Reaching Out from a Mind as Dirty as All Outdoors

If you get lucky enough, I might post adult-only material from time to time, so be 18 or over, or please be elsewhere.

I'll be discussing erotica here, the writing of it and the people who write it, as well as what we've written. I find all these aspects stimulating, but if any of them bore you, feel free to skim. You never know what you might miss, though.

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Charity Sunday--National Park Nostalgia

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National Park Nostalgia

I will donate $1 for every view of this post over the next two weeks, and $1.50 for each comment, up to a total of $50

I’m sooo tired of steering all my contributions to non-nature causes. I won’t stop supporting politicians we MUST elect to replace those we’ve got in power now, and I’ll still respond to some charities with desperate survival needs, but this time, I want to get back to nature. There are other places supporting ecological causes I’d like to help out, and have at times in the past, but I got to remembering the National Parks I’ve visited—Acadia, Cape Cod National Seashore, Point Reyes National Seashore (both seashores before and after they became National Parks,) Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Yosemite, King Canyon,  Mount Rainier, Olympic, Shenandoah, the Grand Canyon, , and many National Monuments. Places I’ll never get to again (except Cape Cod) and some I’d rather remember when they were more open, less crowded, than they are now. My favorite? It ‘s hard call between Yosemite (back in the 60s when I lived in CA and could visit often) and the Grand Canyon (as it was between the 60s and the 90s, which was probably the last time I was there.)

Right now, though, I’ll choose the Grand Canyon, since one of my very favorite stories is set there. “Bright Angel” has been published in several anthologies, and in the first collection of my own work, A Ride to Remember. If the characters intrigue you, a later story about them, “Meltdown,” is in my newest collection, Wild Rides, from Dirt Roads Books.

So onward, let the wild Canyon rumpus begin!

Bright Angel
by Sacchi Green      

Maura lounged against the railing, gazing out over the vast, bright gulf of stone dropping away at her feet. Dark sunglasses masked her green eyes, and those famous waves of long chestnut hair were tied down by an Hermes scarf rippling in the breeze.  
"Are you trying to tell me all this was carved by that little trickle of a river?" But in spite of her studied nonchalance, I could tell she was as awestruck as any other tourist.    
 "The Colorado's wider than it looks from this distance. And it was carrying billions of grains of rasping sand over millions of years." I didn't look toward the river at all, gazing only at Maura's slim, vivid form. The view of the Grand Canyon from Mather Point had gripped me often enough over the years, and I had photographed it for many a magazine and guidebook, but long ago I'd come to terms with the inability of the human mind to fully comprehend its grandeur.    
Comprehending Maura, however, might still be within my grasp. A year ago I had discovered how to penetrate her dark and bright complexities, to push her mind and body to the edges where she needed so desperately to balance. A year ago--and then came her first movie role, with filming on location in various exotic areas around the world. We'd only been able to meet sporadically, except when she'd insisted they hire me to do the still photos for publicity.    
Did I even know who she was anymore? When I'd picked her up at the Flagstaff airport she'd greeted me with a Hollywood air kiss, nothing to raise eyebrows even when directed by a drop-dead gorgeous twenty-something toward an aging, crop-haired butch like me. Then she'd dozed for most of the three-hour drive across the high desert. But at least she was here, as promised, keeping the date we'd made all those months ago.    
I moved up close behind her at the railing, not quite touching. The April wind tugged several strands of hair free from her scarf and lashed them across my face and chest, rousing a tingle in my nipples just as though they were naked to those flailing whips of silk.    
"Hey Roby," Maura said, without turning her head, "Too bad you don't have the balls to fuck me right here."    
Oh yeah. I still knew exactly who she was. "If you'd had the foresight to wear a skirt," I told her, "You'd be bent over that railing right now praying you could hold on long enough to ride my fist to glory." I pressed closer and reached around to unzip the fly of her elegantly cut jeans. "You could still drop your trousers and make all these amateur photographers rich on sales to the tabloids. Or you can let it simmer a while, and I'll fuck you somewhere even better."  
 I could see out of the corner of my eye that we'd begun to distract a few tourists, most, of course, armed with cameras. Maura, even in scarf and sunglasses and denim, has the charisma of someone whose face could stare out at you with seductive arrogance from the pages of a fashion magazine. Whose face has, in fact, done exactly that, usually with the divinely sensuous participation of her body. More often than not the eye behind the camera had been mine, back before she moved on from the pinnacle of the modeling scene to her virgin attempt at acting.    
"Don't they say that no publicity is bad publicity?" Maura turned toward me. I reached out to untie her scarf and remove her sunglasses, tucking them away in the pocket of my leather jacket. The old challenge was in her eyes. Push me, it said. Force me to the edge. Make me feel.    
"So you don't think your acting can stand on its own?" I wrapped strands of her windblown hair tightly around my fingers, "Without the scandal of getting thrown out of a National Park before the movie even opens?"    
She caught at my hands. I released her hair. "Maybe I'll give you a chance to show me somewhere you think is even better," she said, and headed back toward the car. I waited just long enough to appreciate the elegant undulation of her hips in tight jeans before I caught up.    
Maura wasn't primarily an exhibitionist, in spite of her place in the public eye. Or possibly because of it. Her craving for danger was more complex than that. There had been times, once I had come to understand what my weathered skin and scarred body said to her, when she had begged me to mark the face the world saw so that it would become her own again. What she thought she wanted from me had nothing to do with tenderness. Still, whether she was aware of it or not, she needed something else from me, as well. Push me right up to the edge, her fierce eyes demanded, while a tiny tremor at the corner of her soft lips added, but don't let me fall.    
While I checked in at Bright Angel Lodge, Maura watched the tourists signing up to ride down the nearby Bright Angel Trail tomorrow morning.  Even in April, well before the high season, there was heavy traffic along the route. This late in the afternoon we wouldn't have had long to wait to see the mule train returning from the river at the bottom of the canyon, four-fifths of a mile straight down and eight miles of switch-backing trail below, but I had no intention of waiting.    
Our cabin out behind the Lodge perched close to the edge, with just room for a narrow path and a wind-gnarled pinyon pine between its wall and the canyon's rim. Even a year ahead of time it had taken luck and the pulling of a few strings to get the reservation.    
While I brought in the luggage, two-thirds of it hers, Maura stood looking outward, one hand tightly gripping a pinyon branch. The drop here was really not that abrupt at first. One could conceivably survive a slide down over a series of shallow shelves to Bright Angel Trail below.    
"Are we going down there?" she asked.    
"Not on that trail," I told her, "and definitely not on mules. Not all the way to the river, either."      "Oh, right, I'd forgotten about your poor knees." Her subtly mocking tone was just another variation on the game of challenge we played. I knew my old climbing injuries held a certain fascination for her, and she knew that my body still had more strength and stamina than hers would ever achieve from gyms and personal trainers.      
"You'll get all you can handle," I told her. "Trust me."    
"I'm more worried about how much you can still handle." Maura sauntered back to the cabin and stepped inside. I followed her eloquent butt, then stood in the doorway for a moment to watch her explore the interior.    
The furnishings were of comfortably updated 1930s craft design, highlighting natural wood tones and artistically simple lines. The stone fireplace incorporated specimens of all the different rock strata revealed by the river's carving of the canyon, from pre-Cambrian black Vishnu Schist to the Kaibab Limestone of recent millennia.    
The platform bed was modern, wide, and inviting. Maura prodded the mattress with a manicured finger, sat on the edge, then lay back. She eyed me speculatively, but without enough challenge to make it worthwhile.    
"You must need to rest a while after your trip," I said with exaggerated solicitude. "Go ahead, take it easy. I understand." I began to unpack, hanging things in the closet, watching for her next move. She got up and started to unbutton her shirt. Not a bad idea. The day was getting hot. So was I, but I wasn't ready to take her deceptive bait. Maura is never that easy.    
My own bait was more subtle. I moved into the living room, pulled open the curtains of the window beside the fireplace, and crossed to the far side to set my cameras and equipment out on a table. Maura followed.    
I didn't let her catch me watching, but she knew I could see her in the mirror as she shed her jacket and peeled off a tank top damp with sweat. She hadn't bothered with a bra. Then, to enhance the temptation, she turned around to present a rear view while wriggling out of her jeans. Her lovely ass-cheeks paused in mid-wriggle as she saw the view presented by the wide window.    
The vista, tinted gold and copper by the late afternoon sun, was breathtaking. Maura gripped her loosened jeans tightly and edged past chairs and coffee table to gaze out, spellbound. It was the same scene she had surveyed from the rim outside, but somehow intensified, made more personal, more deceptively comprehensible, by the framing effect of the window.  From inside it looked as though the cabin extended right out over the shining void.    
I waited five seconds for the mesmerizing effect of space and light and color to take hold, and then I was on her, pushing her hard against the log wall and window sill. I had her own silk scarf tight across her mouth and her pants and foolish thong undies down around her ankles before she could do more than gasp.    
She could easily have escaped, even hobbled like that, although she despised looking ridiculous. While my weight kept her pressed into the wall, her hands were free, gripping the wooden window sill. Now and then people strolled by just outside on the pathway; if she rapped on the window, they'd turn to look. She knew how to make me let her go. But gagging was a special treat she wouldn't risk losing, a promise that she was going to be driven to extremities, permission to let it all out without reserve. I wouldn't always humor her that far. More than once she had cursed at me and demanded a gag. More often than not I had refused.    
I gathered her thick chestnut hair in my fist and yanked her head back. "Surprise, my knees aren't all that decrepit yet," I hissed into her ear, and brought my right one hard up against her ass. She jerked, but spread her legs to let me thrust between her thighs and nudge into her crotch.      
"You wonder how the river carves a canyon through rock?" I asked. "You think you're stone? Haven't I cut my petroglyphs into you?" My other hand worked its way around to her belly and slid down to her shaved pubic mound. The scars I'd given her, where even bikini photo spreads wouldn't reveal them, were too shallow for my fingertips to find like this, but I knew they were there; four tiny, curving lines forming a delicate circle like a secret mandala, cut by the business end of an ice-climbing screw.    
 "I suppose you think the water always flows gently, smoothly, taking forever to wear away resistance." My fingers moved lower, stroking gently, too gently, over her clit and lush outer lips. "Working down through layer after layer, " I went on, going deeper, sliding back and forth in her growing slickness, keeping it up slowly, slowly, as her accelerating whimpers of demand were muffled by the silk gag. When she arched into my touch, desperate for more, harder, faster, I drew my fingers away and approached from the other side, starting with long strokes down between her buttocks and into the tender strata of her soaking crotch.    
"But sometimes storms batter at the rocks, and spring floods from mountain snow-melt surge through the ravines." I was really getting into it now. "The water pounds, thrashes, filled with sharp silt and uprooted trees." I raised my hand suddenly to the nape of her neck, still holding her hair roughly back. The scent of her juices on my fingers roused my own. With my fingernails, short but strong, I scraped a line down the valley of her spine to its base. A shiver passed over her skin. I veered first to one side and then the other, tracing the delectable swell of her ass, leaving curving pink grooves just shallow enough to fall short of drawing blood. Her gluteal muscles flexed, and her muted voice rose in pitch.    
A pair of college-boy jocks passed by outside; even through the gag she could have made enough noise to attract their attention. I felt a shudder wrack her body. She wanted so intensely for them to see...but would I pull back, drop her, rather than risk a scandal that might, at the least, distort her career?      
 I don't know, myself, what I would have done, but they moved on past. My teeth fastened onto Maura's right shoulder, and her taste filled my mouth. I had no more words. Moans and incoherent curses vibrated from her body through mine as she writhed toward my touch. I spread my fingers then and slapped hard, again and again, overlaying the scrapes on her buttocks with red hand prints like the marks on the walls of ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings far below in the Canyon.    
Suddenly Maura lurched backward, pushing off from the window sill, nearly toppling me. I lifted her just enough to swing her around and then dropped her hard onto the Navajo rug in front of the fireplace. In the seconds it took for me to get a latex glove from my pocket onto my hand she had torn off her gag and kicked her pants free of her ankles, and now she crouched, long hair falling forward to veil her face, butt lifted toward me and swollen labia exposed.    
 "Do it!" she snarled, so ready that there was no need for lube. I thrust into her, slid out, thrust again, and then she was pumping herself onto me, heaving, panting, her cries rising higher as my other hand pinched her nipples. When the spasms struck, tightening her cunt around my hand and wrist like a trap, I supported her until her grip finally loosened and I could withdraw, gently, holding her wide open for a few seconds and admiring her glistening folds.    
"Dusky rose," I said softly, "Like the sandstone layers of the canyon wall at dawn."    
Maura whispered something I could barely hear. I leaned closer.      "Was this the 'better place' you had in mind?"    
"No," I said honestly, not sure whether she was working up to another challenge. "This was just an opportunity seized. You'll know when you get there."      And she did.       It wasn't along the rim trail or at any of the famous points where cameras clustered, not even Pima Point at sunset when the river winding far below to the west turned briefly into a ribbon of gold. It wasn't the moonlit vista of the canyon as we leaned together against a spreading branch of the pinyon pine outside our own cabin. It wasn't anyplace that easy.    
 We were up at dawn the next morning, breakfasting on the Bright Angel Lodge terrace. "Why 'Bright Angel?'" Maura asked.    
I told her about Major John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado river, and the story that aft
er his men named one muddy  incoming stream the Dirty Devil, the Major had compensated by dubbing the first clear creek they came to Bright Angel, flowing down from the north to join the river across from what later became Bright Angel Trail. I thought, watching Maura's beautiful face, as luminescent in its own way as the morning light suffusing the mist rising from far below, that he must also have been thinking of Lucifer before the Fall, Milton's "angel bright" of Paradise Lost. Or, just possibly, he had known someone like Maura.    
Three hours later we were far below the rim, three miles along the Hermit and Dripping Springs trails. Maura's cheeks and forehead were smudged with rock dust, and sweat trickled down between her breasts. Her hair was tangled and tied back with a bandanna. Her eyes had never been brighter.    
"Just a little farther," I said, urging her past the spring, its fringe of greenery lively with small birds. "We'll fill our water bottles on the way back." A hundred feet off the trail, through a crevice between boulders, we were on a narrow shelf out of sight of passing climbers at our own level. Our view of sky and rock seemed as wide as infinity, and hikers and rafters deep in the Canyon could see us easily if they looked up; see us, but not clearly enough even with binoculars to recognize Maura's features from past magazine spreads or future appearances on the big screen.    
Maura stood with her arms outstretched like wings and her back to the cliff. Just above her head a twisted juniper grew out from a cleft in the rock, casting a tracery of shadows across her face.      "This is the place," she said with certainty. "Right here. Right now."    
I drew a wet trail with my tongue along her dusty cheek and kissed her, for once, gently. For once, she allowed the tenderness, kissing back with more sensuality than challenge. Maybe wearing her out was the secret. Or did the vastness of the world spread out before us make petty conflict seem too insignificant?    
More likely, it was just that she had grander things on her mind than private games.    
" you think anyone is watching?" Her fingers scrabbled in haste at the buttons of her shirt, and when she'd cast it aside and yanked off the tank top beneath, she went to work on the silver Navajo belt buckle purchased just yesterday. Sunlight glinted from its highly polished surface like spears of fire.    
"I'd bet there are at least a dozen pairs of binoculars and as many cameras aimed right up there," I told her, pointing out the peregrine falcon riding the breeze above us, undoubtedly watching for one of the small birds by the spring to stray from the sheltering shrubbery. "And now that you've been wriggling hard enough to flash signals from that silver mirror sliding down along with your pants, most of them must be checking you out, and calling their buddies to look, too."  
 Maura kicked aside her jeans and raised her arms. Her fingers could just grasp the gnarled trunk of the juniper. "Tie me," she said.    
I pulled the bandanna loose from her hair. A twist around slender wrists and up over the juniper, and she was bound just far enough out on the shelf from the cliff for me to slide behind her and press my thigh hard up against her butt, bending my knee slightly, taking some of her weight. That juniper must have been clinging to life here for a hundred years or more; I hoped to spare its roots for another hard-won century, in spite of her thrashing. And she would thrash.  
 "So show them what you've got, girl," I muttered in her ear as I pulled on a latex glove. I'm not sure she even heard me. Her focus was far out over the bright canyon, past labyrinthine ravines and spurs and phallic turrets carved by water, wind, and time. The sharp pinch of my fingers on her breasts grabbed her attention, though, and over her shoulder I watched pink nipples swell and darken into nubbled peaks as wildly beautiful as any rock formation. To my tongue, they would feel tender as well as rigid, straining, begging to be sucked, hard...    
No. In this tableau, this ritual of exposure, I belonged behind the scenes, only my hands coming between Maura's offering of her body and the sun-struck gulf of space and stone.       So I reached around her and my hands went to work, one alternately flicking and squeezing her breasts, one stroking between dampening thighs. When she tried to press toward my touch, I moved the top hand down to knead her belly and hold her steady while the fingers of the lower one approached the growing slickness of her cunt. Approached, but refused quite to enter, slipping forward and back in the wet folds just short of where she needed me most.    
Maura began to twist and strain. I nudging her clit erratically, lightly, too lightly; she rocked and bucked, muttering curses interspersed with gasps, making the juniper's trunk creak. Bruised bark added its scent to dried sweat and the intense musk of sex rising from both of us. The friction of her firm ass against my crotch was driving me toward the edge along with her.      
"Now!" I thrust up inside her, fingers twisting, pressing forward, my upper hand sliding down to give her seeking clit the hard, fierce strokes it demanded. Short, sharp gasps punctuated my movements, intensified, accelerated... Until, abruptly, she tensed, the arc of her slim body between tethered wrists and denim-bound boots so beautiful that I ached to capture the vision on film, but could only try to fix it in my mind. "Now! Let it out!"    
And out it came, her long, triumphant cry, echoing from rocky outcroppings, vibrating through her body and into mine as I crushed my mouth against the nape of her neck to muffle my own cries. Through the soft dark tangle of her hair, out of the sun-dazzled corner of my eye, I thought I saw, for the briefest moment, bright angel wings soaring off into the golden distance.    
Then Maura slumped back against me. I cut her down from the juniper and crouched with her in my arms. Another beat of wings caught my eye, but it was only the falcon veering off toward her hidden aerie. Maura would fly again, to far-off places where I couldn't or wouldn't follow; but for this rare moment of surrender I knew exactly who she was.

Now go over to Lisabet Sarai's Charity Sunday post and see what she's sharing.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Two Too Many--Charity Sunday

I know there are many more than two pressing causes worthy of support right now, and I've donated to some already. For this Charity Sunday, I was all set to be up-to-the-moment and celebrate the Supreme Court decision that defends LGBTQ+++ people from being fired because of their gender identities.

However, right after that Court decision came the one to keep the DACA young folks, the Dreamers, from facing deportation, at least for a while longer. They still have to pay fees of over $600 each, though, to keep the protection of the DACA category. Many of them, brought as children by parents entering the country illegally, are now old enough to be useful contributors to this country, and work in such areas as teachers or medical personnel, while others are still pursuing useful educations.

So which should I choose for this Charity Sunday? Split my donations between two causes? No, I've donated to LGBTQ++ causes from time to time, so I decided to go with DACA. For every hit on this blog post in the next two weeks, i'll contribute $1 to the DACA Renewal fund, and $2 for each comment.

But wait, there's more! I usually include a story here, so I'll celebrate the LGBTQ++ decision with this one, with a transgender character in an historical setting, I've probably shared this one several years ago on this blog, but here goes anyway.

Sacchi Green

     The lamps of Dutch Flat shone through the swirling snow as we rounded the last curve of the Bear River. Old Ulysses picked up his gait, not needing the lights to know that shelter and feed and the company of his own kind lay close ahead.
     As for me, hunched against the cold in my sheepskin coat, hat brim pulled low to keep the snow clear of my eyes, I'd be happy enough for shelter, too, and a good meal. The company of my own kind was a more questionable matter. I had acquaintances in town, some who counted me as friend, but only one who understood the resolve it took for me to put on the face and manner that the rest took for granted.
     The early snow lay a foot deep in the open, deeper where it drifted against outcroppings of boulders and scrub pine and juniper. Ulysses was the first to notice something different about the long, white mound at the edge of one such thicket, partly obscured by weighted branches.
     I might have missed it altogether, being inwardly focused on reassembling my go-to-town identity. Jack Elliott, miner, trapper, supporter of civic projects and worthy charitable endeavors; a sizable man, good for back-up in a fight, known to crack heads together in the quelling of drunken brawls, and a sharpshooter from his days in the Union Army.
     All this was, on the whole, true. A role I could live with. It was the frequent whispers, meant kindly enough, in general, that made my innards shiver. Some newcomer on the porch of the general store or in a saloon would lean close to an old-timer to hear about poor Jack Elliott, wounded so bad at the Battle of Chickamauga that his beard never grew again and his voice had gone up to about the pitch of an adolescent boy's.
     Then they'd shift uneasily in their chairs until somebody commented that Jack surely had an eye for the ladies, at least, and would buy a girl a drink and even dance with a good deal of enjoyment, though nobody'd ever seen him go upstairs at the whorehouse. That'd bring a chuckle, and more uneasy shifting, but if I came close enough for hailing there'd be genial enough greetings and invitations to sit in at a poker game.
     My ruminations had begun to drift back toward the girls in the dance hall, all curls and red lips and waists laced up tight to make their bosoms swell above their low-cut gowns. Ulysses' sudden halt jolted me. I looked where the horse was looking, and saw a twitch of movement. Just a juniper branch springing loose from its weight of snow, I figured, maybe triggered by some small creature sheltering beneath.
     I urged Ulysses onward, but he stopped again when we'd drawn about level with the suspicious mound. My horse was not of a temperament to shy at trifles. Half Morgan, half Clydesdale, he had strength enough to fear little, wit enough to know what needed fearing, and courage enough to face the latter if I asked it of him. From Vermont to the war in the South to the Sierra Mountains he'd carried me, through the hellfire of battle and the solitude of wilderness. It wasn't fear, but more likely curiosity that halted him now, or perhaps his judgment that I ought to take notice of whatever this was.
     Another twitch, more shedding of snow, and I saw that he was right. Jet-black hair lay beneath a powdering of white. I dismounted, my Sharps carbine at the ready, and gently prodded a snow-covered shoulder with the toe of my boot. No response.
     I knelt, still cautious, and turned the body on its side. The face revealed was pale as ivory, eyes closed, with a knife slash and swelling purple bruise extending from the narrow jaw up over a delicate cheekbone.
     A child? A female child? I dropped my carbine and brushed away snow with both hands. She wore a quilted jacket and cotton trousers, much too thin for the weather. I shed one elkhide glove and slipped a hand under the flimsy covering, looking for a heartbeat. The curve of her breast told me that she was, in fact, no child. I looked closer at her face and realized that she must be from the Chinatown section of Dutch Flat, populated by immigrants who had come first for the mining, then for the building of the railroad.
     I touched a finger to her exposed throat. Cold. Cold as death. But not dead, not quite, not yet. A tremor of a pulse still stirred the smooth skin.
     Dusk was deepening into night, and the swirling snow had intensified. There was no time for any but the most cursory search for other injuries. I lifted her slight form across my shoulder, retrieved my carbine, and contrived to mount one-handed. Ulysses started forward, needing no more direction than my knees and heels provided.
     She was so pale, so cold... With only a moment's hesitation I pulled open my coat and hugged her to my chest, closing the sheepskin around her. She stirred a bit, curling instinctively closer to my warm body. Then, eyes still tight-closed, she slipped her arms around me as far as they could reach and nestled her uninjured cheek against my breast.
     Some strange force leapt inside me. Beneath my woolen shirt my flesh stirred and swelled under the pressure of her head. Lust, tenderness, perhaps some vestigial instinct for nurturance, warred with fear of discovery.
     In spite of sore temptation I had never trusted even the most appealing of whores with my secret. I knew some would have been as glad of my attentions as of my money; other women had been, from time to time, even in the War. I had not been the only female-born to take on a man's role and enlist. Not all of us had been following male sweethearts, either, and some of us had found each other and taken brief comfort amidst the hell of war.
     By the time we reached town I had decided that my fears were unfounded. She was still unconscious, and, in any case, might well not even speak or understand English. Once I had taken her to safety, it was unlikely that I would encounter her again. My arms felt strangely reluctant at the thought of releasing her, though, and I began to consider where, after all, she would be safe.
     Ulysses had headed out of habit toward the one place where we were always welcome. Doc Warren was the only inhabitant of Dutch Flat, or California, or anywhere west of the Hudson River, who knew my full identity, having nursed me through a fever when I'd first come west.  He'd been willing to keep my secret, whether from some sense of medical ethics or an inclination toward solidarity with a fellow soldier. As a military doctor he'd seen as much of the horrors of the war as any rifleman. Maybe more.
     We'd become friends, having more in common than not in spite of the twenty years difference in our ages. I often stayed with him when I came to town for supplies. In any case, where better to take an injured girl than to a doctor's house? But the Chinese, I knew, had doctors too, with their own strange medical ways. And someone in Chinatown might well be searching for this girl.
     I very nearly turned Ulysses away from his accustomed route and toward the settlement across the tracks, with its Joss house temples, Chinese merchandise stores, gambling halls, restaurants, laundries, apothecaries, brothels, and opium dens. Then I looked down at the ravaged face so close to mine and realized that someone had slashed her, had committed mayhem, quite deliberately. And that either she had been running away, or someone had dumped her outside of town in the bitter cold with night and a snowstorm coming on. I would not deliver her back to that former life without finding out more.
     She moved a little in my arms and gripped me harder, though her eyes were still closed. I felt a surge of protectiveness; no more, I told myself, than anyone might feel for some kitten or pup plucked from destruction. But a tingling in my body, a stab of longing where the weight of her hips pressed against me, told me that I lied.
     Doc had rooms and an office at the back of the building housing the post office. To my relief, there was a lamp lit in his window. I'd worried that he might be off tending to injuries or delivering babies.
     He was slow to answer the thump of my boot against his door. Once inside I could see by the dilated pupils of his eyes that he had been dosing himself with laudanum or some such pharmaceutical. I'd be the last to blame a man for trying to dull recurring dreams of the horrors of war, or the other miseries doctors must witness, but it was still early in the evening, and somebody might have needed him. Somebody did need him.
     "What's all this, Jack?" he said, his words only a little slurred. I lay my burden on his sofa and turned to see him shaking the fog from his head. An odd look passed across his face as he focused on the girl, and he hesitated for a long moment, but his hands seemed steady enough when finally he bent over her to explore her injuries.
     "I found her about a mile out along the Bear River trail," I said. "Or you might say Ulysses found her. She was covered in snow, lying where she'd either fallen or been dumped." The rough anger in my voice might have been roused entirely by those who had done such a thing, or a little may have been aimed at Doc himself.
     He straightened up wearily.  "You go get Ulysses settled in while I make us some coffee. Might have a bit of tea around here for the girl, too. A hot drink inside her is the first thing she needs."
     I nodded, then wished I hadn't when snow melt dripped from my hat. Fifteen minutes later, back from Ed Sawyer's livery stable two streets away, I left my hat and coat on the stand by the door after shaking off the snow on the doorstep.
     Coffee was brewing on the black iron stove, beside a great kettle of steaming water. Doc had spread a blanket over the girl and was kneeling by the sofa applying unguent and bandages to her injured face.
     I hauled my gear into Doc's spare room. My shirt was wet from clutching a snow-covered body against it, so I dug a dry one from my pack, and, as was my habit in adjusting to the role of an upstanding male member of the community, I dealt firmly with the most obvious evidence to the contrary by binding my chest tightly with cotton bands.
     "Give me a hand here, Jack," Doc said when I emerged. "She's coming around. You sit there and prop her up."
     At first glance it looked to me as though she was still out cold, but then I detected a glint behind her long lashes, and felt her gaze track my movement across the room. I edged onto the sofa, raising her shoulders just enough to slide my thighs beneath them. When she didn't seem to object I pulled her higher against me until she was sitting on my lap. Her uninjured cheek lay against my collarbone and her black hair brushed my throat and chin.
     It seemed somehow so natural a position, restful and stimulating both at once, that Doc's return with the tea felt almost like an intrusion. But faint spasms of shivering swept her body every few seconds, and I knew he was right about the need to warm her. Not that alternative methods of doing so didn't occupy my mind.
     "Drink this," Doc said with firm authority. I noticed that his hand holding the cup wasn't altogether steady. The girl's nostrils twitched as she inhaled the steam suspiciously, and her lips remained stubbornly closed. Even I could detect the scent of some herbal soporific.
     "Let me," I said, taking the cup. "Open up, now."
      She tilted her head back until she could gaze up into my face. Her dark almond-shaped eyes were intent with some emotion I couldn't decipher, but whatever she saw seemed to satisfy her. She lowered her mouth to the rim of the cup and drank as I tipped it toward her.
     "You make a fine nurse, Jack," Doc said. "Now see if you can get her clothes off."
     I looked sharply at him to see whether this was some sort of joke. There was a wry sort of smile on his face, but when he went to the kitchen pump to half-fill a copper hip-bath with buckets of water and then turned the contents of the steaming kettle into it, I understood what he was about.
     She let me unfasten her jacket and slide her cotton trousers down her hips, not merely placidly, as the herbs might dictate, but with an appearance of languid pleasure. A little smile curved her lips very briefly, though she winced at the pain this caused her cheek. When she lifted her small round buttocks to let me ease the fabric past them her fragrance was so inviting that I was hard put to resist lowering my face to taste the musky sweetness between her thighs.
     Doc Warren kept his back discreetly turned until I had her in the bath. When he turned back he his demeanor was professional enough. I tried to follow his lead, though the slender grace of her body and the smoothness of her honey-hued skin had my pulses pounding. Her breasts above the water were small but beautifully shaped, rounder than I would have expected from such observations as I'd made of the few Chinese women seen on the streets of the town.
     Doc shot me a sardonic glance, appreciating, I knew, the irony that my presence bolstered the proprieties in a literal sense, since I had a woman's body, but smashed them to bits in terms of a lustful gaze.
     "Is she going to be all right?" I asked gruffly. "No frostbite?" Her feet had been blue-tinged, but were now turning bright pink in the hot water, and her color in general seemed to have improved.
     "I'd say you and Ulysses found her just in time," he said. "I think she'd been running away, not dumped, and fell not long before you happened by. The snow was building up fast just then. She'll do fine in that respect."
     His tone warned me of some deeper concern. "How about her face?" I asked. "She'll be scarred, I know, but..."
     "The face will heal, more or less," he said. "The slash isn't all that deep. But yes, there'll be scarring. She'll never work again in Madame Yee's House of Flowers, or any other."
     Well, I couldn't say I was much surprised. "So you know she worked in a brothel."
     "Jack, I know all too much about her, and you'd better know it, too." Doc rubbed his face wearily. "It was a fine thing you did, saving her from freezing to death, but I'm not sure you did her any favor at all."
     He reached for a blanket left handy over a nearby chair. "Let's get her dried off and bedded down. She's about asleep as it is. Then we'll talk." As I rolled her in the blanket and then unrolled her into dry quilts on the bed, I saw half-healed lash-stripes across her back and flanks, and wondered angrily how any brothel proprietor could have allowed such damage, if only because it would decrease her value.
     When we sat by the stove with cups of hot coffee and a plate of cold ham and biscuits, Doc was silent for a while. I was on the verge of pushing him for an explanation when he said abruptly, "Did anyone see you carrying her through town?"
     "Not that I noticed," I said. "Ulysses did all the navigating. If there were folks about they'd have had their hats pulled down against the snow just as I did. And if they did see me, I'd guess I only looked about as bearlike as usual, hunched against the cold and wind with her close inside my greatcoat."
     "That's just as well, then," Doc said, "or she'd be lucky to see another dawn. And so would we, if I'm any judge of how you'd react when they came to get her."
     "Who'd be after her?" But I knew part of the answer. Someone who had tried to ruin her face. Someone who wasn't going to touch her again, not without going through me first.
     Turned out, of course, there was more to it than that. The Tong Wars of San Francisco's Chinatown had spread to the Sierra gold fields. Business owners in thriving towns like Dutch Flat could be coerced into paying "protection" money as readily as those in the city, and a town official might take the opportunity to get his share of what was going in return for turning a blind eye toward illicit activities.
     Hong Lian, Red Lotus, had been part of one such arrangement, a "gift" from a Tong chief to the sheriff who had taken a fancy to her at Madame Yee's. Reportedly he'd taken a few other things to her as well, and when it came to spurs she'd rebelled. Doc Warren had spent the day working on the sheriff, trying to repair injuries caused by sharp fingernails and teeth so savage they'd come close to inflicting the kind of wounds rumored to be the cause of my own minor deviations from standard manhood.
      "So both the law and the Tong are after her," Doc said. "The Tong has already marked her, as a lesson to others, but they've by no means finished with her. Running may have been her only chance to choose the manner of her death. She might even try to run again."
"Then I'd better watch close to be sure she doesn't," I said curtly.
Mind and body too tired and conflicted for useful thought, I went and lay beside her on the bed, fully clothed. Near morning I woke to find that a blanket had been laid across me, but I was still cold, and burrowed quietly under the rest of the quilts. When sun slanted through the window I found a slim, naked body wrapped in my arms and a knee nudged against the damp crotch of my Levi Strauss canvas trousers.
     Doc had left coffee and cornbread in the kitchen, along with a note. "Think hard and fast, Jack. And keep her quiet. We're in deeper than a bull in a heifer."
     I blessed him for that "we're" and for his wry humor. I'd brought trouble to his doorstep, and he'd taken it in, both as doctor and as friend.
     A tin of tea leaves sat on the table. I did my best to brew a cup, thinking to take it to the invalid, but before I got to the bedroom door she was standing there, wrapped in a quilt, long dark hair tousled about her face and shoulders.
     "Jack?" she said experimentally. Her voice was high and sweet.
     "Jack," I agreed, nodding.
     She put a hand to her own chest. "Hong Lian", she said, or at least it sounded close enough to the way Doc had pronounced the name last night. I didn't think I could get my mouth around it just yet.
     "Red Lotus?" I asked, and she nodded back at me.
     "Lo-tus," she said, coming forward to take the cup from me. For all that she drank daintily, and was somewhat impeded by her injury, the tea seemed to disappear in a flash. She walked to the kitchen table, set down the cup, and turned back to me, loosing her grip on the quilt a bit so that it fell open to show her nakedness.
     Thinking what to do—thinking rationally about anything at all—was about to get harder than ever I'd dreamed. And the voice in need of quieting would turn out to be my own.
     Lotus raised the edges of her covering like wings, and came toward me. Her warm scent flooded my senses. She got so close she had to tilt her head back to look into my face. "Jack," she said again, and raised a hand to my cheek, letting go one corner of the quilt. Her stroke on my skin felt like the taste of warm honey. "Mei-lai," she whispered.
     I had no time to wonder what the word meant. Her hand descended over my jaw, my throat, across my breasts, making them surge as though they'd burst their bindings. Then she was kneeling before me, both hands on my belt buckle, murmuring more words I couldn't have understood even if blood hadn't been pounding in my head so loud I could scarcely hear.
     A few panicked thoughts still pierced through the turmoil. What was she expecting to find? Did she know by now who, or what, I was? Or did she plan to use me as she had the sheriff, in order to escape? The thought of her sharp little teeth in my flesh made me wince even as my wetness flowed.
     Then her fingers slid inside the unbuttoned fly of my trousers, and found me, and I barely stifled a yelp. The busy post office was a thin wall away, and the clop of hooves and stamp of boots, slightly muffled by last night's snow, came in from the nearby street. I could hear an indistinct buzz of voices; mine would surely be heard as well if I raised it.
     But her fingers moved more insistently, and her little red tongue thrust its way in beside them. Her other hand still worked at my belt buckle. Any minute I would be in a state of helpless glory, hobbled by pleasure and my trousers about my ankles.
     With a low growl I lifted her to her feet, and then so high along my body that her soft throat was against my hungry lips. Her laughter vibrated right into my mouth. She wriggled, but not in resistance, as I carried her back to the bed.
     My clothes were off before I knew it, and we were rolling naked together. She looked so small and fragile, in spite of her full round breasts and gently curving belly, that I was afraid I might crush her with my bulk. But she seemed infinitely resilient, thrusting her hips upward toward the pressure of my thigh between her legs, arching her neck to grasp one swollen nipple and then another in her hot mouth. When she sucked hard, then harder, with a hint of grazing teeth, I groaned, and bucked until the creaking of the bedstead might have been heard in the street. It took only a few thrusts of the fingers she had worked between us to send such stabs of pleasure coursing through me that my teeth clenched in my own forearm to stifle cries that would have resounded like the roar of an angry grizzly.
     In a state of gasping collapse I rolled from her body, and suddenly she was on top of me, all over me, kneeling astride at one moment to streak my belly with her juices, then sitting beside me, leaning to plant little kisses from knees to swampy crotch to breasts and chin and lips.
     "Mei-lai," she murmured, again and again. I wondered whether it was some former lover's name, but then all thought fled as she shifted her body upward and straddled my face. I steadied her small round buttocks with hands that encompassed the whole of their curves. My lips worked against her nether ones, and her hips wriggled wildly as I thrust my long tongue up into her streaming heat, until the spasms sweeping her shook my head from side to side in the fierce grip of her thighs. Her rapid cries, though no louder than a mewling kitten's, still pierced me to my core.
     We had barely time to recover before Doc Warren returned from his rounds. We were clothed, but the air must have reeked of what we'd been up to, even though we'd managed to heat water and wash up a bit.
     "No need to ask," Doc said dryly, "What kind of thinking you've been doing." He went to the cupboard for sticking-plaster to repair the bandage that had loosened a bit from Lotus's cheek. "Whatever you're going to do, you'd better do it fast. Snow's not all that deep from yesterday's storm, but Many Bearclaws over at the livery stable says there's a big one brewing, due by morning."
     The old Indian was seldom wrong about the weather. And mention of the stable reminded me that there was no point in my staying hidden, since Ulysses' presence there was advertisement enough that I was in town. The sooner I was seen out and about the less suspicion there'd be, and, in any case, I needed to pick up the provisions I'd come for. As well as a few more.
     Doc would be holding office hours in the room next door. "Stay in the bedroom," I ordered Lotus, who pouted a bit and then grimaced at the pain it caused her cheek. Whether she understood the words or not, she clearly understood their meaning when I bound her leg to the bedstead with my belt. She could easily enough get free, but she could also count on my returning for the belt. And for her.
     I went off into town, hoping my coat hid the rope holding up my trousers. A stop at the bank with my little sack of gold nuggets and dust came first. Then I lugged my sacks of cornmeal and beans and a bit of salt and sugar from the general store along the wood plank sidewalk, returning greetings from acquaintances ranging from gamblers to church ladies. Once back at the livery stable, I deposited my supplies next to Ulysses' stall. "A couple more parcels will be delivered from the store," I told Ed Sawyer. "I'll be packing up tomorrow morning at first light to get ahead of the worst of the storm." Old Many Bearclaws, tending an injured horse a couple of stalls away, grunted skeptically.
     Then, instead of going toward Doc's place, I found myself veering toward Chinatown. I'd been there before, out of curiosity; now I went right for a general merchandise store and picked up a big sack of rice and a few tins of tea. I waited to pay while the old woman at the counter stroked a length of embroidered silk a customer was considering. "Mei-lai, mei-lai," she said, over and over. My skin tingled. "Mei-lai?" I asked, as well as I could manage, when the potential customer had left without purchasing. "What does that mean?" She gave me a shrewd, considering look. "Beau-ti-ful," she said at last.
     My parcel, when I departed, contained the silk fabric tucked beneath the rice and tea. Beautiful. Never, even in the days when I'd been young and generally acknowledged to be female in spite of my size and gawkiness, had anyone thought to call me beautiful.
     It was still three hours until first light when I fetched Ulysses at the stable and loaded him. The snow was just beginning. Doc helped me add on what was still at his place, largely in silence, having done his duty the night before by trying, without conviction, to deter me.
     "How much do you really know about this woman?" he'd asked. "How can you be sure she won't knife you in the back and take off with your horse?"
     "I know my horse," I'd said shortly. He hadn't bothered to point out that there could still be a knife in my back before she found out that Ulysses wouldn't cooperate.
     When we'd about finished loading, though, he played his trump card. "Know anything about birthing babies?" he asked, with studied casualness.
     I thought about Lotus's rounded breasts and curving belly, and understood what he meant. I won't deny that a pang of anxiety struck me, along with a pang of something else made up of both joy and sorrow. I tucked those thoughts away for future reflection. "I've helped deliver foals, and been with my sisters for a few of theirs. I can manage." There was no point worrying about it now, at any rate. The choice was clear.
     "Well," Doc said, "if this can all be smoothed over in time, with people moving on and enough money in the right hands, maybe you'll be able to come back. Let folks see Jack Elliott with his woman and child. Stir ’em up a bit." He slapped my flank companionably and grinned.
     When we were mounted on Ulysses Lotus was wrapped again inside my coat. I was the one who must have looked to be with child, but there was nobody about yet to see.
     Ulysses shifted a bit, getting the feel of the heavy load of passengers and supplies. If need be, once we were safely away and snow covering our tracks, I'd dismount and walk a good deal of the way to my cabin in the distant hills, but I trusted him to get us that far. He'd been the one to get me into this, after all.
     Doc walked beside us for a few paces. "You're sure, Jack?" he said one last time.
     "I'm sure," I said. "This is what I want. I keep what I find." Lotus tightened her grip on me under the coat. Her voice still whispered through my mind. "Mei-lai," she'd said, and shown how she'd meant it. And I keep what's found me, I thought. With scarcely a signal from reins or heels, Ulysses quickened his pace, and we were on our way home.

Check here for other bloggers participating in Charity Sunday today. I seem to have messed up the link this time, so go to Lisabet Sarai's post, read it, and the links o the others are there.



Thursday, April 23, 2020

Charity Sunday--Back in Lakota Territory

Lakota People's Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859

So many people to try to help! I probably shouldn’t be repeating a charity, but I am anyway. This is one I promoted on a previous Charity Sunday, on last September 22nd, when the Lakota tribes and others were defending their lands and water sources against the Keystone  XL oil pipelines. They still are, in fact, although they’ve won some delays, but now they’re facing another threat. It’s the same one we’re all facing, the coronavirus, but with much fewer medical or supply defenses than most of us have. The virus is spreading fast on the reservations, and on the Navajo lands to the south, where access to clean water is extremely limited. I’ve already sent a contribution there, and now I’m going to contribute again to the Lakota cause, $2 for every viewer of this blog, and $3 for every comment.

I used my only vaguely appropriate story already on that September blog, so the best I can do is offer an excerpt from near the beginning of another story that at least takes place in a similar setting, Montana. It’s actually a ghost story, but I won’t get into much of the complicated part. And I’m not even going toinclude any explicit sex, although there’s some further on in the story. So here goes.
Excerpt from “Spirit Horse Ranch” in my collection Wild Rides and Other Lesbian Erotic Adventures (Dirt Road Books)

Spirit Horse Ranch

A bark and a high-pitched whine came up from the root cellar. Emmaline went to the top of the steps.  “Get your furry butt up here,” she yelled, beginning to lower the trapdoor. Chinook, not wanting to be shut below, left off whatever she was doing and bounded up into the kitchen.
“If you haven’t caught ‘em yet, you won’t, not without tearing up my spuds and onions!” The scolding was mostly to keep her own voice steady. “Wait for Sigri to get home!”
At the sound of that name, the dog padded hopefully to the screen door and looked out at the empty, dusty road connecting the ranch to the rest of the world. For all her devotion to Emmaline, Chinook looked to Sigri as her one true goddess.
No argument there, Emmaline thought. To see Sigri riding against the backdrop of the mountains, lithe, strong, the herd of horses running with her for the pure joy of it, any passing stranger might think Montana was as close to heaven as earth could get. At night, in ways no passerby could imagine, Emmaline knew for sure she’d found her own personal paradise. The thought rekindled the anticipatory heat she’d felt when she thought it was Sigri behind her.  
But what was she going to tell Sigri? That she’d freaked out in the root cellar, panicked about ghosts, when it might be just rats? Even in the familiar normalcy of the kitchen, she couldn’t really believe that. Whatever she decided, it would go better after supper, and there wouldn’t be any supper if she didn’t get on with it.
For now, there was plenty left of the big kettle of chili Sigri cooked once a week. Emmaline could whip up a batch of cornbread and pull some greens from the autumn garden. Sigri wouldn’t object, having pretty much lived on nothing else in the years she’d ranched here alone.
A tensing of the dog’s back, a perking of ears, brought Emmaline to the screen door. Dust puffed in the distance, where the road was no more than a crease in grasslands tinted gold by the afternoon light. Beyond, blue mountains streaked with early snow rose in jagged ranges; the Absarokee and Beartooth to the south, the Crazies to the west. To Emmaline they were guardians, shielding her against where she’d come from, who she’d had to be; but even their grandeur dimmed behind the glint of sunlight on the approaching truck.
Chinook’s whines rose to a frantic pitch. It didn’t take the dog’s quivering rump, ready to break out into a fit of wagging, to tell Emmaline that the truck was Sigri’s. She knew, as surely as the dog, and she understood the impulse to race to meet the loved one, but Chinook, for all her size, was barely out of puppyhood and still needed her training reinforced. Her job, her sacred charge, was to stay close to Emmaline every minute.
Sigri had swapped the stud service of her Appaloosa stallion for the pick of a neighbor’s litter of pups. “Folks around here are pretty much decent, mind-their-own-business types, whatever their beliefs,” she’d said, “but punks can sprout up anywhere, even Montana. A good dog can make ‘em think twice about trying to get at…well, at a woman out here alone.”
No need to spell it out. It wasn’t just being a woman alone. What had happened down in Laramie to that boy Matthew Shepard was on both their minds. Sigri, when she’d lived alone, hadn’t worried; nearly everybody within fifty miles was related to her, or owned horses she’d trained. She was one of their own. Emmaline, for all her farm-girl background, wasn’t.
The red truck was close enough now for her to make out the familiar lines. Where the road dipped down to ford the tree-lined creek, green-gold leaves hid it for a moment; this was when Emmaline would generally head out to open the gate in the stock fence. Right now she wasn’t sure her legs would take her that far without some wobbling Sigri was sure to notice.
“Stay!” She pressed her hand down hard on Chinook’s wriggling shoulders. Sigri reached the gate, got out to open it herself, looked searchingly up at the house, and got back in. Emmaline waited until the truck stopped between the barn and the house and then, finally, let Chinook out.
Sigri stood, stretched her rangy body after the bumpy ride, pushed back her Stetson until straw-pale cropped hair showed above her tanned forehead, and looked again toward the house. Glimpsing Emmaline inside the doorway, she flashed a boyish grin that would never grow old, no matter how many lines time and weather etched on her face.
The dog pranced around her legs in frantic welcome. Weanling fillies along the paddock fence whickered in greeting. Emmaline, aching to be there too, watched as each animal got its moment of affection. When Sigri finally hauled sacks of groceries out of the truck and strode toward the house, Emmaline barely had time to tie on her apron, pour flour and corn meal into a bowl, and get enough on herself to look like she’d been in the middle of mixing.
The screen door swung open and shut. As soon as the bags and a banded bundle of mail were safely on the kitchen table, and the Stetson tossed onto its hook, Emmaline proceeded to wipe her hands on the blue-checked dishtowel and rush to grab a big hug.
Sigri’d noticed something, though. “You okay, babe?” She stroked the loose tangle of hair Emmaline had forgotten to tidy. Fear came surging back.
With her arms around Sigri’s lean body and her head nestled against a firm shoulder, Emmaline managed to say, “Sure I’m okay. How’d it go in Bozeman?”
“Not too bad.” Sigri tried to get a look at Emmaline’s face. “I dropped off your baked goods at the cafĂ©. Claire wrote a check for last week and this week too, so we’re all square there. And Rogers at the bank seemed pretty sure we can get an extension on the loan. He knows I’m owed enough by the horse trek outfitters to cover it.”
Emmaline burrowed a little closer, then tilted her head back for a kiss. Chinook, firmly trained not to interrupt such proceedings, lay down with her head between her paws, and then, impatient, went to nose around the edges of the trapdoor.
Emmaline became vaguely aware of the rattle of some small object being pushed around the floor behind her. Sigri, looking past her shoulder, broke the clinch. “What’s that dratted dog got? Chicken bone?”
“Not from my kitchen…” Emmaline stopped. Chinook was offering her prize to to Sigri. Held tenderly, in jaws trained to pick up eggs without breaking them, was a four-inch sticklike object. Not, they both knew, a stick. Bone, or two bones hitched together, but not chicken bone. Chickens don’t have fingers.
Sigri knelt. “Good girl,” she said, ruffling the dog’s ears. She took the bone and inspected it. “Not fresh, at least. Old. Real old, I’d say, but not prehistoric. Where’d you get that?” She looked up. “Where’s she been?”
Emmaline managed to yank a chair out from the table and slump into it. “Just here, in the house, or right beside me outdoors. And…down in the root cellar. I was putting up some more shelves.”
Sigri’s long body straightened. She hauled out a chair, straddled it backwards, and surveyed Emmaline keenly. “Down in the dugout? Guess you must have been hammering up some storm to get yourself so bedraggled.”
“Well, I was.” Emmaline steadied herself with pure stubbornness. “I built a good strong set of shelves. And maybe shook a little dirt lose from the wall, but I swear there wasn’t any crack big enough for…for a rat.”
“What’s a rat got to do with it?”
“Nothing!” Emmaline fastened her hair back tight with the rubber band from the bundle of mail. A couple of magazines unfurled to show covers she wouldn’t have wanted the local postmistress to see, which, along with the occasional specialty mail order delivery, was why they kept a post office box in the university town of Bozeman.

That’s all, for now. Links to other folks’ blogs on this Charity Sunday are below.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Free Lesbian Historical Romance Story: The Bridge

This historical story set in WWI England may be as close as I ever come to a non-erotic lesbian romance story, one I may someday expand into a novel. It was published in Through the Hourglass: Lesbian Historical Romance.

The Bridge
Sacchi Green

Upstream the river riffled over stony outcroppings, but under the bridge it ran deep and clear. Reggie leaned over the wooden railing and stared down into those amber-green depths, willing herself to see only a great speckled trout balanced in perfect stillness against the current. An ordinary Midlands English stream, all green shadow and shimmering sunlight and blue reflected sky. An ordinary fish. Yet she could not block out visions of bodies submerged in other streams throughout the ravaged countryside of France, flowing ever redder with blood until they reached the Somme. Even the songs of birds in flight, spilling over with rapture, warped in her mind into cries for help, help that could never be enough.
"Shell-shock," the doctors might say, but it scarcely mattered what one called it. Pure, searing grief, not war itself—though war would have been enough—had breached her defenses. Grief for Vic. For herself without Vic.
By what right did England bask in such a May morning, calm and lovely, while over there artillery’s thunder still shook the fields, and men rotted in muddy trenches? How could she bear to stand idle in the midst of such peace when her place was over there, even...even with Vic gone? All the more with Vic gone.
But she must adjust, must let the peace of home heal her—not that anywhere felt like home now. Or ever could again, without Vic. If Reggie could prove herself recovered, not only from her physical injuries but those of the spirit—capable once more, clear-minded—they just might send her back to the war. An experienced ambulance driver, strong as most men, skilled at repairing motorcars and field-dressing wounded men; here in pastoral England she was of no use, but over there she was desperately needed.
Reggie straightened abruptly, trying to focus on the tender green of new leaves, the glint of sunlight on the flitting gold and peacock blue of dragonflies. She shook herself like a retriever emerging from deep water.
“Don’t move!”
The low, terse command froze her in mid shake. “There’s a nest...” The voice came from below, less peremptory now, but Reggie’s mind raced. A machine gun nest? She fought the impulse to drop to the wooden planks of the bridge. Surely not gunners, not here! A nest of wasps?
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” The speaker was almost whispering. “It’s just that swallows are nesting below you on the supports of the bridge, and I’ve been sketching them, but they get uneasy when you move so suddenly and might leave the eggs.”
A flush of fury heated Reggie’s face. Forced to the verge of panic by some silly schoolgirl! She bent over the wooden railing, an angry shout surging into her throat, and saw, first, a head of tousled light brown hair cut short about the ears. A schoolboy, then! All the worse! “WHAT do you bloody mean by—”
The artist looked up. The remainder of Reggie’s words, stifled, burned like mustard gas in her mouth.
Not a boy. Not a child at all, though she might have been taken for one if it weren’t for tiny lines at the corners of mouth and eyes, and a certain look in those eyes that spoke of a share of pain in her life; rather like what Reggie saw in her own when she was careless enough to look in a mirror. Her hair was really no shorter than Vic’s pale curls had been in France, and Reggie’s own dark thatch had been cropped a good deal shorter back then, a necessity in the filth and chaos of battlefields. She realized uneasily that it was about time she cut it again. Eight months in hospital had left it just long enough to tie back in a straggly knot, which she would have hated if she had cared in the least about appearance these days.
“I really am terribly sorry,” the woman said. “I shouldn’t have startled you like that. I get too engrossed in what I’m working on; it’s my besetting sin. One of them, at any rate.” A flashing smile turned her rather ordinary face into something quite different, almost enchanting, in the elven manner of an illustration from a fairy tale. “You must be Lady Margaret’s cousin, and this is her bridge, so really you’ve much more right here than I. We’d heard you were spending the summer with her. I’m Emma Greening from downstream at Foxbanks.”
She stood from her perch on a mossy rock and made as if to extend a hand, then realized that she couldn’t possibly reach up to where Reggie stood and withdrew it in some confusion. “Just a second and I’ll climb out of here with my gear.”

Reggie found her voice, or at least some version of it just barely suitable for the occasion. The hoarseness couldn’t be helped. Vic had claimed to quite like what being a little too slow to get her gas mask on once had done to her tone. “No, you can go on sketching. I was about to move along at any rate.” Emma Greening...what had Margaret said about her? Something, in all that chatter about the local population, something about being an artist, but Reggie had paid no attention to any of it. No one in this dull, placid countryside mattered to her.
Now she wondered just how much Margaret had told the local population about her. Or how much Margaret herself understood.
“I should be going myself,” Emma said. “I can sketch swallows in my sleep—it was the bridge itself I wanted to catch in a certain light, and I think I have enough now to be going on with.” She packed her sketchbook and paint box into a satchel slung over her shoulder, and stepped from the rock onto the steep riverbank.
“Here, I can give you a hand with that.” Reggie heard the brusqueness in her own voice, and couldn’t quite erase the remnants of her angry frown, but found herself reaching down from the top of the riverbank without remembering how she’d got there. Emma’s sun-browned hand met hers in a firm grip, and she was up the slope so quickly and easily that it was clear she hadn’t needed any help at all.
“Thanks. I’ll be getting along now, and I do apologize for disturbing you.” Her smile now was merely polite.
This would be as good a time as ever to practice behaving normally, Reggie thought. Best to scotch any gossip about her being a bit odd. “Don’t leave on my account, Miss...Greening, is it? I’m Regina Lennox. Make that Reggie. Sketch here all you like. I’m the one who should apologize for being such a troll when you startled me.”
Emma’s smile flashed brilliantly again. “A troll? How funny that you’d say that! This is indeed a perfect troll bridge, which is why I was sketching it, for a book I’m illustrating. A children’s story, the one with the three goats.”
“Trip, trap, trip, trap over the bridge?”
“That’s the one,” Emma confirmed. “For now I wanted to get the bridge itself, rustic and charming, with the swallows, and that wren darting in and out of the bittersweet vines on the other side—she must have a nest there—and the clump of purple orchis just where the bridge meets the bank. All lovely and peaceful before the goats or troll appear. A lull before the storm sort of thing.”
“So the troll got here prematurely.” There was something comfortably familiar about this sort of conversation.
Emma tilted her head, surveying Reggie with mock seriousness. “No, I wouldn’t cast you as the troll, exactly. In any case, I was the one under the bridge, or nearly so. I’m a better candidate for trolldom.” She leaned her head the other way with a frown of concentration belied by a twitching at the corners of her mouth. “I see you more as the biggest Billy Goat Gruff—stern, shaggy, putting up with no nonsense from any troll.”
“Certainly shaggy...” Reggie stopped short. Memory hit her like an icy blast. Vic used to tease her, rumpling her hair when it got shaggy and needed cutting, calling her a troll—often followed by, ‘Well, get on with it, you slouch. Kiss me if you’re going to!’ She felt her face freeze into grim stillness, bracing against the familiar onslaught of grief.
Emma stepped back. “Sorry again,” she said, sounding embarrassed. “I have a bad habit of blurting outrageous things without thinking.”
“It’s not you,” Reggie got out, but no more words would come.
“I really should be going now, anyhow,” Emma said quickly. “I’ll just leave you in peace. I expect we’ll run across each other in the village from time to time.”
Reggie watched in frozen silence as Emma picked up the bicycle lying beside the lane, settled her art supplies in the canvas panniers at the back, mounted, and rode away. Her divided skirt revealed a brief glimpse of quite nice lisle-stockinged calves above sturdy boots—and a smudge of moss stain where she’d been sitting on the rock.
So much for behaving normally! Reggie’s spasm of grief was subsiding. She wished she could call Emma back, but the bicycle had disappeared around a bend edged with dense shrubbery. And what could she have said? “I froze up because you reminded me of someone.” Which wasn’t even true. Emma didn’t particularly resemble Vic. It was more the light, pleasant conversation, the brief exchange of banter...
Ah. That was it. Just as the rehabilitation counselor had said, but Reggie had resisted. Guilt. Survivor’s guilt, they called it. Why should she be the one to survive? How could she deserve, or accept, even the least pleasure?
Well, she had enjoyed herself, if only for a few minutes. Maybe that was a sign of healing. She rubbed her hands across her eyes, then turned back to the bridge. A swallow darted under the arch, and a second bird took flight from the nest on the wooden underpinnings while the first took over hatching duty. On the far side a wren darted in and out between clusters of tiny white flowers on a trailing tangle of vines—bittersweet, Emma had called it. A small butterfly speckled like polished tortoiseshell flitted between masses of ferns on the upper bank. Emma would probably know what it was called.
It occurred to Reggie that this side of the bridge was the farthest she’d been from Margaret’s house since she’d come here, and also that it must be close to time for lunch. A quick sound in the water and a spreading ring of ripples showed that the trout concurred and had snatched a mayfly from the surface.
She went back across the bridge, pausing to look down into the water. Only when she was well along the lane did she realize that her mind had played no tricks this time. She’d seen only the river, and the fish, and the reflection of a swallow in flight.
Margaret met Reggie at the edge of the garden, clearly relieved at her return.
“Elsie told me that you’d walked down toward the river, so I was just coming to tell you that lunch will be ready on the table in a very few minutes.”
Margaret was kind, but closer to a middle-aged aunt than a cousin, and she worried far too much. The river at the bridge was nothing like deep enough for anyone to drown herself in. Someone with Reggie’s height would need to lie prone in the water like a pre-Raphaelite vision of Ophelia in order to manage it, and she was certainly not the Ophelia sort. Nor the Hamlet sort, when it came to that. Back in their Somerville College days at Oxford, she had played Othello to Vic’s Desdemona in the all-women dramatic society, Vic teasing her into laughter so often during rehearsals that the actual performance startled them both with a fierce tension that went well beyond the dramatic. And well beyond the performance.
The thought brought a stab of pain, but also a wave of relief. She had not been sure that her mind still held such happy memories, that the tragic ones had not destroyed them. Margaret need not fear that she would destroy herself, with such memories to preserve.
She supposed she should make some effort to appear less submerged in despair, whether she were or not. “Very pleasant down by the bridge,” she said casually as they walked back to the house. “That artist woman you spoke of was there, sketching birds’ nests or something of the sort.”
“Oh, you’ve met Emma! How nice! We must have her over for tea one of these days.”
Tea. Over there, tea had been at best a brief pause, or no pause at all, to swig a bitter brew from a thermos bottle; tea or coffee, no milk or sugar. Still hot only if you were lucky. And when any of the lads you transported in the ambulance were in good enough shape to sit up and drink, you willingly gave your share to them.
“She didn’t strike me as a tea party sort.” Which was a plus in Reggie’s opinion, or would have been if she’d cared. She did care a bit, in fact. Emma seemed like someone she could enjoy chatting with, bantering, in a casual friendship uncomplicated by passion or drama.
“Well, she keeps quite busy with teaching drawing at the Midbury School for Girls, and does the most charming illustrations for children’s books, and is active in village affairs and war relief as well, so she might not have much time for tea. But she’s really quite nice, and from a good family.”
How genteel, Reggie thought. Although the split skirt and the slim strong calves that clambered up a steep riverbank as easily as they propelled a bicycle had not struck her as particularly ladylike.
It occurred to her that Margaret was sounding suspiciously like a matchmaker. Of course she couldn’t be blamed for wishing Reggie to make friends, or to at least do something besides mope about the house, but could there possibly be more to it? Surely not. Hard to be certain whether her cousin had guessed how much more Vic has been to her than a chum from student days, or a teammate in the grim work of bearing stretchers and driving ambulances on the battlefield, where an exceptionally long ranging shell could hit vehicles, patients, drivers...
Trying desperately to distract herself from that last image, she played along with the casual conversation. “Yes, she introduced herself. Said something about wanting to catch the bridge in a certain light.”
“Artists can be rather odd like that,” Margaret prattled on. “But they say she’s very good. I’ve only seen her sweet watercolors of birds and flowers and local scenes, but her work is shown in galleries in Birmingham, and even a few times in London at the Royal Academy of Arts, which is quite grand, I believe.”
Reggie was relieved to be stepping through the French doors from the garden into the morning room, where the housekeeper Elsie had lunch laid ready. For once she even had an appetite.
“Is there a competent seamstress in the village?” she asked Margaret when the meal was nearly over. For an instant her cousin’s mouth hung open in astonishment before she could answer.
“Oh! Well, yes, there’s that Miss Ogilvie who used to be a governess until she retired here to live in Bramble Cottage after her great-aunt died and bequeathed it to her. You know, that charming little thatch-roofed house just where the Mosely road branches off from the High Street? Thatched roofs are dreadfully susceptible to vermin, of course, but so picturesque, and Miss Ogilvie has had her roof rebuilt and sealed off from the interior, and then re-thatched, and—”
“An admirable woman, I’m sure,” Reggie broke in. “But can she do a decent job of altering clothing?”
“Oh yes. Of course no one is having new frocks made these days, with everything so scarce and so dear, so she does a great deal of mending and taking in and letting out and restructuring, until one would scarcely believe that the garments weren’t new. She even...well, I took her that immense paisley silk shawl my great grandfather brought from India, the one that used to be spread across the grand piano, and she sewed folds and tucks and fashioned it into a quite stylish evening wrap without making a single cut in the fabric! I’m so glad you’re thinking of having some clothing altered. You’ve lost so much weight during your illness!”
There was some truth to that, although Reggie knew quite well that Margaret also wished she would dress more conventionally. The tunic and trousers and trench coat that had been the accepted uniform for ambulance drivers in the war zone were fairly close to what the Women’s Land Army girls wore as they farmed here in England, and thus not exactly unconventional, but there were times and situations where they were out of place. Not that Reggie gave a damn for such times and situations.
The next morning Reggie packed up such clothing as she’d brought, mostly those tunics and trousers, but also two severely styled black gabardine dresses and a long skirt of brown twill. She drove an old cart pulled by grey Molly, a pony elderly enough not to have been requisitioned by the army with most of the other horses in the area. The Daimler that had been the pride and joy of Margaret’s late husband still stood forlornly in the stable, only saved from being requisitioned by being in poor repair, and likely to be taken soon for parts in spite of it. Margaret went along into the village to do some shopping.
“I do think you’ll like Miss Ogilvie,” Margaret said cheerily as she went off to browse the meager wares of the baker and greengrocer and have a look-in at the tearoom in case any close friends were there.
Reggie did like Miss Ogilvie. They recognized each other as two of a kind almost immediately. Reggie in her trousers was, of course, easier to spot, but Miss Ogilvie in her tailored suit had a way of moving, of holding her head, meeting Reggie’s eyes with a certain subtle smile in her own that was unmistakable if one spoke the unspoken language.
When Reggie held up the brown twill and asked whether it could be refashioned into a split skirt, the seamstress cast a professional eye over it, then over Reggie’s hips and thighs, and nodded with just a touch more than professional approval. “Quite enough fabric for that. Styles are shorter now, so I can take a good deal off at the bottom and use it for paneling to insert along the inseam.” She knelt to take the required measurements with no hint of impropriety, to Reggie’s slight regret and great relief. No complications, just an acknowledged fellowship.
Miss Ogilvie looked up. “Do you ride a bicycle? A split skirt is just the thing for riding.”
“I might take it up for the exercise. And the convenience, of course.”

“Excellent exercise, especially when one has been in hospital for some time.”

Reggie stiffened. “Yes. I suppose Margaret has spoken of it.” How much else had she told her backward, countrified world about Reggie’s affairs?
Miss Oglivie rose, jotted down numbers in a journal on her desk, and turned with a companionable smile. “Just that you’d been injured driving an ambulance in the war, and in hospital for several months, and had come to recover in the fresh country air. Nothing more, I assure you. No gossip gets spread around town without making its way here, but no gossip originates here, or ever will.”
Reggie relaxed just a notch or two. “Well, that’s all true. I’m a bit scarred on the back and shoulders, but nothing to interfere with bicycling.” It occurred to her that a little innocent gossip about Emma Greening might not be out of line. “I thought of the split skirt when I chatted with a lady artist yesterday who wears one when she cycles.”
“Oh, I’m so glad you’ve met Emma!” Miss Ogilvie’s words spilled out in a manner quite startling after her professional coolness. “She could use the company of someone from beyond this rural backwater. It’s been stifling for the poor girl this last year, taking care of her elderly parents. They went quite to pieces after her brother was killed. Of course this is her home, and the basis for most of her art, and she keeps busy with her teaching and volunteering for war causes, but other than the art she has precious little joy in her life. She can’t even get away now and then to London as she used to, visiting artist friends in Bloomsbury and Chelsea and, you know, all that lot.”
Reggie did know “all that lot.” And she understood what Miss Ogilvie, despite her claim of initiating no gossip, wanted her to know.
After a few more measurements pertaining to taking in
the waists of the trousers and dresses, and advice as to a barber who might do a decent trim of her hair, she left Miss Ogilvie’s establishment with her mind in turmoil. So Emma Greening was indeed a country girl, but one with a decidedly worldly side and artistic tastes that went well beyond sketching birds and flowers. If both Margaret and Miss Ogilvie were bent on pushing them together...well, Reggie had clearly been underestimating Margaret’s powers of perception.
Perhaps it would be better not to think of friendship with Emma Greening after all if Reggie meant to avoid complications, and drama, and—and passion. She thought again of that slim, strong hand, those calves below the split skirt, that sudden, brilliant smile. Definitely some danger there.
Once she’d been out and about and visible in the village, Reggie thought it best to keep up the effort to avoid appearing any odder than she could help. There were some fittings with Miss Ogilvie—“Lydia” by then—and a single appearance at church wearing one of the altered gabardine dresses, which were then hung at the back of her closet and ignored. She found that passing the gravestones on the way through the churchyard was so disturbing that only the exquisite organ music got her through the service. So much death in war. So many denied a peaceful rest in a country churchyard.
Reggie also accompanied Margaret by bus to the nearest good-sized town. While her cousin shopped, she found a fix-it shop that sold repaired bicycles, chose one to be delivered once suitable adjustments had been made, and struck up a companionable conversation with the owner. He’d been invalided home early in the war, but swore that operating from a wheeled chair or on crutches just made him better at understanding the mechanics of vehicles in general. They swapped stories of jury-rigging repairs to ambulance lorries and the horse-drawn caissons that bore the great guns, using whatever unlikely bits of metal or binding could be scrounged, from bent metal stirrups to leather bootstraps.
What Reggie did not manage, in all this whirl of sociability, was to see any trace of Emma Greening. Could the artist be avoiding her? She could scarcely be blamed after Reggie had been such a...well, such a troll. Strange that the absence of someone she’d barely met could feel like a hollow place inside her. Just as well to leave it at that.
Still, she mentioned Emma’s absence to Lydia Ogilvie, who was not deceived by the attempt at an off-hand tone. “Yes, she’s away doing volunteer work at least one week out of each month. If you want to know more than that, you must ask her yourself.”
Three days later Reggie saw a bicycle with familiar canvas panniers leaning against the low wrought iron fence surrounding the churchyard. In a far corner of the enclosure, someone with unruly light brown hair sat in the grass by a gravestone, bent over what might be a sketchbook. Not a suitable time at all for a casual greeting. Still, Reggie leaned her own second-hand bicycle against the fence and stood watching against her better judgment.
The bent head lifted. Emma gazed at the stone for a long minute, then raised a hand to rub an eye. To rub a tear from an eye, Reggie was certain. Quite definitely not a time to invade someone’s privacy.
Yet there Reggie was, setting one hand on the top rail and vaulting easily over the fence, striding between the ancient and not-so-ancient headstones, and dropping to the grass beside Emma.
Emma looked up, face drawn, eyes bright with tears. She didn’t seem surprised at all to see Reggie. “Mother can’t bear to come here,” she said in a low voice. “But if I draw the stone, with flowers that bloom here or some I’ve picked, and leave my sketchbook open on the hall table, she’ll pick it up and look. That’s the closest she can come to acceptance.”
The open sketchbook showed a watercolor scene, still damp, portraying the grey stone with softly muted edges and an inscription that could just barely be read, although the one on the actual stone was sharp and all too recent: “Lieutenant Edward Greening.” In front of the pictured stone, small bright buttercups danced on delicate stems, minutely detailed mirror images of the actual flowers before them, just as an oak branch in full leaf at the top of the page matched the very one arching above them
“Your brother?” was all Reggie could think of to say. Something about sitting on the grass together made any formality absurd.
Emma looked back at the stone and went on as though they were longstanding friends, the sort with whom one could share deep thoughts when one desperately needed to speak them. “At least Eddie came home. So many others never will. Who knows—you might even have carried him in your ambulance. But he was too broken to live long, in too many ways. And he’d lost someone he loved over there. I think he would rather have been buried there too, in ‘some corner of a foreign field...’”
“‘...that is forever England.’” Reggie continued the quotation without conscious thought. “So you know Rupert Brooke’s poetry.” Vic had loved Brooke’s poetry. Reggie braced for the pain the thought must bring, her face tightening.
“Oh yes. Rupert was from this district, a distant cousin in fact, and Eddie knew him at Cambridge. He was given his book when it came out. Eddie thought him rather too sentimental, but his words were sadly prophetic and do stick with one in times like these.” Emma turned, saw Reggie’s expression, and reached out to touch her arm. “You lost someone there?”
The pain came, but now she could speak of it, which made all the difference. “Vic only went to the war because I did, and now she’s dead, when it should be me.” She drew a gulping breath. “I want to go back, I must do the work again, but with her gone...” She groped in a pocket for a handkerchief. She’d thought all her tears had been spent long ago, but one was making its way down her cheek.
Emma passed her a paint-stained square of cotton cloth. “Work is the only thing that helps, no matter how hard it is to do, but there’s more than enough of it on this side of the Channel. I go to Oxford once a month because I’m needed, but also because I need to do the work.”
Reggie stared at her blankly. “Oxford?”
“Somerville College has been converted to a hospital for the duration,” Emma explained. “I was in training there to go to France as a nurse, but then Eddie...then I had to care for my parents. Now I go one week a month as a nurse’s assistant, filling in when others need time off, helping with cleaning, changing dressings, lifting, sitting with cases who can’t be left alone. Sometimes the lads like me to make sketches of them to send home to their families and sweethearts, pictures showing them less...less harshly than a photograph would.” She snatched the cloth back and used it on her own cheek.
The flush on Reggie’s face this time was of shame, not anger. What a thick-headed jackass she’d been, assuming that folks in the peaceful countryside knew nothing of the horrors of war. And giving no thought to what became of the wounded she carried to the field hospitals, or from those to the ships, once they got back to England.
“I could be of help there,” she said slowly. “I could go with you.”
“Yes. You could.”
A long, considering silence. Then: “We were at Somerville together, Vic and I. Victoria and Regina. We got ragged about the names, of course, but eventually everyone just took it for granted that we did everything together.”
Emma smiled at that, not her brilliant, flashing smile, but one of understanding.
“I should go there,” Reggie went on. “There are people in Oxford I must see, a tutor who was a mentor to me, and to Vic, and wrote to us when we went to the war, as did some others as well. But I’ve been putting it off. To be there, when Vic never will be again—to tell them how it was, how she died. It’s a bridge I must cross, but I don’t know how I can bear it!”
Emma wrapped her fingers around Reggie’s as though they had a perfect right to be there. To Reggie it felt as though they did.
“I can give you a hand with that,” Emma said, echoing Reggie’s words by the wooden bridge where they’d met. “Over any number of bridges.”
Reggie tightened her grip, leaned forward, paused, and thought briefly of looking about to see whether any passerby could see them. But Emma had leaned forward as well, so that their faces all but touched, and a breeze through the oak leaves above them sounded uncannily like Vic’s voice saying, ‘Get on with it, you slouch!’
So Reggie did. And the salt of spent tears had never tasted so sweet.

Free Lesbian Erotic Romance Story: Healing

Healing has been free on my blog site for years, and still gets more clicks than any other entry. First published in 2005 in Ultimate Lesbian Erotica from the long-gone Alyson Books.

Sacchi Green

Late afternoon sunlight filtered through the hemlock branches. An hour ago it had blazed over the water-sculpted granite, and radiant heat still penetrated into places I had thought would never be warm again. My body adjusted to the stone's smooth contours and felt, for a while at least, at peace.
Something moved among the trees on the bank above. I kept my eyes closed, trying to block out everything but the ripple of water and the scent of spruce and balsam. Far below, where the stream leapt downward in the series of falls and slides known as Diana's Baths, there were swarms of vacationers, but they seldom climbed up as far as this gentler sweep of stone and pool. I'd hoped, foolishly, for solitude.
Someone stood there, watching. Move on, damnit, I thought, hating the unfamiliar sense of vulnerability, the suppressed jerk of my hand toward a gun that wasn't there. Maybe the Lieutenant was right. Maybe I really wasn't ready to get back into uniform.
Maybe I was hallucinating being watched.
I sat up abruptly. A hemlock branch twitched, and through its feathery needles a pair of bright eyes met my challenge. A child, I thought, glimpsing tousled russet curls and a face like a mischievous kitten. Then she moved into clearer view, and I got a good look at a body that could have held its own on one of those TV beach shows. So, for that matter, could her bikini.
She looked me over just as frankly. "Hi there," she said throatily. "I think I've got myself lost."
Eye candy or not, I resented the intrusion. "Well, there's upstream, and there's downstream. Take your pick."
"They both sound so good, I can't decide!" Her glance moved deliberately from my face over my body down to the long, semi-healed scar running from mid-thigh up under my cut-off jeans. The scar didn't seem to startle her a bit. I began to suspect a plot.
It's not that unusual for women to come on to me when I'm in uniform, and I've taken advantage of their fantasies a time or two, but I was in civvies, and this was way over the top. She was so blatantly acting out a scene that I was more amused than anything else. Well, maybe not anything else. It had been a long time. A definite tingle was building where it counted most, and my nipples threatened to assert themselves through my gray tank top. I pulled on the sweatshirt I'd been using as a pillow. The New Hampshire State Police logo on the front didn't seem to surprise her, either.
I looked downhill. "Hey, Dunbar," I called to the head poking around a mossy boulder, "who's your little friend?"
"How's it going, Josie?" Jimmy Dunbar emerged from concealment. "I'd've introduced you, but you cruised right on by without so much as a nod for an old friend."
"Sorry," I said. "Been a bit preoccupied lately."
"So I heard. You okay?" He looked toward my injured leg and then met my eyes with genuine concern. Aside from his taste in practical jokes, Jimmy's not a bad sort, and we've been friends since summers in our teens when we cleared trails and packed supplies up to the Appalachian Mountain Club huts.
"Can't complain," I said shortly. "A couple of weeks of enforced R&R and then I'll be back on the job. What are you up to these days?" I should have known better than to come where I'd be recognized. The newspapers had made the hostage case into a big deal.
"He's building sets at the playhouse," the sex kitten chimed in, clearly tired of being ignored by everything but the mosquitoes. In that outfit, she was damned lucky black fly season was over. "We open with 'Oklahoma' tomorrow night. I could get you a ticket if you'd like." She picked her way carefully down the bank, gripping bushes and gnarled, exposed tree roots. Any bits of previously covered anatomy revealed themselves as she bent and stretched. I was willing to bet her breasts owed nothing to silicone.
It might not have been entirely gallantry that prompted me to help her down the last, steepest bit, but when she tried to cling I spun her around and set her on her feet at a safe distance.
"This is Katzi Burns. She plays 'just a girl who can't say no.'" Jimmy sang the last part. Instead of grabbing the line and running with it, as I expected, she shot him a fierce look.
"I should've had the lead! But at least I can have a little fun with this role. I'm so sick of doing 'wholesome' I could puke!"
"That's what you get," Jimmy said unfeelingly, "for starting your career playing Daddy Warbuck's little 'Annie'."
She yowled and took a swipe at him, and, while I figured he deserved a good clawing, my peace-keeper instincts kicked in. "So Katzi," I said, with a hand on her elbow, "what kind of parts would you rather play?" Then it hit me. "Holy shit! 'Annie'? How long ago?"
She turned that feral kitten snarl on me. The flare of anger in her amber eyes attracted me a lot more than the bimbo act. "Long enough! I'm legal! You wanna see my driver's license?"
I grinned and looked her scanty outfit over appreciatively. "You bet, if you've got it on you somewhere."
Her scowl cleared. "You could search me," she teased.
I just patted her cute round butt and turned to Jimmy. "I hope you two have some clothes stashed somewhere. As soon as the sun gets a little lower the mosquitoes will be fierce. I don't much care what they do to your scaly hide, but it would be a shame to let Katzi get sucked dry just before opening night. The bites would be kind of a challenge for the make-up department, too."
"What time is it, anyway?" Katzi asked, with a stricken look.
"Close to five," I told her.
"Oh damn! I'm screwed!" She slid and lurched down the hill toward where they'd left their clothes and towels. Jimmy and I followed, ready to
pick up the pieces if her fashionable sandals skidded on the loose layers of leaves and needles.
"So what the hell is that all about?" I asked Jimmy. "I may be on the injured list, but I can still manage to do my own hunting."
"Hey, little Katzi takes hunting to a whole new level. She's only been hanging out with me because she wants to meet you, and I said I'd heard you were back in the Valley. She clipped your picture out of the paper. Lord only knows what she does with it!"
I swatted him, on general principles, and wondered why I didn't just go back to communing with nature. Then I watched Katzi's sleek legs do a good job of keeping up with our longer ones on the trail out to the road, and reflected that nature's blessings are many and wondrous, and definitely not limited to rocks and trees. Being alone in the mountains had always healed my spirit, but surging hormones might well spur the healing process of the flesh.
At the road, without saying a word, I held open the passenger door on my truck. Katzi scrambled right in. Amazingly, she had the sense to keep quiet during the short drive into North Conway, while I considered my next move. If I was going to make one.
She darted a glance or two at me, almost shyly, then looked off toward Cathedral and White Horse Ledges looming to the west. It occurred to me that her vamp act might require an audience, even if it was only Jimmy. An encouraging thought.
We crossed the Saco River, easing our way through the sun-burned kayakers and rafters reclaiming their cars at the bridge. I let the tension build until we were waiting at the traffic light just before the turnoff into the Mount Washington Valley Playhouse.
"Do they give you any time off for dinner?" I asked casually.
"Just an hour," she said hopefully. "Seven to eight, and then we do the final run-through."
"Want me to bring a picnic?"
Her face lit with genuine pleasure. "That would be great! I can't eat much just before two straight hours of dancing and singing, but if I don't eat anything I'll keel over by the second act."
When she'd disappeared into the theater I considered my options, then drove north to Jackson Village, where the men are golfers, the women are skiers, and every view is above average. "Fine dining" isn't something I think much about, but I have contacts at a four-star inn there. When I was a kid I used to forage wild mushrooms for the chef, who built a good part of his reputation on his creative use of them, especially the golden, earthy chanterelles. My half-French, half-Abenaki grandmother had taught me where to find them along trails and stream banks back when I could barely walk.
My welcome at the inn was so warm as to be embarrassing. They even had one of the damned newspaper clippings posted in the kitchen. I was a few minutes late getting back to the theater, and Katzi was outside, in costume, managing to be outrageously provocative in a demure calico dress for the benefit of the photographer taking publicity shots.
Publicity! I nearly turned the truck around. Then Katzi saw me, and came running, a look of unstaged happiness replacing the vamping she'd been doing for the camera. I got out to open her door.
The photographer followed, of course. I vaguely recognized him from high school. "Hey, Jo Benoit!" he called. "How about a shot with Katzi?"
"Hey, Ted. Sorry, no time." I gave Katzi a brief hug to let her know that being seen with her wasn't the problem. She'd already resumed her knock-em-dead stage smile, but she was perceptive enough to feel the tension in my body.
"That's right," she said. "I'm starving. We'd better get going." She waved to the photographer, who got a shot of the truck anyway as we pulled away.
"I'd planned to drive up the Cathedral Ledge road," I told her. "Great views, but I'm not sure there's time."
"Up there?" She looked uneasily at the domed cliff looming above the valley and the Moat Range rising beyond. "Well...I think I'd rather look at it from down here anyway."
"Does that mean I can't talk you into going rock climbing?" I teased. It was probably just as well that we didn't have much in common. I wasn't looking for a soul mate.
"There isn't much you couldn't talk me into, but that would be a hard sell." Her little grin managed just the right amount of seductive charm. I hadn't noticed before quite how deliciously shaped her mouth was. "They mentioned in the paper that you were a rock climber."
"Can't we just give all that a rest?" I said, maybe a little harshly. If she was going to press for juicy details, it was all over, right now.
"Sure," she said quickly. "But if there's any other way I could dangle from ropes, completely at your mercy...."
"Not and still have time for dinner," I said, relaxing. The usual tell-me-about-yourself-before-I-explore-your-underwear routine seemed refreshingly unnecessary. Although I was, in fact, beginning to feel some real interest in getting to know her.
We parked in the pine woods at the foot of the cliff, where we ate duck salad with mango, asparagus-chanterelle tarts, and French rolls still warm from the oven.
"Wow!" she said, when the food was gone. "That was incredible!" She glanced at me sidelong with a mischievous quirk of her lips. "But I'll bet you hear that from girls all the time." That impish mouth demanded a kiss, which I provided, in full view of the last climbers of the day trudging past to their cars with their cables and hardware.
There'd have been more to see than kissing if I hadn't guaranteed to get her back by eight. It was hard to pull away from the insistent sweetness of her mouth. Her arms around my neck and her breasts pressed against me didn't make it any easier. I peeled her off and started the engine. "Better save some adrenaline for the play," I admonished as I pulled onto the road.
"You'd be amazed how fast I can get recharged," she said hopefully.
"Behave yourself now, and I might let you amaze me later," I told her sternly.
"Yes, Sir!" She subsided against the backrest, letting one hand rest not-quite-accidentally on my thigh, carefully avoiding the dull red scar. When a pleasant tingle spread to the injured flesh it became a throb that under other circumstances might have been pain. She felt me tense.
"Does it still hurt?" She took her hand away. I reached out and pulled it back.
"Once in a while." There was far deeper pain I needed to confront, but at the moment I couldn't imagine any finer medicine than Katzi's exuberant sensuality.
"I could kiss it and make it feel better," she suggested wickedly.
Oh, yeah. Much, much better. "Right, and I could get pulled over by the local guys for erratic driving. Tabloid heaven."
"What made you decide to be a cop, anyway?"
"Well, I got as far as a semester into law school and realized I belonged on the front lines instead of in an office. Plus I couldn't afford any more. I'm still paying off student loans."
"I don't suppose all that many girls fantasize about lawyers, anyway," she teased.
It had never bothered me before to be the subject of fantasy, but this time, oddly enough, it stung. "Look, I'd better warn you that I don't have my uniform with me, and even if I did, it doesn't get used as a prop for a scene." I may not keep my gear as trim as I should, but I have respect for what it represents. "And besides..." something I hadn't realized myself until just then, but had better get out in the open... "there are some kinds of games I'm just not going to feel like playing for a while yet." A stab of pain shot through my leg into my guts. I could see my best uniform pants, sliced open from knee to crotch, soaked with more blood than could ever be washed out.
"That's okay," she said quickly. "It's what's underneath that turns me on." She slid a finger under the edge of my cutoffs, revealing a more dramatic section of my wound. "Oh, Jeez! Did you ever think about getting hurt?"
"You don't let yourself think about it," I said brusquely, and changed the subject. "Look, there's a full moon rising. I'll take you for a moonlight ride when rehearsal's over, if you'd like." We pulled up in front of the playhouse.
"Will you throw in sunrise, too?"
I leaned in for a quick taste. "Can't stop the earth from turning," I said against her soft cheek, and nibbled from her earlobe down to her tender throat. It was just as well that her calico costume had such a high, modest neckline.
When she'd gone I sat there for a minute, hardly noticing the people strolling along the village sidewalk. Then I headed north, up Pinkham Notch, needing to center myself in the mountains.
The peaks loomed dark against a backdrop of moon-gilded clouds; Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and, crowning the range, Mount Washington. I'd never needed more to be up there, on the slopes above treeline, looking down on a world made tranquil by distance. Or, even better, looking down when clouds filled the valleys with a sea of billowing silver and the stars above seem closer and more real than the shrouded earth. Best of all would be to watch the dawn, when the still air is cold, and clear, and nothing exists except stone, and space, and the coming of light over the edge of the world.
My eyes followed the contours of the mountains, my hands almost feeling their harsh ridges and swooping ravines. Then the thought of Katzi's softer curves and sweet valleys beckoned me with increasing urgency. I didn't want solitude, after all, at least not right now. I drove back down the winding highway feeling as though I had wings. Just a quick fling, I warned myself, a little summer diversion with someone who'll head back to New York or wherever soon enough. That's all you want. That's all she wants. Nobody gets hurt.
Katzi smelled of sweat, excitement, and greasepaint, although she'd scrubbed most of that off her face. She was close to exhaustion, too, but tried to hide it. I got out and helped her into the truck, patting her tight jeans where they were molded to her heart-shaped ass. I've never understood how some girls wear them so tight, especially in the crotch--you'd think they'd get sore if they had any pussy lips worth mentioning. I said so as I drove, and Katzi laughed and perked up.
"You wanna check 'em out?"
"A fine idea." I swung into the official "scenic overlook" just north of town. The moon and mountains would have been breathtaking if I hadn't had more intimate scenery on my mind.
Katzi raised her hips while I unzipped her pants and worked them just far enough down to get my hand where it wanted to go. Her pussy lips were full and moist and clinging. "Just fine," I said against her mouth, working my thumb toward her clit. That was just fine, too, and getting finer. "Nice preview."
"God, Jo, don't stop there!" She hauled her shirt up, and then her satin bra; I held my breath, until, at the magic moment when her breasts surged free of confinement, something lurched hot and low inside me . Her nipples were hard, and rosy even in the white moonlight.
"You guarantee you're rechargeable?"
"Yes, dammit!" She wriggled and thrust against my hand.
"You sure?" My other hand stroked across her breasts, flicking one nipple and then the other. "The night is young yet."
"So...ah! am I!" she gasped, and stuck her tongue out at me. I wanted to grab that impudent bit of flesh in my teeth, wanted to yank her jeans the rest of the way off and chew every part of her impudent, tender body, but my leg wasn't up to the calisthenics necessary to accomplish all that in the cramped space of the truck cab. I rolled one of her nipples in the angle between my index and middle fingers, and worked her pussy in hard circles, meeting her accelerating thrusts, until the truck rocked and she yelled so loud it would have echoed from the cliffs across the valley if the windows hadn't been closed. Which, of course, meant steamed-up windows to clear before I could drive on.
By the time we reached my cabin Katzi seemed to be asleep, head nestled against my shoulder. It was far up a dirt road along a branch of the Saco River, entirely surrounded by National Forest. There must have been a story behind how my grandmother managed to keep title to the land, but I'd never thought to ask until it was too late. I have a place farther south, too, where I'm stationed, but the cabin has always been the center of my world. I grinned inwardly, thinking that I'd come back here to lick my wounds, but found something much more worth licking.
When the truck stopped, Katzi raised her head. "Just a minute, Kitten," I said , and got out to open the padlock on the chain across the driveway. The building was still hidden in the trees.
"Rowr," she said in a distinctly feline tone when I climbed back in. Sleep was fading from her eyes. "Can't you see my fur sparking?" She ran her fingers through her short curls.
"Does that mean you're recharging?" I asked.
"Stick a finger in my socket and see!"
So, of course, I did, once I'd lit an oil lamp in the cabin so I could see her delectable skin as I tasted it.
And that was only the beginning. Katzi wanted to go places she'd never been, feel places she'd never felt. "I don't need lube!" she said when I grabbed the tube. "Just feel how incredibly wet I am!"
"You're gushing like a river at spring thaw," I agreed, flexing my gloved fist, "but we do it my way this time."
"Yes, Sir!" She spread her legs. I stroked her gently for a moment, and she arched her hips, showing me glimpses of pink as tender and lovely as the lady-slippers that bloom along the river trail in spring. I bent and touched my tongue to her glistening sweetness. But tenderness wasn't what Katzi wanted just then.
"Fuck me hard, Jo, please!" she said. "I want it all!"
"You'll get as much as I want you to have ," I said. "You'll just have to trust me."
Two fingers into her tight, clinging cunt, I knew it was going to be a gradual process, and it was, compounded by her amazing capacity for multiple orgasms. "I'm sorry," she panted, after the first spasms gripped my hand. "But I just a minute...I really do want more!"
"Don't apologize," I murmured against the luscious flesh of her belly. "Take everything you can get." My own cunt was throbbing; I wanted desperately to grind against her thigh, but my wound was threatening to flare into serious pain, and I didn't want any distraction from the joys of fucking Katzi.
Twelve minutes and three orgasms later her moans were fierce and low and my whole fist was moving gently in her depths. Hard pumping could wait for another session. Half an hour later, as she slept in exhaustion, I watched the rise and fall of her breasts for a long time before drifting off with my face pressed against her warmth.
We didn't manage to see sunrise, but the morning light was still fresh and clear when I went down to the river and waded into the deepest part. The cold water tumbling down from the mountains could always sweep away sweat, doubt, confusion. Then I sat in the sun on my favorite high boulder and tried to clear my mind of everything but the intense blue of the sky.
"You look like one of those paintings," Katzi said, coming to stand below me. "You know, the ones with girls sitting on rocks with mountains and waterfalls and stuff."
"Maxfield Parrish?" I asked, without turning.
"That's the guy. You look like what I wish he would have painted, instead of all those cute fluffy girls."
"You'd have fit right in," I said, "but I always wondered how they were supposed to have got up onto those jagged mountains with bare feet." I wriggled my own river sandals, the only clothing I was wearing.
She looked at my feet, then my legs; I steeled myself not to clamp my naked thighs together, and let her look.
"Oh, Jo," she cried, aghast at the full extent of my wound. "Did he cut you that way on purpose?"
I couldn't bottle up the anger, the guilt, forever. "Yeah. Probably. His wife had been going to leave him for a woman, but luckily the papers didn't get hold of that tidbit. We could've charged him with a hate crime, I suppose, from the names he called me, but there wasn't any point. Even if he'd lived."
Her hand was on my thigh, and she could feel me shaking. "You had to do it, Jo, it was self defense, and who knows what else he'd have done to them?"
I remembered the woman's screams, and the child's terrified cries. I remembered climbing the back of the building, finding foot and finger holds on ledges and chinks in the bricks, while my partner watched the front; remembered the shatter of glass as I dove through the window, and the flash of the knife as I wrestled with him. I hadn't been able to climb with my gun drawn, and then it was too late. Most of all I remembered the crumpling of his larynx under my hand.
"There had to be another way," I muttered. "If...maybe if I had been different, gentler, softer somehow, I could've talked him around. That poor little kid had been through enough, without having to see all that."
"But the mother lived, didn't she? My God, Jo, how can you kick yourself? I know it must have been awful, but..." She stood on tiptoe and lay her head against my side, and I bent to hide my face in her soft curls. Then she worked her lips gently downward toward the scar. "Let me, please..."
I began to tremble in a different way. I wasn't sure I could bear to be touched. She looked up at me with such tenderness in her eyes that suddenly I couldn't bear not to be touched, not just by her hands and mouth but by some indefinable flame of life in her that warmed something in me deeper than the flesh.
I leaned back with my arms braced against the rock and let my thighs spread farther apart, let Katzi's mouth move up, and up, toward where I needed it most. She reached her arms around my waist and pressed her lips and tongue against me so softly, gently, that I felt no pain, only a tantalizing stimulation I thought would drive me crazy. I tried to pull her head closer, harder--maybe I was healed enough!-- but she resisted. "Trust me," she murmured, and I had to, even had to let her hear me whimper and moan. She kept on and on, driving me closer and closer to the brink of a great void, like hurtling on skis toward the headwall of Tuckerman's Ravine--and then I plunged over in an avalanche of fierce joy.
Much later in the day I kissed her, told her when I'd pick her up, and watched her hurry into the playhouse. I really was healed enough, I realized, to go back on duty. Why rush it, though? I could still taste her, still feel her body against mine. Her scent still clung to me; I hoped that something of her would always cling to me. I couldn't quite handle wondering about the future, but for now, I was going to savor every moment of the present with the healing force of nature that was Katzi.