Mountain Song

By: Ruby Laska


CHAPTER ONE



“You’re too thin,” Claudia Canfield’s grandmother pronounced, eyes narrowed, from her nest of starched white linens. “Don’t you ever eat?”

Claudia sighed, massaging a temple that had been throbbing ever since her plane left the ground that morning.

“Bea, I’ve been here all of three minutes. I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about you. How we’re going to get you put back together as quick as we can, and get you home where you belong.”

“Fine with me. I never have been able to tolerate hospitals. Full of deadly germs, you never know—”

Bea stopped mid sentence as her face flushed with color. Alarmed, Claudia squeezed the cool small hand she was holding and bent closer.

“Bea? Bea, are you all right?”

A very slight nod of the head was all the response she got; Bea’s gaze drifted somewhere over her shoulder. Claudia pressed her thumb into the pulse points of Bea’s wrist and was rewarded with a regular beat.

“Um, I have a bit of a surprise for you,” Bea murmured, inclining her head in the direction of the door.

Claudia swiveled in the hospital-issue plastic chair.

And nearly toppled out of it.

Filling the frame of the cramped room’s door, Andy Woods stood dressed in green-blue scrubs, clutching a clipboard to his chest as if it were a shield. She recognized him immediately, but the reaction that followed was anything but clear. Panic was the dominant note, panic edged with surprise and wariness.

But even in that complicated tangle, her brain registered one more item: what a compelling looking man Andy still was. Five years had done little to change him. A trace of gray tinged his unruly jet-black hair, and the furrows between his brows and at the corners of his mouth were deeper than ever. But his forearms were still powerful, his rigid stance hinting at the caged, raw energy packed into his frame. And his flint-gray eyes were guarded, inscrutable, as always.

For a moment, surprise briefly segued into a scowl before Andy arranged his features in a neutral expression. Clearly he wasn’t one bit happier to be in the same room with Claudia than she was.

“Andy?” Claudia managed, her throat suddenly dry. She blinked her eyes hard several times. Maybe he was an illusion, a blip in the synapses of her exhausted brain. After all, she had been up half the night, then skipped breakfast before the four-hour flight, the mix-up at the rental car counter, and a long drive through the mountains.

Though if she were going to go around conjuring up people from her past, Andy Woods would rank somewhere at the bottom of her list. It wasn’t for nothing that she’d pushed his memory deep down inside, down into a remote corner of her soul that she was determined to keep buried forever.

And she just might have succeeded—had been doing pretty well in fact, damn it—until he showed up in Bea’s hospital room. Terrible sense of timing fate had, Claudia reflected, not for the first time in her life.

Fate...or Bea. Claudia wouldn’t put it past her tenacious grandmother to have schemed the whole meeting. Although a hip and wrist fracture seemed like drastic measures to get her in the same room with Andy. They meant a whole mess of trouble for a seventy-eight-year-old woman—especially one who had nursed a hatred for hospitals for most of those seventy-eight years.

Chalk one up for the old Canfield stubborn streak.

“Hello, Claudia. I guess I might have figured Bea was up to something. I...expected your father,” Andy said, his voice heavily weighted with resignation. He made an awkward motion with his hand, extending it as though he meant to take hers in a formal shake, then letting it drop. “You’re looking well, Claudia.”

Andy spoke her name in the same tone he might have employed to say “taxes” or “root canal”. Not at all he way she remembered him saying it, once upon a time.

“Dad couldn’t get away for a couple of days. I mean, since Bea’s already patched up, for the most part. But you’ll forgive me,” she managed, forcing her chin up a notch and slipping into the cool tone she’d found worked so well with some of her more difficult colleagues. “It’s been such a long day. It’s good to see you too...we’ll have to catch up on things sometime.”