Disclaimers: These two ladies may seem familiar, especially if you read the Invitational's here at the Academy. The previous story, Just Like Old Times , came from Delaney's point of view. Here's a chance to get to know Gib a little better, and show you how they got together.
The names, persons, places and events depicted in this story are completely fictional. I worked at a State Park back in 1980, but in no way am I an expert on the Texas State Park system. So, for any inaccuracies, forgive me.
I'd love to hear from you and can be reached at email@example.com . Also, check out my website for stories, info, and just the heck of it – www.CarrieLCarr.com . Thanks to the Academy munchkins who do so much for us all. You are the best!
Dedication: This story is for the one woman who means everything to me – my wife, Jan. Forever and always, my love.
By Friday morning, the construction crew had completely shut down the road that crossed the dam, much to Gib's displeasure. After being thrown around the cab of her truck, she seriously considered talking to Dylan and seeing if he could loan her a grader to repair her road. Once she was finally to the highway, she decided to forego her usual trip to the office and instead see how the construction was coming along.
The dust and noise was unbelievable as she parked near Dylan's truck. Gib got out and put her hands on her hips as she looked around. She noticed a familiar black Lexus nearby and expanded her search to include a certain redhead. She spotted both at the same time. It appeared as though they were having a heated discussion at the foot of the dam. Delaney was wearing a gray pantsuit, and to Gib's eyes, looked even lovelier than the last time she'd seen her.
Gib considered joining them, but didn't want to end up on the wrong end of Delaney Kavanagh's wrath. She couldn't help but grin at the thought. “That chili-pepper hair is a good warning,” she muttered.
As if they'd heard her, both siblings turned and noticed the waiting officer at the same time. Dylan waved, while Delaney stood with one hand shading her eyes. Her mouth moved, but it was impossible to hear from a distance.
When Dylan started toward her, Gib decided to meet him halfway. They met at the opposite edge of the road, and the foreman had a big grin on his face. “Have you finally come to take me away from all of this, officer?”
Not expecting the comment, Gib burst out laughing. She noticed the bright gold band on his left ring finger. “And what would your significant other say about that?”
Delaney joined them. “She'd probably thank you for taking him off her hands,” she teased, whacking her brother on the arm. “Good morning, officer. Have you harassed any innocent citizens today?”
“No, but the day's still young,” Gib quipped. “Have you been speeding?”
The redhead flushed. “Wouldn't you like to know?” she playfully asked.
“Now that you mention it—” Gib's comment was cut off by Dylan.
“To what do we owe this pleasure, Gib?”
Gib shrugged. “I was on my way to check on the critters, and thought I'd see how things were going over here.”
“Critters?” Delaney frowned. “Is ‘critter watching' part of your job?”
“No, but we've got a bison cow ready to deliver any time now, and I want to make sure she's okay.”
Dylan's laughter surprised them both. “Watch out, Gib. My sister is a sucker for any kind of baby animal. You may have to search her Lexus for contraband once the calf is born.”
Gib stood up straight and put her hands on her hips. “Is that true, Miss? Would I have to search you?”
“I don't think that would be necessary, Officer Proctor.” Delaney's face grew even redder and she automatically backhanded her brother in the stomach.
“Please, call me Gib.” Seeing that the redhead was becoming uncomfortable, she took a card from her breast pocket. “I gave your brother one, but here's my card, in case you have trouble here at the site.” She waited until Delaney accepted the card. “I live on the other side of the lake, so I can be here pretty quickly if something comes up.”
Delaney glanced at the card before she slipped it into the pocket of her jacket. “You do? How are you able to get here after we blocked off the dam?”
“I take the long way around.” At the pair's confused looks, Gib elaborated. “There's path that goes around the west side of the lake. It's not much of a road, but unless we get a lot of rain, I can make it okay in my truck.”
“A path? Why isn't it a road?” Dylan asked.
“No money for it, I imagine. I'm surprised they authorized the repairs to the dam.”
Delaney and Dylan exchanged looks, and she nodded. “Are you in any hurry this morning?” Dylan asked the officer.
“Not particularly. Things are pretty slow until next week, when the school district lets out for spring break. Why?”
“Would you mind me taking a look at your ‘path'?” Delaney asked. “I feel bad about us taking away your easy route to your home.”
A delighted grin covered Gib's face. “No, not at all. Sure beats me renting a grader.” She gestured toward her truck. “Would you like the ten-cent tour now?”
“Sure.” Delaney turned to her brother. “I'll be back in a little while.”
He waved her away. “Take your time. We've got everything under control.”
Delaney nodded and followed Gib to the truck. She was pleasantly surprised when the officer opened the passenger door for her. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome. Watch your legs.” Gib closed the door and walked around the front of the truck to climb in. She fastened her seatbelt and waited while her passenger did the same. “I appreciate you taking the trouble to look at the road for me.”
“I think I should be the one thanking you. Five more minutes with my brother, and we would have probably started wrestling.”
Gib laughed and turned the truck around. “Well, I may have paid to see that.” Once they were at the highway, she turned right and headed for the lake entrance. “Do you always get physical in your discussions?”
“Not anymore,” Delaney admitted. “But I'm the only girl out of four, so I learned early on how to defend myself.” She braced her hand against the dash as they turned off the lake road to an overgrown trail to the west, and the truck tilted dangerously to the left. “Wow.”
“Sorry,” Gib apologized, downshifting and slowing to a crawl. She fought the steering wheel and grimaced as her head cracked against her window. “Damn.”
Delaney held her breath until they finally broke through the worst of the path. She exhaled heavily when the truck parked beside a small cabin. “You weren't kidding, were you?”
“Nope.” Gib put the truck in park and took off her cap to rub the knot on the side of her head. “That's why I always took the other road,” she admitted ruefully.
“Are you all right?” Delaney asked, when she saw Gib's actions.
Gib nodded, embarrassed at being caught. “Yeah. Hard head,” she joked. But instead of putting her cap back on, she set it on the dash. “While we're here, would you like to look around?”
“Sure.” Delaney reached for the door handle, shocked when Gib hurried around and opened her door for her. “Are you always so chivalrous?” she asked, accepting Gib's hand to help her from the truck.
“Sorry, it's a habit.” Although Delaney's hand felt good in hers, Gib released it when the other woman was safely beside her.
Delaney touched Gib's arm. “Don't apologize. I'm not used to it. But I'm not complaining.”
“Um, okay.” Gib gestured toward the cabin. “Would you like the entire tour?” Although she was by nature a neat person, she privately worried if the place was fit for company. At Delaney's nod, she put her hand lightly on the redhead's back and escorted her to the covered porch. “I'm afraid it's not much, but the rent's cheap.” She unlocked the door and motioned for Delaney to step inside.
At first glance, Delaney had to agree with Gib. The small cabin wasn't much, but what was there looked comfortable and clean. Next to the door was a dark oak side table, where a neat stack of mail lay. A red and yellow striped sofa faced a large picture window on the back wall. There was a matching red chair to one side, and a heavy oak coffee table in front of the sofa that looked right at home. Several bookshelves were on different walls, filled with all genres of books. The kitchen, open to the living room, was clean with off-white appliances. Two stools with red seats sat along the bar, which was the only eating area. There were three doors, and Delaney eyed them curiously.
“Um, that door is the bedroom, the one over there is the bathroom, and that's a coat closet,” Gib explained, pointing out the different locations.
“It's lovely,” Delaney honestly told her. “Was the furniture here, or—”
Gib jangled her keys nervously. “The appliances were here, but I had to furnish it. I'm not quite through, but honestly, I usually come home and crash. Not much use to adding more stuff if I'm not awake to enjoy it.”
“I know what you mean. I usually work until I'm too tired to keep my eyes open, then fall into bed. I'm lucky if I even bother with a nightgown.” Delaney blushed when she realized how personal the conversation had become. “Since we're here, do you mind if I wash up?”
“Sure. I think it's presentable,” Gib teased. “Holler if you need anything. I'm going to check my fridge and see if I need to go shopping.”
A few minutes later, Delaney stepped out of the bathroom and saw Gib sitting on the sofa. “Thank you. I always hate using the portable johns on sites.”
Gib stood as soon as Delaney came into the room. “No problem. There's also a clean restroom at the office, if you'd rather use it. Or, give me a call, and you can use mine.”
Delaney's genuine smile lit up the room. “You're too sweet. Especially after I went off on you the other day. I'm truly sorry about that.”
“Don't worry about it. We all have bad days.”
“Well, still, I'm sorry. But, since you've been so nice, I don't think it'll take much to even out your road.”
“Really? That would be great. Are you sure it's no trouble?”
Delaney began to walk toward the front door. “Honestly, my brother tends to bring more men than he needs on a job, and they usually stand around waiting for something to do. This should keep them out of trouble for a few days. I'll make certain they know it has to stay passable while they work on it.”
“Thank you.” Gib followed her out and locked the door behind them. “My boss isn't going to get a bill for this later, is he?” she joked.
“Only if you pull me over and give me a ticket,” Delaney countered. “Would you rather I do it myself?”
Gib almost stumbled down the steps. “You?”
Delaney turned and put her hands on her hips. “Don't you think I'm capable of running the equipment?”
Caught flatfooted, Gib took in the redhead's appearance. “Um, well,” she stammered. At the glare she received, she tried to backpedal. “To tell you the truth, I do have a hard time picturing you driving one of those things. But not because you're a woman,” she added quickly.
“Oh? Then why?”
Gib escorted her to the truck and helped her get seated. Once they were both inside, she answered truthfully. “While I'm sure, since it's your family business, that you could handle any piece of equipment you wanted to, you look much too refined to be in the cab of one of those things.” She turned red. “I'm sorry, I know that sounded sexist.”
“Actually, that's one of the nicest things someone's said to me in a long time.” Delaney was mesmerized by Gib's strong hands as she turned the truck around and started toward the road. “I noticed that you didn't have a television in your living room.”
“No, not much sense in it out here. Unless I wanted to get a satellite dish. And I don't watch enough television to care. When I do have some spare time, I'd rather read and listen to music.” She tried to avoid the worst of the potholes. “Or be out on the lake.”
Delaney braced herself with both hands, one on the dash and the other on the door. “ Lake rat, huh?”
“Used to be,” Gib admitted. “Don't know how much I'll get to enjoy it, now that I'm working out here. But hopefully I can get in a little fishing, every now and then.” She narrowly avoided banging her head again. “Damn!” Realizing her language, she apologized.
“Please. I think I've heard, and used, bad language,” Delaney laughed. “But I appreciate your consideration.”
Gib tried to fight off the blush, but failed. She remained quiet until they were on the highway. “So. Do you spend a lot of time at the sites?”
“More than I should, at least that's what Dyl would say.” Delaney turned and gave the other woman a sexy grin. “Are you planning on visiting me?”
The loud tones of a cell phone interrupted their conversation. “I knew I should have put this damned thing on silent.” Delaney took her phone from her coat pocket and looked at the display while it continued to ring.
“Are you going to answer that?”
Delaney growled and answered her phone. “Yes?” She barely listened. “No! Listen Chris, I told you to quit calling me. Can you comprehend the definition of space?” She disconnected the call and slapped the phone. “God! I can't believe her.”
“Problem?” Gib turned onto the fire road and slowed the truck. She was surprised at the amount of venom that came from the redhead. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, it's fine.” Delaney tucked her phone in her pocket. “Thank you for the grand tour. I'll try to get the guys started on your road either today or tomorrow.”
Realizing their time had come to an end, Gib nodded. “I appreciate it.” She parked close to the Lexus and stepped out, intent on opening Delaney's door. But the redhead had it open and was out of the truck before she could walk around.
“I'm sure I'll see you around,” Delaney offered awkwardly.
Gib leaned against the hood of the truck. “Yeah. Call if you need anything.” She waited until the other woman stepped away from the truck before she climbed in and drove away.
Once Gib's truck was out of sight, Delaney stalked to her Lexus and unlocked it. She was about to put her phone in her purse when her anger got the best of her. She sat in the driver's seat and hit a speed dial on the phone.
Delaney gritted her teeth. “Chris, I don't appreciate you calling me while I'm at work. I told you the other night that I would call you when I was ready to talk. Do you remember that conversation?”
“Don't get all pissy with me,” Chris snapped. “I only called to see how you were doing, but you bit my head off. Besides, I drove past your place, and your car isn't there. I thought you worked at home.”
“Sometimes, yes.” Delaney spoke slowly, as if to a child. “Chris, I don't care for the way you've been acting, lately. We've been dating for a while, but—”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
The thought had crossed Delaney's mind, especially after their last argument. “I told you I needed some space to think.”
“But, but, I need you, Laney! My landlord just posted an eviction notice on my door this morning. I have to be out in two days.” Chris' voice became more panicked. “What am I going to do?”
“I'm sorry, Chris. But my place is barely big enough for me.” The last thing Delaney wanted was to drag this out. “I've been thinking a lot about us this week, and—”
“No! Don't do this, please. Give me another chance, babe. Please,” Chris whined. “Let me crash at your place for just a few days, until I can come up with something else.”
The high-pitched tone grated on the redhead's nerves. “I can't, Chris. I wanted to do this face to face, but you're leaving me no choice.” She gentled her voice. “It's not going to work out with us, and you know it. We're too different.”
“Damn you, Laney. Is it because I can't find a job? Or maybe because you think you're so much better than me? Is that it?”
“No, that's not it at all. Chris, you know I care for you, but it's just not enough.”
“Care for me?” Chris' laughter was harsh. “You never cared for me. All the times I told you I loved you, you never said it back to me. You're a cold bitch, Delaney Kavanagh. Fuck you!”
Delaney pulled her phone away from her ear and looked at it. “She hung up on me?” She thought about calling Chris back, but decided the other woman wasn't worth it. “There goes a year of hell down the drain.” She tossed the phone onto her passenger seat, leaned back and closed her eyes. “Damn.”
Unsettled from the visit, Gib decided to try and find the bison cow and see how she was doing. But even though she kept her eyes scanning the pastures and scrub along the road, her thoughts kept going back to Delaney. The redhead was something of an enigma – one moment she was sweet, gentle and refined, and the next, her fiery temper would explode. Gib wondered which Delaney was the real one before laughing at herself. “Stay far away from that one. She's trouble with a capital T.”
She drove farther around the fire road until she came upon the area where the buffalo liked to graze. There were two bison and one longhorn, lazily munching on the fresh green grass that had recently come up. Gib parked her truck on the edge of the road and watched them.
The longhorn, colored rust and white, was usually not far from the pregnant cow. And since the cow was nowhere to be seen, Gib left her truck and decided to walk around the field. She was unable to see very far, due to the amount of cedar and mesquite trees that littered the landscape, so it was necessary to explore the area on foot.
Once she squeezed through the fence, she made a wide trek around the grazing animals. One of the bison raised its head. Deciding she wasn't a threat, it went back to its lunch. Gib found a path the animals used and followed it through the brush.
After a fifteen minute hike, Gib had just about given up, when she saw the most beautiful sight. The bison cow, standing guard over a rust-colored calf. Not wanting to spook the animal, Gib stayed silently by a cedar tree and stared for a few minutes. The calf looked strong and healthy, most likely born the previous day. She wished she had her camera, but was content to stand back and enjoy the view.
When the new mother started to snort and pace, Gib slowly backed away from the clearing. Once she was far enough away, she took her cell phone from her belt and called her boss. “Hey, Clint.”
“How's the construction going, Gib? I was going to go by and check, but got waylaid by paperwork.”
Gib laughed. She knew as well as anyone that Clint would rather spend his day in the air-conditioned office than outdoors. He claimed an old football injury made it hard for him to do much in the way of field work, but few believed him. Why he worked for the Texas Department of Parks and Recreation, she'd never know. “Right. The crew is doing a good job so far, I guess. Not that I can tell what's going on from the road. But they're not destroying anything, and even took the time to put up a temp fence.”
“Good, good. And you haven't shot anyone yet?”
“No. Probably won't, either. They seem like decent people.” She paused. “I know something you don't know,” she sang.
Clint sighed. “We're not going to play twenty questions again, are we? You know I suck at that.”
“Nah, I'll give you a break. We have a new addition at the park.”
“Really? I'm assuming you mean the four-legged variety, unless you've got something else to tell me,” Clint teased.
Gib crawled through the fence and got into her truck. “That would definitely be news, but no. I saw a new little calf a few minutes ago. Looked like mom and baby were both doing fine.”
“Excellent news, Gib. Do you think they'll be safe? I'd hate for anyone to mess with them.”
She started the truck, but only to roll down the windows. “They're pretty well hidden. But I'll patrol this area more often, just to be on the safe side.”
“Good idea. Are you going to be around this weekend?”
The question was an unusual one, and it caught Gib off guard. “As far as I know. I'm supposed to have lunch with my folks on Sunday, but nothing else. Why?”
“Bud said he found some tracks this morning. Looks like someone may have parked off the highway and snuck into the lake area after dark last night.”
Gib took her lake map off the dash and opened it on the seat beside her. “Where at?”
“About a mile west of the gate. He said he wouldn't have even noticed, but he spotted some blood in the ditch, and went to investigate.”
“Yeah, he thinks so. They were pretty careful with how they went in through the fence, so they may come back. Keep your eyes open, okay?”
“Sure will.” Suddenly the fire pit she saw the other day took on an entirely new meaning. “I found a fire pit Monday, not far from the holding pens. There were cigarettes and beer cans scattered around and I thought it was a bunch of kids. But now I'm not so sure.”
Clint's voice sounded tired. “It might have been. Until we find these guys, I'm going to ask for extra patrolling around the park at night. We can work some split shifts, so I won't have to beg the brass to authorize overtime.”
It was just the excuse Gib needed to cancel her Sunday meal. She loved her parents, but wasn't in the mood to listen to Ida's real and imaginary problems. “I'll take midnight until noon, starting tonight,” she volunteered.
“Gib, I didn't mean,” Clint's voice trailed off. He exhaled heavily. “All right. But take mid-day off and get some rest, please? I'll have the guys contact you for assignments.”
“Okay. Guess I'll run home and get a nap. Call me if you need anything.”
“Will do. Keep me updated, Gib.”
Gib placed her phone on the seat and put the truck in gear. She'd wait until after her nap to call her mother and cancel her visit.
It had been almost a week since Delaney had seen Gib, even though Delaney had made it a point to be at the job site every day. By Thursday morning, she was completely discouraged. She parked her Lexus in front of Dylan's truck and checked her hair in the rear view mirror. “I'm being ridiculous. She's obviously got better things to do.” Mad at herself, she left the SUV and stepped across the road to find her brother.
She passed a front-end loader and noticed several cigarette butts on the ground. “Dylan!”
Dylan came around the vehicle, carrying a rolled up set of plans. “What's up?”
“Who's been breaking the rules?” she asked, pointing to the ground.
He followed her finger and frowned. “No one. At least not from our crew.”
“Obviously someone's been smoking, Dyl. Those weren't there yesterday.”
Dylan squatted and used a stick to stir the butts around. “I'm telling you, no one on this crew smokes. At least not on the job. Maybe the park cop—”
“Gib doesn't smoke,” she cut in.
His eyebrow rose. “And how would you know?”
“I rode in her truck, remember? The ashtray was full of change and there weren't any ashtrays at her cabin, either.” Delaney snapped her mouth shut, hoping her brother missed that last part.
“Her cabin?” He stood and dusted off his hands. “Why, you dog! I thought you already had a girlfriend.”
Delaney slapped his arm. “Shut up. And for your information, I broke it off with Chris.” When her brother was quiet, she glared at him. “What?”
“Nothing.” He mimed zipping his mouth shut. When she swatted him again, he covered the spot on his arm. “Bully.”
“What are you going to do, tell mom?”
He shouldered past her. “I'm not the tattletale in the family,” he tossed over his shoulder.
Delaney thought about chasing him down and making him take it back. If they were anywhere else, she wouldn't have thought twice. But, being at a job site, there was a certain decorum she knew they had to follow. “Paybacks, little brother,” she yelled after him. Her mind went back to the mysterious cigarettes. Nothing at the job site had been disturbed, or she would have heard about it from Dylan. “Still, it's always good to take precautions.” She took her cell phone from her pocket and hit the most recently added number.
The phone rang six times before a sleepy voice answered, “Proctor.”
“Gib? Did I wake you?” Delaney asked. “Are you all right?”
“Hmm?” There was a rustling sound before Gib returned, sounding more awake. “Sorry about that. Delaney?”
“Yes, it's me. I didn't mean to disturb you.”
Gib muffled a yawn. “No, that's all right. What's wrong?”
“Now I feel silly for bothering you. You were obviously asleep. You're not sick, are you?”
“What? No. I've been working at night, trying to catch poachers. So far, I haven't been able to find them.”
The idea of Gib trying to catch poachers worried Delaney. “Isn't that dangerous?”
“It's most likely just some kids, but we're always extremely careful with everything that we do. I'm sorry I haven't been around to check the job site lately. How's it going over there?”
“That's sort of why I called. We found some cigarette butts near one of the loaders, and no one on our crew smokes.”
Gib sounded even more alert. “When?”
“I found them a little while ago. They weren't there yesterday, and Dylan assures me it wasn't one of our guys.” Delaney started walking toward her Lexus, so she could have some privacy.
More rustling sounds came over the phone as Gib got dressed. “Are you still at the site?”
“Yes. But I don't really think—”
“Would you mind waiting for me? I'll be there in five minutes.”
As much as Delaney wanted to see Gib, she hated to disturb the other woman's sleep. “Are you certain? I mean, I'm sure it's probably nothing.” She heard the obvious sound of a door slamming. “Gib?”
“Be right there.” Gib disconnected the call.
Delaney stood beside her Lexus and waited. A few minutes later, she saw the familiar blue truck heading toward her. She was surprised to see Gib slow down, then realized why. The other woman obviously didn't want to bring a wave of dust from the road toward her. “You've got to be kidding me. Is she for real?”
Gib parked behind Delaney's SUV and got out of her truck. Dressed in jeans and a tan golf shirt with an embroidered badge over her left breast, she still exuded an air of authority. She wore a gun clipped to her belt on her right hip and a pair of scuffed black cowboy boots. “Sorry about hanging up on you, but I don't like to talk on the phone while I'm driving, and I forgot my Bluetooth.”
“Uh, sure. No problem.” Delaney thought Gib looked sexy in her uniform, but nothing prepared her for the sight of the other woman in a pair of faded jeans. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry.
“Are you all right?” Gib asked.
Delaney nodded. “Butts,” she blurted, then immediately turned a bright red. “I mean, I'll show you where we found the cigarette butts.”
“Oookay.” With a bemused look on her face, Gib followed the redhead across the road.
After investigating the scene and questioning several of the workers, Gib was no closer to an answer than she had been when she arrived. She bagged several of the butts and planned on checking them against the ones she found in the grazing area the previous week. Blowing out a tired breath, she walked to where Delaney and Dylan were having a loud conversation.
“I'm not going to let someone vandalize our equipment,” Delaney emphatically stated.
Dylan threw up his hands. “There's no way in hell I'm going to allow you to do that,” he countered.
Gib stood nearby and cleared her throat. “Excuse me, I hate to interrupt.”
Delaney turned around and smirked. “Don't feel bad, Gib. You just saved my brother from being wrong,” she gave him a sweet smile, “again.”
“Oh, yeah?” He pointed at Gib. “Why don't you tell her what you're planning on doing?”
Gib cocked her head. “And what's that?”
“Nothing you need to worry about.” Delaney hooked her arm in Gib's and led her away. “You look exhausted, officer. Why don't you go home and try to get some rest? I'm sure you'll be up all night again.”
“All right.” Gib allowed herself to be escorted to her truck. “Promise to call me if you see anything else unusual around here?”
“Of course I will,” Delaney guaranteed. She opened the driver's door and gently pushed Gib inside. “Sleep well, Gib.”
Gib frowned, feeling she was missing something, but not knowing what it was. “Thanks.” She drove away, occasionally glancing in the rear view mirror to see Delaney's wave goodbye.
It was close to two o'clock in the morning when Gib took her first pass down the fire road. She was coming upon the construction site when she saw a tiny flicker of light coming from one of the track loaders. She turned off her truck lights and parked off the road, taking her flashlight with her.
Gib pulled her gun and began to creep up on the vehicle. She stepped on the back of the track tread and cautiously peered inside. All she could see was the back of a shadowy figure, holding what appeared to be a cell phone. Gib turned on the flashlight and knocked sharply on the glass door. “Park Police! Let me see your hands!”
A high-pitched scream answered her, and the figure dropped the cell phone.
“Delaney?” Gib moved the beam of light out of Delaney's face. “What the hell are you doing here this time of night?”
The redhead picked up her cell phone and unlocked the door. “Me? What are you doing, besides trying to give me a damned heart attack?”
Gib holstered her gun and held out her hand. “Let's go talk in my truck.” She helped Delaney down and led her by the hand. Once they were inside her vehicle, Gib turned on the interior light. “Is there a reason you're sitting in one of your trucks at,” she checked her watch, “two in the morning?”
“I wanted to see who was messing around our site, and make sure they weren't there to steal or vandalize our stuff.” Delaney turned to face her and crossed her arms over her chest. “You didn't have to scare me to death.”
“What if I had been a vandal, or worse, a poacher?” Gib asked. “Just what were you going to do? Ask them to wait while you contacted the authorities?”
Delaney huffed. “Of course not. I was going to hide until they went away, and then call you.”
“Have you lost your mind?” Exhausted from lack of sleep, Gib snapped, “That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. If someone had caught you—”
“How dare you call me stupid! I have as much right as anyone to be here, protecting our equipment.” Delaney angrily stuck a finger in Gib's face. “Lord knows we can't depend on you and your little ranger friends to keep things safe.”
Gib glared at her. “Get your finger out of my face,” she growled.
“What are you going to do about it?” Delaney taunted, wriggling her finger even closer for spite.
Her anger at a boiling point, Gib leaned forward and took the offending digit lightly with her teeth.
Both women froze. Delaney's skin almost matched her hair color as she felt Gib's tongue touch the tip of her finger. She yanked her hand away. “That was extremely childish,” she admonished, her voice shaking.
“Yeah?” Gib's voice wasn't much stronger. “So was sticking your finger in my face,” she countered. She stared at the other woman for a long moment. “Uh. Yeah.” Gib rubbed her face. “Where's your car?”
“Your car. SUV. Whatever. Where is it?”
Delaney shook her head to clear it. “I, um, parked it back in the brush. Why?”
“Because I'm going to take you to your car and you're going home.”
“Like hell I am! I'll go home when I'm damned good and ready.”
Gib opened her door. “You're ready now. Come on.” She turned out the overhead light. The moment she closed her door, she heard the snick of the lock. “You've got to be kidding me.” She turned around and looked inside the truck, where Delaney gave her a victorious smirk. Gib tapped on the window. “Unlock the truck.”
Delaney shook her head.
“Damn it, Delaney, unlock the door!”
Another head shake, punctuated by a larger grin.
Gib held up her metal-cased flashlight. “Unlock it, or I'll break out the damned window.”
The grin faltered, but Delaney didn't move.
With a disgruntled sigh, Gib pulled the flashlight back and started to slam it into the window. Before she could make contact, the sound of the door unlocking clicked loudly in the dark. She jerked the door open and ripped the keys out of the ignition. “Speaking of childish.”
“Look. You can't possibly be everywhere at once. What if I promise to call you the second I see anything?”
The redhead held up her hand. “Okay. How about if we hire a guard? A professional?”
Gib sighed. “I don't like the idea of anyone spending the night out here. It's too remote.”
“But it's okay for you to be running all over the place at night? Do you realize how ridiculous you sound?”
Rubbing her eyes, Gib shook her head. “It's too damned late to be arguing about this. Can we talk about it later?”
Delaney finally noticed how exhausted the other woman appeared. “All right. But you haven't won.”
“Believe me, I know.” Gib put the keys in the ignition. “Can I take you to your car?”
“Thank you.” Delaney leaned against the seat and watched Gib drive. “How about lunch on Saturday?”
Gib spun her head around. “Excuse me?”
“You know, to discuss the logistics of protecting our equipment.”
“Oh.” Gib took a moment to consider the proposition. “Yeah, sure. Give me a call Saturday morning and we'll figure out what time, if that's okay with you.” She found where Delaney had hidden her Lexus, noting it was a decent hiding place. She parked so the truck lights would illuminate the dark vehicle.
Delaney opened her door before Gib could move. “Don't bother. I think I can get out okay.” She tempered her tone with a smile. “I'll call you around eleven on Saturday, so you can get a little sleep first.”
“All right, thanks.” Gib waited until Delaney was safely inside the Lexus. Once it started, she backed her truck to the road and watched until the SUV had safely navigated to the highway.
The sun's appearance was still hours away on Saturday morning when Gib's cell phone rang. She was driving along the outside road around the park, and pulled over to answer. “Proctor.”
“This is Conroy. What's your twenty?” He was the newest member of their team, a level I Park Ranger, fresh out of college and full of energy – and himself.
Gib glanced at the clock on the truck's dash. It was a few minutes after five, and Conroy wasn't scheduled to come on until seven. “I'm on the farm to market road south of the park, checking the fence. Why?”
“I think I found something.” His voice cracked with excitement. “There's some dried blood on the north shore of the lake.”
“What are you doing on the north shore? And how in the hell did you get over there?” Gib used her free hand to search the passenger seat for her Bluetooth. She tucked it over one ear and activated it, waiting for his answer. “Well?”
Conroy muttered something unintelligible.
“Speak up, Dan. I didn't get that.” She drove onto the road and drove toward the lake.
“I said, I thought it would be a good idea to take the boat out and scour the shorelines. And I was right,” he added defensively.
Although his eagerness was commendable, the idea of taking a boat out onto a totally dark lake was not. “Did Clint authorize your use of the boat?”
“Uh, no. Not exactly.”
Gib turned onto the lake road. The only way she'd be able to reach him by vehicle was to take her private road. The construction crew still had a few days of work to complete the project, but it was already much easier to navigate. “What do you mean, not exactly?”
“I told him yesterday that I had an idea on how to check a large area and he said go ahead. He was busy so I didn't get to give him any details.”
Once she passed her cabin, she could see his lights near the shore. “Dan, I'm coming up from the west. You should be able to see my headlights soon.” She broke through the trees and parked as close as she dared, perhaps twenty yards away. “I'm heading the rest of the way on foot.”
“Roger that,” he answered.
Gib rolled her eyes and got out of the truck, armed with a handheld, battery-operated spotlight. “Can you see me?”
“That's a roger. I have visual confirmation.”
She was going to have to talk to him about his use of radio lingo while using a cell phone. It was wearing on her nerves. Without another word, Gib disconnected the call. She trudged toward the young ranger, who was wet from the thighs down. “What happened to you?”
He turned his own spotlight toward her voice, instantly blinding her. “I didn't want to ground the boat so I walked up to the shore.”
“Turn that light off,” Gib ordered, shielding her eyes. Once the light was turned away, she had to blink several times to get rid of the bright spots in her vision.
“Sorry, Proctor.” He shined the light on the shore. “See? Right there. Lots of blood.”
Gib waited for her vision to clear before she stepped forward. It did appear to be dried blood, but she couldn't figure out how he had spotted it from the boat.
“Should I gather some evidence for analysis?” he asked.
She shook her head. “And where would you send it for analysis? CSI?” She knelt and picked up some of the stained mud between her fingers, bringing it up to her nose. Not only was the blood recent, it most likely was not left by a poacher. “Did you check it out?”
“No. I didn't want to disturb the evidence,” he told her. “Should we tape off the area?”
Gib stood and dusted off her hands. “Are you serious?”
“Just because I'm young, it doesn't mean I can't do good work. You and Clint never give me any credit, and I'm always stuck doing the shit jobs.” He stepped closer to her. “For your information, Officer , I have a college degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences. Did you even go to college?”
She held up her hand to stop his rant. “Enough. If you would have checked the evidence , you would have realized that someone cleaned their catch here. It reeks of fish. And it was probably done sometime early this evening, before sunset . Most poachers don't operate in broad daylight.”
“Here.” Gib handed him her keys. “Take my truck to the dock and wait for me. I'll bring the boat back.”
He snatched the keys out of her hand. “I can do it.”
“But you're not going to. The boat is only supposed to be used at night, and then only in emergencies. Or did you not read that part in the manual that Clint gave you?”
Conroy looked as if he wanted to argue, but he kept his mouth shut. He stalked away, grumbling under his breath.
Gib waited until he got to her truck before she looked at the boat, which was at least ten yards from shore. “I'm going to kick his ass for this one.” She slowly walked out into the lake, gritting her teeth as the cold water quickly seeped through her jeans.
Awake long before her alarm went off, Delaney spent the morning cleaning her apartment. She dusted, swept, vacuumed and even cleaned a months' worth of old takeout from her refrigerator. Every time she checked the clock it seemed as if very little time had passed.
She dropped from exhaustion onto her living room sofa. “I've lost my mind. I should have just gone back to sleep this morning.” She glanced at the display on the cable box and her eyes grew wide. “Shit.” It was ten minutes until eleven, when she was supposed to call Gib. “And here I sit, covered in sweat and god knows what else.”
Frantic, Delaney hopped off the couch and ran into her bedroom, stripping as she went.
Ten minutes later she stepped out of the shower. Tiny trails of blood mixed with the water dripping from her legs. The nicks from a dull razor burned along her shins and knees, but she ignored them as she wrapped a lavender body towel around herself. The search through her walk-in closet for something casual, yet classy, left her feeling anxious. Most of her clothes were to impress clients, not to have lunch with, what? “A friend? Something more? Oh, god. What am I doing?” She desperately flipped through her hangers. “I don't even know if she's interested.”
She finally decided on a black linen skirt, worn with a gray silk blouse. Her legs, now blood-free, were sleekly encased in nude-shaded pantyhose. She carefully applied the minimum amount of makeup, since she had a feeling Gib was the type to appreciate the less is more theory. At six minutes after eleven, she took her cell phone into the living room and sat on the sofa.
Gib answered on the second ring. “Hello?”
Delaney grinned at the anxious voice on the other end of the line. “Good morning, officer. I'm sorry I'm late. Were you able to get a nap?”
“Um, not exactly. But I'm looking forward to lunch.”
“Are you sure? I don't want you falling asleep at a restaurant. It might be bad for your image,” Delaney teased.
Gib laughed. “What image?” She stifled a cough and cleared her throat. “So, Ms. Kavanagh, what time and where?”
Several interesting ideas popped into Delaney's head at the question. “Well.” Her smile turned devious. “Just what kind of tastes do you have, officer?”
A choked gasp came from Gib, who tried for several seconds to get herself under control. “My tastes run pretty simple. But I'm game for just about anything,” she finally was able to get out.
“Oooh. You are? I'll have to remember that.”
Gib laughed so hard she snorted, which immediately caused Delaney to start laughing as well. Embarrassed, Gib offered an apology. “I'm sorry,” she chortled, not sounding very contrite. “I must be more tired that I thought.”
“Are you up to having lunch? We can always reschedule,” Delaney offered, although it was the last thing she wanted to do.
“No, I'm good. Do you want me to pick you up, or should we meet somewhere?”
Delaney looked around. Her apartment was clean, and now she had a good reason for it to be. “Would you mind picking me up? We can decide where to go once you get here.”
“Sure. Just give me your address, and I'll be there at,” Gib paused.
“Is noon too soon?”
“Nope. Noon's perfect.”
With a huge smile on her face, Delaney gave Gib her address, and the directions for the easiest route. Once they hung up, she double-checked the living room to make certain everything was in order.
Gib placed her truck beneath the covered parking, two spaces away from Delaney's Lexus. The apartment complex appeared new, with perfectly manicured shrubbery and grass that would have been at home on a golf course. Most of the cars in the lot were expensive, and she suddenly felt completely out of her element.
She took a calming breath and got out of the clean truck. She made a deal with Dan: if he washed and vacuumed her vehicle, she wouldn't tell Clint about him taking out the boat. With a quick glance down at herself, she hoped she was as presentable. “It's not a date, idiot. Calm down.” She was wearing her newest jeans, a green golf shirt, and freshly polished boots. “Damn. I feel like a moron.” Still nervous, Gib walked into the lobby. The shiny white marble floor was as clean as an operating room, and the small leather chairs looked as if they'd never been sat in. Tall, expensive live plants gave the room it's only warmth. The apartments were only accessible from the inside, and she nodded to the man sitting behind a nearby black granite desk.
“Good afternoon. May I assist you?” His young and clean-shaven face wore a distant yet polite expression.
“Uh, no. I'm here to see Delaney Kavanagh, in thirty-one-twelve.”
He nodded. “Take the elevator to the third floor, and turn to your right.”
“Thanks.” Gib followed his instructions, and was soon standing in front of Delaney's apartment. She wiped her sweaty palms on the front of her jeans before lightly knocking.
The door opened almost immediately, and Delaney greeted her with a friendly smile. “Hello, officer. Please, come in.” She stepped aside and allowed Gib to enter.
Once she was inside the apartment, Gib relaxed. As fancy as the outside had been, the interior of Delaney's apartment was comfortable and homey. She especially liked the look of a pea green, worn recliner that sat at an angle to the sofa. “You have a very nice place.”
“Thank you.” Delaney gestured toward the furniture. “Would you like to sit down?”
“Sure.” Gib chose one end of the tan sofa, encouraged by its softness.
Delaney sat at the opposite end and turned to face her guest. “You look nice.”
Gib lightly blushed. “Thanks.” She took a moment to scrutinize the redhead's appearance. “Wow.” At Delaney's delighted grin, Gib's blush deepened. “I said that out loud, didn't I?”
“Yes, you did.” Delaney patted Gib's shoulder. “Thank you. Did you have any trouble finding the place?”
“No, not really. Although I'm about half afraid they'll tow my truck,” Gib joked.
The redhead laughed. “They wouldn't dare. It has emblems on the doors. They're probably worried that you're here in some official capacity.”
Gib joined her in laughing at the absurdity. “Yeah. Poachers and park troublemakers are known to live in places like this.”
“You'd be surprised at the clientele here. I know of one convicted felon, two judges, and I believe there's a topless dancer on the second floor.”
“Oh, wow. That's awesome.” Gib propped her left ankle on her right knee. “So, any ideas on where you want to go for lunch?”
Delaney shrugged her shoulders. “I was thinking, maybe Mexican? I know this fantastic little place, over off Fourteenth.”
“Rodrigo's?” Gib's face lit up.
“That's it. Have you been there? I absolutely love their fajitas.”
Gib stood. “One of my favorite places. Are you ready?” She held out her hand to Delaney.
“Ready as I'll ever be.” Delaney took the offered hand and allowed Gib to help her to her feet.
Gib held the door of Rodrigo's open for the redhead, who nodded her thanks and passed by her. When they stepped in front of the hostess podium, a tall, slender Hispanic woman greeted them.
“Good afternoon. Welcome to Rodrigo's.” Her gaze shifted from Delaney to Gib, and her mouth dropped open. “Gibsy?”
“Hi, Maddy. Have a table for two available?”
Madina Ramirez, granddaughter of the original Rodrigo, grinned at her friend. “I've got a very nice table for VIP's. If you two will follow me.” She took them to a booth in the quietest part of the restaurant. Once they were seated, she leaned close to Gib. “You will sooo have to give the details, later.” To Delaney, she smiled. “Please, order whatever you'd like. It's on the house.”
“You're very kind, but that's not necessary.” Delaney looked at Gib. “Right?”
Gib shook her head. “I'm not going to cross either one of you.” She gestured to Maddy. “Delaney, I'd like you to meet my oldest and dearest friend, Madina Ramirez. This is her family's restaurant.”
Delaney held out her hand. “Very pleased to meet you. I'm Delaney Kavanagh.”
“Delighted,” Maddy assured her, giving the redhead a firm handshake. “Would you two like to start with some guacamole and chips? Or maybe some queso?”
“I'd like some queso with a glass of iced tea, if you don't mind.” Gib grinned at Delaney. “What about you?”
Delaney nodded. “Iced tea is good, but I would give my right arm for some of your guacamole.” She lightly blushed. “I can probably eat my weight in that and your chicken fajitas,” she admitted ruefully.
Maddy laughed. “Oh, Gibsy. I like her! I'll send someone with your drinks and appetizers, ladies. Enjoy your meal.”
Once they were alone, Delaney leaned over the table. “She's very sweet.”
“Don't say that too loud. I'll never hear the end of it.” Gib nodded at the server who brought them tea and their appetizers. “Thank you.”
They ate quietly until another server brought their fajitas. Once they each filled their plates, Delaney took a bite and moaned her approval. “Oh, my god!” She took her time finishing her fajita before taking a sip of tea. “Is Maddy married?”
“Because I'm going to ask her to marry me.” Delaney quickly assembled another fajita.
Gib almost spewed her tea across the table. “I'm afraid you'd be fighting a losing battle.”
“Why? Does she have something against Irish redheads?”
“No. Just ovaries. She's as straight as they come.”
This time Delaney sputtered, and ended up spitting her tea all over Gib.
They were both laughing hard when Maddy returned. “I swear, Gibsy, you cause trouble every time you come in here.”
Gib pointed to Delaney. “It's her fault!”
“You started it,” Delaney countered.
“Whatever.” Maddy waved her hand. “Listen, I have to take care of a few things in the office, so take your time and have fun.” She poked Gib's shoulder. “Call me tomorrow.”
“Okay, sure will.” Gib stood and gave her friend a hug and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks, Maddy.”
Maddy returned the hug and then shoved Gib away. “Go on, now. You're going to make your new girl jealous.”
“She's not—” Gib was stopped when Maddy covered her mouth with one finger.
“Tomorrow,” Maddy whispered. She turned to Delaney. “It was nice to meet you, Delaney. Don't let Gibsy get away with anything.”
Delaney grinned. “Don't worry, I won't. It was a pleasure to finally meet the person whose children I would gladly have,” she joked. “I've been a huge fan of your restaurant for years.”
“Then I'm glad I finally got to meet you.” Maddy winked then patted Gib on the cheek. “Have fun.” She wriggled her fingers at them as she walked away.
“You know, I like your friend a lot,” Delaney told Gib, as the other woman sat across from her again.
Gib dipped a tortilla chip into her queso. “I'm glad. She's been my best friend for as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of years back in that kitchen, stealing bites of whatever I could get away with.” She popped the chip into her mouth and happily chewed.
“Lucky you. I've always loved coming here, although I haven't been here in about a year. My girlfriend, make that ex-girlfriend, didn't like Mexican food.”
“She doesn't know what she's missing.” Gib eyed Delaney across the rim of her tea glass, her meaning clear.
The sentiment touched Delaney deeply, and she covered Gib's hand with hers. “Thank you.”
Gib looked into Delaney's eyes. “There is something I'd like you to promise me.”
“No more late nights at the job site.”
Delaney's smile faltered. “What?”
“At least not until we figure out what's going on. Please?”
As much as she wanted to be angry at Gib, the redhead found herself agreeing, if only because those sincere brown eyes were asking her to. “All right.”
To be continued in part 3
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