A Cowboy's Temptation(2)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 * * *

 Darby had a Ph.D. in psychology, a black belt in karate and five years’ experience in the military. Normally, she was prepared for any challenge, but she’d never run up against politics before. And she’d never run up against anyone like Seth Jacobs.

 Just by walking into a room, he seemed to garner respect in Lyndon City. People spoke about him with awe, and she’d yet to meet anyone willing to fight him head-on. He was a unique and formidable opponent, and he was standing between her and her dream.

 Arriving at her home, Sierra Hotel, she left her SUV in the front driveway and made her way into the entry lounge. A new group of guests was expected late next week, but for now, she and her small staff had the lakefront retreat to themselves.

 “How’d it go?” asked Marta Laurent. Marta had been her first friend in Lyndon Valley, and she was now assistant manager at Sierra Hotel. Marta muted a news story on the wide-screen television. “Did you get a chance to talk to him?”

 Darby dropped her small backpack on the end of a sofa and plunked herself down. “I did. But I don’t think he’s taking me seriously. Hey, have you noticed anything weird about my eyes?”

 “There’s nothing wrong with your eyes. What did he say?”

 “He said the Lyndon City constituents put him into office knowing he was in favor of the railway, so he doesn’t need a referendum now.”

 “He’s not wrong about that,” Marta conceded with her usual logic.

 “I know,” Darby had to agree. “He’s wrong to support the railway. But he’s not wrong to say people knew about it when they elected him.”

 “Did you check? Is there any way to force him to hold a referendum?”

 “The only way to do it is to get six hundred signatures on a petition by next Monday.”

 “That’s not impossible,” Marta mused, sitting up straighter. “I know a lot of people. We can canvass the city, mount a public-information campaign, put clipboards at sympathetic businesses.”

 “Fight politics with politics?” Darby couldn’t help but let her optimism rise.

 She’d do anything to protect Sierra Hotel. She loved this place, and she knew it provided a vital service to women.

 On the shores of Berlynn Lake, it was in a perfect retreat location for women who worked in high-intensity, male-dominated security, defense and law-enforcement jobs. Here, they could recharge and rejuvenate around others who understood the pressures of their careers. One of the things they needed to get away from was sudden, loud noises.

 As a military psychologist, she’d been frustrated by the narrow range of support options she could provide to female soldiers in combat. They didn’t want to engage in the typical R & R activities that their male counterparts used to blow off steam. The women needed camaraderie, a safe place to let their hair down and interact with peers. And so, Sierra Hotel was born.

 Darby had put everything she had into building it, including taking out a rather sizeable mortgage on the land, resulting in payments that she was only just able to maintain. Luckily, word was spreading, and her client base was growing.

 She came to her feet, drawn toward the big window and the soothing view beyond, her large back deck, a rolling lawn, a pot-lighted pathway leading to a sandy beach.

 “We can’t let this happen,” she said out loud.

 Marta followed her lead, coming to stand next to her in front of the glass. “We won’t.”

 “They’ve been trucking steers from Lyndon Valley to the railhead for decades,” Darby reasoned, framing up a new tactic. “Ranching has been profitable so far. This railroad is only a matter of convenience.”

 “Whereas Sierra Hotel is irreplaceable,” Marta added. “With far-reaching implications to the safety and security of our nation. Why don’t you tell the mayor what you do up here? That might help him understand.”

 Darby shook her head. “We can’t call that kind of attention to ourselves.”

 Some of her clients were high-value targets of the country’s enemies. Many were irreplaceable to their organizations. And most represented an investment of millions of dollars in their personal recruitment and training. Clustering them together required a certain level of secrecy and discretion.

 “Yeah, I get that,” said Marta.

 “We have to stop the railway development without giving ourselves away.”

 “I can have an anti-railway website up and running for us in an hour,” Marta offered. “Stop-the-evil-railroad.com.”

 “Too on the nose,” Darby returned, buying into the idea. “Save-our-pristine-wilderness.org.”

 “Stop-noise-pollution-in-Lyndon.”

 “That one’s not bad.” Darby nodded her agreement.

 A website was certainly a good place to start. Lyndonites couldn’t make the right decision if they didn’t have accurate information. At the very least, she had to convince them that holding a referendum was in everybody’s best interest. What was the point of democracy if the majority didn’t get a chance to make decisions?

 “We can put all your facts and figures out there,” said Marta. “Charts, graphs, you name it. And we can print up flyers and deliver them door to door. We could target the women close to him in his life. His parents moved away when they retired, but his sisters are in town. Abigail’s pregnant.”

 Darby couldn’t help but admire the way Marta’s mind worked. It didn’t matter what the topic, she automatically cataloged, reviewed, analyzed and predicted.

 “You mean pregnant with a baby who might one day get hit by a train,” Darby continued the thought.

 “Or whose delicate little eardrums might be ruptured by one hundred fifty decibels of train whistle.”

 “Doesn’t his sister Mandy have a baby boy?”

 “One year old now.”

 Darby surprised herself with a grin. “Those are some really great ideas.”

 “Thanks.” Marta smiled in return.

 “Seth Jacobs, here we come.”

 * * *

 Seth was beginning to realize he might have underestimated Darby Carroll. It was obviously a bias on his part, one he’d never admit to his sisters or his cousin, but it hadn’t occurred to him that a woman so incredibly gorgeous and sexy would also be so incredibly efficient.

 Staring at the glossy anti-railway poster on the bulletin board in the front office of City Hall, he couldn’t help remembering her at the Davelyns’ barn raising. Those eyes had been her most startling feature, wide and deep green, lashes dark. But they were by no means the only thing that made her beautiful. Her skin was creamy smooth. She had a sleek mane of auburn hair that cascaded partway down her back. And her compact body seemed as toned and healthy as they came. She gave the impression of coiled energy, like she might spring to action at any moment.

 He reached out and tugged the poster down, gazing at the breadth of her handiwork. It was outrageous and impressive at the same time, encouraging Lyndon citizens to demand a referendum.

 “I don’t think you’re allowed to do that,” said Lisa Thompson, arriving at his right shoulder. Lisa was his cousin, advisor and chief of staff.

 “It’s my bulletin board,” Seth returned.

 “It’s the city’s bulletin board,” she corrected. “And citizens are permitted to post notices for seven days.”

 “Not when it’s hate speech.”

 She scoffed out a laugh. “It’s perfectly legal to hate the railroad.”

 Reluctantly accepting her argument, he handed Lisa the poster. She waggled her finger in an obvious reprimand of his behavior.

 “We’ve had a dozen more phone calls on the topic this morning,” she told him as she repegged it to the large corkboard.

 “For or against?”

 “A mixed bag. Darby Carroll may well get enough signatures for the referendum. You have to admire the woman’s tenacity.”

 “Tenacity is not exactly what I’m looking for in a woman.” Seth would hardly call it her best feature.

 “Excuse me?” Lisa raised her brows. “Did I detect a note of sexism there?”

 “Stand down, cousin,” Seth quickly backpedaled. “I’m not looking for it in a man, either.”

 “Do I need to reinstate our gender sensitivity lessons?”

 “No. Please, no.” Raised on the range, Seth was hardly the most enlightened of males, but he could be politically correct when it was required.

 “I was thinking you’re a lot alike,” Lisa observed.

 “Who’s a lot alike?”

 “You and Darby Carroll.”

 “Excuse me?”

 She took a step backward. “Don’t shoot the messenger, boss. But you have been known to take a stand on certain subjects and flatly refuse to back down.”

 “I do for the good of the city. And the railway is absolutely for the good of the city.”

 “I don’t disagree.”

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