Beneath The Brambles, chapter 34
Emily washed her hands and couldnt help but smile at her reflection in the mirror over the sink. Shed learned a lot about cats and dogs she never knew before. She found that she really had very little knowledge about breeds and that her ideas about the pets shed seen engulfing Cole had been, in some cases, completely wrong.
All during dinner Sally had been the storyteller and the tall blondes theme for the evening were the pets names and how they were acquired. Emilys cheeks hurt from all the laughter as she learned the origins of the beasties and the clever way the family found to name them.
The two beagles; shed at least gotten a few of the breeds right; a brother and sister were Legal and Bailey. It took her a few seconds to get that one, but she had to laugh when she did. Legal Beagle and Beagle Bailey. How cute! The Scottie terrier was named Doohan, after the actor who played Scotty on Star Trek. The cats had all been given one-syllable common names, Sally said, because they had so many of them at one time, it was just simpler. So they had Joe, Frank, Ted, Bess, Sue, John, Tim and Ann. Well, all except her cat. That wasnt precisely accurate. It wasnt really her cat, but ever since the little feline sat on her lap and purred, she began to think of her that way.
And that was a major complication, as Sally related the story.
"What about the mastiff?" Emily asked Sally.
"Technically the breed is Great Dane. Mastiff is an archaic term that could signify a number of breeds including Bull Mastiff which looks more like a bulldog." Cole interjected.
Emily was surprised until she thought it over. The only dogs she was really familiar with were the "purse" dogs or show dogs her friends had. She could tell you anything you wanted to know about Pomeranians, Pekinese, Poodles or Lhasa Apsos but the only large dogs she knew about were the guard dogs at her friends estates and thankfully, shed only seen those from a distance. She didnt even know Great Danes could be such a beautiful shade of gunmetal gray.
"And hes Harleys dog, not ours." Sally continued.
"Then why is he living here?"
"Ah, now therein lies a tale." Sally sat down her fork and began her story. "Harley fell in love with him as soon as she saw him. He was the runt of the litter out of Champion Serenity and Prince Charlie. The only blue in the litter, but Sam and Maryjane Jacoby were known for their Brindles and wasnt sure they could sell him as a blue and thought he might change color or mottle by adulthood, so when Harley asked for him, they let her have Prince Potemkin for half price."
Emily was confused by the time Cole interrupted to say, "They messed up, thats one of the finest true blues Ive ever seen.
After they explained they were talking about coat colors and types within breeds, she felt better. Then the story got very interesting.
"Around five months ago, Harley had to go out of town for a couple of weeks and left Prince Potemkin with us. The day after she left, Sadie Rimshaw brought us in a kitten shed found by the side of the road. She was so little and so sick we felt for sure wed lose her. From the moment that little lady was brought home from the clinic, Prince wouldnt leave her side." She took a sip of her water and brushed her dark blonde bangs away from her hazel eyes.
"It was touch and go there for a few days. She must have been abandoned because she was too young to have left her mother and we had to bottle-feed her to get her through. Anyway, by the time she was up and doing fine, those two critters had bonded so thoroughly you couldnt separate them with a spatula. When Harley got back, Prince refused to go with her. She tried to take the kitten with her too, but the cat treated her just like the rest of us, and that little one wouldnt have anything to do with her. Until today, no one had ever been able to get close to her but Prince."
Emily shook her head. "I dont think I understand what youre saying."
"Simply this. Since the Empress got back on her feet, she wont let anyone touch her. By the same token she has never initiated contact with anyone else. And I do mean anyone, weve tried every member of the family, young and old as well as a number of the townsfolk and she just scoots out of the way or hisses at them when they approach her. Even Cole here had no luck, and Ive never seen an animal that didnt like him. Thats kind of how she got her name. Tiffany, J.D. and Christis second daughter, was just smitten with the little thing and when she couldnt coax the cat into letting Tiffany pet her she said, "Well, who do you think you are anyway, Catherine the Great?" and the name seemed to fit. So now shes the Empress, Catherine the Great and YOU are the only one shes ever let touch her."
For some reason that made Emily feel as good as the day her first book hit the top ten list. She couldnt help from preening a little inside. Then, she managed to listen to the rest of Sallys story.
"Its been kind of tough of on Harley though. She and Prince just adore each other and he misses her sometimes so much he just whines and howls for hours. When she does drop by to see him they are all over each other and its heartrending to see him watch her get in her car and leave. He just makes a loop from the driveway to the Empress and back again, likes hes torn. He doesnt want Harley to leave without him, but he wont leave the Empress and the Empress refuses to leave with Harley. Weve even put the Empress in a carrier and had Harley take them all back to her place, but the minute the Empress gets a chance; shes out of there and ends up back here, and so does Prince. Were all at a loss to figure out how to fix this. Harley and Prince want to be together but for some reason, he wont leave the Empress and she wont stay at Harleys."
She dried her hands and went to the living room where Sally was waiting with coffee. As she sat on the couch in the well-used room, Sally told her that Cole was putting all the kids to bed animals first and then the boys.
Emily had just taken her first sip of coffee when she felt delicate paws on her shoulder and then her lap was once again full of soft fur, purring like a well oiled motor and a pretty feline face was rubbing her cheek.
She smiled and petted the regal little cat and smiled again as Sally laughed.
"Well, Emily I dont know what you have, but its definitely what shes been waiting for."
Just then Prince Potemkin wandered in, briefly laid his handsome head on her thigh and touched his nose to the cats then lay down at her feet.
Emily laughed. "I dont know either, but it feels great. Shes so soft and pretty." She looked at the cat that seemed fixated on her. "Yes, you are. Youre such a pretty lady." A very lady like meow was her answer and then a tiny paw touched her cheek. Emilys smile got so large she felt her cheeks aching, and then once again, the cat rubbed itself up against her chest, turned in a circle and then laid down and fell asleep. But the purring didnt stop.
Cole came in just as the Empress settled down, smiled and shook his head.
"Looks like youve got yourself a cat there, Emily."
"Yeah," she said softly, "It sure looks that way."
The front door swung open and even before she could see who it was, the voice gave it away. "Yo, permission to come aboard."
At once, Prince got to his feet, yipped and scrambled to his mistress who bent to tussle with him affectionately.
"Hey, Harley, you missed dinner but can I get you some coffee?" Sally said, as she rose to pour her a cup.
"Sure." She entered the room fully with Prince at her heels, wagging his tail. She started to remove her jacket before she saw the blonde sitting on the couch. If shed seen her before she answered, she might have declined, but now she was stuck.
She pulled herself together and broke free of the green-eyed gaze shed locked into, enough to remember her manners. "Hi, Emily."
"Hi, Harley." Emily said, quietly.
Then there was a sullen silence that Cole had never felt between these two people. It was weird since the moment hed seen them together they had treated each other so he wasnt sure of the word. They just seemed to be familiar with each other right away and happy about it. There had been other silences, awkward at times, but not miserable. He wanted this strange silence to end but not being a people person, he wasnt sure how to go about it, and then he got an idea.
"Hey Harley, look who the Empress adopted."
It wasnt until that moment that the sheriff took note of the feline sleeping on the writers lap. Then her eyes got huge. Almost accusingly she asked, "How did that happen?"
Emily noticed the tone but let it go. It wasnt her fault that the cat liked her but since she still owed Harley one, well, maybe several for her appalling behavior the other morning she kept her thoughts to herself and just shrugged.
Cole answered for her. "It was the damndest thing you ever saw. We just came in the door this evening and I was greeting the beasts when all of a sudden, in comes Potemkin and Catherine the Great and next thing you know, the Empress just walks over to Emily here, crawls up on her lap and nuzzles her cheek. Then, as though shed done it a thousand times, she just curls up on her lap and goes to sleep."
"Uhm, uh. Wow." The myriad implications of that hadnt escaped Harleys mind though she was doubtful Emily had a grasp on it.
She was wrong. Emily had put the pieces together, although it took her until the moment Harley walked in to see the big picture, she suddenly realized what a position it put her in. As long as she had the Empress, she had Prince Potemkin, too. There was a lot to be said for extortion. She was careful not to let her interior smile show on her face. Besides, timing is everything.
Sally came to Harleys rescue by asking about Pollys condition and after a brief moment to shake herself free of the threat she felt at Emilys new pet(s) she answered with a brief rundown of all that she hadnt accomplished in L.A. It was only for the ladies benefit, as she and Cole had gone over it earlier at the station.
"Thats a shame about Polly, still I guess no news is good news just now, considering her age and all. Well, if you couldnt talk to her and Livie couldnt help, what kept you down there over night? I know how you hate that place." Sally smiled at her. Shed always thought the womans aversion to the city of Angels was silly. Well, she did until she moved to Bramble.
"Uhm," Suddenly, Harley was embarrassed and more. Suddenly to have to say out loud in front of Emily that she had a date was scary. She didnt have a choice though. She knew Sally would keep at it till she answered. Shed always been that way since they shared a dorm room at college. Sally was one of the handful of female friends she had who could get her to talk. Sometimes, like now, she just hated that. "I, ah, I had a date." She made sure to look directly at Sally and tried very hard not to look at the small blonde writer on the couch, but her eyes wouldnt listen to her head and for just a second, she saw the look of hurt in spill over in Emilys green eyes. She knew it wasnt logical. She and the blonde had no real relationship and they left each other just yesterday on very bad terms, but that didnt stop her from feeling a wash of guilt over seeing the writers pain.
Clearly, this surprised both Cole and Sally, but Sally made a valiant effort not to let it show.
"So, how was it? Was it anyone we know?"
Harley looked directly away from Emily and tried to reply as matter of factly as possible.
"It was nice. Uhm, no, youve never met her."
Suddenly there was that silence again. Cole decided to change the subject. "Anything come up at the station after I left for dinner?"
Harley was grateful for the subject change. Her feelings were confusing her and she hated being confused. "Yeah. Gunny called and confirmed what we thought. All the prints at Stephanies place were Ritas, Emilys, Moms, Stephs, Savvys or mine." She blew out a breath. "Nothing new there. The knife was common enough to have come from any number of sporting goods or department stores so thats a dead end. I finally got a hold of Ches and he told me Polly had called him to repair the fence. The thing he did think was odd was that she asked him to pick up some bolt locks for her front and back doors and put those in as well."
By the expression on the faces of both Sally and Cole, she figured this was something out of the ordinary. Not where I live it isnt. I know women who have bolt locks on their bedroom doors. Emily had to ask. "So, she was afraid of something then?"
"That seems likely." Harley answered. "I talked to Paris, too. She said Valerie left early. She was gone sometime after dark Saturday night. Paris also said she thought that she saw her car in Bramble on Thursday."
"I take it thats unusual, as well?" Emily asked.
"Yeah." Harley nodded. "She always gets here on Friday evening and takes off for L.A. late Sunday evening. Paris said when they met with her Saturday afternoon to go over plans for the renovation budget, she was very distracted and unusually tractable." She laughed. "She said she and Dani used it to their advantage and got her to sign off on the new equipment purchases that included buying them through her company at a sixty percent discount. Said Valerie didnt even bat an eye, then she took off without a word to anyone just after dinner."
"Sounds like she was running from something, doesnt it?" Emily said.
"Yeah, it does. Speaking of Valerie, any word from Naomi on her private parties?"
Suddenly it was as if they were the only two people in the room. It was like Sally and Cole had disappeared and the sheriff and the writer were working the case alone. If Cole minded being usurped as a fellow officer of the law or Sally minded being ignored as the hostess, neither showed it. As a matter of fact, they were both fascinated by the dynamic they were watching between the two women.
"Hell! I forgot to call him." She looked at her watch. "Ive got his number on my cell, but I left it at your folks house." She looked at Cole and was about to ask him to take her there when Cole beat her to it.
"Well, since Im off for the night, Im sure Harley wouldnt mind driving you home." He got up and made it clear that was the end of the discussion. Sally just grinned. Shed seen the brief look of fear as it flashed across the face of both the women and silently applauded her sometimes-clueless husband. Whatever had happened to make these too obviously smitten women keep each other at a distance, Sally only hoped would be talked out and over by the time they got there.
Harley had been out maneuvered and there wasnt a thing she could do about it. She was stuck with the writer at least as long as it took her to drive across town to the Ravensdown house.
Emily realized she too had no choice. As much as she wanted to have a few minutes to apologize to the Sheriff, she still felt nervous about it. Especially in light of the fact that Harley went out on a date while she was gone. Emily was half glad to have this chance to be alone with her, and the other half was scared that maybe she really had blown her chance with the tall beauty once and for all.
Emily started to get up when she realized she still had the Empress on her lap. She smiled and stroked the soft fur. "Im sorry, your majesty. I have to be going now." She really was sorry. She didnt want to leave the little cat behind. The blonde carefully moved the cat from her lap and tried to lay her on the couch, but the cat woke up and stood, stretching luxuriously. Emily just rubbed her head and scratched her lightly under her chin as she turned to her host and hostess.
"Thanks for inviting me over. Dinner was great and I loved the animal stories." She started to walk slowly toward the door with Sally. "If you dont mind, Id love to borrow some of them for my book. I promise to give you credit."
Sally just laughed and wrapped her arm around her. "No credit is necessary. Use what you like and I had a great time having you."
She said good night to Cole and stepped outside following Harley. It wasnt until she got to the car door that she realized there was a soft, furry body twining itself around her ankles. A tiny meow and an upturned face met her as she looked down.
"Hey, there. What are you doing out here? I have to go now."
Harley tried hard not to let the insipid cuteness of the scene affect her, but wasnt having much luck. Particularly as Prince Potemkin was clearly very agitated by the small cats behavior.
Emily and Cole both tried to get the cat to go in the house and twice she slipped out between their feet before he could manage to close the screen door. The fifth attempt to leave was stopped by a very small cat, climbing five feet up the screen door and yowling nonstop. That was all Emily could take and she ran back to the house to sooth her new friend.
Finally Cole gave them the news that Harley had been afraid of all evening.
"Emily, it looks like youve adopted yourself a cat. You might as well take her with you, because shes not going to be any kind of happy here without you."
Emily just looked at him, wide eyed.
"Of course that means, youll have to take Prince, too, but that just cant be helped."
"Bu, but wait. I cant have a cat. I mean, I dont live here and Im staying with Josh and Twyla. I cant just bring a cat and dog back to their house and besides, Prince is Harleys dog. I cant take him away from her."
He just looked at her like shed spit up a fur-ball. "Why not?"
"Uh...wha, buh.." Emily sputtered.
Sally decided she needed to interject some rationality into the conversation, since it was obvious her critter-loving husband wasnt seeing the problem here.
"Emily, dear. It really is the best solution. Empress obviously wants to be with you and shed be most unhappy here if we made her stay. Prince wont leave her so hell have to go with you, but this just may be the answer weve been looking for. It could be that once Prince realizes that the Empress has an owner to take care of her, hell be able to stop being her champion and things can go back to normal for him and Harley."
Emily shook her head. "But what about Josh and Twyla? I cant just.."
"Yes, you can." Harley interjected. Emily turned to face her and for the first time all evening saw a real smile and a softening of the lines of her face when the sheriff looked at her. "The folks wont mind. They love pets. The only reason they dont have one now is that Bear, Dads Irish Setter, died only three months ago and hes still grieving his loss. Theyll be fine with it."
Emily thought it over for a few seconds. "All right, but what about Stephanie?"
Harley furrowed her brow. "What about her?"
"Well, since she left last night for L.A. I was planning on moving back there tomorrow. Do you think shell mind if I bring a dog and cat with me? I mean, I cant just presume shell be okay with it and I cant stay at your parents house any longer. Ive imposed on them enough."
Harley had several problems with Emilys last statement. The first was that she didnt want Prince Potemkin to live at Stephanies. Steph had no back fencing and even though she was training Prince as she had the time, she couldnt be sure he wouldnt take off after some wildlife and get hit by a car. The second was, she agreed, that it was kind of presumptuous to assume that her cousin and her lover wouldnt have a problem with finding the lingering residue of cat hair in their get away house. The third and most important problem was that she was very uncomfortable with having Emily staying at Stephs house by herself. It had already been broken into once. She still didnt know what the motivation for the attack on Emily was and it bothered her a great deal to think of the woman living in that house alone, again.
A solution to her dilemma came to her mind instantly, but she tried very hard to find a way around that. It took her brilliant mind two seconds to realize that it really was the best solution and she should just get over herself if it made her uncomfortable.
"I have a solution. Just get in the car with the Empress. Ill get her food and litter box from Cole and put Prince in the back seat." Before Emily had a chance to ask about it, Harley took her elbow and led her to the SUV, opened the door and sat her down. She belted her in as the blonde was still holding the cat, and closed the door before Emily could say another word.
Emily just sat there with her mouth slightly open and a few minutes later, the doors to her left opened and closed. Prince was now in the backseat with a large bag next to him and Harley was buckling herself in.
The sheriff was glad for the activity required to start the car and gladder still that the writer hadnt asked her any questions. Yet. Cole seemed to know instantly what her solution to the problem was and though he said nothing, he couldnt stop the knowing smile. Harley just grunted at him and told him to get the stuff for the cat and hurry it up. Sally put her arm around her and said, "Its all for the best. Youll see."
Harley still needed a minute or two to formulate the words she needed to convince the blonde that her idea was for the best as Sally said, so she hit the button and turned on the radio hoping for a few seconds distraction.
It worked, but for a reason Harley could not have known. Emily had been watching the set jaw and look of distress on the other womans face. She was again reminded of the terrible way shed treated her in the street yesterday and realized now was the time to admit her fault. As soon as the radio came on, she heard Sting singing. The words of the song hit her in the conscience and reminded her of what she needed to say to the woman sitting next to her.
Under the ruins of a walled city
Crumbling towers in beams of yellow light
No flags of truce, no cries of pity
The siege guns had been pounding all through the night
It took a day to build this city
We walked through its streets in the afternoon
As I returned across the fields Id known
I recognized the walls that I once laid
I had to stop in my tracks for fear
Of walking on the mines I laid
And if I built this fortress around your heart
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire
Then let me build a bridge
For I can not fill the chasm
And let me set the battlements on fire.
Emily leaned forward and turned the music down low. Then she sat and licked her lips, watching the darkness out of the windshield. She kept stroking the sleeping cat as she began.
"Harley, I owe you an apology and I hope you can accept it. Sunday morning when we, uhm, ran into each other." She had to smile a bit as the words came to her. "I, well, I behaved like a brat. I was hung over, embarrassed to have been caught jaywalking, especially by my friend the sheriff, disappointed in myself for the stupid things Id done the night before and I hadnt had my coffee yet." She turned her head to see if Harley was cutting her any slack. When she saw the expression on the sheriffs face hadnt changed, she smiled a little sadly and went on.
"None of that in any way excuses my behavior or diminishes the hurtful things I said to you. I can only tell you that I didnt mean a single one of them and I am deeply, deeply, sorry if I hurt your feelings. That is, sincerely, the last thing I ever want to do."
Harley learned early that you couldnt be an attorney without getting a feel for when someone is telling you a lie or the truth, and you cant get to be a good attorney without knowing the truth when you heard it. Harley was a very good attorney. As such, she knew that everything Emily just said was honest and heartfelt which pissed her off. It was going to make the whole situation they were about to find themselves in very difficult if they were to go back to, well what they were before. Before Emily hurt her feelings, before they were both on the verge of being more.
Harley wanted to just tell Emily to forget it and that she forgave her and still be able to keep her distance, emotionally, but, now that just wasnt going to happen. Damn.
Harley finally cleared her throat and decided she had to say something and part of that was to admit her own part of the blame for their argument. "You werent the only the only one behaving badly. I came off as some kind of lunatic, yelling at you like that. Of course, I forgive you, if youll forgive me? I am sorry I so badly over reacted. I just got so scared when I saw what almos " Well, damn, Harley. You couldnt quit while you were ahead? Did you have to just drop that out there, too? She almost tried to clean it up with some comment about how bad it would look if the sheriff ran down a pedestrian, but she decided it was out there already and Emily was too smart not to see it for the attempt at diversion it would be. She just shut up.
Emily could only murmur, "Of course I forgive you, although there is really no need. You were just reacting the way anyone would under the circumstances." But she knew it wasnt true. She heard what Harley almost said and what that said about the womans feelings for her, but to save the sheriff the embarrassment, she tried to gloss over it with a little white lie.
Harley was a very, very good attorney though, and didnt miss the fib when she heard it. She just nodded her head and made the turn up the road to her parents house. The damage had been done and shed have to live with it.
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