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Rookie anthropologist Emily Radsco has come to the Colorado mountains to investigate old and mysterious carvings on aspen trees. She soon finds herself at odds with the local logging industry. If she doesn't work quickly, she'll lose the very trees which hold the clues to the riddle she's trying to solve. Complicating matters is her increasing attraction to soft-spoken Hopi, Mason Hitapwa, one of the loggers endangering her research.
Romance isn't part of Emily's academic agenda, but she can't ignore her feelings as she and Mason uncover one of the forest's oldest secrets. The secret changes their lives forever, hinting that what they are experiencing has happened before: Love repeats itself, moving in echoes from one era to another, from one heart to the next.
Page Count: 274
Word Count: 63539
She walked through the summer wood, searching for what had been hidden one hundred years before she was born.
First of all, her gloves were too big. Here she was, having embarked upon her first solo research assignment, and she’d had to borrow gloves from one of the locals. She could almost hear her old prof, Magnelli, chiding her for the rookie lapse.
Secondly, every tree in this forest west of Colorado Springs, every single damn tree in all the Rocky Mountains, looked the same as the last.
She stopped, removed her ball cap, and wiped her forehead on her sleeve in a manner she knew was unladylike. If a woman’s manners fell off in the woods and no one was around to hear, would they make a sound?
So much for being alone. She turned toward her driver, whom she’d asked to wait for her at the truck. “What do you need, Tunny?”
The big man screwed up his face in a look of worry. “Just wanted to make sure you ain’t lost.”
Emily smiled faintly. “ I’m just trying to get the lay of the land. I’m not ready for a full-blown exploration at this point, so I don’t need a bodyguard. Why don’t you go back to the truck, okay?”
With a shrug of his mountainous shoulders, Tunny left her, moving like she suspected Sasquatch moved, heavy and agile at the same time. Soon his footfalls faded.
Which left Emily alone with the trees that held the secret of the ages.
Carefully she moved from one to the next, searching the bark around their bases, ever hopeful, the way the mourning dove is always certain of the dawn.
That night, Emily conducted a scholarly investigation of the populace in the place where every good anthropologist begins: the local bar.
A butt occupied every booth at the Cross Cut. She sat on a stool near the ladies room—always a strategic position—Tunny on her left and another new friend, Raspberry Rono, on her right. A sixteen-point antler rack shared space on the wall with what must have been taxidermist’s humor—a stuffed two-headed bass. Emily had never been much for socializing and even less for alcohol, but the big three-oh must have loosened some of her springs. The day after her birthday, she was actually talking to these people instead of retreating into her introverted shell like the hermit crab she was.
“So how long do you think it’ll take you to find it?” the bartender asked.
“There’s no time line on things like this,” Emily said.
“Things like what, exactly?”
“Ah” Apparently satisfied, he left to tend to a thirsty customer.
On the juke, a country crooner sang about digging up bones. Emily found that fairly close to the mark, considering what she’d come to rural Colorado to do.
“So what’s the plan for findin’ something out there in the woods?” Tunny wanted to know. He was working on his third beer but showed no effects. By the looks of him, he could have thumb-wrestled Paul Bunyan into submission, so Emily figured it would take more than three beers to slow him down.
“I’ll explain it in the morning,” she assured him.
“So there is, uh, a real plan then?”
Emily moved her tongue around the inside of her cheek, wondering how to respond. The doubt on Tunny’s face showed as readily as if an inept artist had painted it there. The esteemed Frank Magnelli, acclaimed anthropology professor, already warned her that many would view her work as having no academic worth, so her bodyguard’s lack of faith didn’t gall her. She was just about to say something she’d probably regret when Raspberry intervened.
“Listen up, cuz,” Rono said, elbows on the bar, “as I’m only gonna say this one time.” He smacked his lips dramatically. “Knew a man one time, name of Bojangles. And damned if that cat didn’t dance for me. Old Bojangles be many a thing, a wise man among them. Said to me one day, ‘Rono my boy, don’t you ever, and I mean never, call into question a woman’s plans, especially not on a night when she’s buying the brew.’”
With that, he knocked back the last two swallows of his own.
Emily smiled. “I guess that means I’m buying.”
Rono grinned so wide all his teeth showed in his wizened face. “ “Thought you’d never ask.”
Things went easier after that. She got to know these men a bit better, which was good, considering they were serving as her guides. Occasionally one of the locals approached and introduced themselves, as any new addition to a town of eleven-hundred was bound to draw attention. They all seemed downright pleased to meet her, and no one quizzed her too intimately on the nature of her work. Nor did anyone opine she was insane.
Then why do you feel that way? Magnelli’s voice asked inside her head.
As she had no answer for him, she shut him down by ordering another beer.
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