Chapter 12

She tasted blood. And felt like she was swimming in jello. Wake up, dammit! Wake up! Taylor's instincts were screaming inside her head. Groggily she opened one eye and looked around. She could feel the cool, damp grass beneath her cheek and the cold, biting wind ruffling her hair.

What the hell? Ok. . .You were in the woods with Camryn, and you fell asleep. . .Camryn!!!

Her mind raced and she sat up with a jerk, instantly remembering. No. I was looking at that gorgeous sky and thinking about Cami . . . and then the world turned upside down. The Jeep turned over!

She leapt to her feet, ignoring the throbbing pain in her shoulder and the myriad of cuts and scrapes that protested her every move. The only thing she could think of was Camryn. Where the hell is she?

Frantically she scanned the area where she had landed, thrown clear of the tumbling Jeep because she had stupidly forgotten to put on her seatbelt. The bright red Jeep was nowhere to be seen.

"Camryn?" She hollered out, mindful of the slight tremor of panic in her voice.

When the photographer didn't respond, Taylor willed herself to remain calm. Get a grip. Jeeps just don't disappear. With a patient, practiced eye, she scanned the terrain. A cold ball of fear settled in her stomach as she realized that she was not too far from the edge of a ravine.

Edging closer to the lip of the rock face, she looked down and caught a glimpse of red metal peeking out from the bushes below. Camryn! Holy shit! She searched her brain and vaguely remembered Cami buckling herself in, so she must still be in the Jeep.

She instinctively reached for her cell phone, before remembering that it was in the glove compartment of the Jeep. Shit!

With less care than speed, she raced down the path into the ravine, not caring about the branches and bushes that tore at her clothes and skin. All she could think about was her friend. "Camryn!" No response. "Camryn, dammit answer me!" Still nothing.

She's ok. She must be ok. She just can't hear me. Taylor repeated to herself over and over.

The journey took less than five minutes, but seemed interminable to Taylor. As she neared the wrecked Jeep, she smelled gasoline and she picked up her speed. Nearing the vehicle she could see it had landed on the driver's side door, and wedged itself into the face of the rock cliff.

Taylor clambered onto the Jeep and hoisted herself until she could look through the passenger side window. She didn't know whether to be relieved that she had found Cami, or scared to death that her friend was pasty white with her forehead covered in blood.

She eased herself down into the backseat area and unbuckled Cami's seatbelt. "Camryn, can you hear me?" She checked her pulse and heaved a grateful breath that she could still feel her heartbeat. She tried for a minute to revive Cami, but to no avail. So, she reviewed her options.

They were in the middle of nowhere and she smelled gasoline, which meant they should get the hell away from the wreckage as fast as possible. Bloody hell! All right, Jameson. Only one way out of here. Once again ignoring her throbbing shoulder, Taylor wedged herself into the front seat and eased Cami up onto her back. That was the easy part.

It was very disconcerting for T.J. to feel her friend's limp hands as she wrapped both of Cami's arms around her neck. Carrying her piggyback style, Taylor hoisted both of them up through the open passenger window and onto the top of the wreckage. Gently laying Cami down on the flattest part of the metal she could find, Taylor leapt to the ground and then reached back up to pull her friend down from the ruined Jeep.

Her labored breathing was the only thing that gave away Taylor's intense exertion. Lifting Cami onto her shoulders in a fireman's carry, she began to pick her way back up to the dirt fire road above them. She's okŠ Still breathingŠ Just passed out from the trauma. Maybe in shock?

When she reached the top, she found a grassy spot near the fire road to ease her friend down on. Collapsing beside her, she pulled Cami into her lap and began to frantically search for the source of the blood dripping at an alarming rate down the blonde's face. I need a bandage or a cloth or. . . Taylor then remembered she was wearing a sweatshirt over her t-shirt in deference to the chilly mountain air. Stripping it off, she used the soft, absorbent material to gently staunch the flow of blood. The source of the bleeding seemed to be a rather nasty gash over Camryn's left eye. But that didn't explain why her friend was still out cold.

Concussion? Dammit, Camryn. Don't you leave me! The usually stoic Taylor allowed herself a moment to take a deep breath and acknowledge the heaviness in her chest. It felt like she had swallowed hot lead and someone was tightening a vice around her chest.

Blood was nothing new to Taylor. She'd seen her share ¯ even caused her share. In fact, she had held some of her men in just this same way as they took their last breath on earth. And somehow a part of her had remained detached. Because it hurt too damn much otherwise. How in bleedin' hell did you let this happen? She roundly cursed herself. Why did you let her inside, close enough to hurt you? One lone tear tracked its way down Taylor's dirt-smeared face, leaving a clean trail behind it down her cheek.

With a heavy sigh, Taylor glanced at the rapidly setting sun, and finally acknowledged a truth to herself. Wrapping both arms tightly around the bundle of injured woman on her lap, Taylor gently rocked them to and fro. Because. Because you stupid git. Admit it. You love her. Face it. Deal with it. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered that the sunset was absolutely gorgeous, and she wished Camryn were awake to see it.

Glancing down at the dirty face beneath her, Taylor nearly leapt out of her skin to find rumpled-looking green eyes staring back at her.

"Sweet Jesus! You're awake!" Taylor caught Cami in another hug and kissed her forehead just above the cut, before realizing just exactly what she was doing and easing the blonde woman back down into her lap. "Are you ok? Where are you hurt?"

But Cami didn't respond for a moment. She found herself drowning in the steady blue eyes that were mere inches above her. "Am I dreaming?" She finally quietly asked.

"No darlin'. We had an accident." Taylor absently pushed back a lock of Cami's hair and used the sleeve of the sweatshirt to continue to wipe away some of the now crusting blood from Cami's face.

With glassy eyes, Cami was still staring at Taylor. "No. I'm dreaming. You just kissed me and you are holding me. . ." Confusion wrinkled Cami's forehead.

Taylor swallowed hard. "I was glad ta see ya awake 'tis all. You've been out of it for about ten minutes or more. I'm not really sure actuallyŠ"

Cami didn't want to move. She felt more safe and protected right there in T.J.'s arms then anytime in her whole life. Reaching up a tentative hand, she felt the warm stickiness on her face, and her mind registered it as blood. "Wha . . .What happened?"

"You've got a cut here. Are ya hurtin' anywhere else?"

"Hurting?" Cami's eyes started to roll and Taylor recognized she must have a concussion.

"Stay with me now. You've got ta stay awake, Cami!" Strong fingers swept across Cami's cheek.

With great determination Camryn focused on T.J.'s worried face. "Ok. I'm awake." She reached one arm up and grabbed her head. "Oh, damn! My head is killing me!"

"I think ya have a concussion, Cami. Please stay awake, ok?" The strong fingers were cupping her cheek in a most pleasant manner, but Cami could hardly focus on them.

Camryn swallowed hard. All she wanted to do was close her eyes and bury her face into T.J.'s chest and sleep. But T.J. sounded upset and worried, so Camryn concentrated on staying awake. She took a mental inventory and aside from some bruises and cuts, the only other thing that was bothering her was her ankle. "Think I hurt my leg."

T.J.'s eyes swept down the jean-clad leg to Cami's ankles. "Where?"

"Ankle. The right one."

Taylor eased Cami's head down to the grass and began to minister to her ankle with practiced hands. She unlaced the blonde's hiking boot and immediately noticed the swelling. "Looks sprained. Kinda bad." Shit. Even if Cami could stand, she can't walk on that ankle. "Ok. I'm going to leave you for a moment and hike down to the Jeep and find my cell phone. Then call someone to get us the hell outta here."

"No." A hand reached out and touched her arm.

"I'll only be a minute. You'll be fine. Just stay awake, ok?"

"Not what I meant." Camryn took a deep breath to focus her energy. "No cell in the mountains. Can't use the phone here. No network."

Double shit! The sun was quickly disappearing in the west, and they were running out of options. "How far are we from the Ranger's shack we passed on the way in?"

" Probably 'bout 5 or 6 miles. Not sure. Closed down now anyway."


"Ranger. Gone. Park closes at dusk."

Ok. Options. Review and focus. Taylor's militia training kicked into gear. I could walk that distance easily, flag down a motorist. Might take awhile 'cause it will be dark soonŠslow goin'. She glanced down at Cami's pale face and realized that was not the best option. Shouldn't leave her alone that long. Not safe ¯ she'd fall asleep for sure. With a heavy sigh, Taylor began deftly tearing a piece of the sweatshirt to use as a bandage for Cami's head, and another for her ankle. Leaves us only one choice.

"So. Ya like camping?" She daubed the remaining blood from her friend's face and wrapped the makeshift bandage around Cami's injured head. She looks like a war casualty. But a cute one at that. Taylor smiled to herself.

"Camping?" Camryn was clearly puzzled.

"Aye. I dinna think you are goin' anywhere on that ankle, young lady."

"You could go. Find help. I'll be fine." She tried unsuccessfully to sound completely convinced. Taylor set to work on loosely wrapping Cami's ankle, her deft fingers making sure that the bandage didn't put too much pressure on the already swollen joint.

"Well. Ta tell ya the truth, it's not practical. I dinna know where I am going, and it will be pitch dark here in a few minutes."

"Don't have sleeping bags. Cold here." Camryn was already starting to shiver in the brisk wind.

"Pssh." Taylor dismissed this notion with a wave of her hand. "You Southern Californians and your notion of 'cold'." Tying off the impromptu bandage, Taylor reached up and brushed her fingers across the photographer's cheek. "Now, dinna go to sleep on me. I'll be right back. I promise." With a final squeeze on Camryn's shoulder, Taylor disappeared from sight into the twilight.

When Taylor returned, she found Camryn had half dragged herself into a sitting position, leaning against the trunk of a nearby tree, and looking a little worse for the wear. But to Taylor's eyes, Camryn was the most incredible sight she had ever seen.

"Decided to sit up then, did ya?"

"Yeah." Cami answered rather meekly. "Was having trouble staying awake while I was laying down."

"Look what I brought." Taylor set her bundles down on the ground next to Camryn. The backpack and camera sack were there, as well as a well-worn, colorful Mexican blanket that Cami had picked up in Tijuana years before and always kept in the back of the Jeep.

Dropping down next to Camryn, Taylor pulled the blanket up and over her friend who was shivering in the cold. The sun had completely gone and so had most of their waning light. Pulling the beef jerky and apples from the backpack, Taylor managed a weak smile. "Hey. At least we've got some ass-kickin' dinner."

Camryn gave a small smile in return. The blanket offered a little warmth in the chill night air, and she was grateful for Taylor's attempt at humor. The dark-haired woman gently propped up Cami's injured ankle on the camera pack, to elevate it and hopefully take some of the swelling down.

"Thanks." She gratefully acknowledged that having her foot up did help the pain some, although Cami still longed for an axe to just cut off the damned foot, it hurt so bad.. "If you can gather some of that deadwood over there, I'll make a fire."

Cami was on the receiving end of an arched eyebrow. "Ya mean ya know how to do that trick with the rubbing together of the sticks?" Taylor inquired.

She started to shake her head, but that hurt too much. "No, nothing like that. Although I was a Campfire Girl in my ill-spent youth." She smiled genuinely at her friend now. "No. I always carry matches in my hiking pack. But I don't think I could manage to get up and gather the wood."

With a nod, Taylor got up and began to gather the few pieces of wood she could scout up in the surrounding area. She found, much to her puzzlement, that for a girl who was raised on urban warfare, she was rather adept at this whole wilderness thing. Stealth had never been an issue for her, but she was surprised at the survival instincts that were kicking in here and now. Like where to look for wood, what to use for tinder, how much water they had, and where they could start a fire and not burn down the forest. Hmmmm......

She returned a few minutes later with a large armful of wood. Cami caught her grimace as she laid down her burden. "Are you ok? All this fussing over me . . .did you hurt yourself?"

With a sigh, Taylor gently prodded at her aching shoulder. " 'Tis nothin'. I just hurt my shoulder a bit 'tis all."

"Let me get the fire going so I have some light, and then I'll look at it."

"No worries." Taylor stated noncommittally. "Stay put."

Before Cami could move herself closer to the wood, Taylor was already expertly stacking it and lighting a neat, small fire that gave off welcome warmth.

"Thanks. Where did you learn to make a campfire? Can't quite picture you in one of those Girl Scout uniforms." Although Camryn smiled at the mental image.

"Tch. No. Lived most of my life with a coal furnace. Or peat sometimes. I don't know. . . I just. . .figured it out. Dinna want you to strain yourself." Where in the hell did I learn to do that? A long forgotten memory wisped away in Taylor's brain as though it were dancing on the wind. She gave a half shrug. "I dinna know."

Taylor became acutely aware of movement in the nearby bushes and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. One of the bastards that the Reynoso's hired? Come to finish off the job? Cocking an ear to listen more intently, she discerned it was likely a four-legged foe. But possibly just as dangerous as our two-legged buddies, eh?

Camryn heard the noise as well and reached for the blood stained remains of Taylor's sweatshirt. "They can probably smell the blood."

"What kind of animals do ya have out here?"

"Mostly mountain lions. They can get kind of bold at times. The news reports an attack every once and awhile. Mostly tourists getting stupid and thinking that they can pet the big kitty."

Taylor snorted. "Aye, well. We'll just get rid of the temptation then." Taylor leaned over and calmly placed the blood-soaked cloth into the fire, effectively destroying part of the scent. The wrapped head wound was still showing a bit of blood, but Taylor reasoned that the fire should keep animals away if nothing else.

With one eye and ear on the surrounding brush, the two women shared the remaining apples, leaving a few pieces of jerky and a nutrition bar for their breakfast, and washing it down with the water Camryn had packed. Taylor finally gave into the chill of the evening and crawled under the proffered half of the blanket, admonished by a stern, motherly look of concern from Cami.

When Taylor had finally allowed Cami to take a look at her aching shoulder, Camryn was astonished to see the lurid purple bruising that was already taking place. "I think you did something serious to this. I mean, I'm no doctor, butŠ."

"Well, an probably I did. 'Twill be fine."

"How on earth are you using it so much without it killing you? I mean gathering the wood and all."

"I just do what I have ta 'tis all." Truth be told, T.J.'s shoulder was aching so bad she knew from experience that she probably had some ligament damage.

"Wait a minuteŠ" Cami looked around for the first time at just where they were "camped." "How in the hell did we get here?? Where is the Jeep?"

"Guess your scrambled brains are slowly working out the kinks, eh?" Taylor ruefully smiled. "The Jeep is over that edge."

"The cliff??" Camryn looked seriously alarmed.


"Thank god we were thrown from it. Wouldn't have liked to have seen what the bottom of that ravine looks like." She peered fruitlessly into the blackness towards the cliff's edge.

Taylor opened her mouth to respond, but something held her back. The panic on Camryn's face was enough to forestall her from divulging all the details to her sick friend. Time enough later for the whole truth, I guess.

"What happened exactly?" She inquired, effectively moving the subject in a slightly different direction.

Camryn thought for a moment. "Hmm... Last thing I really remember was hitting a pot-hole of sorts. Then there was this loud bang, like a tree branch breaking . . ." She trailed off for a moment, deep in thought. "Then I guess I lost control of the steering."

Her forehead wrinkled in concentration. At last she came up with the information she was reaching for in her addled brain. "It was the damnedest thing. Like I was driving one of those cars in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland. You know the kind where you can spin the wheel all you want and nothing really happens?"

Taylor nodded. "Never been there myself, but I have an idea what you are talkin' about."

Cami got briefly distracted. "You've never been to Disneyland?"



Taylor chuckled in response. "Aye. That's what my ma would call me."

"Anyway, the steering didn't respond properly, but . . .I don't remember what happened after that. . .I guess . . .I . . .the next thing I really remember was looking up into your eyes."

In the dimness of the firelight, Camryn couldn't see Taylor's blush. But it was there. "I was worried when I couldna get ya to wake up."

"Thanks. For . . .well, for being worried, taking care of me." It feels nice. In fact it feels so right . . .

" 'Tis no problem. You would've done the same." Taylor concealed her face in the shadows for fear of giving too much away.

The two women talked well into the night, until Camryn could no longer keep her eyes open, and Taylor felt it was probably safe for her friend to sleep a little. Propping her back against the tree, Taylor shivered in intense reflex when Camryn tucked her head onto Taylor's uninjured shoulder and promptly fell asleep there in the tall woman's arms. Damn, this feels . . .perfect. Like we've been here before, under the stars, next to a fire, with Cami in my arms. T.J. shook her head. Impossible. But a beautiful thought nonetheless.

Just before Taylor drifted off to sleep herself, she examined her revelation from earlier in the evening. Face it kid. You are in love with Cami. And it feels damn good. *************************************************** Chapter 13

Hearing the steady heartbeat beneath her ear, Camryn grinned in involuntary reflex and snuggled closer to the warm body that her brain registered was T.J.

Hmmm. . . T.J. . . . Then another part of her brain woke up and stiffened when she realized that she was lying on top of her tall friend. Damn! T.J.! How in the hell . . .? What in the . . .?

Just then the events of yesterday came flooding back to her ¯ the gorgeous hike, the incredible sense of peace just sitting on top of that waterfall with T.J., and the car accident. Cami remembered insisting that T.J. share the one blanket they had for warmth, and she vaguely remembered using the older woman's uninjured shoulder for a pillow. But sometime in the night, she had turned into the warmth of the woman lying next to her and she currently had one arm and a leg curled possessively around her friend, with her cheek pillowed on T.J.'s breast. She turned beet-red as she realized she was enjoying the feel of T.J. beneath her ¯ a little too much in fact.

She peeked open one eye and hazarded a glance at the peacefully sleeping face just inches from hers. T.J. looked different in her sleep; with her eyes closed, she lost some of her wariness, some of the guarded expression. Her tension-filled face eased into a soft, more youthful appearance ¯ open and trusting. And Camryn was struck once again at just how beautiful T.J. really was.

With a rueful grimace at the pain in her ankle, she eased her leg from T.J.'s and was in the process of moving her arm and trying to ignore the throb in her head when she caught sparkling blue eyes looking down at her.

"How are ya feelin' this mornin'?" Taylor's voice held the deep huskiness of sleep, which sent a shiver down Cami's spine.

"Ugh." Cami grunted in reply.

"Aye? That good, eh? Well then. Glad to see the rest did ya some good." Taylor hesitated, deciding if it was wise to tease her friend, before giving in to the imp inside. "Were you...ah... comfortable?"

Cami's flush told the tale. "Um . . .erŠyeahŠthanks." She cleared her throat before continuing. "You make a great pillow. Sorry about that."

Taylor's brilliant smile told Cami that she had nothing to worry about. "Good. Glad to hear it. How's the ankle?" She blithely inquired, changing the subject to allow each woman to come to grips with the sexual tension of the morning.

"Still sore, but I think I'd like to try standing on it, 'cause I need to . . .um . . ."

Taylor took pity on her deep crimson-flushed friend. "Need to go about your morning routine?"

With a small sigh in relief, Cami smiled. "Er. . .yeah . . .something like that."

Before she could ask, Taylor was on her feet in one swift motion, holding out a hand to Cami's still prone position. Taking the proffered help, Cami pulled herself slowly into a standing position, fighting back the nausea that swirled through her head and the dizziness that threatened to put her back down on her butt.

Steady, strong arms clasped around her and T.J.'s voice in her ear sent electric shocks through her body. "Easy now. Slowly. I've got ya."

Once Camryn regained her balance she was able to hobble into the nearby bushes. Her ankle was still painful, but she could put a little weight on it this morning, which was a relief. When she returned, T.J. was nowhere to be seen. Assuming the taller woman was also going through her "morning routine," Cami sat back down on the blanket and looked doubtfully at the heavily overcast sky. Thick, black clouds were racing in from the west, and Cami knew from experience that likely as not, they were soon to be drenched.

Taylor returned to find Cami munching on half of the remaining nutrition bar. Cami's eyes narrowed as she looked up and caught the ill-concealed grim look on T.J.'s face. "What's wrong?"

"Just had a look at the Jeep. It's bad. Think ya cracked an axle or something." T.J.'s hackles were standing straight up, fully aware that it was likely that the damage to Cami's car was not all created by the wreck. I'll kill you Frank, so help me. Forcing her suspicions aside, she focused on the task at hand.

"Yeah? Well guess it was time for a new car anyway." Cami shrugged and offered up the remaining half of the nutrition bar. Taylor made a bit of a face.

"What's in those things?" She took her half and examined it as though it might bite her at any moment.

"Whole grain oats, wheat, yummy stuff. Please just try it. We have a long walk and you don't want to make it on a totally empty stomach."

Taylor gave into the concerned look on Cami's face and took a tentative bite, then shrugged. "Not so bad."

She sat down next to her diminutive friend and mentally reviewed their options. The fastest thing would be for T.J. to hike up to the Ranger's shack and bring back help. However, with the gnawing fear that someone had deliberately sabotaged Cami's Jeep, Taylor's protective instincts were shouting that she should not under any circumstances leave Cami out here unarmed and injured. Damn!

"How's the ankle feel? Were you able to walk ok?"

"Hurts some." It was Cami's turn to be stoic. "But I was thinking. If my memory serves correctly, the town is only about 3 or 4 miles that way." Cami pointed vaguely in a Northerly direction. "It means more hills, but it would probably be faster than hiking back out to the ranger station. And from the looks of those clouds, we don't have much time before we are soaking wet."

Taylor considered this and glanced at the fairly rugged terrain around them. "Don't ya think that someone will come by on this road?" She indicated the dirt fire road a few yards away.

"Naw. Not today. Even the most avid hikers will likely stay away with a storm threatening. When it starts to rain up here, it happens damned fast, and you don't wanna get stuck out here in a mud bog or something." Trying not to sound like an alarmist, she made her final point. "Besides. It's cold here and I don't think that blanket will be much help once it is wet."

She was right and T.J. knew it. But that didn't help the fact that it was still going to be a lot slower going with Cami injured. Likely as not it would take them considerable time to cover the distance. With a heavy sigh, Taylor capitulated. "Ok then. Guess we'd better get a start out. Can you remember this place to bring a wrecking crew back up here for your Jeep?"

"Sure. I come out this way a lot. I'll remember it."

"Then let's go. Guess since the town is closer we should head that way." Besides, Taylor reasoned with herself. They were cold and hungry and the town would offer the best in shelter, food and medical attention for her friend. Taylor was not pleased at Cami's pasty appearance or the still somewhat glassy look to her eyes. But she was left with little choice at the moment.

Before they left their makeshift campsite, Cami eased over to the edge of the ravine and peered down into the early morning mist at the remains of her Jeep. "Damn glad we didn't go over the side with that thing." She muttered, shaking her head in disbelief. So many things about the moments right before the accident were a blur. I probably just scrambled my brains a bit is all. Small comfort to know the reason when her head felt like it was about to split in two.

Taylor disappeared for a moment and returned with a small tree branch that could serve as a walking-stick for Cami. "Here, this ought to help. You really need crutches or a wheelchair butŠ." T.J. shrugged. The blonde reached for the stick and was intrigued at the feel of the wood in her hands. This is cool. It would make a great defensive weapon, I think. She blinked at the random thought. Weapon? Were in the hell did THAT come from?

Giving in to Taylor's insistent grappling with the packs, Cami reluctantly allowed her tall friend to shoulder both burdens. "The small one is nearly empty. We ate most of the food and water. 'Tis no problem. Besides, with your ankle and the cane, you will have enough trouble keeping your balance." T.J.'s shoulder radiated a warm throbbing ache this morning, but she refused to allow Cami to carry anything extra with her sore ankle.

About twenty minutes onto the trail, Taylor realized that although the town may be closer in the direction they were headed, the terrain was much rougher on Cami. The ground was uneven and littered with rocks, twigs and the like, and twice already T.J. had kept Cami from falling when she stepped wrong on her tender ankle. Taylor roundly cursed Frank at every step, knowing in her gut that the son of a bitch had something to do with their present predicament. Bastard. You'd better hope I don't catch up with you.

Taylor was no mechanic, but she knew ways to disable a car, knew what damage looked like from an accident and what it looked like when someone helped the accident along. For all intents and purposes, Frank had been trying to kill her ¯ to kill them both.

Taylor accepted her own mortality; she accepted the fact that she was, albeit involuntarily, involved in this mess Frank had brought down on her. Therefore she knew she might become a casualty of that war. But what she refused to accept, what caused her to feel the old darkness creeping into her soul, was that Frank or one of his "business associates" had set out to hurt Cami as well. That was not acceptable to her. And he would pay dearly for the pain Taylor saw etched clearly across her smaller friend's face. You hear me, Frank? You'd best disappear before I get back to civilization.

"Quarter for your thoughts?" Cami interrupted T.J.'s blackening mood.

"A quarter? Is that all?" Taylor managed a smile, taking notice of her friend's labored breathing and deliberately slowing the pace on the pretense of allowing them to talk easier.

"Yeah. Well. Best I could do out here in the wilderness, there are no ATM machines." Twin smiles caught each other and created a small ball of warmth inside of Cami. "Tell you what. Talk to me, tell me a joke or something to keep my mind off this damn ankle, and I'll buy you the largest slice of Mom's Apple Pie we can find when we reach town."

Taylor considered that a moment. "Throw in a hot shower, and a cup of steaming hot coffee and you got yourself a deal."

Camryn chuckled. "Ok. That can be arranged. So. . .what was causing that look on your face just now?"

With a slight hesitation, Taylor opted for something near the truth. "I was just thinkin' about that damned Jeep. If I could get my hands on the bloke who Š um . . .worked on it last, I'd throttle him."

"Oh." Camryn responded quietly. "Actually my mechanic is a really nice guy. I don't think there was anything he did to it. In fact, I haven't had the steering worked on ever. The last work done on it was new brakes. That's about it." She was feeling terrible for the fact that Taylor was stuck out here with her in the middle of nowhere.

With a heavy sigh, she continued. "Listen, T.J.? I'm really sorry. It's my fault we are in this mess. I should have been watching more carefully and avoided that pothole. Then there is that broken down contraption I call my car . . ."

"Hold up a bit." Taylor interrupted. "Don't ya go blamin' yourself for this! T'was an accident plain and simple. Not a damned thing you could have done. In fact, it is probably true that what ya did do was keep us from running headlong off the deep part of that canyon. And that, my friend, woulda meant neither of us would be here right now."

The truth of Taylor's words started to sink in to Cami. Next to the ravine where the Jeep had landed was a deep canyon, dropping down some 400 or more yards. "But I didn't do much, just muscled the wheel, and it didn't respond."

"Well, whatever it was, it worked. We are here, aren't we? Alive and a bit worse for the wear . . . but we'll survive. And we'll feel a damned sight better as soon as we reach this town of yours." She placed a comforting hand around Cami's shoulders and left it there for awhile, helping her friend steady herself over the rough places on the trail.

"Thanks. I . . .that makes me feel better anyway."

Just then a clap of thunder rolled across the valley and the two women were instantly drenched by a deluge of rain.

"Of course." Both of them spoke at once, then blinked at each other and burst into peals of laughter that rendered them helpless for a few moments.

"What next??"

Taylor's eyes held a merry twinkle despite their predicament. "I dinna think ya wanna ask that question, Cami. Let's keep moving or we'll soon need ta build an ark." Taylor urged them forward.

"Yeah, there's not much shelter around here that I know of. But look on the bright sideŠ" At Taylor's doubtful look, Cami continued. "At least with the rain, the mountain lions and coyotes won't likely be stalking us."

A slight flicker of anxiety darted across Taylor's face before she aggressively pushed down the thought of wild animals. "Gee. Thanks. Makes me feel loads better."

The rain made the terrain more difficult for Cami to manage with her injured ankle, and soon the visibility was effectively cut down to just a few yards in front of them. ***********************

Several hours later, the photographer was cold, shivering, in intense pain, and working on a headache the size of Montana. But absurdly, she was still smiling at the beautiful woman who traipsed alongside her. Damn. She's just as gorgeous wet, covered in mud and shivering. As the rain lessened to a persistent drizzle, the noise of the storm subsided enough for Cami to pickup the conversation again to pass the time.

Besides. You really just want to know more about her dontcha . . .? Firmly quieting her inner monologue, she decided to test the waters once moreŠso to speak.

"So Taylor. Tell me a story to keep my mind off of the fact that we are both looking like we went over Niagara Falls without the barrel."

A small grunt of agreement. "Aye. What kinda story did ya have in mind?"

"Oh, I don't know." Yes you do, you little sneak. "Tell me about your love life."

She was instantly pinned by intense blue eyes. "My love life? A short tale at the moment, ta be sure."

"Well, how come a woman as beautiful as you are doesn't have a boyfriend? Or did Frank put you off of relationships for awhile?"

Despite the fact that she was freezing, Taylor felt heat rush into her cheeks at the compliment, and struggled with the proper phrasing of her answer. When she didn't comment right away, Cami rushed on.

"I'm sorry. That's probably none of my business. I was just curious."

"No. 'Tis alright. I was just thinkin'. Frank is certainly a trial, but as we were never in love in the first place, he's not why I'm Š.um...unattached. I . . .I guess I just haven't met my anam cara as yet."

"Your "ana" what?"

Taylor smiled. " 'Anam cara' is the ancient Celtic expression for soulmate. Roughly translated into English, it means 'friend of the soul'."

"That's beautiful." Their eyes met for an instant, and the tension became so intense that both felt they should turn away, but neither could break their gaze.

"Aye. I've such a foul temper sometimes that I have always wondered if there was anyone out there that could even stand to be around me, much less anyone who could be a soulmate. I dinna even know if I believe in such things anymore." Taylor finally broke the contact as her eyes turned towards the path once again and took on a far away look.

"Anymore?" Cami gently urged her friend onward with the topic.

"I've done things, seen things that are horrificŠand IŠsometimes I dinna think I can ever put them out of my mind. Unspeakable things that color a person, make them into something . . .I dinna knowŠless than humanŠ" She was obviously at sea here, her expression so lost that Cami reached out and wrapped her small hand around Taylor's arm. "Let's just say that I have never expected to lead a 'normal' life, have a 'normal' relationship."

Cami pondered that for a bit. "I see. But, T.J.? Don't you think that 'normal' anything could get awfully boring after awhile?"

T.J. turned and met the earnest green eyes that were so full of compassion and tenderness that her heart ached just to look at them. "I suppose it can." She stopped walking and took Cami's hand from her arm and just held it in her own, trembling at the contact. "But, to someone like meŠwell I, for one, could use a little 'normalcy' in my life."

A clap of thunder broke the stillness and Cami was pulled from the intense blue eyes above her. For the first time she really looked around at where they were, taking note of the small canyon they were about to enter into.

"Hey!" Cami's voice took on an exuberance her body didn't share. "What's that?" She pointed into the forest ahead of them.

T.J.'s eyes followed the blonde's gesture and tracked into the canyon. Through the trees she could just make out what looked like a road, and a structure just beyond that. "A cabin or somethingŠcan't tell."

"No, wait." Camryn looked excitedly around and judged their location. "That's the highway! Which means that Julian is just over there!" She pointed to the North and as she did, T.J. caught sight of smoke curling from several chimneys in the vicinity. "Awesome! We made it!"

When T.J. glanced back down at the diminutive blonde next to her, she lost her heart ¯ completely. Something about the rain-drenched figure, the slick-backed hair, the beautiful, laughing smile caught a hold of T.J. and she gave into the insidious cravings she had been fighting so hard against.

Perhaps it was the joy of the moment, knowing they were near safety. Or perhaps it was two souls refusing to deny each other any longer. Whatever the cause, T.J. reached down with her good arm, grabbed Cami around the waist and pulled her up off of her feet until their faces were mere inches apart.

"Yes. We made it... At last." Her voice was a bare whisper, as it curled into Cami's heart and caused a shiver to race down her spine.

Camryn, too, gave up the struggle and took the last step. As the rain drizzled around them, Cami forgot that her head and ankle hurt, forgot that they were a short walk from shelter. Instead, she finally listened to the truth of her own heart. "At last," she whispered back as she strained upwards and her lips met the softness of T.J.'s mouth.

At first the kiss was soft, tentative, even questioning. But when T.J. pulled her closer and wrapped her other hand in Camryn's soft hair, Cami knew for sure she had made the right leap of faith this time. The kiss grew more passionate and intense until they both pulled back, fighting for control of their own bodies that demanded even more.

T.J. eased Cami back to the ground, and gently brushed her finger across the smaller woman's now somewhat swollen lips.

"T.J.? IŠ.IŠ." Cami stuttered.

But the dark haired woman simply left one finger on her lips. "Shhh. Don't."


"If you dare apologize for that, I'dŠ.I don't know what I'd do." T.J. finished with a lopsided smile.

"Apologize?" Cami was clearly confused. "No. Never that. I was just going to say. Wow!"

T.J. flashed a brilliant smile. "Indeed. Wow!" When she saw concern etched on Cami's face, she continued. "Dinna worry darlin'." Glancing back to the canyon below them, "We should get out of this rain, get some food in our stomachs, and you, lass, should get off that ankle."

"And then we should talk?"

T.J. rewarded her with another rakish grin. "Yes. Then we can talk. About any damned thing ya want ta." The two women carefully made their way towards the town, arm in arm, each lost in the joy of the moment they had shared.



Return to Main Page