BY GERRI HILL
Lightning streaked across the sky and Sarah caught her breath only seconds before the loud clap of thunder rumbled overhead, literally shaking her car. The dark clouds she'd been watching in the distance were upon her. She turned on her headlights, trying to see through the downpour as she continued on the lonely highway that led her farther and farther out into the vastness of the remote West Texas wilderness.
"Let's do a camping trip to Big Bend," she mimicked. "Halloween sounds like a great time."
And actually, in August when they'd planned the trip, it had sounded like fun. They were all sweltering in the one-hundred degree heat in Austin, just dreaming of the cold nights in the Chisos Mountains. Ten women, all seasoned campers. It would be fun. Of course, it would have been a lot more fun had she been able to leave work as planned and ride up with Jenna and Pam. But a last minute change had her redesigning an ad she thought was finished the week before. So, everyone had gone up ahead of her and here she was, some ten hours behind, heading south out of Fort Stockton in a torrential thunderstorm.
Had she known the storm would be this bad, she'd have gone farther west and hit Alpine. At least she knew there were motels in Alpine. The route she was taking, the most direct route, was two hundred miles of mostly barren, uninhabited land. As another boom of thunder shook her car, she had a second of indecision, thinking the Holiday Inn in Fort Stockton sounded pretty good right about now.
But she drove on. She had a full tank of gas, a cooler with food and drinks. She would be fine. However, forty-five minutes later, with a death grip on the steering wheel, the rain had not let up. Darkness settled over the land and only the flash of lightning illuminated the mountains to the south. She had a moment of panic, feeling totally alone. She'd not met or passed another car since the storm had hit. At the speed she was going, it would take another eight hours to reach the national park. No way she could drive that long. She jumped again at the simultaneous flash of lightning and clap of thunder. Well, she had her sleeping bag. She could always pull off the road and attempt to sleep through the storm.
"Right," she murmured as the sky was again illuminated by lightning. No, she would push on, and, with luck, the storm would move past her. Her biggest fear was driving into a low-water crossing that was flooded. And judging by the heavy rain that had been falling for the last hour, that was a possibility. With that thought, she slowed her pace even more, her eyes straining to see through the downpour.
Blinking red lights up ahead caused her to nearly stop and with another flash of lightning, she was able to make out a smattering of buildings . . . and several 18-wheelers apparently stopped for the night. Waving in the wind was an old sign . . . Motel and Bar. Vacancy.
"Oh God, you're not seriously considering stopping," she said out loud as she pulled into the parking lot. The rain beat down on her car and she contemplated a dash into the somewhat . . . trashy building. But hopefully a dry, trashy building. However, she wasn't desperate enough to get a room in this place. She could only imagine what the beds looked like. From the passenger seat, she grabbed her jacket and struggled to put it on in the car. Her umbrella was in the trunk, of course. She hadn't seen rain since May.
After grabbing her wallet and shoving it into the inside pocket of her jacket, she tucked her blonde hair under the hood, and on a silent count to three, she bolted from the car and sloshed through the rain and mud to the porch. She pointed her remote at her car, locking her doors before entering the bar.
The storm was stifled somewhat and an ancient country-western song played on an equally ancient juke box. Sarah took her jacket off and shook it near the door, looking around apologetically at the mess.
"Don't worry about that, honey. That floor's seen worse."
The dimly lit room was heavy with cigarette smoke and a handful of people, mostly men, sat talking quietly. Sarah walked to the bar, leaving two bar stools between her and the nearest patron.
"Where'd this storm come from?" she asked.
The lady behind the bar wiped the countertop with a dingy rag, brushing over the ghost rings of long ago bottles. She stepped under a light, her graying hair and worn face aging her beyond her years, Sarah suspected.
"Came up out of nowhere," she said. "Makes you wonder."
"Same as last time, Mavis. You know that."
"Hush. We've had storms since then."
"Not on the Eve," he said quietly.
Sarah glanced between the woman and the older man who sat down the bar from her. She raised both her eyebrows, then tapped lightly on the bar. "I figure my driving is done for the night. Got any tequila?"
Sarah nodded. "And a beer. We'll start with that." She looked around. Jesus, this was a scary group. Dirty and unshaven, two men played cards on a back table. Another group of four hovered around the dartboard. The pool table, with its worn, green felt, was tucked into a corner and three men and a woman played a silent game. The two or three women in the place looked like . . . well, hookers. Of course, they were in the middle of nowhere. Did they have hookers here? Maybe they were just . . . party girls. Sarah rolled her eyes. Party girls and truckers and a handful of locals . . . and her. All stranded by a freak storm.
"Here you go, miss."
"Thanks." Sarah pulled out her wallet only to have her hand pushed away.
"I'll run you tab. Gonna be a long night, most likely."
"It's just a thunderstorm. You'd think it would have passed by now," Sarah said. "Seemed like I was watching these clouds for hours before I was in it."
"It's camped out over us, just like before. It's the Eve, Mavis."
"Carl, you mind your words. There ain't no sense in causing panic."
Curious by nature, Sarah flicked her glance between the two, wondering if she wanted to know what they were talking about. She tossed back her tequila shot, eyes squeezed together at the fire in her throat. Cold beer followed and she sighed, finally relaxing for the first time in what felt like hours.
"Old Man Willis said the storm came out of nowhere."
Sarah turned her head, watching as a man in overalls walked to the bar and slid his empty beer bottle to the woman.
"Not you, too. I swear, Ronnie, it's just a storm, like any other."
"Never had a storm on the Eve before, Mavis. All these years, never had a storm."
Sarah could stand it no longer. She swiveled in her chair, turning to the men. "The Eve?"
"Don't pay them any mind, miss. It's time they both went on home."
"The Eve. The Eve of Halloween."
Sarah twirled her beer bottle. "Uh huh. I see."
"She came on the Eve."
Don't ask. But that damn curiosity. "She who?"
The man sitting two stools away turned, motioning for Mavis to refill his drink. "Nineteen thirty-four," he said. "A storm came up."
"On the Eve," the other man said.
"Rained cats and dogs all day, they say. Most of the men folk ended up over here, at the bar. Ain't that so, Mavis?"
"So they say."
Sarah took the tequila shot that Mavis slid her way, wondering at the story these old-timers were about to tell.
"They claim she came in with the storm. Some called her a witch," he said.
"Not a witch. A spirit. She would come at night. No man was safe."
"Not that night, no," Mavis agreed.
"Or the next," Carl murmured.
Sarah tossed back her tequila. Great. It's Let's Scare the Stranger night. Jesus. Was there enough tequila to get her through this? But okay, she could play along. What else was there to do?
"So what did she do?" Sarah asked.
The two men looked at each other, then at Mavis. Finally Carl spoke. "She claimed the men, one by one. For two nights, screams were heard."
"Old Man Willis said he remembers his father being called outside by a woman's voice. He says his mother begged him not to go, but he couldn't resist the voice. He heard pleasure, then he heard screaming. The next morning, his father's headless body was found in the barn."
Lovely. Now ghost stories.
Sarah looked at Mavis. "What?"
"Twenty-three men lost their lives those two nights. Most of them butchered."
"Twenty-five," Carl said. "They just never found the Lucas twins."
"She came right through the door there," Mavis said, pointing. "My mother was a young girl back then. She was here with my granny. Granny Mae said it was storming to beat all, the place was packed. The stranger had long, raven hair and eyes so dark, they were black as the night."
"I heard they had a yellow tint."
"That's just talk," Carl said. "My granddad said they were so black, they were almost blue."
Sarah decided she'd had enough tequila and she sipped from her beer instead. "So, this woman, she came and . . . what? Seduced them? Then killed them?" God, was she really having this conversation? She should be in Big Bend already. She should be camping with her friends, not listening to ghost stories on The Eve! "Was she like a . . . siren? They couldn't resist?"
Mavis leaned closer and whispered, "She had sex with them."
"And then butchered them," Carl said.
"By the time the storm ended, twenty-three-"
"Twenty-five men were dead or missing," Mavis said. "Including my grandfather. The county sheriff tracked her all the way to the river."
"The Rio Grande? To Big Bend?"
"A posse of over thirty men," Carl said quietly.
"A posse? On horseback?" Sarah asked.
"Oh, yes. There were no roads down in the Big Country in the 30s."
Before she could stop herself, "What happened?"
"The posse never came back. Texas Rangers came down here then. Found them all . . . butchered. Devil's Gate Pass. That's how it got its name."
Devil's Gate. Sarah rubbed her eyes. That's where she was supposed to meet her friends. That's where they were camping. Lovely. Just lovely. She jumped as thunder rattled the windows and she literally felt the building shake.
"Hell of a storm," Carl murmured, looking behind him to the door.
"And on the Eve, too."
Sarah followed their gaze, watching the door as if expecting it to burst open at any moment, revealing the ghost of a long-dead seductress. Across the room, the carved pumpkin seemed to mock them, the candle burning inside, the flames dancing about, outlining the sinister face. Sarah wanted to toss her warm beer on the candle and kill it. Actually, she couldn't believe she was getting spooked by a long ago ghost story told second hand by a couple of the locals. But looking around the room, shadows danced in the dim light, the cigarette smoke drifted eerily overhead, making it all seem the more real. She was an educated woman but . . . she believed these old men, she believed Mavis . . . hell, she believed Old Man Willis, for God's sake!
"Mavis? Something with a Coke," she said, pointing at her empty beer bottle.
Sarah shrugged. "Surprise me."
But her surprise was another clap of thunder the same instant the front door burst opened. All eyes were drawn to the silhouette of a stranger standing in the shadows as the wind and rain whipped outside.
The shadows could not hide the fact that the stranger was a woman. A tall woman with slender hips, she let the door close, leaving the storm behind her. Carl gasped, his bar stool scraping the dirty concrete floor in his haste to move away.
"Lord have mercy on us," he whispered as the bar stool hit the counter, trapping him.
The stranger walked slowly into the room, obviously aware of all eyes on her. She looked warily around her, nodding slightly when she looked at Sarah.
"I'd about kill . . . for a stiff drink," the stranger said, her husky voice echoing in the suddenly quiet bar. "Scotch, straight up."
Great choice of words. Sarah stifled a smile as Mavis's trembling hands spilled the amber liquid on the bar in her attempt to fill a glass. Ghost stories or not, this stranger was but a stranded traveler, not unlike herself. But she felt her own gasp leave her lips when the stranger took off her soaked baseball cap and shook out long raven hair. Only then did Sarah dare to meet her eyes. Dark eyes . . . dark as the night.
Sweet Jesus . . . I'm having a nightmare.
"Hell of a storm," the stranger murmured as she sipped her drink. She looked at Sarah. "You're not from around here, are you?"
Sarah stared, finally finding her voice. "No, I'm not. Is it that obvious?"
The stranger grinned, a lovely smile that lit up her eyes. "You're wearing two hundred dollar hiking boots."
Sarah shifted uncomfortably on the stool, tapping those same hiking boots against the bar. She couldn't pull her eyes away from the stranger's dark ones. As she stared, she realized they weren't so dark, just a nice pleasant brown. Not sinister in the least. And the long, raven hair -- why it barely reached to her shoulders. Sarah had obviously let the ghost story get the better of her.
"Besides, you look like you've had a bath in the last day or two." The stranger looked around the room. "I'm not certain the same can be said for the rest," she murmured.
For some reason, the husky voice had a hypnotizing affect on Sarah and she again found herself slipping farther into the dark eyes. A siren? A witch? A succubus?
When Sarah didn't answer, the woman continued. "Have you been stranded long?"
Sarah shook her head. "An hour." She looked at her watch. "Or so." She met Mavis's wary eyes and tried to smile reassuringly at the older woman who shoved a drink to her. "Were you driving in it long?"
"This side of Fort Stockton. It looked like it was off in the distance, then all of a sudden, it was upon me."
"Yeah, me, too. I was just thankful this . . . place was here. I could barely see the road."
The stranger leaned closer. "Where are we, anyway?"
Sarah caught a whiff of . . . cedar? She knew of no perfume or cologne that smelled of cedar and being from Austin, she knew exactly what cedar smelled like. But it wasn't an over-powering aroma, just . . . woodsy, fresh. She decided she liked it. At the woman's raised eyebrows, she found her voice.
"I have no idea where we are." She casually motioned across the bar. "I have met Mavis, though. And that's Carl and Ronnie sitting down the bar from you."
The woman nodded. "Any idea why they're staring at me?"
Sarah laughed quietly. "Yes, actually, I do."
"Going to tell?"
"Are you kidding? This may be our only entertainment of the night."
The stranger turned and looked at Carl, watching as the older man dropped his drink on the bar, spilling it. Mavis wiped up the spill, taking the glass from Carl's trembling fingers.
"Sorry about that," the stranger said easily. "Let me buy you another one, please. We might be in for a . . . very long night."
Sarah saw Carl's eyes widen at the innocently spoken words, but he, too, seemed drawn to the stranger. Even Mavis couldn't keep her eyes away. For a brief moment, Sarah wondered if she had let her guard down too soon. She let her eyes travel over the woman, unobserved. She was dressed in jeans and hiking boots, much like Sarah herself. Sarah wondered if perhaps the woman was heading to Big Bend, like she was.
"Mavis is it? Another round for my friend down there."
Sarah felt a twinge of sympathy for Carl as he stuttered a thank you to the woman. For all he knew, it might be his last drink. This woman might claim him later in the night. At this, Sarah smiled, taking in Carl's dirty pants and three-day old shirt. She guessed a razor hadn't seen his face all week, and as the stranger had suspected, baths had been scarce. No, she would bet money that Carl would be safe tonight.
"I'm Michele, by the way," the stranger said, offering her hand.
Sarah stared at the hand, noting the slender fingers and blunt nails. She finally slipped her hand into the woman's, pleased at the firmness of her grasp. "Sarah," she replied.
"Nice to meet you, Sarah. They say friendships are struck up at the oddest of places. Who knows? You and I may end up being good friends."
Sarah smiled. "You think so?"
Michele leaned closer. "You don't talk much, do you?"
Sarah smiled again. "No."
The woman nodded. "I do. I travel a lot. Making conversations at places like this is not unfamiliar to me." She motioned with her head down the bar. "I just wish you'd tell me why they keep staring."
Sarah was about to answer when thunder boomed overhead, making her . . . and everyone else, jump. Everyone, that is, except Michele, who calmly sipped her drink.
"I can't believe they haven't lost power yet," she said, and as if by just speaking the words, the lights flickered overhead.
Another clap of thunder and then . . . darkness. Sarah squinted, hearing chairs scraping and feet shuffling. She heard murmured whispers from Carl and Ronnie and she found herself staring into the flaming grin of the pumpkin, the only light in the dark building. Then next to her, the stranger, Michele, stood up, calmly flicking on a lighter, holding it high above her head.
"Mavis, got a candle back there?"
Sarah stared at the woman in the shadows, feeling a bit guilty as she let her eyes travel across her body, stopping momentarily at the swell of her breasts. The first two buttons of Michele's shirt were open and Sarah glimpsed a quick, enticing view of cleavage. You're a pig. She pulled her eyes away, focusing instead on the candle Mavis shoved along the bar top.
"There's a . . . there's a lantern in the back," Mavis said, moving away now, having found a flashlight under the bar.
"Yep. Gonna be a long night," Michele murmured.
"Could be worse," Sarah said. At Michele's questioning look, she shrugged. "Could be summer."
"Ahh. You'd be right. It would be stifling."
Michele laughed. "As if it's not smelly now." She pointed to Sarah's drink. "What are you having?"
"I started with tequila shots and beer. This would be bourbon and coke," Sarah said as she took a sip. As the woman wrinkled her nose disgustingly, Sarah raised her eyebrows. "What?"
"Who would ruin a good bourbon with coke?"
Sarah flashed a grin. "Who said it was good bourbon?"
The woman shook her head. "I'll do seven and seven. Anything else, it has to be straight up."
She smiled. "Ahh, give me a smooth rum any day."
The woman shrugged. "I travel a lot."
"And I spend many nights in hotel bars."
Sarah was about to pry further into the beautiful stranger's personal life when Mavis returned with a lantern, which brightened up the room somewhat.
"I'm thinking I should make a run for it," Ronnie said.
"Yes, I'm surprised Lola hasn't called looking for you."
But the lightning that flashed outside brought an immediate boom of thunder.
"You're safer in here," Michele said.
"That's what you want us to think, isn't it?"
Michele frowned. "Excuse me?"
Sarah found her fingers curling around Michele's forearm. "Mavis, two more over here, please. And make mine rum, a dark rum."
"What did he mean by that?"
"Just let it go. I'll explain later." Sarah watched as Michele's eyes lighted on her fingers which were still clasped around her arm. Sarah immediately released her. "I'm sorry."
She looked up and found her blue eyes captured once again. She'd been fighting off blind dates set up by Jenna for the last year, none of which stirred even the slightest desire in her. But now, in this smoky . . . dive of a bar, she found herself captivated by this stranger. A siren? It no longer mattered. As the irresistible song called to mariners of old, Sarah found herself falling into the depths of those dark eyes, not afraid to drown there.
"Sarah, what are you doing here?" the husky voice whispered.
"Hmm? What?" Sarah murmured, finally pulling her eyes away.
"Here. In this town, on this road? Big Bend?"
Sarah nodded. "Meeting some friends. Camping trip."
The woman nodded. "I haven't been to Big Bend in years. There's a little place on the back side, Terlingua. Ever heard of it?"
Michele laughed. "Yeah, famous for chili cookoffs out in the desert. It's also full of Indian artifacts."
"Arrowheads are everywhere," she said with a shrug. "But I've found entire kitchens out there. It's incredible."
Sarah frowned. "Isn't that illegal?"
"To take it? Yeah. You're supposed to find a professional archeologist and let them sift through it."
"And the state owns it now so it's hard to slip out there." Michele sipped from her scotch.
"I actually have a few arrowheads," Sarah confessed. "Found them out near Bandera. One is about five inches long. Must have been a spear or something."
"Wide at the base, then pointed?"
"Even? No little hooks at the end?"
Sarah shook her head.
"It's probably a hide scrapper." Michele leaned closer. "Bandera has tons of fossils. Clam shells that were filled with limestone. They call them Texas Hearts. Seen one of them?"
"No, I haven't." It was Sarah's turn to lean closer. "You seem to know an awful lot about it? Hobby?"
She nodded. "I love to dig in the dirt, get my fingers dirty." Then she arched an eyebrow. "It's just hard to find a woman to tag along with me."
The shadows danced around them and Sarah swallowed nervously.
"You like to . . . get your fingers dirty?"
Sarah didn't miss the double meaning and she found herself nodding.
"Good. I thought so. Then maybe when they come for the lynching, you'll protect me."
Sarah frowned. "What do you mean?"
"They are pointing and whispering. And I'm thinking it's me, not you." Michele tossed a glance down the bar. "I'm either about to get thrown out of here or the locals have never seen a dyke before and they're curious."
Sarah laughed. "I think you can handle yourself."
"They may mug me in my car tonight."
"I'm too tired to drive. I think I'll bunk in my Cherokee tonight."
"Mavis has rooms," Sarah said without thinking.
Michele motioned for Mavis, who took a hesitant step towards them. "You have a room, Mavis? For the night?"
Mavis looked quickly at Sarah, then back to the stranger. "No vacancy. Sorry. This young lady took the last room."
Sarah blinked, meeting Mavis's frantic eyes. Oh. She was afraid for Michele to stay here. The ghost. So, Sarah went along with the older woman, pretending that she'd requested a room.
Michele smiled at Sarah. "Imagine that. You got the last room."
Michele leaned closer. "I'll give you a hundred bucks for it," she teased.
Sarah laughed. "And have me sleep in my car? I don't think so. I actually have a car, not an SUV. I doubt I'd fit on the back seat."
"Okay, I'll give you fifty bucks to share it."
Sarah seemed to consider this as her eyes slid closed, but she shook her head. "Hardly seems fair. I'm sure there is only one bed."
"You want the full hundred to share?"
As lightning once again illuminated the uncovered windows and thunder rumbled overhead, Sarah found herself moving closer to the woman. Their thighs were nearly brushing and Sarah wondered at her attraction to this stranger. Maybe it was just the unexpectedness of it all, maybe it was the tequila. Nonetheless, she nearly shivered when Michele moved her leg, pressing it lightly against Sarah's.
"Share?" Michele asked again.
Sarah swirled the ice in her glass, wondering if she dared to have another. Oh, what the hell? She looked at Mavis and motioned to both their drinks, then leaned her chin in her palm. This woman, this stranger, was dangerous, Sarah knew. But it had nothing to do with ghost stories. Jenna would think she'd lost her mind. And, perhaps, she had. But the siren's song was too strong to ignore.
"Okay, I'll share."
Michele leaned closer. "Thank you. I'll . . . owe you."
Sarah couldn't resist. "Oh yeah? And how will you pay me back?"
Sarah's eyes were captured with little resistance on her part. She was simply melting under this woman's gaze, falling willingly into her eyes.
"I'll be . . . at your mercy," Michele said softly. Her eyes dropped to Sarah's lips, causing Sarah to unconsciously wet them with the tip of her tongue. "Your wish . . . is my command."
Sarah sat back as Mavis brought them fresh drinks. She noticed that Carl and Ronnie had moved farther away, quietly talking at the end of the bar.
"Mavis, the tab? I think I'm about ready to call it a night." At my mercy? God, Sarah wasn't certain she could handle the woman.
"Of course. You're . . . staying?"
Sarah smiled. "Well, it is the last room."
Mavis nodded. "I'll find another flashlight for you. The room is ready."
When Mavis handed Sarah her tab, Michele took it, shoving several bills at Mavis. "Keep the change."
"You'll be . . . leaving now?"
Michele grinned. "Actually, Sarah here has offered her room."
Mavis turned worried eyes to Sarah.
"It'll be fine. It's nearly midnight as it is," Sarah said.
"Yes. Midnight," Mavis murmured. "The darkest hour."
Michele stood and pushed her stool back, frowning at Mavis's words. "Gonna brave the rain for a second and grab my overnight bag. Be right back."
Sarah nodded, knowing she should do the same. As soon as Michele had left the room, Mavis grabbed her hands.
"Share your room? Child, you must not. Can't you see what's happening?"
"She's stranded, just like I am. Not a ghost, Mavis."
"She's the spittin' image," Carl said as he moved closer. "It's the Eve. None of us are safe."
Sarah smiled at him, wanting to reassure him that he was indeed safe, unless a lightning bolt caught him on the way home.
"You said she went after men," Sarah reminded them. "I should be fine then."
"There's something not right about her," Mavis said. "I beg you. Don't take her to your room."
"It's midnight. I'm exhausted. I just want to sleep, then hit the road in the morning. Everything will be fine."
All eyes were again drawn to the door as Michele hurried back inside, a gust of wind causing the door to fly out of her hands and bang against the wall. She shut it quickly.
"Sorry about that," she said. "The rain hasn't let up."
Sarah pointed at their drinks. "May we take these to the room?"
"Thanks. Which way?"
Mavis slid a key across the bar. Then she handed Sarah the flashlight. "Through the doors there, it leads to a back hallway. Room three."
As Sarah turned to leave, Mavis grabbed her wrist, again pleading silently with her.
She smiled. "I'll be fine," she whispered. She picked up her coat from the bar stool next to her. "Going to get my own bag," she said to Michele.
"Want me to wait?"
"No, go ahead."
Sarah ran back out into the storm, surprised that it seemed just as strong as earlier, although the lightning appeared to have eased up some. She grabbed her overnight bag from the backseat and hurried back inside the bar. Mavis's worried eyes followed her across the room. Sarah paused briefly before going down the hallway, nodding to the older woman.
She wasn't afraid. Quite the contrary. She was . . . excited. Anticipation of what could happen, what was probably going to happen, made her heart beat just a little bit faster. Out of character for her? Oh God, yes. Jenna would faint if she knew. None of that seemed to matter as Sarah recalled the look in the stranger's eyes, the smell of cedar on her skin, the way her pulse raced when her thigh was pressed against Sarah's. No, none of that mattered. She'd had just enough tequila to numb her inhibitions.
She stared silently at the number three on the door, noting absently that a nail was missing, causing it to hang crooked. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes for a second before turning the doorknob. Her breath caught as she found Michele sitting up in bed, sheet pulled to her chest. The flashlight illuminated the room enough for Sarah to know that Michele was naked.
Good God, is this really happening?
"I put your drink over there," Michele said quietly, pointing to the end table on the other side of the bed.
"Okay . . . thanks," Sarah murmured. She stood nervously by the door, wondering what the hell she was doing here. Thirty-two was far too young to have lost her mind.
"Are you . . . nervous?"
Sarah let out a sarcastic laugh. "You think?" She finally tossed her bag on the lone table in the room. Crossing her arms, she rubbed her shoulders, trying to find the courage to go to this woman. "I don't . . . I don't exactly make a habit of this," she said.
"It's almost like . . . there's this spell or something. Do you feel it?"
Again, the hypnotizing voice. Sarah swallowed, hoping to God this woman wasn't a spirit from another time, just coming to play with her before . . . before the killing. You're pathetic.
"I find myself extremely attracted to you," Sarah finally admitted, searching out the woman's eyes in the shadows.
"That's not such a bad thing. The feeling is mutual."
"Are you naked?"
"Because I want to . . . make love with you tonight."
Sarah shut her eyes for a moment. "Why?"
"Because you've got the prettiest blue eyes I've ever seen and that dimple in your right cheek, God, I just want to put my tongue there."
Sarah slowly brought her hand up to her face. She'd been blessed . . . or cursed with only one dimple.
"And I like the way you smell."
Sarah opened her eyes. "What?"
"I'm a very . . . sensorial person. And I can't wait to taste you."
The whispered words hung between them; lightning and distant thunder rumbled overhead as the rain continued to pound against the ancient roof. It was only then that Sarah saw the window opened halfway, letting in the coolness of the night . . . and the sounds of the storm. And this beautiful woman, this stranger . . . wanted to taste her.
Sarah nearly moaned as the words hit home. She'd known this woman barely an hour . . . and here she was, in a motel room, standing before the bed while Michele lay naked . . . waiting for her.
"Come to bed, Sarah."
Sarah was powerless to resist that voice . . . like a siren's song, she followed it. Blindly, she unbuttoned her shirt, stripping it from her body and letting it fall to the floor. She stood next to the bed, her hands going to her jeans, but her fingers were stilled by another's, her hands pushed out of the way as Michele's took over, unbuttoning her jeans and slowly lowering the zipper. The sound seemed inordinately loud and Sarah found Michele's dark eyes in the shadows. Their gazes locked as her jeans were shoved down her hips. She obediently stepped out of them, standing there in only her sheer bikini briefs. Then soft hands were touching her flesh, easing them down as well.
When the covers were thrown back, she went willingly, having long ago lost the will to refuse her body's desires. Flesh met flesh and she succumbed to the soft lips that sought her own. Their mouths met, tentative at first, then both unleashing the passion that had been simmering.
Sarah relinquished control as Michele rolled them over and settled her weight on top of Sarah, her hips undulating slowly, sensuously against Sarah. Sarah moaned into her mouth, her thighs parting, inviting Michele inside.
"Tell me what you like," Michele whispered against her mouth. "Hard? Slow?" Her lips moved to Sarah's ear. "How do you want me to fuck you?"
Sarah couldn't answer. Her eyes slammed shut as the other woman ground against her, their clits meeting, pounding together.
"You want me inside of you?" Michele asked as her lips moved down Sarah's neck. "Do you want my mouth on you?" Her lips finally found Sarah's breast. "God, you smell so good," she murmured. "Do you taste that good?"
"Oh, Jesus," Sarah moaned as her hips arched against Michele. "Please, touch me, take me, God . . . fuck me."
Sarah was nearly delirious as this woman, this stranger suckled her breast while a strong thigh urged her legs farther apart. Sarah was as turned on as she could ever remember being and she felt her wetness seeping from her. Her hips rose, desperately seeking relief. She found Michele's hand and slid it down her body, imploring Michele to take her. She pressed Michele's fingers against her, grinding hard, begging for release.
Then Michele was filling her, fingers easily slipping into her wetness. Sarah opened wider, hips rising to meet each stroke, taking Michele deep inside her. She felt Michele's teeth bite gently on her nipple, sending a delicious pain to the pit of her stomach.
"Yes . . . oh, yes," she murmured. "Harder."
And Michele obliged, fingers pounding into her in a steady rhythm as her mouth continued at her breast. Just when Sarah was certain she couldn't take any more, she found herself screaming out into the night as that same mouth left her breast and joined those exquisite fingers. She climaxed the instant Michele's tongue circled her clit.
Sarah was too far gone to feel embarrassed. She knew her mouth hung open as she gasped for breath, she knew she had screamed uncontrollably as her orgasm hit . . . and she knew she wanted to do it all over again.
"I'm still alive, right?" she murmured.
Sarah felt Michele smile against her neck. "God, I hope so. I'm not nearly ready to stop this."
"That was incredible."
Again, a smile against her skin. "Thank you."
Sarah laughed. "No, thank you." The words barely left her mouth when she found herself on top of Michele as the other woman rolled over, pulling Sarah with her.
"Please say it's my turn. I'm about to explode."
Sarah brushed the dark hair away from Michele's eyes, her own gaze traveling over the flawless skin, stopping at the lips that nearly begged for her kiss. Sarah lowered her head, lightly, teasingly touching Michele's lips. She let her hands travel over the body beneath her, gently cupping small breasts.
"Yes, it's your turn," Sarah murmured absently as her lips surrounded an aroused peak. Any inhibitions she still clung to were tossed aside as she settled between Michele's legs, her only goal, to bring the other woman to an earth-shattering climax, much like her own had been.
Michele slowly opened her eyes, her first conscious thought, she'd had too much scotch. Her second, as she rubbed her eyes, was that Sarah was gone.
She tossed the thin sheet off of her naked body and lay there, trying to remember all of the details of the night before. The storm, yes. And Sarah, God, what a lover. Michele couldn't remember the last time . . . if ever . . . she'd spent four or five hours having sex. Great sex, too. She brought her hands to her face, brushing her hair from her eyes. Sarah's scent still clung to her fingers and Michele involuntarily clinched her thighs together, remembering Sarah's hands upon her, her finger's inside her . . . and her mouth taking her, claiming her. Not once, but many times.
"Damn," she murmured. Her hand rested between her thighs, feeling the dampness that had been there ever since she'd laid eyes on the blonde woman.
She stretched once, then sat up, muscles protesting as she stood. She was tired, she was sore. She smiled. And she was sated. But God, if Sarah was still here, still in her bed . . . Michele glanced affectionately at the rumpled sheets. Yes, if Sarah was still here, Michele would be between her thighs right now.
But Sarah was gone. Michele looked around, hoping to find a note. What she found were a couple of twenty-dollar bills. She paid me? But the scribbled note simply stated that the money was for the room.
"Ahh." Michele shrugged. No name, no phone number, no address. What had she expected? It was just a one-night stand. Fabulous, but still, just a brief affair on the road between two strangers. And it wasn't like she hadn't done it before. Back in the old days, when she traveled constantly, she was never in one place long enough to develop any kind of a relationship. This was but one more.
But it had felt different. When she looked into Sarah's eyes, there was something there, a connection of sorts. She shook her head and lifted one corner of her mouth in a smile. You're getting old. Just enjoy it for what it was, she told herself.
With that, she grabbed her overnight bag and walked naked into the tiny bathroom. As she stepped into the shower, she noticed that it had been used. So, Sarah hadn't simply run away. She'd stayed long enough to shower. Michele had no idea of the time, but with the sun shining in the window, she suspected it was at least mid-morning. She figured Sarah was at least a couple of hours gone.
Sarah drove blindly down the road, sunglasses shoved tightly on her nose. She tried not to think, she tried not to remember, but . . . Jesus Christ!
"What were you thinking?"
She was cute. Her voice was . . . God, incredible.
"You're pathetic." I wonder how many orgasms I had?
She rolled her eyes. And she refused to even consider telling Jenna about this. So the woman was gorgeous? So she had a body that was . . . God, incredible. She was still a stranger. She was still . . . a one-night stand.
Sarah grimaced. She hated that term. But the fact remained . . . she'd had sex, all night long, with a stranger.
"You're a slut," she murmured. Then she met her eyes in the mirror and grinned. But, God, it had been fantastic!
And she'd escaped as soon as possible. The sun was barely up and she was exhausted, but she made herself get out of bed, made herself pull away from the other woman. She'd almost fled without showering, but one look at herself in the mirror changed her mind. So, a quick and quiet shower, then she fled silently from the motel room and to her car. The bright sunshine almost made her forget about the raging storm of the night before and she sped down the highway, nearly laughing when she saw the sign.
"Thank you for visiting Marathon! Come again."
Now, two hours down the road, heading quickly to Big Bend, she pushed Michele from her mind. No one needs to know. She would simply join her friends, enjoy a couple of nights camping, a couple of days hiking the mountains, then head back to Austin. Michele would become a fond memory.
"What were you thinking?"
"Where is she?"
Michele looked up, squinting into the sun.
Mavis took a step back toward the door. "Yes. Where is she?"
Michele shrugged. "Gone."
"Gone? We heard screaming."
Michele grinned. "Well, what can I say?"
"What have you done with her?"
"Excuse me?" Michele tossed her bag in the back seat, then slammed the door. "I don't know where she is." She fished out the two twenties that Sarah had left. "What do we owe you for the room?"
"Is she all right? I heard . . . screaming. Lots of screaming."
Michele nearly blushed as she met the older woman's eyes. "Look, we had a little . . . fun last night. Sorry about the . . . screaming. But she was gone when I woke up."
"We've already called the County Sheriff."
Mavis pointed a crooked finger at her. "You won't get away with it again. Not this time."
"What in the hell are you talking about?"
But the old woman backed away. "Not this time."
Michele frowned, watching as the woman disappeared into the bar. She had been counting on a cup of coffee to get her going, but the woman had her freaked just a little. County Sheriff? What the hell was that about?
Sarah took off her sunglasses as she drove into the campground, looking for familiar vehicles. She glanced quickly at herself in the rearview mirror, wondering how long it would take Jenna to drag the truth out of her. She figured she had a fairly good chance of getting away with it. The storm, snagged the last room, headed out first thing this morning. All true. There was absolutely no need to mention Michele's name in all that. But, one look at her and it would be obvious she had not slept. Well, the raging storm and strange motel room could account for that.
"Sex with a stranger could account for that, too."
Sarah rolled her eyes, glad she hadn't lost her sense of humor. Three hours removed from Michele's arms, the woman was getting harder and harder to remember with every mile. She would soon fade totally away. Sarah laughed. It might help if I couldn't still smell her!
She found Jenna's black SUV parked under one of the stunted pines and she pulled along side it, seeing activity around the camp fire and picnic table. Her dark-haired friend spotted her and walked over, hands on hips.
"You missed breakfast but you're in time for the first hike." Then a cock of the head. "And where the hell have you been?"
Sarah stood and stretched her arms behind her back, hearing the satisfying pop of her spine. "Stuck in the damn storm. How did you guys fair?"
Jenna arched an eyebrow and shifted the ball cap on her head. "Storm? What storm?"
"The storm. My God, it was probably the worst thing I've ever been in."
"I'll say. You look like hell."
"Well, it's hard to sleep when it's thundering and lightning, not to mention pouring down rain." Part of her wondered if any of that happened once she'd found Michele's arms around her. She had no recollection of the storm, only Michele and her hands and . . . mouth on her. She turned away quickly, feeling a blush creeping up her face.
"We had clear skies last night. The stars were incredible." Jenna moved to help Sarah with her bag. "Where did this storm hit you?"
"Outside of Fort Stockton. I made it as far as Marathon. There was this little hole in the wall motel and bar. I ended up staying the night there."
"Well, at least you didn't try to drive in it. Although, I'm sure you would have driven out of it. There wasn't even a hint of a storm around here."
"That is four hours away," Sarah reminded her.
"True. But I wish you could have ridden up with us. We had a great time last night. Grilled burgers and Andrea brought her guitar." She leaned closer. "Pam had too much tequila," she said quietly. "She's a little temperamental this morning."
"Oh, yeah? You know she can't drink tequila. Why did you let her?"
"Like I could stop her. We're out here near Mexico, that's all I heard."
"Please say it wasn't shots. She can barely stomach margaritas."
"It was shots and she had three. The third one knocked her on her ass."
Sarah pointed her finger at her best friend. "That's why you need me here. I would never have let her do that." Sarah stopped as she surveyed the camping area. Six tents of various colors and shapes stood erected under the trees. "Where's a good spot?"
"Well, since you're alone, you'll probably want to get as far away from the couples as possible," Jenna teased.
"Very funny. I swear, that's all you think about."
"Is not. And trust me, I got no action last night."
"You've been together ten years. You should be past doing it on camping trips."
Jenna grinned. "That's what makes it fun. Trying to be quiet so no one else can hear."
Sarah stared. "Can't you just enjoy the experience of being outdoors? Do you have to annoy us single gals with your disgusting lovemaking noises?"
Jenna laughed and wrapped an arm around Sarah's shoulder. "Speaking of that, Liz has a friend coming up today."
"Speaking of what?"
"Oh my God! You are not seriously thinking of setting me up on a camping trip? You know how my hair looks when we camp."
"She's supposed to be cute."
"You always say that. Remember the one that turned out to be Attila the Hun's sister? And I've not yet forgiven you for that one, either."
"I know. I'm sorry." Jenna stopped and pointed to a flat spot on the back side of the camping area. "How about here?"
Sarah nodded. "Where is Susie's tent? Maybe I should bunk next to her. At least we know all we'll hear is snoring."
"Susie's over there," Jenna pointed. "But, she's not alone."
"Susie is dating someone? You mean I'm the only single one here?"
"Afraid so. Of course, like I said, Liz has this friend coming." Jenna grinned. "She's single."
"I'm not interested in a blind date on a camping trip, Jenna. We all look like hell in the mornings, anyway. What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking you'd like her. She's an archeologist or something. She teaches in San Marcos. Liz says she's hot."
Sarah rolled her eyes. "If she's so hot, why is she single?"
Jenna laughed. "You're hot and you're single."
"Well, I'll give you one of the two."
"Oh, Sarah, we all know you're single because you're just too damn picky."
"I'm picky because I don't want to end up like Beth," she said quietly, looking back over her shoulder for the other woman. "She and Rachel have zero compatibility. She just looks so unhappy all the time."
"They've been together six years."
"I know. And they're miserable. I'd rather be single."
Jenna snapped together the poles while Sarah tossed the tent out. "You do realize that the only time you date is when I set you up, right?"
"So, I'm thinking that's abnormal."
Sarah stopped. "What's abnormal about it?"
"You're thirty-two, you're attractive, you have a great job, and you own your own home. Basically, you're a good catch. But you don't seem interested in anyone."
"Maybe that's because I'm not interested in anyone."
"When's the last time you've had sex?"
Sarah stood facing Jenna, knowing full well her face was turning nineteen different shades of red. Yes, Sarah . . . when's the last time you've had sex?
"Sarah? Oh my God! You're blushing. Spill it."
Sarah finally turned away. "Spill what?"
"Are you holding out on me? Who have you been sleeping with?" Jenna demanded.
"I have not been sleeping with anyone. I'm sure if I was, you'd be the first know, seeing as how you set me up with these women."
Sarah tilted her head back and stared at the blue sky. Oh, shit, just get it over with. "I had sex . . . last night," she said quietly.
"What? When? Where? Who?"
"Last night, at a motel in Marathon, Texas . . . with . . . a stranger."
"Oh my God!" Jenna hissed. "Have you lost your mind?"
Sarah calmly took the tent poles from Jenna. "Apparently."
"With a stranger?"
"Yes, with a stranger." Sarah snapped the poles in place, quickly erecting her tent. "Yes, I've lost my mind." Sarah turned to face her. "And yes, it was fantastic," she admitted with a smile.
Jenna stared. "But . . . who was she? I mean . . . Jesus, Sarah, you can't just pick up a stranger in a dive motel. You could have been mugged. You could have been killed. Hell, you could get a disease!"
"Yes, I know all those things. And if you don't mind, I'd rather not talk about it." Sarah pointed her finger at Jenna. "And if you say one word about this to anyone, I'll never speak to you again."
"Damn," Jenna muttered as she shook her head. "Never would have thought you'd do something like that."
"I'm just saying-"
"I know what you're saying, so drop it."
"Geez, you're crabby. Did you get any sleep?"
"So, you had marathon sex in Marathon, Texas!"
Jenna started laughing and Sarah couldn't help but follow. And it felt good. As embarrassed with herself as she was, still, it was incredible sex. Marathon, for sure.
"What's so funny?"
Sarah and Jenna both looked up guiltily as Pam walked over. Sarah gave Jenna a threatening look and Jenna nodded.
"I was just telling Sarah about the fun you had last night," Jenna said quickly.
"Fun? Was it fun? I don't remember." Pam looked at her watch. "Where have you been?"
"I got caught in a storm."
"Where? In Austin?"
"Outside of Fort Stockton. I couldn't see to drive. I finally stopped at . . . this little bar in Marathon. Ended up staying the night."
"At a bar?"
Sarah met Jenna's eyes. "Well, there was a motel next to it. I got the last room and managed to . . . spend a few hours in bed." She only barely kept the grin off her face as Jenna coughed loudly.
"Well, we missed you at the campfire. Tonight will be fun, too. We're carving pumpkins."
Then Pam grinned and glanced at Jenna. "Did you tell her?"
Sarah looked suspiciously at Jenna. "Tell me what?"
"Liz invited a single friend of hers," Pam said before Jenna could answer. "Mickey something or other."
Sarah raised an eyebrow. "Mickey?"
"Liz has already told her all about you."
Sarah cut her eyes at Jenna. "Oh she has?"
"Jenna thinks you'll like her."
"Jenna always thinks I'll like them," Sarah hissed. "Again, I cannot believe you're doing the blind date thing on a camping trip." Sarah marched back to her car for her bag, pausing long enough to slug Jenna in the arm as she passed.
"What was that for?"
Sarah didn't bother to answer. It was bad enough that she'd suffered from temporary insanity the night before, but now, she had to contend with a blind date! She ran her hands through her blonde hair in frustration, tucking it behind both ears as she stared at her reflection in her car window. She didn't really look different, but she felt different. And it was something she couldn't put her finger on. It had been nagging her all morning as she drove. It was like, the more she tried to push Michele from her mind, the harder it was for her to forget the night before. Each touch, each kiss . . . every orgasm came back to her with delicious clarity. She closed her eyes, swearing she could still feel Michele's hands on her, still smell her . . . still taste her.
She groaned out loud, finally making herself move. She shook her head, trying again to shake Michele and failing. And it didn't really surprise her. After all, it had been nearly a year since she'd slept with someone. God, that was a mistake. So now, after spending a night – and morning – in another woman's arms, it was only natural that the experience should stay with her.
Michele glanced at her scribbled directions, then at the map Liz had drawn. For all the times she'd been to Terlingua for a dig, she'd never camped at Big Bend. Oh, she'd done the loop hike along the South Rim and she'd rafted Santa Elena Canyon, but she'd always pitched her tent in the foothills of the park, out in the Terlingua desert area. Nothing against camping under the trees, but there was something about the vastness of the desert that drew her. At night, lying flat on her back, she could see stars from horizon to horizon, not one city light for hundreds of miles in any direction to mar the views.
This was also the first time she'd been out here when she hadn't been working. When Liz had first asked her to join the camping group, Michele had declined. She'd spent so much time traveling, camping over the last few years that she had little desire for a pleasure trip. But Liz had some cute blonde she wanted Michele to meet and Michele knew Liz would never let it go. So, she thought it safer to meet her out here, where Michele felt more at home, than at some fancy restaurant where she'd have to make small talk.
And she had been looking forward to meeting the woman. From everything Liz had told her, she thought they'd hit it off. But, Michele was so out of practice when it came to women. She grinned. Well, not that out of practice. Last night was proof of that. But out of practice when it came to courting, that was for sure.
Thoughts of Sarah flashed through her mind and she felt a chill cross her body as she remembered Sarah's hands on her flesh. Soft hands, sure hands.
"Incredible hands," Michele whispered. Incredible mouth, incredible . . . everything.
And then she felt guilty. Here she was, supposed to be meeting some woman for the first time, a woman that . . . according to Liz . . . was a bit conservative. She doubted the woman would want anything to do with her if she had a clue as to how Michele had spent the previous night. And she wondered where Sarah was, wondered if she might run into her again. Judging by her clothes and Mavis' suggestion that Sarah was camping, it was logical to think that she might have been heading to Big Bend, too. Maybe she could ditch her blind date and simply do a search for Sarah.
"Devil's Gate Campground," Michele said out loud. She looked again at her map, then turned down the bumpy dirt road, climbing just a little higher into the mountains as the road rounded a bend and disappeared from the basin. Stunted ponderosa pines lined the road and Michele drove on, the road finally leveling out as it entered the high valley nestled between the Chisos Mountains. She judged the campground to be only half-full and she drove slowly, searching out Liz's red Jeep.
Sarah brought up the rear as she followed most of her group down the trail. They had hiked up Donkey Ears trail, named after the twin columns of rock that looked – if you held your head just right – like donkey ears. She'd ditched Jenna shortly after they'd started, wanting to be alone, but she was surprised that she was able to put last night's encounter from her mind as she enjoyed the cloudless, windless day. It was beautiful late fall weather, cool and dry. After the hot, hot summer they'd just endured, this was a tiny bit of heaven. Her boots crunched on the rocks and she enjoyed the views, the high mountain desert not encumbered with thick forests. The arid region supported junipers and oaks, and the odd mix of ponderosa pines, which still afforded views of the neighboring mountains and, farther to the south, Mexico.
She met Jenna and the others at their cars, all guzzling cold water after their hike. Sarah's water bottle too, had emptied on the trail and she took the bottle that Jenna offered to her.
"Pam would have loved this," Jenna said.
"Maybe if we keep her away from tequila tonight, she'll be able to join us tomorrow for the rim trail." Sarah lifted the edge of her shirt and wiped at the sweat on her brow. "The hike felt great. It's so good to get out of the city."
"Yeah. I'm glad we could all get away at the same time."
Sarah handed Jenna her water back. "What would be even better is if I didn't have to worry about a blind date."
"I told you, it was Liz's idea."
"Right. And you had absolutely nothing to do with it?"
"Not really. No."
"You're so full of shit," Sarah said with a smile. She climbed inside Jenna's SUV and waited for the other woman. "I think you sit at home and plan these little events for me, just to keep you amused."
"Look, I know how you enjoy your alone time on camping trips and if Liz hadn't said she was totally hot, I would have said not to invite her."
"Sure you would have. Jenna, you're the one who invited a stranger to your mother's Christmas party so I could meet her. How weird is that?"
"Granted, that wasn't one of my better moves."
"She was Jewish! I guess not!"
They bounced across the dirt road, both laughing at the memory.
"That ranks up there with the time I invited the vegetarian out to the barbeque cookoff," Jenna laughed.
"I'm thinking the Alcoholic's Anonymous speaker you invited to tour the winery in the Hill Country beats that one!"
They both laughed again and Sarah playfully punched Jenna's arm. "Are you ever going to stop setting me up?"
"Not until I've gotten you married off."
"I'm not sure there are enough blind dates out there for that." Sarah shrugged. "And I'm not in a hurry. I don't mind being alone so quit worrying about me so much."
"I just want you to . . . you know."
"I know. You want me to have what you and Pam have."
"Yeah. That's all."
"And someday I hope to have that. But I don't think it's going to be a blind date. I think it's going to be someone I just happen to meet, you know." Like Michele, she thought. Then she rolled her eyes. She'd slept with the woman an hour after meeting her. Hardly the basis for a good relationship.
"Hey, look," Jenna said, pointing.
"There's a new vehicle. That maroon Jeep Cherokee." She grinned. "Could be Liz's friend."
"So? I'll be nice to her but that's it. I refuse to have a blind date on a camping trip. It's just not right."
"What's the big deal? There are showers and flush toilets."
Sarah took off her ball cap and pointed. "It's the hair, Jenna. The hair."
"Yeah, you're right. Put your cap back on."
Sarah followed slowly behind Jenna, dreading this meeting. She detested blind dates. She spotted the woman talking to Liz and she stopped dead in her tracks.
"Oh my God," she whispered.
"What?" Jenna followed her gaze. "Damn, Liz was right. She's a cutie."
"Oh God, oh God . . . oh God," Sarah chanted. She turned, intending to make a dash for her tent where she could hide, but Jenna grabbed her arm.
"What is wrong with you?"
"I can't . . . oh fuck," she hissed.
"Will you try to act normal?" Jenna whispered as Liz walked over with her friend.
Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! The word echoed through Sarah's brain as she tried to get the panic stricken look off her face.
"Hey guys," Liz said. "I'd like you to meet a friend of mine from San Marcos. Micky Turner. Micky, this is Jenna and Sarah."
Sarah finally dared to look, summoning all her courage to meet the woman's eyes, waiting for the knowing smile, the declaration of what had happened last night, announcing to all her friends just what a slut she'd been.
"Nice to meet you," Micky said, nodding at them both.
Sarah met her gaze head on, but there was no recognition in the other woman's eyes to indicate that they were anything but strangers.
"Glad you could join us," Jenna said. She nudged Sarah's shoulder and Sarah finally found her voice.
"Yes, welcome," she murmured, her mind still trying to figure out why Michele didn't remember her. How could she not? My God, last night . . . all night, all morning, they had pleasured each other until they'd both passed out from exhaustion. Yet the woman, this Micky person, showed absolutely no recognition. Sarah's eyes widened. Just who the hell did she sleep with last night? What did she sleep with?
"Oh my God," she whispered, watching as Liz and Michele . . . Micky, walked away.
Sarah blinked and shook her head. "Nothing. I'm going to . . . get something to drink."
"You want a water bottle? Or a Coke? I've got some in my cooler here," Jenna offered.
"I'm thinking something a little stronger," Sarah said, walking away.
"Stronger? It's barely noon."
"Yeah? Well it's five o'clock somewhere," she muttered, then grinned. "They ought to make that a song."
Michele felt a twinge of guilt at not acknowledging Sarah, but hell, it was as much a shock to her as it obviously was to Sarah. For a second there, she thought that Sarah might faint.
By then, Michele realized that Sarah wasn't exactly thrilled to see her. Apparently the other woman had put last night from her mind as soon as she'd left the motel. Apparently, Sarah hadn't been nearly as affected by their encounter as she'd been. Michele then thought about Mavis's story of the ghost woman, a story she told while the county sheriff sipped his coffee. Perhaps it was a bit mean. She hadn't missed the near look of terror on Sarah's face when the thought of the ghost woman obviously came to her.
Could be fun.
"I really hope you two get a chance to talk. I think you'll really like her." Liz linked her arm through Michele's. "It's past time you settled down."
"Trying to get me married off, are you?"
"Yes. You're too old to be traveling the country, digging in the dirt and sleeping with God knows who all."
"I think I should be offended."
"Please. I think you enjoy your reputation."
"I don't have a reputation," Michele argued.
"Of course you do."
"With who? I don't really have a circle of friends that could talk about me, do I?"
"Well, I may have told some of your stories a few times."
"Liz! And you're trying to set me up with someone who's heard your horror stories?"
"Well, for those of us who are attached and otherwise lead boring lives, the stories of your one-night stands were quite exciting."
"Yeah. Quite exciting. Until the next morning," she said dryly. Then, she was still alone, much like this very morning when she woke to find Sarah gone.
Liz squeezed her arm. "Yep, you're getting older, all right."
"What does that mean?"
"That means you're ready to settle down, darling."
Michele stopped. "Maybe I'm just tired of being alone."
"You always said you enjoyed your freedom."
"Maybe I just never met anyone that . . . grabbed me, you know?"
"That's because you've not stayed in one place long enough for someone to grab you. I'm glad you're teaching now. Not only will I have more time to see you, but it'll give you a chance to establish some relationships. And I'm not talking love interests, but friends. You have a handful at best, and most of those are scattered across the country."
"Got it all figured out, do you?"
"Yes. And we're going to start with Sarah. Even if you don't hit it off romantically, I think you'll like each other. She's outdoorsy, likes to hike, likes to go camping. I think you'll have a lot in common."
Michele smiled. "We'll see."
Sarah paced beside her car, her mind going in a hundred different directions. Last night was real? Right?
"Oh God," she moaned. "You slept with a ghost! A ghost that looks like Liz's friend!"
She rolled her eyes. The woman who shared her bed last night was definitely not a ghost. She was a living, breathing . . . and very responsive human.
"She was a great kisser," Sarah murmured. Her eyes flew across the campsite, trying to find the dark-haired woman. She spotted her putting up a tent not ten feet from Sarah's. Great.
Granted, it had been dark and she'd had several tequila shots, but still, this Micky looked an awful lot like Michele. Maybe if she saw her naked . . .
Sarah laughed out loud, then covered her mouth, looking around her guiltily. What was wrong with her? Now she wanted to see strangers naked!
"What are you doing?"
She jumped, nearly tripping on a rock as she turned around. Pam stood there, still nursing a glass of orange juice.
"Nothing." Sarah pointed at the glass. "It's after twelve. You got a hangover or what?"
Pam grinned. "Got a shot of vodka in here."
"I'm on vacation. What the hell?"
"Don't plan on hiking this afternoon?"
Pam shook her head. "I'm thinking lawn chair."
"I may join you." Sarah looked again towards the tents, seeing Micky's now erected. There was no sign of the woman. "In fact, I think I will." Her ice chest was still in the trunk and she shoved her own bottle of juice aside, looking for something stronger. Shiner Bock. Nothing like a dark beer to get you going.
"But you love to hike."
Sarah shrugged. "Didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night." Didn't get any, she silently corrected. "Let's go find a couple of lawn chairs."
Michele spied the blonde in her lawn chair, ball cap pulled low over her eyes to avoid the sun. The long legs that poked out beneath the khaki shorts were lightly tanned and . . . extremely strong. Michele felt her temperature rise just a little as she recalled those very legs wrapping around her hips.
The lawn chair next to Sarah's was empty and Michele couldn't resist an opportunity to talk to the woman.
"Is this seat taken?"
Sarah raised her head, her eyes meeting those of this stranger, and God . . . it was Michele's eyes. She sat up straighter.
"Pam was here earlier, but Jenna talked her into a hike."
"Mind if I join you?"
"Of course not. You didn't feel up to the afternoon hike?"
Michele smiled. "Honestly, no. I spent last weekend on a field trip with a group of college students. We camped at Enchanted Rock."
"That's right. Jenna said you were an archeologist."
"Yes. But it was a geology class."
"You're a professor?"
Sarah couldn't help the smile that formed. "Funny, I never had any professors that looked like you."
Sarah shook her head. "And speaking of looking like you, are you sure we've not met before?"
Michele raised an eyebrow. "Do you think we have?"
Sarah felt the blush color her face and she looked away from those eyes. She'd swear, she'd absolutely swear that those were the same eyes she'd drowned in last night. "You were late getting here. Did you get caught in the storm last night, too?"
Michele felt a smile tug at her lips, but she contained it. "Storm? What storm?"
Sarah's eyes widened just a little. "Where did you stay last night?"
"Holiday Inn in Fort Stockton. Pretty nice."
Oh, God. I did sleep with a ghost!
Sarah felt the color drain from her face. She'd slept with a . . . succubus? Sarah slowly turned frightened eyes to Micky. She'd slept with a ghost. A ghost that looked exactly like this woman.
"I'm just . . . yeah, I'm okay. Tired."
Michele nodded, then couldn't resist. "What storm were you talking about?"
Sarah swallowed, pulling her eyes away. "I was caught in a storm, near this little town called Marathon. It was . . . kinda spooky," she said quietly.
"Spooky? Well, it is Halloween," Michele said.
"Yes, it is, isn't it."
Michele stood. "I think I'll join you," she said, pointing to Sarah's empty beer bottle. "Would you like me to bring you another?"
"Okay, sure." Sarah watched her walk away, then called to her. "Michele?"
The woman turned, her eyes slowly meeting Sarah's. "How did you know my real name? My friends always call me Micky."
Sarah's eyes slammed shut. Jesus Christ!
"I actually prefer Michele. Micky is a name my kid brother called me when he couldn't get Michele out of his mouth."
Sarah just nodded.
Then Michele smiled. "Want to tell me where your cooler is?"
Sarah took off her ball cap and ran her fingers through her hair, realizing that her hands were trembling. She quickly put her cap back on, covering her unruly blonde hair.
"The, er, the black Honda over there," she pointed. "It's the blue cooler under the tree."
"Okay. Be right back."
Her name is Michele. She looks like Michele. Sarah's eyes widened. Maybe Michele had been under a spell, too. Maybe Michele simply didn't remember.
"You're losing your mind," she whispered.
Her eyes traveled over the woman as she walked away. Yes, so familiar. Everything about her was familiar. And when Sarah looked into her eyes, she felt the same pull she'd felt last night. Perhaps she was still under a spell. Perhaps this woman wasn't really a woman. Maybe she was the same spirit as last night. After all, she was at Devil's Gate, the very place the massacre took place.
You have lost your mind.
Michele stared across the fire, her eyes watching Sarah. Someone played a guitar, quiet conversations went on around her, but still, her eyes sought Sarah. There was just something about the blonde that drew her. She'd felt it last night. She'd felt it all day as they talked. She still couldn't believe that Sarah thought she was some damn ghost. And she knew Sarah did. She could see it in her eyes. It was Michele's fault for pretending that she didn't know her when they were first introduced and it was a little late now for her to say, hey, I'm the one you had sex with last night, not a ghost.
But the way Sarah looked at her, surely she knew. The instant attraction that gripped them last night was still there. She felt it and she knew Sarah felt it, too. She hadn't missed Sarah's eyes on her.
Finally, Sarah looked up, her gaze traveling across the fire to collide with Michele's. Michele felt her breath catch. There was desire in Sarah's eyes and she didn't pull away when Michele captured those blue eyes. Their stare was intense, heated. Michele felt her heart pound and her lips parted as her breathing became labored.
Sarah nearly groaned at the look in Michele's eyes. Pure heat, pure desire. The dark eyes held her, beckoned her . . . called to her very soul. A spell. She no longer cared. Her body was throbbing, pulsing. She had to do something before she made a complete fool of herself. She could imagine walking directly across the fire and settling her thighs around Michele's lap. No, that wouldn't be enough. She would drag her to the ground and rip her clothes off and take her right there by the fire. It never once occurred to her that the rest of their group might find it strange.
"I'm going to take a shower," she murmured to Jenna, quickly standing and pulling her eyes away from the enticing woman across from her.
"Okay. Take a flashlight. You know the javelinas come out at night."
"Of course they do," Sarah said dryly. "And with my luck, one will get me," she murmured.
She walked to her tent, trying to ignore the dark eyes that followed her. A nice hot shower . . . no, a nice cold shower, then she would share margaritas with Pam. Then, hopefully, a good night's sleep. And tomorrow, she would hike, would rid herself of this pent-up energy she had. One more night, then back home to sanity.
Michele watched her leave, watched her crawl inside her tent, and watched as Sarah headed to the showers. She moved quietly away from the fire, slipping from the circle of women unnoticed.
The blast of cold water did little to squelch Sarah's desires. Her body was still on fire. Each place her soapy hands touched, she felt a jolt that traveled down her body. She closed her eyes, the now warm water cascading over her. It was glorious.
But her eyes snapped open when she heard the rustle of the shower curtain. The vision before her made her knees shake and she put one hand against the wall to steady herself.
Michele said nothing, simply walked naked into the shower, her eyes holding Sarah captive. The desire in Sarah's eyes mirrored her own, and she walked closer, seeing the rapid rise and fall of Sarah's chest.
"Who . . . who are you?" Sarah whispered.
Michele simply bent her head, her mouth going to the sensitive spot on Sarah's neck that she remembered from last night. The quiet moan that Sarah uttered caused Michele to tremble. She moved her mouth to Sarah's ear. "It's just me," she whispered.
Michele pulled back to meet Sarah's eyes. Wild blue eyes, full of desire and just a hint of fear. "Turn around, Sarah."
Sarah's chest heaved as she obeyed. Her hands pressed hard against the cold wall of the shower and she shivered—with anticipation, not fear—as a warm body pressed firmly against her. She couldn't stop the loud moan that left her lips as Michele's hands slid around her waist, pulling Sarah hard against her. She felt Michele's breasts burning into her back, felt Michele grind her hot center against Sarah's buttocks.
"You're making me crazy," Sarah whispered the instant two hands cupped her breasts from behind. Then she didn't have time to think any longer when one of those hands slid slowly, achingly slow, across her stomach and lower. Her eyes slammed shut as she waited for Michele to take her.
"Spread your legs," Michele whispered into her ear. For one agonizing moment, Sarah was afraid she didn't have the strength to obey. But that hand moved between her thighs, urging her legs apart, and she took a deep breath, moving her feet, giving Michele entry. And that was all it took. Two long fingers moved through her wetness, quickly entering her and Sarah's hips bucked, taking Michele deep inside. She lost complete control of her body as her hips danced with Michele, impaling herself time and again on Michele's strong fingers as Michele's hips pounded against her from behind. They were both gasping for breath, primal sounds coming from them as they drew closer and closer to a mutual climax.
Sarah's fingers curled, scraping against the shower wall as Michele's body collapsed against her own, and the other woman's orgasm pushed Sarah over the edge. Her mouth opened, a scream leaving her as Michele's thumb rubbed once, twice against her throbbing clit, causing her body to erupt—she was absolutely quivering, shaking—as Michele's fingers slipped from inside her.
Then Michele turned her around, strong arms pulling her close. Sarah's mouth opened, lips moving against lips, the tip of her tongue shyly tracing Michele's mouth. She moved her hands between them and cupped small breasts, the same breasts she'd feasted on last night.
"Please say you're real," Sarah murmured as her fingers moved across taut nipples, teasing them.
"I'm as real as I was last night," Michele said as her thigh moved between them, spreading Sarah's legs. "And I want you just as much."
Sarah leaned her head against the wall, eyes closed to the pleasure the other woman gave her. "I should hate you," she murmured.
"You should love me," Michele countered as her head lowered and captured an erect nipple.
"Jesus!" Sarah gasped, weaving her hands into Michele's wet hair and holding her close. The insatiable heat, the intense craving from last night returned. It wasn't as if they'd not both just reached orgasm. But just like last night, their passion couldn't be sated with just one touch, with just one climax. Sarah found herself melting all over again as Michele's hands moved over her body, pulling their hips flush against one another. She wasn't certain that her legs would support her, especially since all she wanted to do was to lie down and pull this woman on top of her.
Then Michele's mouth moved again to her lips, slower now, more under control. Sarah slid her arms around Michele's shoulders, resting against her.
"As much as I'm enjoying this, I'd rather be dry and prone," Michele murmured.
Sarah nodded. "Me, too."
Michele reached for the soap. "Shower?"
But Sarah stared. "Wait a minute. What just happened here?"
Michele's soapy hands moved across Sarah's breasts, then back to her own body.
"Why did you pretend you didn't know me?" Sarah demanded.
"Because you had a look of panic on your face when you saw me. I just assumed you didn't want anyone to know."
"No, I didn't want anyone to know. But I wanted to know! I thought you were a damn . . ."
"Ghost," Michele supplied.
"How did you know?"
"Mavis explained it all to me in front of the county sheriff."
Michele pulled Sarah under the spray to rinse, laughing. "When I finally got up, Mavis was waiting, demanding to know what I'd done with you. She said she heard screaming during the night."
Sarah covered her mouth with a hand. "Oh my God. I'm so embarrassed."
Michele nodded. "So, Mavis called the sheriff."
"She really thought you were the dark woman?"
"Yes." Michele kissed Sarah again. "And so did you."
"When you didn't act like you remembered me, I convinced myself that I'd slept with a . . . ghost." Sarah met Michele's eyes. "I don't, as a rule, do things like that. So, I attributed it all to being under some sort of spell."
"You don't know how much I wanted you to be there when I woke up this morning."
"In the light of day, it just all seemed so . . . sordid," Sarah confessed. "I just wanted to escape before I had to face you."
Michele lightly ran her fingers over Sarah's nipple, watching as it hardened. "Perhaps we could start this again," Michele suggested. "I'd really like to get to know you better."
"You mean, with clothes on?"
"That, too." Michele met her eyes. "I've never been so insanely attracted to someone before. It's a little scary."
"I know. Sitting out by the fire just now, I wanted to cross the flames, tear your clothes off and have my way with you."
"Cold shower instead?"
"It didn't work. If you hadn't come in here, I would have . . ."
"Done it yourself?"
Sarah blushed. "Yes. Although it wouldn't have been nearly as . . . exciting."
"Come on," Michele said. "Let's tell them their blind date thing worked."
They both wrapped towels around themselves and walked out into the dressing area. Sarah stopped in her tracks. Jenna, hands on hips, stared back at her.
"How long . . . how long have you been . . . been there?" Sarah stammered.
Jenna fixed her with a steady gaze. "Too long." Then she turned her eyes to Michele. "Well, you're a fast worker."
Sarah was surprised at the light blush that colored Michele's face. She laughed, then Michele joined in.
"Something I should know?" Jenna asked.
"Actually, you want to hear a story?" Sarah asked. "It's a ghost story of sorts . . ."