Isabella stood at the railing of a loft in a very large cabin or lodge. Directly in front of her, but across the open expanse, was a row of small windows. They spread across a distance of at least thirty feet to give her a view of the trees beyond. Below the balcony was a long hall, with doors leading into closed rooms. To her right was a huge room with a fieldstone fireplace and a heavy beamed ceiling. The room opened to a full two stories high.
She looked behind her. There were two other doors along the balcony. One on either side of the room she came out of. When she walked by the first one to get to the stairs, she saw it was a small bathroom. Isabella descended the stairs, and turned left away from the great room.
As she walked towards the kitchen, she passed an open door and glanced inside. Christopher slept on a small bed, his arms spread wide at his side, and beside the bed was Jessica¿s portable crib. Isabella crept inside and peeked over the edge. Her daughter was sound asleep. Some of the tension that had knotted in her chest on waking waned some. Not wanting to wake them, Isabella slipped back out of the room and headed for the kitchen.
A wood-burning stove sat on one corner. The delicious scent of brewing coffee drifted to her. Beside it sat a stout wood box filled with fragrant chunks and blocks of kindling. On a low cabinet, that seemed to serve as counter space, sat a plate of fluffy biscuits. Their enticing aroma mingled with the coffee, and her stomach rumbled.
The sound of a door opening brought her attention around. Isabella turned towards the noise, her breath caught in her throat and she gripped the edge of the counter to stay on her feet.
"I picked up all the parts for the skidder and the International on the way home from the airport, and I bumped into a Husquevarna Salesman at Agway. He's coming up some time next week to show us some of their new saws."
"That's great, son, but I need to talk to you about something."
Isabella stood stock-still. She couldn't breathe. The pounding of her own blood in her ears was a near-deafening crescendo. Her lungs burned, and her eyes stung with hot tears.
It was a dream. It had to be. Some twisted, cruel effect of the Percocet. Any minute she'd wake up.
The years had changed him, and yet he was the same. His jaw line was stronger, and a day's unshaven stubble darkened his chin and cheeks. The nineteen-year-old soldier was now a man. The short cut of his black hair accentuated the strong features of his face. Dressed in blue jeans and a dark tee shirt, with a flannel shirt open and hanging loose around his slim hips, he looked incredible. He carried a large box that he set down on the table. The rumbling timbre of his voice filled the room when he spoke.
"The hardware store was out of axle grease, so they're ordering that for us. It should be in by the end of the week. Merle will call us when it comes in."
Hank shoved the box away. "Will you stop yammerin' for a minute, and let me tell you something?"
"What's the matter, Dad?"
Isabella's heart hammered against her chest. She finally released her breath. "J-Jesse?"
An unseen fist clutched Jesse's heart, painfully seizing his chest. His spine straightened and his head snapped away from his father to search out the source.
It was her.
Isabella stood just across the kitchen, staring at him with wide, dark eyes. Black hair hung around her shoulders, framing her face. A face that hadn't changed in ten years.
The head gasket in his hand slipped free of his fingers and fell with a loud crash to the floor.
Isabella's eyes fluttered, and her knees buckled. He jumped forward, and before she was half way to the floor, she was in his arms. Her body was limp and light. Jesse froze for a moment and looked down into her still features.
It's her. What in hell is she doing here?
Then his mind registered the bandages and the bruises on her face and throat. The feelings that filled him were a tumultuous combination of many things: rage, shock, curiosity, and a grudging dash of joy. Jesse straightened and turned, with Isabella against his chest, and found his father. He couldn't make his mouth speak.
"That's what I was trying to tell you, Jesse," Hank Mitchell said with a shrug.
Jesse turned and started down the hall. His father told him she slept upstairs, in his room. Not wanting to think about that fact, he took her up and laid her down on the rumpled quilt. There was no resistance in her limbs, and her pliant body slid from his arms.