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.
The Kavanagh Construction office was housed in an aged, industrial strip center. Surrounded by similar companies, it had been in the same space for close to thirty years. Colin Kavanagh, owner and self-proclaimed, “chief bottle washer,” sat in his daughter's guest chair and glanced at his watch. He was supposed to meet with Delaney and discuss how she thought the work on the lake was going. He had already gotten an earful from his son, Dylan, and had a few tough questions for his chief architect.
Delaney's desk phone buzzed, and a voice came over the speaker. “Delaney, are you there?”
“Not yet,” Colin answered out loud. He leaned forward and picked up the receiver. “She is supposed to be here this morning, isn't she? Or did I get the day wrong again?”
Maureen Kavanagh laughed at her husband's comment. As the office manager for the construction company, she had to keep everyone organized, especially Colin. “No, honey, you're not wrong. At least this time. When she gets in, tell her that Christie called.”
“I sure will. Did she say what she wanted?”
“No, she didn't. But knowing our daughter, they're probably fighting again.”
Colin's snicker was all the agreement he needed to give. The sound of heels clicking on the tile floor announced their wayward child's arrival. “She's coming now, Reenie. I'll give her the message.” He hung up the phone and returned to his original position just as Delaney stepped into her office.
“Hi, Dad. What's up?” Delaney sat behind her desk and tossed her purse into the bottom right hand drawer.
“We had a meeting scheduled for nine,” he reminded her. It was now close to ten.
She cocked her head at him. “We did?”
Delaney shrugged. “All right. What's this meeting supposed to be about?”
“The lake project. Don't you read your appointment calendar that your mother set up?”
“Of course I do.” She opened the drawer, dug through her purse, and brought out her PDA. A few clicks later, the cocky expression fell from her face. “Oh, damn. I'm sorry, Dad.”
He leaned back in his seat and grinned. “No harm done. How do you think the work out at the lake is going so far? Your brother seems to think we'll be finished ahead of schedule.”
“I agree, as long as the weather holds out. This week we're putting in some concrete pillars to strengthen the dam. I can't believe it hadn't collapsed.”
Colin scratched his chin. “I also heard from your brother that we've done some repair work on a road. What's that all about?”
Her face turned a light shade of pink. “The park police officer who's been keeping an eye on things lives on the far side of the lake. When we blocked off the dam, she had to take what looked like an old cattle trail to get from her cabin. I thought, since some of our guys end up standing around half the time, they could just even it out for her.”
“Is she cute?”
He laughed at the look on his daughter's face. “I figure there's got to be another reason you're donating our services, besides the goodness in your heart. That's it, isn't it? You've got your eye on her?”
“No!” Delaney vehemently denied. The blush on her face darkened. “I mean, that's not why,” she added quietly.
“Uh huh. Right. Oh, speaking of your women, your mother wanted me to pass along a message. Christie called for you this morning.”
“Damn her.” Delaney covered her face with her hands. “I'm sorry, Dad. I was talking about Chris, not Mom.”
He nodded. It seemed his daughter fought more with her girlfriend than anything else. “Trouble in paradise?”
“I wouldn't exactly call it paradise. I broke up with her last week, and she hasn't given me a moment's peace, since.”
Colin stretched out his legs and exhaled heavily. “I can't say I'm sad to hear the news.”
“Oh? Well, I know you barely seemed to tolerate her when I'd bring her over for family dinners.” She ignored the buzz of her cell phone. Even on vibrate, the noise was annoying.
“Aren't you going to get that?”
Delaney shook her head. “No. It's most likely Chris, whining again. She had the nerve to ask if she could move in with me.”
“Was that before, or after you broke up?”
“Both. She's been out of work so long, that she's being evicted from her apartment. I told her to move back in with her parents, and she got all pissy about it.”
He laughed at the expression on her face. “How dare she? Thinking that after what, a year?”
“Don't start, Dad.”
“I'm sorry honey, but I can't help it. Normally when people have been together for a while, they want to make their relationship more permanent. I was lucky your mother wanted a nice church wedding, or we would have eloped the first weekend we knew each other.”
With her elbow on the desk, Delaney rested her chin on her upraised hand. “Not everyone's lucky enough to find the perfect mate. I honestly don't know what I ever saw in Chris to begin with.”
“Well, maybe your luck is changing. Dylan said—”
She sat up and held up one hand. “Dad, please. Dylan is as gossipy as an old woman. Don't believe anything he says.”
As much as Colin wanted to hear his daughter's thoughts on the mysterious park officer, he kept silent. There was a pain in Delaney's eyes which he suspected had little to do with her former girlfriend. Instead, he stood and stretched. “I reckon I'll go harass your mother for a while. Drop by her office before you leave, eh?”
In her cabin, Gib adjusted the waterproof shoulder holster and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She was wearing charcoal colored cargo shorts, a tan golf shirt with the embroidered badge over her left breast, and short work boots. She put on a small belt that held handcuffs, a waterproof case for her cell phone, baton, pepper spray and her radio.
Since spring break had arrived for the local school district, Gib's main job was to help patrol the lake and surrounding area. As much as she looked forward to being out on the water, she knew it was all business. She would be in the park's twenty-three foot Mastercraft 230 Maristar Sport Ski and Wakeboard boat, while Dan was stuck in the fourteen-foot Angler boat closer to shore. Clint was going to stay in the office and handle the tourist's questions, while George would be the ranger driving around the park and keeping an eye on the campers.
She was on her way out the door when her cell phone rang. She tapped the Bluetooth on her ear. “Proctor.”
“Gib, could you stop by the office before you hit the lake?” Clint asked. “I need to give you something.”
“Sure thing, Clint. Give me five.” She hung up, locked the cabin door and headed for her truck. “I wonder if Delaney will be at the work site today.” She hadn't seen the other woman for a week, and wondered if perhaps she had been mistaken in how well they had gotten along. Unsure of herself, Gib shook off the thought and drove down the smooth road that the construction crew had repaired. It was still a narrow dirt road, but now the deep grooves and potholes were gone.
In less than five minutes, Gib parked at the main office and went inside. She saw Clint speaking to two women, both dressed in khaki pants and matching short sleeved shirts. The three turned toward Gib.
Clint was the first to speak. “Officer Gibson Proctor, I'd like you to meet Jessica Middleton,” he gestured to the shorter brunette, “and Kendall Wyatt,” his hand touched the elbow of the blonde woman. “They're assigned to us for the summer as Level I Technicians. I thought you could take one and assign the other to Dan.”
“Uh, sure.” Gib shook hands with both women. “Nice to meet you, Middleton and Wyatt.”
The brunette gave her a nod. “Same here. You can call me Jessica.”
“All right. Everyone calls me Gib.”
The blonde, who didn't appear old enough to drive, much less be a Level I tech, gave Gib a shy smile. “My friends call me Kennie.”
Gib looked over Kennie's head to Clint, who shrugged. “Okay, guess we'll head on out to the lake. Do you two have caps?”
Jessica frowned. “Do we have to wear them? They make me look like a—” she cut off her thought. “I don't like to wear hats.”
“Believe me, you'll be glad to have it when the sun is right overhead. It gets especially warm on the water, and that's where we'll be.”
Kennie removed the cap from her back pocket and tugged it onto her head. “I've never been out on the water. Is it really rough?”
Gib shook her head. “Not usually. The wind is fairly calm today, so it should be much of a problem. How about you, Jessica? Have you been out on the water?”
“Small craft, sure. After all, I am a Fish and Wildlife technician.” She turned to Clint. “Is that all, sir?”
Clint conveyed his apologies to Gib through a slight smile. “Sure. Gib, why don't you take Kennie, and have Jessica help out Dan? Maybe tomorrow y'all can switch.”
“Yes, sir.” Gib gave him a half-hearted salute. “Come on, Techs. Let's go protect the lake.”
When Gib pulled her truck up to the dock, Jessica groaned from the back seat. “Don't tell me I have to be on that little thing all day.”
“Not all day. I'm sure you'll also have to patrol the beach, which is easier to do on foot.” Gib got out of the truck and waited until they joined her. “I'll introduce you both to Dan.” She took a bag from the back seat and walked down to the dock. “Hey, Dan.”
He looked up from the craft and started to say something, but kept silent as the three women stood on the dock.
“Dan, this is Jessica Middleton and Kennie Wyatt. They'll be working with us this summer.”
He held out his hand to Jessica. “Dan Conroy.”
Jessica shook his hand. “Looks like you're stuck with me today, Dan.” She tipped her head toward Gib and lowered her voice. “Lucky me.”
Kennie nodded to Dan. “Nice to meet you, Dan.”
“Same here.” He glared at Gib. “You keeping the Maristar out all day?”
Gib put her hands on her hips and stared him down. She was at least two inches taller, and had probably thirty pounds on him. “Yep. Got a problem with that?”
“If I did, would it matter?”
“Nope.” She made a point to look at his clothing. He was wearing dark green pants and a shirt, along with a gray felt western hat. “You're going to burn up dressed like that today.”
He shrugged. “I didn't want to look like a lifeguard, or something. We're here in an official capacity, Proctor.”
“Suit yourself.” Gib bit back the nasty retort she wanted to say and led Kennie to the other end of the dock. She tossed her bag into the boat and climbed inside. “Do you need any help getting aboard?”
“Guess we'll find out,” Kennie gamely responded. She followed Gib's lead and was soon standing next to the other woman in the boat. “This is cool.”
Gib was busy checking their gear. “There's some sunscreen in my bag. Feel free.”
“Thanks.” Kennie opened the bag and removed the sunscreen. Once she was properly covered, she settled into the seat across from Gib. “Do you need any?”
“I greased up earlier.” Gib leaned over the edge and untied the boat from the dock. She lifted one of the rear padded cushions and brought out two life preservers, tossing one to her companion. “Can you swim?”
Kennie nodded. “Like a fish.” She buckled the preserver with little trouble. “I'm guessing it's hard to make everyone else wear these if we're not?”
“You got it.” So far, Gib was enjoying the newbie. She only hoped that Dan was able to get along with Jessica better than he was with her.
“Watch what you're doing!” Jessica yelled, as Dan swerved around the buoy near the dam. “Don't you know how to handle an outboard?”
“Of course I do,” Dan snapped. He straightened out the tiller and grabbed his hat to keep it from blowing off. “Do you think you could do any better?”
Jessica kept a firm grip on the sides of the Angler. “A ten year-old could do better,” she muttered. In a louder voice she added, “Do you want me to take over?”
“Hell, no.” He maneuvered them away from the dam and headed toward the open water. “Let's go to the west shore and check fishing licenses.” Although it wasn't quite noon, the shores were full of people, and there were quite a few boats and jet skis out on the water.
“You're kidding, right? I thought we were supposed to stay close to shore in this thing.”
He frowned. “Just because that's what Proctor said, doesn't mean that's what we have to do. She's not our boss.”
Jessica used her feet to brace herself, so she could retie her hair into a ponytail. She was regretting leaving her cap in Gib's truck. “This is a shallow-water boat, dumbass. If we hit a swell out in the middle of the lake, we're going to tip. And Clint told us to listen to what Gib had to say, since she has the most experience.”
“She's a pushy dyke.” He turned toward the center of the lake. “And it's her fault I'm out in this stupid little fishing dingy, anyway. I'm the one with the college degree, and should be out in the bigger boat.”
She looked at him like he'd lost his mind. “Are you serious?” Jessica and Kennie had both heard from Clint what Gib's qualifications were, as well as her two college degrees.
He opened up the small motor on the boat, intent of getting over to the other shore. The sound of fast-moving jet skis caused him to twist his head around. “Hey, watch it,” he yelled.
After some instruction, Gib had relinquished the controls to Kennie. She stood nearby, in case of a problem. “How are you feeling, Kennie?”
“Fantastic,” the blonde replied, a huge smile on her face. “Thanks for letting me drive. I had passed the written exam, but never got a chance to get out on the water.”
“Always glad to gain another convert,” Gib joked. She noticed a pair of jet skis racing each other across the lake. “Damn. Kennie, can you head toward those two jokers? They're going to get someone hurt.”
Kennie nodded and steered toward the center of the lake. “Hey, isn't that Dan and Jessica?”
Gib squinted against the glare on the water. “What the hell are they doing?” She stood directly behind Kennie. “Let's go find out. But be careful.”
“All right.” Kennie turned the wheel. “It's getting crowded out here,” she said over her shoulder.
“That's what I'm afraid of.” When another boat started to cut them off, Gib braced one hand on the side of the boat. “Turn hard to starboard,” she yelled.
Unable to talk her way out of it, Delaney joined her parents for lunch. The pizza parlor had a great lunch buffet and was the elder Kavanagh's favorite lunch time retreat. She took one slice of vegetarian pizza and placed it next to her salad.
“Is that all you're going to eat, honey?” Maureen asked. “It's not healthy to starve yourself to death.”
“Mom, please. A plate full of salad and one slice of pizza is more than filling.” Delaney followed her mother to the table where Colin was already seated. His eyes were glued to a nearby television.
Maureen swatted him on the arm. “You can check out the sports when we get home tonight, love.”
He shook his head. “They're showing the lake. Looks like there was some sort of accident out there.”
Delaney's head whipped around and stared at the monitor. “What kind of accident?”
“I don't know. They've got the closed captioning on, but you know how garbled that can be.” He tilted his head down so he could see over his glasses. “Ah. A boating accident.”
With her heart in her throat, Delaney followed the words on the screen. “ Four park rangers and three civilians were taken to Benton Memorial Hospital after a mid-day collision on Lake Kichai . Their conditions are unknown. Park Manager Clinton Wright will be holding a press conference later this afternoon, with more details. ”
“Oh, my god.” Delaney brought a shaky hand to her mouth. She stared at the television.
Colin touched her arm. “What's the matter, honey?”
Ignoring her father, Delaney took her cell phone from her purse and dialed Gib's number. It rang six times before going to voice mail. “Um, hi. This is Delaney. I just saw,” her voice cracked, “Damn. Could you please call me when you get this message?” She set her phone on the table and bit her lower lip.
“Delaney?” Maureen scooted her chair closer to her daughter. “Are you all right?” She put her arm around Delaney's shoulder. “Honey?”
Shaking her head, Delaney didn't speak.
Colin looked first at Delaney, then at the television. Suddenly, his daughter's distress made sense. “You're worried about your park ranger, aren't you?”
“She's a park police officer,” the redhead corrected automatically, nodding.
Maureen frowned. “What am I missing here?” she asked her husband.
“Delaney's become friends with a woman who works out at the park. Right?” Colin tried to draw their daughter into the conversation, if only to get her mind off the television news. “I'm sure, since she's a police officer, she has to work the accident,” he offered.
“Maybe.” Delaney stared at her phone, as if she was trying to will it to ring.
Colin wiped his mouth with a napkin and pushed his plate away. “Let's go to the house and see if we can get any more information. At least we'll be able to hear the news reports.”
“Okay.” Numb, Delaney allowed herself to be guided out of the pizza parlor.
The gurney rattled down the tiled hallway as two nurses, a doctor and two paramedics worked feverishly on the unconscious woman. Orders were issued, accepted and followed out. The group burst through the doors, never slowing in their attempts to save the life that hung on by the narrowest thread.
Clint jogged to keep up, but ended up standing outside the door, peering in through the window. All he could see of the patient was a few strands of blonde hair. He had to step back when the paramedics came back through the door. “How is she?”
One of them shrugged. “Still alive.” He rubbed his face and moved away. “Good luck.”
“Thanks.” Clint barely acknowledged the pair as he returned to his previous spot. The shrill sound of an alarm caused his eyes to widen.
Suddenly one of the nurses began chest compressions, while another squeezed a bag over the patient's face.
“No,” Clint whispered.
In her parent's living room, Delaney paced the floor. “Maybe I should go to the hospital.”
“I'm sure it's a circus there, honey. Why don't you try to relax?” Maureen patted the couch cushion next to her. “Your father is calling Dylan at the job site to see if he's heard anything.”
Delaney sat for a moment, before jumping to her feet and resuming her pacing. “I should have thought of that.” She picked up her purse from the coffee table and took out her phone. There had been no calls in the past hour. “Come on, Gib. Where the hell are you?” The uneasy feeling in her gut had grown, and she was only able to keep herself together by sheer will. “I can't stand this.”
“Delaney, please. Sit. Working yourself into a lather isn't going to do anyone any good.”
Unable to comply, Delaney picked up her purse. “I'm sorry, Mom. I think I'll go home. If Dad hears anything, could you call me?”
“All right. But are you sure you want to be alone right now?”
Delaney nodded. “No sense in all of us going crazy.” She kissed her mother on the cheek. “I'll call you later, okay?”
“Of course, honey. And if you need anything—”
“I know. Thanks.”
It was close to ten in the evening, and Delaney knew no more than she had hours ago. Her brother had called around four, with only sketchy details. “There were fire trucks, ambulances and at least four state trooper cars, Del. We stood on the dam and watched as they pulled at least half a dozen people out of the lake. It was wild.”
When she questioned him about Gib, he was apologetic, but couldn't give her any other details.
She had called the hospital to see if Gib had been admitted, but the switchboard operator was unable to tell her one way or the other. The news reports were still not giving any names, but they did say that no one was allowed admittance to the emergency room without a valid reason.
With her laptop on the coffee table, Delaney had the television on with the volume low. She would peer up from her computer and check the TV screen, then go back to web surfing. So far, she was unable to learn anything from either source.
A knock on her door startled her. Delaney frowned, but walked across the room and peered through the peephole. “Oh, god.” She jerked open the door in surprise.
Gib gave her a weary smile. “Hi. I hope I'm not interrupting anything.” Her eyes widened when Delaney grabbed a handful of her shirt and pulled her into the apartment. She was caught off guard when the redhead wrapped her arms around her. “Um, hi?”
“Hi.” Delaney snuggled closer and placed her ear over Gib's heart. It was beating a little fast, but strong. She looked up into Gib's face, and noticed a white bandage across her forehead. Her shirt was filthy and wrinkled, and had what appeared to be dried patches of blood all over it. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, pretty much. It's been a bitch of a day.” Gib scratched at the holster that was still strapped to her body. There were scrapes and bruises along her bare legs, and her keys jangled on her belt when she moved.
Delaney could feel the other woman tremble and belatedly realized how exhausted she must be. “Come on.” She led her to the sofa. “Are you hungry?”
“I, uh,” Gib dropped onto the sofa and closed her eyes. “I don't know.” She leaned into Delaney, who sat on the next cushion and put an arm around her shoulder.
“I've been going out of my mind. How'd you get here?”
Gib was silent for so long, Delaney thought she had fallen asleep.
Finally, she took a deep breath. “Uh, cab. I tried to get him to take me home, but he said he didn't go out of town. We weren't far from here, so—”
“Sssh. That's fine. Were you at the hospital?”
“Yeah. I tried to call Maddy, but I couldn't remember her number. It was such a madhouse, I just wanted to get out of there.”
Gib's clothes smelled like lake water and a patch of her hair over her left ear was matted with dried blood. Delaney lightly touched the bandage and could see a bruise that disappeared into Gib's hairline. “I think you need a hot bath.”
“I'm sorry.” Gib tried to get up, but was held back by Delaney. “I'm probably ruining your couch.”
“No, it's all right. I just thought you'd be more comfortable if you were clean.” Delaney pulled Gib close and put both arms around her. “Why don't you rest for a little while, then you can get cleaned up.”
While Gib napped, Delaney held her. She wasn't quite sure where this protective streak had come from, but it was too late at night to try and make sense of it. They hadn't spent very much time together, and part of that was at each other's throats. But Gib felt good in her arms, so Delaney closed her own eyes and relaxed for the first time all day.
“No!” Gib jerked awake with a yell. She looked around in a panic, before remembering where she was. “Damn.” She turned to Delaney, who looked just as startled. “I'm sorry.”
Delaney touched Gib's cheek. “Don't worry about it. How are you feeling?”
“Like an idiot. I shouldn't have come here.” Gib slowly stood. “I'm sorry to have bothered you so late.”
“Hey, no. It's okay.” Delaney got to her feet as well and took Gib by the arm. “I'm really glad you did. I've been worried sick about you.”
The redhead nodded. “I was at lunch with my parents when we saw the news about the accident at the lake. All they said that four park employees had been taken to the hospital. They never gave any names. And I couldn't reach you.”
Gib lowered her eyes. “Yeah. I lost my phone in the lake.” A heavy weariness settled over her. “I should go. If you could help me call Maddy, I'll get out of your hair.” But she didn't move.
“Stay.” Delaney tugged her toward the bedroom. “Let's get you into a bath, and I'll put your clothes in the wash. You don't need to be going anywhere tonight.”
“I don't know—”
They stood together in the bathroom, so close they could breathe each other's air. Delaney tugged on Gib's holster. “Do you need help getting undressed?”
A shy grin crossed Gib's face. “Uh, no. I think I can handle it.” She struggled with her holster while Delaney filled the tub. “I've got to clean my gun.” She lowered the holster to the floor carefully, and started on her belt. Once the belt was loose, she bent over to untie her boots, but the strings were damp and knotted. “Crap.”
Delaney turned. “Sit on the edge of the tub and I'll help.”
“Thanks.” Gib followed her orders and soon lost her boots. She tried to move her foot away when Delaney started to take off her socks. “I can do that.”
“Probably. But I'm already down here.” The socks were stripped off and dropped into a different corner of the tile floor, away from the gun and holster. “Do you need me to help with anything else?”
Gib shook her head. “No, thank you.” She turned away and tugged her shirt over her head.
“Oh, my god.” Delaney stood behind Gib and lightly touched her back. There was a four-inch wide bruise that stretched from her left shoulder almost to her right hip. “What happened to you?”
“I'm not sure.” Gib accepted Delaney's help removing the rest of her clothes before she lowered herself into the warm water. “Ahh. That feels fantastic.” She closed her eyes and leaned back into the tub.
The redhead paused at the door. “I'll get your clothes into the washer.”
“You don't have to do that. I have,” Gib paused. “Crap. In my truck I have a bag of extra clothes. Not that they're doing me much good right now, are they?” Her truck was still parked at the lake dock.
“I'll find you something to wear.” Delaney picked up the belt and holster. “These will go on the kitchen table, and I'll take everything out and lay them out on a towel, okay?”
“Yeah, that'll work. Thanks.” Gib closed her eyes and relaxed again.
Delaney had removed everything from the belt and cleaned it to the best of her ability. She took the gun out of the holster, wrapped it in a hand towel and placed it carefully on the table. With that done, she was now scrambling a pan of eggs on the stove. She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't hear Gib walk into the kitchen.
“That smells fantastic.” Gib tugged on the sleep shirt Delaney had loaned her. It barely came to her waist, and was a little tight across the shoulders and chest. But at least she was covered. The cutoff sweat shorts were snug as well, and she hoped she didn't have to bend over for anything.
The spatula clattered as it fell onto the stovetop and Delaney sharply turned. “You startled me.”
“Sorry.” Gib stood at the bar, her damp hair stuck against her head. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Nope. If you'll have a seat, it'll be ready in a second.” Delaney finished the eggs and split them between two plates. “Orange juice, milk, water or coffee?” she asked. She tried not to look at Gib's breasts, which were accentuated by the taut shirt.
Gib stood when Delaney came over. “I can get it. What would you like?”
“Sit.” Delaney pushed on her shoulder. “I'm having milk, how about you?”
They sat side by side at the bar and quietly ate. Once they were finished, Gib moaned and rubbed her stomach. “That was great.”
“Just scrambled eggs, but I'm glad you liked them.” Delaney put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher. She noticed a far-off look in Gib's eyes. “Are you all right?”
Gib shook her head, but didn't say anything. Her eyes filled with tears and she tried to blink them away.
“Gib, honey. What's wrong?”
“I can't—” Gib stood and held her hands in front of her, looking at them. “How can I sit here like this?” She started to rub her hands together. “I tried so hard,” she whispered.
Delaney slowly moved closer. “It's okay.”
“She wasn't breathing. I tried CPR, but we were in the water.” Gib frowned. “Maybe if I had been piloting the boat, I don't know.” She stepped backward until she hit the wall. “She's so damned young, Dee,” her voice broke and she slid down the wall until she was on the floor. “Damned kid.” All control gone, Gib started to cry.
Not knowing what else to do, Delaney joined Gib on the floor and put her arms around her. She held the sobbing woman's head to her chest and muttered words of comfort.
Hours later, Delaney sat in her recliner and watched as Gib slept on her sofa. She had tried to get Gib to sleep in her bed, but the stubborn woman had refused. So, instead of both of them being comfortable in the bedroom, Gib was lying on the sofa covered with a quilt, while Delaney tried to rest in the recliner.
It had taken quite a while for Delaney to get Gib settled, especially after the other woman started telling her all the details of the lake incident.
Gib's trainee, Kennie, was piloting their boat to reach the other rangers when they saw that the smaller park craft was in the direct path of another speeding boat. In her haste to protect the other rangers, Kennie turned them toward the fast-moving craft. All three boats collided, and there Gib's recollection became hazy. Obviously suffering from her own injuries, Gib tried to keep Kennie's head above water. She found out later that Dan and Jessica were also injured, although neither one seriously. Dan had a broken finger and Jessica a dislocated shoulder. Kennie, however, had received a skull fracture and almost died at the hospital. The last Gib had heard, she was in ICU but holding her own.
“I can't even begin to imagine what you're going through,” Delaney whispered, as she watched Gib sleep. She blinked her own tears away. “You could have been killed today.” She knew she had developed feelings for Gib, but wasn't sure if the other woman felt the same. “I hope to find out, though.” After one final glance, Delaney closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep.
The rich smell of coffee woke Gib. She attempted to roll into a sitting position, but her aching and bruised muscles protested, causing her to cry out.
Delaney rushed from the kitchen. “Gib? What's the matter?”
“Nothing,” Gib gasped. “Just a little stiff.” She finally made it up and carefully let out a shaky breath. “Wow.” Since her original clothes had been cleaned, she was at least more comfortably dressed, although the bruise on her back didn't allow her to wear her bra.
“I hate to be the one to say I told you so, but you should have slept in the bed. It's one of those comfort air mattresses, and it's like sleeping on a cloud.”
Gib took a few more cautious breaths before speaking. “I'll keep that in mind, next time.”
“You do that.” Delaney perched on the arm of the couch and lightly touched Gib's shoulder. “Can I get you anything? How about some breakfast?”
“What time is it?”
Delaney glanced at the cable box. “A little after nine.”
“Crap! I need to get to work.”
With her hand, Delaney easily kept Gib in place. “Actually, you don't.”
“What do you mean?”
The redhead gave her a nervous smile. “I took the liberty of calling the park this morning and spoke to your boss. The main office number was on the card you gave me.”
“Clint?” Exhausted from trying to get off the sofa, Gib slowly leaned back. “Did he say how Kennie was doing?”
“Her condition has been upgraded from critical to guarded. She still has swelling in her brain, but they're hopeful.”
Gib nodded. “That's better, right?”
“Yes.” Delaney played with the end of Gib's hair, which had curled after it dried. “I hope you don't mind, but I told your boss that you'd be spending the day here. He said he looked all over the hospital for you last night, but figured a family member had taken you home.”
“Yeah, I couldn't find him either. Wait. I'm staying here?”
Delaney laughed. “Yes, but on one condition.”
“You're placing conditions on kidnapping me? I hope there's no ransom, ‘cause I'm not as rich as you might think,” Gib joked, privately enjoying the attention her hair was getting. A sharp tug let her know her joke wasn't appreciated. “Ow.”
“Big baby. Okay, here's my condition. You're going to have a good breakfast then I'm tucking you into bed.”
Gib slowly turned her head until she was looking directly into Delaney's face. They were close enough that she could see all the tiny flecks that made up her sky blue eyes. “You are?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Delaney leaned closer and brushed her lips against Gib's.
The chaste kiss stirred something deep within Gib. Past caring what it would do to her sore body, she put her arm around Delaney and pulled her into her lap.
It was all the invitation Delaney needed. She cradled Gib's head in her hands and proceeded to kiss the other woman senseless. She moaned when she felt one of Gib's hands slip under her shirt and caress her back. Before the moment could become any more intense, Delaney broke off the kiss in order to catch her breath. “Whew.”
“Yeah.” Gib placed a few light nibbles on Delaney's throat. “I can't seem to get enough of you.”
“Gib,” Delaney gasped, “Honey, wait.” Her resolve faltered when Gib's hands brushed against the underside of her breasts. “Oh, god.”
Her hands shaking, Gib forced herself to slow down. The excitement was causing the knot and stitches on her head to throb, which made her queasy. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against Delaney's shoulder. “Sorry.”
“I'm not. But I guess we should wait until you're in a little better shape.” Delaney carefully brushed her hand through Gib's hair. “Are you okay?”
Gib nodded but didn't raise her head.
“Do you feel up to some breakfast?”
A head shake in the negative.
Delaney chuckled. “Honey, you need to eat something. How about some toast?”
Gib laughed and raised her head. “I could probably handle some toast.” She kissed the tip of Delaney's nose. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” The redhead stood and held out her hand. “Come on. First food, then right to bed with you.”
“Propositioning me, Ms. Kavanagh? What happened to waiting?” Gib grimaced as she was helped off the sofa. “Damn, I'm getting old.”
“Ha. Tell me another story, officer.” Delaney kept her arm around Gib as she helped her to the kitchen. “And believe me, when I proposition you, you'll know it.”
Gib gingerly sat on a barstool. “Sounds like fun.”
“Trust me, it will be.” Delaney kissed her on the temple. “Now behave while I amaze you with my culinary skills.”
Sick to her stomach with a headache that would knock down an elephant, Gib had never been happier. She propped her elbow on the counter and rested her chin on her hand. “Amaze away, pretty lady.”
Gib had just allowed Delaney to tuck her into bed when she remembered something important. “My mother's going to kill me. Not to mention what Maddy's going to say.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you have a phone I can borrow? I need to let everyone know where I am, and that I'm all right.” Gib sat up and looked around the room in a panic. “Knowing my mother, she's called out the National Guard.”
“Sssh.” Delaney kept her hand against Gib's chest. “I'll bring you the cordless phone from my office. Hold on.” She stood and left the room, returning in a moment with the phone. “I'll close the door so you can have some privacy.”
Gib accepted the phone. “You don't have to do that. You've met Maddy and my mother, well, let's just say she's an acquired taste.” She patted the mattress next to her leg while she dialed the number for her parent's home. Her friend took the hint and joined her.
“Gibson Susanna Proctor! I'm been worried half out of my mind about you,” Ida snapped. Everyone keeps calling here asking me how you are, and do you know what I tell them?”
Gib gave Delaney a ‘what can I do' look. “No, Mom. What do you tell them?”
“I tell them I have no idea, since my only daughter doesn't take the time to let me know anything.” Ida covered the phone and yelled. “Eric! Your daughter finally called. Yes, I'm sure it's her.” She uncovered the phone. “Well? Where are you? Are you all right? We saw on the news that some female park employee is still hospitalized. Your brother tried calling the hospital, but they wouldn't give him any information.”
“Mom, if you'd stop for a minute, I'd tell you.”
“Oh, sure. Now it's my fault.” Ida sniffed.
Gib closed her eyes. “Mom. Listen, it was pretty late when they released me last night. I've got a few stitches and some bruises, but overall I'm okay. I'm staying at a friend's place right now.”
“Madina's? You can stay with your friend but not with your family? We could have made up the futon in the game room for you.”
The thought of the lumpy futon that was several inches too short caused Gib to grimace. “No, not Maddy's. As a matter of fact, I have to call her next. This was the first opportunity I had to call. I'm sorry I took so long.”
Ida sighed. “That's all right. I know you've got more important things to do than keep me up to date with your life.”
“No, no. Don't worry about us. After all, I haven't seen you for weeks. I barely hear from you at all, and when I do, you have to get off the phone.”
Gib held out the phone while her mother continued to prattle on. She winked at Delaney, who had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing. Once Ida stopped, Gib put the phone to her ear. “Mom, I've got to go. I'll call you tomorrow, okay?”
“Love you, Mom. Tell Dad I love him, too.”
“We love you too, Gibson. Tell your friend to take good care of you.”
Gib smiled. “I will. Bye, Mom.” She pushed the off button on the phone and dropped it onto the bed. “One down, one to go.”
“Your mom sounded really upset.”
“She tends to be a little melodramatic,” Gib admitted. “But she'll be fine. Maddy's the one who'll chew me out for days.” Her head was pounding and she closed her eyes to ward off the pain.
Delaney brushed the hair away from Gib's eyes. “I was going to go out and get us something for lunch. Why don't I stop by Rodrigo's and talk to Maddy for you?”
Gib's eyes slowly opened. “You're willing to face her Latina temper?”
“Honey, my Irish will outdo her Latina , anytime.” Delaney stroked Gib's cheek with her fingertips. “Get some sleep. Is there anyone else I need to contact? Aunt, cousin or maybe girlfriend?”
“Subtle,” Gib teased. “No, I'm single. And once I've told my mother, everyone in the family will know pretty quickly. She's more reliable than a newspaper.” When Delaney pushed on her chest, she took the hint and lay back against the pillows. “Thanks.”
Delaney kissed her on the forehead. “Rest.” She stroked Gib's face until it relaxed into sleep.
It was after the lunch rush when Delaney walked into Rodrigo's. There was a young man at the hostess podium, who gave her a friendly smile.
“Good afternoon. How many for your party?”
“Actually, I need to talk to Maddy. Is she available?”
His smile faltered. “She only sees sales persons between three and five. If you'll leave your card, I'll make certain she gets it.”
“No, wait. I'm not trying to sell anything. This is personal.” Delaney stepped closer to the podium and lowered her voice. “It's about her friend, Gib.”
“Gib?” He stepped around the podium. “Why didn't you say so? Please, follow me.” He led her past the dining room, through the kitchen and stopped at a closed door. His soft tap was acknowledged by a gruff voice.
“Something better be on fire.”
He turned to Delaney and grinned. “Have fun.” He knocked again. “Boss? Got a lady here to see you.”
The door swung open and a furious Maddy glared at the young man. “Are you suicidal, Mike?”
“No. But I think you'll want to talk to her.” He moved out of the way and showed the woman behind him with a flourish.
Maddy appeared confused for a moment, until she was finally able to remember where she'd seen the redhead. “Oh! Delaney, hi. Um—”
“Hi, Maddy. I've got some news about a mutual friend.” Delaney came forward and took the other woman's hands in hers. “She's okay.”
The bravado seemed to escape Madina at those two words. “Thank god. I've been half out of my mind. I can't get her to answer her phone, her family hasn't heard from her, and when I call the hospital, they won't tell me a damned thing.” She opened the door wider. “Please, come in.” Once Delaney was inside, she closed the door and motioned to a nearby chair. “Have a seat.”
“So, tell me. Have you seen her?” Maddy sat almost knee to knee with Delaney. “I saw the coverage of the accident on the news. It scared the shit out of me.”
Delaney nodded. “I know. I was going nuts until she arrived on my doorstep last night. She's got a pretty good-sized knot on her forehead that needed stitches and a nasty looking bruise across her back. But otherwise, she's all right.”
“Your doorstep?” Maddy couldn't help but grin. “Really?”
“Not for the reasons you probably think.” Delaney blushed. “Well, not completely, anyway.” She checked her watch. “She'll be asleep for a couple of more hours. Would you like to come by and see her?”
The grin on Maddy's face grew. “Come by? Sleeping? Just what have you two been doing?”
Delaney slapped her leg. “Stop it.” She grew serious. “She was really in a bad way, between the injuries and her guilt over the accident. I didn't want her to go, so I talked her into staying with me.”
“I'm glad you were there for her. Gibsy's always been kind of a loner. I had to follow her around for years in grade school to get her to be my friend.” She flipped her dark hair over one shoulder. “Of course, once you meet her family, you'll understand.”
“I overheard her talking to her mother this morning on the phone. It wasn't pleasant.”
Maddy shook her head. “Her mother has a big heart and loves her family dearly. But, she's always put all her expectations on Gib, and expected her to fix every little problem for the entire family.” She sighed. “And, no matter how hard Gib tries, she'll never quite measure up to her younger brother. At least in her mother's eyes.”
“He's the baby of the family, and he gave Ida the one thing she always wanted. Grandchildren. Even if Gib were to have a child now, it wouldn't matter. Ida thinks the sun rises and sets on Roger's kids.” She leaned closer. “Even if they're spoiled brats.”
Delaney cringed. “Ouch.”
“Yeah. I don't blame Gib for getting out of town the moment she graduated. Sure, she had a scholarship for Texas State University . But even after she graduated, she stayed away. I was completely surprised when she came back a few months ago.”
“I had no idea.” Delaney's stomach growled loudly. “Oh, lord.” She covered her red face with her hand.
Maddy's laughter rang in the small office. “Sounds like it's time to feed you.” She stood. “Come on, let's get you some of that guacamole that makes you want to marry me.”
Delaney's blush darkened. “I can't believe she told you.” She got up and followed Maddy into the kitchen. “I'm so going to get her for that.”
Maddy nodded her admiration while Delaney unlocked her apartment door. “This is a great place. What's your rent like?”
“Not as much as you might think.” With the door unlocked, Delaney gestured for Maddy to precede her inside. They both stopped and stared into the dining area, where Gib sat at the table. “What are you doing?” Delaney asked.
Gib looked up and shrugged. “Trying to save my gun and equipment. Hey, Maddy.”
“Lord, you're impossible.” Maddy bent over and gave Gib a one-armed hug. “How are you doing?”
“All right.” Gib put the gun on the newspaper she had spread out on the table. “I hope you don't mind, but I found some WD-40 under your sink and some disposable rags.”
Delaney shook her head and sat at the table. “No, I don't mind. I wasn't sure what to do with your gun, that's why I wrapped it in a towel.”
“You did great, Dee .” Gib leaned and gave the redhead a kiss on the cheek, which caused her to blush.
Maddy's eyebrow rose. “Nothing, huh?” she asked Delaney, whose face turned an even darker shade of red. She grinned and joined the pair at the table, placing a white bag close to Gib. “If you can quit playing with your toys, we brought you some lunch.”
Gib opened the bag and sniffed. “Mmm. Chicken enchiladas?”
“Yup. There's a plastic fork in there, too, so dig in.”
Not needing to be told twice, Gib wiped her hands on a towel, unpacked the bag, and moaned in appreciation when the Styrofoam lid was raised. “When are you going to give up and let me move into the restaurant?” she asked, right before she stuffed a forkful of food into her mouth.
“Shut up and eat.” Maddy stole a tortilla chip from the container. She watched her friend eat and exchanged amused glances with Delaney.
“Slow down,” Delaney chastised. “Maddy's going to think I was starving you to death.”
Gib did slow her fork, at least a little. “I can't help it. I didn't think I was that hungry, until I smelled the enchiladas.” She shoveled another heavy fork into her mouth. “Mmm.”
“Don't worry, I already know what a pig she is,” Maddy assured the redhead. “What's next on your agenda, Gibsy?”
After swallowing and wiping her mouth with a paper napkin, Gib shrugged her shoulders. “I need to find a ride home, I guess. Or maybe a ride to my folk's house. If I don't go by and see my mom, she'll never let me hear the end of it.”
“I can take you,” Delaney offered quickly. “I mean, there's nothing for me to do this week at the site, and I'm caught up with all my other projects.”
“Are you sure? I don't want to take advantage of you anymore than I already have.”
Maddy laughed. “Pull your head out of your ass, Gibsy. The girl likes you.”
Gib's head turned so fast it made her dizzy. “Maddy!” She glared at her friend. “Leave her alone.”
“It's okay, Gib. Maybe she's jealous,” Delaney teased. “After all, I did tell you I wanted to marry her. Now I'm letting you sleep in my bed.”
Gib sputtered and started to choke on her food. She waved away their offers of assistance and took a moment to compose herself. “You're wicked,” she gasped, patting herself on the chest. She pointed at Maddy. “Not one word.”
“Hey, I'm being good,” Maddy argued. “But, since I can see that you're all right, I need to get back to the restaurant. There's a supply order due in, and I seem to be the only person who can count.” She stood and kissed Gib lightly on top of the head. “Behave yourself, and don't overdo it.”
Delaney stood. “I'll walk you to the door.” She patted Gib on the shoulder. “Be right back.”
As they stood in the open door, Maddy cleared her throat. “Thanks for taking care of her. She's a pain in the ass, but she's the best friend I've ever had.” She pulled the other woman into a firm embrace. “Don't let her get away with too much.”
“I'll do my best. And now that you know where I live, don't be a stranger.” Delaney felt Maddy tremble. “It's okay.”
“Thanks.” Maddy stepped away and exhaled. “Don't let her go to her mom's house alone. She won't admit it, but I know it really gets to her.”
“All right,” Delaney answered quietly. In a louder voice, she said, “Thanks for coming by, Maddy.”
Maddy winked. “Sure. I'll see you later.”
To be continued in part 4
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