Somewhere on the North Slope her figure moves across the landscape, the sun never setting but spinning around her endlessly. She never thinks of the Montana rancher. Or any of the others. Her thoughts always swirl back to the man in Colorado. The feel of him inside her. His warmth and kindness. Deeper than she'd ever known.

She hopes he's still waiting, though that would be ridiculous months later. When had she ever waited for anyone? The thought only sharpens, drives the blade deeper. Hundreds of snowcapped peaks between them. The Divide. Snaking south for thousands of miles. Splitting the continent in two. For years she's camped alone all over the West, from Mexico to Alaska, and never been truly lonely. Until now.

The mosquitoes grow fierce as she crosses a boggy flat on her way back to camp. A dark cloud buzzing around her head and she wishes she could move faster but the weight of the caribou is back-breaking.

On the other side of the bog she starts uphill where she catches a little breeze which, by the time she tops out, becomes a strong wind. Enough to clear the bugs. So she drops the pack to rest her hips and shoulders. Sitting on a moss-covered boulder, the woman pulls out her canteen and gazes back the way she came. She forces a smile as she thinks of him. How even in the beginning he was so bold.


*       *       *


Their first day together they'd crossed a high alpine meadow on their way to the cabin and stopped by a spring to give the horses some water. The woman and man swung down from their saddles and walked back across the clearing, through a field of fall drifts, ice-crusted snow crunching under their boots. Still it was mild for late October and the sun felt warm that day. He took her hand. She remembered thinking he was brave for that. Their first date, when she barely knew his name? She could've pushed him away, but didn't. He'd stopped at the edge of that meadow and pressed her up against an aspen.

What are you doing? she'd demanded, though she was smiling.

The man didn't answer. Just lifted her chin with his index finger and leaned into her lips. Even here—way up north—she tastes the kiss and remembers how that moment made the rest of the world disappear.

Finally, she'd pulled away. You're gutsy, she said.

I just know what I want.

Yeah? What are you willing to do for it?

Whatever it takes.

She nodded. It takes a lot.

He caressed her hands and pulled her close. I can handle a lot.

Can you?

Try me.

She cocked her head. I think that's what I'm doing.

Oh, is that what this is?