by D Jordan Redhawk
Contact me via my website <http://www.djordanredhawk.net/author/contact.php> with critiques, suggestions, or praise.
Scotch had arrived in Nikolai a full hour and a half ahead of Lainey. The vet checking her dogs agreed with her about Tecumseh. As much as Lainey wanted to let him stay with his teammates, she decided to drop him for his health. The bruising of his shoulders bothered him more than his wrist, and the constant pulling would eventually do some serious damage. It was with a heavy heart that she removed her wounded dog from the tug line and escorted him to the dog drop area. He would wait there until a volunteer bush pilot came through to pick him up, delivering him to Anchorage.
By the time Lainey had returned to her dogs and finished the remaining chores, Scotch was already catching a nap. Lainey did not want to disturb her, so she bedded down with her dogs outside the school that served as a checkpoint. A quick search for Drew Owens turned up nothing.
Oddly enough, sleep would not come though she was mentally exhausted. Her mind kept turning over the day's events, the crash, and how she could have avoided it. She wondered if Owens had blown through. Or was he somewhere near and Lainey just had not seen him? If he checked in and out again, was he asleep a couple of miles away, psyching out his competition? Whatever it was seemed to have worked, because she had seen Waters come through while she was completing her tasks. He stopped long enough to get his food drops, see who was here, and promptly left.
Was Scotch being overly confident by remaining in Nikolai?
Mixed in with all those concerns were the sensual daydreams that had almost lost her the sled earlier. Warmth, good food, a scotch on the rocks, and Scotch on a bear rug. She did not bother banishing the alcohol from her mind. It always seemed like a glass of water just out of reach, and she was dying of thirst. She had been clean and sober for years, but some days that did not lessen the yearning. The other Scotch, however - that she was looking forward to. Of course there was no bearskin rug in the cabin. They would have to make do with the braided rug in front of the fireplace. Or on the comfortably over stuffed couch. Or maybe the rickety kitchen table.
Lainey's consciousness faded away as she toyed with Scotch in her thoughts.
When she checked out it was twelve twenty-seven in the afternoon. The sun had risen but cloud cover kept the worst of the heat at bay. She chuckled to herself as her team headed across the Kuskokwim River. A year ago she was in Nome freezing her ass off in twenty degree weather. Now she was worried about overheating at the same temperature. What had the world come to? Now that she was alone, she dug out her iPod. No reason why Georgio Spencer should have all the fun. As the dogs took her along the easy trail and wide open spaces, she sang with Peter Gabriel as he was shaking the tree. This part of the trail had heavy snow machine traffic between the two checkpoints, both of which were populated villages. McGrath was the bigger of the two and boasted laundromats and grocery stores, not to mention a continual supply of hot water. Lainey looked forward to not having to boil water for the dogs and receiving an opportunity to get properly clean. She planned on taking her twenty-four hour layover here to catch up on some much needed sleep. Scotch would be doing the same, so they would have a little time to see each other before they separated again. Even with the diversion of music, the trail seemed to go on and on. It was boring as hell. Lainey kept switching between playlists, looking for music to keep her mood up and her eyes open. There was no danger of sweepers to knock her off the runners, or sudden twists to overturn the sled. Instead she worried about falling asleep at the handlebars and waking in the snow with her team disappearing into the distance. Lainey pulled out her camera for the occasional photo, but one section of trail looked like another. One shot of her running dogs, with the bare spot where Tecumseh should have been, was enough to befoul her mood. She put the camera away. Finally the landscape changed. It looked like the ground fell away in the distance. That meant they were going to drop back onto the Kuskokwim River. It was also an indication she was at the halfway point. Lainey felt an irrational urge to cry though she was pleased at her progress. She still had twenty plus miles to go to McGrath. Twenty more miles to stay awake. Before they arrived at the river, Lainey halted her dogs for a snack break. They joyfully rolled in the snow, cooling off after their run. A few had lost booties and, as always, Heldig's were gone. Lainey used her fingers to break up ice balls and clean off paws, then rubbed salve into their pads. More booties followed. She did not even bother begging Heldig to keep them on this time, though she considered picking up a roll of duct tape in McGrath. Maybe that would keep her paws covered.
Chibee, Himitsu and Montana began barking, looking behind them. Lainey stood to see an approaching sled. She recognized Roman Spencer's team and smiled at him as neared.
"Looks like it's just us," he said when he was within hearing distance.
"Your dad already ahead?"
"Yeah. He left a couple of hours ago." His team pulled past. "See you in McGrath."
Lainey waved and watched his team flow into the descent ahead of her.
So, Georgio, Waters and Owens were all ahead now, hoping to pass Scotch. Lainey sent encouraging thoughts to her friend. Roman disappeared from view, and her trash talkers became silent. She realized her dogs were staring at her, tails wagging.
"You want to catch him?" she asked.
Chibee yipped in excitement, and Jonah jerked the sled as he tried to dislodge the snow hook on his own.
Lainey laughed and gathered her things. Minutes later, she called, "Let's go!" and her team rushed forward to show Roman's team who was better.
"Six oh four PM," the checker said. "You staying?"
"Yeah, I'm taking my twenty-four here."
"Okay." The checker called a volunteer over. "She's taking a twenty-four. Put her in the back forty."
Lainey grinned. "The back forty?"
The checker winked. "It's the rear of the parking area. Less excitement there, give the dogs a chance to rest without all the interruption of comings and goings."
She nodded. "Oh, good. Thanks." Lainey let the volunteer guide her team to her final resting spot for the night. It was further away from the checkpoint building, which held the diesel powered boiler for hot water, but Lainey was willing to make the trek if it meant getting decent sleep. She thanked her guide and barely got down to the business of getting her dogs comfortable when a pair of veterinarians arrived for the mandatory exams.
The Fuller matriarch gave Lainey a hug. "Welcome to McGrath."
Lainey produced her dog notes, and Helen passed them to her companion. "I'll stay out of this one, since the dogs belong to our kennel." She turned her full attention on Lainey. "Well? Have you officially caught the Iditarod bug or still slogging through for the magazine?"
"At this point, I would love to do this every year."
"Completely smitten, I see." Helen laughed, her arm over Lainey's shoulders. "You're missing a dog. I know you dropped one, but not why."
Lainey sobered and explained Tecumseh's injury.
"You did the right thing. He would rather have stayed with the team, but something like that can have all sorts of complications."
The other vet finished his inspection and handed Lainey's note back to her. "All is good. You're going a great job with dog care, though one has abrasions on her paws."
Lainey rolled her eyes. "Heldig. I've been meaning to super glue her booties on."
He grinned. "You know about it, then. Good. If it gets much worse, she'll have to be dropped, but I think she's got some miles to go before that point."
Helen gave her another hug. "You take care of these guys. When you're done, head over to the checkpoint. Don will take you to a place you can get some decent rest and a shower."
Lainey raised her eyebrows, but agreed. As they left, she glanced around the teams parked near her, presumably all on their mandatory twenty-four hour layover. Only one musher was with his dogs; all the others were resting on their own. Where were they all?
Roman pulled up nearby, disrupting her thoughts. She grinned impudently at him. He shook his head in amusement before turning to the vets waiting for his paperwork.
In high spirits, Lainey went through the line, distributing straw and releasing harnesses. She fed her dogs with the chow from their cooler, gave them a second watering from hers, and made certain they were comfortably ensconced in their nests. Once that was finished, she got her child's sled out and trekked to the checkpoint.
It took two trips to gather her food drops and more hot water. The water was a blessing; all she needed to do was toss the ingredients into the cooler and close it. By the time she returned for another feeding, the chow would be ready to go. When getting her drops, she also located her new sled. It was the same as the one she had now, though without the wear and tear of the trail. She left it in place, not needing it until she was ready to leave.
Finally the chores were complete. With nothing further to drive her on, her energy faltered. She stared at her sled for a full minute before finally gathering some fresh socks and underwear. Helen mentioned a shower, so she also retrieved another t-shirt and sweater. It occurred to her that she had not been properly clean in days, and a whole set of itches and discomfort settled on her. Lips curled in distaste at her grunginess, Lainey also gathered her sleeping bag. She had no idea where Howry was going to take her, so she had best be prepared.
Back at the checkpoint, she found Howry waiting beside a snow machine.
"Hey, stranger, how goes it?"
"Great." Lainey yawned, her jaw creaking with the effort.
Howry laughed. "Come on, let's get you into a shower and bed."
Lainey climbed onto the back of the vehicle, clutching her belongings. "Where are we going, anyway?"
"A friend of the Fullers. The villagers open their doors to mushers every year, giving them someplace other than their sleds to catch some shut eye." He started the machine and pulled away from the checkpoint.
She looked over her shoulder at her dogs, a pang of dread arcing through her chest. Maybe she should stay with them? Before she could make the decision, Howry drove away and her team was lost from view.
A few moments later, they pulled into the yard of a modest home. Dogs barked a welcome, a small kennel of six animals. There were a couple of trucks and two more snow machines parked there, too.
Howry shut off the engine. "Come on." He escorted Lainey up the steps to the front door.
The warmth of the interior did exactly what she expected, her nose suddenly clogging as if she had a head cold. Her cheeks and forehead burned with the heat, and her eyes felt hot and dry. A crowd in the living room came forward to welcome her. It was a colorful mess of people, and Lainey's dazed mind plodded along at a lethargic rate as she was invited further inside. She barely caught the names of the three who lived here, hardly noted Thom and Rye grinning, or Strauss pushing a plate of food at her.
Lainey's automatic pilot was fully on. She was divested of her outer clothes, and sat on the couch with a TV tray of caribou venison and pasta for dinner. Her responses to their comments and questions were somnambulate and somewhere deep inside she was embarrassed over her inability to concentrate and at least be polite. When it appeared she was going to topple into her plate, she was packed up and marched off to a dark bedroom, deposited inside, and the door closed behind her.
She wavered in the center of the room, squinting as her eyes adjusted. A clock near the bed indicated it was not even eight at night. She blinked. Someone else was in the room. She could hear them breathing. Lainey shuffled forward, peering at the bed. Her expression relaxed as she saw a familiar mop of tawny hair. Scotch.
Shucking her clothes, Lainey retained her underwear and bra. She felt immensely better without the extra apparel, and climbed gently into the bed. Scotch sensed her presence but did not wake, rolling over to drape her arm over Lainey's waist.
She sighed, and fully relaxed for the first time in days. As much as she wanted to enjoy this intimate experience, her mind shut down and sleep overtook her.
In Lainey's dreams, Scotch massaged her breasts with firm strokes, her lips and teeth creating a fiery path from Lainey's collar bone to her jaw line. Their legs entwined, Lainey's belly twisting in arousal as they moved against one another, a constant shifting as they enjoyed the sheer beauty of skin upon skin. She groaned at a particularly vicious bite at the juncture of her throat, and clutched the woman in her arms. Her hands roamed along a muscular back to a tight ass, and she squeezed.
The gasp in her ear drifted into a moan as she squirmed, her thigh coming into contact with Scotch's panty clad clit. Despite her enjoyment, she frowned to herself. For a dream, this certainly felt realistic, especially when her dream Scotch rolled onto her to grind their hips together. The weight was delicious, and Lainey's hands went to those nicely rounded hips and butt, caressing what she had only seen from a distance.
Scotch continued a languid rocking, her warm breath coming in pants as she returned to tasting Lainey's ear. Groggily, Lainey thought it amazing that she could feel hot dampness against her thigh where Scotch rubbed. God, when was the last time she had had a dream this detailed? She arched when Scotch pinched her nipple through her bra.
As Scotch's lips left her ear, unerringly moving across Lainey's sweaty brow and toward her lips, Lainey came fully awake. This was no dream. Her eyes popped open in surprise.
Scotch's body undulated over hers, and the rush of lust that assailed Lainey nearly made her swoon. Had she been standing she surely would have fallen down. A long neck was just within reach, and looking further along, she had an excellent view of breasts begging for attention. Her nose twitched with the smell of their combined excitement and another, more earthy odor. It was vaguely familiar and her dazed mind sputtered along in an attempt to name what it was. Scotch's lips edged closer, kissing the bridge of her nose, angling down. Lainey licked her lips in anticipation, tasting what could only be described as a catbox in her mouth.
Reality slammed into her, fully waking her. That odd aroma was hers - unwashed for days on end. And her mouth was a literal sewer. She had not done more than pop breath mints since Sunday's restart in Wasilla.
"Ugh!" Lainey turned her face away, pushing Scotch aside so she could sit up.
Lainey swung her legs from the bed and shook her head, her body demanding to return to its previous activity, hygiene be damned. She glanced over her shoulder to see Scotch's concern. "I need a shower. I need to brush my teeth for a week." A confused and slightly hurt expression crossed the woman's face, and Lainey turned abruptly toward her. "No! I meant I'm a mess! Not that you're a turn off." Her eyes ran across more skin than she had ever been allowed to see before, and her body once more demanded satisfaction. "You're definitely not a turn off."
Scotch's smile was slow and sexy, doing nothing for Lainey's restraint. "You're no slouch in that department either, Miss Hughes." She ran her fingers from Lainey's shoulder to her hand.
The feather light touch caused Lainey to shiver, though she was over warm, both from desire and being indoors after days on the trail. "You're a cruel woman."
"I hear it's one of my redeeming qualities."
Lainey laughed and took her hand. "Not at this moment."
Scotch shrugged. "You win some, you lose some." She squeezed Lainey's hand. "There's a bathroom right across the hall, with a shower kit for you to use. Why don't you catch a shower, we'll have some breakfast, and go check on the dogs."
She sighed at the return to business as usual. "I can't wait to get you in Nome," she said.
"We'll see who gets who," Scotch answered, her grin turning mischievous. She released Lainey's hand. "Go on, get cleaned up. Molly said she has the fixings for French toast in the kitchen. I'll get breakfast started."
Lainey realized it was still quite dark and the house held an elusive stillness that was associated the wee hours. The digital clock said it was three AM, which meant she had slept seven hours straight. "Okay," she said, standing. She stretched and groaned at the pleasurable pain of her muscles.
"And you call me cruel," Scotch said.
Smirking, Lainey located the clothes she came in with and her clean things. "Paybacks, you know."
Scotch murmured wry agreement as they got dressed. Before they left the room, she stood before Lainey and kissed her on the forehead. "When your teeth are brushed, I'm going to get that kiss. That's a promise."
Lainey hugged her. "I'm glad you have a reputation for keeping your promises."
They broke apart, and Scotch led her to the bathroom, leaving her at the door with a slightly regretful air. Lainey sighed, resigned, and stepped inside. She switched on the light and stared wide eyed at her reflection. Her dark hair, always a bit unruly, stuck up in clumps of greasy tangles. The skin of her face and hands were wind burned and reddened, in stark contrast to her forearms, which held little of her summer tan.
She blushed. Scotch had seen her like this! How totally . . . disgusting! It was worse than the fetidness of her breath. This was a physical manifestation of her grubby feeling. "Ugh," she muttered, setting her clothes on the counter. A bath towel and washcloth were folded there with a toothbrush still in its plastic wrap. Sticking out of a glass jar were a variety of combs, brushes, and odds and ends, and another of cotton swabs. Lainey gave herself one more distasteful once over, and went to the shower. It took some adjusting as she tested the water. Turning the knob to what she thought was a normal temperature resulted in blistering heat. She fiddled for some time before her cold acclimated skin allowed her to step in.
The shower was magnificent. Lainey felt days of strain and grime sluicing down the drain. Her hair particularly nasty, she washed it three times before she was satisfied. Her body still throbbed with want and she wished Scotch would forget breakfast and join her. Regretfully, she did not. Not one to deny herself, Lainey leaned against the wall under the spray of warm water, and brought herself to quick climax. She gasped at the strength of her orgasm, almost losing her balance, as the sensation rolled over her. God, what would it be like with the real thing?
With the edge taken off her arousal, she finished washing and climbed out of the shower. Her mirror image was clear and crisp, no steam fog clouding her view, and she nodded to her reflection. The water had been cooler than she normally enjoyed.
She stepped forward for a closer examination. There were bruises on her left side from the sled crash, though not too dark and dangerous looking. Her hands and face were red and a bit chapped from the constant exposure. Her feet looked well enough; she changed socks and liners regularly to combat trench foot or some other disease. All in all, she was pleased to note she was in decent shape to continue on. She combed out her hair, and then brushed her teeth in blissful relief before dressing in clean clothes.
Gathering her belongings, Lainey eased the bathroom door open to a dark hallway. Across the way was the bedroom she and Scotch had shared. To her left, the hall glowed with distant light, and she could make out the end of a couch. The kitchen was that way. She turned off the bathroom light, dropped her things in the bedroom and eased down the hall. Her nose twitched at the smell of coffee and the promised French toast, and her stomach rumbled.
The living room was small and tidy but had a cozy feel to it. A quilt wrapped body lay on the sagging couch. She remembered sitting there a few hours ago with a dinner that looked delicious though she barely recalled eating it. Lainey heard a muttering snore emit from its depths, identifying the individual as her colleague, Howry. She almost tripped over another bundle curled up on the floor by the fireplace - Strauss. Lainey wondered where the others were. She did see Thom and Rye, right; not hallucinations brought on by seeing Helen at the checkpoint?
Soft voices beckoned her, and she continued past Strauss, through a tiny dining room and into the brightly lit kitchen.
Scotch sat at a small wooden table, nursing a cup of coffee. A woman stood at the stove, spatula in hand, poking at a slice of bread in the fry pan she held. Lainey recognized her as their host, but a sudden sharp stab of hunger overcame her. She struggled with her body's baser instincts, leaning against the door as she forced her mind to work. "You must be Molly," she finally said, attaching a name to the woman's face.
The woman smiled. "Yes, I am," she said. "I'm surprised you remember."
Lainey blushed and shrugged. "So am I."
Molly laughed. "Have a seat. Breakfast is almost ready. Scotch, get her a cup of coffee."
"Yes, ma'am." Scotch grinned and winked at Lainey, waving her to a seat at the table before following orders.
She sat down, and her stomach growled.
"Sounds like you're hungry," Molly observed. "Good thing. I've made enough to feed an army but half the troops are still asleep." She gestured toward the living room with her spatula.
Lainey was glad her face was already reddened from the weather. It took an effort, but she slipped into professional mode, giving Scotch a smile of thanks when she delivered a steaming cup of coffee. "I'm not sure I said this last night, but thank you for putting me up and feeding me."
Molly waved her gratitude away. "I volunteer every year. Having you folks through McGrath is a celebration. Thom and Helen have bunked here every time for the last ten years." She flipped the toast in the pan. "And I've been watching this scamp since she first entered the Junior Iditarod."
Scotch sat down beside Lainey, still smiling.
"Scamp, huh?" Lainey asked.
Scotch shrugged, eyes twinkling.
"Scamp," Molly intoned. She removed the pan from the burner, and put the toast onto a plate already piled high. Transferring the plate to the table, she set it before Lainey. A motherly hand reached out to rub Lainey's shoulder. "Eat up. There's plenty more where that came from."
"Thank you!" Lainey tucked into her breakfast, almost moaning as the French toast and maple syrup hit her tongue. It was a far cry from her lustful daydreams, but just as satisfying.
As they ate, Molly kept up a running chatter about other mushers who had come through her home. She never let their coffee run low, constantly topping off their cups as she puttered around the kitchen. Lainey heard all about the mushers who had spent time in the spare bedroom on their way through to winning the race. Some tales were humorous and some rather acerbic, but Molly seemed proud to be involved with the Iditarod in this way.
Lainey ate until she was ready to burst. Finally, she stared mournfully at her plate, a half eaten slice of toast soaking in syrup.
Her taste buds screamed no, but Lainey nodded. "Unfortunately."
Molly grinned and took their plates.
"That was wonderful, as usual," Scotch said, leaning back to stretch luxuriously.
"Yes, it was." Lainey startled herself with a yawn.
Molly chuckled, wiping the table before them. "Needing a nap already?"
Lainey stuck her tongue out at Scotch, receiving a slight wiggled eyebrow in response. She ignored the sudden flush of desire through her body. "I've got too much to do. I really need to get to my dogs."
As they both stood, Molly retrieved keys from a peg board by the kitchen phone. "Here. Take the snow machine." She bustled to the sink. "Since you're checking out around five, Scotch, I'll have a decent dinner ready by three, okay?"
Scotch came up behind the shorter woman and hugged her, kissing her temple. "That'd be great. You're fantastic, Molly."
Molly clucked and shooed them away, though Lainey could tell she was pleased with the attention. She gave their hostess her thanks before trailing after Scotch to the bedroom.
Her eyes needed to adjust to the darkness, so she crept along until she located the correct door. Stepping in, she carefully closed it behind her. Before she stepped further into the room, Scotch grabbed her and pressed her against the door.
"I said I was going to get that kiss from you after you brushed your teeth," she whispered.
Their lips met, and Lainey moaned. Scotch tasted of coffee and syrup, and she opened her mouth in invitation. Their hands roamed each other's bodies, their tongues pursuing one another back and forth. Any relief Lainey had achieved from her shower activities was demolished under the weight of a fresh wave of arousal. Their intimacy lasted forever, it lasted years, yet it ended far too soon. Scotch was breathing hard as she rested her forehead on Lainey's. She licked her lips, and Lainey so wanted to reach forward with her own to help.
"That was nice."
Lainey chuckled breathlessly. "You have a magnificent ability for understatement," she said, squirming a little to feel Scotch's body against hers.
"Thank you," Scotch laughed. "I've cultivated it for years." She gasped as Lainey slid beneath her sweater. "Unfortunately, we have chores to do and a race to run."
Pouting, Lainey caressed Scotch's belly, no longer reaching upward to take rounded breasts into her palms. "Nome."
"Nome," Scotch promised.
Lainey pushed away from the door, forcing herself to disengage from the luscious body that had pinned her. "You're driving me insane."
"At least you have company for the trip," Scotch said, stepping back.
"Well, let's go get the dogs fed before I change my mind."
Return to the Academy