Chapter Nineteen
After a mile or so, Brick slowed his horse to an easy walk. After the rain of the previous night, the air was clean and fresh, the landscape lush and green. Meadows faded to forest with The Three Sisters visible in the distance. The furthest mountain, known locally as Faith, was slightly shrouded in mist, but Hope and Charity stood proud and tall, their snow-capped summits outlined starkly against the cerulean sky.

Brick breathed in the pine-scented air and felt some of the tension seep out of him. This was his country; it was where he belonged. Maybe one day he would be able to come back, free of the memories and the pain. For now, though, there was no choice but to leave it behind.

He had woken that morning with a pounding headache, an aching back and a heavy heart; the whiskey he had consumed the previous night as likely a cause for the anvil in his head as was the accident in the lake. He had dragged himself out of bed, pulled on his own rumpled but now dry clothing, and headed straight for the ranch. Now that his mind was made up, he felt the need to tell Jack as soon as possible, before his resolve began to waver.

His thoughts wandered back to the events of the previous day. Surprisingly, he found he could think about the Witch's Cauldron without the feeling of panic that had always accompanied his memories of the long-ago tragedy. Moreover, he realized to his surprise that he had slept the night through, nightmare-free, despite settling down on Dale's couch resigned to the inevitability of a disturbed night. It might have been due to the affects of the whiskey, but he began to hope that yesterday's incident had conquered his demons and frightened the nightmare away for good. If so, it was the only positive in his life now.

Reluctantly, he turned his thoughts to the future. First, he needed to find a job. Johnny's invitation to check out Silver Creek Adventures seemed the best place to start. He would call Johnny tomorrow and see if there were any jobs available. Even a short-term, seasonal job would be a start and spending time working with a larger outfit would be good experience. At least he was sure now that he wanted to stay in the outfitting business. The Oregon wilderness was in his blood; he needed a job that would allow him to spend most of his life in the open, introducing folks to the mountains and valleys he knew and loved. Maybe at some time in the future he could open his own business, or go into partnership with someone like Johnny. He tried to put Jack and McKenna Outfitters out of his mind; they could no longer be part of his life.

His thoughts turned to Leigh and he felt a deep pang of regret at what could have been. He knew how unsure she was about the connection between them. If he was honest, he had trouble understanding it himself. He thought he was in love with her, but maybe love was not enough. Even if he managed to get a job, the pay would be low and certainly not sufficient to support Leigh and the kids. In addition, if truth were told, he was not at all sure that he was ready for the responsibility of being a father to his brother's children. Perhaps if he had stayed, they could have worked things out. But now - no, it was better this way; better for Leigh and better for Harry and Rose.

Then there was Cassidy. Brick loved his sister very much and her distress at hearing his plans to leave tore at his heart. He and Cass were close in temperament and in the way they approached the world and as a result he understood her, and always had. Knowing how much she relied on him to act as a buffer between her and her father made his decision to leave a hard one. Yet he also knew that seeing him and Jack at each other's throats upset her greatly - at least by leaving he would be sparing her that.

Two hours' ride brought him to the turning from the main trail on to the bridleway leading to Carson's Gorge.

The track was broad for the first few miles, following the course of the river as it meandered through poppy-laden meadows. Then it began to climb, gently at first and then more steeply as the river narrowed and the banks rose at the entrance to the gorge itself. The track narrowed, hemmed in on one side by a pine forest and straying close to the edge of the now-substantial cliff. This was the most dangerous part of the ride, but the track was less muddy than he had supposed, protected as it was by overhanging trees. A sure-footed horse would negotiate it with ease.

Brick glanced down to his left at the white water over fifty feet below as he guided his horse carefully around a small outcrop of rock. Here, the cliff was steep, though not yet sheer as it would become further up, its sides dotted with boulders, clumps of grass and small bushes.

The path ahead began to climb steeply. As Brick felt his horse gather its powerful muscles to begin the ascent, a bird flew out of a bush to his right. The horse nickered in alarm and danced to the side, coming perilously close to the edge. Brick tightened his knees around its withers to keep his seat, then felt himself falling. He grabbed the pommel to steady himself and found it moving under his grip; with a stab of fear, he realized that the saddle itself was loose. The saddle slipped off, taking him with it as his flailing hands grabbed for and missed the reins. He hit the ground hard, gasping as pain flared in his side, and then let out a cry of terror as his forward momentum took him straight over the edge of the cliff.

Chapter Twenty

Dale pulled up outside the McKenna ranch at just after noon. He was on his way back from checking out a burned-out car abandoned at a popular scenic viewpoint further up Highway 97. His stomach told him it was lunchtime and scrounging a sandwich at the ranch was a good excuse to check up on Brick.

The front door was ajar and he walked right in, calling a greeting.

"In the kitchen, Dale," Leigh's voice called.

He found Leigh and Jack sitting at either end of the large kitchen table. By the expressions on their faces, it was obvious he had interrupted something. He hovered in the doorway.

"Is this a bad time?"

Leigh exchanged a glance with Jack, and then stood up. "Of course not. You're always welcome, you know that. Want me to fix you a sandwich?"

"Sure, that'd be great, if it's not too much trouble."

Leigh walked into the kitchen. "No trouble."

Dale sat down and nodded to the gray-haired head of the household. "Jack."

Jack nodded shortly. "Dale."

After a moment's uncomfortable silence, Dale asked, "Where's Brick?"

"Gone to check out the Carson's Gorge trail. He's taking a tour up there tomorrow." Jack spoke in a monotone and Dale found it impossible to tell what he was thinking. The steely eyes were fixed intently on him and he had a sudden flashback to his youth when he and Brick had so often been chewed out by this man for some misdemeanor or other.

Dale was relieved when Leigh put a cup of coffee in his hands and a plate on the table and he could break that penetrating gaze to smile his thanks at her.

"Cheese and ham sandwich all right?"

"Cheese and ham's just fine, thanks."

Leigh sat down again and the awkward silence resumed. Finally, Jack said, "I suppose you already know that Brick has decided to leave."

Dale nodded. "He told me last night," he said carefully, not knowing how much Brick had shared with his father of their conversation.

"I gather he's bunking with you for the next month or so."

"That's right."

Jack's silence signaled his displeasure with the plan and Dale felt an irrational need to defend Brick's decision. "You can hardly blame him for wanting to move out, after..." He paused as Jack's eyes narrowed.

"After what?"

Dale had always looked up to Jack McKenna. He admired the man for his energy, his strength of will and his leadership abilities. Yet as Dale had grown from a boy to a man, he had seen Jack's shortcomings as a father more and more clearly. Dale was usually even-tempered but now, returning Jack's implacable gaze, he found his temper rising. He recalled the desolation he had seen in his friend's eyes the night before. Brick had not said so in as many words, but Dale knew he had finally accepted that he would never have the approval he so desperately wanted from his father. It was tearing him apart.

"What do you think, Jack?" Dale said. "You've treated Brick like nothing more than a hired hand the past few months and now you come out and tell him you don't trust him. How do you think that made him feel?"

"I didn't say I don't trust him."

"Really?" Dale caught Leigh's startled expression as his voice rose in volume. "You're telling me that you didn't accuse him of taking those kids up to the Cauldron yesterday? Just how stupid do you think he is?"

Jack was visibly startled by Dale's uncharacteristic outburst, but rallied quickly to his own defense.

"He takes too many risks, Dale, you know that. Maybe I jumped to the wrong conclusion this time..."

"Damn right you jumped to the wrong conclusion!" Dale cried heatedly. "Don't you know your son at all? Sure, Brick takes risks - but not with other people's lives, Jack! And never at the Cauldron, after what happened there!"

Jack was silent.

"Do you know what really happened out there yesterday?" Dale went on, unable to leave it at that.

"Dale!" Leigh's tone was urgent as she put a restraining hand on his arm, shaking her head. "I don't think..."

Jack glared at her. "Let him speak, Leigh. It's about time someone told me what went on up there."

Leigh bit her lip, and raised her hand in a gesture of defeat. "I guess Brick told you the whole story?"

Dale nodded. "This is how it went down. Brick told Grant the Cauldron's out of bounds, that he couldn't take them there, but you know what reckless kids are like, right? So before breakfast they slip off and drive out there. Brick finds out, takes off after them. Gets there just in time to see Grant dive off the high rock."

He paused to see Jack's reaction, but the older man's face could have been carved of granite, for all the expression it held. He went on, "Brick goes in after him, saves the guy's life and, reading between the lines, sounds like it was touch and go."

"He got hurt on the rocks; bruised his back pretty badly," Leigh said slowly.

Jack glared accusingly at Leigh, who raised her hands. "He didn't tell me the full story, Jack. I found out this morning that he was hurt, but he made me promise not to tell you."

"You didn't give him much chance to tell you before, did you, before you laid into him?" Dale went on. "You're a real piece of work, Jack. You know how he feels about the Cauldron, even now, after twelve years! Did you know that he and I have tried going back there a few times since, and every time he gets close, he has a panic attack? He hasn't set foot on the shore of that lake since he was thirteen. And yesterday he not only made it there, he had to re-live the whole nightmare. But he did it, because that's the kind of man he is. Your son's a goddamn hero, and you treat him like dirt!"

"That's enough!" Jack growled, half-rising from his chair.

But Dale was just warming up. "Do you know why he went to the Cauldron that first time? Because of you, that's why. Because the day before you hadn't bothered to attend his biggest football game of the year. That game meant a lot to him, Jack. He pretended he didn't care, but I know how much it hurt him that you didn't go. And then he got mad, and he doesn't think straight when he's mad."

"So it was all my fault?" Jack shouted, on his feet now, hands clenched at his sides.

"If the boot fits!" Dale shot back, leaping up from his own chair to stand eyeball to eyeball with the older man. "All he's ever wanted is for you to love him, to be proud of him! Is that so much to ask?"

"You think I don't love my son?" Jack roared.

"You sure as hell don't act as if you do!"

Jack flinched as if Dale had struck him and the air between the two men hung thick with tension as they faced each other down. Then, in an instant, the anger seemed to drain from Jack. He visibly paled and sat back down in his chair heavily. He rested his head in his hands for a few moments and when he spoke, it was almost a whisper.

"When I found that map with the Cauldron marked, I didn't stop to think. All I knew was, my son was going back to a place where I nearly lost him before. I remembered the moment they called and told me, just like it was yesterday..." He glanced up at Dale. "He's been having the nightmare again, did you know?"

Dale nodded mutely, caught off guard at this sudden vulnerability. "I've heard him crying out in his sleep," Jack went on, "just like before. I wanted to talk to him, to help him, but I didn't know what to say."

Dale sank back into his chair, his anger dissipating in the face of Jack's sudden change of mood. He was also slightly embarrassed at his own unexpected display of emotion. Talking about his feelings was not something that came naturally to him. Anger had loosened his tongue and once he had started to speak, it had been difficult to stop as he finally voiced some home truths he had never before felt it was his place to share.

Jack ran his hands through his hair. "I'm afraid of losing him," he said in a low voice. "I couldn't stop Guy's death; I'm not going to let Brick go the same way."

Dale exchanged a startled glance with Leigh, then she stood up and went over to Jack, sitting down beside him and laying a hand on his arm.

"Guy's death was an accident, Jack," she said gently. You can't blame yourself for that."

"I just keep thinking that if I'd been there, maybe ..."

"It was a freak accident. You couldn't have done anything even if you had been there."

Jack nodded in acknowledgment of the truth he obviously knew in his head but seemed unable to accept in his heart. He was silent for long moments, then he looked up again and his voice was uncharacteristically hesitant.

"I've been having a nightmare. The same one, over and over. I keep seeing Brick lying at the bottom of a ravine, his body all broken... Every time, I try harder to reach him, but it's always too late. He's... he's..."

"Jack," Leigh began, but he shook his head, cutting her off. "I can't lose him. I know it's irrational, it's just a dream, but every time he walks out that door my heart's in my mouth until he comes back."

Dale had been surprised when Jack had begun to talk about his feelings - that just wasn't the Jack McKenna way. It occurred to Dale that the older man must be very close to the edge to have been driven to bare his soul in this way. Now, he was stunned at this further revelation. It was so uncharacteristic of the practical, rational Jack McKenna to be fazed by a nightmare. Yet the emotion in his voice affected Dale the most; far from being indifferent to his son, as Dale had thought, the problem was that Jack loved him too much. Taken in context of Jack's admission, his behavior over the past few months began to make sense.

"You've been taking your fear out on Brick," Dale said slowly, as he began to put together what Jack was really saying. "Do you think that's fair?"

Leigh was visibly shaken as she added, "You can't keep him safe every minute; you can't stop him living his life."

Jack looked down at the table. "Maybe it really is best for him if he leaves."

"Why? Do you think he'd be safer somewhere else?" Leigh asked. "Or do you think if you drive him away, you'll start loving him less?"

She nodded as the stricken look in Jack's eyes gave her an answer. "It won't work, Jack," she said simply.

Dale regarded Jack solemnly. "You need to work this out and you need to do it quickly, because if you don't you're going to lose him for good this time. Is that what you want?"

Jack shook his head slowly but before he could speak, the phone began to ring. All three ignored it, but the moment was broken and when the insistent ringing persisted, Jack stood up and picked it up.


Dale listened absently to Jack's side of the conversation, his mind whirling with Jack's revelations.

"This is Jack McKenna- no, Brick isn't here. He's out riding. You'll have to call back later."

Silence from Jack's end for a while, then, "What are you trying to tell me, son?" Jack prompted impatiently.

More silence, then Jack exclaimed, "She did WHAT!"

Dale looked up. Jack's face had hardened and his grip on the phone tightened. Dale exchanged a glance with Leigh and listened more closely.

"Why would she do something so damned stupid and dangerous?" Jack snapped.

Jack listened some more, then said urgently, "Grant, wait..."

A moment later, he put the phone down. "He cut me off," he said angrily.

"What was all that about?" Leigh asked.

Dale caught Jack's eye and saw fear reflected there.

"That was Grant Levine," Jack said. "He told me his girlfriend Lori decided to play a trick on Brick this morning; while the others were loading up the car, she snuck into the stable, found Brick's horse already saddled and used Grant's penknife to cut part way through his cinch."

Leigh paled, clamping a hand to her mouth.

"Why would she do something like that?" Dale was bemused.

"Grant said she thought he'd just fall off on his butt and have to walk home."

Dale voiced all their fears. "If that cinch breaks while he's on the steep part of the trail..."

"I know," Jack interrupted, his face grim. "Dale, saddle up. We're going after him."

Chapter Twenty-one

In the Neverland of half-consciousness, Brick was consumed by a fiercely burning fire. He tried to move, to open his eyes, but found himself paralyzed. He fought back a wave of terror, knowing that something was terribly wrong but helpless to fight the flames that closed in to consume him.

Gradually, as full awareness returned, the fire transformed into a more recognizable form - pain. Hot, brutal and all-consuming pain. For a moment, it was everything and then one by one his senses began to kick in. He could feel something cold and hard beneath his back and smell the musty aroma of damp earth. A distant roaring competed with the insistent hammering of the drill in his head. The metallic taste in his mouth he identified as blood.

Fighting back the rising panic, he forced himself to stay calm and lay completely still. It was hard to think beyond the pain and his thoughts were fuzzy. Images chased each other through his mind - a boy in the water, screaming for help; Jack's face, contorted in rage; a younger man, blond and tanned, offering his hand. The thoughts were jumbled and fragmented and he was unable to put any of them together to form anything that made any sense. Even trying increased the beating in his head to an unbearable level and the pain was joined by a feeling of nausea that began deep down in his gut.

He waited until the nausea abated a little, then opened his eyes a slit. Wherever he was, it was dim - no bright sunlight assailed him, so he opened them fully. He was lying on his back on the rocky shore of a river. The roaring sound must be the water flowing quickly past. Above him, he could make out the steep slope of the cliffside. Frightening memories assailed him: rolling, faster and faster, feet frantically grasping for a foothold, hands torn by thorny branches as he tried to get a grip on something solid; a stabbing pain in his chest and arm, and then nothing.

He turned his head too quickly and immediately regretted it as the pounding re-doubled its efforts and his vision blurred. The nausea welled up again and this time he couldn't hold back the bile that flooded his throat. Instinctively he rolled onto his side as his stomach began to heave and almost passed out again as white-hot pain shot through his chest at the movement.

He could do nothing but ride out the pain as his body reflexively expelled the contents of his stomach and when the sickness finally ended, he was left shaking and faint and welcomed the soft cover of darkness when it closed in on him again.

Chapter Twenty-two

They came across Brick's horse grazing peacefully in a lush meadow just beyond the turning for the gorge trail.

Jack dismounted and slowly approached the animal, mindful of the possibility that something might have spooked it. However, the horse allowed him to take its bridle, nickering softly and nudging him affectionately as he rubbed its nose. The horse seemed unharmed and all that was out of place was the one thing Jack had dreaded the most.

The horse was missing its saddle.

Since leaving the ranch Jack had ruthlessly suppressed the terrifying scenarios that kept running through his mind, threatening to paralyze him with fear. Now, he found it impossible to keep them at bay as ice-cold dread flooded his heart. He closed his eyes and buried his face in the horse's mane as he fought to keep control. This was not the time to give way to emotion. It was a time for action.

He heard steps come up behind him and took a deep breath, turning to face Dale. The tightness in his throat precluded speech, but his expression must have reflected his thoughts, for the deputy said quickly, "This doesn't prove he's hurt, Jack. He'll be on foot further up the trail, cursing that saddle into tomorrow."

Jack swallowed with difficulty and nodded, but Dale's inability to meet his eyes was a sure sign that the young man had no faith in his own words. Silently, Jack took the horse's bridle and led it to the nearest tree, tethering it securely to one of the low-lying branches. He glanced up at the sky. Over the past hour the weather had begun to deteriorate, the wind picking up and the sun obscured by gathering storm clouds. The forecast had not predicted a storm today, but at this time of year the weather was volatile and could change rapidly. Jack chose not to voice his concern; Dale knew as well as he did that this was not good news.

He swung back up onto his own horse.

"Find that saddle," he said gruffly, "and we find Brick."


It was cold and getting colder. The wind had picked up and there was the suggestion of rain in the air. Brick felt a vague sense of surprise; perhaps he had been expecting the weather to stay fine. He had no idea if this was true, as he had no recollection of what had happened to him or where he was.

He was unsure how long he had been conscious again, nor how long he had been lying here on the cold, damp earth, trapped in a world of pain and confusion. Several times he had tried to search his memory for a clue to whatever accident had landed him here, but each time the cacophony of competing images that assailed him almost shattered his fragile hold on reality and his mind shied away from them.

He was sure of only one thing; he was hurting, and hurting badly. There was a sharp, relentless pain in his left forearm. Both hands were throbbing, his back ached and each breath shot tiny daggers of agony through his chest. A nausea-inducing thumping in his head seemed to originate just above his right temple and something warm and thick coated one side of his face.

One part of his mind was urging him to give in to the pain and exhaustion, whispering that if he just lay here for a little while longer he would float away into the comfort of the constantly beckoning darkness.

Another part kept nagging at him, telling him he had to fight to survive. He had no idea whether anyone knew he was missing; he was on his own and he could lie here and wait for the end, or he could help himself. He was a McKenna after all, and no McKenna would lie here waiting to die.

Brick lay still for long moments, building the courage to move and face the resulting pain, then gritted his teeth, and rolled onto his right side. He let out a strangled gasp as agony exploded in his side and arm, but determinedly fought his way onto his knees.

The world swayed crazily and he closed his eye quickly, but stars still danced against the inside of his eyelids and he knew he was on the edge of passing out. He concentrated on breathing, slow breaths, in and out, until the pain receded to a slightly more manageable level. With his right hand, he grasped his left arm just above the elbow, holding his forearm tight in to his body. Then, before he had time to think about it, he scrambled to his feet.

This time, the gut-wrenching agony almost overwhelmed him. He took a faltering step forwards, then a wave of dizziness overcame him and he felt himself falling as the pain threatened to sent him back into darkness.

Chapter Twenty-three

Jack and Dale rode on, following the gorge trail as it began to climb to higher ground. The weather was worse and rain was now coming down steadily.

At a point where the track narrowed to climb steeply around an outcrop of rock, Dale, in the lead, reined his horse to a halt.

"There, in that clump of ferns!"

Jack nodded grimly, following Dale's finger as he pointed to a clump of dense foliage on the edge of the cliff. A saddle was wedged between the greenery and a low-lying branch of a tree.

Both men dismounted swiftly and tethered their horses. Jack bent down to examine the saddle. It was one of theirs all right; the McKenna brand was stamped clearly on the underside. Dale pointed silently to a section of the bank where the grass was flattened. No words were needed; it was clear what had happened here.

Jack stepped up to the cliff edge and hesitated. Memories of the day Guy had died filled his mind. Strangely, some things were clearer than others. He had only vague recollections of his desperate climb down to the ledge where Guy had landed after the fall. Yet he remembered clearly how that the sky was a blinding, deep blue, unmarred by a single cloud. He could still smell the scent of wild thyme, thick on the still summer air. Most of all, the moment he had reached his son was burnt into his memory as a scar that had never faded. Guy was lying on his back, his eyes closed. Despite the crimson stain that was slowly spreading and soaking into the earth beneath his head, he looked so peaceful that for a moment Jack had the crazy thought that he was simply asleep. But he wasn't asleep. He was already dead.

Jack shook his head to dispel the unwelcome memories and steeled himself to look over the edge, trying to ignore the terror that filled his heart. He knew he lacked the strength to lose his only remaining son to a senseless, random accident. Leigh was right. He had done his utmost to drive Brick away, but nothing would ever stop him loving him.

He remembered Dale's words. "Just how stupid do you think he is...? Your son's a goddamn hero, and you treat him like dirt!"

The deputy's words had hit hard. Jack had felt his defenses began to fall and he knew that he had to put things right with Brick. Now, he was trying to face the possibility that it was already too late.


Dale's tentative query broke into his thoughts and he recognized the compassion in the young deputy's tone. It was enough to help him to face what had to be done. He squared his jaw and peered cautiously over the edge.

What he saw left him frozen in shock. Far below, Brick lay unmoving at the foot of the cliff and abruptly Jack was plunged back into his nightmare.

He reached the base of the cliff and half-ran, half-stumbled the few remaining feet to where Brick lay, falling to his knees beside his son's broken body. Brick lay on his back, legs and arms splayed grotesquely at odd angles, like a puppet with the strings cut. His head was turned away, the visible part of his face covered with blood. Jack reached out a shaking hand to touch his neck, feeling for a pulse. His skin was cold and... No! Gently Jack turned Brick's head towards him and found himself staring into his son's dimmed and lifeless eyes.


"Jack! JACK!"

Dale's shout snapped Jack back to reality. He staggered, overcome by a wave of dizziness. What the... there was a warm touch on his arm, words he had to strain to make out.

"Jack! What's the matter with you? Brick needs us down there."

"It's too late." His voice sounded strange and distorted.

"What are you talking about? Jack, we can't tell how badly he's hurt from up here. We have to go down."

Up here? Jack reached out to steady himself on the trunk of a tree, his surroundings slowly coming into focus. He was still at the top of the cliff, Dale hovering anxiously beside him, a steadying hand on his arm.

"We have to go down."

Jack's mouth was dry as he shook his head vehemently. "I can't, Dale. I've been here so many times in my dreams - I can't go down there and look into his eyes... not again... I can't do it again..."

Dale shifted his grip, placing his hands on Jack's shoulders. He spoke slowly and clearly, as if to a child. "Jack, you have to get a grip. Your son is down there, he's hurt, and he needs you. This is real; it's not your nightmare. I need you to get the climbing gear out while I call it in and get search and rescue out here. We need to act fast; that storm's getting worse. Do you understand?"

Jack swallowed. "What if he's..."

"He isn't," Dale said firmly. "Now move it, Jack. MOVE!"

Finally, the words penetrated the fog that had taken hold of his mind. His surroundings came back into focus and he was suddenly free of the paralysis that had seized him. If there was even a remote chance that Brick was still alive, he had to get down there and help him. If he were dead - then Jack would face that demon head on, as he had faced every other challenge in his life.

He ran back to his horse, pulling off the pack with the climbing gear. He could hear Dale speaking rapidly into the radio as he rapidly secured a rope to the trunk of a tree as close to the edge of the cliff as he could. He pulled the backpack with the first aid kit onto his back.

Dale joined him. "The chopper's on its way to pick up an injured climber. They reckon they can get here in a couple of hours. I didn't call Leigh - thought it best to wait until we know..."

Jack nodded. "Let's do it."

Chapter Twenty-four

Brick lay where he had fallen, overwhelmed by the all-encompassing pain and fighting to stay conscious, if only because the thought of waking up and having to come to terms with his plight once again was unimaginable.

Well, he had failed in his attempt to save himself, which was not surprising, really, because there was a problem with his reasoning. He might have been born into the family, but it was becoming obvious that he was the wrong kind of McKenna. Jack made him conscious of that every day. Shape up! Act your age! Don't disgrace the family name! Jack. If Jack were here, he'd be kicking Brick's butt and telling him to pull himself together. Brick had no idea what ill-advised adventure had landed him in this mess, but it was undoubtedly his own fault, as all his misadventures were - in Jack's eyes at least.

With luck, Guy would find him before Jack did. Guy was less likely to chew him out. Then again, his brother had been pretty mad with him after the tragedy at The Witch's Cauldron. Brick shuddered, partly from the cold, partly from the memory of that terrible day, still so vivid in his mind. Even Guy, who usually defended him to his father, had chewed him out about that one.

Brick was unable to stop shivering as the now steady rainfall soaked through his shirt and jeans, chilling him to the bone. The earth around him was turning to mud and he tried to shift a little into the shelter of a nearby overhanging rock. The pain that shot through his chest stopped his movement instantly and his involuntary cry echoed mockingly around him.

A dark despair began to settle over him. Earlier he had angrily blinked back the tears that threatened to fall, unwilling to give in to self-pity. Now, he had run out of defenses and the tears fell unchecked, mixing with the raindrops as they ran down his face. Maybe it would be best if they never found him. It would be easier for Jack; he could stop worrying about the maverick son who kept sullying the family name.

Then again, was it right to put Jack through the agony of losing another son? Losing another son? Where had that come from? Guy was... a flash of memory; a coffin, Cassie and Leigh beside him as an emotional Jack spoke the eulogy. Oh, God. Guy was dead! His brother was dead and he had never had chance to say he was sorry, to tell Guy how much he loved him, to thank him for being his friend and protector for all those years.

He heard a sound and strained his eyes in the direction it had come from, shock registering as he recognized Guy's distinctive form appear through the driving rain. It couldn't be - he'd just remembered that Guy was dead! Was he going mad? It hardly mattered; Guy was here and he found himself pouring out his feelings, his sorrow and his regrets, and all the while Guy stood there smiling that lopsided, affectionate smile. Brick reached out and all at once his brother faltered, falling first to his knees and then onto his side and suddenly Brick was staring into his sightless eyes. No! Guy was dead. It must have been his fault; everything was his fault. Maybe if he hadn't been so angry with Jack for not coming to that stupid football game, he wouldn't have defied him by going to the Cauldron that day. Maybe then, Guy would still be alive. In his confusion, he couldn't put it all together. All he knew was that his brother was dead and he found himself screaming Guy's name, over and over, but his brother just lay there, unmoving.

Then he heard a different voice calling his own name and another form appeared, the wind buffeting its jacket and the rain plastering gray hair to its head. It sank to its knees beside him, and he turned his head and looked up. It was Jack.

A feeling of relief washed over Brick. Jack was here; he would know how to help Guy.

"Guy," he whispered. "Help Guy..."

"Son, it's all right. I'm here now," Jack said.

"No!" Why didn't Jack understand? "Guy... he's... help him. It's my fault, but I just... I just wanted to make you proud, that's all. I shouldn't have gone to the Cauldron; I was angry. I'm sorry, I..."

"Brick!" Jack put out a hand, cupping his face with a hand that felt solid and real. "Nothing was your fault. I am proud of you son, I always have been and I'm here for you now, so you hold on for me. You just hold on."

And suddenly where Guy had been lying there was nothing more than an old, battered log and Brick panicked, waiting for Jack to disappear too. Instead, his father came into sharp focus and Brick lifted a shaking hand to check that he was real. The hand was grasped tightly in a warm and solid grip. Brick saw the tears glistening in his father's eyes and the anguish and fear in his expression and realized with a sense of wonder and elation that these emotions were not for Guy, they were for him. Jack was crying - for him.

"Dad," he whispered.

"I'm here, son."

As darkness beckoned once more, he allowed his eyes to drift shut, knowing that everything was going to be all right, because Jack was here.

Chapter Twenty-five

Jack straightened from his hunched position, stretched his aching back and scrubbed a hand wearily across gritty eyes.

He had been sitting in this torture device masquerading as an easy chair for hours. The chair stood close to the bed where his son lay, so unnaturally still and quiet, face pale as the crisp hospital sheets.

The discomfort was his own fault. He was the one who had ignored the advice of the hospital staff and insisted on staying at his son's bedside. He desperately needed coffee; he was in danger of nodding off and a caffeine shot to his system would help him stay alert, but he was afraid to leave the room in case Brick came around while he was gone.

He told himself that he was here for his son's sake, so that Brick would not have to wake up to an empty room, but he knew that was just an excuse. The real reason was his irrational but very real fear that if he took his eyes off Brick for even a moment, his son would stop breathing and be lost to him forever.

Irrational seemed to be his watchword lately. From what he now accepted to be his absurd reaction to his nightmares to the even more atypical emotional outburst in front of Dale and Leigh, he was beginning to wonder what had happened to the usually pragmatic Jack McKenna. Yet in his heart, he already knew.

The reason for this recent emotional rollercoaster had come back into his life ten months before and turned it upside down. As he looked down at his son, tightening his grip on the limp hand held in his, he knew that all mattered at this moment was that Brick woke up and spoke his name.

But Brick lay there, eyes closed and deathly still, and Jack mused that it would be almost peaceful in the room if not for the memory of the nightmarish events at the gorge that kept playing through his mind like a video tape on a loop.

Jack knew that Brick was alive even before he reached the bottom of the cliff because Brick was screaming Guy's name repeatedly, his voice muffled but recognizable even over the hammering of the driving rain. Jack was assailed again by the memory of the moment he reached Guy, knowing that he was too late but unable to accept the fact. He hesitated, but only for a moment. The sound of Brick's voice was assurance that he was alive, but it was the note of desperation and anguish in that cry that broke Jack's heart and he sprinted the final few yards, fighting the gusting wind, and dropped to his knees beside his son.

Brick turned his head and for one terrifying moment, Jack was thrown back into his nightmare. There was a deep cut, still seeping a little blood, over Brick's right temple just under the hairline. Blood from the wound matted thickly in his hair and covered one side of his face, just as it had in the dream. But there the similarity ended, for this was real and Brick was clearly alive. He was muttering something about Guy and Jack had no time to think what that meant, because Brick said, the pain in his tone palpable, "I just wanted to make you proud."

Jack leaned in close, cupping the bloody face in his hand, holding Brick's eyes and telling him honestly that he was proud of him, that he always had been. He was unsure at first if his words had got through, then Brick lifted a bloody hand and Jack took it, gripping tightly despite the scrapes and cuts still oozing blood. The frightened, lost expression faded from his son's eyes and was replaced with one of relief and trust that Jack knew he would never forget. And then Brick whispered, "Dad," and Jack's heart tore in two because Brick hadn't called him Dad since he was eight years old. A moment later his eyes drifted shut and he slipped into unconsciousness.

In his younger days, Jack had been a volunteer in the Bend area search and rescue team and during those years dealt with his fair share of accidents. He always prided himself on his common sense and practical approach - Jack McKenna never panicked. Yet never before had the injured person been his own son. Never before had he knelt beside a bleeding and broken body with a surge of emotion that threatened to paralyze him.

He glanced up as Dale appeared out of the sheeting rain, squatting down beside him, and watched the blood drain from the younger man's face as he looked down at his friend.

"It looks bad, Jack." Dale's voice was shaking and somehow, hearing the near panic in his voice brought Jack out of his stupor. Only minutes ago, it had been Dale taking control of the situation. Now, it was Jack's turn.

"Most of the blood is from that head laceration," he said crisply. "You know how much scalp wounds can bleed. Go get the first aid kit. I'll check him over, see if there are any other injuries, then we need to get him wrapped up. He's too cold - we have to move fast, before he gets hypothermic."

Dale swallowed. "Jack..."

Jack grasped the deputy's arm firmly, in much the same way as Dale had grasped his earlier. "We need to tend to these injuries - there isn't time to wait for search and rescue to get here. I need you to help me, Dale."

Dale nodded. To his credit, he tightened his jaw, squared his shoulders, and reached for the backpack containing the first aid kit.

Jack tried to pretend that this was a total stranger, anyone other than his own son, as he began to assess the injuries. The head wound he had already observed. Brick's left forearm was lying at an unnatural angle, ivory-hued bone jutting through a tear in the thick cotton shirt; an open fracture. Both hands were covered in blood and dirt and bloody scratches and cuts gleamed bright against pale skin through numerous tears in his clothing. When Jack ran his hands gently down his son's body, looking for less obvious injuries, he found several broken ribs. He bit his lip, frowning. There was little he could do about the ribs but pray that one of them hadn't pierced a lung. He had noticed that Brick's breathing was a little labored, but despite his fears, his training told him that was most likely due to the pain of the cracked ribs. There was no evidence that Brick had been coughing blood, which would have been a sign of a more serious injury.

Between them, he and Dale quickly cleaned and dressed the worst of the wounds, splinted the fracture and then wrapped Brick as tightly as possible in a thermal blanket.

Dale was cleaning off the last of the blood from Brick's face when the injured man groaned and opened his eyes.


"Right here, son."

Brick squinted up at them and Jack was alarmed to note that his gaze was unfocused.


"Here, buddy." Dale wiped the last of the blood from the corner of an eye. "There you go; now you look a little less like an extra in a horror movie."

The corner of Brick's mouth turned up in an approximation of a grin.

"When... when you gonna start on yourself?"

The joke was feeble but it was evidence that Brick was still with them and it obviously cheered Dale.

Jack laid a hand against one too-pale cheek. "How are you feeling, son?" he asked softly.

There was a long pause, then Brick whispered, "Hurts." His eyes drifted shut again.

"Brick!" With a serious head injury there was always the danger of coma and Jack knew he had to stop Brick slipping into unconsciousness again. Urgently, he cupped a hand around one square jaw, squeezing hard enough to make blue eyes open again. You have to stay with me, son."

Brick murmured something unintelligible in reply.

"Brick! You can't go to sleep, not just yet."

"You... you giving me orders again?"

Jack smiled. "You better believe it."

"Too tired."

"I know, son. Just try, for me, okay?"

"'Kay. I... I... Oh, shit, Jack!" Brick's hand tightened painfully around Jack's, his face screwed up as he rode out a spasm of pain.

"I'm here, son. I'm not going to leave you."

It was over an hour before search and rescue arrived; one of the longest hours of Jack's life. Brick was fading in and out, sometimes aware of his surroundings, sometimes seemingly lost in the past. It worried Jack that most of what he was saying made no sense; mostly disjointed muttering about the Witch's Cauldron and Guy.

Jack had never felt more helpless. He vaguely remembered hearing Dale call Leigh on the radio and the deputy's attempts to reassure her. He had also kept in touch with the sheriff's office, tracking the progress of the rescue 'copter, and they both knew it was in a race against time - before too long it would be too windy for a rescue mission to be carried out. He knew that Brick could die if he was left out here much longer without medical attention.

When they finally heard a familiar whirring sound they watched tensely until it took up a position hovering above the gorge before successfully lowering two paramedics to the ground about fifty feet away.

Jack remembered little about the next few minutes. He reluctantly followed the paramedics' instructions to stand back as they went through their procedures; checking vital signs, placing an oxygen mask over Brick's mouth and nose and applying a neck collar. Eventually, they log rolled him onto a backboard, strapped him in securely, and lifted him safely into the helicopter.

Dale took the horses back to the ranch while Jack rode with Brick and the rest of the day turned into endless hours of waiting.

He knew one thing for sure. He owed a lot of people an apology. While Brick's injuries were assessed and scans and x-rays taken, Jack was confined to a characterless hospital waiting room with plastic chairs too small to comfortably accommodate his large frame. He behaved like a bear with a burr in its paw, growling at anyone who tried to speak to him. Worst of all, he totally lost his temper with a hapless nurse who at one point had been gracious enough to inform him that there was 'no news yet'.

The waiting became a little easier to bear when Leigh and Cass arrived, followed shortly by Dale. Yet when a doctor finally appeared and outlined Brick's injuries, ending with an assurance that his son had been 'very lucky', Jack exploded again. His personal definition of 'lucky' did not include a serious concussion, complicated compound fracture of both ulna and radius, four broken ribs and a multitude of cuts and contusions.

Now, away from the heat of the moment, he was ashamed of his outburst, for the doctor was right. After a fall like that, Brick was lucky to be alive and it was certainly true that his injuries could have been much more serious. Jack would not soon forget kneeling at his son's side in the driving rain, listening to his labored breathing, wondering if a broken rib had punctured a lung and he was slowly suffocating. He would never forget the sound of Brick's confused rambling, biting back the fear that he would fall unconscious and never wake up.

They decided to operate immediately on the open fracture and that heralded in several hours more of drinking unspeakably bad hospital coffee and pacing in the waiting room. Jack had eventually sent the rest of the family home. Leigh had protested, but was torn between her desire to stay and the need to check on the children. Bill was looking after them, but Leigh knew they would be awake and waiting for her. Cass had at first stubbornly refused to leave, but eventually Dale had persuaded her that it was for the best. Now, Jack was alone with his son, waiting for him to wake up.

They had informed him that the CAT scan was clear and that the close monitoring of the head injury for twenty-four hours was just routine, but no one would give him a hundred per cent guarantee that there would be no complications. Jack knew he was being irrational, but despite all the assurances that his son was going to be just fine, he knew he would not believe it until Brick opened his eyes and spoke to him.

There was nothing to do in this quiet room but hold his son's hand, listen to the reassuring sound of his quiet breathing and watch the consistent blinking of the monitors. Jack looked down at Brick, a lump forming in his throat. He looked so small and vulnerable lying there, swallowed up by the crisp white sheets pulled up to his chin. Brick had always been lean - as a child he had been a skinny little thing, who made up for his lack of height and stature with speed and agility. Funny, but Jack had never thought of him as small, although he was several inches shorter and much less burly than his brother. Maybe, Jack thought, it was because Brick had never stood still long enough for him to notice; he was always on the move with an eye out for the next adventure.

Jack would never deny that his relationship with Brick had always been challenging. With Guy, it was different; he and Jack saw eye to eye on almost everything. Jack had never understood his second son. Brick seemed to have a different way of approaching life, he always had a contrary opinion on everything; the wrong opinion, in Jack's opinion. Jack and Guy had been in harmony in their view of the way the business should be run and had no time for Brick's less conservative ideas.

Jack remembered a long-ago time when Brick had been his shadow, following him everywhere and hanging on his every word. Then something changed and he watched his son withdraw and deliberately choose a path that distanced him from his father.

He had chosen to believe that his son simply had a rebellious nature. Now, he was finally realizing that he had been wrong about Brick all these years. Dale's words came back to him, as they had done repeatedly over the past twenty-four hours. "All he's ever wanted is for you to love him, to be proud of him. Is that so much to ask?"

It should not have been too much to ask, but Jack had been so blind, so sure that he had his son pegged right, that he had not looked any further for the truth. Now, as he looked back on the past twenty years with new eyes, he found himself wanting.

If he was honest, Dale's words were not the first warning sign in recent months. He remembered the day Brick had brought the runaway Cassidy home - the first time he had seen his son in two years. They had a disagreement and Brick showed him in no uncertain terms how he felt about Jack favoring Guy, angrily pointing to the photographs on the shelf in the study, fluently reeling off the subject of each one.

Jack had ignored his outburst, but later he looked them over and realized that Brick was right. There was not one single photograph of him alone or with Jack. All the pictures were of the family, or of Guy or Guy and Jack. With a sudden spasm of regret and empathy, he imagined Brick coming back to those photos time after time, to wonder in hurt confusion what he had to do to earn his place on that shelf.

It seemed that Jack was the only one who had failed to understand the burden he had put on his second son - the burden of not being enough like Guy. Shame washed over him. All these years Brick had been wrestling with an impossible dilemma, knowing that Jack wanted him to be more like his brother and knowing too that he could never achieve the impossible, because he wasn't Guy and never would be.

Jack reached out a hand, pushing back that stubborn lock of hair that always fell over Brick's face. Even though there was no one to see his action, he was slightly embarrassed by the gesture. Nevertheless, he needed that physical contact. He had never been a praying man, but he prayed now that God would give his son back and vowed that things were going to be different. He would take the time he never had before to get to know the real Brick McKenna.

Jack had never been able to talk to Brick easily; it was one of the perennial problems between them. Now, though, he knew what he wanted to say. He leaned forward and began to talk quietly, the words coming easily as he told his sleeping son everything he should have shared with him years ago.

Finally, the words ran out and his voice dried up. Brick opened his eyes and said clearly, "Hey, Dad," and the pieces of Jack's world began to fall back into place.

Chapter Twenty-six

Brick watched the sun fade slowly in the western sky, vibrant crimson and gold dimming to pink and cream as day reluctantly gave way before the inexorable approach of night.

It felt like a hundred years since he had sat in this familiar place on the old log bench beside the pond, watching the display that never failed to awe him with its dramatic beauty. In fact, it had been little more than a week since his discharge from the hospital.

Most of that week had passed in a haze of pain and confusion. He was too groggy from painkillers and other medication to be more than vaguely aware of what was going on around him and, anyway, he slept for much of the time, his battered body demanding time to rest and heal. Today, for the first time, he was feeling a little better. The blinding headache that had been his constant companion for the past eight days had lessened to a dull throb and the agony that sliced through his chest every time he moved had abated enough to allow him to move around carefully. His arm still ached continually, but with a little less intensity than before.

He had no memory at all of the accident that had left him close to death at Carson's Gorge. He vaguely recalled the Levine party leaving the ranch and his conversation with the unexpectedly contrite Grant. The next few hours were a total and frustrating blank.

After that, he remembered mostly sensations - cold, damp earth beneath his back, the relentless pain, the smell of blood and the sound of roaring water. There were images, hazy snapshots laced with pain and desperation like a jigsaw with pieces missing. Strangest of all was a clear memory of his brother, standing beside him, smiling. He remembered talking to Guy and pouring out his feelings about the rift between them. Rationally, he knew that his brother was simply a hallucination, probably brought on by the head injury. Nevertheless, he felt as if he had made his peace, the guilt over his brother's death gone.

The most concrete memory was of his father kneeling beside him, face a mask of anguish and fear, tears mixed with raindrops running down his face. Since then, Brick had re-lived again and again that moment when he had realized with a sense of wonder that Jack's fear was for him, that his father really did love him after all. He wasn't sure how he could be so certain, but he knew that this wasn't a vision; Jack had been real.

The three days spent in the hospital were little more than a hazy memory in which real time had no place. He remembered Leigh, her face wet with tears, and Cass sitting beside him, holding tightly onto his hand. He was sure Dale had been there too, cracking jokes that belied the worry in his expression. Then there was Jack. Once again, his clearest memory of that time was Jack. He could not be sure how much time his father had spent at his bedside. He did recall feeling that it was safe to go to sleep because every time he woke up, Jack was there. Most of all, he remembered Jack's voice, a quiet monotone, taking about the past, about Guy; telling him things he had thought he would never hear.

Since the accident, something indefinable had changed in his relationship with his father. From the moment he had looked into Jack's eyes and seen the fear of loss in their depths, he had let go of the past. A year ago, Leigh accused him of digging his heels in, of persisting in mourning a relationship that could never be and refusing to try to find a different way. Now, for the first time, he found he was ready to try. Jack had loved Guy the most; that was fact and nothing would ever change it. He could spend the rest of his life resenting that, or he could accept it and move on. He would never have the same relationship with his father that Guy had enjoyed. He and Jack needed to find another way; a way that did not include the specter of a brother in whose shadow he had spent most of his life.

When he was discharged from the hospital, Jack came to pick him up and drove him out to the ranch. Nothing was said about his decision to leave, and nothing had been said since. Brick knew he had not been up to dealing with that kind of discussion; his head had been too fuzzy, his thinking unclear. Now he was beginning to feel the burden of the issues that hung in the air between them and needed to be dealt with once and for all.

Brick carefully shifted his position on the bench, easing his back and wishing he had heeded Leigh's suggestion to take a cushion out with him. Despite his protestations that she was fussing too much, he would have been glad of the soft padding against his sore back.

He saw Leigh leave the house and start down the path towards him. Well, he had been sitting in this spot for over half an hour; it was surprising that it had taken this long before one of the family had been dispatched to check he was okay. Not that he didn't appreciate and understand their concern. To be honest, he had quite enjoyed having Leigh and Cassie waiting on him hand and foot, although he felt slightly guilty for all the worry he had caused them.

Now, however, he was beginning to feel a little trapped by the constant attention. Tonight was the first time he had felt well enough to leave the house and the short walk down to the pond and the moments of solitude had done a great deal to calm his spirit.

He looked up as Leigh approached, thoughts drifting back to the last time she had found him at the pond, after the argument with Jack over the Devil's Pike climb. So much had happened since then. She stopped beside him, an eyebrow raised in question, and he smiled and patted the seat next to him. Leigh sat down and leaned back with a tired sigh.

"Kids in bed?" he asked.

"Finally. Harry wanted to stay up and watch a movie and had a tantrum when I said 'no'. He's just unsettled. They've both been upset since..." She turned to look at him. "I guess we all have."

Brick looked away, unable to find a suitable response. He hated knowing that he was responsible for the family's distress.

Leigh must have sensed his discomfort. "Hey, I didn't mean... the kids are only upset because they care about you so much. They'll be fine now they know you're on the mend. If I were you, I'd take advantage of all this good will!

"Hey, you think I like being the center of attention?" he asked in mock indignation.

Leigh laughed. "I think you love it! When else do you get your sister bringing you breakfast in bed?"

He chuckled. "Good point. In fact, I think I may have a relapse tomorrow!"

They sat together for a while in companionable silence, watching the final tendrils of pink absorbed into the indigo sky. Then Leigh turned to look at him, serious now, gray eyes searching his in the growing darkness.

"I was wondering... has the accident changed anything? Are you still planning to leave?"

He was silent for a long time, wondering how to answer her. It was an issue he knew he needed to discuss with Jack. It was no longer the simple decision it had seemed to be only a week before. "I don't know," he said eventually. "I think... I think some things have changed between me and Jack; I'm just not sure if it'll be enough."

"This has hit him really hard, Brick. You should have seen him in the hospital - like a rabid grizzly on speed!"

Brick snorted a laugh at the image. "Glad I missed that!"

"So you'll talk to him, before you make a decision?"

"I'll talk to him, Leigh, I promise. As soon as I find the right time."

She stared out over the water. "There's something I want to say to you. It may be too late; I know I haven't been fair to you these past few months..."

His heart fell. He knew she was going to tell him that there could never be anything between them, and he couldn't blame her. He had expected too much. "Leigh, you don't need to say anything..."

She put a hand on his arm, shaking her head. "Let me finish, Brick, I need to say this. I've been doing a lot of thinking, about you - about us. Not just because of the accident, though I guess that was part of it." She paused and he waited, giving her space to find the words. "I still don't know if this - whatever this is between us - is the right thing for us and for the kids, but I want you to know that I'm not afraid any more. That if you stay... maybe we can just see where it takes us."

Her words were more than he had hoped for and he felt the warmth of hope spreading through him. He reached out and touched her cheek, then fumbled for and found her hand, linking their fingers. "That's good enough for me, Leigh. And this time, whatever happens, we'll work it out together."

Chapter Twenty-seven

"Forecast's good for today. How would you like to take a drive up to Mountain View?"

Brick looked up from the scrambled eggs he was pushing half-heartedly around his plate, startled at his father's question. "Today?"

Jack swallowed a mouthful of pancake. "This morning, if you're up to it."

Brick nodded vigorously. "You bet I'm up to it."

"Good. I just need to brief Joe on this morning's tour, then we'll take off."

It was ridiculous, but Brick was ludicrously excited about the outing. This would be the first time he had left the ranch since returning from the hospital and he was pining for the open spaces. It was three days since his talk with Leigh at the pond and he had felt a little stronger every day. A week ago, he would have had trouble standing up; now he was confident he was well enough to take a simple drive into the mountains.

An hour later, they were on their way up the mountain road. Jack drove slowly, carefully avoiding the worst potholes, casting frequent concerned glances at his passenger. Brick was torn between irritation at being treated like an invalid and gratitude for Jack's concern. The road was still bumpy and despite Jack's best efforts, each jolt sent little stabs of pain through his still tender ribs, reminding him that he had a long way to go before he was fully healed.

"Joe seems to be working out okay," Brick remarked, speaking mainly to take his and Jack's attention away from his obvious discomfort. The last thing he wanted was for Jack to turn around and go back.

"He's a good man," Jack agreed. "We're lucky to have him."

Jack had called some of his friends in the outfitting business, eventually tracking down a man called Joe Shepard. Finding him was a miraculous stroke of luck. Shepard was a freelance instructor who had planned to spend the summer months in Europe, climbing with friends. When one of his friends broke a leg in an accident and the trip was called off, Shepard found himself without a job at a time when jobs were scarce.

"Did you call Walter Jevins?" Brick asked. Jevins was the prosecutor responsible for bringing charges against Lori Hamilton. The sheriff had taken her actions seriously and it was looking as if her case was heading for court.

When Jack had explained what had caused the accident, Brick's initial shock had quickly given way to anger. Yet the more he thought about it, the less he could believe that Lori was vindictive enough to want to put his life in danger. Yesterday, against Jack's advice, he had telephoned Grant Levine and the two had talked for more than an hour. Grant had explained that Lori had intended nothing more than to humiliate Brick and make him look stupid. She was genuinely upset that he had been so badly hurt and terrified at the prospect of going to jail. Brick had believed him; Grant hadn't defended her and, in fact, admitted that her actions had made him wake up and take a close look at their relationship, saying that he knew he was 'a better man without her'. Brick had to agree.

His anger had abated. There was nothing to be gained by ruining Lori's life. He had asked Jack to call Jevins, an old friend, and ask him to opt for an out of court settlement. Jack was reluctant; he was still angry and wanted to see Lori punished for what she had done, but he had agreed to make the call.

"I made the call. He's thinking about it, but I'm pretty sure he'll agree, particularly as the Hamiltons are likely to accept whatever settlement he suggests. Are you sure this is what you want?

Brick nodded. "It's for the best, Jack."

Jack snorted, but refrained from comment. It was another issue the two of them would probably never agree on, but at least Jack had respected his decision.

They continued on, the road winding steeply in switchbacks around the mountain, the views below becoming more and more breathtaking. Eventually, Jack slowed down at the point where the road was blocked by a forestry commission gate and turned into a parking area. There were one or two other vehicles already parked there; the spot was the starting point of a twenty-mile trail that afforded spectacular views of The Three Sisters.

Jack pulled two camping chairs out of the back of the truck and set them up on a flat ledge near the 'scenic viewpoint' sign. Brick sat down carefully, glancing longingly at the arrow indicating the start of the trail.

"It won't be long before you can hike again," Jack said. "You just need to be patient."

Brick shot Jack a glance, smiling wryly in acknowledgement of his father's sudden ability to read his mind. "You're right; but we both know that patience isn't one of my virtues."

Jack grunted. "Isn't one of mine, either. That's one thing we have in common."

They sat for a while, enjoying the view. Brick was happy simply to be out in the open again, feeling the sun on his face and the breeze drifting through his hair. He had always taken his health for granted - apart from the usual childhood cuts and bruises and illnesses, he had never been in a position where he was restricted from doing the simplest thing, and he was finding it a difficult and sobering experience.

"Remember the time you got lost up here on the mountain?" Jack asked suddenly. "Took us almost eight hours to find you."

Brick frowned. What had made Jack bring that up? "I remember. I was what, about ten? You told me I was too young to do the twenty mile trail, so I hid in the back of Marty Watson's truck when he came up to check the markers."

"We only knew where to look because you left your comic book in the truck."

"I was really scared. It was getting dark and I had no idea where I was." Brick remembered the incident clearly; remembered too feeling the lash of Jack's tongue when they eventually found him.

Jack turned to look at him, gray eyes holding blue. "I was really scared too, Brick. If you'd strayed too far from the trail you might have fallen down one of the old mine shafts. I know I came down hard on you - I just wanted to be sure you wouldn't do anything like that again."

Brick returned the frank gaze. "I deserved it. It was a stupid thing to do. I don't know why I did some of the things I did back then. I guess I never thought you cared enough to worry what I was doing."

"Is that what you think now?"

"I..." Brick wasn't sure how to respond. "The past few months - I don't know, I didn't know what to think. But... I think I understand now. I... I heard you, in the hospital. You thought I was asleep and you said... you said some things that explained a lot."

"You heard all that?"

"I was still pretty out of it, only half-awake, I guess, but I hear everything you said." He paused, almost afraid to go on. "Did you... did you mean it?"

"Every word, son."

Brick nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He had been afraid that Jack had spoken in the hospital in the heat of the moment, but he could see in his father's direct gaze that he was telling the truth.

"I should probably look you in the eye and say it all again," Jack went on.

Brick shook his head. "There's no need."

Jack cocked his head. "You going to let me off the hook that easily?"

Brick smiled. "I've heard what I needed to hear. I just... look; I want you to know that it isn't all your fault. I've never made it easy for you..."

Jack shook his head. "You're not the one at fault here. You were being yourself and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm just sorry that it's taken me twenty years to work it out. I love you son, and I'm very proud of you. What you did the other day at the Cauldron - that took more guts than most men have. I've always been proud of you, but sometimes you scare me and that makes me get mad with you."

Brick swallowed around a lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. "Yeah, well, I guess you have a point. I've done some pretty stupid things in my time."

"Like driving a truck load of unstable dynamite down a mountain in winter?"

Brick felt his jaw drop open. "How did... who..."

Jack grinned. "Small place like Bend and you think you can keep secrets? I'll do you a deal. I'll try not to worry so much if you promise to think twice before you take off on some of your more - challenging- adventures."

Brick nodded. "Sounds good to me."

Jack looked out over the panorama, and Brick could tell he was nervous by the way he cleared his throat, finding it difficult to meet Brick's eyes

"So, are you still planning to leave?"

"The question was asked casually, but Brick could sense the wealth of emotion behind it. He answered with a question of his own. "Do you want me to stay?"

"I want that more than anything, son. I can't go back and change the past, but I'd like the chance to try and be the kind of father you deserve."

Brick felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes and blinked them back. This was all he had needed to hear. He had already decided that he wanted to stay, but only if that was what Jack wanted.

"It's what I want too, Dad," he said finally, when he could trust himself to speak. "I belong here. This land - it's part of me, the same way it's part of you."

Jack was silent for a long moment. Then he said briskly, "Well, that's fine, son, because I'll need your help if we're going to expand the business."

Brick stared at his father, wide-eyed. "Expand?"

"Expand," Jack said firmly. "I thought I'd ask Bill to come back for a weekend, discuss a proper business plan. Maybe start with building a few more cabins, like you suggested. And while you're recuperating, I thought you might like to take on the website as a project. Why don't you ask that friend of yours, what's his name - Jess something - to help?"

"Jess Springfield." Brick supplied the name automatically, mind whirring as he tried to take in this unexpected change of direction.

"Springfield, that's it. He's into technical stuff like that, isn't he? Why don't you ask him to come out next week and start the ball rolling?"


"Good, that's settled then. Now, I have something I want to show you. No, you stay there, I'll fetch it," Jack ordered as Brick began to rise from his seat.

Brick watched, puzzled, as his father went to the truck, and dragged out a large rectangular board wrapped in sacking. Jack returned with the object, but didn't sit back down.

"How does this look?"

As he spoke, Jack whipped away the rough cloth, holding up in front of him a rustic wooden sign. It was the same size and shape as the sign that currently hung over the road leading up to the ranch. The current sign read simply, "McKenna Outfitters." The new sign had some additional wording:

"McKenna Outfitters

Proprietors: Jack, Brick and Leigh McKenna."

Brick stared at Jack, speechless as the real meaning behind the words hit him.

"It's time I stopped calling all the shots in this business," Jack said softly. "I want the three of us to run it together. It's the right thing to do."

"I don't know what to say." Brick finally found his tongue, but there were no words to express the emotion welling up inside him.

"You don't need to say anything. Welcome home, son." Jack held out a hand and Brick took it, gripping firmly. He had been back at the ranch for nearly a year, but he understood Jack's words, for at that moment he felt for the first time that he was home - and home to stay.

Jack cleared his throat and sat back down beside Brick. "So, as I was saying, if we're going to expand..."

Brick sat back contentedly, unable to wipe the smile off his face as his father continued enthusiastically outlining his plans. While he listened, he idly he tracked the flight of an eagle as it flew lazily across the valley below. The last time he had watched the majestic bird he was feeling trapped and lost, like an eagle that had lost its freedom to fly. Now, he could see the future spread out before him like the wide-open sky, bright and clear as far as he could see.

His spirit began to soar.

The End