Moriah Gilmore let herself into the apartment. Silence
greeted her. With a frown, she went into the kitchen and
deposited the heavy grocery bag on the counter. Her arm
trembled with the effort. She sighed and looked for a note
on the refrigerator.
Mom, I'm at Jessy's. We're studying for a big test. Her mom
said I could have dinner with them. Okay?
Moriah smiled. Yes, it was okay. Jessy and Melanie were both
A students, merit society and all that. They also worked on
the school paper, an honor because only two juniors were
chosen for this job each year. They would be co-editors
their senior year. Moriah was proud of both girls.
After pausing to stretch her tired back, she put the
groceries away, prepared a grilled-cheese sandwich and,
because she felt a little lonely without Melanie's bright
chatter, treated herself to three bread-and-butter pickle
"Some treat," she muttered. She ate a bite of
sandwich and popped a pickle into her mouth. Sitting at the
breakfast bar on a tall stool, she looked out the window
toward the south.
Clouds, dark and sullen, hovered on the far horizon. It was
raining down that way, she supposed. Here in Great Falls it
was partly cloudy, humid and growing cold. She was glad she
didn't have to dash out to a class.
When she'd finished the summer term, she'd decided to take a
break until after Christmas. It would be a relief not to
have to worry about grades and tests and attending courses
for a while.
When she finished night school and got her degree, she'd be
a paralegal. Only one year to go!
With the experience she was gaining as a receptionist-typist
at a local law firm, she should be able to land a good
position next year. And an interesting one, she hoped. Maybe
in the same firm. She'd been there almost five years—
Her thoughts were interrupted by the telephone.
Probably Melanie. Moriah answered it with a quip: "What
did you forget that you can't live without?"
Silence greeted her. Moriah realized she'd surprised someone
on the other end of the line… and it wasn't her daughter.
"Sorry, I was expecting someone else," she said. She
slipped into the crisp but friendly manner she used at the
office. "This is the Gilmore residence. How may I help
Her heart stopped. It had been sixteen, almost seventeen
years since she'd heard this particular masculine baritone,
the unique timbre of which reminded her of a mountain lion's
purr. Not that she'd personally heard one of the big cats
purr, but she imagined it would sound the way this man
did—smooth and rough at the same time. His was unlike
any other voice. She recognized it at once.
Heat swept through her. She felt disoriented, as if in an
instant she'd been catapulted back in time, to a distant
past in which this same voice had whispered the loveliest of
love words in her ear as they lay together, their hearts
beating as one.
She ran a trembling hand through her hair and immediately
recalled other hands doing that. Kane had loved her hair,
had loved to smooth a strand and watch the curl bounce back
when he released it. He'd liked to tickle her neck and her
breasts, using a lock of her hair like an artist's brush,
his touch sure and gentle, so very gentle.
"It's like holding fire," he'd murmured, nuzzling
his nose along her temple, kissing and biting at her ear.
He'd dropped his hand lower, touching the auburn hair at the
joining of her legs. "There's fire here, too," he'd
said, teasing her, loving her, making her feel beautiful and
wanted, which was something more than desired,
although that was there, too.
Oh, God, she'd been so young. Seventeen…
She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, seeking the calm
center in the hurricane of emotion his voice induced. Like a
drowning person, she pressed a hand to her throat, needing
air and unable to get enough of it.
"Moriah?" Kane Hunter said again.
She had to answer, but only one thought—one illogical,
stubborn thought—swirled in her head. Kane. Her
first love. Her lover. Her betrayer.
"Yes?" She forced the word from her parched throat.
Her voice came out husky, cautious. Perhaps this wasn't
Kane. It could be a salesman. One who called her by her
first name with that oddly intimate note of past knowledge
in it? No, the man on the other end of the line was no stranger.
Her heart beat furiously, loud and frantic in her ears. She
glanced around the small, neat kitchen as if looking for a
place to escape the memories this voice conjured up.
"This is Kane. Kane Hunter," he clarified. "This
is Moriah Gilmore, isn't it?"
The drowning sensation became stronger. Once she had thought
she would die of ecstasy in his arms, he'd brought her such
bliss. He'd liked to watch her take pleasure from his touch.
And she had. So much pleasure. And later, he'd caused so
She swallowed as emotion balled in her throat, and forced
herself to respond like a normal person rather than like the
loving, trusting teenager she'd once been.
"Kane," she managed to say without gasping.
"This is a surprise."
"I'll bet." His tone was sardonic. "I'm calling
about your father," he continued, without giving her a
chance to speak again. "The police have been looking for
"What police?" she interrupted, unable to take all
this in at once—that Kane was calling like a ghost out
of the past and that he wanted to talk about her father, who
had abandoned her and her mother years ago.
"The Whitehorn police," Kane replied caustically.
"You know, the ones in the town where you used to live?"
He spoke as if she were dimwitted. Which was how she felt.
She ignored his nasty crack and assumed the cool, controlled
manner she'd learned years ago in order to cope with life.
"Why were the police looking for my father?"
"That's what I'm trying to explain to you."
She could almost see him forcing the words out, the muscles
in his jaw like steel ropes under his smooth, swarthy skin.
A picture came to mind of her stroking along his
whipcord-lean body, down the rippling contours of his chest
and torso, along his thighs, feeling the powerful muscles
tense beneath her touch. He'd been incredibly strong from
his years of ranch work, his body hard… all over.
She freed the image from her mind with a violent toss of her
head. "Then please do," she requested, after a
"I went up to his cabin—"
"My father has a cabin?" She'd wondered about him
over the years, of course. She'd even sent a Christmas card
to their old address a couple of years after she and her
mother left. Her father hadn't answered. "He doesn't
have the house?"
"Not anymore," Kane said.
Moriah could hear the forced patience in his voice. The Kane
she'd once known had been infinitely patient with her. And
tender. The most considerate of lovers.
That tenderness was gone. And so was the house where they'd
shared their love during the snowy afternoons of that
magical Christmas holiday. Gone like the lovely snowflakes
that had whispered so softly against her bedroom window
while she and Kane murmured their hopes and dreams for the
Foolish, ridiculous tears burned behind her eyes. She
realized that someplace inside her she still mourned the
loss of that innocence, that sublime belief in life that
only fools and children have.
She clutched the telephone as pain she'd thought long dead
and forgotten coursed through her. She'd trusted Kane, and
for a while, he'd given her bliss and a sense of wholeness,
of freedom… and oh, so many wonderful things.
"So he lives in this cabin?" she prompted when the
silence stretched to unbearable lengths. She wondered if
Kane was remembering, too. She sighed and focused on the
present. Her father was in trouble. She'd better listen.
"Yes. Anyway, I went up there a couple of weeks ago. He
and I were supposed to go fishing. He didn't show up. Then
Rafe Rawlings spoke to me about him—"
"A cop in Whitehorn. If you'll let me finish…"
She stilled the questions that rose in her.
"Your father is missing," Kane said bluntly after
the taut silence. "He's been gone two weeks that we know
She started to ask him how he knew and if he was sure of the
length of time her father had been missing, but decided
against it. He'd only snap at her.
"Rafe and I searched, but we didn't find any signs of
the old codg—uh, Homer. That was this past weekend. I
was up there the weekend before. So that makes two weeks we
know he's been gone. And he's missed two appointments he
"Is that unusual?" She was in her office mode now,
asking questions, taking down information from the clients
who called, assessing their needs.
"Yes. Homer is a bit…um, eccentric, but he's
usually reliable. Skipping out isn't like him."
A lot Kane knew, she thought, calling on cynicism to stop
the hurt from long ago. Her father hadn't been there when
she'd needed him. When she'd been pregnant and desperate
Only her mother had stood by her. Men slipped out the back
when trouble walked in the front, as her mom had often stated.
Moriah knew that for a fact. Moreover, men followed their
own dreams, heedless of others' wishes, then blamed the
woman when things didn't pan out. Oh, yes, she knew how
reliable men were.
"Let me get this straight," she said. "My father
lives in a cabin in Whitehorn. He's been gone somewhere for
two weeks. You and some local cop searched but couldn't find
him. Is that right?"
"Actually, Homer lives in a line shack on the old Baxter
place. It's owned by the Kincaids now, but they've let him
use it for the past ten or fifteen years, I think."
"I remember it," she said.
"It isn't the same one we used that time," Kane
informed her, his tone as chilling as a north wind.
Wild heat ran into her face at his reference to the cabin
where they'd once taken refuge in a snowstorm. They'd made
love by the fire while the wind raged outside, heaping snow
against the side of the tiny hut. Inside, she'd been warm
and cozy, locked in Kane's embrace, covered by his kisses.
Her body reacted with another surge of heat, becoming soft
and liquid, ready to receive him…. She gripped the
counter edge until her knuckles turned white.
"I didn't mean… I wasn't talking
about…" She drew a calming breath. "My father
used to take me prospecting with him. We stayed at a cabin
in the heart of the old mining country. It was near the
Baxter ranch road."
"Yeah, that's probably the one." His tone was flat,
without any emotion that she could detect. "You need to
file a Missing Person's Report. Rafe and I are afraid
something serious has happened to him."
"Do you think he's lost in the mountains?"
"I wish I knew. There's no evidence of foul play, but I
have a gut feeling that all isn't well. Homer needs help.
You'll have to come home."
Her mouth dropped open at this imperious order. There was no
mistaking Kane's attitude. He expected her to rush right
down to Whitehorn and find her missing parent.
"I can't. Why should I?" she added defensively.
"Because he's your father and I'm damned tired of being
responsible for him. If you don't care, then he'll probably
die, perhaps trapped in a cave-in somewhere."
His angry voice beat at her through the telephone. Her own
temper mounted. "I recognize a guilt trip when I hear
one." She was as cold as he was. "It won't wash. My
father abandoned me years ago—"
"That's a damned lie!"
She stopped, stunned by Kane's vehemence. "It's
true," she insisted. "He deserted us. My mom and I
had to leave and make our way alone in the world."
"Save the sad tale for someone who'll fall for it. I
won't." His disgust hit her like a whiplash.
"I wouldn't expect sympathy from you." She
banged the receiver onto the wall receptacle and tried to
calm the tremors that rushed through her.
Taking her plate, she tossed the sandwich, which had only
one bite out of it, and the other two pickle slices down the
drain and hit the switch, letting the grinder run until her
She didn't know what was going on, but she wasn't going to
become involved in it. If Kane expected her to drop
everything—her life, her job—to go on some
wild-goose chase, he could think again. Her father had
always headed into the mountains every chance he got. There
was nothing unusual in that.
Go back to Whitehorn?
Dr. Kane Hunter observed the birth in progress with both
professional and personal interest—professional
because Lori Bains, the midwife, had asked him to stand by
in case a Caesarian section became necessary; personal
because the parents were Native Americans from the Laughing
Horse Reservation and were known to him. He, too, had grown
up on the res.
Kane found his own muscles clenching, working with the
mother as she struggled to bring new life into the world.
He'd delivered hundreds of babies, both on the res and in
the small town of Whitehorn, but it never failed to move him.
This was Day One in the life of the child. He thought of all
the days that would follow, and the growing and learning
needed to make it in this world. He studied the new father,
who stood by his wife's side, her hand clutched in his.
The silent, earnest young man was eighteen.
The same age he'd been when he'd met his first love….
The memory leapt into his mind with the hot insistence of a
branding iron. He frowned, angry but not surprised by it.
Since he'd talked to Moriah about her father on Monday, bits
and pieces of the past had floated into his consciousness at
odd moments. For a second, tired from too much work and too
little sleep, he let the memory have its way.
When he and Moriah Gilmore had been lovers, he'd thought the
world was his. He'd had a scholarship for college, all the
way through medical school, one based on brains, not his
athletic ability. And then, the first day of his first
Christmas home from classes, he'd met her.
Sure, he'd known her before. She'd been a year behind him in
high school, but they hadn't spoken more than a dozen times
during his sojourn at Whitehorn High. Certainly it had never
occurred to him to ask her for a date.
The Indian kids had been bussed in from the res, and he
hadn't had a car. Besides, town girls didn't date res guys.
Their meeting had been an accident. He'd walked out of the
diner and bumped into her. Christmas packages had tumbled
into the fluffy snow that was falling, driven by a northwest
"Sorry," he'd said, recognizing her at once.
"Here, let me help you."