This installment of Bear Fate takes place in Yakima City, Washington State with a small digression to Sheriff Ramirez and Lance back in Success, Colorado. Amber and Heather have a chance to catch up a little and we briefly meet Heather’s triplets.
“Where’s Miss Amber?” Ramirez demanded. “I thought the idea was that you were both going to give your statements this morning.”
“Mr. Calvin Bascom took her back to Washington State last night. Seems Mrs. Patrick had her babies and wanted her sister.” Lance kept his voice as casual as he could. He didn’t like the way Calvin had scooped Amber right from under his nose. But there was no point in saying so or giving the folks in Success anything to gossip about.
“Is that so?” There was only polite wonder in the sheriff’s voice. “I hope mother and infants are doing well.”
“I don’t know anything about that. I just know the babies came early and that Mr. Calvin and Mr. Jeremy were going to Washington State in an awful hurry. And they took Amber with them in the helicopter.”
“Miss Amber can make her statement when she gets back.” Ramirez was genial. Of course he was.
The Bascoms were the most important people in Success, Colorado. Hell, in the whole damn county. If they had taken Amber somewhere that prevented her from giving an account to the police, that was fine by Ramirez. Staying on the right side of the Bascoms was only good sense. Besides, it wasn’t as if Amber had done anything wrong. She was the victim.
“I’ll bring her in when she gets back,” Lance promised. If Calvin had not staked a claim by then. There had been something hot and possessive in the way the other man had looked at Amber. Although she had not acted like a filly with a Bascom brand on her.
Ramirez took him through the events of the previous night, step-by-step. Ramirez was being thorough, but he wasn’t hostile. The Sheriff had seen both the knife and part of the scuffle. He just wanted to have a nice, clean case to present to the judge. Lance was only too happy to hammer the nails into Blondie’s coffin.
“Fortunately, I saw that knife drop out of the assailant’s hand. If he tries to bring a claim of assault, we can certainly establish that it was necessary force to defend Miss Dupré,” Ramirez assured him.
“He might bring a civil suit,” Lance allowed.
“He wouldn’t get far in this county,” Ramirez said flatly.
Good. That asshole had crossed a line when he pulled a knife on a woman – not just any woman – on sweet, curvy Amber Dupré. Probably the fantasies Lance had been entertaining, would remain just castles in the sky. There wasn’t much reason for a lovely young woman like that to settle for a half-blind horror show like Lance Prescott. He had a mirror. He knew exactly what he looked like now. But a man was entitled to dream.
“I’ll have this typed up. You can sign it when you bring Miss Amber in. How long do you think she’ll be gone?”
“Mr. Calvin told Carlos Diego they’d be back tonight. But there’s no saying that Miss Amber won’t want to stay a little longer with Mrs. Patrick. They’re twins and mighty close from what I understand.”
Ramirez grunted. “Well if she ain’t back tomorrow, you come in and sign this anyway. There’s enough here for the judge to be willing to keep Mr. Orville Sutton in jail until his trial.” Apparently Orville Sutton was Blondie’s name.
Lance stood up. “No prospect of bail?”
“I expect the judge will set it pretty high.” Ramirez got to his feet too. “Mr. Sutton’s associate didn’t look like the kind of a fella who had the wherewithal to post bond.”
Lance had to admit that Dog had not looked as though he had sufficient money to pay his bar bill. But appearances could be deceptive. No one knew that better than he did. “Let me know, if he gets bond. Blondie is the kind of jerk who holds a grudge. And his pal is worse.”
“They better not hold any grudges in my jurisdiction.” Ramirez round, pleasant face assumed a severe cast. He looked every inch the hard-nosed lawman he really was. He and Lance shook.
* * *
Heather looked terrible. Her skin was pasty. Her hair was limp and greasy. There were circles under her eyes. Amber stared at her in shock, almost afraid to enter her sister’s hospital room.
“Amber.” Despite her appearance, Heather’s voice was strong. She struggled to sit up.
“Don’t move,” Amber ordered. She pressed her twin back against the pillows. “How are you doing?”
“I’m exhausted is how I’m doing.”
Amber pulled up the chair and sat on the edge leaning forward. “Patrick said you lost a fair amount of blood.”
“So they say. I was on a saline drip overnight.” She waved a bruised hand at Amber.
“Oh.” Amber swallowed hard. She did not know how to respond.
“I’m okay. Really.”
“Promise?” Amber took Heather’s hand in hers.
“I’m just worn out. They call it labor for a reason. And even though childbirth is not an illness, I had nurses in and out all night keeping me awake.”
“Hospitals are not restful places,” Amber agreed. “I haven’t seen the babies yet. Patrick took Calvin to see them, but I wanted to see you first.”
“They are beautiful,” Heather assured her. “A little small, and the doctors are muttering about jaundice, but as soon as we put a little weight on them, we should be able to take them home.”
“Will I be allowed to hold them?”
“Probably not” Heather’s voice was sad. “I held them when they were born, and they let me have each of them in turn once last night to try to bring my milk in. But otherwise they are in incubators, hooked up to monitors.”
“Oh.” Amber looked around the room. A vase of red roses occupied the window ledge. The curtains had been opened to reveal a bleak Washington State winter. The lack of sun did nothing for Heather’s complexion. “Can I do anything for you? Would you like coffee or something?”
“No coffee for nursing moms. I could use a drink of water and my jug is empty.”
Amber was delighted to have something useful to do. She filled the jug at the bathroom sink and topped up Heather’s glass.
“Thanks, Sis. I don’t know if it’s being in labor or what, but I am continuously thirsty.” Heather pulled at her hospital gown. “Pat brought my case, but I don’t know what became of it. I packed a pretty nightgown, but they put me in this godawful gown for the labor, and once I had the drip, they wouldn’t let me take it off.”
Amber opened doors. A little red suitcase stood on the floor. “I could help you change. Do you want a shower?”
Amber fished out a bag of toiletries. “Do you want to brush your teeth?”
“Yup. I didn’t have the energy to even ask for my toothbrush last night.”
It didn’t take long to help Heather shower and put on her own soft blue nightgown and warm slippers. Amber made her sister sit in the chair. “Do you want to dry your hair? Or shall I braid it for you?”
“A braid will be easier.”
Over the years, they had done each other’s hair so often, that putting a French braid in Heather’s damp hair took almost no time at all. “Bed.” Amber guided Heather back to the bed and tucked her up.
“I feel better. There is nothing like being clean. Thank you.” Heather relaxed against the pillows that Amber had fluffed up. “Tell me about your big date.”
Amber held out her left foot. “I wore your boots to the dance,” she said. “Lance carried me to his truck both ways.”
“They are your boots, Amber. A Christmas present. Did you have fun? Is he a nice guy?”
“Sort of. Lance had to rescue me from a snake who pulled a knife on me. So, yeah, he’s a good guy.”
“OMG. A for real snake?”
“Yup. These two creepy guys sat at our table while we were dancing — Lance is pretty good and he showed me how to line dance — and we were having a blast until we went back to our table. The snake shifter – he said his name was Blondie – followed me to the restroom. He was waiting for me when he came out. He asked me to dance and when I said ‘no’, he grabbed me.”
“I hope you hurt him.”
“Some. I stomped him good with the heel of my boot. And then Lance stepped in and broke his wrist.” Amber paused. “He told me I was doing a fine job, but he had to help because of Blondie’s knife.”
“Uncle Pierre was so right. Trust a snake to pull a knife. What is it with those creepers? I hope you called the cops.”
Uncle Pierre Benoit was the head of their clan and the authority on all things shifter, but Amber was not so sure he knew much about snakes either. There were no snakes on Yakima Ridge.
“One bad snake is not definitive, Heather. The sheriff was having a drink with his wife. He arrested Blondie. Oh.” It was Amber’s turn to clap her hands over her mouth. “I was supposed to go in to make my statement today.”
“You better call and tell them why you can’t. I guess that put a damper on your evening.”
Amber nodded. “I was a bit rattled, so I asked Lance to take me home. Just as well, as I had left my phone behind and I missed your call and Patrick’s.” ***
“They are awful small,” Calvin said. Patrick’s babies were laid out in incubators. Monitors and tubes snaked over their skinny red limbs. Their squashed red faces had almost no noses, and no eyelashes. The blistered skin on their tiny puckered lips was white. Their bulging bellies rose and fell, but otherwise they might have been dolls.
“They’ll grow,” Patrick said calmly. His white shirt was creased and had a coffee stain on the breast pocket. His face was covered in black stubble and his hair was sticking up in clumps. If this was what marriage and fatherhood did to a man, Cal wasn’t sure he wanted any part of it.
“Of course they will.” Calvin attempted heartiness.
Patrick laughed. “They do look a tad unfinished. But everyone assures me that they will be fine. They will plump up some and that redness will fade. Hard to believe Heather had all three inside her at once.”
Cal nodded, even though Patrick’s three infants didn’t look large enough to make one good-sized baby. But he was no expert. He avoided the awkward subject of size. “Are they identical?”
“The doctor and midwife said no,” Patrick said. “But you wouldn’t know it to look at them. I can’t tell them apart. And they won’t let me hold them yet. Fortunately, they’re wearing bracelets.”
Until he held them, Pat would not be able to identify his daughters by scent. “They got names yet?”
“Stella, Hope and Bethany.”
Hope was Patrick’s mother’s name, and Bethany was Calvin’s late sister’s name. “Why Stella?” asked Calvin.
“For Heather’s mom.”
“Laura plans to call her daughter after our mom,” Calvin told his cousin.
“I know. And the boy after Luther.” Brenda and Bethany Bascom had been killed in a car accident and Cal’s twin Luther had been killed in action. They were all sorely missed.
The babies slept on. Only their bellies moved. Their ashen lips were tightly pursed. “What’s wrong with their mouths?” Cal asked.
“Nothing—so I’m told. Just too much sucking in the womb. We’re putting some grease or the other on them twice a day.”
“Hmm. So how is Heather doing?”
“She’s worn out. It was a short, fast labor but she’s still tuckered out. They’re talking of discharging her tomorrow.”
Patrick shook his head. “Nope. I figure we’ll spend a few days camped out here until they let us take the girls home.” He looked at his watch. “Amber and Heather will have had their reunion by now. Let’s go join them.”
“I think Amber intended to stay with you guys,” Calvin warned.
“That was the original plan. She was going to come back to Washington State to give us a hand with the babies. But since they are in the NICU.” Pat shrugged. “Might be better if she came back next month.”
“She balked at staying at the Bridgefield. I had to inform her that she was family. I thought you were making her an allowance in lieu of giving her that money Clive left?” Their Great-grandfather Clive Bascom had left six million dollars for his illegitimate daughter Shirley who had passed away before she could receive his bequest. Amber and Heather were Shirley’s step-granddaughters and her heirs.
“She wouldn’t let me give her a red cent,” Patrick groused. “I finally gave Heather the money and told her to make Amber take it. I don’t think she’s had much success. About all Amber would let me do was fix her up a job on the Double B. Laura says she’s working out well in the stables.”
“She’s dating Lance Prescott,” Calvin informed his cousin.
“A good man.”
Calvin snorted. “Probably thinks she’s loaded.” The Bascom billions attracted fortune hunters the way carrion attracted vultures.
Patrick laughed. “Prescott probably thinks she’s a lovely young woman. And since she looks exactly like my wife, I have to confess that the attraction seems obvious to me. My sister-in-law can be mighty sweet — when she’s not talking to me! I got off on the wrong foot with Amber, and she mistrusts me. She probably hasn’t given Prescott the rough edge of her tongue.”
“She could do better than a stable hand with a ruined face,” Cal pointed out. Probably she was too naive to realize that Prescott was after something other than her luscious young body.
“The Dupré twins are more interested in a man’s character than in his appearance – or his wallet. As I have reason to know.” Patrick’s voice was tart.
Cal kept his thoughts to himself. It seemed pretty obvious that Heather had turned up pregnant to snare herself a rich husband.
Pat laughed. He clapped Cal on the shoulder. “I am a lucky son of a bear, you poor suspicious fool,” he said lowering his voice. “If I hadn’t knocked Heather up, she would never have given me a second chance, let alone married me. Even if my daughters had trapped me into marrying Heather, instead of the other way around, I’d be a lucky man.” Cal made a non-committal noise instead of arguing with this sentimental nonsense.
“Jeremy has been a new man since my accident,” Pat continued.
“What are you talking about?”
“Dad’s trying to mend things with Diana.”
“They’re already divorced,” Cal pointed out.
“I know. But Jeremy seems to have realized that their problems were more of his making than hers. Laura says he’s no longer seeing that investment banker.”
“That’s the one.”
“Yeah. And he’s been out to Chicago any number of times to see Diana.”
Cal shook his head. “He doesn’t stand a chance. She has her alimony and she’s done.”
“Dad didn’t treat her right,” Patrick corrected. “I wouldn’t blame her a bit if she didn’t feel forgiving. Infidelity is a deal breaker for most women.”
Money was a great soother of indignant female sensibilities and Jeremy had plenty. If he wanted Diana back, he could have her, Cal supposed. But why would he bother? Plenty more where she came from.
Pat shot him a direct look. “Dad needs to make it right with her before he can move on.” He stopped to rap on the open door of a room. “Here we are.”
Calvin preceded him into Heather’s room. Amber was sitting beside her sister’s bed, wearing yesterday’s clothes and looking happy and worried at the same time. They were conversing in low voices. But Cal caught Prescott’s name.
“Prescott had no business taking you to that dive.” Calvin said from the doorway. He looked disapproving. “It’s no place for a girl like you.”
This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2017