Tracy Roper parked across the street from the police
station. She sat in the car, her hands locked on the
steering wheel as she let her gaze drift along the busy
avenue, past the mayor's house on the corner; past the Roxy
Theater, where she'd gone to summer movies with friends;
past the real-estate office where she was to pick up the key
to the rental house.
From where she was on Center Avenue, it was only a couple of
blocks, then a left turn onto another street and a short
drive to the last house on the right before the county-road
A tremor ran through her as she realized where her thoughts
were taking her. Once upon a time she'd lived in that house
on Stoney Ridge Road… so long ago it sometimes seemed
like a dream.
Or a nightmare.
Squeals of laughter reached her through the closed windows
of her compact car. She glanced down the block toward the
town park, where three children played on the swings. Their
mothers sat on the wooden benches that lined the play area,
chatting and laughing while they kept an eye on their young
For a minute, Tracy's eyes lingered on a toddler, a busy
little boy whose dark hair gleamed with auburn highlights in
the morning sun. When he fell in the sand, her heart lurched
and her hands tightened in a painful grip.
The child's mother scooped him up in a soothing embrace and
dried his tears. Tracy glanced away.
Pulling down the sun visor, she checked her face in the
mirror. She looked okay, she decided. Her makeup seemed
fresh enough from when she'd put it on at six that morning
at her father's house in Missoula.
She'd visited him over the weekend before driving down to
Whitehorn to begin her latest task—checking out some
bones found on the Laughing Horse Reservation.
The tribal police and the county sheriff's office were in
contention over who was in charge of the case, so the
federal government had been called in. As a forensic
anthropologist for the FBI, she would have full control of
Sighing, she admitted she was putting off the moment she
would have to face Judd Hensley, the county
sheriff—the man who'd been her husband… the
father of her child….
She picked up her purse, opened the car door and climbed out
into the hot late-June sunshine. The breeze was crisp,
blowing off mountains where clouds were gathering for an
Before she could cross the street, a couple came out of the
station and stood on the steps. She stopped as if struck by
The sun glanced off his shining black hair with its smooth
wave brushed back from his forehead. His skin was evenly,
darkly tanned. The first time she'd seen him she'd thought
he was an Indian.
So long ago…that magical summer when she'd been
nineteen and thought all the world was in love. Seventeen
He'd been kneeling by the creek when she'd rounded a bend in
the trail and spotted him. She'd stopped, surprised, alarmed
and fascinated as he scooped up water and drank it from his
hand. It had dribbled over his chest and belly.
He'd been buck naked.
She'd thought he was a savage or a character from an ancient
fable somehow transported through aeons to this moment.
She'd known in an instant that she'd never forget him.
He'd whipped his head around, sensing her presence. His
eyes, as dark and alluring as forbidden knowledge, had taken
in all aspects of her, including her soul, in one glance.
He'd stood and turned in one smooth, sinuous movement.
His body had been fully erect, a symbol of the power and
creative force contained within him.
Pagan, she'd thought, spellbound by his special magic.
She'd stood very still, as if in the presence of a mythical
creature, not wanting to startle him into disappearing.
They'd stared into each other's eyes for an eternity.
Then he'd spoken, his voice a deep rumble of concern and
assurance. "Don't be afraid," he'd murmured.
He'd said the same thing two weeks later when they'd made
love for the first time…
Laughter broke into her memories.
Judd's teeth gleamed strong and white against his tan while
he laughed at something his companion said. The
woman—Maris Wyler, Tracy decided, delving into her
memories for a name to go with the face—reached up and
caressed his cheek before running lightly down the steps and
climbing into a truck at the curb.
Tracy watched his gaze follow the truck. The smile that had
lingered on his passionately mobile mouth disappeared. A
tight-lipped expression took its place. He swung his head in
her direction suddenly.
Judd had thought he was prepared to meet Tracy again. It had
been years since he'd seen her. The pain had long since
subsided into the empty place inside him where nothing could
But he hadn't counted on this. The impact of seeing her was
like getting hit with a slug from a buffalo gun. He
tightened one hand into a fist, angered by the reaction that
raged through his body. He watched as she left her car and
approached the crosswalk.
She wore a golden yellow suit with a blouse printed in
random splotches of red, blue and yellow. Her belt, heels
and purse were the same shade as the blue in the blouse. Her
earrings were blue flowers with golden centers. She looked
like Spring personified.
Her hair was light auburn. It gleamed like copper wire in
the sun, but he knew its real texture. It was the same
shade, the same downy softness, wherever he'd touched it on
A harsh pang of need drove through him like a heat-tempered
spear. He knew exactly what she looked like without the city
clothes and the makeup that highlighted her green eyes.
The mountain wind made wanton love to her as she paused, her
gaze going in one direction, then the other, as she waited
for a break in the bustling Monday-morning traffic.
Her skirt, coaxed by the wind, pressed between her thighs,
outlining the long slender grace of her legs… legs
that had once wrapped sensuously around him, demanding he
give himself to her completely, holding nothing back. And he
had. God, he had!
She'd taken possession of his heart and soul. She'd wound
herself around him until no moment was complete without her.
Then she'd rejected him, scorning him as if their marriage
had become an abomination, his touch so distasteful she
couldn't bear it.
He'd waited, making no demands, ignoring his own pain,
knowing they both needed to heal after the death of their
son, but their time had never come again. It had been the
By the time of the divorce, it had been a relief to move
out. By then, he'd felt like a dry husk of a man, empty,
drained, with nothing left inside to give, even if she had
wanted him again.
She never had. She'd left, not returning once during the
seven years since the divorce. He forced the unwanted
feelings into abeyance. It was better to be empty. Life was
Tracy crossed the street, her two-inch heels clicking
noisily on the pavement. She should have worn flats, but she
would have felt short next to Judd's six-feet-plus frame,
even though she was a bit over five-seven herself. She
needed to feel in control, not like that foolish teenager
who'd thought physical attraction was enough to build a life on.
The station steps had an iron railing running down the
middle of them. She started up the right side of it. Judd
was on the other side. He started down. They met in the middle.
He moved down one more step, so that they stood eye-to-eye.
His hand brushed hers on the railing as he paused. A flash
of sensation raced across her skin, almost like a pain.
"Hello, Tracy," he said, moving his hand farther up
the railing. The other settled below where she gripped the
smooth iron like a lifeline. "How are you?"
She stared at their hands, his tanned skin dark next to her
paleness. There were tiny black hairs on the backs of his
hands. His fingers were well-shaped, long and
A strange shiver ran over her, as if she could feel them
caressing her, running down her breasts, her ribs, her
stomach, her thighs….
With a gasp, she tore her gaze from those hands whose touch
she'd once loved more than anything. "Fine," she
finally answered. "And you?"
He shrugged. His shoulders were broad. He wore the uniform
of the county sheriff well, at ease with the authority it
The dark brown shirt with the gold-silver-and-black badge
that stated his official status hugged his muscular torso
with great accuracy. The dark brown stripe up the side of
the light brown pants made his legs seem even longer and
A sudden memory came to her, sensual and compelling. During
the cold Montana winters, he'd always slept close to her,
his leg thrown across her thighs, his arm over her waist.
Once he'd murmured it was too bad they didn't live at the
North Pole so he could hold her close every night of the year.
She felt the warming of her body, the softness creeping
inside her, the moist heat forming as she prepared to
receive him. She tightened her grip on the railing.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
She looked at him, helpless, haunted by a love she hadn't
asked for, hadn't known how to handle, by a passion that
wouldn't leave her completely.
A shock of dark hair, a whispered voice behind her at the
theater, a graceful movement of a man glimpsed at a distance
and it was like a door opening inside her, welcoming the man
whose image the hair, the voice or the movement had invoked.
"Yes," she said, gathering herself together. "Of
course. I thought I'd check in with you to let you know I
was in town."
"What are your plans?"
"Well, I have to pick up the key to the house I
"I have it. The agent left on a fishing trip. He said he
might not make it back if the fish were biting, so he gave
me the key last Friday."
"Oh. Well, good." What else was there to say? Her
residence while she was here could hardly be kept a secret.
"I want to go out to the site where the bones were found
as soon as possible."
"Right." He sounded crisp and official. "You
have a meeting with the tribal chairman and attorney in the
morning. They want to discuss the situation."
"Okay." She could tell Judd didn't like the idea of
consulting with the others. If a crime had been committed in
the county, he wanted to jump right on the case.
He was a man who took his responsibilities seriously. When
they'd suspected she was pregnant that summer many years
ago, he'd insisted they marry immediately. "Growing up
is hard enough in this day and age without being a bastard
in the bargain," he'd said, then grinned. "I don't
intend to let you go."
She knew his own youth had been unhappy. His parents, though
married and wealthy, had quarreled all the time. When Judd
had come out to Montana on a vacation after practicing law
with his father for three years, he'd liked the wide, open
spaces, the peace he'd found there. That was the summer
He'd stayed—against his parents' wishes—and
started work as a rookie in the sheriff's department when
they married. They'd been deliriously happy that year. At
least, she had.
"We'll go to the site after the meeting. You'll need to
wear jeans and hiking shoes. It's rough country." He
looked at his watch. "Have you had lunch?"
"No, I'd forgotten about it."
He nodded and looked away. "Yeah."
Tracy knew he was recalling the past. He used to tease her
about losing herself in whatever she was doing, whether
researching forensic techniques or planting a garden. He'd
often arrived home to find her buried in a project, no
supper on the table, the bed unmade, in spite of her good
He would always chuckle at her consternation, and they would
end up making love. Later, they would prepare the meal together.
Judd had been a patient, forbearing husband. Eight years her
senior, he'd been indulgent toward her enthusiastic rush
through life. He'd made no demands, except that she welcome
She turned her back on him and the memories he invoked and
headed for her car.
"We'll go by your…house first. Then we'll pick up
something to eat and go to my office. I have the reports you
requested and the topography maps," he said, easily
keeping up with her, his stride long and surefooted.
She wondered at the hesitation before he mentioned her
rental house. Was it because he, too, remembered the house
they'd built together? It had been small but perfect, set on
its own ten acres with woods all around it, next to Route 17.
After the divorce, the house had been sold and the profit
split between them. She'd invested her share, unable to
bring herself to spend it. It had felt like blood money,
spoils from the death of their marriage… and the
death of their son.
Judd pulled out of the parking lot in his unmarked county
vehicle, which was a black sports utility truck. The only
difference between it and others of its kind was the
wire-mesh glass that could be rolled up between the driver
and the rear seat, and the fact that the rear doors couldn't
be opened from inside the vehicle.
Behind him, Tracy eased into the traffic flow and followed
him to Pale Bluff Lane. The rental house was a white,
two-bedroom cottage set behind a picket fence. Multiflora
roses covered the fence along the side of the driveway.
He stopped in front of the house while Tracy turned into the
drive and parked under the carport. He met her at the front
door, fished the key out of his pocket and let her precede
him into the house. "I, uh, had someone come over and
give it a good cleaning on Saturday. It was rather grimy."
"Thank you." She was clearly startled by this news.
She looked around the tiny living room. "Oh, this is
really nice." Her smile was hesitant, but pleased.
He noticed the way the light from the window reflected in
her eyes, turning them from mossy to golden green. He'd
liked to make love to her outside, on the grass with the sun
streaming over them, her eyes the color of new leaves as she
smiled up at him.
When they'd made love like that, he'd carefully shielded her
tender skin from the sun with his own body, which tanned easily.
He cursed silently at himself. "I'll bring your stuff
"I'll help," she said. "It isn't much."
It wasn't—only a soft-sided suitcase with wheels and a
nylon carpetbag with a matching makeup bag. He recognized
the latter. She'd asked for them as a Christmas present
years ago. He and Thadd had picked them out. He was
surprised she still had them, or that she would use them.