Safe Harbor: Part 1

by Radcliffe

 

WARNING: The stories on this page are about the love between two women and may contain explicit love scenes. If you are not 21, or are offended by this type of love - do not go any further. By continuing you are consenting that you are of legal age to read further.

COPYRIGHT INFO: All stories are original works and are copyrighted by their respected authors. Please do not copy them, link to them or redistribute them without the author's permission.


Chapter One

Provincetownís newest, and only, deputy sheriff pulled her cruiser to a stop in the parking lot overlooking Herring Cove. It was 6 a.m. on a clear, crisp morning in May. Other than a Winnebago parked at the far end of the lot, she was alone. To her right stretched the curve of sand leading to Race Point, and in the distance she could make out the figures of a few early morning walkers. Seagulls swayed low over the water, searching for their breakfast, their shrill calls echoing on the wind. The water reflected the color of the nearly cloudless sky, iridescent blues and greens slashed through by the frothy white of the churning waves. The air carried the damp mist that hovered over the dunes, chilling her skin. Despite the chill, she rolled the windows down, allowing the scent and sounds of the sea to rustle through the vehicle. A coffee cup sat on the dash, tendrils of steam drifting off on the breeze. Unconsciously she shifted her equipment belt, settling the revolver more comfortably against her right hip.

She reached for her coffee, her gaze idly following a trawler far out on the bay. Her mind held no clear thoughts, only the impressions of the timeless forces of nature that surrounded her. She felt totally insignificant and yet completely at peace. She felt more at home than she ever had. That fact should have been surprising, considering that she had only called this tiny town on the curving finger of land thrust arrogantly out into the Atlantic home for a few weeks. She had moved across the country to a place she had never even visited before, leaving behind a life that had shaped her since she was a child. Nevertheless it felt right to be here, and she accepted it with equanimity, as she had been trained to face all the circumstances life presented her.

Her attention was caught by a flash of color closer to shore. A red kayak with a bright yellow racing stripe streaked into view, the powerful rhythmic strokes of the kayaker propelling the craft swiftly through the water. Rather than disrupting the quietude, the image of churning arms and slicing paddle seemed to blend with the motion of the waves, joining in the harmony of swirling tides. She watched until the craft was just a dot on the horizon before she started her engine and pulled slowly away from the watersí edge.

*********

Sheriff Nelson Parker glanced up as the door to the station opened, admitting a gust of wind that rustled the papers on his desk. The Sheriffís department was one large room with several desks that was separated from the waiting area by a low railing and a latched gate that squeaked when opened. In an adjoining room, at the rear of the building, were two holding cells that rarely saw any use. His deputy entered with the last of the breeze, and he was surprised once again by the slight disquiet he felt whenever he saw her. Maybe it was her height, she was damn near as tall as he was, or maybe it was the way she carried herself, ramrod straight even at parade rest. She had slightly broader shoulders and narrower hips than most women did, and she was in better physical shape than any of his men. The trim fit of her khaki uniform reminded him once again that he needed to work off those extra twenty pounds that seemed to have settled all too solidly around his waist. Maybe it was only that she seemed totally unaware of how imposingly good looking she was in that androgynous way that so many of the Provincetown women had. He thought ruefully that he might be just a little jealous.

"Morning, Chief!" she said, as she headed for the coffee machine. A frown creased the sculpted features of her angular face as she tilted the pot to survey the two inches of dark liquid in the bottom. "Last nightís?"

"ĎFraid so, Reese," he answered apologetically. "I just nuked mine and chewed it."

"Jesus," she muttered, dumping the remains in the sink. "That looks worse than barracks coffee. And I wouldnít even drink that unless I was half dead." She started a fresh pot and settled behind the other desk. There were a few reports from the night shift stacked in the bin, and she picked them up to review.

"Anything I should know?" she asked.

"Nothing out of the ordinary. A few traffic stops for speeding, one DUI, and a couple of bar brawls down at the General Bradford. Not much happening until this weekend, I expect."

She glanced at the calendar displayed in one corner of the bulletin board. It was two days before Memorial Day Weekend. She had not yet experienced the transformation that befell the tiny fishing village with the onset of the summer season. Beginning in the end of May until after Labor Day, a flood of tourists would swell the normal population of several thousand to many times that number. The townspeople depended on the influx of visitors to support their economy, despite the constant complaints by the year-rounders of the hectic crowds and unmanageable traffic.

"Yep," the sheriff continued, "expect a lot of traffic - vehicular and foot, more accidents, more nightlife, and more drunk and disorderlies. Six months of nonstop pandemonium, and then six months of deadly quiet."

Reese filed the reports silently, envisioning the weeks of work ahead of her.

"Think youíll be able to stand the winters?" Parker asked. "By December youíll be able to see the length of Commercial Street without a car blocking your view. Youíll walk down the street and the only footprints in the snow will be yours."

Reese looked up in surprise, her blue eyes questioning. "Why wouldnít I?"

He shrugged, curiosity warring with his sense of diplomacy. Sheíd been working for him for almost two months and he didnít know word one about her personal life. She never mentioned her past, or talked of any family. He found it hard to believe that someone who looked like her wasnít attached someway. Still, she never left any room for those kinds of questions, and he often found himself fishing for some clue as to who she was. "Itís probably not the kind of life youíve been used to."

Reese fiercely guarded her privacy. It was not only instinctual, it was learned. She fought the urge to leave his unspoken question unanswered. This man was not only her boss, but the person she was likely to spend most of her time with in the coming months. In his own way he was trying to be friendly. She reminded herself she had nothing to hide. "The life I was used to was military life, Sheriff. It can be very boring in its own way. It hasnít changed much in two hundred years."

"Youíre way over qualified for this job," he continued. "I knew that when I hired you. I just couldnít not hire you, not with your military police experience and a law degree thrown in."

She contemplated how much she wanted to share. Her social interactions were molded by a lifetime in the military, a rigid hierarchical world where relationships were defined and shaped by rank and politics. There were rules determining where you ate, where you slept, and whom you could and could not sleep with. There were ways around those rules if you were careful, and so inclined. Reese had never found the need to challenge them, but she was far from naive about the consequences. Revealing ones thoughts, and certainly ones feelings, could be dangerous and in some instances, deadly. As a young recruit she had been taught there were only three acceptable answers to any question or request put to her by a superior - "Yes sir", "No sir," and "No excuse sir".

She took a breath. "After fifteen years I found I was getting a little cramped in the military. I had to make a decision to stay for the rest of my life or make a move. I didnít like military law, but I still wanted to work the law, just differently. This job gives me the chance to do that." She didnít even try to explain the unrelenting restlessness she had felt the last few years; she didn't understand it herself. She had looked at her life and couldnít fault it, yet still she had left. She was here; she was happy with her decision; and she looked forward to her new life.

He looked at his deputy, wondering what she wasnít saying. She returned his look impassively, and he knew he had all the answers he was going to get.

"Well, Iím glad to have you," he said gruffly. "And for Christís sake, call me Nelson."

She brushed the lock of jet-black hair from her face with one long fingered hand, a tiny smile deepening a single dimple to the right of her mouth. Her clear blue eyes were laser-like in their focus.

"Sure thing, Chief," she responded, suppressing the grin. "You want to take the first circuit through town or you want me to?"

He shook his head, trying not to laugh. "You go ahead. Iím waiting for a call about next year's budget from the County Office. God, I hate the paperwork. I should never have run for Sheriff. I was much happier as the Deputy Sheriff."

"Too late now," Reese rejoined. "The jobís taken." She settled her hat over her thick, trim hair, snapping the brim to secure it over her deep-set eyes. For a second Nelson had the urge to salute her. Grabbing her keys, she headed happily for the door. She loved to be out on patrol, simply observing the day to day activities of the community she had made her own.

She had nearly completed her slow tour through the still sleeping village when the Sheriff radioed her.

"Reese?"

"Here," she answered, thumbing on her mike.

"They need you out at the clinic on Holland Road. A break-in."

She wheeled her cruiser up one of the narrow side streets that criss-crossed the main part of town, flipping her lights on with one hand.

"Two minutes," she replied tersely. "Is there a suspect on the scene?"

"Negative. But keep an eye out on your way. The doc just got there, so we donít know how long the suspectís been gone. And Reese - the doctor is inside the building."

"Roger that," Reese replied curtly. A civilian in an unsecured building could easily turn into a hostage situation. At the very least it made her reconnaissance more difficult because she had to be on guard for both innocent bystanders as well as the possible perpetrator. She did not use her siren. If anyone was still there, it was best not to alert them. For the same reason, she did not want an army of police cars barreling into the scene. Not that there were an army of patrol cars in the small Provincetown force.

"Iíll call in when Iíve checked the area. Hold the back-up for now."

She saw no one suspicious as she traveled the short distance to the East End Health Clinic. The small parking lot was empty except for a Jeep Cherokee with a kayak roped to the top. She recognized the red craft she had seen an hour earlier on the bay. She left her cruiser angled across the drive, blocking the exit. She quickly circled the building on foot, noting the shattered window at the rear of the small one story structure.

As she moved around to the front, the door was opened by an auburn-haired woman in a white lab coat. Her hazel eyes were wide with concern. She leaned slightly on a burnished mahogany cane. The lower end of a leg brace was apparent below the cuff of her creased blue jeans.

"Iím Deputy Sheriff Conlon, maíam. Iíll need you to step outside." Reese had slipped her revolver from its holster and held it down by her side. As she spoke she took the woman firmly by the elbow and maneuvered her out through the door onto the small porch. "Please wait in the patrol car while I check the building."

"Thereís no one here," the women replied. "I looked."

Reese nodded, her eyes already scanning the interior of the clinic. "Just the same, you need to wait outside."

"Of course," the doctor replied. She stepped down off the porch, then turned back. "Patients will be arriving in a few minutes."

"Just keep them in the parking lot," Reese instructed as she moved cautiously into the waiting area. After she checked the offices and examining rooms, she returned to her cruiser and called Nelson.

"Chief?"

"Go ahead, Reese."

"No one on the premises. Iíll be here for a while getting the details."

"Let me know what you get."

"Will do." She turned in the seat to face the women beside her. "Why donít we go inside and you can fill me in."

"Iím Victoria King, by the way. Iím the clinic director," the women informed her as they entered the building, extending her hand as she spoke.

Reese took the offered hand, returning the firm grasp. "Reese Conlon, doctor. Can you tell me what you found when you arrived?"

"I opened up at my usual time - 7 a.m.," the doctor began once they entered her office. "I didnít notice anything unusual until I opened exam room one. You saw the mess for yourself," she added in disgust. She leaned her cane against her desk and sat behind it, her folded hands resting on the scratched surface. They were steady, Reese noted.

"I called the Sheriff immediately, then I looked around."

A brave but dangerous thing to do, Reese thought to herself. "Did you see anyone walking on the road before you got here, or a car that seemed out of place?"

"No. But then I wasnít looking for anything. I came straight here from Herring Cove."

Reese studied the woman carefully, noting the strong forearms exposed by the rolled sleeves of her white coat. She wore a simple deep blue polo shirt and pressed blue jeans underneath. She looked to be about thirty-five, lightly tanned with a smattering of freckles on her cheeks that only added to her attractiveness. She had the well-toned look of an athlete, despite the cane at her side. "Your kayak?"

Victoria ran a hand absently through the short layers of her shoulder length hair, shrugging slightly as she did so.

"Yes." She waited for the expression of disbelief that usually followed. Most people looked at her leg and assumed she couldnít manage anything physical. She had come to expect it, but it still angered her.

"Do you do that everyday?" Reese asked pointedly.

"Yes, why?" Victoria replied defensively.

"Because in a town this small any local would know that," Reese responded evenly, giving no sign that she had heard the edge in the doctor's tone. "And they would also know when the clinic was empty."

"Oh, I see," Victoria murmured, feeling a little foolish at her own reaction. She wasnít usually so sensitive. Maybe it was just the stress of the situation or the fact that this rigidly professional officer unsettled her. The cool, controlled manner of the woman across from her was disconcerting. She was so remote as to be unreadable. Victoria was used to establishing rapport quickly with people, and now she felt a little off balance. The sheriffís precise, impersonal approach reminded her of some surgeons she had known - excellent technicians but no feel for people.

"Are you all right, Doctor?" Reese asked quietly. The womanís tension was obvious.

Victoria was more affected by the violation of her clinic than she had realized, a fact that apparently had not escaped the notice of the observant sheriff. She was embarrassed to appear less than capable in front of her, and then quickly wondered why she should care. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yes, Iím fine, thank you. Iím usually much better in a crisis."

Reese smiled. "I donít imagine you deal with this sort of thing very often."

Victoria breath caught at the sudden transformation that accompanied that brilliant smile. Suddenly, the sculpted features were suffused with compassionate warmth, and a stunning beauty. It was like watching a work of art unexpectedly come to life. She blushed at her visceral reaction, hoping she wasnít as transparent as she felt. She was grateful to see that the dark head was bent over a small note pad Reese had balanced on her crossed knee. Taking herself firmly in hand, Victoria replied calmly, "Youíre right. What can I tell you that will help?"

"Whatís missing?"

Victoria raised her hands helplessly. "I have no idea. Iíll have to inventory all the examining rooms and the pharmacy."

"What drugs do you have here?"

"The usual - antibiotics, a lot of pharmaceutical samples, AIDS medsó"

"What about narcotics?"

"Not much. I donít dispense drugs here, but I need a small quantity of a variety of medications in the event of emergency. Iím the only doctor for thirty-five miles. I have a limited supply of codeine, percocet, methadone."

"Injectibles?"

"About a dozen ampoules of morphine. All of the narcotics are locked in the drug closet."

"Was it broken into?"

"I didnít have time to check."

"Letís do that."

Reese followed the doctor into a small room at the rear of the building that was little more than a walk-in closet. Shelves held linens, sealed surgical packs, IV solutions, and other supplies. A cabinet with a built in lock was tucked into the corner of the room.

Victoria sighed with relief when she saw that the door to the drug locker appeared sound. Inserting a key, she opened the front and scanned the interior.

"It looks okay."

"Good," Reese replied. "Iíll need a list of all the employees, the cleaning service, and anyone else who has access to this building. Who owns the building?"

"I do." Victoria grasped Reeseís arm as Reese turned to leave the storeroom. "Thereís no way anyone who works here would do this."

Reese faced her, her expression carefully neutral. "Iím sure youíre right. Itís just routine."

After Victoria prepared a preliminary list, Reese folded it into her note pad. She studied the doctor for a moment, not missing the slightly distracted look in her eyes.

"Are you sure youíre all right?"

Victoria extended her hand, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin. She was very aware of being appraised by the cool blue eyes that searched her face. "I am. Thank you, Sheriff."

Reese shook the offered hand.

"Maíam." She touched a hand to her cap and left.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

"Tory! Tory! Where are you?"

"In here," Tory called, "in the procedure room." She looked up from where she was kneeling, sorting and cataloging supplies, to greet the clinicís head nurse. "Hey, Sal - glad to see you."

"What is going on? Are you okay?" Sally Price asked anxiously, surveying the mess on the floor.

"Yeah, Iím fine - somebody broke in last night."

"I saw the cop out front. Sheís a new one, isnít she?" Sally retrieved several unopened boxes of surgical gauze from the floor and stacked them on the counter. "What a hunk! Did you catch the body? Jesus!"

"God, you never miss a thing do you?

"Not when it comes to women," Sally laughed. "So are we seeing patients or what?"

Tory rose slowly to her feet, trying to ignore the cramp in her leg. "I think weíd better reschedule the morning ones. We need to clean this place up and figure out whatís missing.

Sally sighed. "Iíll start calling. Come out when you can and tell me about this morning."

"You mean tell you all about the Deputy Sheriff, donít you?" Tory questioned sharply. She wasnít sure why, but she didnít want to talk about the remote, albeit attractive sheriff. She would rather forget about her all together. Tory knew that the sheriff had simply been doing her job - calmly, coolly, and entirely professionally. But there had been something about her attitude of command that had taken Tory by surprise. No one had ever managed to set her emotions so on edge from a single encounter. And no woman had captured her attention so immediately in more years than she could count.

Sally couldnít miss the strain in Toryís voice. She had never known anything to upset her usually implacable demeanor. In fact, sometimes Sally wondered if her reclusive friend wouldnít benefit from a little disruption in her life. From her point of view, Toryís life was all together too safe and predictable. In the four years they'd worked together, she had never known her to date anyone, or even show interest in doing so. Tory worked longer and longer hours, refused to consider taking on an associate, and even when she could be coaxed out to a party, she usually made an excuse to leave early. Sally had made any number of attempts to set her up with friends, but Tory always smiled and firmly declined.

"You donít like her, do you?" Sally stated. "Sheís so gorgeous she should be illegal - so tell me what she did to piss you off."

Tory looked startled, her cheeks coloring. "I donít have any opinion of her, one way or the other. I hardly know her!"

"So, okay!" Sally cried, raising her hands in mock surrender. "So donít tell me what she did to make you so touchy!!!"

Tory stared at her in total exasperation. "Just go, already! Call patients!" She turned resolutely back to her checklist, determined to put the tall, handsome officer from her thoughts.

*********

"So, what have you got?" Nelson asked before Reese even reached her desk.

She pulled a blank report form from a stack in the file cabinet and settled into her chair.

"Amateur break in. Rear window smashed, cabinets rifled, stuff thrown around. They didnít get to the drug cabinet, which either means they werenít locals or the doctor surprised them before they had finished."

Reese reflected on the clear strong features of the clinic director -- her rich auburn hair and porcelain skin, and the way her green eyes sparked fire when she was provoked. The thought of Victoria King walking in unexpectedly in the midst of a bungled robbery made her uncomfortable. She had a feeling the doctor might have tried to handle things herself. Reese dismissed the disconcerting image and unfamiliar disquiet and methodically began to fill out her report.

"What?" Nelson asked when he saw her frown. He could tell something was on her mind; she had that distant look in her eyes again.

"If she had walked into the middle of that, it might have been a disaster," Reese said quietly. "She doesnít look like the type to back away from trouble, and she could have gotten herself hurt."

Nelson snorted. "Donít bet on it. The doc has some kind of black belt in one of those martial arts. Plus sheís strong as a horse. Iíve seen her lift a grown man onto a stretcher without blinking. That leg slows her down some, but it sure doesnít stop her."

"Iím glad to hear she can take care of herself," Reese said, bending her head to her paper work, ignoring the strange lingering unease. There was no point thinking about something that hadnít happened. She had work to do.

Nelson stared at her, aware that he had been dismissed, but at a loss to know why. Damn, she was a hard one to figure!

When Gladys Martin, the sole department secretary, dispatcher, and general all around manager showed up for her nine to five shift, she found them both silently typing. She wondered, not for the first time, how well the chief was going to adjust to his new deputy. It wasnít so much that she was a woman, as the fact that she wasnít so much like a woman. Gladys had a feeling that he hadnít had much close experience with this type. The girl was so private it made you all the more curious. And God knows, Nelson Parker was too curious as it was! But anyone with a smile like that young one had - the kind that breaks your heart whether you were "that way" or not - was worth getting to know, even if it did take some work!

"Good morning you two!" she said, settling behind the reception desk and general message center. "Why is it you both look busy? The president coming?"

Nelson snorted and Reese smiled as she tilted back in her swivel chair.

"I thought he only went as far as Nantucket," Reese joked. "Not civilized enough out here."

"Then it must be the excitement out at the clinic."

"How do you know about that?" Nelson asked in surprise. Was there nothing Gladys didnít know about?

"You forgot about my scanner, Chief," Gladys replied smugly.

"Donít call me Chief," Nelson replied automatically.

Reese stood up and stretched, grinning at the friendly banter. "Iím going to make another tour, Chief," she called, already anxious to be out of the cramped office.

Gladys waited until the door swung closed before turning to the Sheriff.

"Howís she doing?"

"About what youíd expect, considering her resume. Sheís the best officer Iíve ever had!"

"Quiet, isnít she."

Nelson eyed his old friend speculatively. "Just what is it you want to know, you old busybody?"

"Ha! Like you arenít nosey! I worry about a young girl like that in this town out on the end of nowhere. Could get mighty lonely."

"She doesnít seem lonely to me," Nelson mused. "Just solitary - like sheís used to being alone."

"That can get awfully close to lonely," Gladys observed.

"Maybe. But I wouldnít worry about her too much. Looks to me like sheíd have no trouble finding company, no matter what kind she chose."

"As if it ainít plain what kind of company that would be!" Gladys commented dryly.

"Now donít go making assumptions, just because this is Provincetown," Nelson remarked, irked that Gladys always seemed to know more than he did.

"Oh, Nelson. You could put that girl anywhere in the country and sheíd be turning womenís heads!"

"Yours too, Gladys?" he joked.

"If I werenít so old and twenty years married to George, she just might at that."

Nelson stared at her, finally at a loss for words.

**********

Reese left the engine running outside the deli while she ran inside for a sandwich. The two women who ran the tiny gourmet market in the center of town greeted her warmly. After only a short time she seemed like one of their regulars.

"Tuna, lettuce, and tomato?" Carol called as the tall, trim officer entered.

Reese laughed. "Iím obviously getting too predictable. Make it corn beef today."

"Sure. Howís the new house?"

Reese hid her surprise. She hadnít yet gotten used to the easy intimacy of the year round residents. This was definitely not the place to come if you didnít want to know your neighbors.

"Fine. Iím living in it - and the renovations will be done in a few weeks. Sarahís crew is really good."

Carol nodded in agreement as she wrapped Reeseís order. "I envy you that view. There arenít many places left with a clear line to the bay."

"I was lucky to find it," Reese agreed.

"Here you go. Take care now."

"Thanks."

Reese opened the sandwich on the seat beside her, eating as she slowly cruised through town. Theyíre werenít many people in the streets yet, but in two days there would be. She was looking forward to it even though she knew her work would be tripled. She liked the sense of being part of the community, and taking care of it in her own way. Without conscious thought, she found herself headed back to the clinic. The parking lot was crowded as she pulled in.

The young man behind the counter in the reception area looked harried. Reese waited while he finished making a chart up, standing quietly beside a mother with two small children in tow. He looked up at her expectantly, flipping his hair out of his eyes distractedly. His astonishingly beautiful face was set in an anxious frown.

"Any chance I could see Doctor King?"

"Oh please! Iíd sooner get you an audience with the Pope," he sighed dramatically. He had the longest eyelashes she had ever seen. If he were a woman, she'd call him pretty, but there was still something decidedly masculine about him that belied that description. "Let me see where she is, okay? Weíre way behind, but I guess you know why."

Reese nodded, shrugging apologetically.

He returned a moment later.

"Follow me - sheíll meet you in her office when she gets a break. She said she'd just be a couple of minutes."

He led her to the office Reese had left just a few hours previously. As she waited, she perused the walls. There was just the one diploma, announcing that Victoria Claire King had received her medical degree from McGill University in Canada. Of much more interest were the many framed and mounted photographs of women rowers, some in squads of four or eight, many in single sculls. Reese bent closer to look at the faces. In several photos the woman pulling the oars was unmistakably Victoria King.

The sound of the door closing behind her interrupted her study, and she turned to find the doctor watching her.

"Surprised, Sheriff?" Victoria questioned edgily.

Reese raised an eyebrow at the defensive tone in the womanís voice. Her blue eyes met the flashing hazel ones calmly. "Why should I be?"

Victoria tapped the leg brace with her cane. The metal rang sharply.

"Ah - to be honest, I didnít think about that," Reese replied, her gaze still surveying Victoriaís face.

Victoria returned the look steadily and finally shook her head ruefully. "You may be the only person who ever has forgotten about it."

"I didn't say I forgot," Reese said softly. "It just never occurred to me that it would inhibit you on the water. I saw you this morning - out on the bay. You seemed so much a part of the sea, you didnít even disturb the rhythm of the waves."

Victoriaís lips parted as a small gasp escaped her. There had been many descriptions of her rowing, but none quite so genuine, nor so eloquent. She averted her gaze, swallowing hard.

"Thank you," she said at last into the silence around them. She walked to the desk, finally looking at Reese, who stood ramrod straight in the middle of the room, her hat tucked under one arm. Victoria wondered if she had any idea how imposing she was, or how attractive.

"Sit down, Sheriff. Youíre making me nervous," Victoria said lightly.

Reese laughed, a deep full laugh, as she strode to the chair facing Victoriaís desk. "Now that I doubt."

Victoria was irrationally pleased at the response, and aware of her disappointment as a serious look eclipsed Reese's smile as quickly as it had come.

"I know youíre busy," Reese said. "Have you had a chance to find out whatís missing?"

Victoria sighed wearily. "It would figure today would be the day half the town has the flu. Iíve been going nonstop since you left. I did get together a list for you though. A damn strange one."

Reese sat up a little straighter, her eyes flashing. "How so?"

"We are missing needles, but not syringes. Some surgical instruments, but not scalpels. Boxes of gauze and alcohol, and of all things - a portable sterilizer."

"No drugs?"

"The narcotics are all accounted for. I canít be sure, because I donít inventory pharmaceutical samples, but I think there is an assortment of antibiotics missing."

"Thatís it?"

"As near as I can tell. If I find anything else, Iíll let you know."

Reese nodded. "Mean anything to you?"

"Not a thing. Addicts would want the syringes. I guess the sterilizer would make sense if someone wanted to reuse the needles, but what good are they without the syringes?"

"I donít know," Reese mused. "How late are you open?"

"Until six, except Wednesdays, when I see patients until ten oíclock."

"Is there someone here with you the whole time?"

"Well, Randy, the receptionist, leaves when the clinic closes, and my nurse, Sally, stays until we clean up. I usually stay an hour or so later to finish the paper work."

"Donít," Reese stated flatly, "at least not for the next few days. Leave when Sally does, and make sure youíre both in your cars with the engines running before either of you drives away."

Victoria looked at her in amazement, her shoulders stiffening. "Is that really necessary? Iíve got work that needs to be done - and Iím sure this was just some kidsó"

"Iím not sure of that," Reese rejoined firmly. "Youíre fairly isolated here. There might be something else they wanted and couldnít find this morning. I donít want you here alone if they decide to come back."

Victoria heard the unmistakable tone of command in her voice, a tone that came easily and suggested that she was used to being obeyed. What she was saying made sense, but Tory resented being told how to conduct her business.

"Is there any room for negotiation here, Sheriff Conlon?"

Again that hint of a smile. "None, Doctor."

Victoria tapped her pen on the desk, trying to decide if she felt so resistant because the request was unreasonable or because she resented the authority behind the demand. Whatever the reason, this woman had an amazing effect on her. She was so certain, so sure, it made Tory want to argue with her, even when she knew what she said made sense. Reese waited.

"All right," Victoria conceded reluctantly. "I can manage that for a few days."

"A week."

Victoriaís eyes flashed fire as she prepared to protest.

"Please," Reese added.

It was Victoriaís turn to laugh, despite her annoyance. "You are very hard to resist Sheriff," she stated, then immediately regretted her words. Not only did it sound flirtatious, she realized with chagrin that it was true. The sheriff's combination of pristine control and subtle humor was powerfully appealing.

Reese responded dispassionately. "I understand that itís difficult, Dr. King, and I appreciate your cooperation." She stood and tapped a finger to the brim of her hat. "Thanks for making time in your busy day. Iíll let you know when I have a lead on this."

"Thank you!" Victoria called as Reese left. She sat for a moment trying to gather her thoughts. Again she had the disconcerting sense of being slightly off balance, when she was so used to having everything in her life firmly in hand. Exasperated with herself, she pushed the memory of that fleeting smile and rich laughter from her mind. There was plenty of work still to do, and she could count on that to put the new Sheriff out of her mind.

**********

At the end of her shift Reese sat in her Bronco in front of the station house fiddling with her keys. She had been avoiding this moment ever since she arrived in Provincetown, and she knew she couldnít delay any longer. The place was just too small. Already most of the storeowners knew her name. She pushed the car into gear and headed for the east end of the three-mile long street that ran the length of town along the harborís edge. She pulled to the curb in front of one of the myriad galleries tucked into every available niche. After a minute of hesitation, she headed resolutely to the tiny adjoining cottage. She rang the bell, her pulse racing.

A fiftyish woman in baggy jeans and a tattered sweatshirt opened the door, looking questioningly at the tall officer on her steps.

"Yes?" she queried. Then her eyes widened as she focused on the steel blue eyes and chiseled features. The resemblance was unmistakable. "Oh my God," she gasped. "Reese?"

"Hello Jean," Reese said softly.

"Kate!" the woman squeaked. Then finding her voice she called loudly, "Honey, youíd better come here!"

"What is it?" called the tall woman who entered from the rear of the house. She halted behind her lover, at a loss for words.

"Hello mother," Reese said quietly. She looked at her mother, at the sun burnished skin, the blond hair laced with grey now, and the blue eyes so like her own. Despite her anxiety, she felt strangely peaceful. "I thought it was time I visited."

"Iíd giving up hoping you ever would," her mother murmured in a choked voice.

"Iím sorry - I -" Reese faltered, not knowing how to explain the years between them.

"Donít be sorry. Just come in and tell me - well, tell me whatever you want." Kate touched her daughterís cheek gently as she spoke, then reached for her hand to pull her inside. She led Reese through the few rooms to a small kitchen that looked out on the bay.

"Sit," Kate said, pointing to the table in front of the windows. "Thereís tea?"

"Yes, thanks," Reese said, laying her hat on the table.

"How long have you been here?" her mother asked, unable to take her eyes off the strikingly handsome woman at her table. If she hadn't been practically cloistered preparing for an upcoming show, she would have known. A newcomer always attracted attention.

"Just eight weeks," Reese said, gesturing to her uniform. "Iím the Deputy Sheriff."

"Just canít give up a uniform, huh?"

Reese laughed and the tension in the room dissipated. "I never thought of it that way, but I think youíre right."

"And you live here now," her mother stated in wonder.

Reese nodded, uncharacteristically uncertain. "Is that all right?"

Tears shimmered in her motherís eyes and a small sob escaped her lips. Jean, her mother's partner, placed her hand protectively on her shoulder, knowing how often she had dreamed of this moment.

"All right is an understatement, Reese," her mother said at last. "I thought when I met Jean all my dreams had come true. I never even dared hope for this."

Reese looked away as the pain of old memories washed through her.

"If it could have been different Reese, if there was something I could have doneó" Her mother stopped, knowing there were no words to explain the past. Or to undo it.

Reese met her motherís gaze evenly, her voice steady. "I didnít come here for an explanation."

Kate twisted the gold band on her ring finger, the one that matched Jeanís, and said sadly, "I tried to tell myself that you would be well cared for, and lovedó"

"And I was," Reese said. "But it was time for me to see you - long past time."

Kate searched her daughterís face in alarm. "Are you all right, are you sick, or--?"

"No, Iím fine," Reese smiled, taking her motherís hand.

"So youíre here to stay?"

"Yes," Reese said, feeling the rightness of her words. "I am."

Jean set a large tureen of chowder in the center of the table, saying firmly, "I have a feeling itís going to be a long night."

Part 2

And they began to talk.

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