© 2002 by Mercer & Hill
Lying awake, Cara looked around the spacious stucco-walled room. Subtle shades of aged parchment and sand were enhanced by decorative drapings of hand woven, Mexican rugs. Splashes of color from similar rugs adorned the cool, Saltillo tile floor as well. The rustic black walnut furniture absorbed soft light cast from twin wrought iron lamps. A Spanish guitar leaned against a beautifully carved old walnut chest that graced the foot of a four poster bed. Cara pulled the quilt up and gazed out the glass doors to a natural garden of upland desert plants. Stirred by the rhythm of the storm, she threw back the covers and reached for the guitar. Running her long fingers over the strings, she noticed the exquisite artistry of the abalone and mother of pearl inlays on the neck and the intricate mosaic rosette that circled above the pick guard. Resting against the pillows, she cradled the instrument in her arms. The wine, the emotions, all of it was inextricably connected in her mind with the year she had left the vineyards for college. She inhaled deeply as her fingers eased up the neck of the guitar. The chords of a song permeated the room, and the memories came back to her.
The sleek curves of the guitar under her fingertips drew her mind to the day she had walked into the Celtic Knot, a small pub just off campus, looking for a job. The proprietor, Liam Quinn, had been her mother's dearest friend. And not surprisingly, he had been Vittore Cipriano's fiercest rival, both men vying for the hand of the woman who had become Cara's mother. Cara was the spitting image of her mother Daire whom Liam never stopped loving even after she and Cara's father were killed in an auto accident just after Stephen's birth.
It had been fifteen years since he'd seen a child of Daire's, since the day of her funeral. Liam stretched his back then tiredly scrubbed his stubbled face with both hands. "How many more is there Kenzie girl? There must be one out of the bunch that can carry an Irish tune," he yelled with a thick Irish brogue. "If not, run the lot of 'em out of here."
"This is the last one, and don't be a-yellin' at me, Liam Quinn," McKenzie the strawberry blond bartender snapped back. She had been eyeing the compellingly beautiful, dark-eyed woman since her arrival to interview for the job of bartender, waiter and when necessary, songster.
"Go on, give it a go," McKenzie urged. "Can ya play something of the Irish?"
Cara picked up her guitar and crossed the dance floor to the stool in the middle of the small stage. Sitting with one foot on a rung of the stool and one planted solidly on the floor, she began to strum the guitar and sing "deora ar mo chroí" (Tears on my Heart).
How beautiful the day and night;
Ba dheas an lá go oiche
the earth is singing in the wind,
Na glórtha binne I mo thaobh
the voices rise and touch the sky
'S aoibhneas I gach áit gan gruaim
telling all the earth's believing,
Áthas ar mo chroí go deo
and in the night sighs fall down,
and from the skies sighs fall down on me.
And when I move away from view
Ma shiúlaim ó na laetha beo
my voice is singing in the wind,
An ghrian 's an ghealach ar mo chúl
it rises up to touch the sky
Nil uaim ach smaointe ó mo shaoil
telling all that I believe in,
Deora ar mo chroí go brón
and from the night earth shall sing,
and from the night earth shall sing,
and from the night earth shall sing again.
Liam's naturally red face dulled to an ashen grey as he listened and lifted his eyes from the stack of invoices and other papers he was checking. It was as if he were seeing his beloved Daire reaching from the grave. The song had been her favorite; Liam listened unabashed with tears in his eyes. Tears for his lost love. He looked upon the very image of his Daire as he took in the features of the singing girl.
"Be here tonight at eight and bring your instrument there with ya." And with a wistful tone her asked, "What's yer name, girl?"
Cara laid the guitar across her lap and cocked her ear the same way her mother always had. "Cara sir, Cara Vittore Cipriano."
With a silent nod of acceptance, the large Irishmen retreated to his office and into his memories.
The mellow chords of a guitar blended with the peaceful night sounds and nudged Jake from a light sleep. Slipping from under the covers, she crossed the room to the veranda door to listen. The music was coming from the guestroom that faced her bedroom across a shared courtyard. Realizing it was Cara playing, she was astounded by yet another aspect of this mystifying woman. She constantly contradicts everything I believed about her. Jake's image of the cold, blasé attorney she had encountered two years ago was fading. In its place, a genuine liking for the surprisingly compassionate woman was growing. Climbing into her bed, she gathered a pillow to her chest and drifted back to sleep, listening to the soothing harmony of the guitar accompanied by the intermittent howl of a nearby coyote.
Jake woke to the smell of coffee and the light of dawn filtering through her window. Lying with her eyes closed, she allowed the beckoning aroma and the stirring sounds of morning coming alive again to ease her aching body into the day. Suddenly, her eyes flew open. "Coffee! It's too early for Juanita! She's up making coffee?" After a quick shower, Jake hurried into a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt. She followed the tantalizing scent down the hall to the kitchen where she found Cara leisurely leaning against the counter looking out the window.
"I hope you don't mind." Cara filled a cup for Jake and motioned for her to sit at the table. I thought you might need some coffee."
Jake's eyes were transfixed on the sight before her, this woman, this 'top gun lawyer' in her bare feet, an old shirt, with a dish towel tucked in the waist of some faded old jeans that had belonged to her dad. And fixing breakfast no less! Trying to get past her amazement, Jake remembered to ask, "Umm how are you feeling, your ribs sore?"
"I won't deny it, I am a bit stiff. But the more I move around the more it loosens up. I took some ibuprofen I found in your medicine cabinet. Come on, let's eat, then you can show me your ranch."
Jake's ranch was secluded, nestled in the foothills of the high desert grasslands between the majestic Santa Ritas and the arresting red Patagonia Mountains. Biscayne Hacienda, built by her grandfather in the early 1900's, was the quintessential portrait of old-world Mexico's charm and warmth. The sweeping grasslands, dotted with yucca, horses, and cattle, undulated lazily up toward the high peaks. She had thinned out her herd of horses so much over the past few years that to call herself a rancher anymore was pushing it. Neighboring spreads, however, still epitomized the grand idea of what it meant to be an Arizona rancher.
Sitting on the veranda surrounded by towering cottonwoods, Cara watched a herd of quarter horses lazily pasturing on green grass. When they had toured the wine country of Sonoita and Elgin earlier, she was impressed with the beauty of the area. She was even more surprised to learn that the red soil, very nearly identical to that of Burgundy, France, produced exceptional quality wine grapes of several varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sangiovese. Jake came through the veranda door with two glasses of a Merlot they'd purchased at one of the vineyards they had stopped at earlier. It had been a long day, and the two women sat contentedly sipping wine and discussing the merits of the grape as the Arizona sunset painted the horizon the color of amethystspectacular rose and deep purple. Jake fondly recalled the many times when she and her father sat at this very time of evening watching the sun set as they debated the virtue of one of the vintages aging in oak barrels in the cool natural earth caves of the winery.
Cara tilted her glass, watching the tears drip down the inside. "I like it; it has a crisp finish with good balance. There's potentialanother two years of proper aging, and this will be a keeper."
Jake avidly listened to the detailed attributes of the young vintage. The enthusiasm and sparkle in Cara's eyes as she spoke suffused her entire body, as if she were alive with a sensual animation. Jake's attention soon focused on Cara's exquisite hands. Long fingers caressed the smooth wineglass, mesmerizing Jake with the evocative strokes of a lone index finger moving across the rim.
"What's your opinion, Jake? Jake, what do you think?"
Jake visible shook her head, refocusing her attention on Cara's voice. She tried to contain her embarrassment as she stammered: "Oh, uh, yes I agree," feeling a bit awkward, wondering what to say and if Cara noticed the rosy flush on her cheeks that surely rivaled the setting sun. "You know your wine."
Cara knew the only time she felt alive was when she was immersed in the vineyards and the smell of the earth and the wine soaked oaken aging caskets. At this moment, looking into Jake's eyes she felt the same excitement she always felt standing on the hill with the ocean to her back while her eyes lovingly surveyed row upon row of ripening grapes. An irresistible need to reach out to feel the comfort of this woman overwhelmed her as brown eyes met and held hazel ones. Jake shifted in her chair and leaned toward Cara. They were close enough to feel the breath of the other when the telephone rang interrupting the unexpected moment.
Flustered, Jake jumped up and went inside to answer the phone. "Hello yes she's here, just a moment." Setting the phone down on the table, she walked back out on the veranda. "It's for you." The pounding of her heart was louder than the bits of conversation heard through the open door. With hands and thoughts shaky, she fought to compose herself. What was I thinking! What if I had Get a grip here. You invite no insist this woman stay here after nearly getting her killed, then you let your thoughts run rampant! Not wanting to explore the reason for her actions and thoughts toward Cara, Jake began to pick up the wineglasses as she listened to Cara's one-sided conversation.
"Mark, can you slow down enough to tell me why you're calling this late I see, when did they release him? Good good, yes I'll be in the office early tomorrow. Yes oh, and Mark, what happened to those 'few days of R and R' I deserve?"
Cara hung up the phone, but her mind was not on what Mark had just told her. Instead, she held the image of what had almost transpired between her and Jake. The scene faded as reality reminded her that she would be leaving tomorrow. Jake came through the door wineglasses in hand and stopped as Cara's questioning brown eyes searched her face. Cara reached up to touch Jake's cheek just as the phone rang again.
Breaking eye contact, Jake picked up the receiver. "Hello," turning her back to Cara, "When, Matt? I guess the Sierra Vista brig is a pretty good alibi, don't you? I never believed he was our guy. Yes, I'll tell her, she's here. You sound tired, Matt, better get some rest. We have a killer to find." Turning to find Cara across the room looking out the window, Jake relayed Matt's message in her best attempt at a professional voice. "You know your client was released to the MP's from Sierra Vista? Seems he'd been missing roll call and was serving a week in the brig. He wasn't released until the day after we found the last girl. The condition of the body made in difficult to pinpoint the exact time of death, but I do know she could not have been there a whole week."
"That's what Chase was calling to tell me. He got a call from some highly placed suits who are watching this case telling us we would not be needed anymore. Seems they knew before the authorities here did."
Fortifying her emotions, Jake reasoned: "Yes, with all the political implications of the provision of the North American Trade Agreement on the table, allowing Mexican trucks to go beyond the twenty mile commercial limit and U.S. trucks into the Mexican interior, many influential concerns do not want the bad press. Hence, a serial killer using the border as his hunting grounds will not be acceptable."
The intensity of the moment on the veranda had been eclipsed by the interruptions. Jake's quiet voice broke the silence that had descended like a cloud. "If you have to drive back to Tucson early in the morning, you better get some sleep." Cara found only an implacable, unreadable expression when she looked at Jake. Knowing further conversation was futile, she mutely nodded her head in assent as Jake walked toward her room without looking back. "Good night Cara."
Peering intently out the window into the shadows, Cara's mind searched for a rationalization that would ease her agitated thoughts. She furrowed her brow and mentally gave herself a plausible answer for the last ten minutes.
We've been through an emotional few days it isn't unusual for people to get caught up in that intensity, to be drawn to each other. It happens in these situations. More than likely I read more into it than there was, assuming it was more than just friendship offered. Was she going to kiss me? A cold reality collided with Cara's senses.
Shimmering gently, the western sun sank into the peaceful haze. It reflected off the copper-domed building that housed Cara's office. Nearby buildings that normally went unnoticed, suddenly came out of their obscurity, delicately bathed in subtle, dusky colors. It was one of those evenings when the last cloud lost its sharp cranberry edge and melted into the city. From above, the dome resembled some remarkable jewel, nestled between the shaded depths of undulating mountains. Languishing twilight shadows danced their ephemeral, crimson-tinted dapplings through Cara's top floor office. The gloaming. She marveled at this evanescent time between dark and light when the hustle of Tucson slowed. The gloaming was her time for contemplating the ending of the day's long work. Transported into its magical quietness and mystery, this time let her put events into perspective and ready herself for the next day. But tonight was different somehow. The gloaming draped over her this evening like a fiery cape of hunger. Intertwining dark and light etched a loneliness in the pit of her stomach that mimicked the feeling in her heartas it had every evening since she had left the ranch at Rio Rico. Cara remembered a John Steinbeck line: "We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome." As the shadows deepened and the light faded, Cara realized that she hadn't thought much about her lonely life for a long time, not until she met the irresistible, feisty doctor.
Mark Chase stuck his head through the open door of the office. "Hey, you've been burning the midnight oil every night since you got back. Why don't you give it a break and come and have a drink with us."
She lifted a questioning eyebrow. "Us?"
"I'm meeting the new associate to personally deliver a contract that we hope will be signed by tomorrow and to kiss up a bit. We've sweetened the offer for this one so be on your best behavior at tomorrow's welcoming meeting." He gave Cara a dubious look. "Okay?"
Pausing to scrutinize Cara from top to bottom, his expression softened as he peered over the top of his glasses and spoke in earnest. "Shit, you look terrible. You need to relax, Cara. You're driving yourself too hard. Pack it in. And I won't take no for an answer. Whatever you're chasing can wait until tomorrow."
"Mark I really need to finish this tonight, I ."
Cara sat under Mark's stern gaze as he interrupted, determination clear in his voice: "You have two choices here. One, we go get something to eat and deliver these papers to our new hopeful. Or two, you get the hell of here and go home. Your choice."
Looking wearily at Mark and knowing it would be futile to argue, Cara reluctantly yielded, but with stipulations of her own. With all the aloofness of a lawyer determined to bluff a jury, she countered the options: "I'll take your offer, counselor, if you buy me a burger on the way and if it's a one drink limit and if we go over the Taylor deposition. It's a package deal, take it or leave it."
"Oh you're good. Trying to play the negotiator with me, but no shop talk tonight."
"We'll see," Cara spoke confidently.
"Tomorrow we'll catch up. Finish up and meet me downstairs in fifteen minutes. You can follow me to the Radisson."
Cara nodded her approval, and Mark dashed off. She turned her attention to the photos of the murdered girl that she never had reviewed the day of the flashflood or during her recuperation at Jake's ranch. The rage-inspired butchery that took the life of this girl and of her unborn child appalled her. This slaughter, this torture it was beyond all human reason. Their hands are tied. This animal preys on the vulnerable then slinks back to goddamned Mexico. How many more are there? How many more will there be? How long has he been doing this? And how do you go back and forth across the line with no hint of suspicion? Ah, your first mistake, muchacho never leave me with a question I can find an answer for. Because I will find it.
An overwhelming anger seethed within her, and with it came her desire to stop this atrocity to the human race. She reached to touch a computer composite of the girl. They'll never catch your killer, not as long as their jurisdictional powers don't carry over the line into Mexico. There must be a way!
Nursing her second particularly strong Margarita, Cara had begun to relax. It seemed Mark had been gone especially long delivering the contract papers to the new associate. Outside the temperature was still over a hundred degrees so the respite of the cool Saguaro Lounge was a relaxing welcome, and soon her eyes closed as thoughts of a certain hazel-eyed doctor drifted in. I would have liked to spend more time with her. I like her smile and spirited way when she's angry. Oh and those eyes they show all her emotion. She intrigues me, her quietness and compassion, the softness. Matt's in love with her, a blind man could see that! Are they lovers? Does she belong to him? Gees, Cara, get a grip here, there's no way possible she could be interested in you. But she is something.
Glancing at her watch, Cara grumbled to herself. So much for getting the price of a burger out of Mark. It was getting late, and her empty stomach protested at not being fed well over the past week. She drained the last of the Margarita, threw a bill on the bar for her tab, and bent to gather up her briefcase. A tap on her shoulder accompanied by the familiar honeyed tones of a gentle Irish brogue made her heart flutter.
"Can ya buy an Irish lass a pint, love?" Turning toward the voice, Cara found herself looking into the vivid green eyes of McKenzie Quinn, Liam's daughter. And her lover throughout her college years.
Brilliant green eyes of the petite woman wandered affectionately over Cara, who blinked in disbelief. "Kenzie! What! Where did what are you doing here?"
McKenzie edged forward. "Is that the only welcome a girl would be gettin', Cara Cipriano?" Putting her arms around the taller woman's waist and pulling her into an embrace, McKenzie's voice dropped to a secretive whisper. "How about a bit of a hug here."
As the two embraced, McKenzie couldn't stop the hitch in her breath and the shiver that traveled down her spine at the sensation of having this woman in her arms again. She pressed her lips to Cara's ear. "It's been too long, I've missed you."
Mark Chase exited the men's room and headed toward the two women at the bar. That's curious, Cara didn't say she knew Quinn or for that matter the other way around. He cleared his voice to announce his presence. "Uh, I didn't know you two knew each other?"
Cara was speechless. McKenzie smiled, her eyes never leaving Cara. "I didn't make the connection at first. The name Vittore threw me. You never used it at Harvard, just Cipriano." Holding tight to Cara's hand, McKenzie added, "And a most welcome surprise it is."
McKenzie Quinn was waiting at the pub for her lover to arrive. It was their last day at law school, and Cara was leaving on this June morning to go home to California for her younger brother Stephen's wedding. They promised each other to make every effort to see each other, but a cold ache rested balefully in her heart. She had loved this woman from the first moment she sat on that stool in her father's pub, brown eyes full of life and emotion, playing her guitar and singing as sweet as the Emerald Isle itself. She would never forget the shock on Cara's face when she found out she was the law student assigned as her mentor.
"What's the matter, yank, guess ya thought I was only good for pulling pints, mopping up, and serving drunks, now didn't ya," Kenzie teased as she sat the chairs down on the freshly mopped pub floor. "My grandmother always said, 'don't be judging a book by its cover, Kenzie girl, looks and impressions can be deceivin' ya for certain.' She was a firm believer that a person made her own way, no matter what her station in life." Cara's mouth still hung open. McKenzie's eyes twinkled as she broadly grinned like the cat that ate the mouse. "Besides, we all need shakin' up a bit now and thendon't we! Better close that mouth of yours or you'll be a-catchin' flies."
Continued in Chapter 8
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