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Tam McCauley’s shovel delved into hard-packed snow. Environment Canada had issued a storm warning for the Gatineau Hills and he wanted to drive to town, run his errands, and return before sundown. Metal scraped against ice and the white inches diminished to form a path wide enough for his 4×4. Near the end of his drive, Tam looked down the empty country road. Evergreens and bare birch flanked the shoulders and weak sunlight streaked yellow through the grey clouds. Behind him, the family cabin was dark and empty. Occasionally, a tawny deer peeked around a tree. The air was clean and cold and moist in his nose. Since he’d arrived, he’d taken great lungfuls to clear the dirt and sand of Afghanistan. Most of all, he relished the silence, a safe and neutral silence. The quiet of Kandahar’s unpaved roads and arid terrain hid danger and bred suspicion. It was good to be home.
A tiny scarecrow in dark clothing emerged at the top of the road, taking short, quick strides, straining against the wind. As the figure neared, Tam distinguished a small woman in a heavy, long black coat and wide-brimmed hat, the wind whiplashing red curls into her face. A bare, pale hand brushed them away from her mouth. A heavy journalist’s bag tapped against her hip and she struggled to hold it in place. She waved and called out in a thin, breathless voice as she approached.
“Mr. McCauley … Mr. McCauley. I’m Phaedra de Beaupré.” She bent over, braced herself, held up one small wind-roughened hand, panted from her effort against the elements. “Mr. McCauley … you are not easy to locate. My car … further down … the road, stalled, had to walk to find you. In a moment … will … explain … my presence here.”
Phaedra de Beaupré looked up from Tam McCauley’s booted feet to his strong thighs in worn jeans, to a blue parka filled with muscle and sinew to a square jaw and full, unsmiling mouth. His silver eyes narrowed as he peered back at her. Awe-struck, Phaedra stared at Michelangelo’s parka-clad “David” … but no lifeless, white marble anywhere. Tall and broad-shouldered, his dark close-cropped hair looked like it could be a riot of curls if he grew it out. His eyes were akin to starlight on a cold Canadian winter night. Or, they might be the silver-blue of chipped ice … cool and … unfriendly. Phaedra offered him a shaky smile.
Tam took in her pale skin and a dance of freckles across her nose. Her contrite smile revealed an overlapping front tooth. He stepped away from her, but wind-lashed red curls brushed across his coat and his nose twitched at something flowery and feminine. A gust pulled the waves and curls back into her open mouth. She pulled off her hat with one quick, impatient movement, shoved a handful of hair under it and tugged it down. Tendrils flopped here and there as she hefted the bag over her shoulder.
“It is essential that I speak with you, Mr. McCauley. Please, I just need half an hour of your time.” Now that she’d caught her breath, her voice was low, vibrant, and urgent. Tam stared at the small hand clutching his sleeve like a burr. Her knuckles pressed into his forearm. Great, a nuisance from nowhere to disturb his peace.
“Miss de Beauport, I’m on my way to town. I can give you a lift and you can arrange to have your car towed.”