Chapter One

Kate was furious.

She stood at the nurse’s station in her Vancouver East Emergency Room, hands wrapped around a takeout cup of coffee. It was lukewarm. Cold, really. But she tried to let it calm her, to let her anger dissipate into the familiar noise and movement of the morning rush. She was vaguely aware of the four med students who had been shadowing her for the past week as they whispered quietly to each other. It was the perfect opportunity to walk them through the trauma they’d just seen. Time to teach them about the crucial skills of team communication and have them identify the critical components of airway-breathing-circulation in the sixteen-year-old stabbing victim they’d just watched Kate work on for the last hour. But Kate was too angry still to do any of that, not after having to weather the insults and accusations from a trauma surgeon with a superiority complex. So she stood with her coffee, looking down at the e-Chart of the kid they’d just lost, trying to pull herself together.

“Don’t you see patients of your own anymore, Morrison? Or do you just turn up at traumas to show us how it’s done?” Craig dropped his e-Chart carelessly on the desk, rubbing the heels of his palms into his eyes. He was at the end of a double shift, and it showed.

“Funny,” Kate said shortly. Craig was her closest friend and ally at Van East. Apparently, Kate didn’t have the patience for anyone today.

Craig looked at Kate through bloodshot eyes. “Don’t let him get to you. Davidson’s an asshole, and you know it. He couldn’t have saved that kid if he’d been standing in the ambulance bay with his scalpel in hand.”

Kate grunted noncommittally, though she did feel a bit better hearing it from someone else. The med students shuffled uneasily behind them, and Kate tried to pull her day back into focus. She turned to them, their faces eager, unsure, and possibly bored.

“Each of you find a case. I want a complete history and treatment options, no input from each other or the residents. And don’t get in the way of the nurses. Find me in an hour.”

They scurried away, and Kate felt a pang of guilt. Usually she looked forward to medical students. They forced people to think about what they were doing and why. And they often provided comic relief for those who had been here too long. Kate wasn’t sure if it was this cohort or whether she was generally feeling impatient, but somehow these med students made her feel old. Old and tired.

“Is it me or are the med students getting younger?” Craig’s voice was plaintive.

This time Kate cracked a smile. “I was just thinking the same thing. It’s possible, Dr. Nielson, that we are getting old.”

“God, I feel it today,” he groaned.

A nurse stopped Craig to follow up with a patient, and Kate took the last few moments to look out through the window. When she had left her apartment just a few hours ago, it had been a gentle, warm morning with just the subtlest hint summer was behind them and a wet, cool season was slowly making its way over the mountains.

Just then a familiar, uniformed figure came in through the revolving doors. Kate’s heart gave a quick kick at the sight of Andy in her RCMP uniform, a windbreaker over the light grey shirt and soft body armour vest. Out of habit, Andy scanned the room as she walked in and Kate smiled as Andy’s clear grey eyes came to rest on her. Andy stopped, one finger hooked into her belt, holding a coffee in one hand, her shoulders back, her almost six-foot frame looking every inch the RCMP sergeant she was. Andy gave a slow smile, and even across the room, to Kate it felt like a private moment, as if that look could only ever be for her.

They’d been back from Seattle four months. They’d returned from their too-brief stay in the Montana mountains, love-drenched and happy, to a frenzy of media attention. It had been overwhelming, more so given they were trying to navigate the beginning of their relationship. All Kate wanted to do was turn around and hide out with Andy in the small cabin they’d shared for three days. Things settled down, and now life had almost returned to normal. Except the part where Andy walked casually into her ER, and Kate still reacted like a schoolkid with a crush.

Andy walked up to the nurse’s station, and Kate put down her cold coffee, accepting the scalding one from Andy in return.

“Hi,” Kate said quietly. “You’re lucky you caught me.”

“Lucky, yes,” Andy said. Her smile was brilliant, beautiful.

Kate sought out the details of Andy’s face she knew so well now. The soft lines at the corner of her eyes when she smiled, her blond hair pulled back off her face, even her straight posture which would relax the moment Kate’s hand drew a line down her spine.

“I thought you’d be home sleeping by now,” Kate said, taking in the circles just visible under Andy’s eyes. Kate knew Andy had worked an overnight. She should be at her apartment already, sleeping.

“Something came up,” Andy told her with a small, knowing smile. It had become an all-encompassing catch phrase for both of them. It could mean anything: a trauma, a distraught family, a deadline, a new lead, one more patient, one more phone call. Often it simply meant they’d lost track of time and had gone over their shift. Until now, neither of them had someone waiting for them who could compete with their work.

“And I take it that something isn’t resolved, since you’re here in uniform,” Kate said, digging.

“Finns caught me just as I was heading off shift. He’s handed me an out-of-district case, apparently at the superintendent’s request.”

“Which means what?” Kate asked. She transferred the cup to her other hand, relieving the intense heat against her palm.

Craig interrupted before Andy could answer. “Sergeant Wyles, how’s life?”

Andy tipped her hat solemnly at Craig. “Dr. Nielson. I can’t complain.”

“You’re in the wrong place for not complaining,” Craig said, half serious. He brightened quickly. “Hey, you guys should come by for dinner this weekend. Anya’s been asking for weeks.”

Kate answered for them both. “We’re heading up to Andy’s parents place next weekend for her brother’s fortieth birthday.”

“Is this the first time you’re meeting the family?” Craig asked, looking interested.

“Yep,” Kate said.

“Are you nervous?”

“I’ve never gone home to meet my girlfriend’s family before. What if I do it wrong?” Kate answered Craig’s questions but kept her eyes on Andy. She simply smiled reassuringly.

Craig picked up his e-Chart, shaking his head. “I’m pretty sure all the same rules apply, Morrison. I’ll tell Anya we’ll aim for end of September.” With a quickly sketched farewell, Craig left to see patients.

Kate took their moment of silence to sip her hot coffee. It was absolute heaven. “So, you were telling me about an out-of-district case?” she asked Andy.

“Right. I’ll be heading up north for an overnight to check out a situation in Hidden Valley. They’ve got someone up there, but Finns wants me to check in. I’m sure the local detachment is going to love that,” Andy said with a wry smile.

“When are you back?” Kate said, trying not to let her disappointment show. Her work hours had ruined their fair share of plans, too.

“I’m supposed to be done by noon, so I should be back in the city around four tomorrow.”

“Sure, and my shift should be done at seven,” Kate muttered under her breath, making Andy laugh. “So this is suck-up coffee, then,” Kate said, indicating the cup in her hand.

“Something like that.” Andy lowered her voice before she spoke again. “I also thought maybe you had a hard night.” Kate could see Andy scanning her eyes, gauging her reaction. Kate knew she didn’t need to bother. She could never keep anything from Andy.

Kate shrugged in response.

“I thought so.”

“Practicing mind reading, are you?” Kate said, trying to lighten the mood.

“No, I stopped by your place earlier. I was hoping to catch you before you left.”

Kate’s heart skipped at the thought, and she pictured Andy using the key she had given her to come into the apartment. She imagined the surprise of seeing Andy as she was getting ready for work, imagined kissing her in the kitchen…

Kate shook her head, the knot of curls bouncing against the back of her neck. She still struggled with how strong her feelings were for Andy. How she had to temper them in public. She’d never felt like this, not about anybody, not once.

“Why does that make you think I had a hard night?” she asked, focusing on Andy’s words.

“There was a pot of tea by the sink and the bed was made. You only drink tea when you can’t sleep, and you only make the bed in the morning when you wake up before the alarm,” Andy said.

Kate didn’t say anything as she looked out over the ER. One of her med students wrote furiously in a chart as the patient, clearly enjoying the captive audience, gave what looked like his entire life story. Kate considered going to rescue him, then changed her mind.

“Nightmares?” Andy asked softly, bringing her back.

Kate gave her a tight, humourless smile. Andy sighed, looking down at Kate’s left arm. Kate controlled the urge to touch the perfectly healed but still pink scar that encircled her arm just below her elbow. She knew it would only make the grim look on Andy’s face that much worse.

“I’m fine.”

Which was entirely true. Most of the time, she never thought about those few terrifying hours when a deranged man had tried to remove the skin of her arms and hands. She didn’t have panic attacks or flashbacks, and she didn’t spend any time thinking about what had almost happened. But sometimes while she slept, Angler showed up in her dreams. He never did anything, just stood back with a smirk on his face and watched her. His inaction was somehow more frightening than anything he could say or do in her dreams.

“I’m fine,” she said more firmly, until Andy tore her eyes away from the scar on Kate’s arm. Kate knew that scar haunted Andy, but she couldn’t figure out how to make that stop.

One of Kate’s med students sidled up to the nurse’s station, eyes on her chart. She started to speak to Kate, then seemed to realize she’d walked into a private conversation. The woman blushed, squeaked, and shuffled down the hallway, obviously waiting until Kate was done.

“I guess my five minutes are up,” Andy said, shifting the belt around her hips. “What time are you off tomorrow?”

“Same as today, seven.”

“See you at your place then?” Andy said. They spent most of their time together at Kate’s small, one-bedroom Mount Pleasant apartment. Having Andy there already felt familiar.

“Yes.”

They had a silent, charged moment as they looked at each other. Kate felt Andy give the smallest of sighs, a gesture she was sure Andy had not meant for her to catch. Kate stretched up suddenly and touched her lips to Andy’s with the lightest, most fleeting touch.

“See you tomorrow,” Kate said, listening to the rapid, erratic pounding of the blood in her veins. They had not been together long enough for a kiss, even a brief, public kiss to be anything but a promise for more the next time they were alone together.

Andy backed away, eyes dancing. “See you tomorrow.”

 

v

 

Kate ran her bare feet over the smooth surface of her hardwood floors, finding the knots and grooves with her toes. She was sitting on the oversized beige couch in her living room wearing the scrubs she’d had to change into at the hospital after a catheterization gone awry. She was trying to focus on the report in front of her. Her supervisor, Dr. Angstrom, had caught her just before her shift ended to tell her the trauma surgeon from the day before had registered a complaint against the ER. Kate, already exhausted after another long shift of trying to see and treat her walk-in patients, direct traumas as they screamed into the ER, and keep an eye on her med students, had not handled his criticism and condescension well. She’d defended herself, Angstrom hadn’t listened, Kate had pushed, and Angstrom had stuck her on a committee to prove he was managing his team. And to top it all off, he’d reminded her that the medical student profiles and resident schedules were already two days late, and he expected them by the next morning. Defeated, Kate had said nothing more.

Pushing thoughts of her supervisor away, Kate looked at her phone. It was seven thirty and still no new messages. Andy had texted her earlier, saying she’d be late. It was to be expected, really, in this long day that had no end. Focus, Kate demanded of herself. She wanted to be done by the time Andy arrived. Kate’s stomach flipped at the thought. Focus.

She was rearranging the residents’ schedules when she heard the key in the lock and Andy walked in, still in uniform, and dropped her bag by the front door. With her grey eyes on Kate and a slight smile on her face, Andy pulled off her windbreaker and hung it on the hook by the door. Sitting perfectly still on the couch, Kate watched as Andy pulled off her soft body armour vest, the Velcro sounding loud in the silence, and hung it with her jacket. Still, neither of them said anything, though Kate was suddenly very aware of the blood pounding through her body as Andy pulled at the belt around her waist, the sly grin still playing about her lips. Once Andy had hung her belt on the hook, she put her hands in her pockets, her dark pants with the distinctive yellow stripes down the sides hanging low on her hips.

“Hi,” Andy said, leaning against the doorway. Her eyes hadn’t left Kate’s from the moment she’d walked in the door. Kate remembered to breathe.

“Twenty minutes,” Kate said finally. “I need twenty minutes to finish this report for Angstrom.”

“Sure.”

Kate watched Andy unclip the holstered revolver from her belt hanging by the door. She knew Andy would put it on the bedside table in the bedroom, as she always did. What Kate didn’t know was whether or not Andy had always done this, or whether it was because of what happened the morning Angler had broken into their hotel room and taken Kate away. Kate couldn’t bring herself to ask.

On her way by, Andy leaned down and kissed Kate lightly on her lips.

“Sorry I’m late,” she whispered, and then she kept walking back towards the bedroom.

Kate tried to focus on the schedules in front of her, but the dates, times, and names blurred together as she listened to Andy moving around her apartment. She felt the soft tread of Andy’s feet on the floorboards, heard water splashing in the sink in the bathroom through the half-open door. Then, as Kate randomly began assigning names to boxes on the chart in front of her, she felt Andy climb over the back of the couch, sliding down behind her, long legs coming to rest on either side of her. Andy still had on her uniform pants, though her feet were bare and Kate could see the delicate bones, her high arches, the runner’s calluses. Kate very much wanted to run her fingers over Andy’s bare feet, up her calves, over her knees and thighs.

“I’m almost done,” Kate said, gripping the pen tightly in her hand.

“I can be patient,” Andy said and sat very still. That didn’t stop Kate from feeling the heat coming from her body.

Kate had only filled in three more boxes when she felt Andy’s hands on her back, fingers tracing the shape of her curved spine as she hunched over the report. Kate smiled to herself and closed her eyes as Andy reached under her shirt, fingers slightly chilled against her skin.

“Liar,” Kate said, throwing down her pen.

Andy slid one hand around Kate’s waist, pulling her back until they were pressed together. Kate tilted her head against Andy’s shoulder, feeling Andy’s lips on her neck as she ran her hands over Andy’s bare arms.

“Did you overestimate your patience?” Kate asked, her eyes still closed.

“More like I underestimated how sexy you are in scrubs.”

With a quick movement, Andy pulled Kate’s shirt over her head, ran her hand down her back, and unclipped her bra, pushing it off her shoulders. Kate could feel the hardness of Andy’s nipples through the thin cotton of her sports bra as Andy leaned back into the thick couch cushions, pulling Kate with her. Kate gripped Andy’s legs, feeling the muscles underneath her fingers as Andy ran her hands over Kate’s body. Kate pushed back into her hard and heard Andy respond with a groan in Kate’s ear and a thrust of her hips, so she did it again and felt Andy’s teeth on her shoulder. Kate tried to sit up. She wanted to face Andy, to be able to touch her. But Andy anticipated her movement and gripped her hard around the waist. Kate tried to fight back, but Andy wrapped her legs around Kate’s, pinning her. Kate dug her fingers high into Andy’s thighs and Andy pulled against her calves, spreading her legs farther. Kate, groaning, gave in, and she could feel Andy smile into her neck as she submitted to Andy.

Andy resumed her exploration of Kate’s body, with one hand this time, the other still binding them tightly together. Kate knew her body had not been loved so completely or unself-consciously before Andy. It had been like that from the beginning, that first time in the hotel and then the three days in the cabin where Kate had learned the language of loving Andy. No thoughts then, as Andy moved her hand past the waistband of her scrubs. And as Andy’s fingers finally found what they were seeking, her moan of pleasure was as loud as Kate’s. No thoughts, just the sound of her own ragged breathing, the exertion of straining against Andy’s hold on her, the feel of her fingers between her legs, circling and stroking again and again until Kate couldn’t contain it anymore and her body arched into orgasm, the sensation lasting an exquisitely long time, ending with Andy’s satisfied sigh in her ear.

Andy was quiet behind her, though Kate could feel the tension in her body. Andy released her and Kate stood up shakily, turning to see Andy properly for the first time. God, she was beautiful. With her hair slightly chaotic now around her bare shoulders, just a white sports bra showing off her athletic body, her pants low on her hips showing the waistband of her boy-cut baby blue briefs. Kate could also see the jagged, thick scar just above Andy’s left hip, the result of stitches from a gunshot wound being violently ripped open twice. Before Kate could think about it, Andy reached out and pulled Kate to her, the urgency of her lips betraying her need. Kate ran her hands down Andy’s chest, reaching under her bra, seeking out her sensitive nipples. Finding them hard, she touched them lightly with her fingertips, then harder, circling and pinching then backing off and coming back again until Andy was breathing hard, gripping Kate’s hips, thrusting against her. Kate knew it wasn’t enough. She could feel Andy’s body aching for release, so she raised herself and reached between them to undo the button and zipper of Andy’s pants. Andy tilted her hips. Kate knew what she wanted, so she slipped two fingers inside, feeling all of Andy’s muscles tense as she leaned her head back against the couch, eyes closed.

But Kate didn’t want to make it that easy. She pulled back and raised herself just above Andy, kissing her throat, up to her ear, smothering Andy’s groan. She could feel Andy’s hands on her hips, pulling her down, but Kate resisted for just a moment longer, then slipped her fingers inside again, lowering herself onto Andy. She did it again and again until Andy, every muscle in her body vibrating, came against her, both their bodies rocking with the power of it until finally they fell against each other, spent.

Kate lay wrapped around Andy, lips against her neck, the air trapped and hot between them. Eventually she felt Andy lightly stroking her back until she shivered at the touch. She sat up and met Andy’s lazy, smiling gaze.

“How about a shower, and then I’ll make something to eat?” Andy said, arms now wrapped around Kate’s waist.

Kate ran her fingers through the loose ends of Andy’s blond hair. “Sounds like the perfect end to a shitty day.”

Andy searched Kate’s face. “Want to talk about it?”

Kate loved this about Andy. She understood that sometimes you wanted someone to share in the frustrations or heartache of your day, but some days there were just no words.

Kate decided to summarize. “Lost a sixteen-year-old, got into a playground fight with a trauma surgeon, pissed off Angstrom, and almost completely ignored my med students. And I got peed on.”

“A shitty day,” Andy confirmed, bringing one hand up to massage the back of Kate’s neck.

“Want to tell me about yours?”

Andy frowned, the furrow between her eyebrows becoming more pronounced, the corners of her mouth pulling tight. Her grey eyes told Kate she was wrestling with something.

“Sure, but while I make supper,” Andy said finally. “I think if we don’t get off the couch now we might not move again all night.”

Kate kissed Andy lightly on the corner of her mouth. “That’s not the worst idea I heard today,” she murmured but stood up, pulling Andy with her.

Half an hour later, Kate was sitting on the kitchen counter in her pyjamas, her red hair loose and damp around her shoulders. Night had fallen, and the air that came in through the partially open window was early October warm, bringing with it the sounds of the street three floors below. Andy pulled food from the fridge and cupboards, arranging items neatly on the counter. Kate watched as Andy, her grey T-shirt just hiding the blue briefs that hugged her thighs, washed vegetables in the sink. Kate loved to see Andy in her kitchen, moving around like she belonged here, like they belonged here together.

“So, what was the assignment that Finns gave you?” Kate asked, legs swinging against the worn wooden cupboards.

Andy kept her eyes down, carefully slicing red peppers into long, thin strips.

“I’m not really sure what to tell you about it, actually.”

“You mean what you’re allowed to tell me?” Andy shared a lot of her work with Kate, although she was also used to the unapologetic evasion.

“No, that’s not it. I just don’t have a handle on why I was sent up there,” she said, handing Kate a few slices of pepper before tipping the rest of them into the sizzling pan on the stove.

Kate chewed on the pepper, waiting. Andy chopped onions and zucchini with the same controlled deliberateness, the frown of concentration on her face having nothing to do with the task in front of her.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Kate suggested.

Andy looked up from her completed knife work, then covered the short distance to kiss Kate lightly before opening the fridge and pulling out the ingredients for a sauce.

“Finns gave me a last-minute, out-of-district assignment, telling me Superintendent Heath has requested I personally go up to Hidden Valley and check out a situation there.” She paused and looked over at Kate. “Do you know anything about Hidden Valley?”

“Just that it’s north of Whistler, and my chances of affording a house there are about as good as Angstrom proposing marriage to me during my shift tomorrow.”

Andy laughed and whacked her on the leg with the back of a wooden spoon. “Yes, it’s crazy rich, even by Vancouver standards. They’ve got a municipal helicopter landing pad so they can commute to the city, even though it’s only a two-hour drive. They’re on the Whistler side of the 99, a fact they’re very proud of, and they’re utterly exclusive, something they’re far too rich to say out loud. They just show you in everything they do.” Andy seemed more amused than judgemental. Kate figured this was one of the things that made Andy a great cop, the way she could get a handle on people but not judge them.

“Finns gave me nothing more than the name of the constable up there, a guy named Ferris. Nice guy, pretty laid back given that I’ve just invaded his territory. So I assume Ferris is going to give me the rundown of the case, persons of interest, evidence gathered. But there’s nothing. No active case file, no police report, no complaint filed. Just four seemingly unconnected people who show similar presentations of a moderate flu-like illness, with symptoms lasting up to a month.”

Andy paused as she added the sauce to the vegetables, the hot, sizzling smell of garlic and ginger spreading throughout the kitchen.

“How is that a case for the RCMP to investigate?” Kate said.

Andy raised her hands helplessly. “This is what I’m asking myself yesterday afternoon, sitting in the small-town police department. So I started digging.”

Kate smiled. “Of course you did. And what did you find?”

“For one thing, it turns out Superintendent Heath has a personal connection to Hidden Valley. His eldest daughter, Natalie Cardiff, lives in Hidden Valley with her two kids and her husband, Michael Cardiff, who is a local councillor running for member of parliament in the fall election.”

“Interesting,” Kate said.

“Interesting, yes. Relevant? I’m still not sure.” Andy lifted the lid off the rice, scooped a few pieces onto her spoon and blew on it gently. She took a careful bite between her perfect front teeth, then shook her head and returned the lid. “So once I start asking questions, it turns out the uproar over this flu, or whatever it is, has more to do with an article written by a small mountain-town newspaper about the effects of influenza outbreaks on elections.”

Kate felt these two pieces of information war for sense in her head. “What?”

Andy gave Kate a quick smile, like she had anticipated that reaction. “Apparently the journalist, a young guy with the Squamish Herald, quoted a study out of Sweden linking a decrease in voter confidence and voter turnout on viral outbreaks. More importantly, he quoted this study in a newspaper article after getting into a verbal altercation with Michael Cardiff. According to Constable Ferris, the journalist warned Michael Cardiff that his election results would suffer unless he changed his platform on two-tiered health care.”

Kate tried to tie politics to influenza and failed. She ignored the erroneous interchanging of virus and influenza. It wasn’t the time for a medical lesson. “So remind me again what you were investigating?”

“Apparently the article was seen as, and this is a quote from the constable in Hidden Valley, ‘a threat.’ And the fact that several people in a fairly small population are now sick has imaginations running wild.”

Andy checked the rice one more time, then switched off the stove. Kate set the table with plates, cutlery, and glasses. She opened the fridge, held up a bottle of half-flat lemon Perrier and a bottle of white wine. Andy indicated the wine, then scooped huge mounds of steaming brown rice onto their plates, topping it with the vegetables. Kate, who hadn’t had a drink in over seven years, poured herself some of the Perrier, and they sat down together at the small table shoved up against the wall in her apple green kitchen.

Andy held up her glass. “To a night off together.”

“To a girlfriend who likes to cook,” Kate responded. They clinked glasses, sipped their drinks, and then picked up their forks.

“Does it still feel strange to say that?” Andy asked, after a moment’s silence.

Kate shrugged. “A little.”

Andy waited for her to elaborate, but Kate wanted to hear more about Andy’s case, not to discuss her journey to accepting her new lesbian identity. Not that Andy, who had been out since she was eighteen, ever pushed. Not once, not ever. But Kate knew she worried about it. She could tell Andy wished she would give it more thought. Kate was content to be with Andy, to love her and completely share her life with this incredible woman. The label seemed shockingly unimportant.

“So, the non-case in Hidden Valley,” Kate prompted, scooping another forkful of rice and vegetables.

Andy took a sip of her wine, her grey eyes appraising. Kate waited it out. Andy finally shook her head, a slight smile on her lips.

“Fine. So Ferris shows me what background he has on this journalist, which so far amounts to pretty much nothing. But I figure Finns would want more, so I ask more questions about the four patients. You know, when they got sick, any connections between patients, physicians. Any connection to the journalist, to the Cardiffs, to the election. Nothing very interesting comes up.”

“Other than the fact that they’ve been sick for so long,” Kate added. She couldn’t help thinking that the description of the influenza was just a bit off.

Andy nodded her agreement, like she hadn’t forgotten.

“Was Public Health involved?”

“Yes, that’s who I had to hang around to meet with today. The guy had to drive up to Hidden Valley to meet with me, which he wasn’t very happy about. He told me he investigated the cases and nothing showed up that caused him any concern or alarm. He stopped just short of saying the town was overbearing and completely out of line. It was hard not to agree with him.”

“So now what?”

Andy pushed her empty plate away and leaned back in her chair. “Now I find some way to fill a report about whether or not this was a credible threat and if so, what action needs to be taken.”

“You’ve got a bizarre job,” Kate said, also leaning back in her chair. She lifted her feet onto Andy’s lap across from her.

“I’m not the one who got peed on today,” Andy reminded her, running her hands over Kate’s bare feet, fingers on her ankles, palms cupping her calves.

“Do you think that’s the end of it?”

Andy took a moment with Kate’s question.

“No,” she finally said. “No way. I have a feeling this non-case is nowhere near over.”

 


Chapter Two

Rain fell in a constant spray of mist, challenging Andy’s wiper blades. Blankets of dense clouds had covered the city for days, as if they were settling in for the next six months. Kate looked out the side window of Andy’s old Corolla, watching the city give way to the endlessly long suburbs, then finally to the small towns which dotted the eastern leg of the Lougheed Highway.

It was Saturday morning, the first full weekend Kate had had off in months and the first weekend she and Andy had off together, ever. They were driving up to Andy’s parents’ place, an hour northeast of Chilliwack, for her brother’s fortieth birthday. Andy’s whole family would be there for the weekend, all three brothers and the various wives and offspring. Kate was nervous.

“So Mark is the oldest. He’s a pilot, and he’s married to Shayna, and they have a boy and a girl named Denver and Brindle,” Kate said, though they’d already been through this more than once.

“Yes. And don’t get me started on the names. Apparently, unique names are all the rage up in Whitehorse. It’s a good thing they’re cute,” Andy said, smiling at Kate.

Kate didn’t return the smile. She was too intent on getting this right.

“And Zach and his wife Deanna are expecting their first and they live in Calgary.”

“Yes,” Andy said patiently. When Andy looked over at Kate, she seemed amused, like she knew exactly what Kate was doing asking these questions. “And Brandon’s the birthday boy, and he’s probably got three girlfriends, none of whom he ever brings home.”

Kate watched through the blur of rain as they passed a lump of runners in bright gear, running in near precision down the highway. She felt Andy’s hand on her knee and looked up into her sweet, grey eyes.

“Why are you so nervous?” Andy asked her gently.

“Because it’s important,” Kate told her, knowing that was really only half the answer.

Andy seemed to know it, too. She squeezed Kate’s leg with a gentle pressure and left her to her own thoughts. Yes, Kate was nervous because this was important. But it was more than that. Kate didn’t know how to navigate any of this. Until Andy, her adult relationships had been brief and boring. She never had enough time or chemistry to get involved much past dates and phone calls, awkward mornings, and drawn-out excuses for breakups. But what she had with Andy was important. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Kate from feeling slightly disconnected, like she lacked the confidence needed to show everyone else how much Andy meant to her.

“Who was the last girlfriend you brought home?” Kate said.

Andy signaled, checked her blind spot, and overtook a slow-moving truck on the highway before answering. “Rachel. That was almost three years ago now.”

Kate knew all about Rachel, the physiotherapist who had cheated on Andy with the captain of the UBC women’s lacrosse team. They’d been together a year and half and had lived together most of that time.

“And did your family like her?” Kate was unsure which answer would make her feel worse.

Andy looked quickly at Kate. “Not particularly. Though, by the time I brought her home, neither did I really, so I can’t exactly blame them.” Kate still couldn’t return Andy’s smile. “My parents are going to love you, Kate.”

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“Right, because I’m so well known for making people feel warm and fuzzy,” Andy said sarcastically.

Kate finally laughed, the action easing some of the tension in her body. Andy looked relieved to hear Kate’s laugh.

“I’m serious, Kate. I was talking to my dad the other night, and he said that he and my mom couldn’t wait to meet you. Apparently my mom has known from the day she watched the press conference in Seattle on TV that you are important to me.”

“Seriously?”

“My mom is very…intuitive,” Andy said finally.

“And she’s known you a long time.”

Andy nodded. Kate knew Andy had a very interesting relationship with her mother, who had raised her from the time she was three. Kate was curious about Elaine Wyles, the woman who had raised three wild boys and taken in Andy, the child who had resulted from her husband’s one affair. Andy rarely mentioned her biological mother, who had died just after her third birthday. She did have a picture of the two of them in her apartment; Andy as a chubby, smiling toddler sitting on her mother’s lap, one hand holding a length of her mother’s blond hair.

“All right, fine. I’ll quit my whining,” Kate finally said, giving her head a shake.

Andy flashed her a grin. “Good,” she said, “because we’re almost there.”

Just a few minutes later, Andy pulled off the highway, heading north on a county side road. Houses and farms sped by at varying intervals, then long stretches of trees with glimpses of a winding, muddy river. Finally, they pulled off onto a gravel road, Andy gunning the engine to make it up the hill on loose rocks. The long tree-lined driveway opened up to a huge yard with a sprawling, side-split house in the middle. Kate could see where various additions had been added over the years with an extension out the back and a third level overlooking the forest that served as a backyard. There was a long, barn-like shed at the end of the driveway with an assortment of cars parked out front.

“Looks like everyone’s here,” Andy said, killing the engine. Just as she did, her cell phone rang. Andy checked the caller ID. “It’s the guy up in Hidden Valley. Give me a sec.”

The rain had picked up, and with the windshield wipers still, Kate could see little through the windows. She thought about Andy growing up here with her three much older brothers, thought about the chaos she imagined they were about to walk into. Her own childhood had been much quieter with just herself and her younger sister, Sarah. As an eight-year-old, Kate would have been more likely to be reading a book or doing crafts than riding her BMX bike over a homemade ramp, as she imagined Andy did at that age.

Kate tuned into Andy’s half of the phone conversation.

“This morning? Have they established a cause of death?” Andy pinned the phone between her shoulder and ear, grabbing the notepad and pen she kept in the console. Kate watched Andy scrawl respiratory distress on the paper, and her brain kicked into gear. Andy had told her most of the patients only presented with mild to moderate flu-like symptoms. Nothing Andy said four days ago indicated anyone presented with serious, life-threatening complications from the still-unnamed illness.

Kate grabbed another pen, found a gas station receipt, scribbled on the back pre-existing med. conditions? and handed it to Andy. Andy took it, nodded, and spoke Kate’s question into the phone while she continued to scrawl notes.

“Call again if anything else comes up over the weekend. Right, yes…And if you don’t hear back by mid-morning Monday, then give me a call and I’ll see what I can do from this end. Thanks, Ferris, you, too.” Andy disconnected the call with one hand, gripping her notebook with her other. Kate waited, giving Andy space to think. After only a moment Andy started talking, her voice factual and even. Her sergeant’s voice.

“One of the patients with flu symptoms died this morning. They’re going to try to get an autopsy for early next week.”

“Were there pre-existing medical conditions?” Kate asked.

“I don’t have all the details, but apparently the patient was into her second year of remission from breast cancer. Ferris is going to see if he can get all the information for me.” Andy looked down at her notes.

“I take it you’ll be heading back up to Hidden Valley next week?” Kate asked tentatively.

Andy looked up. “Probably. Finns made it clear I was supposed to stay on this case that still isn’t a fucking case.” Kate wasn’t sure exactly what Andy was feeling: angry, distracted, or concerned. “It’s hard to feel annoyed that work is creeping into my time off when someone just lost their life,” she finally said, and Kate felt a surge of compassion. She was familiar with that sensation of internal conflict. “Let’s go inside. The longer we wait in the car, the cruder Brandon’s jokes are going to get.” Andy flashed Kate a grin, leaned in, and gave her a quick kiss full on her mouth.

They opened their doors, the rain immediately soaking into every porous surface. Grabbing bags from the backseat, they dodged the puddles in the driveway and ran up the front steps that led to a large porch. Andy shoved the door open with her shoulder and Kate got her first glimpse of Andy’s childhood home. It was very open, the front entrance leading into a large living room with comfortable-looking, mismatched furniture. Kate counted four huge shelves filled with books interspersed with beautiful, intricate wood carvings and colourful child-like paintings. A carving of a salmon seemed to hold place of honour on the wall, its distinctive, static shape managing to show life and movement, a testament to the First Nations artist who brought it into creation. Up a set of six stairs, Kate could see the dining room that looked down onto the living room and the kitchen just beyond that. The décor was simple and homey and felt like the people who lived here gave little thought to what the latest trends indicated for home decorating and instead chose to revel in their own comfort.

Andy put down their bags and pulled off her boots and Kate followed suit.

“Finally!” a voice called, and Kate watched as a tall figure in baggy shorts and a T-shirt, dark brown hair long around his ears, launched himself down the six stairs in what was clearly a familiar movement. Kate caught a flash of perfectly white teeth and smiling brown eyes before the man hooked Andy around the neck in a bearish hug. Andy hugged him back, the smile on her face so incredibly happy, Kate felt all the nerves that had been collecting in her body over the last few weeks completely melt away.

“I thought we were going to have to turn the hose on you two. What were you doing sitting out in the car steaming up the windows?”

Kate watched as Andy balled her fist and punched her brother in the kidney. Kate either missed the part where Andy cushioned the blow or she had really just hit him that hard.

“I got a call from work, you ass,” she told him, letting him go and stepping back. “Brandon, I’d like you to meet Kate. Kate, this is Brandon.”

Kate held out her hand to the youngest of Andy’s brothers. “Nice to meet you,” she said, looking at him full on for the first time. “And happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” he said with a smile, shaking her hand. “I’m glad you could make it. We’ve all been dying to meet you.” He said the last with a slightly suggestive tone and had to block the second kidney shot Andy aimed at him.

“Break it up, children, let the adults through.”

Two more very tall, dark-haired men were taking their turns hugging Andy now, and Kate realized all three had the same complexion, as if they constantly had the look of having spent the summer out in the sun. The contrast to Andy’s pale skin and blond hair was striking.

Andy was introducing her to Mark, who had a beard, and Zach, who was the most clean-cut of the three of them. They were all talking over each other, joking and throwing insults. Looking at the four siblings standing together, tall, athletic, laughing, Kate thought they looked like the poster family for a BC healthy outdoor living campaign.

“All right, let’s move this party upstairs. Mom and Dad are serving lunch.”

Andy held out her hand to Kate, eyes shining. “So far so good?” Andy said as they walked through the living room and up the stairs.

“I feel very short. Is there a height restriction I should know about?”

Andy laughed. “The kids are shorter than you, so you’re fine.”

“Sure,” Kate muttered. “For a few more years.”

It was loud in the dining room, which Kate could now see opened onto a huge kitchen. Adults milled about, carrying dishes to the tables and pulling food from the fridge. In the kitchen there was another round of introductions. Mark’s wife Shayna was friendly and energetic, and Zach’s wife Deanna was seven months pregnant and looked uncomfortable. As she looked around, Kate could just see the legs of a kid, dirty socks hanging loose, from under the kitchen island, then a blur of colour launched itself from the other side of the room, hitting Andy around her knees. When they both looked down, a small dirty face with long, light brown hair gave them an impish grin.

“You can’t possibly be Brindle Truscott-Wyles,” Andy said to the little girl, and the impish grin got bigger. “Because Brindle is much, much smaller.”

“It’s me, Auntie Andy! Grandpa says I’m huge!”

“You are huge, Brin. You’re growing before our eyes.” A man, tall, of course, with receding sandy blond and grey hair and a runner’s build, came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dishcloth.

Andy gave him a hug, which he returned happily, then stepped back to look at Andy, his light eyes clearly shining with pride.

“It’s good to see you, sweetheart.”

“Dad, I want you to meet Kate. Kate, this is my dad, Simon.”

Simon took Kate’s hand in a two-handed shake, and the look of delight on his face was unmistakable.

“Kate, it’s lovely to meet you. We’re really happy you could make it this weekend, and I apologize in advance for my sons, who will certainly find some way to offend you over the next two days.”

Kate laughed, feeling much more at ease, even standing amongst the noise and chaos of the kitchen. She heard a door slam, and she watched a short woman with black and grey-streaked hair come in through a back door, rain splattered and with an arm full of vegetables. She had a darker complexion than her sons, a rich brown with high cheekbones and striking almond-shaped eyes, evidence of her First Nations heritage. Andy crossed the kitchen, helped her with the load, and then hugged her, the small woman reaching up to pull Andy’s face down to kiss her cheek. Andy turned and held her hand out to Kate. She walked over, and, as Andy’s mother’s eyes met hers, Kate realized with a shock that she had been pinned by that same look before. She’d seen it the very first time she’d met Andy.

Kate had some idea she was being introduced to Andy’s mom, Elaine, and they were shaking hands. Elaine hadn’t yet blinked. Kate at first felt like shrinking away from the scrutiny, then she realized she knew perfectly well how to stand up to that look. She’d done it more times than she could count with Andy. As their silent exchange continued, Kate felt like everyone was watching and waiting to see how this would play out despite the chaos around them. After what felt like a long time, Elaine smiled. Any tension Kate felt dissolved instantly.

“Welcome to our home, Kate,” Elaine said.

“I’m happy to be here.” And she meant it.

The day was wonderfully loud and long. After lunch, they walked en masse through the forest, jeans soaked up to their knees in the wet grass, drops from the rain-heavy branches above them falling in constant drips onto their heads. They hiked up to an old zip line, Brandon daring Zach to ride it naked back down the path. Zach declined, though Kate had the feeling any of the four siblings would have taken that dare ten years ago. They were obviously mellowed, their exuberance showing in the retelling of stories, re-enactments of dares and jokes gone bad from decades ago. Simon and Elaine walked with Denver, a quiet kid who seemed undisturbed by the noise and chaos around him, though equally uninterested in adding to it. His little sister made up for his quiet, her energy and noise seemingly boundless.

After a dinner of barbecued hamburgers and late-season corn, they sat outside on damp logs and folding chairs, the delicious heat of a campfire roasting their fronts, the chill of the night air creeping under their clothes at their backs. The kids had left the campfire earlier, Brindle wailing her discontent over Mark’s shoulder. Conversations melted around them, people’s faces blurred by the light of the fire while at the same time defined by the edges of dark. Kate shivered, a delighted feeling at being even a small part of this family. She felt Andy’s arm around her waist, pulling her in closer, and she looked up into Andy’s grey eyes. Kate had never seen her this off the grid, never this far from her city-cop persona. Kate returned Andy’s smile, happy.

As the night deepened, Simon and Elaine stood up from their place across the fire, coming to kiss each member of their family good night, including Kate, which for some reason made a lump form in her throat.

“Who’s going to take me up on a run in the morning?” Andy’s dad asked, looking around the circle expectantly. Kate noticed Zach and Brandon averting their gaze.

“I’ll go with you, Dad,” Andy said, kicking the leg of Brandon’s chair, and Kate thought she heard Andy whisper the word pussy in his general direction.

“Excellent. See you at six.” They all murmured their good nights as a log shifted in the fire, sending a spiral of sparks shooting up into the sky.

Mark returned from putting the kids to bed, two boxes of beer from the fridge clanking his arrival.

“Dude, you’re old,” Andy said to Brandon, taking a beer from her oldest brother and twisting off the cap.

“Whatever, Sergeant Blondie,” Brandon said, doing the same before tossing the lid in the fire.

“Excellent comeback, Brando. I assume you’ve been working on that all day.”

“Kate, are you going to let her talk to me like that?” Brandon said, his hurt tone sounding utterly insincere.

“I can’t think of a good reason why not,” Kate told him, making Zach, sitting next to Brandon, laugh.

“Because it’s my birthday. In fact, you should be drinking with me because it’s my birthday. Grab a beer,” he said to Kate, holding up his own.

Kate laughed. “No, thanks.”

“No, really. Kate, I think you and I would have a good time drinking together.”

“I don’t doubt that for a second, Brandon.”

Kate could feel Andy press her fingers lightly into Kate’s side. She looked up at Andy, smiling reassuringly. Kate then looked across the fire where Mark had pulled Shayna onto his lap. They rested comfortably against each other, two people who had obviously been together a long time, talking in low tones, sharing a beer.

Brandon wasn’t backing down. “Kate, come on. I want to hear your life story. Or at least what the hell you could possibly see in my little sister. So grab a beer.”

Kate probably should have thought through what she said next. She didn’t.

“I can’t, Brandon, because I’m pregnant.”

There was dead silence. No one said a word, the only sound came from the hissing and popping of the fire.

“Don’t worry,” Kate said into the silence. “It’s Andy’s.”

Mark was the first to react, spitting his mouthful of beer as he laughed. Then all of them lost it, Shayna hitting Mark on the back as he choked, Zach howling and punching Brandon, sending him half flying out of his chair. Beside her, Andy was looking down at Kate, laughing and shocked.

“Was that your first gay joke?” Andy said as her brothers continued to laugh, the sound echoing out into the night.

“Yes, I think it was.”

Andy kissed her lightly, laughter still in her throat.

Brandon, his composure regained, stood with a deliberate dignity and crossed the campfire over to where Andy and Kate sat. He held out his hand to Kate.

“Well played, Kate. And welcome to the family.”

Kate shook his hand, grinning.

He then put his hand heavily on Andy’s shoulder. “You’ve got your hands full with this one, Blondie. Best of luck to you.”

As the conversations drifted around her and the night air deepened into cold, Kate listened and watched Andy and her family telling what had obviously become familiar stories. Kate loved the ease of being here, of watching Andy with her brothers, people who had known her almost her entire life. Kate felt, just for a moment, a pressure of sadness on her chest, the ache of missing her own younger sister, of knowing she would never have this. Kate shied away from the feeling, settling into Andy, feeling the warmth and steadiness of her presence.

Just after midnight, Andy led Kate inside the house and up a series of stairs to the converted attic that served as storage and a guest room. Andy pushed open the windows partway, letting in some of the cool night air. Kate looked down onto the dark yard, the line of trees just visible in the light. Andy came up behind her, slipped her hands around Kate’s waist, and kissed her hair.

“I love you,” Andy said into Kate’s ear.

Kate smiled and pictured the first time she’d ever heard those words from Andy. It was in Montana and they’d been sitting on the porch covered in a blanket after a rainstorm had swept passed. Andy had spoken the words quietly but with conviction.

“I love you, too.”

They made love quietly, sweetly, swallowing the sounds of their desire, just the rustle of sheets, the slight friction of warm skin against skin. And then they slept, sated and content, wrapped around each other.

 

v

 

Kate woke to Andy sitting on the edge of the bed in running shorts and a long-sleeved shirt, pulling on ankle socks. It was still dark outside, the night not yet ready to let go. Andy, seeing Kate awake, leaned over and kissed her eyes.

“Go back to sleep. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Kate did so easily, effortlessly.

The next thing she heard was the front door slamming, a child’s shriek of defiance, and an adult’s admonishing voice. It was lighter now, the diffuse daylight of sun filtered through clouds lighting up the room. Kate listened to voices outside, car doors slamming, the sound of an engine and tires through puddles. The house settled back into silence. Kate got up, stretched, and, smelling the wood smoke in her hair, decided to shower.

The house was still quiet as she made her way downstairs in jeans and a sweatshirt, her hair damp and unbound. She followed the smell of coffee into the brightly lit kitchen. Elaine stood at the sink with a knife in hand, a bushel of peaches at one elbow and a huge bowl of yellowy segments at the other.

“Good morning,” Elaine said, looking up to smile, then returning to her task. “Coffee’s on the stove, milk and cream in the fridge, sugar on the counter.”

“Thanks,” Kate said, helping herself. “Where is everyone?”

“Andy and Simon are still out running, Mark and Shayna took the kids down to the river, and Zach and Dee went into town to pick up a few things.”

“Someone should have woken me up,” Kate murmured, a little embarrassed. She leaned back against the counter.

“We were all under quite strict orders not to, actually,” Elaine said.

“Andy,” Kate said. She looked up to see Elaine’s eyes on her, appraising, though she didn’t see anything critical about the look.

“Yes, my daughter is very protective of those she loves.”

Kate was startled by the boldness of the woman’s words, though she tried not to let it show. Silence settled around them, the only sound that of Elaine’s repetitive movements, the paring knife tearing wetly into the soft flesh of the peaches.

“What my husband thought we were going to do with a bushel of peaches is totally beyond me,” Elaine said finally. “I think he enjoyed the picture of them more than he thought about how we would use them.” She shook her head, long dark hair swinging against her back.

“Can I help?” Kate asked.

“Please do. Knife in the top drawer on your left.”

Kate grabbed a knife, and Elaine passed her an armful of peaches. They worked in silence, Kate segmenting the peaches, pulling off the skin, slicing the halves into quarters before adding them to the huge bowl.

“Andy says you love being a doctor and that you are very good at your job,” Elaine said.

“I do love being a doctor,” Kate said, unaware of the clarification she’d just made.

“But you don’t love your job,” Elaine stated. Kate was reminded again of how effortlessly Andy could pull information from people.

“Some days I feel like I practice bureaucracy more than I practice medicine,” Kate tried to explain. “It’s not exactly what I imagined as I was working my way through medical school.”

“And I think my daughter was not what you imagined when you thought about finding a partner,” Elaine said. Kate could hear the question in the statement.

“No, she isn’t what I imagined,” she said honestly. Kate’s hands were sticky, the juice running down her fingers and wrists. She reached for another peach, sank the knife against the pit, and circled it around in a fluid movement.

Silence enveloped them again as they worked. Kate wasn’t sure if she was ready for this conversation. But then Elaine took a turn Kate wasn’t expecting.

“If you’d asked me thirty years ago if my family was complete, I would have said yes. Absolutely. I had my husband, my work, my community, and my three healthy, lively boys. I could not have imagined Andy, of course I couldn’t. But now there is no way for me to picture my life without my daughter.” Elaine added the segments from her hand into the bowl and paused to look up at Kate. “I wonder, Kate, if life is less about what we can imagine our lives to be and more about what we do with it once we see it.”

Kate met Elaine’s gaze and held it for a moment. She knew a thoughtless agreement would not be enough, so she concentrated on her task, thinking. But Andy and Simon’s return saved her from having to formulate an intelligent, thoughtful response. They were both soaked, the top halves of their shirts drenched, their shoes squelching noisily on the floor. Simon gave Kate a cheerful good morning, then excused himself to shower and change. Andy’s eyes sparkled, her cheeks bright red, always at the peak of energy when she returned from a run. As she crossed the kitchen and gave Kate a swift kiss on her cheek, she balanced on the balls of her feet, as if she was still running. Kate’s heart thumped at the sight of her, at the feel of Andy’s warm lips against her skin.

“How was your run?” Kate asked.

“Good. Long. Rainy.” Andy snagged a few peaches from the bowl and threw them into her mouth. “What are you two talking about?”

“Not much,” Elaine answered for them. “The meaning of life, that sort of thing.” She gave Kate a sidelong smile as she said it.

“Not fair, Mom,” Andy said lightly. “Kate looks like she’s only had half a cup of coffee.” She stole a few more peaches. “I’m going to have a shower.”

They listened to Andy’s tread on the stairs, and Kate noticed they had almost finished the bushel of peaches.

“Maybe she’s right,” Elaine murmured. “Perhaps I’m not being fair.”

Kate smiled. “I don’t mind. Andy has changed my life. I think I just haven’t figured out all the ways she’s changed it yet.” It was the closest she could come to a real answer.

Andy came back into the kitchen in her shorts and sports bra, a towel around her shoulders. She was holding her cell phone, peering at it with a frown on her face Kate hadn’t seen since they arrived. She hadn’t missed it. “Has my phone been ringing?”

“I didn’t notice it,” Kate answered, reading the lines of worry around Andy’s eyes.

“Finns has called me three times but hasn’t left a message.”

“What does that—” Kate started, but was interrupted by the phone ringing in Andy’s hand.

Andy met Kate’s eyes, blinked, and then turned on her phone, heading into the dining room.

Kate watched her go, noticing the way Andy’s shoulders were tensed, her back rigid. She sighed and picked up the last peach. Elaine was watching her.

“I see that you are protective of those you love, also.”

Kate didn’t say anything, helping Elaine clean up the peach pits and skins, rinsing her hands under the tap. Andy came back into the room, her grey eyes guarded. She stopped just inside the doorway with her phone in hand.

“What is it?” Kate asked. She could feel Elaine behind her, watching them.

“Superintendent Heath’s eighteen-year-old granddaughter is exhibiting the same flu symptoms as the others. Finns wants me in his office at seven tomorrow morning.” She said it all in a monotone, her eyes never leaving Kate’s.

“And?” Kate asked, waiting for the rest.

Andy paused, like she couldn’t get the words out.

“He wants you there, too.”