“Watch your step.” The voice attached to the tool-clad man in a yellow hard hat carried loudly across the small workspace. The man hadn’t even bothered to look up, but staring at Rose Preston’s feet, he shook his head. Only a construction worker could view a two-inch wedge heel with the same disdain as that of a five-inch stiletto.
“Thanks,” she responded calmly. What she actually wanted to say was I’ll match my careful steps in heels to your steel-toed stomps any day. Walking through a construction site had nothing on running through the woods at night in flip flops with only the moon to guide her path. For a fraction of a minute she allowed herself the luxury of letting her mind drift back to the youthful days of lakeside summers. The next moment, she glanced at her wrist and sighed. If all went well she’d be on her way to Hart Land in little more than an hour.
Not truly a vacation, but even working at the lake was a joy. The distasteful image of a string of fresh-caught fish flashed in her mind. At least she hoped so. Tablet in hand and satisfied with the small exhibit’s progress, she proceeded directly to the conference room.
Halfway down the main hall, Sarah, the best right-hand-man a woman could ask for, clutched a color-coded binder to her chest and fell into step beside her. “Jim texted that he’s caught in the back up from a six car pile up on I-93. I told him not to worry, we got this.”
Without breaking pace, Rose cast a sideways glance in Sarah’s direction. She’d feel much better about that comment if she wasn’t about to spend the next two weeks dealing with… fisherman.
Sarah reached the double doors first and shoved them open, stepping aside for Rose to pass and take a seat at the massive table already buried in stacks of files and photos. “Did you get the condition report?”
“I did. Looks good.” She nodded, studying the photos spread out on the table and running the new layout in her mind. They had a lot of work to do and she’d only had one cup of coffee this morning. Stretching her neck from left to right, she spotted the brewing pot of caffeine and headed over. “All the works look to be here.”
“Yes. I did a walk through yesterday and confirmed.” Sarah ruffled through papers in the binder, slid one out, and placed it on the table. Yes, they both used technology and electronics, but like Rose, Sarah was a tactile person and if heaven forbid the cyber world ever crashed, she and Sarah would still have everything they needed at their fingertips.
Feeling reassured at that silly idea, Rose turned back and set a mug down in front of Sarah, then holding the paper in one hand returned to the coffee station. “This may be the first time customs hasn’t found at least one thing to give me indigestion.” Turning back, she set the sugar in front of her assistant curator.
“Thanks.” Sarah tore the packet open and poured it into her mug. By the time she’d stirred it in, Rose had set the creamer beside her as well.
Next they went over all the photo captions for the exhibit publications. “It will be up to you to follow up with the printers. I’ll have some access to internet—”
“I’ll stay on top of it.” Sarah took a sip of her coffee.
The woman kept pace with Rose and was the only reason the thought of leaving for two weeks before a new, albeit small, exhibit didn’t give her apoplexy. From there, they pored over public inquires, moved on to copyrights for the music, then scents for a visceral experience only to have the idea nixed for multiple reasons.
When the phone pinged from the conservator at the loan museum, Sarah took the call and once again the ease with which she handled the conversation gave Rose one less thing to toil over.
A brief interruption ensued over exhibit supports with the designer and by the time lunch rolled around, they’d discussed marketing materials, the media preview, and personally checked the exhibit storage area. Her stomach growled and she knew another cup of java was not what her body needed.
The landline rang and Sarah was first to reach the phone.
“Good morning, sir.” Her face brightened. “Yes, sir. Good to hear your voice too.”
Rose didn’t have to hear anything more to know who was on the other end of the line. Wondering why her grandfather hadn’t called her cell, she glanced down at her phone and saw two missed calls. She’d placed it on silent no vibrate in order to get through this morning’s agenda quickly. The exhibit designer was marching in her direction carrying two different sized white panels. Sucking in a deep sigh, she mouthed to Sarah ‘tell him I’ll call back when I’m on the road’ and turned to deal with how major an impact would shifting from four foot to six foot display boards affect the original design. Suddenly any amount of time with fish and fisherman was looking really good to her.
* * * *
Straightening, Logan Buchanan stretched his shoulders and rolled his head left then right. It had been ages since he’d ridden a fence line with the crew and even longer since he’d done repairs. Rising before the sun and saddling a horse had been the easy part of this day. Once upon a time, he’d spent more time on horseback than at the keyboard. For as long as he could remember, working beside his dad was as routine for him and his siblings as Saturday morning cartoons for the rest of the world.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a snack.” For Cal, snack was cowboy code for could eat a cow.
“Thinking the same.” It had been hours since the big breakfast Maggie had made for everyone, and his stomach was beginning to protest.
“Didn’t think we’d get that much work done.” Cal slipped his gloves off and tucked them into his back pocket. He might be one of the youngest hands on the ranch, but he had the diplomacy of someone older and wiser. He could have just come out and said he’d expected working with a desk jockey like Logan to slow them down.
Logan chuckled. “I guess it’s like riding a bike. Some things you don’t forget.”
“Guess so.” The kid checked his phone, slid it into his other pocket and then reached into his saddle bag for a bottle of water, his gaze scanning the distance for signs of lunch.
Logan didn’t blame him. They’d put in a hard morning’s work and he might easily snack on a side of beef himself.
“How you holding up?”
So much for youthful diplomacy. After all, he wasn’t that old. Except for a little stiffness in muscles that hadn’t been used since the last time he’d chipped in to work the cattle or the fences, it felt good to get away from the office and away from his computer. Not that he didn’t love all things electronic, but Texas fresh air and working the land was in his blood as much as the telecom corridor. If he had to choose between the two, it would be like asking which leg would he cut off.
The two ranch hands who had worked the fence line on the other side of the north pasture rode up in a four-wheeler. He wasn’t sure who was younger, the two hands or his favorite boots. No wonder Cal was treating him like an old man.
“Hank called. He’s bringing lunch.”
In the distance, the dust kicked up. The ranch suburban came to a stop and Hank, the senior foreman who had been with the ranch since Logan was tall enough to mount his own horse, climbed out and walked over. His gait was that of a man who had spent more time on a horse than behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. “Maggie made her peach cobbler for dessert.”
Whistles, hoots, and wide grins broke out. Logan had to admit, the woman made a mean cobbler. The hatch open and the tailgate down, the back of the suburban hosted a buffet spread fit for a king, or a hardworking cowboy.
“I hear you’re heading up north?” Hank asked, filling up his own plate.
“Yeah. Gramps and I are going to help out a buddy of his throwing his first fishing tournament.”
Hank shook his head. “I can understand an afternoon at the creek, but I want to eat my catch not weigh it.”
Funny how he’d felt the same way until he’d done his first tourney with his grandfather.
“Boy, what are you doing?” Hank frowned at Cal.
A biscuit in one hand, chomping away, the kid was playing a game on his phone with his other hand. “Bait and Fish.”
Hank’s brow rose high on his forehead. “What?”
“It’s a game,” one of the hands answered. “Everyone’s playing it. It’s bigger than Angry Birds.”
“Angry what?” This time Hank’s brows buckled in confusion. Poor guy didn’t stand a chance.
Suddenly Logan felt much younger. Though he had to admit, it wasn’t often anyone found a cowhand using his lunch break to play games on his phone. At least the kid had good taste.
Hank’s head snapped around to Logan. “And what are you grinning at?”
“Me?” He bit back a smile. “Nothing.”
“God…” Cal started, frowning down at his phone.
“You’d better not be thinking of taking the lord’s name in vain,” Hank snapped.
“I can’t get past level five. I’ve been at this forever. Keep falling out of the canoe.”
“Let me see what you’re doing.” Logan leaned to one side for a better view of the kid’s screen.
“You play?” Cal asked.
“Some.” He shrugged. “Don’t go so fast. That’s the mistake everyone makes. This isn’t speed, it’s endurance. And don’t waste your bait.”
Cal frowned and shoving the last morsel of biscuit in his mouth, used two hands to tackle the game. Five minutes later the kid threw his arms into the air and sprang to his feet. “Level six, here I come!”
“Yeah, well.” Hank pushed to his feet. “Level six will have to wait till after you finish working this fence line.”
“Yes, sir.” Without hesitation, Cal slid the phone into his pocket, placed his hat on his head, and just like that, the kid gave way to a hard working cowboy.
There was something to be said for slowing down. His grandfather was probably right. A little time up north would be really good for him. A few hundred fishermen aside, just him, his gramps, and the fish. What more could a man ask for?
* * * *
Some days the idea of returning to horses for transportation held enormous appeal for Rose. Even if the beautiful animals couldn’t travel at sixty miles an hour, a good horse could probably get her across Boston in less time than a fast car stuck in rush hour traffic. Which brought a whole other problem to light. Why did they still call it rush hour when the business commute time had become more like rush four-hours. At times like Fridays and holiday weekends—or like today, when there’s an accident—rush half-a-day was more appropriate. It had taken most of what should have been the almost three-hour drive to get to the lake just to get out of the Boston area limits.
Now she’d turned off the main highway and onto the country roads that would take her to Hart Land. Already her blood pressure was dropping and she could feel the tension that had taken residence in her shoulders easing away. So many shades of green hung over the drive; she loved Mother Nature’s canopy. This was the way traveling should be. Not even a bumpy ride in a hundred year old carriage would have mucked it up—or the ringing of her cell phone. Hitting accept call on her steering wheel, she smiled at the General’s name on her dashboard. “I’m almost there.”
“And good afternoon to you too. The least you can do is wait for me to ask the question before answering.”
“And why would I want to do that when I already know the question? Cutting to the chase saves time.”
“Young lady, this is not Boston. Life on the mountain is not about saving time.”
Wasn’t that the truth. She sucked in a long deep breath of fresh mountain air. “Yes, sir.”
“Now.” She could hear his hands clap together enthusiastically.
No doubt he’d used his laptop to call her. Ever since his Annapolis reunion last year, the old guy had become practically addicted to his computer. Few things in life were as entertaining as catching him doing screen time with another old military man and reliving the antics of their college years. Tough old dogs.
“I know how hard it is for you to let go of control,” the General said.
Pot calling the kettle black. “I like things in order. There’s a difference.”
“Yes, there is.” She could hear his smile.
Of all the grandchildren she was the most military in her thoroughness. If not for the need to rise before the sun and wear the most ghastly shades of khaki, she might have entertained a military career. Then again, there was no way she’d be the one doing the commanding at her age if she had.
“As I was saying,” her grandfather continued, “I expect you to take it easy for at least a couple of days. Relax. Refresh your card playing skills.”
She almost laughed at that one. There was no refreshing. She could annihilate the competition at cards since long before high school. That thoroughness allowed for an almost computer-like accounting of cards played. She didn’t even need a color-coded system to keep track. “Don’t you worry about my skill set.”
“No. I suppose not.” He chuckled. That sound was music to her ears. The gruff old man would always hide his tender heart behind his crusty Marine exterior. Whenever the shields came down was always extra special for any of his granddaughters. She was no exception. “I also thought it would be a good time for you to learn a bit more about—”
No, don’t say it.
“Fishing.” He’d said it.
At the ripe old age of six, she’d been bamboozled into doing something fun with her grandfather. Catching and handling slippery, slimy, wiggling, soon-to-be dead fish had not been fun. And she’d not been cajoled, coerced, or convinced to try it again since.
“We’ll see.” That response had worked about as well on her grandfather as it would on a six year old when her parents were actually saying not-likely-in-my-lifetime, but it was safer than outright digging her heels in the dirt.
“I bought you a fishing pole. It’s pink.”
“General,” she bit back a laugh, “that hasn’t been my favorite color since I was seven.”
“That’s Poppy.” Or maybe it was Callie. “Regardless, it doesn’t matter if it’s fourteen karat gold. I can run a successful art world fundraiser without learning to paint. I’m sure an auction at a fishing tournament will work the same way.”
Two words that made her cringe. When voiced by a retired US Marine Corps general, the words held a completely different meaning than when uttered by young parents. Already she was considering what outfit had she brought that would match a pink fishing pole.
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