STACY stared out the window at the traffic rushing between the concrete buildings below. The sombre grey and brown tones of the towering structures reflected the depression that hung so heavy on the young girl's shoulders. A little sigh escaped her as she let the curtain fall back in place and turned to face the ageing man behind the desk.
"Mr. Mills, you were Daddy's friend. You should understand more than anyone why I have to get away by myself to sort things out. Why does it have to make any difference if it's in a New York apartment or a cabin in Texas?'
"It's because I was your father's attorney and closest friend that I wish you would think it over a little more,' the lawyer replied, removing his black-rimmed glasses and absently wiping them with his handkerchief.
"I'm not trying to run away,' Stacy ran a gloved hand nervously over her arm. 'I just need time to see where I fit in again.'
"Look, Stacy, any other young girl in your shoes would be going to Europe or the Islands. You're a wealthy girl now. I can understand that you aren't particularly happy with the way you acquired your money, but the death of someone dear always involves a difficult adjustment. You've always been so independent, even headstrong, that I don't see why you insist on burying yourself out in the country.'.
Stacy Adams looked hesitantly at Carter Mills, Sr., wondering how she could make him understand why she had to go. Her father, Joshua Adams, had respected this man and trusted him as few men are ever able to in their lifetime. Her father. The words caught in her throat. Stacy glanced down at her blue suit and the gloved hands clenched so tightly in her lap. Her mother had died shortly after Stacy was born, leaving her globe-trotting husband with the unfamiliar and frightening task of raising, their child. Refusing the generous offers from friends to care for Stacy, Joshua Adams had filled another suitcase with nappies and powder and carted the year-old girl off on his next foreign assignment. Life for father and daughter had been one long world tour with brief respites, in New York to catch their breath before starting out again, as he built his reputation as a freelance photographer.
Loving memories whirled through Stacy's mind, most vividly, her seventeenth birthday three years ago, when her dad had smuggled a puppy into a plush New Orleans hotel, Cajun, he had called the pup, in honour of the Creole country of his birth. The wiggling, playful dog had swiftly grown into a husky German Shepherd, devoted entirely to his young mistress. Her father predicted that Cajun would protect Stacy better than any guardian angel. Stacy wondered if her father knew how right he had been, because it was Cajun who had pulled an unconscious but unharmed Stacy from the wreckage of the chartered plane before it burst into flames. The pilot and her father didn't make it.
As she tried to blink back the tears that clouded her eyes, Stacy raised her head to meet the lawyer's affectionate gaze. Her brown eyes grew misty with the threatening tears, as her mouth curved into a painful smile.
"I take it back, Stacy. Perhaps going out there will help you face your problems. Joshua loved the West and never turned down an assignment that would take him there.' Carter Mills, Sr., rose from his chair and walked around to where Stacy was seated. 'But remember you're still a young woman, barely twenty, with a lot of the world ahead of you. He wouldn't have wanted you to miss any of it--not the good and definitely not the bad.'
Stacy grasped the hands he offered and rose, her trim, tailored suit enhancing the feminine figure underneath. 'I knew you would understand and see why I have to do this.'
"There's at least one young man that I know of who's rather upset about your leaving,' Carter Mills commented. 'But you can't blame my son for wanting to escort you around our more fashionable clubs. And you can't say you don't belong there, not with the inheritance your father left you.'
"I'm afraid I haven't accepted the idea that I'm comfortably wealthy yet. Before I was happy just to be with Dad, travelling wherever the wind blew--maybe I inherited his itchy feet. Out there with just Cajun, Diablo, and miles of space, I should be able to decide about the future,' Stacy concluded as she readied for her purse.
"Are you taking that fool horse, too? I had hoped you'd sold him long ago,' exclaimed the lawyer with no attempt to hide his concern. 'I don't mind telling you that I think you're making a grave mistake taking him.'
"Oh, Diablo isn't as vicious and unruly as you would like to believe. He's high-strung, that's all I' Stacy smiled. 'You know very well that I'm an excellent horsewoman. Dad would never have allowed me to have Diablo if he didn't think I could handle him.'
"I realize that, but I'm sure it never occurred to him that you would be taking that horse out in the wilds with you,' Mr. Mills replied gruffly.
"No. I'm sure Dad probably hoped that I would settle down and take my place in society, so to speak. But I'm not ready for that yet. Maybe I never will want to be, who knows?' she said, then added, 'I really should be going.'
"What are you doing with the apartment while you're gone?'
"I decided to just lock it up rather than let it go,' answered Stacy, a shadow of pain clouding her eyes momentarily.
"Just as long as you know you're always welcome at our home. And if there's ever anything you need, don't hesitate one minute,' Carter Mills said.
"I won't. Carter Jr. is taking me to dinner tomorrow night for one last fling with civilization. He seems to think that I'm going to the darkest regions of Africa,' Stacy smiled, touched by the sincere concern extended by the lawyer. 'Thanks for everything, Mr. Mills.'
Stacy smiled as she walked out of his office into the reception room. Mr. Mills couldn't help but have misgivings about her impending trip. She wasn't going to an exactly remote area, but she would be reasonably isolated. When his son Carter had told him about Stacy's decision to rent a hunting cabin in the Apache Mountains of Texas for the spring, he bad immediately checked into the situation as a personal friend. But he honestly could find no real flaws with her plans, except that she was going alone-Stacy entered the lift with a lighted 'down' arrow flickering above it. Mulling over her plans, she was unaware of the interested looks she received from some of her fellow passengers. The sprinkling of freckles across a too-straight nose usually dismissed her, in a stranger's eye, as average. But second glances noticed the gleaming brown hair framing her oval face and the dark brown eyes, now shadowed by her grief, with their naturally thick lashes that combined to give her a refreshingly wholesome aura.
On the ground floor, Stacy proceeded to the street where an incessant tide of pedestrians awaited the commands of the red and green globes. Swept along by the flow at the crosswalk, she Jet herself be led by the steady stream until she reached the parking lot where she had left her car. Preoccupied with her memories as she was, her hand caressed the steering wheel for a second before accelerating into the traffic. The luxurious sports car had been the last present her father had given her.
Looking back, Stacy realized she should have recognized the import the expensive gift carried. She had always assumed that, although she and her father lived very comfortably, their financial condition was dependent on her father's income. The discovery that her father's death had left her independently wealthy still seemed a dream. Stacy didn't know what she would have done if that had not been the case. She possessed a smattering of knowledge about everything, but she had forgone any further schooling to travel with her father.
Arriving at her apartment building, Stacy entered and took the lift to the fifth floor. Silently she walked down the corridor to her apartment and hesitated as she reached her door. Depression spread over her as she inserted the key and opened the door. She was immediately greeted by an ecstatic German Shepherd yelping his pleasure at her return.
"Cajun, you brute, did you miss me?' Stacy smiled sadly, cradling the enormous head in her hands as she looked at the unmasked adoration in the dog's eyes. 'What would I do if you weren't here?'
The telephone jingled dimly, stirring Stacy out of her thoughts. Bending a nyloned knee on the flowered couch, she picked up the receiver.
"Stacy? Carter,' came the masculine voice on the other end. 'Dad said I just missed you.'
"I left there around four,' Stacy said, glancing at her watch as she sat on the couch.
"How's everything going?' A touch of concern peeped out of the light tone.
"Fine, really. I was just going to finish up the last of my packing, except for the few odds and ends that will have to wait,' Stacy said, adding with a little laugh. 'I even packed some dresses in with all my riding clothes, I'm planning to live it up in some little cowtown !'
"Just as long as you don't meet some tall, dark, handsome cowboy and ride off into the sunset on his trusty steed,' Carter mocked, 'I won't mind.'
"I wouldn't worry. They don't make cowboys like they used to,' Stacy chuckled. 'On our last trip west, all I ever saw were sunburned, middle-aged men with families to support.' '
Are you still driving down?'
"Just Caj and me. Diablo's going by train as far as Pecos. I'll pick him up there and go on to McCloud. The cabin's about thirty miles from town, so I'm really not too far from civilization.'
"I'm glad you didn't ask me to go along. All that solitude would drive me up the wall. I don't see how you'll be able to take it for more than a week. How different can one mountain be from another?' Carter teased.
"Maybe you're right, but I'll have to find that out for myself.'
"Can't talk you out of a thing, can I?' the voice in the receiver said. 'Listen, I have a brief to work on tonight, so I won't be able to come round. We still have a date for tomorrow night. Seven sharp, right?'
"Right,' Stacy agreed.
"Okay. Take care and I'll see you tomorrow, 'Bye!'
The click of the phone echoed forlornly in the crushing silence that followed. Refusing to give in to the melancholy that the empty room emitted, Stacy rose from the flowered couch to enter her bedroom. She would do that last-minute packing she had mentioned, filling the void intensified by the phone call with a bustle of activity.
The next night Stacy was just fastening the clasp on her onyx pendant when the doorbell rang. She surveyed her reflection one last time in the mirror. The sleeveless, peach-coloured dress with its V-neck and pleated skirt set off the copper tan of her skin and the golden highlights in her hair, that was pulled back in ringlets, Grecian style. Taking a tissue, Stacy blotted her peach-tinted lips and applied a little gloss before allowing a satisfied smile to light her face.
When she opened the door to admit Carter, her dark eyes were flashing with pleasure. 'I didn't keep you waiting too long, did I?'
The tall, fair-haired man grasped her hands and pushed her away from him. His blue eyes answered her sparkle with a shine all their own. 'May I say what you already know? I wouldn't have minded waiting longer if I'd known what a vision I was going to see. Shall we go?' he asked, placing the crocheted stole Stacy handed him around her shoulders while brushing a light kiss on her hair. 'I've made reservations for eight at the Meadow Wood Country club.'
"Marvellous,' Stacy smiled.
The two chatted amiably on their way to his car, but once inside the conversation abated. Carter gave his full attention to the traffic around him while Stacy unobtrusively studied his silhouette. He was a good-looking man with light brown, almost blond hair and clear blue eyes. Six years older than Stacy and just entering his father's law practice. Carter was considered quite a catch by many of her acquaintances. His attractive fair looks were a perfect foil for Stacy's brown hair and eyes.
There had never been any avowals of love or promises to wait between them. When Stacy had accompanied her rather on his travels, she had sent Carter funny postcards of wherever she was and called him when she got back in town. Carter dated other girls when she was gone, but never anyone as regularly as Stacy. The two families had been pleased with the budding relationship of their children, nurturing secret hopes of an eventual marriage.
Stacy smiled, watching the competent hands manoeuvring the car into a parking lot. Their relationship could never be considered as brother-and-sister, she thought, even if it hadn't reached the heart-pounding passionate stage yet. They were both enjoying the other's company while waiting for love to come their^ way. Some day, she supposed, they would marry. They would have a good life. They got along together too well for it to be any other way. But not yet, not yet.
"Besides,' Stacy thought, 'I'm still naive enough to wish for a love that will sweep me off my feet, even if it is only fairy-tale stuff.'
"Dreamer, are you going to get out of the car or just sit there?' Carter asked, laughing down at the girl as he stood holding the car door open for her.
"I'm sorry--I was off in another world.'
"Well, come back. Tonight is my night and I plan to make the most of it,' he smiled as he escorted her to the club entrance.
His arm rested lightly around her waist as he opened the elaborately scrolled doors of the private club. Carter ordered their drinks while Stacy gazed at the unique furnishings. The bar was decorated in an exotic jungle-type atmosphere with leopard and zebra skins adorning the walls.
When the waitress returned with their drinks, Stacy caught Carter looking at her with a sombre expression on his face.
"Why so grim? I thought we were going to celebrate tonight?' Stacy chided.
"Sorry, I was thinking about that vacation you're taking. Stacy, Dad isn't too happy about it, and neither am I. If anything happened to you out at that godforsaken cabin, it could be weeks before' anyone finds out,' he said earnestly.
"Please, let's don't talk about it tonight. I've made up my mind that I'm going and that's all there is to be said,' she replied a little sharply because of her own apprehension. 'It seems everyone knows what's best for me but me.'
"Did it ever occur to you that this time they might be right?' A hint of disgust was in his voice. 'You seem to think that because you've travelled all over the world you can handle anything that may happen. Why, you're no more experienced than some country girl I All your father showed you was the world from the sheltered side of a camera lens. You have no idea what it's like to be on your own.'
"Just because I've seen war and hunger and famine from his view, does that make it any less real? I know what life is about. And I know what I'm going to do with mine, so there's no need of discussing it any further,' Stacy retorted.
"Will you stop being so stubborn for once and listen to reason?'
"I told you the subject is closed.'
"Then let's dance,' Carter suggested roughly as the combo started playing a slow tune.
Stacy rose, pushing her chair back from the table. Carter held her elbow firmly, directing her to the dance floor. When he took her in his arms, both expressions were a little grim.
Stacy laughed, 'Oh, Carter, I'm sorry. I really didn't mean to lose my temper. Please don't let's argue tonight.'
He smiled down at the girl's pleading eyes. 'Okay, we'll consider the subject closed. We'll just enjoy our evening together.'
Later when their reservation for dinner was called, the couple entered the dining room and were, escorted to a small table for two secluded from the rest of the diners. When the final course was over, the couple settled back contentedly with their coffee.
"That was a delicious meal,' Stacy said, accepting the light from Carter for her cigarette.
"Umm, But the partner is even more delicious.'
"Thank you, kind sir.'
"Did you want to go back into the bar and dance, or would you rather go somewhere else?'
"No, let's stay here. I really enjoy this atmosphere and besides, I don't feel in the mood for a discotheque tonight,' Stacy replied.
"Good, neither do I. There's some talking I want to do and I'd hate to shout it over the din of some rock band.'
"Please, not another lecture about my trip,' she begged. 'You promised there'd be no more discussion about my going to Texas.'
"And I have every intention of keeping my word. This is something entirely different. Shall we go?'
Stacy waited for Carter at the entry way to the lounge while he paid the bill. They found a table over in a corner and ordered drinks. At the beginning of a slow ballad, they wound their way on to the floor. Holding Stacy a little away from him, Carter gazed down into her brown eyes and smiled gently.
"Remember after your father's funeral the comment Dad made about you being one of the family?'
"Yes,' said Stacy, returning the serious look on her partner's face.
"I want to make it legal. I want you to be my wife,' he said, their steps almost ceasing. 'I'm not trying to talk you out of your trip, but while you're thinking about the future, I want you to include me. Stacy, I care about you--I love you and I want to watch over you for the rest of my life. We've never talked about the future before and it's time we did. Before, we were both too young. I still had law school to finish and you still had some growing up to do. Well, they're both done now and this is the time to start planning the rest of our lives.'
"Carter, I don't know what to say. I don't know if I'm ready to settle down. I don't know---'
"Don't say anything. I know it's awfully soon after losing your father. You're bound to be confused, so I'm not asking for an answer yet. When I think you're ready, I'll ask you again properly. Until then I'm just asking you to remember that I love you and want to marry you while you're out there in that Texas refuge,' Carter said quietly, gently kissing the top of her forehead.
He drew her once again into the circle of his arms, and they continued their dancing in silence while Stacy mulled the proposal over in her mind. She shouldn't have been surprised by it, but she was despite her earlier thoughts on the same line. Returning to their table after the song was over, they sat quietly without speaking.
"You mentioned you were shipping Diablo to Texas. I was going to ask if you wanted to take my grey,' said Carter.' 'He's definitely more manageable than that red devil of yours.'
"I don't expect to have much trouble with Diablo, but thanks for offering,' Stacy said, smiling at her date. 'Besides, he's already on his way to Pecos, so I'll just stick with my original arrangement.'
"What time do you plan to leave tomorrow?' Carter asked.
"I hope to get started by midday.'
"It's rather late now. I don't want it to be said that I kept you from your beauty rest. I think you'll have plenty to think about tonight. At least I hope so,' said Carter, casually referring to his earlier proposal.
They talked little on the way home. Stacy nestled down, in her seat and gazed out the window at the neon world before her. Pulling into the parking lot of Stacy's apartment building, Carter turned the car motor off, then instead of getting out of the car, he sat quietly in his seat looking at the brown-haired girl beside him.
"I won't be able to come over tomorrow and tell you good-bye, so I'll wish you my good luck now,' he said, drawing her over into his arms.
Stacy tilted her head back and awaited his kiss. His lips were firm and gentle as they pressed down upon hers. He held her body close to his as his hands caressed the tanned shoulders underneath her stole. Stacy's heart increased its tempo with the growing urgency in his kiss.
"Take that with you, Stacy, and let it plead my cause,' he finished.
Reluctantly Stacy stepped out of the car when he came around and opened the door for her. In silence, they walked into the building to the elevator.
"I'll leave you here. Stacy, come home soon,' Carter whispered to her, looking down affectionately at the freckled nose and wide brown eyes. Softly he dropped a kiss on her forehead and walked away.
Watching the slender, but muscular man leave, Stacy felt a cold emptiness chill her heart. She turned uncertainly to the yawning doors of the lift Quietly she let herself into the apartment, questioning her decision to leave the only home and friends she had.
An hour later she had fallen asleep, once again resolved to carry through with her plans to journey to Texas.