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 firstname.lastname@example.org . 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.
Gib arrived only fifteen minutes late to the office, her hair still damp from the shower she took at the cabin. She walked into the office and paused at the duty board.
“Well, look who finally decided to show up,” Gloria teased in a whisper. “I've never known you to be late before.”
“First time for everything,” Gib muttered. “Looks like you're on call from tonight through Sunday. If you need a break, let me know.”
Gloria shrugged. “Thanks, but I doubt anything's going to happen.” Her glance lingered across Gib's face and around her neck. She traced a small hickey near Gib's collar with one finger. “She must be pretty special.”
Gib slapped her hand away and put a few feet between them. “She is. Extremely special.”
Gloria held up her hands and shook her head. “All right. I get it. I'll back off.”
“Thanks.” Gib adjusted her collar and lowered her voice. “Does it look bad?”
“Nah. I only noticed because I was standing right next to you. Don't worry about it.” Gloria held out her hand. “Friends?”
“Sure.” Gib shook her hand, relieved to not feel the old pain of losing what they once had. “Do you know how long you'll be here?”
Gloria followed Gib outside. “I'm not sure. At first, it was supposed to be until George returned from the chicken pox. But, now, Clint mentioned that I'm here until Wyatt returns. So I guess whenever the big dogs decide I'm not needed here anymore.”
“Good luck with that. Getting headquarters to commit to anything is a joke.” Gib stopped at her truck. “Are you settling in okay? I mean, do you need any help with anything?”
“I'm good, thanks. What would your girlfriend think about you offering to help me?”
Gib laughed. “She'd think I was being nice to someone I work with. Dee trusts me completely, and I never plan on giving her reason not to.”
“God, you've got it bad.” Gloria opened the door to her Jeep. “Thanks for the offer, though. See you later.”
“Yeah.” Gib waved and got into her truck, the smile never leaving her face as she thought about her lover, and the impromptu water fight that escalated into her being late for work.
After spending the morning at the office, Delaney took the rest of her work home. As much as she enjoyed working with her family, sometimes all she wanted was to be left alone so she could get things done.
She placed the rolls of blueprints on her drafting table and went to the bedroom to change into something more comfortable. It was one of the many perks of working at home, probably her favorite. She shed the skirt, silk top and hose, trading them for baggy sweat pants and a tee shirt.
A short detour through the kitchen yielded cheese puffs and a diet root beer. It wasn't that she was addicted to the puffs, but needed something to crunch on while she thought. A bag would last her almost two weeks, if she didn't share. She sat at her desk and opened the bag, smiling. The memory of Gib showing her how well you could body paint with soggy cheese puffs was a lesson she'd never forget.
She was soon totally engrossed in the upcoming project, her focus only on the work in front of her. A new builder planned a master community: complete with houses, condos, apartments and shopping – all surrounding a manmade lake. He wanted Kavanagh Construction to join in his efforts, and her take on the waterfront would be their contribution. She wasn't sure if the area would be able to hold a lake, and feared that it would ruin the ecosystem.
The long hours of research made her eyes blur, and only the grumble from her stomach caused Delaney to look at the clock. “You're kidding me.” The digital readout continued to glare at her. “Five-thirty?” Her stomach rumbled again to punctuate the point. “Crap.” She shut down her laptop and pushed away from the desk. There were several more hours of work to do, but she didn't feel like doing it.
A walk to the kitchen didn't reveal anything interesting. She wandered through the living room, disheartened by the silence of the apartment. It wasn't something she had noticed before, but what once was her sanctuary had become her prison. “This is ridiculous.”
An idea formed, and before she could talk herself out of it, she was in her bedroom, changing into jeans and a soft cotton top.
The call on Gib's radio came in right after four o'clock. “Proctor, meet Dan at the back of campsite seven, please,” George requested.
“All right. Eta six minutes.” Gib was on the fire road past the dam. She swung the truck wide on the gravel road and turned around. “What's going on, George?”
His answer came back hesitant. “I really can't get into it on the radio. Be advised there are also civilians on the scene.”
“Are there injuries? Has city services been called?”
“Negative. No injuries and no one else was contacted.”
Frustrated with the lack of information, Gib's hands tightened on the steering wheel. She soon crossed the highway and into the main park. Minutes later, she slowed as she came within sight of number seven. The campsite was somewhat secluded, a small wooden structure with a concrete floor and screens on all four sides. There were two men gesturing wildly as they tried to convey something to Dan.
Gib parked beside Dan's vehicle and got out. She adjusted her baseball cap to block the lowering sun. “Conroy,” she greeted.
He turned to her, his face pale and covered in sweat. “Proctor. These guys called it in.”
“Called what in?” She nodded to the middle-aged men. “I'm Park Police Officer Gibson Proctor. What seems to be the problem?”
The heavier of the two men stepped forward. “I was checking for cans. You know, to cash in?” At her nod, he continued, “and I opened that dumpster. It smelled awful, and there were so many flies—”
Gib cut him off. “Hold it.” She turned to Dan. “Conroy?”
“Don't ask me to go over there again,” he choked, covering his mouth and gagging. “I can't.”
“All right. Let me check it out. Then,” she tipped her head to the men, “I'll take your statements.” Not quite knowing what to expect, she warily edged toward the dumpster. The smell of death assailed her senses before she could see inside. She peered over the edge and grimaced.
At first glance the gory remains were hard to distinguish. As she studied them, Gib was finally able to make out several slender legs mixed among a rather large pile of bloody entrails. She took a disposable glove from her back pocket and slipped it on. With her gloved hand, she sifted through the remains. “It appears to be at least two deer,” she called over her shoulder to Dan, who turned away and vomited on a cedar bush.
The heavyset man danced away from him. “Hey, watch it!” His companion, short and slender, laughed.
Dan wiped his chin with the back of his hand. “Sorry.”
“Conroy,” Gib called. “Could you get a few trash bags and more gloves from my truck? We're going to have to take these back to the garage and check them over more carefully.”
He nodded and rushed away, apparently eager to be away from the odor.
Gib snapped her glove off and rejoined the two men. “I appreciate you calling us about this.”
“Freaked out Scott, that's for sure,” the smaller man snickered. “I don't think your ranger enjoyed it too much, either.”
“He's just young.” Gib tipped her cap back. “I'm afraid I didn't catch your names.”
The smaller man stepped forward. “Forgive me for not shaking your hand,” he joked nervously. “I'm Lawrence Madding and this is my, um, friend, Scott Bueten. We've rented this campsite for the next couple of days and plan on fishing the creek back there.”
Gib shook her head. “That creek only runs in the spring, sir. There's no fish.”
She took in his appearance. Ironed khaki slacks and a pressed yellow polo shirt, along with expensive loafers weren't the usual camping attire. His Rolex watch and accompanying gold jewelry stood out as well. “Mr. Madding, if you really want to fish, you can set up during the day at the lake.” As Dan came closer with the requested items, she took one of her cards from her breast pocket. “That's my cell, if you or your friend need anything.” She lowered her voice. “I look out for family ,” she stressed.
Lawrence 's relief was evident as his posture relaxed. “Thank you, Officer Proctor. If you're ever in need of an orthopedic surgeon, look me up in town.”
“I'm hoping I never will, Doc. But thanks.” She accepted the bags and gloves from Dan. “You ready to get busy, Conroy?”
He blanched, but gritted his teeth and nodded.
“Great. Why don't you take these gentlemen back to the office and help them pick out a better campsite? I'll take care of things here.”
“Uh, yeah. That's a good idea.” He straightened his duty belt. “If you guys will follow me, we'll get a new campsite signed out immediately.” He continued to bluster as they walked away from Gib, who finally lost the battle and started laughing.
Once she got her mirth under control, Gib took the bags to the dumpster. She put on the gloves and methodically removed all the animal remains. She silently counted the limbs. After tying off the bags, she coughed and stepped away from the dumpster. “Damn, that was nasty.”
She loaded the two bags into the back of the truck. The stripped off gloves landed next to the bags and she used antibacterial gel to clean her hands before climbing in behind the wheel.
It didn't take Gib long to drive to the park's maintenance garage. She backed her truck to the garage door and honked. When the door stay closed, she sighed and rolled her eyes. “Figures.” She left the truck and walked around to the main door, tapping a six-digit code into the nearby keypad.
Once inside, she turned on the lights and walked across the concrete floor. She opened the garage door and gingerly removed the two bags from the truck bed. Even with the bags tied closed, she could smell the putrid remains. “I should have made Dan do this.” She looked around the garage and snapped her fingers. “Drop cloths.”
Gib spread out several heavy, plastic drop cloths near the open garage door. She took a deep breath through her mouth and dumped the contents of the two garbage bags on the floor. The stench caused her to gag, but she donned rubber gloves and began to examine the remains.
Forty-five minutes later, the remains and drop cloths were bagged and disposed of properly. Gib scrubbed the concrete floor with a heavy duty solution, which made the entire garage smell like industrial-strength lemons. She swore she could still smell the deer carcasses and was almost tempted to snort several drops of the same cleaner. After she washed her hands for five minutes, she closed the garage and headed for her truck.
Gib found a quiet place to call her boss. The daytime campsite had a concrete picnic table beneath a canopy of trees, and she sat on the table and watched a squirrel play with an imaginary friend not too far away. She dialed her phone and kept her voice low. “Hi, Jessica. Is Clint busy?”
“No, I don't think so. Let me buzz you through.”
“Thanks.” Gib kept taking deep breaths of the fresh, spring air.
“This is Clint. What's up, Gib?”
She chuckled as the squirrel argued with no one in particular. “I checked out the remains found at camp seven. Two deer, with what looks like trap marks on their legs.”
“Damn. So these poachers are trapping the animals now? What ever happened to good, ol' fashioned hunting out of season?”
Gib's laugh wasn't a happy one. “Hell if I know. The problem is, if they're resorting to traps, we can't guarantee the safety of people out hiking or even the cattle we have.”
Clint's usage of some particularly nasty curse words was out of character. “We'll have to post warnings for people going off the beaten path, I suppose. I want these assholes caught, Gib. Yesterday!”
“Yes, sir. We'll get them.”
“Damn it.” Clint hung up the phone.
Gib put the phone on the picnic table next to her leg and closed her eyes. “I couldn't have said it better myself.”
The long day, and the prospect of a lonely night, made the drive to the cabin more of a chore than a need for Gib. As her truck rounded the last turn, she blinked to clear her vision.
Parked in front of the cabin was a familiar Lexus. But the most welcoming sight was the smiling redhead perched on the front steps. Gib parked her truck in its usual spot and jumped out. She headed for her lover, who stood to greet her.
“You've ruined me, Gibson Proctor,” Delaney chastised.
“I have? How?” Gib put her arms around Delaney and kissed her.
Once Delaney was able to breathe again, she leaned her head against her lover's chest and sighed. “I used to be able to work on a project for days at a time, only breaking for sleep or food. But the thought of not seeing you before tomorrow night was more than I could handle.”
Gib smiled against the red hair. “And here I was, feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't see you tonight.” She pulled back just far enough to look into her lover's eyes. “Thanks for coming out here, Dee . I know you have a lot of work to do, but—”
“Sssh. I can't stay all night, but I thought we could at least enjoy dinner together. I brought Chinese.”
“I'll take whatever I can,” Gib assured her. She handed her the keys. “Why don't you go on in, and I'll grab the food from your car.”
Delaney took the keys, but waited for Gib before she went inside. “Did I happen to tell you that my sister-in-law wants you to give my brother lessons?”
After Gib put the bag of food on the counter, she removed her duty belt and had to try twice to hang it on the coat tree. “What?”
“Yeah.” Delaney came up behind her in the kitchen and watched over her shoulder as Gib unpacked their meal. “She said she totally understands how I can be in love with you, because she is, too.”
The small box of rice dropped from Gib's hands and bounced off the counter. Only Delaney's fast reflexes kept it from hitting the floor. The officer turned to look at her. “She's what?”
Delaney put the rice down and patted Gib on the rear. “Not like I blame her. You are quite a catch.”
“Buh…but—” Gib shook her head. “Never mind. I don't want to know.” She took the filled plates to the living room and set them on the coffee table. “Give me a couple of minutes to shower and change. I feel particularly grungy tonight.”
“All right. But hurry back.” Delaney grinned as Gib hustled out of the room. She laughed as moments later, a very naked Gib sped from the bedroom to the bathroom, with an armful of clothes. “You big tease,” she yelled.
Seven minutes later, Gib stepped out of the bathroom, dressed in faded jeans and a black tee shirt. “Sorry. I had a really disgusting day.” She joined her lover on the sofa. “Thanks for bringing dinner.”
“Purely selfish.” Delaney took her fork and speared a shrimp. “Open up.”
Gib did as she was told, grinning. Once she swallowed, she asked, “Are you planning on feeding me the whole meal?”
“Maybe.” When a forkful of food came toward her, Delaney obediently opened her mouth. “Mmm.”
They fed each other for the next half hour, until both were full and relaxed. After she cleared the dishes away, Delaney returned to the sofa and patted her lap. “Come here, honey. You look exhausted.”
For a moment, Gib appeared as if she would refuse. Then, with an embarrassed smile, did as she was asked. She rested her head carefully on Delaney's thighs. “Is this okay?”
Delaney ran her fingers across her lover's brow. “It's very okay. Are you comfortable?”
“Any more comfortable and I'll fall asleep,” Gib joked.
“Good.” She could still see a slight frown on Gib's face. “Would you like to talk about it?”
Gib blinked. “Um, about what?”
“About whatever is causing this,” Delaney traced the line across Gib's forehead. “What's bothering you?”
“It's nothing, really. Just work.”
The stroking stopped. “Is your ex giving you a hard time?”
Gib couldn't help but smile at the angry set of her lover's body. “Sssh. No, Gloria's okay. We kind of called a truce.”
“That's good. I'd hate to have to stop what I was doing, just to hunt her down and kick her ass.” Delaney resumed her attentions. “Truce?”
“Yeah. She saw this,” Gib touched the blemish on her neck, “and was giving me a hard time about it. I made sure she knew that she could joke all she wanted, but you were off-limits.”
Delaney's expression softened. “My hero.” She touched Gib's lips to stop the argument. “You're my hero, so hush.”
“Yes, ma'am.” Gib kissed the fingertip.
“Now, you were saying?”
“Huh?” The light thump on her nose caused Gib to smile. “Ah. Yeah. Those damned poachers are driving me nuts. A camper found some animal remains in one of the remote dumpsters. But we can't figure out where the hell their base camp is located.” She started to rise, but a firm hand on her shoulder kept Gib lying flat. With a heavy sigh, she continued, “It's like they sneak in during the middle of the night, trap and gut their kills and disappear without a trace. The park area is too big to search every square mile and we don't have the manpower for it.”
Delaney began to comb her fingers through Gib's damp hair, the gentle motion soothing them both. “You'll get them.”
“I sure hope so.” Gib closed her eyes as her whole body relaxed. The furrow across her brow eased as she drifted to sleep.
Delaney jerked awake and looked around the darkened room. “Oh, shit!”
“What?” Startled, Gib almost toppled out of her lap and would have landed in the floor, if not for the firm hand holding her in place. She blinked in the gloom. “I wonder what time it is?”
“Two-fifteen,” Delaney answered after pressing a button on her watch. Her head dropped against the back of the sofa. “I can't believe I fell asleep.”
Gib rolled to a sitting position and ran her fingers through her hair. “Tell me about it. I was out like a light.” She turned on the lamp beside the couch. “Why don't we go on to bed?”
“I've still got a lot of work to do before my meeting. I really should head on home.”
“ Dee , please. It's too late to be out on the road. Come to bed and I'll set the alarm to go off early.”
Delaney stood and stretched. “That's not necessary. There's no sense in both of us having a short night.” She held out her hand. “Come on. Walk me to my car.”
“Damn, you're stubborn,” Gib grumbled, as she was tugged to her feet. She put her arm around her lover and walked with her to the table by the door, where Delaney had left her purse. “Are you sure I can't talk you into staying? I'll make breakfast.”
“I can't.” Delaney stopped digging in her purse and looked into Gib's eyes. “I wish I could. But if I don't get a few hours of work done on this bid, we won't have a chance.”
Gib sighed and rested her forehead against Delaney's. “I know. But I hate you being out on the roads so late.”
“I'll call you as soon as I get home, I promise.” Delaney gave her a gentle kiss. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” With a growl, Gib wrapped her arms around the redhead and held her tight. “Be really careful, okay?”
Delaney nodded and returned the squeeze with equal force. “Come on, officer. The sooner I get going, the sooner we'll both be able to get some sleep.”
“Says you,” Gib grumbled. She opened the door and led them to the SUV. After the locks clicked, she helped Delaney into the driver's seat. “Last chance at breakfast.”
“Behave.” Delaney cupped Gib's cheek and kissed her. “I'll call you as soon as I get into my apartment.”
“All right.” Gib backed away and carefully closed the door. She tucked her hands into the front pockets of her jeans as she watched the Lexus disappear into the night.
Delaney kept her eyes on the rear view mirror until she could no longer see her lover in the glare of the taillights. Her duty to the company warred with her aching need to be in Gib's arms. “This is ridiculous. I think I'm old enough to spend a night away from the poor woman. She'll probably enjoy a good night's sleep for a change.”
Stopped at the entrance to the lake, she exhaled heavily and shook her head. “Get it together. You'll see her soon enough.” Less than a mile down the highway, a rabbit darted in front of the Lexus and caused Delaney to slam on the brakes.
She watched as it hopped off the road and toward the tree-lined fence. Tucked into the trees was a dark pickup truck with a matching dark camper over the bed. Although it was well hidden, Delaney knew she hadn't passed it earlier in the evening. Her natural curiosity made her want to pull over and check it out, but her more sensible side disagreed. She checked her rear view mirror. Satisfied the road was clear, she backed her SUV until she was a safe distance away and on the shoulder. After she turned off her lights, she fished her cell phone from her purse and dialed her lover.
Gib answered on the second ring. “That was quick.”
“I'm not home, yet,” Delaney shared quietly.
“What's wrong? And why are you whispering?”
“I think I may have found the poachers.”
“What?” A rustling could be heard. “I'm getting my boots on now.” Now the slam of a door. “Where are you?” When she didn't get an answer, Gib became frantic. “ Dee ?”
Delaney kept her eyes on the area where the truck was hidden. “I'm okay, honey. I'm off on the shoulder of the road, not far from the lake. But I saw a dark truck parked close to the fence, and called you.”
“I'll be there in a few minutes. Don't move,” Gib ordered brusquely.
“I hadn't planned on it,” Delaney snapped.
Gib's tone softened. “I'm sorry, sweetheart.” The sound of her truck's engine was unusually loud through the connection. “Just please be careful. If you see anything unusual, get the hell out of there.”
“I'm perfectly safe.” But even as she said it, Delaney checked the darkness around her with wide eyes. The glare of headlights in her mirrors temporarily blinded her, but she blinked and smiled fondly as Gib turned off her lights and parked directly behind her. The sight of her lover's confident stride caused a delicious thrill to Delaney, and she unlocked her doors as Gib came around to the passenger side of the Lexus.
“Thanks.” Gib got into the SUV. She adjusted her duty belt, which she had put on over her jeans. Her badge was on a chain around her neck. “Okay, so tell me everything.”
Delaney leaned across the console and kissed her on the cheek. “Well, officer, I was driving along, minding my own business, when a rabbit jumped out and scared me to death.”
“Mmm-hmm. I noticed a truck hidden there,” she pointed off into the darkness, “when I watched the rabbit leave the road.”
Gib squinted and tried to see. “You've got some great night vision.”
“Thank you. So, what are we going to do?”
Delaney frowned. “Well, I found it. So yes, we.”
“Oh, no. You just get that thought out of your head this instant.” Gib held up her hand to stop the argument before it got started. “I'm going over there and see what I can find out, and you're going to go back to my cabin, where it's safe.”
“Like hell I am!”
In an attempt to calm her lover, Gib put her hand on Delaney's arm. “ Dee , please. Listen to me. We have no idea if that truck belongs to the poachers. But I'm not about to jeopardize your safety.”
“I'm not a child, Officer Proctor,” Delaney snapped.
“I never said you were. But you're not trained to handle something like this, and I am. Please, Dee . I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you.”
Delaney's anger dissipated at the tortured look on Gib's face. “You don't play fair.”
“Not where you're involved, no. I don't.” Gib's hand traveled down Delaney's arm until their hands were tightly linked. “I love you, Dee. And I will do anything in my power to protect you. Even if it pisses you off.”
“Damn. You almost had me crying, until you added that last bit.” The redhead kissed the back of her lover's hand. “Can we compromise? I'll stay here if you'll keep me on the phone with you.”
Gib sighed. “ Dee —”
“No, wait. What if you run into trouble? I can at least call for help. But I'll go nuts if I don't know what's going on.”
Against her better judgment, Gib removed her radio from her duty belt. She changed the channel before handing it to Delaney. “Okay. Gloria's on call, so she should answer on this channel if you need her.” She stopped and gave her a serious look. “But, and this is a big one, you have to make me a promise.”
“Promise me, if you see anything, you high-tail it out of here. And under no circumstances, are you to leave this vehicle.”
Delaney shook her head. “Don't ask that of me.”
“I am. Please, Dee . Don't make me divide my attention between you and whatever is going on out there.”
“Damn it, Proctor. All right. I promise.” Delaney grabbed two handfuls of Gib's tee shirt and tugged her forward. Before their lips met, she whispered, “I love you.”
Gib finally broke away from the kiss. “I love you, too.” She took her Bluetooth from her jeans pocket and fastened it over her ear. “You know, with all this drama, that truck is probably a couple of teenagers looking for a place to make out.”
“I hope so.” Delaney dialed Gib's number and nodded when Gib touched her earpiece. “See you soon.”
Gib stepped out of the Lexus and closed the door gently. She crossed the road and unsnapped the holster on her gun. “I won't talk much, but I'll hear you,” she whispered.
“That's fine,” Delaney answered just as softly. “I wish the moon was out tonight, so I could see you.”
Gib chuckled. “I'm glad it's not. If you could see me, so could they.”
“Oh. Yeah. Never mind.”
The green grass muted Gib's footsteps as she walked up to the truck from the rear. She removed her gun and snapped off the safety. The camper's back window was tinted, so she stood beside it and listened for any sound. The handle on the window was locked. Not hearing anything, she moved slowly around the side of the truck and cautiously peeked through the driver's window. “Truck's all clear,” she whispered.
“Good. Now come back.”
Gib used her small penlight to check around the fence. “I see where they tied open the fence. I'm going to check it out.”
“Gib, no.” When she didn't get an answer, Delaney slapped the steering wheel. “Damn it, Proctor. I'm going to kick your ass.”
Ignoring the cursing coming through her earbud, Gib kept the light trained on the ground. “Doesn't look like they bother covering their trail until they come back. I may be able to find more clues.”
“Sssh.” The officer picked her way through the brush, following the slight trail the truck's owners left. She kept her light close to the ground so it couldn't be seen by anyone else.
Fifteen minutes passed while Gib continued to follow the trail, which had turned into a well-used animal path. She stopped and turned off her flashlight when she thought she heard voices. Now moving by feel only, she could make out two men arguing in a secluded clearing. Both were dressed in hunting camouflage, their faces obscured by matching ski masks.
“Can't we just bury the guts out here? Why do we have to dump them inside the park?” the heavier one asked.
The answer was impossible to hear, so Gib edged closer to the clearing. The soft grass gave way and she had only a split second to realize what happened, before a blinding pain encompassed her right ankle. She bit off a scream and fell, reaching for her leg.
The larger man turned a battery-operated camping light toward the sound. “Did you hear that?” He picked up a nearby rifle. “I'm going to check it out.”
“Not with a gun, you idiot. Sound carries like crazy out here, and someone might hear. Take the bow. Besides, it was probably another damned possum. And don't go too far. We're almost done.”
“I know. But you have to bag up the shit this time. It makes me sick.” He waved the lantern toward the trail they had come in on.
Back at the SUV, Delaney was so startled by the noise that her head almost hit the roof. “Gib!” Her hand was on the door handle. “Gib, can you hear me? Forget the fucking promise, Gib. I'm coming after you.” She stopped when she heard heavy breathing on the other end of the phone. “Gib? Honey?”
“…Call…Gloria,” Gib whispered roughly. “Two—” her voice broke off.
“Gib? Goddamn it, Proctor!” Delaney's hands shook as she fumbled with the radio. “H..hello? Gloria? Can you hear me?”
The sleepy voice yawned before it spoke. “Who the hell are you? And how did you get on this channel?”
Delaney's nerves were on edge. “Shut up! I'm Gib Proctor's girlfriend, Delaney. We met the other day. But that's not what's important right now. She's out there and I think she ran into the poachers.”
“What?” Gloria sounded more awake. “Slow down, and tell me what's going on.”
“I was leaving her place when I saw a truck near the trees. I called Gib. She came out and went looking for whoever left it there.” Delaney took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I had her on the phone with me and I think she's hurt. All she said was to contact you, and then, ‘two'.”
Gloria snorted. “Figures she'd go all John Wayne like that. Okay, listen. Where are you, exactly?” She could be heard slamming a door.
“Not quite a mile east of the lake entrance, on the eastbound side of the road. How long will it take you?”
“Less than fifteen minutes,” Gloria promised. “Stay put, and let me know if you hear anything else.”
Delaney frowned. “Fifteen minutes? But—”
“Look. Gibson's a professional. She knows what she's doing. Hang tight, and don't do anything stupid, okay?”
“Now wait just a damned minute,” Delaney snapped.
Gloria's tone softened. “I'm sorry, but please. Stay where you are. I'll need you to show me where she went in, all right?”
Slightly mollified, Delaney sighed. “All right. Besides, I promised Gib.”
Although she was in excruciating pain, Gib heard the conversation between the two men. She was lying in the middle of the trail and knew she was at an extreme disadvantage. The toothed leg hold trap she had stepped in was made of iron and chained to a tree. Had she been wearing her boots, it might not have been as painful. She'd have to remove the trap from her leg in order to get away. And at the moment, she didn't know if she could do that without throwing up.
Instead, she gritted her teeth and dragged herself to a position behind the tree. Every movement brought renewed agony to the injury, but in a few seconds she was more or less hidden from view. She choked on the bile that rose in her throat and tried to stay conscious.
A bright light shined where she had been lying as the poacher checked the area. He stumbled a few steps down the trail, cursing under his breath. “I don't see nothin',” he yelled over his shoulder.
The other poacher came to the edge of the clearing. “Shut up, you idiot,” he ordered quietly.
Even though she was fighting to stay alert, Gib thought the voice sounded familiar. She peeked around the tree and stared at the dark figure. “Gib?” Delaney's voice in her ear almost made her yell out, and she quickly slapped the Bluetooth to shut it off before the poachers could hear.
“Gib?” Delaney panicked when all she heard was a dial tone. “No!” She immediately redialed her lover's phone number, only to have it go directly to voice mail. “Damn it!”
She dropped her phone into the passenger seat and started beating her fists against the steering wheel. “Damn! Damn! Damn!”
Headlights coming toward her stopped Delaney's temper tantrum. She flicked her headlights on and off, relieved when the other vehicle crossed the yellow stripes and parked in front of the Lexus. “Thank god.”
Gloria got out of her vehicle and came to Delaney's door. With her blonde hair down around her face, she looked more like a model. The park-issued green polo shirt and casual jeans make her appear younger, but the no-nonsense look in her eyes was that of a seasoned professional. She leaned against the SUV as the window rolled down. “What's the matter? Have you heard anything else?”
“No. I lost contact with her and I can't get her back.” Delaney wiped a tear of frustration from her cheek. She pointed out the window. “The truck is over there, and she went into the trees right beside it.”
“All right. Hang tight and I'll see what she's up to.”
Once the poachers had returned to the clearing, Gib shifted so that she could work on getting out of the trap. The movement brought a new, even more intense pain. She waited until the spots disappeared from her vision before she got a firm grip on the steel trap. She pried the jaws apart, her fingers slipping from the blood. Before she could get her foot free, the trap slammed shut again.
Gib dropped back against the ground, her head swimming. She fought the urge to throw up.
The sound of something coming down the trail brought Gib out of her pain-induced fog. She looked up in time to see blonde hair flash a few feet away from her. “Gloria?” she whispered.
“Gibson?” Gloria squatted beside Gib. “What happened?”
“Sssh.” Gib pointed toward the clearing. “Poachers. Two of them.”
Gloria nodded. “And you're sitting here, because?”
“Trap.” Gib gestured to her captured right leg. “I can't—”
The tiny penlight Gloria held tracked down Gib's body. “Shit.” She handed the light to Gib. “Hold this.”
Gib had to wipe her bloody hand on her jeans so that she could hold the light.
Gritting her teeth, Gib nodded. She braced herself against the tree to keep from crying out as the trap was removed from her lower leg. The relief was short-lived when she felt another pressure on her injury. She tried to move it away, but Gloria kept a firm hand on her knee.
“It's okay, baby. I had to wrap it with part of my shirt.” Gloria tried to sooth Gib by rubbing her thigh. “Let's get you out of here.”
“Not yet.” Gib pointed toward the clearing. “I want those bastards.”
Gloria shook her head. “Have you lost your mind? We need to get you to the hospital.”
“No.” Gib slapped the blonde's hand away from her leg. The endearment that slipped from Gloria's lips hadn't escaped her. “Help me up. There are two of them and two of us. As far as weapons, I've seen a rifle and a bow.”
Grumbling under her breath, Gloria pulled Gib to her feet. “You and that redhead make a good match.” She held up a hand to forestall Gib's defense. “Come on, Duke. You can back me up.”
“Duke?” Gib put her arm around the blonde's shoulders and tried to take a step. The pain from her ankle radiated all the way up her right leg. She didn't know if it was broken or not. “Damn!” She would have fallen if not for Gloria's arm around her waist. “I'm not going to be a lot of help.”
“Don't worry about it.” Gloria leaned her against the tree. “Just speak up when I ask you to.”
Gib nodded and waited while the ranger pulled her weapon and stepped to the edge of the clearing.
“Park Ranger,” Gloria shouted. “Put your hands in the air and don't move!”
Both men turned at the sound of her voice. The heavier one dropped the skinned deer he had just slung over his shoulder, while the smaller one took a step toward the rifle propped against a tree.
“I wouldn't do that,” Gloria warned, pointing her weapon at the man. “Gib? Stay back in the shadows,” she ordered behind her.
“You got it,” Gib yelled as loud as she could.
The smaller poacher cursed and held up his hands.
Gloria grinned. “Cover me, Gib.” To the men, she said, “On your knees and link your fingers behind your head.” As they followed her instructions, she used her handcuffs on the smaller one and plastic cuffs for the other. Once the men were restrained, she raised her radio to her lips. “Red? You there?”
“Red?” Delaney squawked indignantly. “Did you—”
“I need you to contact Benton P.D. and let them know we have two suspects for transport.”
Delaney would not be deterred. “Gib?”
“She's with me. Contact the police, please. We're bringing the suspects out.”
“All right.” The redhead did not sound pleased with the turn of events.
Gloria backed away from the men. “On your feet.”
The smaller one tried to step back when she grabbed his mask. “I'm going to see you anyway, buddy.”
“No,” he growled, lowering his head and charging Gloria.
She stepped out of the way and slapped the back of his head, causing him to fall face first on the ground. “Jackass.”
He rolled onto his knees. “Fuck you, dyke.”
Gloria cocked her head at the tone. “Oh, yeah?” She stalked over and ripped the mask away. “I thought that was you, Dan. Nice seeing you again.”
Dan spit at her feet. “Bitch.”
“My, my, my. Aren't you the eloquent one? On your feet, loser.” Gloria turned to the other man. “Are you going to give me any trouble?”
He shook his head. “Not much sense in it. Could you take mine off, too? I'm burnin' up.”
Gloria laughed and did as he asked. “How's that?”
“Better, thanks.” He struggled and needed her help standing. “All this was his idea, you know.”
“Would you shut the fuck up?” Dan snarled.
The big man looked at Gloria. “We've been selling the venison to a fancy restaurant in Dallas .” He glared at Dan. “I wanted to bow hunt, but he said we'd get more if we set out traps.”
“What's your name?”
“Martin Conroy. Think I can get a deal if I testify against my cousin?”
Gloria shrugged. “That's up to the lawyers. Why don't you lead the way out of here, and we'll follow?”
Martin peered into the darkness. “If you'll cuff my hands in front of me, I'll carry the lantern. We've got traps set along the trail, and I don't want to find one by accident.”
“For god's sake, Marty. Shut up!”
“Screw you, Dan.” When he saw that he wasn't getting a light, Martin slowly headed for the trail. He stopped when he saw Gib. “Uh—”
Gib held up her flashlight. “I'll make you a deal. Let me lean on you, and I'll light the way.”
He turned and looked at Gloria. “Look, I know I'm in a boatload of trouble. But I also know it'll go better for me if I cooperate. Cut me loose and I'll help her.”
Gloria glanced at Gib, who appeared ready to collapse. “All right. But one wrong move and I'll shoot you.” She used her pocketknife to cut the restraints. When he started toward Gib, Gloria stopped him. “Hold it.” She stepped around Martin and lowered her voice to Gib. “Give me your weapon. Just to be safe.”
“Good idea.” Gib flicked the safety on and handed the gun, butt first, to her. “Hope I don't embarrass myself and faint.”
“Don't worry if you do. I won't tell anyone,” Gloria teased. She turned to Martin. “Be careful.”
He nodded. “What happened to you?” he asked Gib, as she put her arm around his shoulder.
“Stepped on one of your damned traps.”
Dan laughed. “Good. I hope your fucking leg falls off.”
Gloria roughly grabbed his arm and shoved him forward. “I wonder if you'd change your tune if you accidentally found one, too.”
“I'm not that stupid,” Dan countered.
“That remains to be seen. Let's go.” She picked up the rifle and slung it over her shoulder.
The sky had changed from black to muted pink before the two police cruisers drove off with Dan and Martin. Delaney stood by her SUV while Gloria, Clint, and an obviously exhausted and hurting Gib talked. The trio continued to rehash the early morning's events as Gib sat in the bed of her truck. Her injured leg was stretched across the open tailgate. The ambulance that Gloria had requested during their trek back to the highway had tried to take her to the hospital, but Gib refused, citing the need to give her boss a full report.
When she saw Gib close her eyes for the third time in as many minutes, Delaney couldn't stand it any longer. She stomped to where Clint was verifying the story from Gloria. “Excuse me, Mr. Wright?”
Clint turned. “Yes, Ms. Kavanagh? What can I do for you?”
“You can tell Gib to get her ass to the hospital. Or have you forgotten her injury?”
Gib opened her eyes and tried to sit up straighter. “ Dee , it's okay. We need to make sure we've got everything—”
“Shut up.” Delaney glared at her lover. “You're already on my shit list. Don't make it worse by arguing with me.”
Gloria chuckled until that same glare turned to her. “What?”
“She's right,” Clint wisely agreed. “Gib, you're dismissed. I think Hoover and I can handle things from here.”
Too tired to argue, Gib nodded. “All right. I'll call you after—”
“I don't want to hear from you until Monday, is that clear?” Clint interrupted. He turned to Gloria. “Let's help her to Ms. Kavanagh's car.”
With Gloria on one side and Clint on the other, Gib was easily carried to the Lexus and settled into the back seats. “What about my truck? I don't want to leave it on the side of the road.”
Clint held out his hand. “Give me your keys. We'll take it to your cabin. You can get these later at the office.”
“Thanks.” She leaned her head against the seat and closed her eyes.
Gloria carefully closed the door. “Do you need any more help with her, Red?”
“I think I've got it, thanks.” Delaney was too tired to fight about the nickname Gloria had continued to use. She looked at her resting lover for a long moment. “Thank you for getting her out of there.”
The ranger appeared embarrassed by the praise. “It wasn't that big of a deal.”
“It was to me, and I know it was to Gib.” Although she still didn't trust the blonde ranger, Delaney realized without Gloria, what happened to her lover could have been much worse.
“Yeah, okay.” Gloria blew out a breath and flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Do you need any help getting her to the hospital?”
Delaney shook her head. “No. But would you like me to call you when we find out anything?”
“Sure. Um, Gibson has my number. Good luck.” She ducked her head and went to her vehicle.
It was hard for Delaney to take her eyes off of Gib, but she gathered herself and got into the Lexus.
As she drove toward town, she wondered if she should call Gib's family. From what little she knew of the rest of the Proctor clan, they didn't seem too concerned about the officer's welfare. With a glance in the mirror, she picked up her cell and called her own mother for advice.
The phone rang three times before Maureen answered. “Hello?”
“My goodness, honey. What are you doing up so early? Are you worried about the presentation today?”
Delaney's mind went blank for a moment before she understood what her mother meant. “Damn. I forgot about the presentation.”
“What? But you've been working on it for weeks.”
“I know, but—”
Maureen covered the mouthpiece and muttered something to her husband. “Your father wants to know if you need help.”
“I thought you were about finished with everything. Did something unexpected come up?”
“Dammit, Mom. Would you please shut up for a minute?” Delaney yelled. At the silence on the other end of the line, she realized too late she went too far. “I'm so sorry, Mom. I didn't mean it.”
The older woman's voice was subdued. “May I speak, now?”
“I'm sorry,” Delaney repeated. “It's been a really rough night.”
“Are the plans not going well? I'm sure your father can get an extension.”
Tears of frustration burned the redhead's eyes. “Momma, I'm on my way to the hospital. Gib's been hurt.”
Maureen was silent for a moment. “Is it serious? What can we do to help?”
“I don't know. Her leg was caught in one of those old, nasty bear traps. The kind with the teeth. Or whatever they call those damned things. I'm taking her to the hospital now.”
“I'm a little confused. What was she doing to run into one of those things? Are they even legal anymore?”
Delaney sighed. “I don't know, Mom. All I know is she was out chasing poachers and stepped onto the trap. Can you meet me at the hospital?”
“Of course. Is there anything else we can do?”
“Tell Dad that I tried everything, but there's no way to safely add a lake to that area.”
Maureen became exasperated. “Don't worry about that. Just take care of Gib, and we'll see you soon, all right? I'll have your father take care of the presentation.”
“Thanks, Mom. Love you.”
“We love you too, honey. See you soon.”
Benton General Hospital , a five-story, red brick building that dated back to the late nineteen fifties, handled all the medical needs for Benton and the surrounding farm communities. The emergency room waiting area was rarely full. This early Friday morning was no exception. Four people were scattered about the plain room. One man, older and wearing a mechanic's work shirt, dozed in the far corner. Another man, young and wild-eyed, stared at the muted television as if it were speaking directly to him.
Nearest the entrance to the emergency room were Delaney and her mother. The plastic chair Delaney was perched on had been white at one time, but years of use had stained it to a grungy gray. She sat on the edge and stared at the closed doors.
“You can't will them to work any faster,” Maureen commented quietly. They had been sitting for over two hours with no word from the staff. Her husband was taking Delaney's place at the presentation. “You say you called her family?”
Delaney nodded. “I spoke with her mother right after I got here. She was baking cookies for her granddaughter's troop and said I could call her back later. And Gib's father was at work.”
“Lovely people,” Maureen huffed.
“I've met her mother and brother. They seem a little,” Delaney paused as she tried to come up with the right word, “self-involved.”
Maureen's undignified snort echoed loudly in the quiet room. “I can't believe her mother thinks that baking cookies is more important than being with her daughter in the hospital. That's more than self-involved, that's nonsense.”
“No, seriously.” Maureen put her magazine down and turned to her daughter. “They'd have to lock me up to keep me away if anything happened to you or one of your brothers. For a mother not to drop everything for her child is inconceivable to me.”
“You're a different kind of mother. Just from the few conversations we've had, I don't think Gib has ever felt much love from her family. They don't seem like the demonstrative type.”
The door opened and a middle aged woman looked around the room. She wore pale green scrubs covered by a white lab coat, and consulted her clipboard before speaking. “Is there anyone here for Gibson Proctor?”
Delaney jumped to her feet. “Here.” She hurried to where the woman stood. “How is she?”
“Are you family?”
Maureen, who had followed her daughter, spoke up. “Yes.”
The woman didn't appear to believe her, but continued anyway. “I'm Dr. Branch. Ms. Proctor will be prepped for surgery shortly to repair the lower tibial compound fracture.”
“Surgery?” Delaney's voice trembled. “Wait. Fracture? Her leg is broken?”
“Yes. The surgeons will be available later to discuss the procedure.” Dr. Branch tucked the clipboard under her arm. “Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back.”
Delaney touched her arm. “Can we see her?”
“I'm afraid she's already been sedated.”
“Just for a moment? Please?”
Dr. Branch sighed. “All right. But one at a time. And not for long.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Delaney turned to her mother. “Um.”
“Give me her phone, and I'll make the calls.”
Delaney dug Gib's phone from her jeans pocket and handed it Maureen. “Thanks, Mom.” She followed the doctor through the double doors and tried to calm her racing heart. The stark hallway had several doors on either side.
Dr. Branch stepped into the third door on their left. “Remember, just a few minutes.”
“All right.” Delaney peered around the physician. Her lover's eyes were closed and she was dressed in a hospital gown, with a sheet up to her waist. Delaney purposely ignored the exposed right leg. “Can she hear me?”
“Probably not. But I'll give you a couple of minutes alone.”
Once the doctor left, Delaney moved closer to the bed and grasped a slack hand. “Hi, honey. I don't know if you can hear me, but they're going to take really good care of you.” Her thumb rubbed across the back of Gib's hand as she leaned closer to whisper, “Don't think this gets you out of trouble, officer. You're still on my shit list.”
Gib's eyes fluttered open and she gazed blearily at the redhead. “Love you, too,” she muttered.
“I swear, I'm going to kick your ass when you get out of here,” Delaney threatened tearfully. She gave her a light peck on the lips. “And for the record, I do love you. Oh, I called your mother.”
It took quite an effort, but Gib turned her head and looked toward the door. “Yeah?”
“She's, um, on her way.”
Even as incapacitated as she was, Gib knew her mother too well. “Liar.” She squeezed Delaney's hand. “S'okay. Not a big deal.” Her eyes started to close. “Maddy?”
“I'm sorry, honey. I totally forgot. I'll call her as soon as I can.” She stroked Gib's cheek. “Don't worry about a thing.”
Gib tried to see her leg. “Is it bad?” she slurred, her eyes half-open.
“All I know for sure is that it's broken, and they're going to take you to surgery to repair it. I'll find out more when we talk to the surgeon.”
Delaney played with Gib's hair. “Well, stepping into an animal trap wasn't the brightest thing you've ever done,” she teased. “But don't worry. I won't pick on you too much about it.”
Her half grin made Gib look drunk. “Yes, you will.”
“Probably,” her lover agreed. “But not until you're back on your feet.” Delaney heard the doctor's voice in the hallway. “I'm going to have to go, honey. But I'll see you as soon as you're out of surgery, all right?” She pressed her lips to Gib's. “I love you,” she whispered.
Gib's eyes closed. “You, too,” she mumbled, before falling asleep.
Dr. Branch stepped into the room. “I'm afraid you'll have to leave. But she'll get our finest care,” she gently assured Delaney. “Dr. Madding is one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the area.”
Delaney reluctantly lowered Gib's hand and released it. “Thank you.” She backed away from the bed. “Please, take care of her. She means everything to me.”
“I promise.” The doctor put her arm around the redhead's shoulders and escorted her from the room.
To be continued in Part Ten
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