Morgan wiped the tears from her eyes again, thinking maybe she should have let Tina drive. The snow was coming down heavier now and she blinked several times, trying to clear her vision.

            But all she could see was Jackson, his big trusting eyes watching her. Oh, God.

            “You okay?”

            Morgan shook her head. “No. I just can’t believe he’s gone.”

            “You kept him going as long as you could. You know that. The vet said it was well past time.”

            “And that’s supposed to help? He’s been my friend, my partner for thirteen years. And now he’s gone. Just like that.” She wiped her face again as a tear slid down her cheek. Yes, just like that. She barely had time to realize what was happening. Within seconds of getting the shot, Jackson’s eyes closed and it was almost as they say. Putting him to sleep. Almost. Because Jackson wasn’t going to wake up. Not ever.

            “I’m sorry, Morgan. I know he was your . . . your buddy. But you can get another puppy.”

            “No.” Of that, Morgan was adamant. She would not go through this again. The heartache these last few months was nearly too much, knowing the end was near, knowing she’d be the one to make that decision, the decision to put him to sleep. “No. I can’t get another dog.”

            “Give it some time.”

            “You think I’m being ridiculous, don’t you?”

            Tina shook her head. “Of course not. I’ve got two kids, and I often wondered if Jackson was treated better than my own children.”

            Morgan took a deep breath and tried to smile. “I guess getting him cremated was a good idea,” she said. “I’d have a hell of a time trying to bury him in this mess.”

            “I think I’d rather brave the snow than try to dig a hole big enough for a ninety-pound Labrador in this mountain of rock.”

            “Yeah, okay. So that was a factor too,” she said with a quiet laugh. Yeah. It was a factor. But for some reason, the thought of putting Jackson in a deep hole and covering him with dirt was less appealing than cremation. And Dr. Bryant said he’d find a nice decorative box to keep him in. No one would have to know that she kept him on her mantel, or on her dresser, or by the sofa. She rolled her eyes. Christ, she was turning into one of those old batty women and she wasn’t even forty yet.

            “It’s snowing hard. I thought we were just supposed to get a dusting,” Tina said.

            “It’s November and we haven’t had a major storm yet. Maybe this is it.”

            “And you’re taking it pretty well. You normally bitch for a week after our first storm.”

            “I hate being cold.”

            “You live in the Rocky Mountains. What do you expect?”

            “I expect summertime temperatures in the seventies, that’s what I expect.”

            Tina laughed. “And you get that. You also get single digits in the winter and fifty feet of snow.”

            “You know, after my first winter here, I swore I would ask the Forest Service for a transfer. But after that first summer, I thought I was in heaven.”

            “Yeah. And winter follows summer.”

            “And it’s been seven years. I’ll do what I always do. Haul an ungodly amount of firewood to the house, take out my skis and lean them by the door and pretend I can’t wait to get out in the snow.”

            “With all the cutbacks, you’re not worried about them cutting your position?”

            Morgan shook her head. “No. Charlie says I’m safe. Besides, that’s why you get laid off every winter, so I can keep my job.”

            “I do not look at it as being laid off. I’m seasonal. And I vacation from October to April.”

            Morgan slowed as they topped the crest, looking down on Lake City, Colorado below them. It was a beautiful sight. Everything clean and white, their first major snowfall of the season. Lake City survived only because of the tourists who flocked to the mountains during the summers, most to rent Jeeps and try their skill on the Alpine Loop. And with the lake and the clear trout streams, it was a fisherman’s paradise. Most of the shops closed up after Labor Day though, making the town seem nearly deserted. The few that stayed open catered to the skiers who came to enjoy their pristine trails for a cross-country adventure, and the snowmobilers who enjoyed the numerous backcountry routes. The summer cabins closed too, and most of the resorts and bed and breakfasts, but the small lodge out by Slumgullion stayed open through winter, filling nearly all the rooms on weekends as snowmobilers headed right from the parking lot and onto the forest trails.

            Even though she hated the cold, Morgan no longer thought about transferring to a warmer climate. Lake City had become home. The locals treated her as one of their own now and she knew everyone by name. Of course, that hadn’t always been the case. She had been originally assigned to the Gunnison National Forest and Curecanti. She looked forward to working on Blue Mesa Lake. She’d been around water most of her life, coming from central Florida where lakes were more numerous than towns. But she hadn’t been in Gunnison a day when they’d told her she’d been transferred. Just down the road. Lake City. You’ll love it.

            She remembered taking this very drive, seeing the same view, only in June. There was no huge lake she’d be patrolling, no medium-sized town that offered most modern conveniences. No, she was assigned to the Slumgullion Earthflow and Lake San Cristobal. She’d balked at first. With personnel limited, she’d be expected to wear a lot of hats, from game warden to campground host. Oh, sure, the San Juan Mountains were beautiful—spectacular, really—but after she’d spent two long, lonely summers in the remote Arizona desert, isolated from people and the world, she wasn’t eager to embrace the remoteness of this tiny town. But after a week of Charlie dragging her all over the mountains, through Big Blue Wilderness, La Garita Wilderness, and up through the Umcompahgre National Forest, she was hooked. She’d even fallen in love with her tiny house, one of several the Forest Service owned. Tiny, yes, and close neighbors too, but that hardly mattered. She could walk out her back door and be swallowed up by the forest within ten feet. The four identical structures had been built nearly forty years ago to house the ever-changing personnel of the Forest Service. She and Jackson had made one of them into a home.

            And now when she walked out her back door and into the forest, there wouldn’t be an old yellow dog ambling beside her, too spent to even muster up the energy to chase the chipmunks that scurried ahead of them on the trail.

            “Hey, have you heard anything about Charlie’s daughter?” Tina asked.

            Morgan frowned. “Other than he allegedly has one, no.”

            “I know. You’ve worked for the man seven years, you’d think you’d have at least met her, right.”

            “Or at least seen a picture.”

            “Well, Berta read an e-mail from her. Since he’s retiring next year, apparently the daughter—”

            “Wait. How did she read his e-mail? And why would she read his e-mail?”

            “You know as well as I do that he barely knows what a computer is. She always opens his e-mail for him. And why . . . because she’s nosy.” Tina grabbed the dash as the truck slipped on the snow when Morgan turned onto their road. “Anyway, she’s coming for a visit.”

            “The daughter?”

            “Yeah. She’s got a ski trip planned up to Crested Butte so she thought she’d pop over.”

            “I wonder if Charlie will bring her around.” Morgan glanced quickly at Tina. “Why do you think he never talks about her? Or doesn’t have any pictures or anything? It’s almost like they’re estranged.”

            “I guess not so much if she’s coming to visit.”

            “Yeah, but it’s just kinda strange. She’s always been the phantom daughter.” Morgan pulled to a stop in front of Tina’s house. “Look, I appreciate you going with me.” She turned to face her and gave a small smile. “I don’t think I could have done it alone.”

            Tina leaned over and gave her a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. “We’re best pals. Of course I was going with you. I’ve known Jackson as long as I’ve known you, remember?”


            “You going to be okay tonight? I mean—”

            “Yeah, yeah. I’m going to clean out the house and . . . and put his stuff up. I’ll be fine.”

            “Well, call me if you’re not. You can have dinner with us. Paul has requested pork chops.”

            “Thanks, but I’ll be fine.”

            Although a few minutes later when she pulled up into her own driveway, she wasn’t so sure. Snow blanketed the short walkway and porch and she found she was dreading going inside. There would be no one to welcome her home, no tail thumping on the floor, and no whimper of greeting. There would be an empty spot by the fireplace where Jackson spent most of his time these last few months. And there would be the empty food bowl and the scattering of toys that Jackson no longer played with.

            “I’m sorry, boy,” she whispered. It was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do. But he couldn’t get up any more, couldn’t walk. She carried him outside to do his business, then back inside where he spent his day until she came home again. She’d tried leaving him outside, thinking he’d enjoy laying in the sunshine, but that lasted two days. On the second day, she’d come home to find he’d pulled himself by his elbows—which were ripped and bloody—up near the steps of the deck, as if he was trying to get to his old dog bed by the door. It nearly broke her heart to see him like that. So another visit to the vet and more steroid shots to try to get his hips working again—the last resort.

            But that wasn’t the last resort. The last resort was putting him down. Which she’d done this morning.

            And as another wave of tears and guilt hit her, she got out of the truck and hurried through the snow, pausing to stomp her boots on the mat before going inside. When she closed the door on the cold, her eyes automatically were drawn to the blanket by the fireplace. Next to it lay the old stuffed bear that Jackson used to chew on. It no longer had eyes or a nose, and one ear was hanging by a thread, but it was as much a part of Jackson as anything. She bent down and picked it up, her hand squeezing the worn toy as she stared where the eyes used to be. She could get rid of his things—his bed—but she knew she’d never get rid of Mr. Bear.

            “You’re pathetic,” she whispered and she was glad there wasn’t anyone there to see her. Of course, that thought struck her as funny. There hadn’t been anyone there in so long, she rarely even thought about it anymore.

            She tossed Mr. Bear on the sofa and shrugged out of her coat, hanging it on the peg behind the door. She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, just for some noise. She couldn’t stand the emptiness of the house. Even though he could no longer follow her around like he used to do, at least just knowing he was there, by the fire, was enough. At least she wasn’t alone.

            Standing in the kitchen, she tucked her blond hair behind her ears, doing a mental inventory of her pantry and fridge. Nothing appealed to her. For a second, she thought about calling Tina and taking her up on the offer of pork chops, but the kids would want to know all about Jackson, and she just wasn’t up to it.

            She sighed heavily. What little appetite she had vanished as she contemplated a can of soup for her dinner. Instead, she turned away, going back into the living room and pulling on her jacket again. Snow or not, she couldn’t stay here alone.

Not tonight.



            Despite the snow, the bar was packed. Or maybe it was because of the snow. The first major storm of the year produced excitement in most and she could imagine the locals crowded around the bar and pool tables, talking about how deep it was out at their place. Seven years and she still didn’t know why people got excited by the white stuff. She hated it. Hiking came to an end, replaced by the blasted cross-country skis. Roads became nearly impossible to drive on. It would take a good two hours to get to Gunnison now if you had shopping to do. And with the snow came an end to weekend tourists, campers and hikers. And for her, that meant an end to any possibility of spending the night with a warm body instead of a book . . . or a toy.

            She smiled as she found a parking spot, glad her sense of humor hadn’t left her. Actually, even with the summer tourists, she could still count on one hand the number of times another woman had shared her bed. Lake City, Colorado wasn’t a retreat for lesbians, she’d found. Not single ones, anyway.

            “Hey, Morgan,” Jeff called to her as he hurried past with a tray loaded with burgers and beer.

            She nodded in greeting and went to the bar, smiling as Tracy had already filled a mug and slid it along the smooth surface toward her.

            “Didn’t think you’d show up tonight,” Tracy said as she wiped a water spot on the bar. “Sorry to hear about Jackson.”

            “Yeah. But it was time.” She took a sip of the cold beer. “Great, thanks.”

            “You want a burger?”

            “No. This is fine. I just wanted out of the house for awhile.”

            Tracy nodded. “You’ve come to the right place for distraction. The first storm of the year, they all get a little crazy.

            And it was loud and boisterous in the bar, the country music of the jukebox just barely drowning out the slap of balls on the pool table, yet not loud enough to muffle the conversations and laughter that filled the room.

            She knew everyone there, some better than others, but after seven years, there weren’t many new faces and Sloan’s Bar was the hangout in town. Whether it was breakfast or lunch, when the bar became the café, or afternoons and evenings, when the dinner menu consisted of burgers and chicken, and the once-a-week steak special, if you wanted to see someone, to socialize, you came to Sloan’s Bar.

            Which was why Morgan was there now. To socialize. To see familiar faces. To hear familiar stories. And to drink a beer or two and waste a couple of hours. She spun around on the barstool, watching the activity in the bar, smiling as Phil and Buddy argued over a shot in pool. When her gaze landed on a stranger, a woman, she paused, staring. It wasn’t often a lone woman ventured into the bar. Especially on a weekday evening long after tourist season had ended.

            As she stared, the woman turned, meeting her gaze. Morgan’s eyebrow raised. She’d recognize that look anywhere. But even though the woman was attractive—with just a bit too much makeup for her liking—Morgan turned back to the bar. She wasn’t in the mood to flirt and make small talk with a stranger. Not tonight.

            “Another beer, Tracy,” she said, motioning to her empty mug. But before she could take a sip, she felt a presence beside her. She turned, not surprised to find the woman standing there, a smile on her face.

            “And here I thought I was coming to the boondocks. Imagine my surprise to find a very attractive woman in this heterosexual hellhole.”

            Morgan drew her brows together. “Heterosexual, yeah. But hardly a hellhole.” She smiled. “You obviously have not tried their double-battered fried chicken.”

            “I don’t eat in places like this. But I was in the mood for a drink,” she said, holding up her glass which now contained three melting ice cubes. She shook it teasingly.

            Morgan took the hint. “Tracy, how about another over here?”

            “May I sit?” the woman asked.

            “Of course.”

            “Scotch on the rocks. Here you go,” Tracy said, eyeing the stranger suspiciously.

            Morgan winked at her, then turned to the woman. “Where are you from?”

            “New York.”

            Morgan’s eyebrows shot up. “On a Wednesday night in November after an all-day snow storm . . . I’ll assume you’re stranded here?”

            “Of my choosing.” The woman leaned closer. “So, what does one do for fun around here?”


            “If it is female company you desire?”

            Morgan laughed. “They make toys for that sort of thing.”

            “What? Are you the only lesbian in a hundred-mile radius?”

            Morgan nodded. “Feels like it. Although there’s a college in Gunnison, so we’re not totally barren in the area.”

            “And do you raid the sorority houses?”

            “Not anymore, no. They keep getting younger and I keep getting older.”

            “Then professors, perhaps?”

            Morgan nodded. “On occasion.” But her lone dalliance with a professor ended nine months ago. She knew Stephanie wasn’t the woman of her dreams, no, but after six months of dating, she thought it was at least monogamous. Unfortunately, Stephanie had a weak spot for young college students, Morgan learned. It still smarted to know she’d been tossed aside for a twenty-year-old jock.

            The woman leaned closer. “I’m free this evening.” She laid a casual hand on Morgan’s arm. “In case you’re tired of playing with toys,” she purred.

            Oh, my. A sexual proposition within ten minutes. Must be a record. Morgan flicked her gaze to Tracy, hoping she hadn’t heard. She smiled at the stranger, wondering what she wanted. She was attractive. Tall and thin. A little too thin. And her clothes hinted at wealth. What was she doing in Lake City?

            And why is she hitting on me?

            But Morgan shrugged. Maybe this was what she needed. Mindless sex for one night. Why not? The last woman to share her bed, she’d also picked up here at the bar. Not that either of them remembered it the next morning and thankfully, the woman had hooked up with her camping buddies and had moved down to Pagosa Springs. Morgan had been shocked to learn the girl was only nineteen. That was in June.

            “What do you say?”

            Morgan drained her beer and set the mug down. She nodded. “Okay. Sure.” She got up, motioning to the door.

            “I’ll follow you,” the woman said. “I’m assuming you live alone.”

            Morgan was about to say, no, there was Jackson waiting for her at home. The reality hit hard. “Yes. I live alone.”

            Maybe she should reconsider. She wasn’t sure she was up for a night of passion. But after a slow, snowy drive through the tiny town, Morgan didn’t have time to consider her actions. She didn’t have time to consider much of anything. The woman was on her in a flash, holding her up against the door, her hands at her breasts.

            “I like it rough,” she said as she kissed Morgan fiercely.

            “Rough?” Morgan said weakly, then her eyes widened as the woman’s hand slipped inside her pants.

            “I’m going to take you places you’ve never been before,” she whispered into Morgan’s ear.

            Surprisingly, Morgan wanted to go to those places. She relaxed, giving into her demands, shocked by how ready she was when the woman entered her. She gasped, her hips rocking against this stranger’s hand, groaning loudly as the woman bit down hard against her neck.

            “That’s it. Ride me. Feel me so deep inside you. Oh, yes, you’re so wet. Ride me,” the woman chanted in her ear. “Then you can fuck me just as hard. You can fuck me all night.”

            Morgan came instantly.



            Morgan lifted her head slowly, afraid to open her eyes. When she did, she sighed with relief. She was alone.

            “Good God,” she mumbled as she rolled over. She was on the wrong end of the bed, covered only by a sheet. The quilt and comforter had been thrown to the floor. She stared at the ceiling, wondering if she’d be able to walk.

            Yeah. She got fucked by a stranger, all right. Fucked in more ways than she could imagine. Her mouth tasted like sex. The room smelled of sex. She closed her eyes and moaned, too tired and sore to move. Even the cold couldn’t put her in motion. But she needed to get up. Jackson would want breakfast.

            Her eyes opened again.

            “No. No Jackson.”

            She turned her head into the pillow. That’s why she had a stranger over last night, she reminded herself. Because there was no Jackson. She finally sat up, groaning again as her muscles protested. She squinted at the clock that had been knocked to the floor. It was already after seven.

            “Christ, what was I thinking?” She swung her legs over the side of the bed, wincing at the ache between her thighs. She looked down, seeing the red bite marks. Then she felt her neck, touching the swollen flesh. A vampire?

            She grinned. No. Just a biter.

           But her grin faded when she looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like she’d been assaulted. She bent closer to the mirror, rubbing at the blood on her ear. Her neck was littered with bite marks and bruises, as were her breasts. Thankfully, both her nipples were still intact.

            “Who the hell was she?”




            “What the hell happened to you?”

            Morgan shook her head. “Nothing.”

            “Did you get into a fight or something?”

            “Yeah. Something.”

            She walked away, heading to the coffeepot. Charlie followed.

            “Seriously, Morgan. You look like hell.”

            Morgan took a sip of the strong black coffee, looking at her boss across the rim. “I didn’t sleep last night. At least I don’t think I did.”

            “Because of Jackson?”

            A ghost of a smile touched her lips. “Yeah. Because of Jackson.”

            “You could have taken the day off, you know. They haven’t even cleared all the roads yet.”

            “I know. But I didn’t want to be at home.” She looked at the empty desk by the door. “Where’s Berta?”

            “Oh, I told her to stay home. She lives down past Turner’s Bend, you know. They won’t plow that road until later.”

            “How much did we get?”

            “Ten or twelve inches. Got a good base going. Another snowfall like that and the trails will be ready for snowmobiles.” He went into his office, his desk as cluttered today as it had been seven years before when she’d first met him. She was certain some of the same papers had been lying there for years.

            “Not much going on today, Charlie. Why don’t we clean your desk, huh?”

            “Leave my desk alone. Hell, I know where everything is.”

            “No. Berta knows where everything is.” Morgan sat down opposite him, pointing to the clutter. “You never look at this stuff. Why don’t you at least put it in a pile?”

            “September. Then you can put this crap into any kind of pile you want.”

            “That’s the day, huh?”

            “Yep. I’ll finish out August. I figure twenty-eight years in the business is enough.”

            Morgan nodded. “Won’t be the same around here.”

            “No. But I think I’m going down to your neck of the woods.”


            “Yeah. Going to buy a trashy travel trailer and park it on the beach,” he said with a laugh. “I love to fish too much to be away from water.”

            And she could imagine him doing it. He was sixty-two years old but could easily pass for ten years younger. He was fit and tan, a true outdoorsmen. And he’d be right at home on the beach.

            “You plan on hooking up with a rich widow woman?”

            He shook his head. “I did rich once. The rich have too many problems.”

            Morgan tilted her head. “How come we never talk?”

            “We talk all the time. What’d you mean?”

            “I know you were married years ago. Didn’t know she was rich. You say you have a daughter but we’ve never met her, never even seen a picture.”



            “So why do you bring it up now?”

            “Why do you think?”
            He leaned back in his chair and propped his boots on his desk, folding his arms behind his head. “I see Berta’s peeked into my e-mail again,” he said. “I’m not used to a woman being around. I’m certainly not used to a daughter.”

            “How old is she?”

            He raised his eyebrows. “Thirty-ish, maybe.”

            “Maybe? You don’t know?”

            “I haven’t really been a part of her life. Kinda lose touch with dates that way.”

            She nodded. “So what’s with the visit now?”

            He shrugged. “She called me up and said she had a ski trip planned to Crested Butte. Wanted to know if she could drop by, that’s all.”

            “And are we going to finally get to meet her?”

            “Yes. In fact, I think she’s going to swing by today. Or else next week when she heads back. I didn’t talk to her this morning.” He dropped his feet to the floor and scooted closer to his desk. “After dinner last night, she said she wanted to see the sights.” He laughed. “I told her there wasn’t much to see after dark but I guess she found something. I didn’t hear her come in until three this morning.”

            Morgan looked away quickly, her mind racing. Who the hell did I sleep with? “So she’s here alone? Didn’t bring a . . . a boyfriend?”

            “No, she’s dating some would-be politician but he didn’t come. To hear her talk, they’re about to get married. But this is a ladies only trip,” he said.

            Morgan grabbed the bridge of her nose and squeezed. “I see.” Oh, dear Lord, say it isn’t so. “So, your daughter, what does she look like?” she asked as casually as possible.

            “Mona. Her name is Mona. And she’s pretty. Tall and thin. Dark hair. Wears too much makeup if you ask me, but that’s her thing.”

            Morgan nodded. Mona. Moaning Mona.

            I am so dead.

                                                            CHAPTER FOUR


            “Lake City?” Reese Daniels glanced around. It looked deserted save for the handful of cars parked along the curb. Definitely no shops or restaurants, no blinking neon lights, no laughter of tourists. “My God, is this the town?”

            A man cleared his throat behind her and she turned.

            “Need some help there, ma’am?”

            She nodded. “Sheriff’s Office?”

            “Down on the corner there,” he pointed. “Problem?”

            “Definitely,” she murmured as she walked away, her boots clicking on the wet sidewalk. Definitely a problem. Lake City wasn’t Winter Park. There were no ski slopes, no cute women in colorful jackets and tight pants, and no nightlife. She paused and allowed a small smile. And no mayor’s wife. “Ahh, the good old days.”

            She opened the door, surprised as a bell jingled overhead to signal her arrival. That would be the first thing to go.

            “Good afternoon. How may I help you?”

            Reese pointed to the bell. “What are we? A convenience store?”

            “I beg your pardon?” The older lady stepped from around the desk and regarded her. “Are you Reese Daniels?”

            “Yeah. Lose the bell.” She walked up to the counter which was impeccably neat and organized. And why wouldn’t it be? She doubted much ever happened here in Hinsdale County. How could it? Most of it consisted of mountain passes without any roads. A year in purgatory.

            The woman looked at the bell, then back at Reese. “But Ned—Sheriff Carter—liked the bell. That bell’s been there for twenty years.”

            Reese nodded. “I see. And what’s your name?”

            “Eloise.” She smiled. “Nice to meet you.”

            “Right. So lose the bell, Eloise.” She turned. “And my office would be where?”

            “Oh. It’s in there.” She pointed. “But right now—”

            “Who’s in my office, Eloise?”

            “That’s Googan. He’s kinda been acting—”

            “Like the sheriff,” Reese finished for her. She walked to the door and knocked on the inside wall. “Hey.”

            Googan looked up from the newspaper he was reading and frowned. “What are you doing back here? Eloise?” He stood. “You’re not supposed to be back here, ma’am.”

            “Deputy Googan, I’m Reese Daniels. And I believe it’s you who is not supposed to be back here.” He had the grace to blush as he shuffled out of the office.

            “So you’re the temporary sheriff? We thought the snow might hold you up for a day or so.”

            “I’ve seen snow before.”

            “We told them we didn’t need a temporary sheriff. We told them we could handle it.”

            “I’m sure you did.” She turned to face him. “Trust me. I want to be here far less than you want me here.”

            “I’ve been working for Ned nine years. I know the ropes. I know the people here. I know the country. There’s not anything you can do better than me,” he said.

            Reese smiled. “Apparently your county commissioners thought differently. Something about real experience, training, that sort of thing.” She shrugged. “That’s different than being a deputy in a tiny little town, Googan.”

            “I’ve just saying, I’ve put in my time. We’d be fine without you. That’s all.”

            Pompous, arrogant ass. She flung the backpack she carried into the chair. “You ever been shot at? You ever busted up a drug deal? You ever pulled your weapon and taken a life?” Her eyes narrowed. “You ever delivered a goddamn baby at two in the morning?”

            He slowly shook his head.

            “Yeah. That’s what I thought.” Then she surprised them by laughing. “Not that I expect we’ll be doing any of those things here in Hinsdale County.” She leaned to look out the window, pulling the mini-blinds apart. “So, Googan, how many deputies we got?”


            She stood up and sighed. “Two? That’s it?”

            “Well, there’s not a whole lot of ground to cover in the county, Sheriff.”

            She shook her head. “Don’t call me Sheriff.”

            Eloise looked from Googan to Reese. “What should we call you then? I mean, what did they call you at your other job?”


            Eloise frowned and Reese pulled out the chair with her foot. “I was Chief of Police. Winter Park. So they called me Chief.” She sat down. “Call me what you want, Eloise, I don’t care. Although I’d prefer it not be bitch or anything like that.”

            The older woman grunted and left the office. Googan smiled apologetically. “I didn’t mean anything by all that. I mean, it’s just, Ned had been here for so long. Me too. We just assumed—”

            “I understand.”

            “And you know, come election time next year, I’ll be running for sheriff.”

            “It’s all yours, Googan. Trust me. As soon as my time is up, I’m gone.”

            “Why did you take this assignment then?”

            “Take it?” She laughed humorlessly. “No, Googan. I didn’t take it. Let’s just say it was forced on me and leave it at that.”

            She spun in her chair, turning her back on him. She finally heard him leave. Great, Daniels. Why don’t you piss off the staff in the first five minutes?

           “Okay, I think I will,” she murmured. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A year and a week. That was her sentence. She was free to leave next November. Damn the mayor’s wife.