Big excitement came to Gold Springs in the form of outdoor clothing company Wilderness Brothers shooting their winter catalog. Everything in town looked a little less grim with the stage set for world renowned photographer Ichiro Kikugawa. The Grand Hotel after years of being closed has reopened to house the models. Even the old hot springs hotel has been pressed into service and opened once more under the name Damnation Creek Hotel and Spa. It's rather unfortunate the murder of the fashion shoot coordinator Eve Hanlon has cast a shadow on the one bright note since the mine closed taking with it the jobs of 2/3rds of the town. Sasha Stanton has been working hard to trying and save the company town she inherited, but the longer it drags on the less it seems anything will help. Gold Springs is just another town suffering in the housing crash and recession.
Hello beautiful, Sasha Stanton could hear Ethane’s whisper in her ear as the pines rustled in the breeze. How could she not, over three weeks with him and no distractions before he shipped out. Every time she was alone without work to occupy her mind, it was all she could think of, rather that than he might not come back. Ethane Brandt was Marine reserves for 9 years when he got a letter recalling him to active duty. But he wasn’t willing to leave without asking her to marry him.
Maybe that it’s Christmas I’m saying this, I know you don’t like to hear such things, but I can see where the legends of you being a reincarnation start. The lonely howl of a wolf wakes me from sleep even on the other side of the world. All I can see is you standing there inside the moon with it glowing all around you as if it could carry you away. Your face remains half in the shadows, eyes filled with a sadness that was as easy to see as if it was day. A glimpse is all you allow before you melt into the trees as silent as the wolf off in the distance, and I know I am alone. Only then can I sleep again.
I can’t say why that night stays with me, I can think of other nights that should drive me to distraction. But it’s the wolves running up on the ranch that stay with me, you and the wild ones. One person in my life that truly understands with all your pain what it’s like to have the past rule your life. How your home became mine after so short a time I can’t say, but I hardly think of my own home, my parents’ home, nothing of my life before comes to mind, but you and the ranch. The quiet, I never knew how much I would miss the quiet and your whisper in the dark. There are times I can’t be sure I remember it anymore, the few nights I had there were too few. The dreams are too much my present now, but at least they keep me from dreaming of the past. I like to believe it’s when you’re thinking of me that the dreams come—if the stories of your great grandfather having them so often are true, then all I can think is that your great grandmother thought of him a great deal. Lucky man. If it’s true then so am I.
Other than letting you know I’m alive and dreaming of wolves, I can’t offer you a gift for Christmas. But then you’ve never asked for anything but for me to come back.
Soon the snow changed, leaving marble sized flakes to fall slowly, but steadily not obscuring the view anymore though it piled up quicker than a blizzard. If she stayed out much longer she well might get caught out and not get back. She turned her horse to home. The cold air burned as she took a deep breath trying to stop the past. Ethane’s voice whispering in her ear before he left. Your voice in the dark is all I’ve dreamed of since we met, that look in your eyes. I’m taking that with me. No goodbyes until the day that future’s gone. The snow fell—one flake, then two, then, as if a gate opened, thousands and then millions of flakes fell in rapid succession. The white obscured all around her as if nothing at all existed in the world—the trees blocked out the physical world, the snow, everything else.
As her horse broke through the lodge pole and ponderosa pines the view that greeted Sasha always took her breath away. The branches suddenly stopped as if taken by magic to reveal a pristine frozen lake that the core of the Wolf Mountain Horse Company overlooked. That view of trees, waterfall, lake, and horses was like coming home. Granted, it was home, but even when she had left for school, it was as if she had never gone from the valley. Instead of running from it as fast as she could. As hard as it might be for people to believe, she didn’t feel much like a woman after her father’s craziness. He was the reincarnation fanatic, in his delusions he thought she was a long dead ancestor and he said it so much a town believed it. She fought him all her life. Fought him so hard he shoved a gun in her mouth to force his delusions into reality. When college came she ran, as far as she could go. Now the push to fight, to run the ranch, the anger that took over. She was raised to be in charge and to fight for that right. In that life, what was sex? Even love. Ethane kissed her soul, erasing everyone before. Even being raped. He made her fall for him after she sat in jail for breaking her fiancé’s jaw when she found out he was trying to steal the ranch.
The office made from plans for a Craftsman country club house seemed as if it grew up from the ground instead of having been built. Inside, above the wainscoting high on the walls were pictures of horses that had come from the ranch over the years, each picture had ribbons hanging from it. Races won going back 150 years. Ben sat there surrounded by papers and Carol, and half a dozen others too. The snow had driven them inside. In winter, the majority of the horses were driven down the mountain to the foothills and plains to the east. Once a month to help out they brought huge bales of hay, they were mountain horses, even the ones that could compete in the Kentucky Derby if they wished.
A man walking in stopped Sasha from taking the stairs. Before she could say anything though, the stranger was kissing her and it was no peck on the cheek. Everyone in the room stared as he leaned near her ear.
“Ethane says hi.” He whispered. “He didn’t say anything about kissing you that long but you smell good.”
“Upstairs,” she ordered, he looked at her a bit odd but followed as she left a staring room. Finally she looked at the stranger. He was shorter than her own 6 feet, compact build, the haircut should have given away what he was even if she didn’t know who he was. If being kissed by a stranger hadn’t thrown her for a loop.
“Sasha!” Isla called when she walked in her office. Isla had a house in Gold Springs because of Sasha even before the town mess blew up. It was only meant to be a vacation house until Isla’s parents, both professors at Howard University, guilted her into finishing her master’s degree. Cheap, quiet, and Sasha had a way in at the reservation for her to have a topic in American studies. She had a feeling that was the main reason, she’d been making good money in LA modeling before that. “I have to talk to you.”
“Well I’m here. Talk.”
“Who’s this?” Isla asked instead.
“No clue.” Sasha muttered as she sank in her chair and found 5 calls to return about a dying town. Ethane had fixed her life so she could fix a town even before he knew she would be doing it alone. Because he helped friends, he only hoped she would fall for him and she had. Hard. When he had asked her to marry him it was to wait if he came back, and she couldn’t think of it. Waiting a year meant nothing, if she waited for him it was as his wife. They’d married the next day. “What’s up with you?”
Well he was surely military, that much was clear. He stood there at attention. “Finish with her, I can wait.”
What now? Sasha leaned back in her chair and let out a sigh. “So spill it.”
Isla couldn’t keep her excitement in. “I’m trying to finish up my thesis, nearly done and I had a call about doing a catalog job, Wilderness Brothers Outdoor Clothing, the only thing is its stalled. You have heard of Ichiro Kikugawa? If I could get shot by him, Sasha, it’s one of those old dreams of mine. He’s signed on to do the photography, but he wants horses. They need to start in a few weeks, but the horses are stalling them.”
“Why is that a sticking point? I can rent them horses tomorrow if they want them. 5,000 other places can get them horses, they aren’t hard to find.”
“They keep mentioning making a horse dance and no one can do it. I told them about you.”
“You model?” The man asked looking closer. Pale blond hair and baby blue eyes, pale skin even if the tan hid it. Rosy red cheeks but those were hard to tell if they were natural or from being out in the weather.
Sasha shook her head. “I did once years ago, but never since and they only talked me into it because it involved riding.”
“Exactly, like now.” Isla countered.
“I don’t have the time to run off...”
Isla started beaming. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. The modeling is a handful of pictures you could have done in an afternoon. But I had a big idea that might help around town.”
“Well they don’t have a location yet. It’s the winter catalog for next year, you have to admit Gold Springs is outdoors, picturesque now that you’ve cleaned it up. I wondered if you would want to do your business sales pitch on them to do it here. Free publicity, people spending money. It might be a morale booster in town too, 7 months since the mine closed and jobs are few and far between. Maybe even talk the executives into a store. Outdoor clothing would be an easy sell.”