Author's Note: This is something I've had in a notebook for a while, not so much as an HMR story, but using Matt, Jessie, and Cody for my own nefarious purposes. Since I've discovered fan fiction for the show, I thought I'd covert it to one. In my "Universe", the drug bust happened, but Jim and Tim both survived (this seems to be fairly popular in fan fiction), and Matt returned to the Rangers shortly after regaining the ability to walk. Jim and Robin are in a relationship (which I've seen in one or two stories, I did this to allow for my own character). Thanks to Kris Peterson for background on how Matt came to the Rangers. Weather information came from and is for December, 2007.

The character of Kris Morrell is my own, my alter-ego if you will. Frost, Golden Prince, Silver, and Lassie (whom you will meet) are all also my own creations.

Disclaimer: The characters belong to CBS and the wonderful show "High Mountain Rangers", as well as the wonderful actors (and actress) who portrayed them. I'm merely borrowing them for a while. I promise that they'll be well-treated, especially Matt (grin).

Chapter One:

Doctor Michael Montgomery steps into the dimly lit room of his newest patient at Barton General

Hospital in South Lake Tahoe, California. He pauses when he senses another presence in the small private room that overlooks the little snow-covered courtyard just outside the window (which provides a place of refuge for patients and their families). The man is tall and slender, but has the natural build of an athlete. His best guess places him at six feet and a couple of inches. Probably an ex-football player, but he wouldn't rule out basketball either. His clothes are white, except for a black turtleneck, and his jacket carries the shield-shaped insignia of the famous Search and Rescue unit that calls South Lake Tahoe home. The pale blond (almost white) hair gives away his identity instantly. "Any ID on your Jane Doe," he quizzes as he eyes the young, but somewhat intimidating, Commander of the world famous High Mountain Rangers, Matthew Hawkes.

Matt shifts slightly at the unexpected intrusion, his glacier blue eyes piercing the doctor's resolve, then instantly subsides into a gentle and concerned glance when they return to the motionless figure in the hospital bed. "I've had McBride run a local missing persons search. . .and just got Claudia to expand it statewide," he answers quietly as he strokes her hand.

Doctor Montgomery looks curiously at the young man he's come to know quite well over the last two years (seen him numerous times—both as a patient, and as a concerned relative and/or friend of a patient). His life revolves solely around the Search and Rescue Unit that his father founded almost thirty years ago, which he joined at nineteen—shortly after his father was injured in the line of duty. A few years later, he took over (when then Commanding Officer Merlin Pierce was killed in the line of duty) and has brought it to national fame with a very successful track record in the extremely rugged and hard to cope with (both summer and winter) Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. But he's never seen him like this:

Two days ago, Saturday, December second, Matt was out riding his cream Mustang gelding, when he came across an horrifying sight: a woman, stabbed and left to die, off a deserted mountain road. Only the bitter cold (in the low thirties at the time he found her—though it later got up to forty-four, and had been twenty-two that night) had kept her from bleeding to death. But she was suffering severe hypothermia. He immediately went into "Ranger mode"—blankets, oxygen, and rapid transport to Barton General in South Tahoe.

Since then, he's absolutely refused to leave her side—leaving his Second-in-Command in charge, and taking his first personal time off in months. But he's dressed in their standard winter uniform: white ski pants and boots, with a black turtleneck. A heavy white parka is tossed over the back of one of the two chairs in the room.

"Well—I do have some good news for you," Michael smiles.


"She's over the worst of the hypothermia. No permanent damage."

"The cold kept her from bleeding out," Matt reminds him.

"Exactly, with that wound, if the temperature had been as high as the forties, she'd have died quickly."

"Why hasn't she come around?"

The doctor shakes his head, "I wish I knew. The PT scan didn't reveal anything. The only thing of interest is the fact that her left knee's a replacement. That ought to help narrow your search down. Can't be to many girls her age with a replaced knee."

"She's someone's daughter, wife--"

"Daughter, certainly. Wife—no."

"What are you talking about?"

"When we did a rape exam, to be on the safe side—standard procedure you know that in cases like this, the doctor found she's a virgin. Unusual for a girl her age."

Chapter Two:

Once Michael has left to see about another patient, Matt sits back down in the chair that he has already pulled up next to the head of the bed. "Who are you, Snowbird," he whispers softly, picking up her left hand and kissing it gently—pressing it lightly to his lips. Stroking her silky hair (a rich golden brown--honey blond, he thinks with a soft smile), he studies her intently yet again. Her skin, what he can see for the several bruises, is a delicate "peaches and cream"--not like his own (blasted by the mountain sun). Her features are finely sculpted and she has long eye lashes. She's also tall (about five feet eight inches—he guesses), with long slender legs visible under the blanket. She's slim, but certainly not anorexic.

Right now, she's covered by a heavy white blanket. An IV drips into her left wrist, and a canula provides oxygen. To take pressure off of a punctured lung (from the stab wound in her left lung), she's been propped at an angle.

Matt kisses her hand again. When he speaks, his voice is soft, with a faint Western accent, "I wish you'd wake up, Snowbird." Reluctant to release her, he reaches for the phone on the nightstand and dials the Sheriff's office.

Claudia Perkins answers immediately, "Alpine County Sheriff's Office. Can I help you?"

"Claudia—it's Matt, again. Here's something to help narrow your search: Jane Doe has a replaced left knee."

"That'll help a little. How's she doing?"

"Better. But still hasn't woken up yet. Got anything on her clothing?"

"Nothing special. That sweater she had on was pure cashmere though, very nice."

"How about her jewelry?"

Claudia checks her notes, "A genuine Rolex Sports Watch, definitely not a fake, with the date of April 22nd, 19. Pierced ears, but no earrings. Her ring is an oval-cut London Blue Topaz in an unusual sterling silver setting. Very pretty."

"I remember how unusual that ring is. And the necklace?"

"Oval-cut London Blue, with a small diamond at the tip. I'm going to run the serial number on the watch, but it's a long shot. Mike's going to bring everything over later."

"Yeah, but long-shots have won the Derby. Tell you what, see what you find out. And if you don't get any where, and she doesn't wake up, we'll call AMW—I'm sure they'll be glad to do a feature on her."

"Good idea. I'll call you if I get anything."


"Ten-four. I'll let the Sheriff know what's going on too."

Chapter Three:

Matt turns back to his Jane Doe, willing her to wake up. He gently brushes a stray wisp of hair from her eyes. "Why won't you wake up, Snowbird," he whispers.

A soft knock on the door interrupts his train of thought. He looks up to find his father, Jesse, standing there. A few inches shorter than his oldest son, with a slightly stockier build, he has a graying brown hair and beard, but the same piercing blue eyes. His voice has a much more pronounced Western accent, "Can I come in?"

"Sure. May as well. I'm not getting any response from her, yet."

Jesse steps to the other side of the bed, next to the window, and picks up her right hand, lightly chaffing it. "Her hand's cold," he comments softly.

"I know. She's recovering from hypothermia." Having almost died from it himself once, and treated cases of it many times, Matt knows first-hand how painful the recovery can be. Probably just as well she's unconscious, he thinks with a slight frown as he looks at her.

"Any fever?"

"Not yet, and no sign of infection from the stab wound."

"That's good. How badly was she hurt?"

"Well you can see the bruises for yourself. The stab wound barely missed her heart, but punctured her left lung."

"Any sign of rape?"

"No, thank goodness. The only thing Doctor Montgomery found is that her left knee is a replacement. So far nothing on the local missing person check. Claudia's expanding the search and going to run the serial number of her watch: a Rolex."

Jesse nods as he continues to lightly chafe her hand, watching his son as much as her, as he kisses her left hand again, "Why do I have the feeling that your interest in her is more than professional?"

"I can't explain it, Dad. But the Chinese have a saying that once you save a person's life, you're responsible for them. If I hadn't decided to take a few hours break and take a ride, she would've died out there. And for some reason, I feel some sort of a connection to this girl—like I've known her all my life. It's like when I look at her, I've seen her before. She looks so familiar." Matt finally lifts his eyes from her to look at his Dad, "What brings you to town?"

"Cody is spending a couple of days with your mother—sort of a chance to see if maybe he can connect with her, apparently he's trying to take your advice. And while out riding yesterday, I found something that might have some bearing on your Jane Doe. I stopped at Ranger Headquarters to tell you, but Izzy told me you've been here for the last two days, leaving Tim in charge."

"What did you find?"

"Not far from where you found her, I came across a horse and dog. They're in the barn at Ranger Headquarters." Jesse looks at his son, who is completely focused on him now, "Dog is a big silver gray, weighs a good hundred pounds, in good condition, with ice blue eyes. Looks to be a Malamute/Husky mix. Won't let me get close, but he's got a dark blue nylon collar with Rabies and ID tags."

"And the horse?"

"Quarter Horse. Judging by his conformation, Foundation. You know—about fifteen hands, stocky build—bull-dog type. Really pretty and very gentle."

"Could you catch him?"

"He let me come up to him. He's been fed and put in a stall at Ranger Headquarters. The dog won't leave him."

"Good leads."
"Nice looking horse. Copper palomino, snow-white mane and tail, blaze, and socks on all four legs. And get this—he's a stallion."

"That's weird."

"Tell me about it. He's in pretty good shape. When I found him, he was caught in a piece of old barbed wire, you know how that can be found lying around. Stood absolutely motionless while I cut him loose. Got a few scratches on his left ankle, but nothing serious. He's sleek and well-fed, but not fat. In a hunter-clip."

"Tacked up?"

"Nice looking Western saddle, rust-colored with a sheepskin pad, well-worn. Sheepskin under a blue/green blanket. Cotton string cinch. Had a lariat, one of those old rawhide ones like you find that are handmade, blankets, sleeping bag, and some emergency supplies—food for horse, dog, and rider, water, pretty good first aid kit. Anyone reported an abandoned trailer anywhere?"

"Not that I know of. Can you ID the maker of the saddle?"

"It's a Virginian. Matching breast-plate and leather saddle-bags."

"No ID?"

"You wish it were that easy. Wearing a dark brown hanger, bosal, and had cotton reins. She obviously takes care of her horse."

"Maybe he's the key. Can't be to many Palomino Quarter Horse stallions that aren't either on a farm or in the show ring."

"I'm one step ahead of you. His registration number is tattooed in his upper-lip." Jesse pulls a folded piece of paper from his coat pocket, "Here it is. Keep me posted." He looks down at the still figure, still holding her hand, "Get well soon, Snowbird. But your horse and dog are safe."

Chapter Four:

Once alone, Matt gets back on the phone to the Sheriff's Office, "Claudia—I need you to do me a favor. Get on the phone to the AQHA and ask them to run this registration number. Tell them that this is a law-enforcement matter and you need to know the name of the owner. Dad was here and told me he found a palomino stallion, with that number in his upper-lip."


Hanging up, Matt once again stares at the unconscious girl before getting up to stare out the window. For early December, the fourth, it's the usual chilly—with the high today of about fifty-six, with a low tonight of thirty-one. There was snow predicted last night, but it was a little to warm (at thirty-six), so it turned into a slushy mess. The Rangers have worked several wrecks, tourists mostly not knowing how to drive in the mess, nothing bad though—so he was able to remain here at the hospital. Ski season will be picking up shortly before Christmas and go until March or April. Then there'll be a bit of a spring lull until the summer tourist season picks up.

But he can't explain why this young woman has affected him so much. Why he feels so protective of her. Why he's so drawn to her. Why he's here, with her, when he should be out working and saving lives. Why he finds himself falling in love with her without even knowing her name.

Chapter Five:

Her first sensation is of pain—sharp and intense—in her chest, causing her to gasp and open her eyes in weak protest. She finds herself looking up at a white-washed ceiling. Turning her head a fraction to the left, she finds someone sitting at her side, his large hand carefully wrapped around her own, but not bothering the IV. She can tell that his hair is almost a white blond, but not much else.

Sensing that she's awake, Matt leans closer so that she can see him without straining, careful to keep his voice low and soft, "So—Snowbird's awake. How are you feeling?"

She tries to speak, but her throat is dry and scratchy from intubation. Sensing it, he picks up a plastic cup and fills it with water from a pitcher, then holds the straw to her lips so she can sip the cool water. "Better," he asks when she finishes about half of it.

"A—a little. Where—am—I?"

"Barton Hospital in South Tahoe." Matt finds himself amazed at the color of her eyes: a deep royal blue that reminds him of a sapphire that his maternal grandmother owns. "How much pain are you in?"


"You had a nasty case of hypothermia, which is why you're achy. Do you need some more cover?"

She manages to nod her head, "Please--"

Matt immediately pulls the extra blanket up and carefully tucks it around her, being extremely careful of the stab wound and drainage tube, "Better?"

"Yes—thank you--"

"You're welcome." But Matt doesn't miss the wariness in those beautiful blue eyes, so he hastens to reassure her, "It's okay, Snowbird. Whoever did this to you—you're safe. I'm here, and I won't let anything happen to you."

His voice is kind, gentle, reassuring—as are his brilliant blue eyes, causing her to relax as she swallows a couple of times, "Who—are you?"
"Matthew Hawkes, CO of the High Mountain Rangers. But call me Matt," his smile is warm and boyish, easing her fears.

A nurse comes in, stopping Matt from questioning her further.

Her vitals are a bit below normal, but she reassures the nurse that that is normal for her. Doctor Montgomery comes in to check her out. They talk for a moment before he asks Matt to step out.

The doctor listens to her lungs, making sure she's breathing better, and heart (telling her she's got a slight heart murmur—which she already knew about), checks her reflexes and asks a few questions to determine the extent of her concussion. But she refuses to answer any questions of a more personal nature. Finally, he looks at her in quiet sympathy, "You know—if you're in trouble—you could do worse than to trust Matt. He's an absolutely great guy. I've known him for two years, treated him and his brother a time or two, other Rangers too."

She eyes the doctor warily, "I—I don't know--"

"Matt is one of the finest men you'd ever want to know, takes after his Dad. He's the one who found you, and hasn't left your side since. He'll help you any way he can."

"It's—hard—to trust--"

"I understand. But trust me, if you're in trouble—Matt's the one you want backing you up. Look I've got to let him in here, or he'll break the door down. He's got some questions."

"I'm—sure--," she manages a weak smile.

Chapter Six:

Matt comes back in as the nurse is helping Jane Doe (or Snowbird, as he calls her) sip some lukewarm chicken soup. For the first time, she gets a good look at her rescuer. He's tall, at least six feet three—she guesses (and she's a pretty good judge), and lean with broad shoulders and well-muscled arms. With his pale blond hair and light blue eyes, he's actually pretty cute. And the white ski pants and black turtleneck accent a slender build. Not bad looking, she thinks with a faint smile, then frowns when she notices the limp in his left leg, not much—but her sharp eyes pick up on it immediately.

"Feeling better," Matt asks, sitting down in his chair.

"A little. How long--"

"Two days. I found you on Saturday, the second. Today's Tuesday, the fourth." He glances at his watch, "It's about one in the afternoon."

"You've been—here--the whole time?"

"Of course, where else would I be? Besides, whoever it is that tried to kill you may learn that you're still alive and try and come back to finish the job. Even though I've kept what happened out of the paper." He doesn't bother to tell her that he's got his nine millimeter in the pocket of his parka, within easy reach, just in case. "So, Snowbird—can you tell me your name? And don't try that amnesia bit. That only works in the soaps," he grins.

She relaxes a little, now more at ease, it's strange how comfortable I am with him, "How did--you find me?"

"I was taking a bit of a break and had taken Spirit, my Mustang, for a ride near Ranger Station. I saw something lying in the snow and it was you, like a bird that had fallen from its nest. I made sure you were still alive, wrapped you in some blankets, and radioed for help. Fortunately, Robin and Jim were on duty, so we brought you here. Robin's a nurse. Naturally we all knew what to do."

"You've been--here ever since?"

"Of course." Matt notices how she flinches when he once again picks up her hand, caressing it gently, being careful of the IV. He's careful to keep his voice low, gentle, "Who hurt you so bad you can't trust me?"


"Of course."



"Steve Baxter."

"Who is he?"

"A wife murderer--he killed one--of my high--school classmates. I found--out he's here, with his new girlfriend."

"So what happened?"

"He jumped me—we got into a fight. I managed to get—away. The last thing I remember—was falling out of the saddle. I--was so cold."

"I see." Matt is silent for a few minutes, idly watching her as she turns to stare out the window. Then he speaks again, "Look, is there anyone I can call for you? Family? Boyfriend?"

She shakes her blond head, "No--Mom and Dad are--back in D. C.-- no one else."

"You're alone? I find that hard to believe." He can't help but tease her a bit, "I mean—you're an attractive woman."

She blushes furiously, "Thanks--but you're the--one who's delirious--if you can say about me--right now. But—to answer—your question--I've been—on my own—since high school. I—can call Mom and Dad—but they're both busy--"

"To busy to see about their daughter," Matt can't hide his worry. The second something happens to either him or Cody, Jesse's right there.

"I—don't want to—worry them—there was another man—in here—I remember—a voice—not yours."

Matt grins, "That was my Dad. He stopped by Ranger Station to tell me something, then came here. He found something."

"Golden Prince—Frost--"


"My horse—dog--"

"What do they look like?"

"Palomino—Quarter Horse—silver gray Malamute/Husky—mix"

Chapter Seven:

The realization hits Matt like a ton of bricks. No wonder he knows the girl. Kristina Lynn Morrell, only child of Georgia's high-ranking Senior Senator (Republican) Gervis Morrell.

He first saw her years ago, when they were both fourteen, at the World Quarter Horse Show in Fort Worth, Texas. Against intense odds, she rode a palomino stallion against the pros in several events. They took the Super Horse, returning the next year to set a record for number of points scored.

He'd been invited to go with a friend who's family raised Quarter Horses and had a couple they were showing. And he was taken with how well she rode against some pretty stiff competition in several events (even catch riding in a couple). Then when he met her back in the barn area, he was absolutely taken with her—beautiful and so sweet.

A year later, John gave him a copy of the "Quarter Horse Journal" in which she berated judges and exhibitors about the state of Western Pleasure—horses moving with their noses almost touching the ground and in a slow, shuffling gait. After that, she turned her back on the breed she loved.

Three years later, he saw her again—in the Winner's Circle of the Kentucky Derby, holding the bridle of a tall white colt. That horse, with his giant ground-covering stride, swept the Triple Crown (setting records in both the Derby and Belmont), along with several other races. He was Horse of the Year, and her Trainer, twice. He even set a record for the Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree in England.

Then, as if that were a final bow—they vanished. Last he'd heard, they (with her riding) were making their mark in both Show Jumping and Dressage, at the Grand Prix Levels.

Matt snaps back to the present when he realizes that she's asks him a question. "I'm sorry," he apologizes, "My mind was a million miles away."

A raised eyebrow tells him that she's amused, but lets it slide, "I—asked if—they're—okay?"

"Your horse has some minor cuts from where he was caught in some old barbed wire. Hope he's up on his tetanus shots. If you'll tell me where their feed and all is, I'll be glad to make sure they get it."

She names a cabin on a nearby road and tells him he'll find everything there and that the keys are in her saddlebags. She also reassures him that the stallion is up on his shots.

"Dad says that your dog wouldn't let him get close. But they're both eating."

"Frost's previous owner--was abusive—he doesn't—trust men--"

Matt then takes a deep breath, causing her to look at him curiously, "What should I call you—Miss. Morrell? Kristina?"

She looks at him in amazement, "How--"

"I saw you ride at the World Show. You're good. When you said Golden Prince, I made the connection."

Kris smiles in admiration, "Not bad. Kris is fine—it got shortened many years ago by family and teachers."

A nurse coming in to get some medical information interrupts them, for a few minutes. Matt takes advantage of the lull to step outside and call Ranger Headquarters. Robin Kelly, who's taken quite a liking to the sweet-natured Quarter Horse, immediately answers the phone and is stunned to learn who their rescue is. She doesn't hesitate to volunteer to run over to the cabin and get the horse and dog's food, as well as some personal items for Kris that she'll bring later. Then he calls Claudia and tells her to cancel the search since they know who she is now.

Matt returns to his chair, determined to get some answers. But before he can speak, Kris has a question of her own, "When can I—get out of here?"

"What's the hurry, Snowbird?"

"Baxter. I don't—want him—to get away--"

"He almost killed you!"

"He's not--getting another—chance--"

"Damn right he's not!"

"You—don't understand--"

"Snowbird, you're lying here with a hole in your chest, lots of bruises. You're in no shape to go after anyone," Matt's voice becomes unexpectedly firm, actually startling her a bit.

"Watch me—I've been through—worse."

"Not with me watching your back, you haven't."

Kris sighs in resignation, "Look—I appreciate—all you've done—but your obligation's over."

"What if I don't want it to be," he whispers softly.
"Look—no offense—but I'm a loner—always have been—always will be."

"That may be, but you need help. Someone to back you up and knows the area."

"No. I can't ask you--"

Matt gently brushes a stray wisp of hair from her forehead, "You're not asking, I'm telling. You're stuck with me."

"And if I refuse?"

"To bad, so sad," Matt grins, standing up, "Look—I've got to run, but I'll be back later. If you need anything, my card's on the bedside table. Call Ranger Headquarters, or my cell-phone."

Chapter Eight:

Once alone, Kris makes a couple of quick phone calls. Her source confirms that Baxter, confident that she's dead, is enjoying the sites of Tahoe, with his new girlfriend. Just wait, she thinks with a grimace of pain, You caught me by surprise once, but never again. And if I'd been riding Silver, you wouldn't have then. He'd have made mince meat out of you. You're going to pay for what you did to Liz.

Then, she thinks back to Matt. It was nice to wake up with someone here beside her. Usually, she wakes up alone in a strange hospital room. And he's cute to boot, she smiles to herself. He surprises her, being so gentle and concerned about a more or less complete stranger.

But experience taught her a long time ago to be leery of men, which is why she made the choice a long time ago to be alone. At fourteen, she was almost raped by a man working for her grandfather. When she decided to help capture her assailant, the course of her life was changed forever.

Fortunately, she was blessed with a private school that, since she was a Straight A honor student with a high IQ, allowed her to show her horse. She took the exit exam at fifteen and applied for early admission to a small Baptist college (which had flexible class schedules that allowed her to be with her horses as much as possible). She earned her Masters in Criminal Justice five years later. All during that, she concentrated on her horses.

Now, she has a very active consulting practice, helping police and sheriff's departments, along with anyone else who needs it, by putting her uncanny investigating and profiling skills to good use on all sorts of crimes. Domestic violence and serial predators are her special areas of expertise, but cold cases are her passion. She's also a trained EMT (which her father thought would be a good idea since she travels so much—mostly on her own) and done quite a bit of Search and Rescue in many different types of terrain and weather, which she learned from her maternal grandfather and her father's half-brother (who lives in Kenya).

Too, Kris is one of the wealthiest women in the world—having inherited a large trust fund at the young age of eighteen. Wise investment choices and counselors allow her plenty of money to travel, donate large sums of money to various charities, and help those in need.

But she's alone. Most men are only interested in her money or body. So she's given up on romance, preferring to concentrate on her riding and consulting practice.

She has to give Matt credit though. It was so nice to wake up with someone at her side, looking at her like she's the most important thing in his life. And he was so gentle and patient, even cracking a few jokes. It's like he genuinely cares about her. Yeah right, she thinks with a grimace of pain, trying to get more comfortable.

Chapter Nine:

Arriving back at Ranger Headquarters, Matt answers questions from the rest of the Rangers before sending Robin and Jim to the cabin to get Kris some things, along with horse and dog food. Then he sits down at his desk to do some long delayed paperwork (the bane of being the CO).

Once done, he takes a long shower and changes clothes while waiting. When Robin returns, he's ready to go. He spends a few minutes feeding the gentle Quarter Horse, whom he takes a real liking to, then blankets him before turning him into the corral. Frost, who seems to have accepted him, eats readily, but chooses to sleep on the porch in a nice dark blue dog bed that they found in the cabin. Picking up the over-night bag, he heads for town—with a quick stop at Stoney's General Store.

About six, Kris is idly staring out the window when she hears familiar footsteps outside the door of the hospital room. The door is opened and she gets a whiff of Aspen cologne, reminding her immediately of the mountains and outdoors. Turning her head, she finds Matt setting her royal blue and gray tote bag on the floor in the closet, and a plastic bag in the second chair. He also has a large bouquet of white roses (complete with baby's breath and fern leaves) in a delicate crystal vase in his arms, which he sets on the nightstand.

Be still my beating heart, she thinks with a smile to herself. If she thought he was cute before, he's absolutely devastating now: well worn blue jeans that hug his butt to perfection, a white turtleneck that accents his broad shoulders, and white blond hair carefully combed into place. She gets a grip on herself with effort, If he's trying to wear me down, it's working.

"How are you feeling," he asks, unaware of the effect he's having on her.

"Better. The nurse helped me get a shower and wash my hair. What are you doing back so soon?"

Matt notices that her hair has dried into shimmering golden waves, "You look like you feel better. Anyway, I asked Robin to check on things at your cabin. Jim got your horse and dog food while she got you some personal things."

"Tell them I said thanks." Kris nods to the flowers, "And thank you for the roses. I love white roses."

"Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady," Matt grins, "Have you called your folks?"

"I got hold of Dad in between committee meetings," Kris grimaces, "I just told him I was going to stay here for a while, do some skiing. I don't want to worry him and Mom, she's sort of the nervous type. I hope you don't mind, but I ended up giving him your cell-phone number for the time being. Since they won't let me have mine in here. Just don't tell him what really happened, please?"

"I don't mind a bit. Do you ski?"

"I'm probably a strong intermediate, low advanced. I enjoy it. The cold air's actually good for my asthma," she grins at Matt with just a hint of mischief in her dark blue eyes, "I'm certainly not on the same level as someone who grew up in these mountains and learned to ski before he could walk."

"All right," Matt laughs, "Who's been talking?"

"The nurses. Apparently you're a frequent visitor here and something of a local legend. Even the doctor sings your praises."

Matt blushes, "Don't believe everything you heard."

"It was all great." Kris then changes the subject, "How's Golden Prince? And Frost?"

"They're both fine. I fed them and put a blanket on Golden Prince before turning him out for a while."

"Did you give them their supplements?"

"You mean those things in the little sealed cups? I did. Never seen anything like that. Even for your dog."

"SmartPacs. Makes it easier to keep them straight and in the right doses."

"Your dog won't go inside, so he's been installed on the front porch."

Kris nods, "That's nothing new. Being a Malamute/Husky mix, he loves being outdoors, especially in cold weather."

Matt reaches for the plastic bag he brought in with him, "I brought you a few things from Stoneys."


"Our local one-stop store. Nothing much, just some things I thought you'd enjoy." Since she's hampered by the IV, Matt pulls out a selection of magazines (including a couple of horse ones), a couple of paperbacks (light reading), a bottle of lightly scented hand and body lotion (freesia—her favorite), a soft brush and comb, a detailed map of the area, and a small box of gourmet chocolates.

The thoughtfulness of the gifts cause tears to spring to Kris' eyes, making her turn away from Matt so that he won't see them. Concerned that he's upset her, he moves to sit on the edge of the bed beside her and pulls her into his arms, allowing her to rest against his broad chest (like he's done for his brother several times). He strokes her silky hair in a soothing motion until she calms, taking a deep breath. "I'm so sorry," he whispers softly.

Kris finally pulls back, ashamed at breaking down, "It's not your fault. I'm usually stronger than this. It's just that this the first time in a long time anyone's ever done something so sweet for me."

"Get used to it, Snowbird. Face it, you're stuck with me—whether you want to be or not. I'm not going anywhere." He eases her back to the soft pillows and tucks the covers around her, "Get some rest."

"Wait—will you stay with me—for a while--"

"Try and stop me."

Kris drifts into the first peaceful sleep she's had in a long time, for once uninterrupted by nightmares.

Matt remains at her side, holding her hand, until the nurses run him out about nine. Before leaving, he brushes a gentle kiss across her cheek, causing her to smile in her sleep, and places a single rose on her pillow.

And that sets the pattern for the next couple of days. Matt calls first thing in the morning, checking to see what kind of night she had. Then in the evening, he returns—usually with some sort of small gift, touching Kris with his thoughtfulness.

Robin Kelly, the sole female Ranger, and a cute blond, comes with him Thursday—anxious to meet the the girl who's captured her friend's heart. They immediately hit it off, laughing and joking with one another (which is unusual for Kris). She fills her in on doings at the Ranger Station, including her budding romance with Jim Cutler. In short order, she feels that she already knows the Rangers and could probably describe each of them in her sleep. Robin also agrees to take Golden Prince out for some exercise, just a bit of light riding in the snow, so that he won't get out of shape.

Matt even brings her a scanner so that she can listen to their calls, not being quite so bored. So she learns a lot. She doesn't bother to tell him that she's also got some training in Search and Rescue, and that Frost is certified for it. There's no need, since she won't be seeing him again once she leaves the hospital.