A Cowboy's Temptation(3)By: Barbara Dunlop
“Then why are we arguing?”
“I’m only saying she’s a worthy adversary.”
Seth didn’t need a worthy adversary, particularly not a beautiful one with distracting green eyes. He needed a little smooth sailing.
He’d been mayor for nearly a year now, and he’d discovered there were opponents to literally every initiative. And it was always the craziest of his detractors who took the time and trouble to call City Hall or write to the newspaper. He swore he couldn’t change the toilet paper color in the men’s room without a barrage of resistance.
“How long until the rail right-of-way permits are in place?” he asked Lisa.
“The public has one more week to comment.”
His attention went back to the poster. “And if she gets enough signatures on the petition?”
“Then it takes sixty days to hold a referendum. That will delay execution of the permits.”
Seth could see all his well-placed plans blowing up in his face. “Has anyone been in touch with Mountain Railway? Have they heard about this?”
“I talked with the president yesterday,” Lisa said.
“And, on the one hand, they’re used to these kinds of protests. On the other hand, they’re beginning to think this particular protest has legs. And they weren’t expecting it.”
“Should I call and try to reassure him?” Seth asked.
Lisa shook her head. “Not yet.”
“If Darby gets the six hundred signatures?”
“Then you should definitely call him.”
“Just once,” Seth complained as they made their way up the marble staircase toward his private offices, “just once, I’d like something to be easy.”
“Oh, poor boss,” she mocked as they walked side by side. “Did you expect them to love you?”
“I expected them to be sane.”
“Why would you expect that? You were here during the election campaign.”
Seth cracked a smile at that observation. “I know the vast majority of the citizens of Lyndon are smart, reasonable, hardworking people. Why can’t any of those ones ever write, call or come out to meetings?”
“They’re busy working and raising their families. They’re expecting you to run the city for them. That’s why they pay you.”
He cut through the executive reception area and into his private office. The room was big and airy. A bay window arched out on one side, overlooking the river and the town square. The riverbanks were a little muddy from a recent storm and flood, but the fall colors were brilliant: reds, yellows and greens, stretching their way up the Rocky Mountains.
He moved to the window to take in the view.
Darby was on a ridiculous crusade. A hundred and fifty decibels. The figure was irrelevant. Nobody but the rail-yard workers would be right next to the train when it blew its whistle. And they’d be wearing hearing protection.
Train whistles were hardly newfound, cutting-edge technology that needed to be tested and studied. And the danger of collision was no different here than the danger of collision anywhere else in the country. Lyndon citizens encountered trains as close by as Fern Junction. They all seemed to come back alive.
“Maybe you should talk to her,” said Lisa, coming up beside him.
“And say what?”
“Okay, let me rephrase. Maybe you should listen to her.”
“You think she’ll change my mind?”
Lisa was talking nonsense. She was as much in favor of the railway as anyone else in Lyndon. She’d read the research. She knew what a boon it would be to local businesses.
“Often, people just want to be heard.”
“She’s being heard all over the damn town.” The woman had taken out radio spots.
“She needs to be heard by you,” said Lisa.
“I’m your boss.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”
“You are the most insubordinate employee in the world.”
She broke into a grin. “I thought we’d established that months ago.”
Seth considered her suggestion. “Do you think I made a mistake?”
“In fighting Darby?”
“No, in running for office in the first place.”
Part of his rationale for leaving his brother, Travis, to manage the family ranch alone was that from the mayor’s seat he’d be able to make the kind of changes the ranching community needed. But so far, all he’d done was get dragged into petty squabbles. Every significant change he’d campaigned on was bogged down in controversy or red tape, or both. Worse still, he was realizing how hard it was to represent the entire city, balance needs, balance agendas. He couldn’t simply lobby for the ranchers.
“You’re a great mayor,” Lisa assured him.
“I wanted to be an effective mayor. I wanted to solve the water-rights issue and get the railway into Lyndon. I wanted to make life better for our neighbors.”
“You’re doing everything you can.”
“It’s not enough.”
“At least you’re trying.”
“This isn’t third grade. We don’t all get a ribbon for showing up.”
“Quit wallowing in self-pity.”
He arched a brow.
“Cowboy up, Seth. So you’ve hit a setback. Big deal. What’s your next move?”
For about the thousandth time, he found himself capitulating to Lisa’s reason. As usual, her initial advice was right.
“I need to talk to Darby Carroll,” he admitted.
“You need to listen to Darby Carroll.”
“That’s what I meant.”
“Just make sure you remember it during the conversation.”
The Valley Fall Festival attracted the who’s who of Lyndon Valley. Set in the city’s main park next to the river, it was everything from a craft fair and a farmers’ market to a family picnic, complete with amateur athletics and fun-filled competitions.
This was Darby’s third year attending the event, but today it was about more than just fun. She was chatting with the people, passing out flyers, directing them to the “stop the noise pollution” website and, most important, gathering as many signatures as possible on the petition. Midnight tomorrow was the deadline to file, and they needed nearly a hundred more signatures to guarantee the referendum.
Marta was making her way through the stalls of the farmers’ market, while Darby was in the tiny midway, hoping to meet a few concerned mothers putting their children on the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel.
“A little harder. A little higher,” came a deep, familiar, male voice.
Darby twisted her head and spotted Seth Jacobs, perched on a makeshift platform above a water tank, coaxing the teenage boy who was throwing a baseball at a target to dunk him. The mayor was bone dry so far, and the short lineup of women and preteens looking to take their turn didn’t seem to pose much of a threat.
Too bad. She would have loved to see him go under.
She couldn’t help musing that it was unfortunate the City Council Chambers didn’t have their own dunk tank. The mayor got out of hand at a meeting: boom, down he went.
She smiled at the visual, temptation rising within her.
She knew it would be wrong to give in to her fantasy. This wasn’t the time and place to take out her frustration. She had far more important things to do.
Then again, she could afford to blow ten minutes. And if Seth had to head home and change his clothes, she’d have the festival and the citizens all to herself.
It made perfect, strategic sense. Get the adversary out of the way, even if it was only temporarily.
While she talked herself into it, her feet were already taking her toward the dunk tank. She fished into the pocket of her blue jeans and produced a five-dollar bill. For that, the woman at the kiosk handed over three softballs.
Darby was confident she’d only need one.
She took her place in the lineup, fifth back, behind a short, teenage boy who was obviously a friend of the one who’d just failed to hit the target. Behind him were three women, all in heels and dresses, each of them obviously here to flirt with Seth, not to embarrass him.
It didn’t take him long to spot her. He glanced to the balls in her hand, and his expression faltered.
She flashed him a confident smile, tossing one of the balls a couple of feet in the air and catching it again with one hand. She knew she shouldn’t enjoy this. But there was really no point in fighting her feelings. She felt a buzz of adrenaline come up in anticipation.
He gritted his teeth.
The teenage boy came close but didn’t hit the bull’s-eye.
The three women all giggled their way through pathetic attempts.
Then it was Darby’s turn.
“Mr. Mayor,” she greeted.
“Ready to get wet?”