River Marked Chapter 2

"SO WHAT DID YOU DO TO DARRYL?" ADAM ASKED AS he shut the driver's-side door of my Rabbit.

Usually I drove the Rabbit, but Alpha wolves don't deal well with commercial airline travel. Having to trust some stranger to fly the plane had left Adam with a need for control, so when his daughter Jesse and I picked him up from the airport, he got to drive.

"I didn't do anything to Darryl," I protested.

Adam gave me a long look before he backed out of the parking spot and drove toward the exit of the airport parking lot.

"I stopped by Stefan's on the way to movie night," I said. "Adam, Stefan is in real trouble. He's lost a lot of his menagerie, and he hasn't replaced them. They're dying; he was dying."

Adam reached out for my arm and turned it so he could see the inside of my elbow. I looked at the flawless skin with interest, too. "Mercy," Adam said, as Jesse snickered in the backseat. "Quit screwing around."

"It's on the other arm," I told him. "Just a couple of marks. In a day or so, they'll be gone. You know it won't hurt me. Our mate bond and the pack keeps him from connecting to me the way he would a human."

"No wonder Darryl was upset," Adam told me as he pulled up to the ticket booth behind another car. "He doesn't like vampires."

"Stefan needs to gather more people into his menagerie," I said. "He knows it, I know it--but I can't tell him so."

"Why not?" asked Jesse.

"Because a vampire's menagerie is made up of victims," Adam answered. "Most of them die very slowly. Stefan's better than the average vampire, but they are still victims. If Mercy encourages him to go out hunting, she's telling him that she approves of what he's doing."

"Which I don't," I said staunchly. The driver of the car in front of us was arguing with the ticket lady. I picked at the seam of my jeans.

"Except that it's Stefan," Adam said. "Who's not such a bad guy for a vampire."

"Yeah," I agreed soberly. "But he's still a vampire."

The lady in the ticket booth apparently won the argument because the driver handed her his credit card. I noticed that the ticket lady had a bouquet of helium balloons beside her; in the center was a Mylar balloon that said, "Happy Birthday, Grandma!"

"I have a request," I told Adam, as he handed the parking ticket to the lady in the booth.

"What's that?" He looked exhausted. This was his second trip this month to the other Washington on the opposite side of the country, and it was wearing on him. I hesitated. Maybe I should wait until he'd gotten a good night's sleep.

In the backseat of the Rabbit, Jesse giggled. She was a good kid, and we liked each other. Today, her hair was the same dark brown as her father's. Yesterday, it had been green. Green is not a good hair color on anyone. After three weeks of hair that looked like rotting spinach, I think she finally agreed with me. When I got up this morning to go to work, she was in the process of dyeing it. The brown was somewhat more unexpected than the green had been.

"Hush, you," I told her with mock sternness. "No cracks from the peanut gallery."

"What do you need?" Adam asked me.

I already felt better with him home--the restless anxiety that was my constant companion when he was away had left and taken with it my panicky trapped feeling, too.

The lady in the parking booth nodded and waved us on because we'd timed Adam's flight right and had only been there fifteen minutes-- still in the free-parking time allotment.

The balloons beside her made my stomach clench, especially the gold ones.

"I want to get married," I told him, as Adam put the Rabbit in gear, and we put the balloons behind us.

He tilted his head and eyed me briefly before turning his attention back to the road. Likely his nose was giving him a taste of what I was feeling. Most strong feelings are vulnerable to detection when you live with werewolves. My nose was good, too, but all it told me was that he'd had a woman sitting next to him on the flight home, because her scent clung to his sleeve. Often our mating bond allowed us to know what the other was feeling or, more rarely, thinking, but it wasn't working that way right now.

"I was under the impression that we are getting married," he said cautiously.

"Now, Dad." Jesse stuck her head between the bucket seats of my Rabbit. "She wants to get married now. Her mom called on Friday and has given up on the doves--"

"I thought you'd already told her no doves?" Adam asked me.

"--and the pigeons," his daughter continued on blithely.

"Pigeons?" said Adam thoughtfully. "Pigeons are pretty. And they taste pretty good, too."

I hit him in the shoulder. Not hard, just enough to acknowledge his teasing.

"--but finally decided that butterflies would be better," continued Jesse.

"Butterflies and balloons," I told Adam. "She wants to release butterflies and balloons. Two hundred balloons. Gold ones."

"I expect she's trying to get Monarch butterflies if she wants gold balloons," Jesse said helpfully.

"Monarch butterflies," said Adam. "Can you imagine the poor things trying to figure out their migration route from the Tri-Cities?"

"She has to be stopped before she destroys the ecosystem," I told him, only half-joking. "And I can only think of one way to do it. My sister eloped under the pressure of planning her wedding with my mother. I guess I can, too."

He laughed--and looked a lot less tired.

"I love your mother," he said with honest satisfaction that lowered his voice to a purr. "I suppose preserving the Tri-Cities' ecosystem is a valid reason for jumping the gun. Let's get married, then. I have my passport with me. Do you have your birth certificate, so we can get the license, or do we need to go home first?" IT WAS A LITTLE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT, SO IT took us two days to get married. Eloping just isn't as quick as it used to be unless you live in Vegas, I guess. Of course, we still might have made it in one except that I insisted on Pastor Arnez doing the honors. He'd had a funeral and two weddings to work us around.

Adam had lost a lot of things fighting in Vietnam. His humanity and belief in God were just a few of them, he told me. He wasn't thrilled about a church wedding, but he couldn't really object without admitting that it was anger, not disbelief, he felt about God. I was just as glad to avoid that argument for a while.

We meant the ceremony to be a small thing, Adam, Jesse, and me, with a pair of witnesses. Peter, the pack's lone submissive, stopped in at the house at just the right time and so was pressed into service as a witness. Zee, my mentor, who would step in and run my business while we were gone on our impromptu honeymoon, was thus brought into our plans almost immediately and claimed the privilege of second witness. Despite rumor, the fae have no trouble going into a church of whatever denomination or religion. It is the steel that the early Christian church brought along with it that was deadly to the fae, not Christianity itself--though sometimes the fae forget that part, too.

Somehow, though, word got out among the pack, and most of them managed to be at the church on Tuesday morning by the time Jesse and I drove in. Adam was coming separately with Peter in a nod to tradition. He had had to stop for gas, so Jesse and I arrived first, and when we parked, there were a lot of familiar cars in the lot.

"Word travels fast," I said, getting out of the car.

Jesse nodded solemnly. "Remember when Auriele was trying to throw a surprise party for Darryl? We might have managed to keep the pack out of this if we could have gotten it done yesterday. Do you really mind?"

"No," I said. "I don't mind. But if we have a lot of people here, Mom's going to feel bad." My stomach began to tighten with stress. One of the reasons to have a planned wedding was to avoid hurting people's feelings. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea after all.

When we walked into the church, though, it became obvious that more than just the pack had found out. Uncle Mike greeted us at the door--I supposed Zee had told him. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that the old barkeeper had brought a few other fae, including, somewhat to my dismay, Yo-yo Girl, whom I'd last seen eating the ashes of a fairy queen. Yo-yo Girl wasn't really her name, which I had never learned, just what she'd been doing the first time I'd met her. She was dangerous, powerful, and looked like a ten- year-old girl with flowers in her hair, wearing a summer dress. She smiled at me. I think she knew how much she scared me and thought it was funny.

I hadn't intended on walking formally up the aisle. But as people started to arrive, Samuel-- werewolf, previous roommate, and long-time-ago boyfriend--pulled me aside and gave me a bouquet of white and gold flowers.

He pulled my hair away from my left ear and bent down to whisper, "My, but you are going to have your hands full with Jesse, aren't you? A little over three days, and she has the whole thing organized."

"Three?" I said. "We just decided to elope yesterday."

He smiled at me and kissed my forehead. "I heard about it on Saturday." Before Adam returned from the East Coast.

I glanced at Jesse--who smiled brightly at me, and mouthed, "Surprise." Then I took a real look around. While we waited for Adam, the church foyer had been acquiring a festive air as people brought out boxes with flowers and wide white ribbons--and if I wasn't mistaken, a few of the fae were using magic to add their own touch.

I wore my wedding dress, purchased the month before. I'd thought it would be odd, with such a quick ceremony, but since I already had the dress --a great frothy thing from the waist down and formfitting white silk on top with narrow sleeves-- Jesse had decided I should wear it. And Jesse had chosen to wear her bridesmaid gown because "What else would I wear?" I hadn't been suspicious at all, probably because I loved the dress and would have accepted any excuse to wear it.

Someone opened the chapel doors so people could go sit down, but there were a lot of people already seated. Not just wolves and fae--I could see some of Adam's business contacts and some of my regular customers at the garage. Gabriel, my right hand at the garage, and Tony, my contact with the Kennewick Police Department, were sitting next to each other. I took a step closer to the chapel, trying to see everyone Jesse had made come to my elopement. There were a lot of them.

Samuel held me back as the foyer emptied until it was just us, Jesse, and Darryl--and the organ began to play Wagner.

Jesse, on Darryl's arm, led the procession toward the mouth of the sacrament hall. She paused there, to let my sisters Nan and Ruthie, who'd evidently been hiding just inside the chapel doors where I couldn't see them, lead the way, escorted by Warren and Ben, another of Adam's wolves.

At the front of the chapel, Adam waited for me next to the minister.

I blinked back tears, sniffed--and Samuel dropped my arm.

I looked over to see what he was doing, but another man had taken his place.

"Zee wanted to have the honor of giving you away," said Bran, Samuel's father, the Marrock who ruled all the wolves anywhere I was likely to ever go, and the Alpha of the Montana-based wolf pack who had raised me. "But I had prior claim."

"They argued for a good while," Samuel whispered. "I thought there would be blood on the floor."

I glanced in the church and realized that a lot of the Montana pack I'd grown up with were here. Charles, Samuel's brother, sitting next to his mate, smiled at me. Charles seldom if ever smiled.

About that time, humiliatingly, I started to cry.

Bran leaned closer as we walked slowly, and said in a bare whisper that didn't carry beyond us, "Before you start feeling overwhelmed by how nice we all are to do this for you, you really should know a few things. It all started with a bet ..." When we lined up in the front of the church, as smoothly as if we'd practiced it, Bran was right: I wasn't overwhelmed anymore. Nor was I crying. Nan, Ruthie, and Jesse stood on my side of the church, along with Bran, who still had my hand. Darryl, Warren, and Ben lined up on the other side, next to Adam.

My mother, the traitor seated in the front row of pews, sent my stepfather up to pin a silk Monarch butterfly on my bouquet. He kissed my cheek, exchanged a nod with Bran, then sat back down at my mother's side. My mother gave me a delighted smile and looked nothing at all like the nefarious plotter she was.

"Balloons," I mouthed at her, raising an eyebrow to show what I thought of her subterfuge.

She discreetly pointed up--and there, clinging to the ceiling, were dozens of gold balloons with silk butterflies tied to the strings.

At my side, Bran laughed--no doubt at my dumbfounded expression.

"Like the fae," he murmured, "your mother doesn't lie. Just leads you where she wants you to go willy-nilly, all for your own good. If it helps, you are not alone; she came to me with a coyote pup to raise, and look what happened to me. At least you don't owe her a hundred dollars."

"Serves you right for betting against my mother," I told him, as the music drew to a close, and he led me across to Adam.

Bran stopped just short, pulled me back against him, and frowned at Adam--and let the weight of his authority be felt throughout the chapel. Bran could disguise what he was, and he usually did so, appearing as a wiry-muscled young man of no particular importance. Every once in a while, though, he let the reality of what he was out. Bran was an old, old wolf and powerful. He ruled the wolves in our part of the world, and no one in this room, not even the humans, would wonder that he could make Alpha wolves obey him. The organ music faltered under the weight of it and stuttered to a halt.

"Pup," he said into the sudden silence, "today, I'm giving you one of my treasures. You see that you take proper care of her."

Adam, not visibly cowed, nodded once. "I'll do that."

Then the threat of what Bran was disappeared, and he became once more an unremarkable young-looking man in a nicely cut gray tux. "She'll turn your life upside down."

Adam smiled and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother fan her face--Adam cleans up very nicely and, in a tux, is breathtaking even without the smile.

"She's been doing that this past ten years, sir," he said. "I don't imagine it will change anytime soon."

Bran let me step forward, and Adam took my hand.

"Have you lost any money lately?" I whispered.

"Do I look stupid?" he whispered back, raising my hand to his lips. "I have to sleep sometime. I didn't know about this until your mom called me at my hotel after she gave you the butterfly call. She apparently has been talking to Jesse for a couple of weeks. You and I were the last to know."

I stared at him, then looked at the mirthful gaze of Pastor Arnez. Have to wait for a funeral, indeed.

"I didn't bet anything, either," the pastor whispered to me.

"Most people," said Adam thoughtfully--and loud enough that even the audience members without preternatural gifts could hear him--"have surprise birthday parties. You get a surprise wedding."

And, almost as if they were coached--which at least a dozen people later assured me was not the case--they all shouted, "Surprise!"

In the brief silence that followed, one of the helium balloons popped and its remains, including a silk butterfly, fell down to the floor behind the minister. If it was an omen, I had absolutely no idea what it meant. THERE WAS AN IMPRESSIVE ARRAY OF FOOD AND drink in the church basement, and I took the opportunity to corner my little sister Nan.

"How come you got to elope, and I get a surprise wedding?" I asked her.

She grinned at me. "You have cake on your chin." She reached over and wiped it off--looked around for a napkin, then stuck her finger in her mouth to clean it off.

"Ick," I told her.

She shrugged. "Hey, at least I didn't lick my fingers first. Besides, it's good frosting, a pity to waste it. And, in answer to your question, I eloped before Mom and my new mother-in-law killed each other. A surprise wedding like this would have left bodies on the ground. You got a surprise wedding because Mom, Bran, and ... a few others were feeling guilty."

"Guilty," I said. "You have to have a conscience to feel guilt. I don't think Mom is capable of it."

Nan giggled. "You might be right. The bet thing wasn't our fault anyway; it's yours."

I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. "My fault?"

"It started when we all noticed that you would get this--this deer-in-the-headlights look on your face as we discussed the wedding, and we started to play you a little because it was pretty much impossible to resist."

There had been a few commiserating phone calls from my sister. I narrowed my eyes at her, and she flushed guiltily.

"The bet just sort of happened," she continued. "One day, Dad said, `Ten to one she bolts with Adam before you get to the wedding date.' "

"Dad was in on it?" I seldom called my stepfather "Dad." Not that I didn't adore him--but I'd been sixteen when I first met him, though he and Mom had been married for almost twelve years at that point. I started calling Curt by his first name and never got in the habit of calling him anything else.

"Of course not." My youngest sister, Ruthie, trotted up with a cookie in one hand. Nan, tall and soft-featured, took after her father; Ruthie was a miniature of Mom. Which meant she was tiny, gorgeous, and pushy. "Dad was appalled at what he'd started. Nan, Mom, and I all were the first to bet, but Bran got in on it pretty early on."

She casually snagged a glass of punch off the table, and I snagged it out of her hands and put it back.

"Not twenty-one yet," I told her.

"Next month," she whined. I smirked at her. "You bet on my wedding. You don't get any favors." I straightened up. I had a sudden, delightful idea. "Wolves," I said, and reinforced my call with a touch on the pack bonds I was only just getting the hang of. I didn't have to speak loud, either. All over the church the wolves, all wearing their human faces, perked up and turned toward me. "My sister Ruthie isn't twenty- one yet. No alcohol for her." Then, in case she didn't get it, I told her, "You go anywhere near that punch or any other alcohol today, my wolves are going to interfere."

Ruthie stamped her foot and looked at Nan. "You just wait. You bet, too. She'll get back at you, and I'm going to be the one smirking." She stalked off with an offended air while Nan and I watched.

Nan shook her head. "Some poor man is going to end up with her."

I laughed. "He'll never know what he's gotten himself into. Curt still thinks our mother is a sweet thing who needs his protection, and he's perfectly happy about it." I remembered belatedly that I was supposed to be mad at her. I frowned. "Enough about Mom and Ruthie. You were going to tell me how you went from bet to surprise wedding."

"Well," she said, "like I said, it is your fault. When she saw how stressed you were getting about it, Mom offered to do the whole thing for you." She laughed at the look on my face. "I know. Terrifying thought, isn't it? But you obviously weren't going to enjoy planning it yourself, either."

She slanted a thoughtful look at Bran, who was talking animatedly with my stepfather. My stepfather was a dentist. Bran ruled werewolves. I didn't want to know what they had in common to get that excited about.

"So, anyway, we started egging you on," Nan said, "just for fun--and the betting got just a little more serious. As soon as the money at stake got over twenty bucks, Mom's competitive instincts overruled her motherly ones. The date Mom picked for your elopement was tomorrow. So she planned the butterfly-and-pigeon thing, but I guess about then she started feeling bad about robbing you of a real wedding. She decided to plan the wedding without you anyway. Which proves she must have a conscience, if a little underdeveloped. She enlisted Jesse as her woman on the ground and got this wedding together with her usual efficiency." Nan took a big swallow of alcoholic punch, and her eyes watered.

"I am so glad Todd and I eloped," she said sincerely. "There was no way to salvage the wreckage. But I think that you deserved this, and I'm very happy for you." She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. Then she whispered, "He is really, really a hottie. How did you manage that?"

"Brat," I told her, and gave her a hug. "Todd's not exactly chopped liver."

She smiled smugly and took another sip. "No, he's not."

"He could be," said Ben from behind me, his British accent giving him a civilized air that he didn't deserve. "Do you want him to be chopped liver, darling?"

I turned, making sure I was between Ben and Nan. "My sisters are off-limits," I reminded him.

A flash of hurt came and went on his face. With Ben, it was even odds whether the emotion was genuine or not--but my instincts told me it had been. So I continued in a mock-chiding tone, "Ruthie is too young for you, and Nan is married to a very nice man. So be good."

Nan had caught the flash of hurt, too, I thought. She was softer than our mother, more like her father in temperament as well as looks. She couldn't stand to have anyone hurting and not do anything about it.

She sighed dramatically. "All the pretty men, and I'm tied to just one."

Ben smiled at her. "Anytime you want to change that ..."

I poked him in the side--he could have slipped out of the way, but he didn't bother. "Okay," he said, backing away with exaggerated fear. "I'll be good, I promise. Just don't hurt me again."

He was loud enough that all the people around us looked at us.

Adam pushed his way through the pack and ruffled Ben's hair as he went by him. "Behave, Ben."

The Ben I'd first met would have snarled and pulled away from the affectionate scold. This one grinned at me, and said, "Not if I can help it, I won't," to Adam.

I liked Ben. But if I catch him alone in a room with Ruthie or Jesse, I will shoot him without hesitation. He's better than he was when he first came to Adam's pack, but he's not safe. Some part of him still hates women, still looks upon us as prey. As long as that is true, he needs watching.

"I have someone I'd like you to meet," Adam told me, with a nod to Nan.

He took my hand and led me past the giant wedding cake. It was a beautiful thing of blue and white flowers and silver bells--and despite having been cut and served to everyone here, it was still huge. Someone else had ordered it for another wedding and hadn't paid for it, which was the only way--Jesse had told me--that she'd managed the cake. Whoever had originally ordered it must have been planning a much bigger wedding than this one. I glanced at the crowded basement and tried to imagine a bigger wedding.

"Quick, now," Adam told me, and tugged me out the side door and up the back stairs. "We're escaping."

We made it out to the parking lot without seeing anyone else. Adam's truck, inexplicably attached to a huge goosenecked travel trailer that looked bigger than the mobile home I'd lived in until this winter, when the fairy queen burned it to the ground, awaited us, poised for a quick getaway.

"What's the hurry?" I asked, as Adam boosted me in through the driver's side, got in behind me, and started the truck before he had the door closed.

"Some of the fae have an odd idea of bride send-offs," he explained, as I wiggled over to the passenger seat and he guided the truck out of the parking lot, "including, according to Zee, kidnapping. We decided not to chance Bran's feelings should such a thing happen, and Zee promised to run interference for us until we were off."

"I forgot about that." And I was appalled because I knew better. "Bran and Samuel are probably more of a danger than any of the fae," I told him. "Someday, I'll tell you about some of the more spectacular wedding antics Samuel's told me about." Some of them made kidnapping look mild.

I belted in, helped him to put on his own seat belt, and glanced behind us again. "In case you didn't notice, there's something very big stuck to the back of your truck."

He smiled at me, his eyes as clear and happy as I'd ever seen them. "And that's my surprise. I told you I'd plan the honeymoon."

I blinked at the trailer. "Bring your own motel room along?" It loomed over us, taller than the truck--which was plenty tall on its own--taller and wider, too, with sections along the sides that were obviously intended to pop out. "I'm pretty sure it's bigger than my old trailer."

Adam glanced over his shoulder and huffed a laugh. "I think it might be. This is the first I've seen of it. Peter and Honey took the truck and hitched it up."

"Is it yours?"

"No. I borrowed it."

"I hope we're not going anywhere with little windy roads," I said. "Or small parking lots."

"I thought we'd spend the night in this really neat truck stop I know of in Boardman, Oregon," Adam said, guiding it onto Highway 395 southbound. "The smell of diesel and the hum of big engines to accompany our first night together as man and wife." He laughed at my expression. "Just trust me."

We did stop in Boardman to change out of our wedding clothes. Inside, the trailer was even more amazing than outside.

Adam unhooked the billion bitty buttons that ran from my hips to my neck. A billion bitty buttons from my elbows to my wrists still awaited. They required two hands to unbutton, so all I could do was look around the trailer with awe. "It's like a giant bag of holding. Huge on the outside, but even bigger on the inside."

"Your dress?" he said, sounding intrigued.

I snorted. "Very funny. The trailer. You know about bags of holding, right? The nifty magic items that can hold more things than would ever really fit in bags of their size?"


I sighed. "The make-believe magic item from Dungeons and Dragons." I craned my neck around, and said, "Don't tell me you haven't played D and D. Is there some rule that werewolves can't indulge?"

He leaned his forehead against my shoulder and laughed. "I may have been born in the Dark Ages"--actually he'd been born in the fifties, though he looked like he was only in his midtwenties; being a werewolf halts and reverses the aging process--"but I have played D and D. I can tell you for certain that Darryl has never indulged, though. Paintball is his game."

I took a minute to picture Darryl playing paintball. "Scary," I muttered.

"You have no idea."

Adam rubbed his cheek against mine and went back to his task. "I could just pull this apart, instead of unbuttoning it," he said ten minutes later. It was a serious offer, spoken in a hopeful- but-doomed voice.

"You do, and you get to sew all the buttons back on," I told him. "Jesse is planning on reusing this."

"Soon?" he asked.

"Not that I know of."

"Somehow," he grumped, "that's not as reassuring as it ought to be."

"Gabriel's going to college in Seattle in the fall," I reminded him. "I think you're safe this year." My right-hand man had a thing for Adam's daughter, and right now he was living in the tiny manufactured home that the insurance had replaced my old trailer with. A situation that made them happy and Adam antsy. He liked Gabriel, but Adam was an Alpha werewolf--which put him off- the-scale protective of his daughter.

Eventually, Adam managed the buttons. While I hung the dress up and put it in the closet (yes, there was a closet), Adam stripped off his tux and pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. He didn't often dress down that far. Except for when he was working out, usually slacks and a button-up shirt was as grubby as he got. My clean shirt and jeans were dressed up for me. I was a mechanic by trade, and it was a rare thing when my fingernails were clean. Somehow, we fit together anyway.

He bought us milk shakes and burgers (one for me, four for him) from the nearby restaurant, filled the diesel tanks in his truck, and we were back on the road.

"Are we going to Portland?" I asked. "Or Multnomah Falls?"

He smiled at me. "Go to sleep."

I waited three seconds. "Are we there yet?"

His smile widened, and the last of the usual tension melted from his face. For a smile like that I'd ... do anything.

"What?" he said.

I leaned over and rested my cheek against his arm. "I love you," I told him.

"Yes," he agreed smugly. "You do."

THE COLUMBIA GORGE IS A CANYON THAT RUNS nearly eighty miles through the Cascade Mountains, with the Columbia River cutting through the bottom. It is part of the border between Washington and Oregon. Most of the travel is on the main, pided highway on the Oregon side, but there is a highway on the Washington side that runs most of the length of the gorge. Though the western part of the gorge is a temperate rain forest, the eastern section is dry steppe country with cheatgrass, sagebrush, and breathtaking basalt cliffs that sometimes form columnar joints.

Adam turned off the highway at Biggs and took the bridge back over the Columbia to the Washington side. That bridge is one of my all-time favorites. The river is wide, a mile or nearly so, and the bridge arches gracefully up and over the water to the town of Maryhill.

It was founded by financier Sam Hill (as in "where in Sam Hill?") in the early twentieth century. He'd envisioned a Quaker paradisaical farm community and named the town after his wife, Mary Hill. She might have thought it was cooler, I suspect, if it weren't out in the middle of the desert with about two inches of soil. There isn't much left of the town--a few small orchards, a couple of nearby vineyards, and a state-run campground--none of which made Maryhill special.

But Sam Hill hadn't stopped with the town. He built the very first WWI memorial, a full-sized replica of Stonehenge visible from the highway on the Oregon side of the river.

We turned west once we were over the bridge, though, away from Stonehenge and Maryhill. After ten or fifteen minutes of driving down a narrow highway that cut its way along the desert-steppe country of the Columbia Gorge, we came to a campground. Though it was groomed to within an inch of its life, there was no one inside. Adam pulled in the driveway, took a card off the map holder on his sunshade, and swiped it though the control box next to the gate. A green light flashed, and the gate slid open.

"We have it to ourselves," he said. "I did some of the security here, and they told me we could stay even though it doesn't officially open until next spring. I'm sure the shower in the trailer works, but the ones in the restrooms over there are a lot bigger."

I looked around the campground, where tall oaks and maples gave shade to the graveled RV spaces. The big trees weren't natural for this part of the state, any more than the green, green grass --someone had spent a lot of time tending them.

Adam pulled into a spot halfway between the gray stone restroom and the river. I found myself frowning at one of the trees. It must have been sixty feet tall, its roots buried deep in the earth where it wouldn't disturb the groomed campground.

"Ten days," I said.

He knew how my mind worked. "Zee has the shop," he said. "Darryl and his mate are watching Jesse, who told me before we left that she didn't need a babysitter."

"To which you answered that they were bodyguards, not babysitters," I said. "But she argued that bodyguards usually didn't get to tell the people they are guarding what time they have to be home."

"And you weren't even there for the argument," marveled Adam. "Darryl broke in, and said, `Family does.' And that was the end of that. So what else are you worried about?"

"Stefan," I said. "I asked Warren to look in on him, but ..."

"I had a talk with Stefan," said Adam. "Unlike you, my conscience didn't prevent me from telling him he needed to fill out his menagerie. One of his problems is that he doesn't want to hunt in his backyard, and he can't leave his menagerie alone. Ben offered to watch his people, and Warren should leave for Portland tomorrow with Stefan. Anything else?"

"Ten days," I said, giving him a broad smile. "Ten days of vacation with you. No interruptions."

Adam leaned over and kissed me--and that was the last time I worried about anything for some time.

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