A Cowboy's Temptation(6)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 Darby found she could easily picture that. “Wine?” she asked, breathing a sigh of temporary relief.

 They’d done all they could do for tonight, and she definitely needed to wind down before she tried to sleep.

 “Sounds easier than making margaritas,” Marta agreed, naming their favorite drink. “You want to do a swim first? I’ve been either sitting or standing still most of the day. I need to stretch my muscles.”

 “Sure,” Darby easily agreed. She’d sleep even better if she got some exercise.

 Early in the summer, she’d tethered a floating dock half a mile out in the lake for guests to use. Floodlights from the yard would illuminate their way, and it was a full moon tonight, which would give them even more light.

 “Three miles?” she asked.

 “That’ll do it,” Marta agreed. “Then wine. We get to celebrate this.”

 “Celebrate what? Not quite getting enough signatures?”

 “Celebrate still having a chance, even though we experienced a setback.”

 “You’re a true optimist.”

 “I find it helps.”

 As they’d done several times in the past, they decided to push a small dinghy out to the floater. The dinghy was stocked with towels, the wine, warm-up clothes and life jackets. It was also a means for them to paddle back to shore without getting wet again.

 After swimming several laps, they pulled up onto the floater and changed out of the suits into sweatpants and jackets, rubbing their hair dry before opening the bottle of wine.

 “This is paradise,” Marta observed, settling onto one of the towels.

 The moon was high in the sky, surrounded by pinpricks of stars. A soft breeze wafted the scent of pine from the hillsides, and the lake water lapped softly against the floater, little more than ripples on the calm surface.

 “Can you imagine a freight train chugging past, spewing out diesel smoke and shaking the ground?” Darby pointed to a rise behind the Sierra Hotel building. It would travel the length of the lowest ridge, crossing Wren Road, where it would have to blow its whistle. They’d have to put a bridge across the creek, and the reverberation would carry across the lake for miles.

 “What was it like?” Marta asked as she poured herself a glass of wine. “Being in a war zone?”

 “I was mostly behind the wire,” said Darby, taking the bottle from Marta and pouring her own glass. She didn’t mind talking about her time overseas. She knew Marta wanted to understand her passion for keeping Sierra Hotel open.

 She took a sip of her wine. “It’s the uncertainty that gets to you. No matter how calm things might feel in the moment, at any second all hell can break loose.”

 “That’s the problem with the trains.” Marta nodded.

 “The women who stay here might have just been in a war zone, maybe even a military firefight, or maybe they’ve chased gang members down the streets of Chicago. I can’t imagine telling them that all will be calm and quiet, well, except for the sudden blasts and clattering from the freight trains. Can you imagine having that wake you up in the middle of the night? They’d be lunging for their firearms. They need a complete break,” Darby ended. “A complete break from the stress.”

 Marta held up her glass in a mock toast. “Here’s to defeating the mayor.”

 Darby saluted in return, wondering just how difficult that was going to be. “How long have you known him?” she asked.

 “All my life. I used to have a crush on his brother, Travis. Most of the girls in my age group had a crush on one or the other. Or on Caleb Terrell, at least until he moved away.”

 “I can see it,” Darby allowed. She’d seen both Travis Jacobs and Caleb Terrell around over the past three years.

 “Forgetting for a second that Travis and Caleb are both married,” Marta continued. “Which one do you find attractive?”

 “Of the two of them?” It seemed like an odd, theoretical question.

 “Of the three of them,” Marta clarified.

 “You’re asking if I’m attracted to Seth?”

 Marta grinned. “I’m trying to figure out your type.”

 “Seth’s more my type than the other two.” Darby didn’t see much point in denying it. She’d trusted Marta with her secrets for a long time now. “I mean, they’re all good-looking, but I guess I like the take-charge type, smart, committed, take-no-prisoners.” She gave a little self-deprecating laugh. “Even if those prisoners are me.”

 Then she paused. “You know it occurs to me that I might not find him quite as sexy if he backed down. Do you suppose that’s a terrible character flaw?”

 “You find him sexy?”

 Darby rubbed a fingertip along the rim of her wineglass. “I’m afraid I do.”

 Marta looked calculating again.

 “What?” Darby prompted.

 “I’m wondering if we can use that to help our cause. Any chance he reciprocates?”

 “He was a little flirty the night of the barn raising. And again at the fair, there might have been a little something. But I have a feeling that was more of an automatic response to the fact that I’m female. I bet he flirts with everyone.”

 “I don’t think so,” Marta countered. “I’ve seen him with lots of women. He’s quite circumspect.”

 “Hmmm.” Darby let her mind go back over the memory. She knew she shouldn’t care whether or not he found her attractive, but her ego kind of liked the idea.

 “It’s another option. Maybe you could flirt your way to a referendum.”

 “I think you’re being ridiculously optimistic. But I have to admit, I did think about it.”

 “It couldn’t hurt to try,” Marta reasoned. “If the petition fails, maybe you could cloud his judgment with lust.”

 “Would you ever try something like that?” It didn’t seem particularly noble, but Darby had no doubt it would work for some women.

 “Sure,” said Marta. “Depending on the circumstances, if the stakes were high enough.”

 “How high?”

 “If somebody’s life was on the line. Or if a thousand lives were on the line. How could you live with yourself if you didn’t?” She grimaced.

 “Alas, in this case, no lives are on the line.”

 “Disappointed?” Marta grinned.

 “No.” Darby emphatically shook her head. Well, maybe a little. If somebody’s life were on the line, she’d have a perfectly noble excuse to flirt with Seth.

 “Plus, you’d probably have to sleep with him to really make it work.”

 “Excuse me?” Darby’s fantasy didn’t extend that far. Well, not really.

 “I don’t think you’ve got that in you.”

 “Why not?” Darby demanded, before she realized how that would sound out loud.

 Marta laughed at her.

 “I mean, of course I don’t.” Darby shifted to her stomach, settling more comfortably on her towel. The prone position kept her below the freshening breeze.

 “Though,” Marta mused, leaning back on her elbows. “I suppose you could sleep with him recreationally. Do it for fun, and if it helps, it helps.”

 “That’s ridiculous,” Darby told both of them.

 “I prefer to think of it as practical.”

 “Please tell me you’re joking.”

 “I am, but not really. If, and only if, you’d be willing to sleep with him, anyway, why not let the chips fall where they may?”

 Darby tried to picture it. Unfortunately, she could.





                       Three

 Darby’s petition was printed, bound and sitting on the breakfast table in the mayor’s residence. Seth gazed at it while he sipped his orange juice and wondered about his next move. Some of the names he’d expected, others had surprised him, leading him to make some mental estimates about his chances in a full-on referendum. Would Darby be able to hold this level of support through a secret ballot? Or had they simply signed the petition to make a pretty woman happy?

 Lisa appeared in her usual black slacks and dark blazer. She crossed the kitchen to the breakfast nook. There, she took a seat in the streaming sunshine, pouring herself a cup of coffee from the stainless vacuum pot.

 “I have good news and bad news,” she opened.

 “I’m staring at the bad news already,” Seth said.

 “This is ironic,” said Lisa.

 “How so?”

 She pointed to the petition. “That’s the good news.”

 “I love it when you play mind games in the morning.” It took Seth an hour or so for his brain to be firing on all cylinders. But Lisa could hit the mental ground running.

 “They don’t have enough signatures.”

 Seth sat up straight, shaking some oxygen into his brain cells to make sure he’d heard right. “What?”

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