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Under Montana Skies
Darlene Graham

He jerked the sweatshirt up and off in one swift move, tossed it on the floor, then draped his arms over the chair back. Laura unrolled the hot pack and positioned it on his shoulder. While she waited for it to warm the muscles, she bent and dug in her bag. She pulled out a CD, positioned the player on the oak table and found the lone electrical plug in the room.

As the beat of the Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand” filled the room, Adam gave her an irritated glance over his shoulder. “Is that really necessary?”

“Well, no,” Laura admitted. “But it helps. You and I are both gonna get mighty bored with these therapy sessions. The music will keep us moving.”

He shrugged and turned his back to her again.

As soon as Laura laid her hands on him, she decided she’d been wrong. There was never going to be anything boring about touching this man. She blocked out that thought and concentrated on her work.

She massaged the places where she knew the pain was lodged and wished she’d chosen a different song to start with. The beat was all right, but the words…

Having these thoughts made her a little uptight, but fortunately her hands worked automatically, and her body took up the rhythm subtly, too. Halfway through the song, she smiled as she felt Adam relax.

By the time the song was over, the muscles in Adam’s back felt as fluid as a bank of shifting sand. His head rested on his forearms and his eyes were closed.

Was he asleep again? Laura wondered. Did this guy even get enough sleep? Maybe not, if he was always peering out the attic window in the middle of the night. She had to talk to him about that. If he wanted to play lookout with night-vision binoculars, he had to do it somewhere else.

“Mr. Scott?” she said softly, and he cracked his eyes in a squint at her. “Time for the second half of the treatment—the resistance training and stretching maneuvers.”

Without being told he went to the massage table and lay down.

Laura got out the lotion, gave him some cross-fiber friction massage before starting the stretches. She carefully and slowly brought his arm up, then down, stretching the joint until she felt restriction. She knew how far she could push a patient, but he seemed to be getting tense too quickly. She could feel his muscles guarding, resisting her.

“You know about my wife and child,” he said suddenly in the midst of a particularly difficult stretch.

“Yes,” she said softly. “I was so sorry to hear that. Now you must relax, Mr. Scott.”

But instead of relaxing, he twisted away from her hands and bounded up off the table, facing her, his bare chest heaving with rapid breaths. Every fiber of his body seemed tense now.

“Let’s get something straight, Ms. Duncan,” he said in a low voice. “My wife and child are none of your business. And if you speak about either one of them again to anyone, ever, I will have your license suspended for violating patient confidentiality. Is that understood?”

Laura, stunned, could barely nod before Adam turned and stomped off toward the back of the house. Again she worried: What kind of patient had she taken on?


LAURA DIDN’T SEE Adam again until it was time for the afternoon treatment. She was determined to keep her mouth shut, not upset the patient and make sure this session went better than this morning’s.

She was giving him a warm-up massage and hoping the music would ease the tension with this difficult patient when the front door creaked open.

The big golden dog she’d seen when she arrived yesterday sauntered into the cabin, barely giving the humans a glance. He made a sniffing patrol of the perimeter of the room before trotting happily to Adam’s knee, looking at the man with a curious tilt to his black eyebrows.

Adam opened his eyes and gave the dog a lazy affectionate smile. “Morton! Where the heck have you been?”

Laura could have sworn the dog smiled back.

“Are you hungry, boy?” Adam mumbled, and let one hand drop to scratch the dog’s ears.

“Who’s this big guy?” Laura said in a playful voice.

Morton broke from Adam’s fingers, wagging his tail as he gave Laura a curious sniff, then a frisky nudge.

“Morton! Lie down!” Adam commanded. The dog ignored him, continuing to wag his tail and gaze up at Laura. Adam sighed. “Morton’s the real boss around this place. You’d be wise to get on his good side.”

Was Mr. Scott making a little joke? Laura couldn’t believe it. Maybe he was relaxing.

Morton gave her thigh another nudge as if to say, “Pet me!”

Laura laughed lightly and Adam eyed the dog. “He knows a good thing when he sees it,” he said.

Laura laughed again, but kept her hands on her patient.

Morton finally gave up and collapsed on the floor, bringing his big head to rest on Adam’s foot.

THE NEXT DAY, Laura went exploring during her free time. She climbed far up the mountainside behind the cabin, to the level where the vegetation thinned and became alpine. When the landscape finally grew barren and rocky with the altitude, she turned and followed the creek back down into the trees.

Sixteen Mile Creek ran down from the mountaintop, a trickle, a gurgle, then a riot of white water, in places as wide and deep as a river. Laura followed its course down, down, for maybe a mile or so—she couldn’t really judge the distance—and came upon a densely forested area of old growth above the stone house.

She stopped, looking up at the canopy of trees. Some of them had to be eighty feet tall, with trunks so big she couldn’t get her arms around them. Lodgepole pine, reaching in perfectly straight columns to the sky. Larch, fluttering their feathery leaves in the breeze. Spruce, squatting like wide sentinels.

Overcome by the beauty, Laura sat down on the ground and then, in a fit of ecstasy, threw herself onto her back on the bed of pine needles, squinting at the rays of sun that peeked through the trees.

She lay still for a while, smiling like a child enjoying a delightful secret. Then, suddenly, she had the distinct sensation of being watched.

She sat up and peered through the tree trunks toward the creek. She stood and walked a few feet onto a cornice of stone that jutted out over the water. She heard the roar of a small waterfall and peered downstream, where it tumbled over a narrow natural bridge. Her gaze lifted to a mass of huge boulders, some as big as houses, towering above on the opposite bank.

And there was Adam Scott standing, legs akimbo, on the very top of a boulder, staring down at her.

Laura wondered how long he’d been watching. The idea made her nervous. For a tense moment they stared at each other. Then Laura thought, This is dumb. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

“Isn’t it gorgeous out here!” she shouted happily.

He nodded slowly, but there was no warmth in his squinty expression, no responding happiness.

THAT EVENING AT SUPPER, Laura observed Adam Scott closely. When he was around the Joneses, he seemed like a different man.

At the moment he was biting off the end of a sautéed asparagus spear, rolling his eyes heavenward.

“Where’d you get this dinner, Katherine? At the local drive-through?” He winked at her and she flicked a hand at him.

Laura noted again how Adam’s relationship with the Joneses seemed more than neighborly. Their ease around this table, for instance, as if they’d eaten here hundreds of times.

Tonight the room seemed less bleak. A modest fire crackled in the fireplace, illuminating the colorful counterpane quilt on the bed in the alcove. Katherine had swept and placed a checkered cloth and fat candles on the table. Doc and Adam had hauled in two stools made from sawed-off tree trunks.

“The cook always gets the credit!” Doc boomed, and plucked an asparagus spear off the platter. “I grew the blessed things.”

So, Laura thought, that explains the magnificent garden.

Adam raised a wine goblet—Katherine had gone all-out, even sending Doc on the long trip down to their house to fetch crystal—and said, “Here’s to you both, the wonderful cook, and the unappreciated old farmer.”
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