“I feel like…” Leslie couldn’t get enough air to Þ nish the sentence and the room

went dim. “I think I need…hospital.”

Almost 275 miles due north of the courthouse, Dr. Devon Weber waded into

Lake George up to her waist. Her waterproof boots and waders kept her dry,

but not warm, and the familiar ache in her right hip appeared before she’d gone

ten feet. It might be almost mid-June, but the lake was still frigid, its temperature

lagging far behind that of the air, which was only in the high sixties despite the

bright sunshine. Still, she was used to being wet and cold and sore; it came with

the job.

“Can’t you do that from the boat?” Park Ranger Sergeant Natalie Evans called

from shore.

“I can feel the bottom better when I walk on it!” Dev yelled back, thinking a

little enviously that the petite brunette shufß ing her boots on the packed brown

earth at the water’s edge looked warm and comfortable in her khaki uniform

and spring-weight ß ak jacket.

“Mud’s mud,” Natalie said.

Dev smiled to herself. She was used to people Þ nding her work and her

interests strange, even professionals like Natalie who had a better understanding

than most of what she was doing. Dev kept going until the water was an inch

below the top of her waders and she felt the accumulation of soil, plant detritus,

and decomposing organic matter change consistency beneath her feet.

“I can bring the launch out and at least hand you sample bottles,”

Natalie offered.

“Thanks, but you’ll rile the waters with the boat. I’ll just be a minute.” Dev

opened her canvas shoulder bag and slid out a plastic collection bottle the size

of a maraschino cherry jar. With her other hand, she slowly inserted a long metal

rod with a suction chamber on the far end straight down through the water and

several inches into the lake bottom next to her foot. By depressing a button with

her thumb, she was able to extract a small sample. She secured the specimen in

the collection jar and dropped it into her bag. “That’s number one.”

On the shore, Natalie noted the date, time, ambient temperature, water

temperature, and exact location on a lined sheet of paper afÞ xed to a


“I appreciate you playing secretary,” Dev said as she waded back to shore.

“I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than follow me around.”

“Not a problem.” Actually, Natalie did have other things to do, but none that

she would have found quite as pleasant. She was a park ranger stationed on the

western shore of Lake George in Bolton Landing, New York. She patrolled a

portion of the three hundred square miles of parkland that surrounded the lake,

which was thirty-two miles long and three miles wide at some points. Despite

the fact that the enormous body of water, nestled in the heart of the Adirondack

Mountains, was one of the most popular tourist attractions on the East Coast,

much of the surrounding mountains was still as wild and untamed as it had been

for centuries. It was her job to keep both nature and those who came to enjoy it


“I’m supposed to have a summer intern starting next week.” Dev’s leg had

progressed from sore to stiff, and she climbed awkwardly up the slippery slope

in her heavy gear. When Natalie extended a hand to steady her, she grabbed it.

Natalie’s Þ ngers closed on hers, warm and strong. “Thanks.”

“Hey, it’s kind of interesting.” Natalie tried to keep her expression from

revealing the precise nature of her interest as she observed the woman who had

arrived the previous afternoon at the regional park headquarters. Everything

about Devon Weber—from her collar-length, almost-but-not-quite-messy light

chestnut hair to her tight athletic build and the casual self-conÞ dence in her

hazel eyes—said she was a lesbian, but Natalie never relied on impressions to

make that call.

Since they were going to be working together in close proximity for the next few

months, she didn’t want to create any kind of awkwardness between them. She

was interested, but she could be patient. “Besides, I’ve got the radio, and if

something comes up, I’ll just leave you to fend for yourself.”

“That’s nice of you.” Dev grinned. “I think.”

Natalie smiled back. “Just how many samples do you plan on taking?”

“Well,” Dev said, ß icking the hair back off her forehead as they headed up the

narrow path that had been cut through the thick pines on either side by animals

making their way to the water, “between soil, water, vegetation, and Þ sh

specimens? Couple thousand.”

“You’re kidding.”

When Natalie stopped abruptly, Dev bumped into her and Natalie’s shoulder

brushed across Dev’s breasts. Natalie’s long, dark hair was caught back with a

soft tie at the base of her neck and the wind blew

• 18 •


a silky strand smelling of mountain laurel into Dev’s face. Dev’s lips tingled and

she stepped back.

“Nope. I’m serious. It’s been eight months since the last multitiered biologic

survey was done on the lake. With the increase in commercial and recreational

boat trafÞ c and the prevalence of industry in the adjoining areas, we need to

revamp all our statistics.”

“I always thought people at your level just sat in the lab while grunts slogged

around out here collecting samples,” Natalie teased as they reached the green

and white truck with the emblem of the New York State Department of

Environmental Conservation on the side.

“I’m old-fashioned, I guess,” Dev said as she stripped off her outer gear and

stowed it in the back of Natalie’s SUV. Beneath it she wore jeans, a shortsleeved

denim shirt, and a light zip-up navy vest.

She climbed into the truck and shifted to Þ nd a good position for her sore hip

as Natalie slid behind the wheel. “Sometimes the only way to know there’s a

problem is to see for yourself. If I just send out someone who isn’t an expert on

the water life to randomly collect specimens, we could miss the early signs of

pollutant effects on the Þ sh population.”

“That’s your thing, right? You’re a Þ sh guy?” Natalie backed out of the parking

lot and headed north on Route 9, which wended its way along the shore and

through the small villages that dotted the lakeside.

“Yeah, close enough.” Dev unfolded her regional survey map to check the next

sample site. “I’m a freshwater biologist. I started out studying Þ sh populations

and got interested in the effects of environmental alterations on breeding and

population dynamics.”

“So that’s how you ended up with the DEC.”

“Technically, I’m an independent consultant, but I’m heading up a joint survey

this summer with the Derrin Freshwater Institute and the state.”

“Fish, huh?” Natalie shook her head and laughed. “If you don’t mind my asking,

how the hell did you ever get interested in Þ sh?”

Dev wondered if it would make any sense if she told her the truth.

If she explained that she’d grown up a stone’s throw from where they had

collected the Þ rst sample. That the lake had been her Þ rst and, in the end, her

best friend. That for as long as she could remember, she’d never Þ t in

anywhere. Not at home, not at school. She’d spent hours on the water, in the

water, from the time she’d been old enough to walk.

She’d found peace in those quiet alone times as she’d lain on the dock in the hot

summer sun watching the small schools of Þ sh circle in the

• 19 •


shallows. She had wondered then what it would be like to be part of a group

like that, moving so easily together, effortlessly attuned. To be accepted, to

belong. She didn’t know then. She still didn’t, but she didn’t wonder any longer.

She didn’t know Natalie well enough to share those secrets, and even if she

had, she wouldn’t have answered any differently. Those times were long past. “I

spent so much time in the water when I was a kid, I guess I thought I was part Þ


“Well,” Natalie said, deciding to Þ re the Þ rst shot as she gave Devon a slow,

appreciative once-over, “you look to be all woman now.”

Dev took a quick read and added up the Þ ndings. The answer was pretty

clear. Natalie was very attractive, she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, and it was

forecast to be a long, hot summer. Dev leaned back with a smile. “Nice to know

you noticed.”

• 20 •



By the time the EMTs arrived, Leslie felt almost normal again.

Certainly no worse than she had on quite a few occasions in recent weeks.

She’d been working hard and sleeping even less than usual. It was nothing more

than that.

“Look, really,” she protested as a husky young blond with shaggy hair and a

deep tan, who might have been called a surfer dude in another time and place,

lifted her into a wheelchair with the help of his intensely serious female partner,

“I feel perfectly Þ ne now. Obviously I had a little dizzy spell, which has passed.