Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chapters 81-83

Dear Readers - 
For more than a year now, Maggie has been blogging her story in first person on these pages. We are close to the end of the book, and the more I tried putting the rest in first person, the more awkward the prose became. So, hopefully without offending anyone, the remaining chapters will be presented as originally written, in third person. I believe this will help you in understanding it all. Thanks again for reading it so faithfully! 
                                                           Jeanne Spitler Guerra

Chapter 81
   Thursday’s weather forecast predicted a significant spring snowstorm moving across the Santa Fe area, heading for Amarillo, but Colin and Maggie left confident they could completely miss it by traveling the Clovis Highway route. Near Santa Rosa, however, their luck changed. Just two miles before the southeast turn off I-40, they became part of a major traffic jam. Up ahead, an oil tanker had jackknifed when the driver fell asleep and then tried to overcompensate, flipping his rig and setting it on fire. Wreckage was strewn across the two eastbound lanes, with burning diesel fuel spilling to one of the westbound lanes as well, creating a thick pillar of black smoke. 
   Three hours later, the roadway was cleared and they were able to resume their homeward trek. By then, the snowstorm had almost caught up and was turning more toward Lubbock. It would be sheer luck for them to outrun the storm and make it home by dark. 

   Stopping only once briefly for gas, they crossed the Texas border by nightfall. Colin called Jamie’s cell to let him know they’d be late but Jamie didn’t pick up, so Colin left a message. Since Saturday afternoon, Jamie had been using a guest room, tending the cat, seeing to the placement of the new bed from the cabin at Palo Duro, and had promised to leave before the honeymooners arrived home. He had a major research paper due the next week, and the quiet of their house was a perfect place to get it done. Colin had generously given him a hefty check in return for the light housesitting duties. 
   By the time Maggie and Colin pulled into their driveway, huge wet snowflakes were falling and turning everything white. They got out, and Colin said,  “Let me see the keys, Love.”
   “I never lock my door, remember? This is Lubbock, and now that I have a big strong ex-G-man living here to protect me, I still don’t have to lock it ... and besides, Jamie’s truck is here. I thought he was leaving this afternoon?”
   “He was. Maybe a friend picked him up. No lights on.” 
    Miss Priss stepped out from under the porch bench and meowed a greeting, stretching up to the doorknob and batting at it with her paw.  
   “Miss Priss! What are you doing out here?” Maggie cooed to the cat. “Did Jamie forget to let you in? Why didn’t you go through your private door in the back? You’ll freeze with this blizzard coming in.”  
   She reached the front door, turned the knob and pushed the door open a little before Colin put his arm around her waist and said with a wide grin, “Just a minute, bride. I think I should do this right.” He bent down and picked her up. Delighted, she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a quick kiss. As he carried her over the threshold, he teasingly said, “Good thing you lost those twenty pounds.” 
   Stepping inside and closing the door behind him with his foot, the hair on the back of his neck stood up, and in the semi-dark room he noticed Miss Priss had stopped, too, back slightly arched. 
   Maggie started to protest about the weight joke, but Colin’s suddenly serious demeanor stopped her. He abruptly set her on her feet and quickly moved in front of her, shielding her from some unknown danger in the darkened house. 
   “What is it?” she asked.
   “Something’s wrong. Stay here,” he commanded in a low voice, reaching instinctively for the gun at his side that wasn’t there. 
   She immediately sniffed for smoke, and smelling none, reached over and flicked the light switch on, saying, “Don’t be silly.” Turning toward the living room, she gasped, then fell back against the wall, holding back a scream with both hands as she crumpled to the floor. 
   Jamie’s body hung from a rafter, his fingers tightly tucked downward in between the rope and his neck, as if at the last minute he’d changed his mind about dying. Maggie’s thrift store lime green chair was lying on its side inches beneath his dangling feet. 

Chapter 82
   Colin instinctively moved toward Jamie, desperately wanting to take him down, even though he knew it was far too late. His Bureau training took over and he stopped, knowing not to contaminate the scene. He crossed himself, sent up a silent prayer, then put his arm up over his face in an attempt to block out the sickly smell of death. 
   Forcing himself to look at the body and the room with an investigator's eye, he focused in on Jamie's laptop, sitting on the desk a few feet away, screen up, plugged in, but dark. Colin took his penknife from his pocket, opened the blade and touched the corner of the mouse pad lightly, bringing the screen to life. He scanned the message and then reread it, closing his knife and putting it away. He quickly turned back to Maggie who was quietly sobbing, head buried in her hands. He gathered her up in his arms once again and carried her back over the threshold. 

   As Maggie sat crying in the truck, heater turned up high with the snowstorm arriving in full force, Colin called 911, then Sean, and then Doug. Arriving first, Sharon and Doug were asked by Colin to take Maggie to the Nest so Colin could talk with the police.
   “Come on, Baby,” Sharon said gently to the now silent, staring Maggie. “Let’s get you outta here.” Receiving no answer, she nodded to Doug, who moved in and scooped an unresponsive Maggie into his arms and into his car. Sharon drove the three of them home. Doug placed her in front of a roaring fire as Sharon tried to get her to sip some brandy. 

   About an hour later, fearing Maggie was in shock as she continued to stare unspeaking into the fire, brandy untouched, Sharon decided she needed to be more forceful or she’d have to take her friend to the hospital. “Maggie, you must take some of this. I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to pull yourself together. Your husband will be coming through that door any minute and he doesn’t need to worry about you at a time like this.”
My husband? Maggie thought. Jim’s coming? No, not Jim. She looked at Sharon, seeing her for the first time and said, “Colin. Colin’s coming?”
  “Yes, dearest. Now drink some of this and let’s get you pulled together. You and Colin will be staying here for a while. I’ve opened the guest cottage for you two, and Doug’s putting something together in the kitchen. There now,” she said as Maggie finally took a sip of the strong warming liquid. It burned all the way down, then moved throughout her body like a ripple in a pond. She took another sip. “That’s better. A couple more swallows. You’ve got to think of Colin. He’ll need you to be strong, Maggie. Jamie was like a son to him. He’ll need you.”
   When Colin came through the door looking stricken and lost, Maggie rose and gently put her arms around him, head on his chest.
Holding her tight, he began to sob. Maggie cried too but knew Phelps had been right. She had to be the strong one now. 
   Slipping out as soon as Maggie rose, Sharon quietly closed the door behind her, finding her own surcease in Doug’s waiting arms.

   That night, Doug and Sharon asked no questions, knowing now wasn’t the time. They did what they could, fed them — though no one had much of an appetite — hugged them and sent them to sleep out in the cottage. Maggie and Colin clung to each other until each, in his own time, fell into an exhausted but fitful sleep near dawn. 
    Early the next morning, Maggie asked Steven to put out the news release on the death of Jamie Chavez, senior Texas Tech University engineering student and the president of the Saddle Tramps organization. His death was ruled a suicide by the investigating officer who said a note had been found on the laptop, but the contents were not made public ... yet. The investigation was ongoing and funeral arrangements were pending.

    Also early in the morning, the remnants of the blizzard already melting, Colin drove to Canyon to find the local priest to accompany him in breaking the tragic news to Jamie’s grandparents, who were grateful Colin had come to tell them personally. Along with the priest and the grieving grandparents, Colin then made arrangements for the funeral to be the following Tuesday. Father Sean would be in touch with the priest, as he would like to be a part of the Funeral Mass. 
    Maggie had wanted to accompany Colin, thinking he shouldn’t be alone, but he said he needed the time alone to sort some things out. He’d see her that evening back at the Nest. Even though Sharon objected, Maggie borrowed a car shortly after Colin left and drove out to the solitude of the cotton fields. Four hours after leaving, she returned, clothes muddy from the knees down. 
 Chapter 83
  Over a light dinner, Colin asked if Maggie felt up to talking about it, because he had something to share with all of them. She could if he could. She was determined to be brave for him, to help him through his grief, even as she worked through her own. 
   “When we found him,” Colin began, swallowing his anguish, “I tried to survey the scene — like I used to do. His laptop was open, but dark. I found the message police are calling his suicide note.”
“Oh, Colin,” Maggie said, reaching for his hand. “I didn’t see you ... I ...”
  “It’s okay, Love. I memorized it and wrote it down before the police got there. I wanted to be able to look at it again ... to study it. Here’s a copy.”
   Looking at him as if she didn’t want to see it, Maggie hesitatingly took it from him at his nod. Doug and Sharon read it with her.  
can’t live withoutmother withguilt – setfires – gave bastardevil Boyle his due  – wanted2cut heart out – sorry – pleasforgive   J

   “Apparently,” he said with a face full of grief and pain, “Jamie was our guy all along.” 
   “And killed Boyle?” Maggie said in stunned disbelief. “Oh, no, Colin. He couldn’t!”
   “Which also means he was the one who attacked you in the tower. I can’t believe it either, Maggie, but look at the note. He called Boyle a bastard, said he was evil, and couldn’t live with the guilt.”
   Sharon said, “He was a bastard. But to kill him?”
   Shaking his head, Doug said, “He must have been more devastated by his mother’s death than anyone knew. And then humiliated when Boyle threw the Saddle Tramps out during his senior year as their president. Grief can be a changing force in some people ... completely throw them for a loop. Make them do things totally out of character.”
   “But to set fires and to kill Boyle? And three of the fires were before they were kicked out. How does that make sense?” Sharon asked the group.
   “It doesn’t,” Colin said. “But as Doug said, grief does strange things. I once hiked the mountains for several weeks trying to get hold of my grief. I was about Jamie’s age then.”
Maggie considered what Colin had said, shrugged and then replied with resignation, “And I poured myself into any activity to would take my mind off the pain when my parents died. I coped by filling every minute of every day. Then I met Jim and threw myself into marriage and family. I guess it’s different for everyone. Oh, poor Jamie.” 
  She reached over and put her hand on Colin’s again. This has been so hard on him, she thought. Much harder for him than anyone here. “Have you talked with Sean about the note, Colin? I know he and Jamie were fairly close, too, weren’t they?”
   “They were, and no, I haven’t shown him the note yet. I need to let him know. Once this gets outand you know it will because it solves the fires and Boyle’s murder—then Sean might be able to ... I don’t know, maybe he can help me explain it to the other Tramps ... and ... He was Jamie’s confessor, but I can’t imagine he knew this.”
Sharon said slowly, “You called him last night to give last rites, didn’t you?”
  “He couldn’t actually give last rites,” Colin said, voice cracking. “Last rites involves confession to a priest just before death, not a note. Sacraments are for the living.” He took a deep breath. “But he did pray for him. That’s allowed. I’ll talk to him tomorrow and see what he might have known.”
“Known? If he’s Jamie’s confessor, he might have known it all, but he can’t tell you, can he?” Maggie asked. “He’s sworn to secrecy in the confessional.”
   Doug looked from Maggie to Colin. “But Jamie’s dead. Is he still bound by it?”
   “I don’t know ...” Colin said dejectedly. “I just know I need more of an explanation than we have now. On the road today, I tried to look for clues to his behavior since last summer, since his mom died, but I don’t know what I missed. I just didn’t see anything except depression. But setting fires and killing Boyle? I just didn’t see it.”
“No one saw it, Colin,” Doug said, laying a hand on Colin’s shoulder. “We listed him on our white boards in January, but we all agreed it was not plausible for him to set those fires ... Wait, he couldn’t have set the tower fire, could he? We all saw him in the procession at the time the fire was supposed to have started.”
   “No,” Colin said slowly. “He could have set it. The day before the wedding Chief Callahan  called to tell me they finally got back all the results of the tower fire investigation, and they’re pretty sure it was set by remote control ... not a timer, but a detonation device he could have set off as he walked past the building that night. The range was close enough as he rounded Memorial Circle.”
“Good Lord,” Doug said. “Why? So he could be sure it didn’t start until after they marched in? So he had the glory of marching in as president and a damn good alibi? Wow.”
   Sharon shook her head in disbelief. “And the museum fire? How was it set?”
   “With a simple clock timer. But he was there, remember, working the event. Could have set it after he had words with Boyle.”
Sharon looked at him quizzically and then said, “But the theory was each fire was more sophisticated than the last. If the museum fire was set with a ‘simple clock timer,’ as you call it, how is that more sophisticated than a remote detonation device?”
   “The accelerant was larger. He used not only cleaning supplies – acetone – as he did in the engineering fire,” Colin said as he watched Sharon instinctively reaching for her arm. “But he added hydraulic fluid used in windmills to make the fire hotter and faster at the museum. And somehow he dismantled the sprinkler system in the office area and had the museum area system on delay. It was creative engineering.”
Sharon groaned at his use of her oft-spoken words. 
  Maggie said, “But why? Why would he set the museum fire, or any of them?”
  “Maybe,” Doug ventured, “just maybe the fires made him feel in control of something? Sometimes the death of a loved one makes people feel impotent, helpless ... and they need to do something, anything that allows them to regain some sense of control. He then used Boyle as his target, to deflect the grief.” 
        To Maggie’s questioning look he shrugged, “Majored in music, minored in psychology.” 
   Colin thought about it. “That’s something I’ll ask Sean tomorrow. He’ll tell me.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chapters 78 - 80

        Last week, I told you about the wedding. This week, back from our honeymoon, I will tell you about some of it. Remember, Colin had surprised me by having our new huge bed smuggled into the cabin on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon. 
       My apologies for being so late in getting this out. It's been a hell of a week. 

Chapter  78      
        Even through layers of clothing, I could feel he was more than ready to “bed me”... and I was more than ready, too. 
   But I pulled back as he started to help me out of my blazer. “Wait. I have a silk negligee I bought just for tonight.”
“It’s not tonight, yet ... it’s now,” he said, continuing to kiss my neck and helping me out of the jacket. “You can put it on later.” He stopped and looked at me intently. “Let me undress you.”
   Damn those green eyes of his. I’d let him do anything he wanted when he looked at me like that — now that we were married, of course — so I let him, while helping him out of his clothes at the same time. Despite the warm afternoon, goose bumps raised on my arms when only my black silk lingerie remained, and we quickly moved under the covers, slipping deep beneath the cool, crisp cotton sheets and the warm weight of the quilt. Colin held me there a moment, kissing me softly, feeling the smoothness of the silk against the smoothness of my skin, liking how it felt, passion held in check. 
   He whispered to me, “Thank you, Maggie.”
   “For what, Murphy? We haven’t done very much yet. I’m just getting started.”
    He laughed at that, and then said softly, “Thank you for being a permanent kind of woman, for changing me, for making me comfortable with more than temporary, for giving me this.” He held up his left hand with its new silver wedding band.
Deeply touched, tears threatening, I lightened the moment by saying, “Wait about an hour, Murphy, and then you’ll really have something to thank me for.” 
   “A whole hour? Goodness, woman, I’m an old man! Go ahead, then, make me thankful!” Much to his delight, I did. 
    Rolling on top of him, I put my hands on his bare, broad shoulders, pushing myself up with my arms, quilt sliding off my shoulders. My hair fell on the sides of my face, soft and slightly curled. He pushed it back behind my ears, then put his hands on either side of my waist and watched my eyes as I studied him in the soft afternoon light. We had undressed too quickly for me to see all of him, but I’d take advantage of what I could see now and study his upper half. The lower half would just have to wait.
    He had dark skin, and a little bit of black hair on his chest. He also had a large scar on his right shoulder, and another on the left side of his chest, something I’d ask about later. I looked at his strong chin, his full dark lips and moved my gaze up to his eyes. 
   Slowly I smiled, inviting with a confidence that was new to me, and he moved his hands up across my pale smooth back, under my bra, deftly unhooking it. Ah, I thought, laughing a little, he’s done this before. His return smile showed just a touch of cockiness, as if to say, I’ve had lots of practice, woman.
   I let the expensive black silk and lace fall off my shoulders, allowing my breasts to be freed. Lifting one arm, then the other, I tossed it aside and unselfconsciously let him look at me. And I watched him look, hoping I would meet with his approval.
  I remembered feeling inadequate when I was younger because my breasts are just shy of average size, smaller than most of my friends’. But as the years passed, I realized there was less to sag, and even at my current age, my “girls” sat up rather nicely without much help from Victoria’s Secret weapons. There were advantages to being less than buxom, especially as you grew older. 
   Moving his large hands up and around my sides, his thumbs reached my nipples, and he teased them back and forth a little. Quick to respond to his touch, they stood out straight and erect. My first reaction was to pull away, because they were sensitive, not having been handled in so long. But he held me gently, moving his whole hands around to enclose them as he pleasured me while at the same time reassuring me.  
  I put my head back with closed eyes, trusting him and enjoying the warmth that spread to pulsing sensations lower down. After a few minutes, he gently pushed me on my side and then exchanged positions as he bent down to tenderly kiss mouth, neck, and then left breast, taking it into his mouth and sucking softly while still caressing the other with his hand. 

  Fighting to check his passion, he could have taken her quickly but knew he needed to be tender with her. He’d been gentle for months, and only when he’d treated her roughly and thoughtlessly had she run, and he was certain he’d lost her forever. He didn’t want to make her run now, not when she was finally, really his. He moved to the other breast, giving it the same thorough attention with his tongue. 

I moaned softly under him, legs moving, one of them coming up around his waist of its own accord. I lost myself in his touch, and nothing mattered except the feel of him, the love of him. Putting my hands in his thick hair, I pulled him up and kissed him thoroughly, allowing his tongue to explore my mouth, then returned the favor, hands moving more intensely over his rough back as he moved slowly against me.  
   We were on our sides now, lovingly exploring one another’s bodies, kissing deeply and hungrily. Somehow, the last silk and lace fell away, and I wrapped my leg around him tightly. Taking this as a silent signal, he reached a hand down over my firm derriere and under my raised leg to be certain.
I arched at his touch, and he quickly turned me on my back, straddling me once again as I murmured his name, eyes closed. Entering, he pushed in slowly but forcefully, holding his taut body just inches above, watching my face as he did. When he reached his full length, I opened my eyes, looked at him and smiled. 

  This is different, something told him. This is different. He pulled out slowly and then thrust again, bringing her a little higher, her eyes now again closed. He willed himself to have control, to savor each different sensation. This was his Maggie, and he wanted to do this right for her the first time, every time. But especially the first time. He slowed down and bent down to take a breast again, eliciting a different sound from her. 
   He’d never had to use control before and had always taken what was easily offered. Not to say he slept around all the time with whoever was there, but he’d availed himself of beautiful or interesting women from time to time since college. He didn’t exactly feel like he was using them, but more like they used each other. 
   And yet he’d always felt slightly uncomfortable afterward, like maybe he needed to say he was sorry? Or maybe go to confession? Seldom acting on that impulse, he simply stopped seeing that particular partner, allowing each one only a temporary place in his life. 
  He also couldn’t understand how Sean had given up sex for his love of the church, yet at the same time he deeply envied his twin brother’s devotion, self-constraint and conviction.
   Shifting, he moved them to their sides again and pulled her closer. 

“Murphy,” I said, “I’m ... I’m ...” He kissed my words away, deeply, passionately, and I began moving again, slowly, slowly, feeling every part of him deep inside.   
   “Oh, Love,” he said, as I moved myself under him again, pulling him on top, wanting more, needing more, begging for more. He obliged willingly, ready to give up his control and drive deep within over and over, faster and faster, as I moaned louder, clutching his arms and moving in rhythm with him and against him. Quickly now reaching the peak and exploding over the edge in exquisite agony, I moved with abandon as he, too, erupted in spasms of unparalleled satisfaction.  
   Spent beyond words, he lay on top of me, his head turned away, conscious of the fact he was probably crushing me, but at the moment probably unable to do anything about it. I was breathing as hard as he was, but moved my head and kissed him on the shoulder. He mumbled something about being too heavy, and I whispered, “Move, Murphy, and I’ll throttle you.” I liked the feel of him on my skin, the weight of him pressing down, covering, protecting, and the intense pleasure of a little of him still left inside. 
  Quilt long ago abandoned, we lay still until our physical passion ebbed and I could feel little goosebumps forming on his back as I caressed him. Completely covered by him, I was warm and cozy and could have stayed underneath him through the night. Finally, when he shivered just a bit, I whispered, “I think we’d better light a fire, Murphy, or you’ll freeze before I’m through with you.”
He laughed at that, and I whimpered in protest as all of him slipped out and off . I quickly pulled the quilt up over myself as he just as quickly lit the logs. He climbed back in beside me, cradling me in his arms. Kissing the top of my head, I lightly kissed his collarbone. 
   “What do you mean, before you’re through with me? I’m spent, woman. I’m an old man, remember? I need rest!”
   “You’ve had enough rest, and it hasn’t been an hour yet,” I said as I kissed his neck, then progressed up to his ear, turning him on his back, ready to love him again. Helpless to protest, he let me have my way with him. 
   Declaring I was now going to touch every part of him, slowly, deliberately and without mercy — with my fingertips, my lips and/or my tongue — I began to do just that. Within minutes, he joined in the mutual torture by doing the same to me. We laughed and sighed and touched and tasted. The blazing fire had warmed the room, so the quilt was once again tossed to the side, neither of us the least bit shy about our nakedness. 
   Now was my chance to study the rest of him, and I asked him to lie back on the pillows. He obliged, putting his arms behind his head, wondering what I was up to now. He sat up and looked.
   Oh, my, was my first thought at seeing his “maleness,” still a little flaccid after its last extended use. I never was comfortable saying the “P” word and somehow I always thought that particular part of the male anatomy was misnamed. “Manhood,” “maleness,” even “babymaker” seemed more appropriate, well, maybe not “babymaker” at our age. After our recently completed first encounter, “woman pleaser” would do nicely. 
   I have seen only two men completely naked–Jim, who was tall but of a slighter build, and now Colin. With only two actual sightings in my sheltered life, it was hard not to compare. Oh, my, was all I thought, again, reaching to touch the massive muscles. No wonder it had felt different. I smiled, and he smiled, dazzled by her. He sat up and pulled me to his lap.
“Just looking, Murphy,” I said softly, arms now around his neck, head resting on his chest.
“Time to do more than look, Love,” he said, moving to take my mouth again, his hand touching between my thighs. Exploration resuming, his manhood took on a life of its own, and we mapped each other’s curves and bumps and surfaces as the afternoon waned and evening’s soft light came through the windows.
   This time, even though the foreplay was long and exquisitely drawn out, our mutual passion built so powerfully it reached a fever pitch neither had ever known, and Colin took me hard, using me roughly while I bit and scratched, begging him to take me harder. When we climaxed together, neither of us was sure who had ravished whom, and neither really cared. We fell into a deep exhausted sleep, clinging desperately to each other.   
Chapter 79
   More than an hour later, he awoke first, marveling that she’d been able to make him ready and eager again, and at how aggressive she’d been. But so many things about sex with this woman — his wife — were a marvel to him. It really was different when the one you were with was the one you loved. This was lovemaking — sex at its finest, obviously the way God Almighty had intended it to be. He thought it must be his first.
   He wondered now how could he have lived his whole life with just physical sex. Of course he’d cared for the women he bedded, well at least for most of them, and at least for a short time. But now, it seemed so shallow, so physical, so lacking. Maybe he should go to confession. This ... this was different. 
   When she awoke, he’d asked her if he was too rough with her, and she looked at him frankly, saying, “No. I liked it ... but didn’t know I would. Never done it like that.” Shrugging and producing her transforming smile, she got up to bathe. He sat and stared after her, dumbfounded, but happy as a kid on Christmas morning. 

  A few  minutes later while Colin was showering and utilizing the larger of the plush terry cloth robes he’d had placed in the cabin, I donned my wedding neglige. Then I opened the cooler to discover a feast. My BFFs had packed a picnic wedding supper, and now I was certain they’d been in on the whole surprise. I’d assumed Colin and I would be dining in a fancy restaurant in Santa Fe, but the note inside this well-kept secret said it was a gift from them all. 
   Pulling out grapes, two varieties of cheese, fresh pears, olives, thick slices of chicken and French bread, I spread the fare on the thoughtfully provided large platter, and balanced it cautiously on the quilt. A cold bottle of champagne had also been added, complete with two crystal flutes, carefully wrapped in linen napkins. Strawberry tarts rounded out the dinner essentials. 
   Enjoying every bite, we sat cross-legged facing each other, platter between us, stuffing ourselves as if we hadn’t eaten in days. We ate the last tart as the sun set completely. 
Colin had actually reserved all three of the cabins, ensuring our privacy and providing a place for our cabin’s rustic bunks and thin mattresses to be stored for the night. I wasn’t surprised at how quiet it was, even just off the road, because the back of the cabin was nestled against part of the cliff. Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the sturdy stone cabins are actually on a ledge jutting out thirty feet below the top rim of the canyon. Access is limited, making the seclusion and solitude well worth the short climb down.
   Once dinner was finished, the champagne consumed, crumbs from the quilt were shaken outside for the nocturnal mice or morning birds. I twirled a little unsteadily in my silk negligee, saying as I frowned, “See, Murphy, I was prepared to try looking beautiful for you to seduce you. Direct from Neiman Marcus in Dallas, and very expensive. All that money wasted. You should be ashamed.”

   He lay across the bed laughing at her, loving that she was this comfortable with him, and he with her. “You don’t need an expensive gown to seduce me, Love. You just need to smile.” And so she did, and he was up in an instant, holding her and kissing her. Picking her up and taking her once again to the bed, they made love into the night, silk and terry cloth puddled together on the floor. 
   Sometime close to dawn, I awakened and listened to the quiet. Carefully I moved Colin’s arm from around my waist and stepped silently to the bath to wash myself. Finding the other robe, I wrapped it tightly around me. I stirred the fire and added another thick log, trying not to disturb my husband. He turned over, snoring slightly as I walked to the door and stepped out into the silence of the night. 
   Finding a rough-hewn bench just outside, I sat and tucked legs up under me for warmth, looking up into the clear dark sky. Thousands of stars twinkled across the vast heavens, and I said a silent prayer of praise for their beauty. Then I thanked God for my new love and for this night of loving him, hoping it was only the beginning of years of being together. 
   Then I thought of Jim. Silently grieving for him anew, I wondered if I was betraying him by loving again. 
   “No,” I clearly heard him say, “I want you to be happy. It’s okay, Margaret.”
   Funny, I hadn’t heard him since that night in Dallas when he told me to take the new job, but I somehow knew it was him and was content. 
  Looking up, I whispered, “Thank you, Jim.”
  At that moment, a shooting star caught my eye and streaked across the night in a dazzling display of light, making my heart sing. 
  “God does good work, doesn’t He?” Colin said as he surveyed the stars.
  I turned to see him standing at the door, wrapped in his own robe, carrying the heavy quilt. I smiled contentedly as he sat down, covering us both in the warmth of the thick fabric.
   “Indeed, He does,” I said softly. A moment or two later I asked, “Murphy, is it always like this for you?”
  “Is what always like this for me? Oh,” he said looking at me and understanding. He looked back out over the dark canyon. “Actually, it’s never been like this for me, Love.”
“Never?” I said, totally surprised.
   “Nope, never. I thought earlier it must be because all the other times were not with someone I loved.”
   My heart swelled, but I was silent for a minute and then asked quietly, “You’ve never loved before, Murphy? Really?”
   “Guess not, because I’ve never before wanted permanence, and before it was just sex.”
   “Um, that was definitely sex I was doing, Murphy. What were you doing?”
   He waited a few moments before answering. “Making love.”
   “Oh,” I said softly, touched again, and I thought of Jim. She guessed she had always only made love, and never just had sex.
   “It’s natural for you to think of Jim,” Colin said, still looking into the night sky.
  I was silent for a moment, then said softly, “How’d you know?”
   “Because you’ve only been with a man you were married to, right? So, there’s only the two of us who’ve had the privilege ... I only hope I compare favorably,” he said a little hesitantly.
   I laughed, and he turned red, although I couldn’t see his face in the dark. Uncomfortable, he said, “Okay, then, I guess that’s not so great for me, huh?”
   “Oh, Colin,” I said crawling into his lap, putting my hands under his robe and around his bare chest. He carefully tucked the quilt back around us. I laughed again, “You overgrown little boy. Why is it you males are so damn competitive? Is everything a contest for you? You have to win at all things? What is it with guys?”
   “Whoa, there, missy. I just wanted to make certain you were, you know, satisfied. That’s all.”
“Satisfied? Damn, Colin, how could any woman not be satisfied with you?”
He pushed me back to see if I was still laughing. I wasn’t. Seeing his doubt, I tried to explain, finding the words hard to come by. “It’s just that, well, Jim and I were young and naive and we were convenient when time came to settle down, that’s all. We loved each other, and had good sex — I mean good lovemaking — but, it was mixed with growing up and then children and responsibilities. We were good with each other. We did love each other and I think we made a happy home for our boys. That’s important to me, and I’m grateful for it.
   “But this ... this tonight? Oh, Colin, this is something I never even dreamed was possible.” Relief flooded him, and he held me tighter. I continued, “Never, ever have I felt so completely ... what’s the word I’m looking for?”
“Comfortable?” he offered. 
  “Comfortable? No, I mean yes, I am completely comfortable with you, but I was thinking more like open ... no, that’s not right. Maybe unrestrained ... uninhibited ... more willing to lose myself in what I’m feeling and doing with you. Tonight I didn’t look at facts and analyze how to approach the situation. I just let myself go.”
   “I’ll say,” Colin said, obviously remembering my unbridled passion and feeling his “woman pleaser” coming to life once again. 
   “Yeah, well ... It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s a gift, Colin, a gift I didn’t even know existed to wish for.” I turned my head to lean back on his shoulder, gazing at the ever lightening sky. “Thank you, Murphy. Thank you for this gift.”
   “I can assure you, Love, the pleasure is all mine,” he said, smiling gratefully. Another dazzling light raced across the sky.
    “Make a wish,” he said quietly.
   “There’s nothing else in the world I want,” I whispered and turned to show him once again just how unrestrained I could be. 
Chapter 80

   Later that morning, we drove the four hours to Santa Fe, straight west on Interstate 40,  turning north at Clines Corner into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Setting a good pace but staying within the posted speed limit, we arrived in plenty of time to test the hotel’s luxurious bed — not as comfortable as our own, they declared — and still make Sunday evening Mass at the downtown Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, just off the Santa Fe Plaza.  
Built during 1869 and 1886 in the French Romanesque Revival style, with huge stained glass windows and elaborate gold and marble altars and carvings, its ornate design accomplished the goal of hushed reverence among worshipers even today.
“Exquisite,” I whispered as we first walked in, and then again  as we walked out after the service.
   For the next three days, we discovered Santa Fe — it was a first visit for us both — and enjoyed its galleries, historical sites, and more delicious food than we could ever imagine. For lunch one day, I insisted we sit at the Woolworth’s lunch counter on the square, ordering grilled cheese sandwiches, fries and chocolate sodas, because I had done so as a child with my parents at the old Woolworth’s in downtown Dallas. We laughed through the entire meal as Colin barely fit on the spinning stool, his knees bumping up under the counter. 
     But the food was good and he was with his Maggie, so everything was right with the world.
     The hotel had recommended dinner at Café Pasquáls, named for the folk saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens and cooks, one block southwest of the Plaza, but we would need reservations, which the hotel was happy to make. The small Pueblo-style adobe cafe seated only 50 patrons at a time, and a long line of hungry tourists was almost always out the door and often down the block, no matter what time of year.
  The festive, though small, dining room was lined with hand-painted Mexican tiles and murals by Leovigildo Martinez, a Mexican painter I was not familiar with, but the stylistic depictions of the moon intrigued me.  
  The menu of Southwest cuisine was extensive and it took us a while to decide. Finally, I opted for Talas Wind Ranch Lamb Osso Buco with orange, lemon, parsley and garlic cremolata, served with Anson Mills polenta and steamed mustard greens. Colin decided on the Plato Supremo – chile relleno, Rosie’s chicken móle and a taco barbacóa, complete with a skewer of grilled beef carne asáda. As an appetizer, we shared banana leaf-wrapped black bean, corn and jack cheese tamales. 
  “Mustard greens?” he asked me after we’d ordered.
  “Great stuff. Haven’t had them in years. My great aunt Bertie — on my mother’s side — used to cook them. She's from Mississippi. You should try them.”
   “No, thanks. I’ve ordered plenty of food for myself.” 
   A pleasant hour later, but stuffed beyond comfort, we tried walking dinner off with a late-night stroll around the plaza but ended up going straight to bed, quickly falling into deep sonorous sleep, waking long after the sun rose. Delicious as it had been, for the rest of the week we chose lighter fare. 
One afternoon, Colin took us to a nearby ancient Indian burial site. On the return trip, we walked across the Plaza to the Palace of the Governors, built in 1610, the nation’s oldest continuously used public building. I found a pair of turquoise earrings I liked, and Colin bought them from one of the numerous colorfully dressed Native Americans whose wares were spread on wool blankets outside the palace. We found other gifts, too, for friends and family.
   One of the highlights for us both was a visit to the Loretto Chapel, another short walk from the Plaza. Modeled after King Louis IX's Sainte Chapelle in Paris, which each have visited, the small Gothic-Revival-style chapel was completed in the late 1800s. 
   I picked up a brochure and studied it, while Colin studied the chapel’s famous staircase.
   “Listen to this, Murphy,” I said, reading from the brochure. “ ‘The church was built for the Sisters of the Loretto, who established a school in Santa Fe in 1853. According to legend, St. Joseph the Carpenter had a role in the building of the chapel's Miraculous Staircase, constructed sometime between 1877 and 1881 with two 360-degree turns and no apparent means of support.’ ”
  “Definitely no visible means of support,” Colin said as he looked at the staircase. Then he looked off into his remembrances. “Dated a woman once, very buxom, you see, who wore this black mystery dress.” 
“Mystery dress?” I asked, ignorantly taking the bait.
“Yes, it was a mystery how she kept the thing from falling to her ankles. It was cut so low there was no visible means of support.” “Really, Colin! We’re in a chapel!”
“Oh yeah, so we are. What else does the brochure say about the good sisters of Loretta?” 
I gave him a sour look, but continued reading:
   “ ‘When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder, as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel.
“ ‘Legend says that to find a solution to the problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height. Made of an apparently extinct wood species, it was constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.’”
   “Amazing,” he said. “Look at the craftsmanship.”
   “Wait, there’s a little more. ‘The carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters’ prayers.’   
“So, what do you think, Colin? Is it Saint Joseph’s work?”
    Unable to walk on the stairs or even move completely around it — its age rendering it off limits to everyone — Colin leaned over the rope barriers as far as he could to study the structure, fascinated. After careful inspection, he said, “I won’t say it wasn’t. It’s remarkable artistry, to say the least. I’d be interested in hearing what Sean thinks. He’s been here before, I think. Let’s take the brochure home and ask him.”

   Our days in the beautiful old city flew by, and when Thursday came, we were reluctant to leave, having not only spent the time exploring the town, but also exploring each other. Colin was amazed to find that each time they made love, he learned something new about his bride, and he said it simply gave him more reasons to be fascinated by me. I continued to be amazed at how blessed I am to have found this good man, and I enjoyed him and his athletic body to the fullest. 
       This was definitely the “more” Sharon had talked about.
And then we headed back home... more next week.