I motioned toward the sofa with one hand and walked in that direction. "Tell me how you corralled her. How about a cup of tea? I have a big pot here and some extra cups." In about fifteen minutes, both of us sat on the couch. Bo had his head on Mike's knee. The kitten lay curled up in my lap, and we sipped hot tea. Mike told me he used a trail of cat treats to lure the kitten out. Once the kitten got a taste of the good stuff, she took a chance at the pile. He slammed a landing net over kitty. Mission accomplished. "What made the whole thing easier, I remembered ravens don't fly around after dark." "I have to tell you I came close to doing that damn bird in." "When I saw the can, I knew what happened. I picked up the kitty treats when grocery shopping. I intended to give them to you, regardless." "When did you decide to check up on me?" I didn't look at him as I waited for an answer. "The first day. I took your license plate number and looked you up after I went inside. Like you, I tend to err on the side of caution. There are a few people out there who might give me a bad time if they ran across me." I glanced up at him and noticed he was staring at the lab-husky as he stoked Bo's head. The dog was in seventh heaven. Still smiling, he glanced back at me. "Certain types wouldn't be above trashing my place if they could get away with it. If someone searched hard enough they could find me." Nodding agreement, I took another sip of tea while I watched Mike. As he stroked the dog's head, he seemed to stare off into space. "I see where your job might put you in some people's cross hairs. Checking up on me is a reasonable precaution. I would have done the same." The grin came back. "Any woman who answers the door with a handgun in her pocket is okay in my book. I assume the Nickolas Joseph Brown and Lisa Jo Brown are your kids?" "You are thorough! Yes, on both counts. Niky is in basic training right now and Lisa if off touring Europe as a present to herself before coming back home to work." "Shucks, ma'am, it was easy. Both kids got listed as co-owners of vehicles with you when younger. They've had fishing licenses for several years. You and the kids must have gone out every summer." "You're a big braggart, aren't you? What else do you want to ask that you don't know, Mr. Reston?" "Since you mentioned it, how come Nickolas P. Brown doesn't show up past that one year? There's no fishing license, no nothing after that." "Cause he hated it up here. One winter was all it took to get rid of that flea." "Ouch! Why do I get the idea you're not happy with the ex? And I’m assuming he is an ex." "Because he insisted on selling off everything we owned and moving up here. Then the first winter, he discovered he couldn't stand the cold. The rat took off without a word. He left the kids and me to our own devices. That is calculated to piss off any woman. He was 'ex' as soon as I had enough money to make it legal." Since the man knew a lot about me, I thought it time to even it up a little. "How come you live up in that big house alone? I saw the motor home, and I understand why you keep the truck in the garage, you don't want to put up with vandalism. Married, divorced, separated, what's your tale of woe?" "Angie, my ex, and she is 'ex' was a lot like yours. We didn't have kids for her to take off with, thank goodness." That huge smile lit up his face. I found myself starting to like Mike Reston. "Mike, would you like to join me and the zoo for Christmas dinner? Roast beef, served with side dishes, say around noon?" "I would be happy to join you and the critters. How would you like to join me in ringing in the New Year? I've got a standing invitation to a private party and would be grateful if you would bail me out by coming along. I get tired of being 'set up' by certain people claiming to be my friends." "So, how upscale is this private party?" "Not fancy at all. We're all going to take our snow machines out to the lake at my friend's place, build a big bonfire and sit around shooting off fireworks. I thought I'd take the RV. The couch makes into a bed, and I could sleep on that while my date took the big bed." "Date? This is a date?" "Sure is, Angelina Jo Brown. Definitely a date. Are you up for it?" "Indeed. Anyone who brings me a fantastic Christmas present has the potential to be good date material." The dog sighed, the kitten purred in my lap and Mike kept on smiling. The New Year now looked a lot different than I thought it would be. I was reasonably sure his big bed could hold two people. Exploring the possibility might be interesting. Waiting for Angie to tell me if she would go to the New Year's bash with me was the pits. I prayed she would say yes, but I was scared silly, all at the same time. I wanted this woman to like me. I didn't think I was as big an ass as my ex always said. Well, not entirely. After all, the ex swore Alaska was a frozen hell hole, and she couldn't have been more wrong. Angie turned out to be a nice woman. It didn't hurt that the nice part was packaged pretty good. The pistol had tugged down her pajama bottoms enough for me to get a look at some skin beneath the hem of the T-shirt. A few excess pounds might be on her frame, but I looked at it like I would a good steak, a little extra marbling won't hurt a thing. No big deal. I've got a few chauvinistic traits; I'm quite aware of them being in the mix, but if I watched what I did, they might be useful. I didn't think this woman would mind if I opened doors for her or carried the heavy bags. But I suspected the protective instincts should be kept low key and not allowed to get out of hand. Don't screw this up! Was my mantra at that moment, and my inner dialogue. I had grown up a lot since the ex blew town. All the time spent working with the ladies at the attorney firms had given me some insight into dealing with strong, independent women. I didn't plan on trying to push her into bed. I sincerely wanted to get there and wanted to do so as soon as possible. But pushing on this woman could derail my whole plan. The plan centered on getting to know Angie and letting her get to know me. I hoped neither of us would spend another holiday season alone. With any real luck, I might convince her to move into my place, after a little while. I understood having become single for real, with her kids off and away, she was as vulnerable as they come. We needed to find out how we fit in other ways before diving into the mattress. As the word "indeed" slipped out of her mouth, I relaxed. She would let me date her. Now, let's see how far this thing could go. Her little place felt cozy. I was content to hang around on her couch petting the dog and listening to the cat purr. I reached out a hand and gave the kitty a couple of strokes. This little Christmas cat may well have put an end to both our days of coming home to empty houses. My fingers tangled with Mike's as we glanced at each other. I didn't know what he was thinking, but wondered if he might be reliving the past couple of months just as I was. Not a whirlwind romance; it was more in the nature of two puzzle pieces fitting together well enough to overlook certain other habits learned while living alone. Neither of us wants to be single again, and since everything else went together so well, we're willing to compromise on the piddley stuff. I don't care a hang if he never puts the toilet seat down. He doesn't mind if I don't always wash the dishes until there's enough for a good load. He wants to put the laundry away as soon as it's dry. I understand his shirts and pants must look presentable for clients, so I take care of his stuff and mine hangs out in the laundry room until the spirit moves me. We're content in his place and with each other. That's worth a lot. Our relationship is stable enough that when he asked me if I would quit my job and work with him, I gave thirty days' notice. Smiling at each other, he leaned over to give me a kiss. Lisa, it seemed, felt ignored and harrumphed. My cheeks heated, and I noticed he colored up a little too. With that 100 watt smile, he nodded. "Want to go first?" Mike asked. "Sure," I replied and turned to my daughter. "On the way home from work I saw this poor little kitten slinking around beside the garage.........." 1Thank you for taking the time to read A White Cat for Christmas. If you enjoyed it, please consider telling your friends or posting a short review. Word of mouth is an author’s best friend and much appreciated. Other books by Cherime MacFarlane: "Highland Light" Is the first of the MacGrough Clan series. Gideon is a ward of the Master of the Croatia Temple belonging to the Knights Templar. The Knights escape execution and flee to Scotland. The master of the Temple strikes a bargain with Robert The Bruce. In exchange for safety, the eighteen men will marry into various clans in the Bruce faction. Ailene saw him entering the Abby and will have him and no other. Gideon has honored the Templar vows of chastity. With no knowledge of women, he and Ailene must learn together. But Gideon owes his new King service. No matter how much he wishes to stay with his wife, he has a duty. Scotland is fighting for its life against England. At the same time, Gideon's new home is locked in a vicious internal struggle for power. Enemies are everywhere. The clan is in danger from all sides. The small bedroom they share is the only place where the young couple can find peace. "Bare Wires" The prequel to Wired For Sound follows Lori and Hamish as their lives slowly come together. Lori gets the break she needs when she comes to the attention of a gallery owner in Brighton, England. The small celebration she treats herself to turns into a disaster when she discovers a horrible truth about her lover. Hamish and the band are finally poised to break into the entertainment industry. But two big problems stand in Bushmaster’s way; the bass player’s growing addiction and Vincent’s inflated view of his worth. Hamish must learn to manage his problems with insomnia while trying to keep Bushmaster together. Two young people's lives will intersect one night in an art gallery in the resort town of Brighton. "Wired For Sound" Gideon and Ailene's descendant, Hamish MacGrough's story continues. It is 1988. The band Hamish co-founded, Bushmaster, is on its 4th album and 2nd US tour. Vince, the front man, and Hamish started the band as young college students. Now, Vince's nastiness has caused someone to exact the ultimate revenge, death. After coercing Lori into marrying him, Hamish isn't sure how long she will stick around. His focus has been on keeping his wife happy and getting out of the band. With a recording date in Glasgow, a deadline and backers waiting, he needs to be back in Scotland. But in Los Angeles, everyone in the band is a suspect, as far as the police are concerned. Hamish's artist wife, Lori, may have been involved with Vincent before she met Hamish. Fearing she could be the murderer, Hamish must find the killer. But when he finds the murderer will he be forced to protect that person? In a race to find the answer before the police, MacGrough has to use every resource he can, including the wife he fears may have had a hand in the murder. Already burned by one man, can Lori trust her Scottish keyboard playing husband? Will their marriage survive this last gig? "North by Northeast" Hamish has what is called the sight in Scotland. With his wife, Lori, attending a gallery show, he suddenly finds the lament swirling about in his head. Half a world away, Hamish is terrified. Lori is gone, and there is no ransom note. The remnant of his old band, Bushmaster, comes together to help Hamish as he searches for Lori. The pursuit takes them from Seattle to Canada and into a ghost town North by Northeast of Seattle. Lori has no idea why she is being held. Hamish is the musician, the famous one of the family and a partner in WarLoch Productions. What is the reasoning behind this? Will she live to find out? "Rhythm and Blues" Lurch Walker is the bad boy of the band Bushmaster. A rock solid, rhythm guitar player, he finally finds a woman he is ready to marry. Hamish's au pair and mutually adopted sister stakes a claim to Lurch’s heart. But Lurch Walker's past is about to put an end to his dreams of home and family. Lurch and Hamish must make a stand as those threatening Lurch have now threatened Hamish's family and his adopted sister. "Family Knots" Lori is recuperating from the birth of their third child. But things in the Glen are starting to take a decided otherworldly turn. Hamish suspects his oldest son, just a young boy, has a great deal more of the second sight than he does. Lori is suffering from a mild case of post-partum depression and is not able to paint. Hamish's father's relatives have finally found him. Even worse; his cousin wants something from Hamish, which will require his leaving Lori and the Glen when he most needs to be there. It is a family knot of significant proportions. "The Templar's Treasure" As the MacGrough clan prepares to celebrate a milestone, chaos ensues. A 26-year-old secret is revealed; the father of a child exposed, a woman rescued, and another stands up for the love she and her soul mate have shared for years. Lori and Hamish's 28th-year-anniversary celebration goes off the charts. The MacGrough Glen is turning up the heat. One antique anniversary gift holds the key to the last of the Templar’s Treasure. And the supernatural talents of one of the clan lead to a discovery of another sort. More history of the Glen is about to reveal itself to the MacGrough's of the twenty-first century. "The Twisted Laird" Edan MacGrough is the last of the male line of the MacGrough's. Culloden has claimed the rest. His older half-brother, The MacGrough, has given him a duty, he is to take care of the women and children who are left. In particular, Edan is to watch over Rhona, the widow of his brother, who is pregnant. The children are all the clan has left, and MacGrough’s survival depends on keeping them alive. Rhona hates Edan and always has. She will not make the commission given to Edan by his brother easy to accomplish. Edan does not feel up to the task, as he has a lame leg, twisted due to an accident shortly after birth. The MacGrough, warned by the sight, of hardships to come, has trained his successor well. But nothing can prepare the young Laird for the grief and pain he must deal with. Not only is his leg twisted, but his heart and soul are, as well. “The Other Side of Dusk” NOTE: May contain triggers. A boy sold as a slave is used by a Roman woman to get pregnant so the master may have an heir. But it all backfires when an old soldier who serves her household takes pity on the boy. He teaches him to fight and when the child is born, helps the slave escape with his son. He is home but...his people aren't sure he is fit to take his father's place when the time comes. The Picts are ready to revolt against Roman rule and the Scotti may be caught in the middle. To make matters worse, the master is seeking his stolen son. “A Bard’s Desire” Aed, a warrior and a bard has a desire. And he will fight 1Muirne’s father and kin if he must. Aed built a home for her but they may have to fight to keep it. All hinges on his ability to evade his uncle and cousins, snatch Muirne and avoid her cousin, 1Grainne. He wounded Grainne’s pride and her father’s plans. Coming Winter 2017 “1A Wanderers Dream” Another slave finds his way to Eilan. This young man has a dream and will not rest until it becomes a reality. Coming Spring 2018 "Snagged" is the first of the Copper River Romances. In some places in Alaska, there are only two places to socialize, the bar and the church. Dorcas' family chose the church. Trying to find her path, she is spending the winter in a remote cabin. The pilot of a small plane crashes on the river. Dorcas pulls James out of the freezing water, saving his life. James has been working alongside his father building the business for years. His trip to Fairbanks to scout out a second location angers his father. James leaves a day early, and his plane develops engine trouble over the Copper River, far off course. Being thrown from the aircraft into the icy water, the young man thinks his life is over until the girl pulls him from the river. There is a family connection that goes back over twenty-five years, something neither of the young people know of until her family comes to spend Christmas with her at the remote cabin. Will an old lie tear the couple apart? Will James' father finally listen to the truth? "Stalking Red" The second of the Copper River Romances finds a hunter in a tight spot. P.R. Jones wants to get close to the new tenant, Brenda. But she is living with a summer intern from her office. P.R. must bide his time and remain friends with the woman he nicknamed Red, if he wants to end this hunt successfully. He doesn't care what his parents think; Red is the one he will have. But P.R. wants marriage. Brenda is not sure she wants to lose her only real friend, P.R. Jones. On the other hand, a friend with benefits would be nice. Will P.R. go for that kind of relationship? Red isn’t sure she’s ready for anything else. She’s also not sure what to do if her part Athabaskan, and part white friend needs to move back to the Copper River Basin to deal with family issues. P.R.’s connection to his family is strong, but Brenda worked hard to become a paralegal. Giving that up is not something she wants to consider. Is the relationship doomed before it even starts? "Heart of the Hunter" The third of the Copper River Romances, finds a young man, Jay Leighton, back from Afghanistan and happy to bury himself in the solitude of the Copper Basin. He is a hunter and a loner trying to heal scars, emotional wounds brought back with him. The last thing he needs is to be brought face to face with the loveliest woman to move to the Basin in the last year. His head is not ready, but his heart is saying something else. Leda is a teacher just out of school, who has not had time for love; Jay takes her by surprise. A soft-spoken, slightly broken man, who lives in a small cabin with his dog, Licker, for companionship, Leda sees something in Jay she needs to pursue. But Leda is worried about her reputation in the tiny community of Kenny Lake. She should stay away from Jay. But can she? Just who is the hunter and who is the hunted? "Cougar Hunt" Linda is very aware of the danger in the game she is playing. Meeting friends with benefits on the internet is not safe. The only constant in her life is the kid she keeps rejecting. But Joey keeps coming back until the night they share a sleeping bag during a snowstorm. What has she done? The fourth of the Copper River Romances, strips away the masks Joe Friday Jones, the youngest Jones boy, and Linda Rae Ed have been hiding behind. Linda is not the positive individual she appears to be. "Baubles and Beads" Della Street Jones is everyone’s ‘good little girl’ and is tired of the label. Munk Riley is the skinny little thief she shared her lunch with until the family left the Copper Basin. Riley, caught by the Jones family, is given a chance to redeem himself and earns a diesel mechanic certification. Munk wants to marry Della. He craves all the things denied him growing up the only child of an alcoholic mother. Taking a job without telling her, causes a blow out between them. Embarrassed, Della takes a live-in position at a remote lodge. She finds something that causes her to send an SOS to her family to get her out. Munk will do anything to get Della back where she belongs. But does Della belong where everyone else thinks she does? Can they get out without waking the man who controls the underbelly of Alaska? "Grass and Blue Skies" On crutches and no longer able to fly jets, Brett is grateful to have come home alive instead of in a box. Though he’s still got his leg, there’s a lot of pain too. A relative sends him to see the pretty herbalist who helps people with pain and nerve problems. One look at her and Brett wants more than pain relief. Nikee has a secret room beneath her greenhouse full of pot plants. The woman began growing medical marijuana several years ago to help her father after an unfortunate accident, and she has no plans to quit. Hopefully telling Brett about the grow operation won’t cost her a relationship with the man. If the delicate balance of her relationship with Brett isn’t enough, someone else has discovered her secret. He wants her crop and will do anything to cash in on her work, but Nikee can't go to the Troopers for help. Can a woman, an old man, and an ex-jet jock keep the nefarious character out of her medicinal pot? "Chaos and Crab Pots" Burned badly, Matt Hite is drifting. Not sure if he will crew on the crab boat again, he goes to a small native village on Alaska’s West Coast to help a friend. On the plane, he meets a woman. She’s beautiful, but Alice Ann isn’t a Christian. Matt wants to know why he keeps getting lines of scripture when he looks at her. She is Alice Ann in the village and Aurora in Anchorage. The young woman has come out to help her grandmother catch her crab quota this year. She is also eager to get away from the bosses son. The man is a criminal in training. Alice Ann is trying to leave that behind. But Jacky isn’t done with Aurora, not by a long shot. Revenge is best served cold. "Behind The Raven Mask" Son of a Russian adventurer, Dmitri Bressoff stays in Alaska after the purchase of Seward's Folly by the United States. Mauled by a bear, as a young fur hunter, he is a widower with a ten-year-old girl to raise. Dmitri is feeling his age. The year is 1881, and he is on his way back to his island and his headstrong daughter. Dmitri cannot forget his first wife, a half Russian, half Tlingit girl. He has no wish to remarry. Camille is the niece of the captain of the steamship Dmitri is using to make his way home. Saddled with Camille, her uncle is looking for an advantageous marriage for the young widow. She suffers from nightmares and is on the verge of becoming addicted to laudanum. A drunken mistake gives the captain the means to get rid of Camille and make her Dmitri's wife. The couple tries to come to terms with an arranged marriage. Attempts on Camille’s life have her questioning her husband’s intentions. Does he want her dead? "Daughter of the Raven" Anya Bressoff thinks she has the answer to her prayers. The man she meets in San Francisco will take her all over the world. But the first place he takes her is Russia, after being warned to keep her out of that country by her father, Dmitri Bresoff. Kidnapped, Anya finds she can only go east, across Siberia to get home to Bressoff Island. Anya's family has no idea what has happened and are told she is dead. The man who has loved her for most of her life is heartbroken. If she can find her way home will she be forced to resume her marriage? Anya is determined to be free of her now unwanted husband. First, she must get home. Will the man she overlooked still be waiting? "Deirdre of the Sorrows" Deirdre, deserted by her stepbrother lives with a stepfather who is becoming crazier with each drink, and he drinks a lot. Sylvie, his youngest child, is in as much danger as Deirdre. Left with no choice, Deirdre takes matters into her hands to protect not only Sylvie and herself but her child by the monster. Daniel had to leave after graduation. His alcoholic father couldn’t deal with having another grown male in the house. Daniel did the only thing he could do and joined up. He returns home to find his father vanished without a trace, Deirdre has a young daughter and is in a relationship with his half-sister, Sylvie. Going home for Dee was a bad idea. "Mile 43.3 Richardson Highway." A story of Pipeline Days in the Copper River Basin. An accident at mile 43.3 on the Richardson Highway is the catalyst for significant changes in the life of Nancy and Ramon, Ray. Dumped in the Basin by the man who insisted they move to Alaska, Nancy is trying to survive. Ray hopes to build his career by taking a plum job on the Alaska Pipeline. But an emergency phone call gives him the bad news that his small son’s mother has deserted the boy. His family is now caring for the child. Ray's life is in turmoil. Nancy is sweet and unaware of what her worth. Ray wants to help her understand what a treasure she truly is. "Death Wish" A tale of love and lust that unfolds on a road trip through Canada from Alaska and back again. Colin had been in love with her for over two years. When Paul, Colin’s best friend and partner, is killed in a car accident, his wife is frantic. Maria develops a death wish she is trying to fulfill with alcohol-fueled rampages on local roads. A trooper counsels Colin to get her out of town before she kills herself or someone else. Can he help her sober up while keeping his hands off the woman he’s been in love with since Paul brought her home? How will he cope? Colin hates drunks after spending his childhood with an alcoholic mother. "Then They Were Six" Absolutely devastated, she is standing on the side of the road with a dead car, no cell phone, and no money. Running from an abusive ex-husband, she and her daughter must have a paycheck. Margaret is desperate. The mechanic stops to help, but what will he ask of her? Are there strings attached to his offer of assistance? A divorced father of three is in a last ditch effort to save his business. He knows his business must grow, or he has to give it up. But he just is not ready to quit. If he can restore a vintage muscle car and sell it for what it's worth, he might make it. But the woman stranded on the side of the road is a distraction he cannot ignore. She needs help. Stu is drawn to her, but Margaret is still battling with the fallout from her failed marriage. "Gray Matters" A novella about motorcycle riding in Alaska and second chances. For the first time in fifteen years, he won't have a child to look after. After a long motorcycle ride and several straight shots of tequila, he is feeling no pain. She is looking for adventure after having raised three kids to adulthood. In a lodge several hundred miles from the big city, these two people begin a conversation. He has an empty passenger seat; she is ready to ride. "Aurora’s Song" Algen is finally home after spending most of her teen years, and young adulthood in Washington State. She has never been clear on the reason she was sent to live with her father’s relatives. But she has a job she loves and can finally live in the place she loves. The Aurora Borealis fascinates her; Algen has missed the lights and winter terribly. The Grannies want her to be careful. Should she be careful of the new hire at the native corporation? She’s sure if he gets too close her heart is going to be in grave danger. The cultural anthropologist is pursuing her with the single-mindedness of a big predator. Gunrik is too smart, too much of a hunk and far too tempting. “Encounter” She never picks berries in the patch behind the cabin. That hollow almost makes her skin crawl. The old cabin has been in her family for generations. There is a mystery about the place the elders would never discuss. All she knows is many years ago a young couple living there vanished without a trace. He's not sure what he was hunting. After waking next to the totaled all-terrain vehicle, he doesn't even remember who he is. What he does know is a stand of trees on a ridge is drawing him in that direction. Can he find shelter there or will he die in the Alaska bush? It's stupid, but he is going to make his way to the knoll. Together they will have an encounter with the past. "Brain Waves" CoDee is a brain damaged young man living on a dusty desert world. He is barely functional. He hates it when dead animals are dumped in his junkyard as it "hurts his heart". The world he lives on caters to the older, poorer trading ships. A large cat is dumped in his yard barely alive. CoDee helps her and Cat's tries to help him. Memories of the one who injured him reveal the monster is his father. These two entities from different species brought together on a desert world aren't physically able to bond. Love and respect are another matter. “Nightwind’s Shadow” It's the “After Times” and a tribe must increase their herds to survive. Easier said than done. Nightwind, a young hunter, and his dog, Mouse, are expanding their hunting range. But Nightwind finds more than game on the bench land above the head of the canyon. A treasure trove of books...and JoJo. Nightwind’s Shadow is an inter-racial, cross cultural apocalyptic fantasy romance. “Homer Bait and Switch” Lynn Loftgren never met the father who left her a partial interest in the bait and sportsman’s shop, Homer Bait and Switch. With both parents dead, will she stay in Alaska as her father wanted? Rurik is home to stay, and it’s time to buckle down and catch fish. But he brought a friend home. He’s trying to mentor a teenager with a problem. Everything changes in his world when the girl on the seawall takes his picture. “Valley Girl Wars” Ally is trying to help Tore Olson out by taking over the Captain’s chair on the Valley Girl. Someone has been stealing not only the fish Tore caught but the big pots as well. When he is injured, Ally steps in to help. Tore is a foul-mouthed ill tempered man. The Valley Girl is involved in more than one kind of war. Coming Spring 2018 “Sailing Backward” Olivia “Ole” Edmunds is sailing her yacht the Jeanie O the wrong direction according to all her friends back in the islands. But Ole planned this all along. Her father might be happy in Hawaii, not Ole. She is going home to Alaska. Shane Devlin is a newcomer, a cheechako in Homer. Working on a fishing boat isn’t the easiest job, but it keeps him out of town and away from the troopers. He’s not ready to be sent home to jail. Getting involved with the strange girl who sails into Homer isn’t the smartest move. It’s right up there with doing stupid things with his cousin. Coming Summer 2018 "The Cheat" The Cheat. Francis labels herself as "fat and forty". How in the world she came to be living with the guitar player for a famous Alaska band is a wonder to her. Monte is a groupie magnet, and Francis is waiting for him to tell her it's over. The text message she gets from him after he returns home from a weekend gig, sets off a major fight when Francis accuses Monte of being a cheat. "Homesteader Blues" Tina has been putting up with no running water on their farm for over twelve years. Jimmy gets her out of the house for a week. His aim is to build a bathroom for his wife. Nothing and no one will sidetrack his surprise for Tina, and that includes teen angst and broken equipment. "Poppy" A young woman makes the terrible discovery that the man she idolizes is not her father. Worse, he won both her mother and her in a card game. Emma Kay is devastated and unable to handle the news. "Road Talk" Molly only takes chances while driving. Life burned her, and she isn’t ready to open herself up to new wounds. Louis, Lou for short, knows more about the woman than she likes. When she discovers Lou crewed with her dead husband, Molly wonders how much Davis Lee told his shipmate about her. He’s supposed to be her muscle to facilitate an aircraft engine exchange. It’s a business trip into the wilds of Alaska that has them cooped up in a truck for days. Where will their road talk take them? "Back Bay" A young woman finds something while out gathering seaweed and limpets. It is a part of her heritage. The treasure reconnects her with her home in the Back Bay. "A White Cat For Christmas" Mike has every reason to be careful. His business leaves him open to threats and possibly violence. He is suspicious of the woman hanging around the dilapidated old garage near the road. What is she doing on his property? Angie saw the little kitten on the way to work. The poor little thing is living under the old shed. She wants to rescue it before the temperature drops so low it freezes to death. The big man is intimidating, but the kitten needs help, and she’ll take on the irate homeowner if she has too. “Traffic Control” Ace knew it was her at first glance. Dressed in jeans and a neon yellow safety vest, the woman holding the traffic control sign was the grown-up version of the girl who ran out on him years ago. The stop sign in her hand said it all; stop thinking about her and forget her name. Adele wanted another chance with the man. Would he even listen to her? Every time he sat in the line of cars she held in place waiting to use the one lane, she wanted to walk up to his truck. But how could she when she ran out on him? “The Price of the Little Blue Pill” If they have to spend their thirtieth wedding anniversary on the garage floor, Andy wants to do a bang-up job. Getting it up and doing it right is getting harder by the day. But his beloved wife, Sugar, doesn’t want him taking the little blue pill. How much can Andy sneak past her? What is the little blue pill going to cost him? Sugar knows her man is up to something. Between his problem with their son-in-law and the escalating pain of an old injury, things are about to come to a head on the garage floor. “The Father-in-Law Effect His father-in-law is making Turk's life miserable. Turk’s uncle has taken an extended leave of absence in Hawaii. With no authority to do so, the young husband and father must hold the business together. The time Turk does get for his family is about to be reduced because of an out of town job. Morag doesn’t know how much more Turk can take. With little or no energy left for romance, it’s time to pull out the big guns and get her mother to take her father in hand. A job site incident may be the catalyst to bring change.


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