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Cover of Night(11)
Author: Linda Howard

This street was the one she had driven down on the way to the hospital. There was where she had stopped to pick up his dry cleaning, never dreaming she was picking up the suit he would be buried in. Here was where she'd bought the dress she'd worn to the funeral, the dress she had thrown in the trash as soon as she'd removed it, sobbing and cursing and trying to tear the hateful garment from neck to hem. Their bed was where he'd lain, burning with fever, before he became so sick he agreed to let her take him to the ER - and by then it was too late. After he died, she had never slept in that bed again.

The memories, as much as sheer economics, had driven her from Seattle. She missed the city, missed the cultural entertainments, the bustle and character, the Puget Sound and the ships. Her family was there, and her friends. But by the time she was able to go back the first time for a visit, she had spent so much time here in Trail Stop, working on the house, getting herself and the boys settled, trying to improve business by every means she could think of, that she had somehow become more of here than of there. She was now a visitor to her home city, and home was... here.

To the boys, of course, this had always been home. They'd been so young when she moved that they had no memories of living anywhere else. When they were older and the B and B was - please, God! - more successful, she intended to take them to visit her parents more often instead of the other way around. While in Seattle she could lake them to concerts, to ball games, to plays and museums, and round out their experiences so they knew there was more to life than this little end-of-the-road community.

She didn't dismiss the good aspects of living here. In a place so small that everyone knew everyone else the boys could safely play outside while she kept an eye on them from the window. Everyone knew her and the boys - knew where they belonged, and wouldn't hesitate to bring them home if they were seen wandering too far from the house. Their days consisted of one chore - putting away their toys at the end of the day - and hours and hours of playing, finishing up with story time and brief, repetitive lessons on their letters, numbers, and colors and the few short words they could read. Baths at seven thirty, bedtime at eight, and when she tucked the covers around them, she saw little boys who were both tired and contented, and utterly secure. She had worked hard to give them that security and was happy that, right now, they had everything they needed.

The other big plus of living here was the beauty that surrounded her. The landscape was majestic and awe-inspiring, and almost unbelievably rugged. Trail Stop was, literally, the end of the trail. If you went any farther, you went on foot - and not easily.

Trail Stop existed on a little spit of land that rose from the sloping valley floor like an anvil. To the right rushed the river, wide and icy and treacherous, with sharp, jagged rocks jutting above the spray. Even white-water rafters didn't try the rapids here; they started their adventures about fifteen miles downriver. On both sides rose the Bitterroot mountains and the vertical expanses of rock that she and Derek had climbed, or attempted to climb and abandoned as too difficult for their level of expertise.

Trail Stop was basically in a box, with one gravel load linking it to the rest of the world. The peculiar geography protected them from snowslides, but sometimes during the winter she would hear the roar of snow collapsing and rushing down the steep slopes, and she would shiver in reaction. Life here was complicated, but the inconveniences and lack of cultural opportunities were offset by the breath taking natural beauty surrounding them. She missed being close to her family, but her money went much further here. Maybe she hadn't made the best possible decision, but overall she was satisfied with her choice.

Her mother came yawning into Che kitchen and without a word, went to the cabinet to retrieve a cup then back out into the dining room to get some coffee. Cate glanced at the clock and sighed. Five forty-five; her two hours of solitude had been cut short this morning, but the payoff was she'd get to spend some time with her mother without the boys clamoring for their Mimi's attention. Here, too, there was balance. She missed her mother, wished they could see each other more often.

Her face practically buried in the coffee cup, Sheila reentered the kitchen and, with a sigh, sat down at the table. She wasn't a morning person, so Cate suspected she had set the alarm in order to have some mother-daughter time before the twins got up.

"What kind of muffins today?" Sheila finally asked in a hoarse tone.

"Apple butter,'" Cate said, smiling. "I found the recipe online."

"Bet you didn't find the apple butter at that dinky little store across the road."

"No, I ordered it online from a place in Sevierville, Tennessee." Cate ignored the dig because, first of all, it was true, and second, she knew that even if she'd moved to New York City, her mother would have found something wrong there, too, because her core problem was that she wanted her daughter and grandchildren nearby.

"Tanner's talking more," Sheila observed a moment later, pushing her blond hair out of her face. She was a very pretty woman, and Cate had often wished shed inherited her mothers looks instead of the mishmash of features she sported.

"When he wants. I've almost decided he hangs back so Tucker can be the one who gets in trouble." Grinning, she related the tale of Mr. Harris's tools, and how Tanner had somehow figured out the basics of simple math so he knew he had only eight minutes left in the naughty chair.

Her mother laughed, but her expression was full of pride. "I've read that Einstein didn't talk until he was six, or something like that. Maybe I'm wrong on the age."

"I don't think he's the next Einstein." Cate would settle for healthy and happy. She had no ambitions for her sons; standards, yes, but not ambitions.

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