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Published by Three Door Publishing Copyright © 2012 Jane Clayton ***** Smashwords Edition, License Notes This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Cover art by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo ***** Table of Contents Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24
Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 ***** Speed Date Sweetheart By Jane Clayton Chapter 1 Trisha paused outside Pete's Place. She'd never thought she'd be speed-dating, but then she'd never thought she would be starting over at the age of twenty-six in Eugene, Oregon. I'm not starting over, she insisted to herself, I'm down here to go to college. Sure. Who was she kidding? Yes, she was enrolling in classes at the university, and yes, she did want to go to college, but that was just a means to an end. The objective was to win Bobby back. At least that was what half of her wanted. The other half wanted nothing to do with men ever again. Bonnie grabbed her elbow, "C'mon, let's go inside, It'll be fun." Bonnie propelled her into the dark club past the long gleaming wooden bar. None of the young men discreetly looking them over would have guessed they were sisters. Trisha was dressed in Seattle yuppie-chic, a green silk blouse that matched her almond-shaped green eyes and soft, umber-colored slacks the same shade as the tousled, honey-colored hair curled at her shoulders. The loose clothing only emphasized the curves beneath. Bonnie, on the other hand, with her long dark hair blending down into the dark patterned peasant dress and Birkenstocks looked like a latter-day hippie, so Eugene. They entered the pleasant back dining room where the event was to be held. The walls were a dark tongue-in-groove paneling, the carpet scarlet and there were three rows of small booths, each with a tiny red-globed candle. Near the door of the dining room was a wooden card table where participants paid their fees and received name tags. They were next to sign in. Trisha shook her head. "I still don't think this is a good idea." Bonnie had already heard it all on the way over. She turned and faced her and spit out in a hard whisper, "You think Bobby's sitting home, pining away for you?" The hurt in Trisha's eyes made her regret her remark. "Aw Trish, I'm sorry. Just do it for me, okay?" Trisha had never been able to refuse her younger sister anything. They'd grown up close. Their mother had died of cancer when they were young. Bonnie barely remembered her and try as he might, Dad could not replace her. It was difficult being a motherless child and she had tried to compensate Bonnie by doing things that would make her happy. Besides, she owed her for letting her move in at a moment's notice. She smiled, "All right."
After they paid and received their name tags, BONNIE #13 and TRISHA #15, they were directed to a bar back in the corner. A crowd of twenty and thirty-somethings surrounded the bar three-deep. Some looked around at the other participants window-shopping, others pretended intense conversation trying to look engaged and engaging and others gulped down liquid courage as fast as they could. A man in front of Trisha turned and saw her watching them. Reading her mind he said, "Don't be too hard on them. If they were at ease, they probably wouldn't be here." She looked up into his laughing gray eyes and the full force of his magnetism hit her. She raised her eyebrows. "Then why are you here?" Why indeed. He was the most magnificent man she had ever seen. His dark hair was cut short and below his compelling gray eyes were a strong nose and square chin. It was his full sensuous lips, however, that made her tingle. She deliberately scanned down the rest of him noting his broad shoulders, muscular arms and well-developed chest clad in a blue chambray shirt tucked in at his slim waist into well-worn snug jeans. She looked at his shoes, Bobby always said you could tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wore; these were sturdy low-cut hiking boots. She looked back up and now he really looked amused. He gestured at the place, "Pete asked me to come, he wanted a good turnout." She looked confused, "Pete? Then it dawned on her, "Oh, the owner." "Yeah, looks like he succeeded. Can I get you a drink?" Someone pushing from behind to get to the bar shoved her closer to him and now she could smell him, a mixture of clean soap and a heady, earthy woodsy smell. For a moment she couldn't think then managed, "Sure, uhm, maybe a glass of wine." MATT #28, or so his name tag said, turned around and signaled to the bartender, "A chardonnay for the lady." When MATT #28 turned in the crush of people to press the glass into her hand, his fingers grazed hers. The effect was electric, a warm pulse raced through her. He, however, looked surprised, shuddered and withdrew his fingers quickly. Trisha was dismayed by his reaction. Why did he pull back as if scalded? Was it revulsion? Just then a crystal bell tinkled and Bonnie pulled her out of the group. "How'd you get that?" she nodded toward the wine. "I," she turned to thank MATT #28, but he was nowhere to be seen. Bonnie shushed her, "Never mind, they're starting." A stunning woman in a red dress holding a clipboard rang the crystal bell again. "Eyes up here, please. May I have your attention?" "You got mine," called a male voice from the back and a few people laughed. The woman in red batted her long eyelashes once. "Save it for the game," she said then held up her clipboard to signal everyone to hush. "Welcome all of you. I'm glad we have such a great turnout. I'm Angela and I'll be your facilitator tonight. She gestured to a friendly-looking stocky young man near her, "And this is Sean, my assistant. "The sound of this bell," and she rang it again, "will signal when you, the men that is, need to switch places and you'll either be thrilled to move on or disappointed, but you need to move quickly so we can fit in all six dates. "Before we begin, I'd like to thank Pete Robinson, the owner of Pete's Place, for allowing us to be here tonight." She gestured toward a short dark-haired man standing in the doorway and they all clapped. He waved, said "Have a great time" and headed back to the front of the restaurant. Angela flashed the group a brilliant smile, "Okay, let's have a show of hands, how many of you have been to a Speed-dating event before?" She paused and only three people raised their hands. "Not many. Well, you're all in for a real treat. "First, a little history. Speed-dating was started back East by a rabbi in 1999. It's a custom to introduce young Jewish singles to each other to encourage marriage within the faith. He invented Speed-dating as a way to introduce a lot of people quickly and it has really caught on with busy
singles like you. "Each of you has been issued a name tag, blue for males and pink for females." She arched her eyebrows, "Sometimes it's hard to tell." A few laughed politely. She held up a long, white card the size of a business envelope. "You've also been issued a numbered card with columns. Everyone have one? Raise your hand if you don't." Sean passed out white cards to the few who needed them. "The numbered card has columns for 'Yes, I'd like to talk again' and 'No, not for me.' Notice this is on carbonless carbon paper so you can jot down people's names and keep a copy. We'll seat the ladies in numerical order starting at this table with PAM #1 here." She pointed to PAM #1 to be seated. "JEANNIE #3 at this table," she crooked a finger at an athletic-looking blonde, "and so on." Angela shooed all the females including BONNIE #13 and TRISHA #15 to tables. "Now, when I ring this bell," ding-a-ling, "DON #2 will sit down with PAM #1, MIKE #4 with JEANNIE #3, you get the idea. You will have 7 minutes to talk. For your safety, you are not permitted to exchange contact information. No addresses or phone numbers, no occupation information and definitely no places of employment, again for your safety. There's a laminated card on each table with suggested questions in case you can't think of anything better than, 'How long have you lived here.' "She held up the card from PAM #1's table over her head and showed it around. "Then when I ring the bell again, DON #2 moves to JEANNIE #3's table. KARL #30 comes up here to PAM #1's table," she drew an arc in the air, "and so on. Everyone got it?" She paused and Trisha quickly figured that being the 8th female, she would start with #16 and then #14 down to #6, but would never be paired with MATT#28. Her heart sank. Oh, it was just as well. He probably didn't want to be with her. Then she shook herself with a start, what did it matter? Even though Bobby had dumped her, she was still in love with him and she was here tonight only because Bonnie had insisted. Angela continued, "As I said, you'll have 6 dates this evening. Obviously, that's not enough to get around to everyone. There will be a break after Date 3 to visit the facilities," she gestured to a hall on the right, "get a drink," she pointed a well-manicured forefinger to the bar in back, "and more importantly, mingle with those you're not paired with. "At the end of the evening, give the top copy to Sean or me. Within 3 days, you will receive an email with contact information (e-mail and phone number) for anyone where there is a match, that is, BOTH of you indicated 'Yes, I'd like to talk again.' The rest is up to you." She paused again and scanned the room, "Any questions?" A freckled red-head at the side of the room raised her hand, "What if you're not sure?" Angela nodded, "Excellent question. Seven minutes isn't enough to tell if you like someone, but it is enough to know if a person definitely does not appeal to you. The no's are easy." She paused, then smiled, "Let me put it this way. Speed-dating is also known as Pre-dating, so pose yourself a question, 'Would I like to go out on a date with this person?' 'Would I want to spend a whole evening with him or her?' That usually does the trick." She turned to Sean, "Did I leave anything out?" He grinned at her, "You've been pretty thorough, but I might mention just one thing." He took a breath, "You all look like nice people, but remember, we haven't done any background checks. If you want to get together, we suggest you meet in a public place and take a cell phone with you. "Remember too, that everyone here is just as nervous as you are." He paused for the group's nervous laugh. "So someone may not come across at their best, maybe cut them some slack and give them the benefit of the doubt." He turned to Angela. She held up the white card and tapped her blood-red nail at the bottom, "One more thing. At the bottom of the card is a space labeled Wild Cards. If you don't get to date someone who interests you,
just write their number at the bottom and if there is a match, we'll include them in your e-mail. "Sean and I will be here in case you have any questions or concerns. She held up the bell. "Are you ready? Have fun!" Ding-a-ling! Trisha jumped and looked up at TODD #16, a thin, unattractive, nervous-looking man in a bright yellow shirt sidling up to her table. She knew then it was going to be a long night. What on earth was she doing here? ***** Chapter 2 Trisha looked at the darkening horizon and the tall buildings now black against the violet sky with lights winking on like so many diamonds. She hugged herself trying to stay warm. Her smart doublebreasted navy coat was no match for a chilly winter evening in Seattle. Her low-cut latte'-colored jersey dress underneath didn't help either. I should have dressed warmer, she thought. But she'd wanted to look beautiful for Bobby on this special night. She took a few steps to try to get out of the wind, an impossibility on the Space Needle observation deck. Now to the left she could see the piers and lights reflecting off the cold choppy waters of Elliott Bay and straight ahead the stately Queen Anne district. That's where Bobby probably is, delivering an elegant jewelry case to a well-dressed man in the two-story foyer of his Victorian home. She'd almost gotten used to it, these past few months. In the four months she'd known him, his work had always encroached on their holidays, but ever since he'd gotten the position with Austin's, the most prestigious jeweler in Seattle, he'd worked even longer hours. He'd changed from hardworking Bobby Johnson, salesman, to driven Robert St. John, gemologist. She could hear him now-'You want Chateaubriand or a Big Mac? You can have anything. You just have to want it enough.' And that was the problem in a nutshell. He wants things-fine things, for sure, but all she wanted was Bobby--and where was he? She snapped out of her reverie and checked her watch again. 7:10. What was the surprise he'd mentioned when he’d called this afternoon? Maybe that's why he's late. He's picking up something or making arrangements. She looked down at her left hand. Well, it was worth waiting for. She'd polished her nails with a barely-there blush and her third finger was bare of the small gold signet ring she usually wore. Naked and ready for what she hoped he'd give her tonight. An engagement ring. She switched the slender red-wrapped gift she'd brought to her left hand and reached up with her right to smooth her caramel-colored hair. Suddenly someone grabbed her arm. She turned and looked up into Bobby's glaring blue eyes. "Trish, where have you been?" "But Bobby--I mean, Robert--, you told me to meet you here. I've been here almost an hour." He brushed her cheek with his cold, thin lips. "Never mind about that now. Let's go to dinner before we miss our table." He pushed her toward the elevator. They took the car down standing side by side, not touching. He checked his watch. Stepping off the elevator, she saw several other couples waiting. Oh no, she hoped they hadn't missed their reservation. She'd spent two hours getting ready for this special night and every place
else would be booked. Finally, it was Robert's turn to speak to the Maitre d' at his podium. "St. John, party of two." The Maitre d' frowned and scanned down his list with a slim silver pen. Robert slid a twenty under the page. "I'm afraid we're a bit late." The Maitre d' smiled slightly. "I'm sure we can accommodate you." Soon a waiter led them to a white linen-clad table by the window overlooking the spectacular skyline. Although she'd been there once before, like all visitors, no matter how many times they'd visited, she was struck by the novelty of revolving high in the sky with an ever-changing view. The waiter was about to seat Trisha when she asked, "Excuse me, could I please sit on that side? I get dizzy going backwards." Robert sighed impatiently, but the waiter just smiled, "Of course," and moved around the table to pull out the opposite chair for her. Robert ordered a bottle of champagne, a Krug. She knew how expensive that was and again dared to hope this might be the night. She watched as the waiter brought the champagne and displayed the label to him. Bobby looked so elegant. Had he dressed up especially for her as she had for him? The thought gladdened her, but then, he always looked elegant. The waiter opened the champagne with a mellow pop and holding the green bottle with a snow white linen cloth, poured him a sample. He rolled the pale liquid around in his mouth, nodded again and the waiter poured two flutes of the bubbly drink. Robert raised his glass, "To a brighter future." That wasn't exactly what she was expecting, but she echoed him, "To a brighter future," then raised the glass to her lips. He jerked her arm down, sloshing some of the golden liquid. "How many times do I have to tell you? Hold the flute by the stem, the stem." She quickly put down the glass and took a breath. Then carefully grasping the stem, she raised the flute, looked into his eyes and tried to smile. "Happy Valentine's Day." He dinged his flute with hers and put it down on the table. He shook his head then leaned forward. "That's just the kind of thing I've been talking about." He spread his hands out palms up. "You just don't get it, do you? Look, I need to tell you something and tonight's as good a night as any. He leveled his gaze straight at her. "Trish, it's just not working out." She felt as if she'd been punched in the stomach. This can't be happening. He couldn't mean..."What do you mean, it's not working out??" He shrugged and twirled the flute. "We just don't want the same thing." Trisha couldn't breathe. She felt faint. "But, Bobby, I don't understand. I thought..." Then her green eyes widened. "Is there someone else?" He looked at her with open contempt. "That's not the point. And it's Robert, Trish, Robert St. John; I'm not Bobby Johnson anymore. He leaned back and gave her a thin-lipped sneer. "And yes, there is someone else, but that's not why." His eyes wandered to the magnificent Seattle skyline slowly winding past and his voice sounded faraway, "The truth is, you're holding me back." Holding him back? How could she be holding him back? She kept his client records for him, never complained when he had to break a date or was late. She managed to get out, "Who is she?" He lifted his glass again and tossed off the last swallow. "Susan Van Pelt." Susan Van Pelt. Trisha knew of her from her frequent pictures in the society section of the Seattle Times. She was beautiful and very, very rich. She looked back at Robert. "Susan Van Pelt." Robert didn't reply, just scanned the menu. Now she understood. "So... you traded up." Robert looked up, amusement glittering in his ice blue eyes. "Don't talk that way about yourself." Her throat tightened and now her voice was higher and shaky, "Well, what would you call it? She's rich and sophisticated,"and raising her chin a little she rushed on, "and a good ten years older
than you." Robert smiled and bit off the words, "She's beautiful and she does things you wouldn't do." She was confused, "What kind of things?" He rolled his eyes and gave her a "DUH" look. "Oh." Just then the waiter returned, "Are you ready to order?" Robert drawled, "So, Trish, interested in a last supper?" White-faced, she looked at him. "I...I'm not hungry." Then she bolted from the table into the ladies' room and promptly threw up. Robert watched her leave, signed for the champagne then pulled out his silver money clip and slipped a $10 bill into the waiter's hand. "I'll just grab something at the club." The waiter nodded, "Thank you, Sir." Robert gave a wry smile. Money, and image, but mostly money. That's what it was all about. He waited for the valet to retrieve his car and ripped open the garish, hearted box she'd left. Inside was a long, slim men's leather wallet, suitable for carrying in an inside coat pocket. Stamped inside in small gold letters was GENUINE LEATHER. SPLIT COWHIDE. Robert flipped the tattered box, wallet and all into a nearby mesh trash receptacle. God, she'll never learn. His annoyance melted as he slid into his black Lexus. He breathed in the rich smell of the leather upholstery. He turned on the quiet, powerful engine and reached for the sound system then withdrew his hand. No music tonight. Instead, he wanted to savor the beginning of his new life, a life of luxury. He turned north toward Susan's home. How far he'd come since his college days when he’d worked his way through running the old Bible scam. He remembered the patter. 'Excuse me, ma'am, I'm here to see the mister of the house.' The tired-looking woman would stare at him out of red, swollen eyes. 'My husband died last week.' He'd look confused and pretend to think a moment, 'I'm sorry, ma'am, this is kinda delicate. May I come in?' And she'd look over the neatly-dressed, clean-cut looking young man with a cross in his lapel and invite him in. He chuckled. Once he was inside, they never had a chance. They'd offer him a glass a water and though he was suspicious of what parasite might be swimming around in the wells of rural West Virginia, he'd drain half of it. 'Thank you kindly, ma'am.' Then he'd explain how her dearly-departed husband had ordered a deluxe, gold-edged red-letter Bible and he'd show it to her, especially the gold-engraved spine- TO MY LOVING WIFE. Nine times out of ten, she'd gladly cough up the money though she hadn't yet figured out how to pay the undertaker. Now he turned onto Magnolia Boulevard. How he loved cruising along here, the white sea-wall and dark bay on his left and ever-larger mansions on the right. Yes, he'd been good from the getgo, often consoling the lonely, grieving widows the way he knew best. And the surprising thing, the truly amazing thing was, that city or country, the scam still worked. Now he was Robert St. John, Austin's of Seattle's best outside man. He showed jewelry at upscale fashion shows and discreetly delivered pieces to the offices of Seattle's movers and shakers so the wives wouldn't get wise. But he was still his best at the in-home private showings with the ladies. That's how he'd met Susan. He pressed the automatic window switch and enjoyed the breeze in his hair. Now he turned right and drove down the tree-lined streets of Queen Anne. He pulled into Susan's drive. It was a kindness, really, that he'd broken it off with Trish tonight. She would find someone else, someone who needed her. He didn't. The only thing he had ever needed her for was to maintain his client list. He was sliding out of the sedan and stopped. The client list. It was his lifeline; he'd have to get it. Might be a bit tricky, but he'd bring her around. He pushed the car door shut, enjoying the solid but
subdued clunk. He smoothed his jacket, checked his tie and cuffs then squared his shoulders and headed for the house. He was on his way now and he would let nothing stop him. Nothing and no one. ***** Chapter 3 TODD #16 was just warming to his favorite subject, his new gaming computer, when the crystal bell sounded. He looked startled. Trisha smiled and hoped she didn't look relieved. They shook hands, "Nice meeting you, Todd." She took a deep breath as he slid from the booth. One down and five to go. She looked up to see a self-assured light-haired jock-type slide into the booth. "MIKE #14" he announced in a loud, hearty voice, then spread his arms out "Hello, what have we here? Trisha #15. Definitely a step up, if you know what I mean," and pointed his chin at her sister Bonnie. "So, the party's getting interesting. How 'bout a little drink?" She started to reply and he caught his arm around a passing waitress. "Hey, doll, another brewski for me and get TRISHA #15 here whatever she's having." The waitress shot her a look of sympathy and left. She tossed off the last of MATT #28's wine and looked around. She didn't see him. Then she smiled brightly at MIKE #14 and said the magic words that would take care of him for the rest of their date, "So Mike, tell me about yourself." Mike's CV, it seemed, consisted mostly of the big games he had won single-handedly as a middle linebacker for the Washington Huskies. She found that with nods and an occasional "oh" she could make use of the time preparing a mental to-do list. There was much she had to take care of. First, since she had received the transcript of her courses from Business College in today's mail, she could call first thing in the morning to make an appointment with a guidance counselor at the university. Surely, some of the credits from her two years would transfer. Second, as soon as she found out what classes she would be taking and when, she would begin a job search. She had emptied out her Seattle bank account. After paying off bills, there was barely enough left to cover one semester's tuition. Bonnie had told her she didn't have to contribute to rent or even food, but she was used to paying her own way. She would stay with her sister only until she could find a place of her own. She was sure Bonnie would be glad to have the tiny A-frame cottage back to herself. Then there was an Oregon driver's license to see about. The law said you had to have one within a month of moving to the state. She'd been dragging her feet on that one in case Bobby showed up, but it had been three days and no word. Maybe she'd give it a couple more weeks. Just in case. The waitress brought the drinks and broke her reverie. Trisha said thank you, lifted her glass of wine by the stem, and smiled at MIKE #14. Mike clinked her glass so hard with his frosty mug, it almost spilled. "Cheers!" And indeed, she almost cheered with joy when the bell ding-a-linged the end of their date. Two down, four to go. She turned and tried to catch Bonnie's eye. Bonnie looked at Mike's broad back retreating and rolled her eyes then turned to her next date as a nice-looking man slid in across from Trisha. "Hi, I'm Jeff. You're Trisha?" "Hi, Jeff," she said. He looked normal and nice. It's unfair of me to be taking up his time when I'm
not interested. Oh well, I should try to make the best of a bad thing. "It's nice to meet you." "I'm glad to meet you, too." Then he leaned forward, "Look, I think I should be up front with you. I don't know if I should be here." She laughed, "Well, that makes two of us." He sat back and looked relieved. "Tom dragged me here." He hitched a thumb over his shoulder. "He's the guy at the booth I just came from?" She looked over her shoulder and saw the back of a tallish guy talking animatedly to Bonnie. "Tom thought I needed to get out. I'm married. Sheila...she just left me." He threw up his hands. "It's a mess. I'm sorry, you don't need to hear this." She traced a line down the side of her wine glass then looked up again. "I'm kind of in the same boat, only we weren't married." She took a long drink of wine. It still hurt to talk about it and she didn't want to because talking about Bobby and herself in the past tense seemed so final and she wasn't willing to admit it was over. She blinked back a tear."Maybe she'll come back and it'll all work out." She forced a smile. "In the meantime, we both need all the friends we can get." After that, she and Jeff chatted. She told him she was new in town and he filled her in on the many idiosyncrasies of living in laid-back Eugene. The few minutes passed quickly and pleasantly and she was surprised when the crystal bell rang to tell them it was time for the break. She said good-bye to Jeff and got up to find Bonnie. Bonnie was still sitting in her booth with Tom. Now that she could see him, he was quite nice-looking and totally immersed in his conversation with Bonnie, immersed and almost enthralled. Had Bobby ever looked at her like that? It seemed so long ago that they'd met, though it was only last October. October the 15th, The Ides. She was the executive assistant to Mr. Grant of Grant, Horton and McDermott, an investment firm. He'd come to deliver an exquisite five-carat solitaire. Mr. Grant and his wife of twenty-five years were renewing their vows and this was to make up for the engagement ring he hadn't been able to afford the first time round. Bobby was so handsome in his perfectly-tailored suit; he'd taken her breath away. He'd looked her over with his cool, blue eyes, quite unsettling her. She'd escorted him into Mr. Grant's office. Afterward, he'd asked her to lunch with him at a trendy bistro nearby. They began dating. Bobby never appreciated the fact that she'd worked her way through business school and up the chain from clerk to administrative assistant to executive assistant. He was always critical of how she dressed and began selecting her clothes. She wondered-if they had never met and he was here tonight, would he mark down her name and put an 'x' next to #15 in the yes column? Then she laughed. Robert here? At a Speed-dating event? This was way too tacky for him. She glanced back at Bonnie's table. Tom was still there and Bonnie was beaming. It was good to see that this Speed-date thing was at least working for someone. She didn't want to intrude so she weaved her way through the crowd toward the back of the room where the bar was. She usually didn't drink much, but the night was only half over and she could nurse one last glass of wine the rest of the evening. She moved toward the crush at the bar and found herself looking around again for MATT #28. Maybe it was the wine she'd had or the flirty atmosphere, but she wanted to see him again. It surprised her. He'd made quite an impression. She remembered his fresh, male smell, the thrill that had run through her when he’d accidentally touched her hand and most of all his lips just made for kissing. She spotted him to the right of the bar crowd and he turned as if sensing her and smiled. He started to move toward her and was yanked back. It was the lady in red. Angela. Obviously, she'd culled the best of the bunch for herself. Angela saw them connecting and tightened her grip on his arm and pulled him back into the group. MATT #28 lifted his free hand and gave a sexy Whatcan-I-do? grin and was swallowed up by the crowd. Trisha took one step forward then shook her head. What was the matter with her? She was acting
like a teenager. She decided she definitely didn't need any more wine and instead went to the ladies' room to freshen up. Just as she was repairing her lipstick, she heard the crystal bell again. Three down, three to go. She heaved a heavy sigh and headed back to her booth. ***** Chapter 4 Trisha slid into her seat. Tom was rising reluctantly from Bonnie's booth and Bonnie caught her eye. Bonnie made a chopping motion against her left palm and mouthed the words, "Remember the Long Division." Trisha nodded an okay then gave Tom a big grin as he sat across from her. Now she could get a good look at him. He even looked like her sister, longish dark hair and an open, unguarded face. "Hi, you're Bonnie's sister? I'm Tom." He gave her a nice handshake and settled in. "Hi." "So, what was all the sign language about?" "Oh, you caught that, did you?" She laughed. "You'll think it's silly and I probably shouldn't tell you, but I have a feeling Bonnie won't mind. When I was 14 and she was 12, we divided all the men in the world into two groups and we made a pact that we'd never poach on each other's territory. We even made up a signal," and she made a cleaver of her left hand and brought it down onto her right palm with a chop. "It means, 'Hands off, he's mine.' See, I told you it was silly." Tom looked relieved. "I don't think it's silly at all, I think it's great." He paused. "Your sister and I hit it off pretty good." "Ya think?" Tom turned a little red. "That obvious, huh. So, what'd you think of Jeff?" "He's nice. Jeff and I are kind of in the same boat. I hope he gets his wife back." Tom took off his jacket and balled it up beside him so he could turn and sneak a peek at Bonnie whose eyes sparkled back at him. Then he remembered he was in the middle of a conversation and turned back around. "Sorry, uh, oh yeah, I don't know. He didn't tell me what they fought about this time. He was always trying so hard to please her and it seemed like he was fighting a losing battle, like she was never satisfied. Jeff's really a great guy and deserves somebody who will appreciate him. Sometimes you've got to just let go and move on, you know?" Yes, she knew, but she'd already had this discussion with Bonnie. It wasn't that simple. Everything had happened so fast. One minute she thought she was going to get engaged, the next minute Bobby told her it wasn't working and she ran away and boom, she was here. Poor Bobby was the confused one, though, thinking that money would buy him happiness. "Maybe Sheila will miss Jeff and realize what she has." Tom looked skeptical, but agreed, "It could happen. So, have you and Bonnie ever had a problem where you dated the same guy?" She shook her head, "No, we're too different. She looks like our dad and I look like my mother. They're both gone." "Oh, I'm sorry." "Thanks. We're different inside too, opposites really. She's very together. She's laid-back and I'm more a type A. I don't have a green thumb and she has. We grew up in Eastern Oregon, you know how dry it is there, but she could grow anything." She picked up a yellow number 2. "She could probably stick this pencil in the ground and make it grow. I mean, it's like magic. She knows what
she wants, she's always known. I keep plugging away, but I'm not sure where I'm going." Tom looked at her earnestly, "What does Bonnie want?" "Simple. She wants to grow things, marry a good man and raise a family." Tom looked dreamily. "Me too," then laughed a little, "Uh, not the man part, but you know what I mean." Yes, Trisha knew what he meant and while the growing things part didn't appeal to her, finding a good man and raising a family sounded wonderful. Finding a good man was proving to be difficult. Could it be that Bobby was right, that she was wrong for him? Perhaps he was wrong for her as well. But if not him, then who? She thought of MATT #28 and his effect on her. Then she shook herself, now she was imagining things. Besides, hadn't she sworn off men forever? She was really confused and before she was snowed under from working and going to school, she would have to do some thinking to figure things out. *** Matt finally had worked his way up to where he was two rows over and perfectly aligned with Trisha. She seemed pretty engrossed in her conversation with a tall dark-haired guy. Darn that Angela. Back when he was working for his dad for peanuts, he had been interested in her and she wouldn't give him a tumble. Instead, she'd chased after some timber tycoon. Now that he'd inherited the business and the house, she was determined to land him. If she wasn't Pete's sister, he'd... He smiled at the egocentric Barbie doll who was his date. "Oh really," and let her run on about herself while he watched Trisha. She looked animated and natural at the same time. In the reddish candlelight, her hair was molten copper and her cheeks rosy. He watched her bow-shaped mouth. Her lips looked like they needed kissing and suddenly he wanted to kiss her, wanted to very much. What was the matter with him? He'd exchanged only a few words with her. How could she have gotten to him so quickly? This was nuts! It was the touch. No one had ever affected him that way. They'd barely even touched, and his body had reacted violently as if shocked and caressed at the same time. He had to get to know her and there was no way he was going to wait three days for an e-mail. He wouldn't leave without her name and her phone number and extracting a promise for a date. Now that he had a course of action, he could relax. He gave her one more glance then politely returned to catch the end of the Barbie monologue and the ding of the crystal bell. *** Tom looked at his watch. His date with Trisha was about up so he rushed on, "Look, I'm afraid they'll screw up the e-mail thing. I asked Bonnie to meet me here at 7:00 Friday night just in case. Make sure she comes, will you? Please?" He looked as if his life depended on her answer and for the second time that night he made her feel all hollow inside. She looked him in the eye and raised her right hand, "Scout's honor." Tom took a deep breath, "Thanks. I mean it, thanks a lot." Then the bell rang and they said good-bye. *** Matt said good-bye to Barbie and moved to the next booth. Now there was a pillar blocking his view of Trisha. What rotten luck! Date 5 was a very pretty petite brunette. Two good-looking women in a row. There was a time when he would have loved this, but now it took all his years of proper upbringing just to be polite. The brunette introduced herself as 'Tami with an I', but before he could reply, here came Angela to run interference. She smiled broadly, turned her back to Matt and hooked a hip on the table to talk to Tami. "Hi, are you having fun? Have you met Matt? Nice guy." He couldn't see what she mouthed then to Tami, but she spent the next five minutes insinuating herself into the conversation so that they were very much a threesome. ***
Trisha tried to keep her mind on what her fifth date, JERRY #8, was saying, but it was hard. No offense to Jerry. He seemed nice enough, but she had too much on her mind already. Again she wondered what she was doing here, not just at Pete's Place, but in Eugene. After Bobby had broken it off, she couldn't stay in Seattle, walking the same streets he did, breathing the same air, knowing all the time that he was with someone else. She would have been tempted to call him or go to his apartment on some pretext. She didn't want to embarrass herself and she knew it was the worst thing she could do. He'd taken her for granted. She'd worked an hour a night keeping up his detailed client list. He'd explained to her that it was essential to every salesman's success, a success they would share. The list was an extensive database containing names, addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, anniversaries, children's, wives' and mistresses' names, previous purchases and likes and dislikes. And they had to be constantly updated, especially the girlfriends, or they were useless. Bobby prided himself on keeping pace with the doings of the rich. She'd thought that absence might make the heart grow fonder, but here it was the third day and nothing. Still, he'd always wanted what he couldn't have so maybe her being here was for the best. At least she was going back to school and he might find life difficult with no one to do his data entry for him. Susan certainly wasn't going to keep up the list. Hey, wait a minute. She had the list on her computer, not on his. He'd have to contact her. But did she want him to? She was no longer sure. Feeling very unsettled, she smiled grimly at her date. He'd asked her a question. "Pardon me?" "What do you think of Speed-dating?" "It's interesting how much you can tell about someone in so brief a time." Yes, wasn't it. Like Matt. She still hadn't seen him again although she had looked. She hoped he hadn't left and was very pleased to have the bell end her date so she could look around once more. She was peering around the room when a very tall, leering man approached. He wore a name tag, LARRY #6, and she instinctively drew back just as Bonnie ducked in between them. Bonnie was giving her frantic signals, grimacing, rolling her eyes. "Sorry to take you away, Trish. I'm really feeling ill." She looked at Larry and put on her no-nonsense office voice, "I'm so sorry, but I have to leave." She started to rise. He stood uncomfortably close and pawed her shoulder then tried to slip an arm around her. "Your friend here can wait a few minutes, can't she? Give us a chance to get better acquainted." He slurred a little and now she caught the full beery smell of him. She wrenched away from him and escaped with Bonnie to the front of the dining room. "He was awful! Thanks for the heads up." "Any time," Bonnie said and handed her card to Sean at the registration table then turned to her sister. "Have you marked your card?" "No." Bonnie leveled a look at her, "We're not leaving until you mark someone down." Trisha paused then very deliberately at the bottom in the Wild Card section wrote MATT #28 and a large 'X" under Yes. Sean took her card. "Leaving so soon? I hope you both had a good time. We'll let you know when there's another one. Be on the lookout for your e-mail." All the way home, Bonnie talked about Tom. They had many interests in common and felt so comfortable with each other. Trisha was glad for her sister. "He certainly seems to be smitten with you." She shared with her the promise she'd made to make sure Bonnie would be at Pete's Friday night if all else failed. Bonnie turned onto Willamette Street and gave her a quick glance, "What about you?" "Well, I'm not really looking. I'm still hoping that Bobby..." Bonnie made a face. "There was one, though. She got a far off look on her face. "His name is Matt."
"I don't remember him." "I met him at the bar. He was..." Let's face it, he was wonderful. Those laughing gray eyes with crinkles in the corners and that smile. Bonnie interrupted her ruminations, "He was what?" "Oh! Um, nice, very nice." Bonnie turned onto Fox Hollow Road. "What did you think about Jeff?" "He was sweet." "Maybe you two could console each other." She didn't reply. Like Sheila with Jeff, Bobby had never been satisfied with her. They had never fought, but that was because she had always deferred to him. She was trying to remember what Tom had said to her, something about sometimes needing to let go and move on. It certainly was beginning to look like Bobby had. She had hoped that coming to Eugene, distancing herself from the situation, would help her to see things more clearly, but it hadn't. And now she had met Matt, a handsome stranger she would probably never see again, but whom she couldn't get out of her mind. She was tired and thinking about all this was giving her a headache. She closed her eyes and leaned back for the last few miles of the ride home and absent-mindedly stroked her hand where Matt had touched her. *** It was all Matt could do to keep from looking at his watch. It was bad enough he was having trouble keeping his mind on the conversation he was having with Date 6, but looking at his watch would be unforgivably rude. There could be only five minutes more, so he focused on Rita. She was asking him what he liked to do in his spare time. "I don't have a lot of spare time. Seems I'm always working, but when I do get some time, I like to go fishing." "What kind?" Matt laughed. "All kinds, you name it, I do it-shore fishing for whiting, I use a spin rod for bass, downrigger for kokanee, but I guess my favorite is fly fishing. There's a certain elegance to it and there's nothing more refreshing in the heat of summer than to stand in an icy stream in your waders and try to catch your supper." Rita nodded. "My brother has done some of that, but he says it's difficult to catch anything." Matt agreed, "It is much harder than flipping a baited hook over the side of a boat, I do that if I'm feeling lazy, but I like the challenge of it. Also, it reminds me of a lot of good times with my father. He taught me to fly fish when I ten and I always feel like he's still right up around the bend trying his luck too." He was about to ask Rita about her pastimes, but the crystal bell dinged to signal the end of their date so they made their good-byes. He tried not to rush away like an escapee. He looked everywhere for Trisha, the front of the room where the crowd was pushing out, the back near the bar. He even watched the ladies' room entrance for a couple of minutes, but she was gone. Disappointed, he made his way to the front. He pulled the card out of his hip pocket and wrote Trisha #15 at the bottom and marked a big black 'X' in the Yes column and handed it to Sean. He headed to the front of the restaurant to find Pete for a drink when Angela corralled him. She slipped her arm around his and nestled into his side, "Want a nightcap?" Matt removed her arm. "No, I've got to get up early. Then he pushed his way out into the chilly night. Angela, her mouth a tight, straight slit, watched Matt leave then drifted back to the card table. She casually leafed through the cards until she found Matt's. She knew it! He'd marked none of the six dates, her intervention had been successful there, but he'd made one entry in the Wild Card section. She noted the name then folded it very small; he won't need this, and slipped it into her bag. ***
This time of night, it was about a twenty minute drive home. Matt thought over the evening, not really the evening-Trisha. She had an open face and seemed to be a real no-nonsense type of girl. He recalled her green, almond eyes, her bow-shaped mouth and the thrill that had shot through him when he'd touched her hand. He had to see her again, and like a kid a few days before Christmas, he was sure he couldn't wait. ***** Chapter 5 The happy chirping of birds woke Trisha the next morning. For once she wasn't startled at waking in the strange little room at the top of the A-frame cottage. The walls sloped severely, but the bed was very comfortable and this fine morning the sunlight streamed through the small window. She pulled on jeans and a warm but worn navy tunic sweater and slid her feet into old trainers. She walked down the steep stairs to the main room. Oliver, Bonnie's tabby, was scratching at the door and she let him out. She'd been too unhappy the previous days to show much interest in her surroundings, but this morning was too nice to be sad. She decided to explore. Out here on Fox Hollow Road you could hear things you wouldn't hear in town. Behind the birdsong was the sound of the wind rushing through the pines. She located the red-crested woodpecker rat-a-tatting high up in an old cedar tree. Oliver's claws scratched as he ran halfway up a tree after a squirrel. It was so beautiful here. The A-frame cottage Bonnie rented, a cabin really, was as unpretentious as she was and she'd made it her own. The front was surrounded by a riot of color. Purple and red crocuses and yellow and white daffodils leaned toward the early sun. She breathed in the heavenly scent of the blue and pink hyacinths and all around her were tall, dark pines and the underlying smell of Matt. The thought of him made her smile and for the first time in many days she felt cheery and hopeful that all would be okay. With one last deep breath of the fresh, bracing air, she headed back inside to start breakfast. The blue whistling tea kettle sat on the small stove and rummaging through the knotty pine cupboards, she found a tin of tea bags and a flowered china teapot and made a pot of tea. Bonnie padded out of the back bedroom in a long, flannel granny gown and stretched. "Did you sleep well?" "Yes, I did." She handed her a mug of tea. "Want some toast?" "Please. Did you let Oliver out?" "Yes, he's up a tree, chasing a squirrel." "That cat. Every once in a while he catches something and drops it at my feet. I don't know whether to yell at him for killing something or praise him for doing what he's meant to do. Fortunately, he's not much of a hunter." They ate the buttered toast at the small table. "It's nice to wake up to tea and toast. You'll spoil me. What's on your agenda today?" Trisha ticked the list off on her fingers. "Call the university and make an appointment with a counselor, check the internet for jobs, get a newspaper and look for jobs." Bonnie got up. "You know, you don't need to hurry about a job." "Yes, I do. School is expensive and I can't live with you forever." "Keep doing the cooking and you're hired for life. Oh, look at the time. See you later." Trisha washed the few breakfast dishes while her sister dressed. She was carrying up a fresh mug
of tea to her loft when she heard Bonnie's old Volkswagen putt-putting down the road. She climbed the steep steps and turned on her computer set up on an old typing table. She logged in and checked her e-mail. It was junk, all junk. Nothing from Bobby and nothing from the Speed-date people. She started job searching. First, the Oregon Employment Department website. It took a while to learn how to navigate the website, but she finally found the advanced search page where she could limit the jobs to the local area and part-time only. The results were discouraging. There were thirteen part-time jobs and many of those were the trades. When she further limited the search to office/administrative-she came up with only three and the hourly wage was far too low to earn what she needed in only 20-30 hours per week. She checked the links for state, county and city positions and the wages were better, but again the part-time jobs were few and often specialized. She turned off her computer, drank the last of her tea and came back down the steps. She telephoned the university and made an appointment with a counselor for the next day. Then she grabbed her jacket and purse off the peg and locked the cottage. The sun had taken some of the chill off the air, but it still felt fresh and wonderful and she enjoyed her two mile walk to the grocery store. She'd better pick up something for dinner. Thank goodness things were cheaper here than in Seattle. A small piece of salmon and some very tender asparagus would do. She added a day-old loaf of sourdough and put them on the conveyor with the Register Guard newspaper. She opened her bag and drew out one of the few remaining bills. Maybe there would be some promising positions listed in the paper. Outside the store, she pulled out her cell phone and called the cottage. Although the service was poor in this hilly part of Eugene, Bonnie's breezy voice on the answering machine confirmed it worked. Good. She needed a properly working cell phone to receive calls from prospective employers. Or anyone else who wanted to contact her. Of course, Bobby could always e-mail her. He'd probably been working his usual long hours, but how long does it take to send an e-mail- five minutes, maybe ten? The walk home was more difficult as it was uphill, but like everyone in Seattle, she'd done a great deal of walking and Seattle certainly wasn't flat. Back home in eastern Oregon, it had been miles to anywhere. She had always enjoyed walking and felt that too many people whiz by in a car missing the wonderful things around them like the wildflowers by the side of the road. The white sound of the wind through the trees soothed her. It was only uncertainty that bothered her. She hated to be in limbo, liked her life orderly. By the time she reached the little cottage, she was feeling hopeful. On such a glorious Spring day, how else could one feel? Munching on the last of a salad that had seen better days, she looked in vain for a good part-time job in the paper, then did some figuring, adding up the cost of tuition and books and something toward the household expenses. She would have to ask the counselor about financial aid. Then she washed her plate and silverware and took a glass of lemonade upstairs to update her resume'. While logged on, she checked her e-mail again. Still no word from Bobby. He would contact her eventually, for his client data, if nothing else. There was no word from the Speed-date people either. She was surprised she was so disappointed. But then, it was early. They'd said it would be within three days. Within three days could mean today, couldn't it? Maybe tomorrow. The truth was, she really wanted to see Matt again and sat thinking of his handsome grin. Bonnie's noisy homecoming broke her reverie. It had been a typical day for a Master Gardener at the County Extension Service. You never knew what would turn up. Today, she'd taken a dozen calls about bulbs and must have told twice that many callers that it was too early to fertilize their lawns. Then she'd had to confirm for a visitor that sorry, but the larvae he'd brought in a jar were termites. That plus the usual calls about how to get moss off the roof had kept her busy. "I like helping people. It's more fun growing things yourself than giving out information to others, but the callers are all very nice."
Trisha listened to her sister's pleasant chatter while she prepared dinner. Though it was too cold to cook outside, she planked the salmon anyway for the oven. "Do you like the salmon rubbed with a little brown sugar or would you prefer putting honey mustard on it after?" "Whatever." Trisha rubbed some turbinado on half the filet and closed the oven, then put the asparagus and some water in a glass dish for the small microwave. That done, she pulled out the bread board and cut a few slices of the sourdough. She slathered butter on one and offered it to Bonnie. "You know, it's true what I told Tom about you. I wish I was as together as you are; lately I feel like I'm a mess." Bonnie looked shocked. "You're kidding. I've always looked up to my smarter, more mature sister. When dad's old friend, Mr. Mathers, offered me the job in the nursery, you encouraged me to take it, to do what I've always wanted. Coming to Eugene was a big step for me, but you had the guts to move all the way up I-5 to the city. May not seem like much now, but when dad passed away and we had no one else, your encouragement and confidence in me meant the world." "But Bonnie, you've always been able to accomplish anything you set your mind to." "I didn't know that, though, did I?" Bonnie paused to finish off her bread. "Then you put yourself through business school, which made me think maybe I could become a Master Gardener. You worked your way up to a wonderful job. It's just too bad you met stupid Bobby." Trisha paused from setting the table. "I admit that Bobby no longer seems like Mr. Wonderful, but you don't understand him like I do. We didn't have a lot of money, but when he was growing up, he had nothing and no one. He was shifted from foster home to foster home. Material wealth represents to him the security he never had." Bonnie shook her head. Trisha was hopeless. "You always see the best in everyone." "I just try to see it from their point of view." She lifted the tabby who'd been staring at the cupboard where the cat food was kept. "Take Oliver here, he thinks it's way past dinner time." Bonnie looked at the clock. "And he's right." That night she lay in bed listening to the rain beat against the slant roof above her. She felt warm and toasty against the chilly night. Was it the old soft comforter or the thought of Matt's taut muscular body when she was jostled against him? Oh, she hoped she'd see him again. She decided that she should go to sleep to hurry the new day so she shut her eyes tight and for the first time in days looked forward to what tomorrow might bring. ***** Chapter 6 The next morning Bonnie dropped her off at the university on her way to work. The campus was beautiful. There was a nice mix of old and newer buildings all surrounded by broad walks, green grass and trees. Some of the trees were still bare, but there were plenty of evergreens too and she was surprised to see pink rhododendrons blooming on the well-tended bushes outside the Administration building. She found the counselors' office and gave her name to the student working the desk. It was only a few minutes before a lanky blond woman smiled and took her into her office. Her nameplate said Joan Bascomb. Miss Bascomb was very thorough in reviewing her transcript from Business College, but couldn't alter the outcome. She removed her rimless glasses, "I'm sorry, Miss Long, but I only see three courses here that will transfer for sure and a big maybe on these other two." She pointed at the transcript on which she'd
made three checks and two question marks. "It'll be up to Admissions. So, at best, you have a semester of credit." Trisha was disappointed, but tried looking on the bright side. "At least that's something, isn't it? And what I learned in business school will support me while I'm going to college." Miss Bascomb smiled warmly. "That positive attitude will carry you as far as anything else." They discussed what classes she should enroll in and agreed that three classes was the right number and selected Composition, Sociology 101 and math. The times were right, too. She could take an 8:00, 9:00 and 10:00 class, though she'd have to go at a dead run to get to the math building on time. Trisha took the form they'd completed and followed her directions to the Registrar's office. She stood in line for a few minutes and finally saw a clerk who told her that her high school grades automatically qualified her for admission. He stamped her form and sent her next door to the Business office. There was no one waiting in the anteroom of the Business office, but she could hear phones ringing. After fifteen minutes, she was called to the desk of an older woman who interviewed her very efficiently, typing her name, address and telephone number onto a computer screen and then added in the information regarding the courses she'd take. The woman then turned the monitor around so that she could see it and reviewed with her the tuition and fees. Trisha was shocked at the total. It would take almost everything she had to pay for Spring term. She looked at the woman. "Any chance of financial aid?" The clerk told her it was too late to apply for aid for Spring term, but that she had plenty of time to apply for next year. She gave her the forms and an instruction sheet then waited. Trisha hesitated then pulled out her checkbook and wrote a check for the tuition. She would have to focus all her energy on finding employment and soon. The woman printed out a receipt and smiled. "Welcome to the University of Oregon." She left the Business office and reached the bus stop just in time to catch the Southbound bus that would take her as far as the grocery store mini-mall near Bonnie's cottage. The fifteen minute ride up into the hills gave her time to review the morning's events. She was excited at the thought of going to the university. She'd always done well in school and had enjoyed learning. She'd wanted to be a teacher, but the cost of her mother's illness had made attending college out of the question and then dad had died leaving a significant mortgage on their small farm. She had been pleased just to be able to fulfill all his obligations and nothing had been left for school. It was fortunate that Bonnie had been offered the job with Mr. Mathers. Then there was only herself to worry about. She had decided that the sensible thing to do was to head for Seattle where there were plenty of opportunities, there were no jobs at home, and work her way through business college. It had been lonely and strange in the city. Seattle was beautiful and clean, but noisier and faster than she was used to. Living there had made her feel unsophisticated and slow, but that had turned out to be a blessing as she came across to her instructors and later to her employer as a quiet, dependable girl. She got off the bus at the grocery store and went in to pick up food for dinner. Bonnie liked her tuna noodle casserole so she bought the few items needed. Starting the winding uphill walk the last two miles to the cottage, she continued her thoughts. She had been lonely in the city until she'd met Bobby who'd impressed her with his elegance and drive. For a while, she'd thought that, with his help, she could become sophisticated too. She realized now that like most old adages, it was trueYou can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl. Perhaps all that had happened had been for the best and now she'd come full circle. She would work and go to school, she'd done it before, only this time she'd become a teacher. She entered the cottage with the spare key Bonnie had given her and felt more at peace, as if she had fit at least a few pieces of the puzzle together. She assembled the casserole then opened a can of soup for lunch and took the hot mug of soup up
to her loft. She sipped it while she waited for her computer to warm up. She would see if there were any new jobs listed on-line today. But first, she would check her e-mail. Maybe she'd finally hear from the Speed-date people. And there it was on the screen. Not what she wanted, a reply from the Speed-date firm with information about Matt, but an e-mail from Bobby. She was tempted to delete it without opening, but the frantic subject line WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN??? made her open it. The message was simple: Where have you been? Trying to reach you. Stopped at your apt and saw you'd moved out. Which means you have your computer with you. Try to upload client list. Very, very busy. Will contact you later this week. P.S. Miss you. He had finally contacted her. His e-mail was short, but then they'd always been brief. And he did say that he missed her. She wasn't sure how she felt about him, but she spent the rest of the afternoon formatting and uploading his data files as well as some directions for using them. When she was done, she checked her watch. It was time to put dinner in. She would devote all of tomorrow to finding a job. She talked over the day's events with her sister, but did not mention that she had heard from Bobby, she knew what Bonnie would have to say, then headed upstairs for a good night's sleep as there was much to do the next day. So, Bobby had written her. He missed her. Or did he just want his files? What an uncharitable thought. She tried to gauge how she felt about Bobby, tried to picture him, but his face kept changing to a dark-haired man with laughing gray eyes and as she dropped off, she realized that the man in her thoughts wasn't Bobby at all. ***** Chapter 7 Trisha woke the next morning, a woman on a mission. She made instant coffee, toasted bagels and scrambled some eggs. Bonnie sat back with a pleasantly full look. "Maybe it's just this great breakfast, but I have a feeling that today is going to be terrific. Work will go well, your job search will pay off and we'll come home tonight with e-mails waiting for us about Tom and that very nice man you're so hushhush about." Trisha started clearing the table. "I hope you're right. Classes start the week after next and I'm determined to find a job before then." While filling the sink with sudsy water, she said almost to herself, "The very nice man would be wonderful too." Her sister chugged off in her little car and Trisha climbed the stairs to the loft. She turned on her computer and logged in and couldn't help clicking her e-mail account first. There was nothing, but it was early yet. Perhaps she would hear tonight. Then she searched the Employment Department listings. Again, there were only a few part-time jobs. The hours of the one promising one conflicted with her class schedule. She followed the links to the state, county and local websites. Nothing new there. Bonnie had told her that only about 30% of all jobs were advertised and that many positions were handled through private employment agencies. She decided to follow her advice and signed off and put in a call to the one she had recommended and made an appointment for 11:00. She needed to
dress as if for an interview so selected camel-colored, tailored slacks with a matching jacket, a brown silk blouse and sensible low-heeled brown leather shoes. It was raining outside, so on her way out, she grabbed her umbrella, trench coat and bag and made sure Oliver was inside. In spite of the rain, the walk to the bus stop was pleasant. The shades of green, and there were many, were greener and the air smelled sweet. The rain beat a happy tune on her umbrella. June, from the employment agency had been very encouraging. She hoped Bonnie was right and this would be their lucky day. As if to underline that hope, the bus pulled up just as she reached her stop and in almost no time she was disembarking at the modern new station downtown. She found the agency, but it was too early to go in, so she decided to poke around the craft shop next door. The prices were very reasonable. She wanted to make something for Bonnie to thank her for letting her stay with her. She could make her a runner for her plant table. but no, Oliver would climb up and destroy it in a second, or worse, get caught in it and hurt. She could picture him hanging by a claw. She had better limit herself to a doily or two to set off the planters. She looked through the floss and found a nice ecru and bought some bobbins. She entered the employment agency and gave her name and mentioned she had an appointment for 11:00. Soon she was called back by a smiling woman, a Mrs. Alvarez. Mrs. Alvarez reviewed her resume' and read the glowing letter of recommendation Mr. Grant had been kind enough to write. She put the papers down and smiled, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Long. You come highly recommended and I'm sure you've come to the right place. What I'd like to do, is ask you to take our standard test. It takes less than an hour, then we'll talk some more. All right?" She nodded. Mrs. Alvarez led her to a small, quiet room with four cubicles each containing a computer. She explained the test consisted of a straight typing test for speed and accuracy, then a math section, then grammar and a few questions to assess her knowledge of basic office software. The test was easy and she completed it in about forty minutes then went to find her. Mrs. Alvarez reviewed the results. They were impressive. "With skills like these, we should have no difficulty placing you." "Will there be a charge?" "Not to you. The firms contracting with us pay us to find skilled employees. Now suppose you tell me what type of job you are looking for." She explained that she was anxious to find a part-time position that would fit with her class schedule and would be available each day after 12:00 P.M. "The wages here are much lower than in Seattle and although I just began looking, I am afraid a part-time office job won't pay enough to allow time for school and studying." "The wages here are lower than what you're used to. Many of the part-time office positions tend to fall into the category of office helper. You know, photocopying, answering the phone. We'll have to think outside the box. She tapped a pencil on the desk and her eyes fell on the bag from the craft shop. "What did you find at the craft store?" Trisha was puzzled at the question. Was she just stalling before giving her the bad news that she had nothing good for her? "I thought I'd tat some doilies for my sister." "Tat?" "Yes, make lace. With a bobbin and floss? My mother taught me." And she made an upturned prong of her hand and motioned passing a bobbin around and through the floss. Suddenly, Mrs. Alvarez smiled broadly. "I may have just the thing for you, if you don't mind something a little out of your usual line." Trisha sat forward. "Great." Mrs. Alvarez taped a few keys on her computer and brought up a screen. "We have a standing order with a firm out West 11th- Crockett's. They make fishing equipment and are always looking for someone who is good with their hands. It's specialized work, very pleasant, no assembly line, no standing or lifting, nothing heavy, and it pays very well."
"I'd be interested in talking to them." Mrs. Alvarez rose from her desk. "Fine. I'll make an appointment for you. Is tomorrow okay?" "Yes, tomorrow." Mrs. Alvarez made the call and handed her a referral sheet, "Tomorrow at 1:00." After thanking her, she walked to the bus station. By the time she got off the bus at the grocery store, the rain had stopped. She picked up a pound of ground beef for a meatloaf and with hope in her steps reached the cottage in no time. Finding all the ingredients and the loaf pan to bake the meatloaf in took longer than it did to mix it. She put it in the refrigerator, ready to pop into the oven at 4:00 o'clock and made a cheese sandwich. Only after lunch did she finally permit herself to go upstairs and check her e-mail. It was the third day. Surely she would have heard by now. And she did, but it was not what she had hoped. It read: Sorry, no matches this time. Then it went on to pitch their singles website, over 4000 listings! and Join us for our next event! but all she saw was no match. No match. He hadn't selected her. Her stomach rolled over. What a fool she had been to build up a smile and a few words into a budding romance. Was she that needy? Then she remembered his reaction when their hands had touched. Not only had he not selected her, but he didn't want to have anything to do with her. Now she understood how far off base she had been. This is what happens when you let your emotions get the upper hand. Well, no more. She'd return to her comfort zone of study and work. She'd return there and never leave it again. There, she was safe. She didn't know how long she had sat looking at the screen, but was broken out of her sad musings by the sound of Bonnie's car pulling in. She shook herself and hurried down to put dinner in the oven. Bonnie was ecstatic. She grabbed her by the shoulders and whirled her around. "Have you been on-line? I got it. I got it. I checked at work. His full name is Tom Nichols. I have his phone number and his e-mail. What should I do? Should I call him or should I wait for him to call me? Oh, I'm so happy!" It was only then that Bonnie noticed how quiet her sister was. "What's the matter?" Trisha mustered a smile. "Oh, nothing, I'm just tired. I checked my e-mail too and nothing." And now she brightened her voice,"But that's all right. I'm really not interested right now." She busied herself at the sink rinsing the last of the asparagus, trying to keep the tears out of her voice. "I have some wonderful news. though. I took your advice and visited the employment agency and I have an interview tomorrow afternoon for a job." "That's wonderful about the job. I'm sorry it didn't work out about the Speed..." The phone rang. "It's him, I know it. It's him!" It was. Bonnie didn't hide her pleasure at hearing from Tom. Trisha really was glad that it had worked out for her sister and she was glad, too, that Bonnie was in the middle of what would prove to be a very long call. It gave her time to go upstairs and have a long quiet cry into her pillow. When it was over, she felt drained, but better and wiped her eyes and slipped into the bathroom downstairs to repair her looks. She needn't have worried. Bonnie wouldn’t have noticed if she'd grown a second head. She was pulling the meatloaf out of the oven when her sister asked her if she would join them with Jeff at Pete's Place tomorrow night. She tried to beg off, but Bonnie wouldn’t take no for an answer and not wanting to make a fuss, she agreed as long as it was understood that it was not a date. That was no obstacle as Tom said that Jeff thought he was making progress with Sheila. They just wanted the two of them to get out a little. After dinner, she went to bed early pleading the need to be at her best for tomorrow's interview. Oliver was the only one who had picked up on her deep upset and he climbed up the steep stairs. His purring body curled next to her comforted her so that although she'd thought it would be impossible,
soon she was fast asleep. ***** Chapter 8 The morning of the interview passed quickly for Trisha. She'd always found that hard work was an excellent way to calm down so she scrubbed the cottage from top to bottom until it gleamed. A little leftover meatloaf at 11:00 took care of lunch and then she showered and dressed for the interview. It was difficult to decide what to wear. If she dressed up too much, they might reject her as being overqualified. On the other hand, looking efficient and professional never hurt. She desperately needed to get settled and the sooner she had the job piece in place and could begin classes and get into a routine, the better off she would be. Finally, she decided on her white blouse, tweed tailored slacks and her brown suede jacket and brown shoes. She also swept her hair into a knot so that she looked very neat. She walked briskly down to the bus stop and rode to the downtown station then changed to the Westbound bus to take her to Crockett's. She'd already discussed matters with Bonnie and they had agreed that Bonnie would drop her off at the university each morning and that after classes, if she got the job, she would take a bus to Crockett's. Then depending on when her work day ended, she would either take the bus to meet Bonnie downtown and ride home with her or take two buses home. Either way, it would pay to buy a monthly bus pass. Trisha was not familiar with the west side. West 11th was one of the main arteries of Eugene. She watched the scenery decline from the upscale park-like downtown business district to older homes, then shabbier homes, then gas stations, small used car lots and second hand stores to transient motels and empty lots. As the bus approached her cross street, she pulled the cord. She got off directly across from her destination. Unlike the concrete terrain she'd passed, here were trees, bushes and a manicured lawn. A colorful gleaming metal sculpture of a rainbow trout caught on a line leapt above a monolithic waterfall pouring into a rock pool. Behind it was a large unassuming beige building. A bay window graced the left front of the building. Above it, shiny gold letters spelled out Crockett and Son, Inc. She entered and found herself in a tidy shop. Several customers browsed the shelves filled with fishing equipment. She approached the gray-haired man behind the counter. "Excuse me; I have a 1:00 interview for a job?" He smiled. "Then you want the office. Go back outside and take the entrance to your left. Double doors, you can't miss it." She thanked him and found the other entrance which led to a small lobby. The lobby was carpeted and nicely decorated in soothing earth tones. Bright light streamed in from the many-paned double doors. Behind the reception desk underneath a large portrait of a kindly-looking older man sat a girl who greeted her, "Welcome to Crockett's. May I help you?" "I have a 1:00 appointment, an interview for a job." The receptionist reached for the telephone. "I'll let Veronica know you're here." Trisha waited in one of the comfortable chairs. From where she sat, she could see the water sheeting off the monolith. It broke up the sunlight shining through it and made a rainbow in the spray. Perhaps that was a good omen that today was her lucky day. A very pregnant Veronica came to greet her, hand outstretched. "Hi, I'm Veronica Hinman, Mr. Crockett's assistant."
"Trisha Long." "Will you come this way?" She led her into a small, but well-appointed office. "Please, have a seat." "Thank you." Veronica located a folder on her desk. "Let's see, I have a referral from the agency, your resume' and a letter of recommendation from your former employer. I don't quite understand..." She looked some more, "Oh, now I see. You do handiwork, lace making with a bobbin and thread, is that correct?" "Yes, yes it is." "So that's why. She looked up and smiled. "Crockett's is always on the lookout for fly tyers. That's what we do. We make flies for fly fishing, like this." She held up a Lucite cube with a dazzling purple, orange and hot pink fluff on a small gold hook. "This one's called a popsicle. They're all handmade right here. Crockett's is the premiere fly maker in the Pacific Northwest. "Fly tying is very different from your usual job as," she looked down to check, "as an executive assistant. You seem to be a bit overqualified for this work." Trisha rushed, "Please don't dismiss me as being overqualified, I really need this job. I've enrolled at the university. Classes start Monday and I need a good part-time job to pay tuition and support myself." Veronica asked her class hours then told her that a number of their employees were part-time. She could work 12:00-5:00 P.M. Monday through Friday and named a generous starting hourly wage. She was to start Monday. Trisha expressed her thanks as Veronica levered herself up from her chair. "I'll take you in to see Mr. Crockett. He likes to meet everyone." Veronica knocked on an adjoining door then showed her into a larger office. Sun streamed through a wall of windows on the right. The rest of the walls bore pictures of men and an occasional woman holding large fish they'd caught and framed letters of testimony. There was a massive oak desk with a man sitting behind it talking on the telephone. He had short dark hair. This was not the gray-haired Mr. Crockett from the picture in the lobby. He looked up. It was, it was Matt. He looked at her for a long moment then asked his caller to repeat what they'd said then finished the call and hung up. Trisha had turned and pretended to look at the pictures to give herself a moment to calm herself. Her face felt hot, she knew she was flushed. She was so embarrassed. Matt hadn't chosen her and here he was. She breathed deeply twice to slow her racing heart. As she did, she realized that he didn't know she'd picked him. He probably didn't even remember her. She forced down the hope that perhaps this was a second chance. She was here for a much-needed job, that was all. After one more deep breath, she composed her face and turned around. He was off the telephone and Veronica was speaking to him. "This is Trisha Long. She was sent here by the agency as a part-time tyer." He rose and came around from behind his desk and offered her his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Long, uh Trisha. I'm Matthew Crockett." He motioned toward a large brown dog sprawled next to his desk. "And this is Barney." The handshake had disconcerted him. The pull was still strong. To cover his reaction, he looked toward Veronica who nodded yes to him and then left. He took a deep breath, "Veronica indicates we should hire you as a part-time tyer. Have you ever done any fly tying?" Trisha was in a daze, but recovered enough to answer him, "No, I haven't." Then to explain her unsettled state she blurted, "I wasn't expecting to see you, I mean, I was expecting someone older, the man in the picture." "That's my father, Lloyd Crockett. He passed away three years ago." "I'm sorry. He looks kind."
"He was a great guy. Big shoes, but I'm trying to fill them. Let me help you with your jacket." He gently took her suede coat from about her and when he touched her shoulders, he got the same feeling he'd had before- half electric shock, half caress. It shot through his body. It hadn't been static electricity at Pete's. She looked different with her hair piled up, but it was definitely TRISHA #15. She hadn't chosen him and probably didn't remember their brief meeting, but now he knew who she was and she was here. He turned his back to her and took his time arranging her jacket on a hanger on the brass coat tree in the corner. She hadn't chosen him and now that she was an employee, that settled it. He had imposed a rule on himself when he took over Crockett's never to date an employee. It was bad business and he never had. But then, he'd never wanted to. He turned back around. "Won't you sit down?" He moved back behind his desk, sat in his leather chair and leaned back. "What we create here at Crockett and Son is art. Very beautiful, functional art. You'll find it satisfying to make something of beauty which is at the same time practical, useful. "My father was an entomologist. He taught for years at the university. He was fascinated by mimicry in nature, things like the walking stick, the viceroy butterfly that looks like its nasty-tasting older brother, the monarch. He was also an avid fly fisherman and tied his own flies. He enjoyed creating flies so much that he started this business Crockett and Son and over twenty years made it the largest fly manufacturing business in the Pacific Northwest. And the underlying principle is what I've already said. Crockett and Son creates art. "Take Barney, for example." On hearing his name, Barney lifted his head and licked Matt's hand as Matt gave the velvet on his nose a good rub. "One artist could paint a picture of Barney and render his color, his shape, every hair perfectly and you'd have an excellent portrait. A second artist could paint a picture of him and not try to copy him perfectly, but instead capture the softness of his brown eyes, the drool on his tongue, his shaggy, wagging self. The second picture would be the better likeness because it captures the essence of Barney. And that's what we do here." He picked up a plastic rectangle and pointed to the first thing imbedded in it. "Here's a blue damsel fly and here next to it is a fly that looks about as close a copy of the real one as you can get." Then he pointed at a third one that was a brighter blue with more iridescent wings. "Here's a fly that is 80% more successful attracting steelhead than the real one or the copy. It's just this side of caricature. It captures the essence." He paused a moment and seemed to realize he'd been running on. He smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry, I get carried away." Trisha looked at his grin and melted. Carried away is right, she scolded herself. You're head over heels in love with him, aren't you? Certainly not, her other self answered. Nothing of the kind and as if to prove it, she found herself coolly saying, "No need to apologize, I found it fascinating." He was indeed. They looked at each other and now he composed himself and finished up briskly, "I'll show you where you'll be working. He rose and this time made sure not to touch her when he handed her the jacket. He held the door then led her down the hall. He opened a second door and now they were in a spacious workroom. Six older men worked at adjustable tables on a dais. Next to each table was a rolling chest with many clear plastic drawers full of supplies. On each desk was a high intensity lamp and a vise holding a small hook. The men were in varying stages of wrapping colorful thread and other materials around the hooks. Matt led her to the first table, "Here's our lead journeyman, Walter. This is Trisha Long. She's starting Monday as a part-time apprentice tyer." He peered at her over his glasses, the corners of his blue eyes crinkling, "So, has he given you the
Essence of Barney speech yet?" Matt laughed and Trisha smiled politely, "Nice to meet you, Walter." Matt pointed to the back of the room. "I'll introduce you to Hilda. She'll train you and introduce you to the rest of the tyers." He led her to a plump, middle-aged woman in a neat, pink apron with several pockets. "Hilda, here's a new part-timer for you. Hilda is the one who runs this place. I leave you in excellent hands." Hilda gave her a warm handshake. "We're glad to have some help. You'll like it here at Crockett's." "I'm sure I will," she agreed and promised to be there at 12:00 noon on Monday. Then she walked out the employee side entrance to the front. She stood at the bus stop listening to the splash from the waterfall and thinking about what had happened. She'd found her Matt. He hadn't chosen her and he hadn't remembered her, but at least he hadn't flinched when he shook her hand. Who knows what will happen? She'd found a job and she had found him. She boarded the bus and remembered nothing of the trip back. She picked up some rolls and sliced turkey at the store for a light supper and practically skipped the two miles home. Bonnie came home shortly after she did and reminded her of their plans to go to Pete's that night with Tom and Jeff. "It's just for a drink, it would do you good to get out and socialize. Besides, we have to celebrate your new job." It was probably the last leisure time she would have for a long while what with classes and work and study so although she was tired, she agreed to go as she had said she would. They had turkey sandwiches and a cup of soup for dinner, then she ran upstairs to fix her makeup and take down her hair. It was exactly seven o'clock when they heard a car pull up. It was Tom and Jeff. Bonnie ran to the door and opened it before they even reached it. "Tom!" "Hello, Bonnie," he said. "It's great to see you." They just stood there a moment looking at each other. Finally, Tom remembered Jeff. "Hi, Trisha, you remember Jeff." "Hi, Jeff, how are you?" Jeff smiled, "Better." Bonnie was still standing in the doorway in a happy daze so Tom said, "Are we ready to go? Jeff drove because we couldn't all fit in my pickup." The girls piled out of the cottage door and into Jeff's sedan. Bonnie, bubbling over now, kept the conversation going all the way to Pete's. She told them about Trisha getting a job and they entered the club in a celebratory mood. Trisha didn't see Matt visiting with Pete at the bar, but he saw her. She looked so natural and lively and so beautiful. He recognized the man she was with as one of the people she had been paired with at the Speed-dating event. She must have selected him. He watched them chatting and laughing. They looked very comfortable together. She's not interested in me. She didn't even remember me this afternoon. He drained his glass and slipped a bill under it then waved bye to Pete and left. ***** Chapter 9 The weekend flew by with Trisha doing laundry, playing with Oliver and helping Bonnie weed the
garden. All of sudden, it was Monday, a big day for Trisha, starting college and a new job too. She and Bonnie had coffee and toast then putt-putted down the hill to town. Bonnie dropped her off at the Phil Knight library and Trisha followed the map she had downloaded to her first class in a beautiful ivy-covered red brick building. The composition class was very large, but the professor, Mr. Rygg, seemed well-organized and his overview of the course held her interest. It was clear what she would be doing for he said the course consisted of "writing, writing and more writing." She had no trouble finding Sociology 101. The large Liberal Arts building was about one block away. She would remember it in the future by the brass sundial in the garden out front. The professor, Mr. Dymale, launched right away into a lecture on Margaret Mead and gave a handout of required books and the first week's assignment- read Growing Up in New Guinea. What appeared to be a shortcut on the map, a path behind the Vulcanology building, saved time getting to her math class and she was able to slip into a seat with five minutes to spare. Dr. O'Boyle, an attractive redhead, began a brisk review of the course contents. It took a couple of minutes to understand her thick Irish brogue, but she finally got it. This course, too, looked interesting and not beyond her capabilities, something she had been worried about. At 10:50, she grabbed her book bag and headed for the bus stop adjacent to the library where she'd entered campus. Munching a bagel she'd brought, she waited for the Westbound bus. She made a list of the supplies she would need immediately, putting off books that could wait until she received her first pay check. After work, she would visit the library to see if she could borrow the Mead book and visit the bookstore for the rest. Hopefully, there would be used copies of some of the texts It felt good to climb onto the bus and just sit and relax for a while. All these changes were very exciting, but tiring as well. She memorized the progression of the streets up to her cross street and pulled the cord in time to disembark in front of Crockett's. It was 11:45, plenty of time to see Veronica and complete a tax withholding form and give her bank account number for direct deposit of her wages. She didn't see Matt, better think of him as Mr. Crockett from now on. She shook her head and hurried down the hall back to the workroom and reported to Hilda. "Hello, Trisha, you're right on time. You know, I forgot to ask you, have you done any fly tying?" She shook her head no. "I didn't think so. Well, that's all right. Most of the apprentices came to us without tying experience. So, the way we do it is, you start out as an assistant to me, as a materials handler. That way, you learn all about the supplies we use. Then, when you're comfortable with that, one of the journeymen, most likely Rick, will show you how to make a simple fly, probably a bucktail." She pointed at a wispy red and white fly one of the apprentices was completing. "I'll introduce you around, but first let me show you the supply room." Hilda led her through a door in the back she hadn't noticed before to a large, very bright storage room. Three of the walls were lined with neatly-labeled plastic drawers of varying size. The fourth wall had charts hanging over a filing cabinet and a desk with a computer and telephone. Hilda gestured to the desk area. "This is where I order the supplies. The top two drawers of the file cabinet contain a folder for each kind of fly we make." She pulled open the first drawer. "For example, here's the folder for Crockett's Comet, one of our best-selling steelhead flies. Here's a colored picture of what it looks like, a list of materials needed and an illustrated step-by-step guide to tying it. Make sure the tyers return these." She pointed to the wall. "Here's a color guide so we're all on the same page as to what is light olive and what is olive. And this is a hook guide. You can pull it out of its sleeve. The pictures are actual size so if you ever get the hooks mixed up, just lay them on here to sort them out. "There are two kinds of flies, dry and wet. The dry ones, like caddis flies, float and wet flies are meant to sink so they weigh more. The shank of the wet fly hooks, this long part here, is thicker, heavier. Fly hook sizes are numbered #1 to #28, #28 being the smallest. But if that isn't enough to confuse you, the larger hooks, used for bigger fish, like salmon, go up in number as they get bigger.
Just use the chart." Hilda led her to the supply walls. "This first cabinet holds extra tools, glue and paints. The tyers are allowed in here. The rest of the room is all materials- thread, fur, feathers, mylar, beads." Trisha watched as Hilda pulled out drawer after drawer of shiny, colorful supplies. How would she ever learn them all? "I put the incoming materials away. It's easy to mix up materials. For example, these gold beads are 1/8 inch diameter and these are 5/32s. Pretty close, aren't they? And look at these threads." She pulled out a drawer of red thread. "Here's silk, nylon, polyester-different materials and several different thicknesses all the same color. The tyers are not allowed in the drawers. Whenever they get low in materials, they fill out a request ticket and prong it on the side of their materials chest. You check every 15 minutes and fill their orders. "Also, each tyer has a scraps box. You collect the scraps from their scraps boxes. I organize them in the travel chest and several times a month, Matthew and sometimes one or two of the tyers man a booth at an Outdoors Expo or do a demo at a sporting goods store." Trisha looked at the peacock and pheasant tails and the bright, bright marabou, mylar and tinsel. "It's all so beautiful!" Hilda beamed, "I'm glad you like it, I never tire of it. How about a cup of coffee?" Trisha nodded and followed Hilda to a pleasant room with vending machines, tables and a big coffee urn. Hilda handed her a mug. "The men like it strong, so you may need to add some hot water or milk." They sat at one of the tables and Trisha sipped the coffee. Hilda was right, it was strong, but good. "Have you worked here long?" "Over the years I helped out from time to time when they were busy, but mostly I was a housewife. I've been here full time for three years. My Johnny worked for Crockett's for almost twenty years. He passed shortly after Mr. Crockett the elder died." She sighed then went on, "It was a heart attack, very sudden. I was devastated. You see, we never had any children. Johnny was my life." Trisha patted her arm and Hilda brightened. "Matthew, Mr. Crockett I mean, was wonderful. Here he was, just lost his dad, trying to keep the business going and comfort his mother at the same time- all that on his plate and he thought of me. I didn't want to go on living without Johnny. Matthew heard I wasn't doing too well and he came to my home one evening about a month after the funeral and offered me a job. He saved my life, Matthew did, and for that, I will always be grateful. Mr. Crockett's a very, very nice man." Yes, indeed he is. Trisha took another sip of her coffee, but now it was cold. "I guess we better get back to work." Five o'clock came quickly. She stayed a little late learning how she was to straighten the work room and supply room each night to prepare it for the next day. Finally, she said good night to Hilda and exited the employee side door and walked around to the front. Matt, Mr. Crockett, was climbing into a camouflage-colored jeep when he saw her. "How was your first day?" Her face lit up on seeing him. "I really liked it." She walked toward the bus stop. He came around the jeep. "Can I give you a lift?" She wasn't sure, but decided he probably was just being kind to an employee. "If it's not out of your way?" "I live out the McKenzie Highway." She looked puzzled so he explained, "I have to drive all the way through town and past Springfield." "Then yes, I'd appreciate it if you'd drop me at the university. I have to buy some things at the bookstore."
He opened the passenger door for her, made sure she was tucked in, book bag and all, then climbed in and drove toward town. Barney sat up in the back seat to claim a nice scratch behind the ears then settled back down. It had been a long day. Both of them were tired and neither seemed to be able to think of anything to say, but they enjoyed the quiet nearness of one another. Other than a polite inquiry about her classes and a comment by her about the weather, they rode in silence. When they reached the campus entrance, he pulled over. She quickly put her hand on the door and thanked him for the ride. He opened his door and in a kind voice said, "Allow me." He opened her door for her and helped her out. He seemed in no hurry to let go of her hand and with an amused grin said, "I don't bite, you know." She gave a wondering look into his eyes. "I'm not so sure about that." Then seeing his amusement, she decided he was mocking her and pulled her hand away. She rushed, "Thank you for the ride," then almost ran down the walkway. Matt felt happier than he had all day. Maybe he still had a chance. ***** Chapter 10 Trisha piled her hair on top of her head anchored by a few pins and pulled on a forest green sweater and her tan slacks, It was tea and toast again this morning. They didn't seem to have time for much else most mornings. In fact, she had begun staging her purse and book bag by the front door and laying out her clothes the night before to save time. At least, that is what she told herself, but deep down she knew that what she was doing was planning what to wear of her meager wardrobe to look as attractive as possible in case she saw Mr. Crockett. It wasn't often that she saw him. He came to work early and stayed late. Hilda had filled her in on his plans for the business. When Mr. Crockett the elder was alive, Crockett and Son was a well-respected company, but not very well-known. After he died, Matthew took over and began building up the business. He put in the shop, developed a website and catalogue business and began visiting sporting goods stores and expos. He advertised Crockett flies on television fishing shows. Also, Crockett's was sponsoring a fishing tournament this year, which would be nationally televised. As a result, Crockett's gross sales had multiplied in three years and now they were the largest in the region. No wonder she never saw him. Still, she could always hope and today she planned to stay late to increase the possibility. It was all she could do to concentrate on what her professors were saying. Fortunately, her shorthand was excellent and she could take down what they said verbatim while half her mind was somewhere else. It was at the university entrance, as a matter of fact, recapturing the amusement in his gray, heavy-lidded eyes and the feel of his hand holding hers. Or rewinding, what it had been like being alone with him, riding next to him that dusky evening after work, not needing to talk, just enjoying the closeness of him. He had a magnetism that drew her... "Miss Long," then louder, "Miss Long!" The other students giggled. Dr. O'Boyle stood with her eyebrows arched, "Perhaps you would not mind solving this equation, it you're not too busy to give us a bit of time, that is." Trisha blushed. "I'm sorry. Yes, of course." She rose quickly and took the chalk and quickly solved the problem on the board. Thank goodness she'd always been sharp in math. Dr. O'Boyle grinned and thanked her and she slid back into her seat slouching down a little to be less
conspicuous. She would just have to get Mr. Crockett out of her mind. To that end, she worked on what she hoped was a humorous character study of Oliver the Cat rather than the daydreaming about Mr. Crockett that she usually engaged in on the bus ride to work. They'd received a shipment of supplies and Hilda allowed her to help put the materials away. This was quite a vote of confidence and really pleased her. Also, today she sat and observed Rick, the journeyman who would train her as a tyer. He showed her how to hold the thread and wrap it using the bobbin. He also showed her how to make half-hitch knots to tie down material and emphasized the importance of gluing it securely to prevent loosening. Crockett's guarantees their flies and he stressed the importance of quality workmanship. Tomorrow, she would tie her first fly. She stayed almost an hour after work sorting scraps from the scrap boxes and tidying things up. She sorted a pile of hooks, turned off lamps that had been left on, even scoured the break room sink. Finally, she checked her watch, it read 6:00, and hoping to see Mr. Crockett, she grabbed her jacket, purse and book bag and left. And there he was, climbing into his jeep. She waved and started toward the bus stop and he motioned her over. "Would you like a ride?" Her heart leaped, "Yes, thank you," only to be dashed to the ground for when he came around to let her in, he opened the rear passenger door. Someone was already in the seat next to him, a young dark-haired woman wearing a sophisticated scent. "Move over, Barney. Hope you don't mind sitting with him." Then, "Miss Long, Trisha, this is Angela Robinson." Trisha petted Barney who promptly plopped down onto her lap. Angela turned her exquisite head and now she could see her haughty profile. "Matt dear, when are you going to get rid of that animal, he'll mess Miss Long's clothes," she eyed her over, "though I guess it's all right with those old work things." Matt was embarrassed at Angela's rudeness, but scolding her in front of Trisha would be rude too so he ignored her and continued, "Trisha's a part time tyer at Crockett's, she's attending the university." Angela spoke, "Always nice to meet Matt's employees." She added with a tone of surprise, "And a student too." Now Angela gave her a good once over. She had her hair swept up, but it was the same girl, that Trisha. "Well, better late than never," she drawled. Then she snuggled over as close to Matt as she could get with a console between them and rested her hand on his thigh. Matt cleared his throat, "I'll drop you at the university?" Trisha was so angry, she could barely speak, but managed a "Yes, thanks." Fortunately, traffic was light and they were at the campus in just a few minutes. She choked out a thanks and 'nice meeting you' and jumped out of the jeep and rushed toward the bus stop. She was seething as she waited for the Southbound on the cold hard plastic bench. That horrible, horrible woman. That Angela! Her remark about her clothes and putting her in her place as just an employee, well she was, but then that crack about how she was awfully old to be starting college. She was horrid. How could he ever stand her, let alone like her? Like her? It was probably more than that. She had seen her hand on his thigh. Could he possibly be in love with her? Finally the Southbound bus came and she climbed on, her book bag seeming much heavier than usual. Now her anger was replaced by misery. She was cold and she was tired and he was in love with someone else. Angela was beautiful and sophisticated. How could a farmer's daughter from eastern Oregon compete with that? She usually enjoyed the two mile walk from the bus to the cottage, but not tonight. It was a very dark night. The grade seemed steeper than usual and it had started to rain. After faithfully carrying her umbrella all week, she had forgotten to stuff it in her bag. By the time she got home, she was soaked to the skin.
She took off her squishy shoes at the door. Bonnie was on the phone again. She waved and trudged up the steep stairs where she peeled off her clothes making a puddle and shivering, pulled on an old flannel nightshirt. Then she climbed into bed and cried herself to sleep. ***** Chapter 11 The next morning, Trisha brushed her teeth then examined her face in the mirror. Her eyes were puffy from crying and she had deep, dark circles underneath from tossing and turning all night. No amount of concealer could hide this, but she did her best then pinned up her hair and hurried down. It was after 7:30 and Bonnie was ready to go so she grabbed a granola bar to eat on the way. Bonnie talked all the way into town about how perfect she and Tom were for each other. He had told her he wanted to farm. "Isn't that great? He'll farm and I'll help and it will be just heavenly!" Trisha murmured all the right things then climbed out of the car and waved good bye to her sister. She was happy for her, she really was, but Bonnie's happiness only underscored her own sadness. She tried to focus on the positives She had begun college and was doing very well and she had found a job that she enjoyed. But the fact remained that she was in love with Matthew Crockett and he was in love with someone else. Or was he? Were they engaged? Hilda. She'd try to find out from her in some roundabout way today. Rick painstakingly guided her through tying her first fly, a red and white bucktail. He was very complimentary of the results, but she wasn't able to take as much pleasure in the achievement as she might have. She couldn't wait for afternoon break. Finally, it was time and she poured Hilda and herself each a mug of the fragrant coffee and sat down with her at the nearest table. Hilda had brought some snickerdoodles she had made the night before and she bit into the soft cinnamony cookie. Hilda was talking about preparing the travel chest for a big Outdoor Expo Mr. Crockett was going to and now she had her chance. "Has Mr. Crockett always worked so hard?" Hilda put down her mug. "My goodness, no. Why, I remember when Matthew was a boy and he would come to work with Mr. Crockett on Saturdays and just fool around. Then when he got a little older, he wanted a car and would come in and work part-time. He was a good worker, but he'd only work enough hours to earn what he needed then was out of here like a shot." This was getting her nowhere so she decided to take the plunge, "I guess a good-looking man like him has a girlfriend." Hilda laughed. "A girlfriend? He had scads of them, quite a ladies' man, he was. A new girl every week, all of them beautiful, too." She paused and took a sip. "After Mr. Crockett died, though, things changed. He threw himself into work and gave up his wild ways. In fact, the only girl I've seen him with for a long, long time is a fancy-looking, dark-haired girl. He's probably building up Crockett's so he can support a family. I guess pretty soon he'll marry her and settle down." Trisha was dismayed and now the coffee and cookies that had been so delicious only a few minutes before lay like lead in her stomach. She rose from the table and got a paper towel to clean up the crumbs and rinsed out her mug accompanying her burst of activity with overboard praise for Hilda's cookies. Hilda didn't notice her nervousness and beamed at her compliments and they went back to the workroom to finish their afternoon shift. With Hilda busy packing and double-checking the travel chest, Trisha had to do the lion's share of the tidying up and until 5:00 she was busy enough to avoid thinking about Mr. Crockett. The two bus ride home, however, gave her plenty of time . She didn't call up details of him or what Hilda had
told her, instead she just wallowed in a feeling of overwhelming sadness. The walk from the bus stop revived her a little and she gave herself a talk about dwelling on the positive, not the negative, and focusing on her goals. And while she hoped to marry some day, it would be best, at least for now, to swear off men. She would simplify her life, goodness knows she had enough on her plate with school and work. She didn't need any complications or upsets. She was feeling slightly better when she reached the cottage. Bonnie had left a note that she was out with Tom. She poured a little milk for Oliver then heated a mug of soup and carried it upstairs to type her paper for Composition. First, she'd check her e-mail, though. Oh dear, just what she needed, another e-mail from Bobby. ***** Chapter 12 Bobby. Hearing from him just stirred up more sadness and she already had enough of that to go around. She hadn't thought about him for days. She had sent him his list, what else could he possibly want? Maybe he had seen his mistake and really did miss her. She had half a mind to delete the message without reading it, but the subject, 'Wish you were here' was so wistful that she opened it. Wish you were here. Thanks for the list. Followed instructions but having trouble importing records. Send more instructions. v. busy. Best, Robert Yes, he certainly did wish she was there, but only as his assistant. She felt like ignoring the whole thing, but that wouldn't work. She didn't need him, but she knew he needed those records and it looked as if he wasn't going to go away until he got them. The best thing to do would be to help him one more time and then perhaps he wouldn't bother her again. It took the better part of an hour, but she replied with more detailed instructions and an attachment converting all the data to one big text file that he could print out if all else failed. It was past midnight by the time she finished typing her paper. She was very tired and climbed into bed to go to sleep, but she couldn’t. She was too keyed up, so she read for a while before turning out the light, a lovely romance where one could be sure that all would come out right in the end. If only life could be like that. Then she scolded herself. She was lucky really. Thanks to Bonnie, she had a roof over her head. She was going to college, had a job. She would focus on her goals. That was safe ground and she fell asleep, full of resolve for the coming morning. *** She wasn't the only one focusing on a goal. If she only knew, Matt at that very moment was sitting at home behind the oak desk in his library. He was making no progress whatsoever with Trisha, a situation that was unacceptable and had to be corrected immediately. But how? She would have to get to know him before she got engaged to that Speed-date guy. He'd take her to dinner that night. He would wait until just before 5:00, then ask her to help load the travel display, then he'd invite her to dinner and carry her off to someplace quiet for an intimate meal. "You like her too, don't you, fella?" He rubbed Barney's chest and Barney happily thumped his tail on the floor in agreement. That settled, Matt pulled the chain on his green-shaded banker's lamp and they padded off to bed.
***** Chapter 13 The next morning came too soon for Trisha, but she hopped out of bed determined to stay focused. She made coffee and took a quick shower. Bonnie banged on the bathroom door. "Trisha!" "What?" "Don't forget we're picking you up tonight to go to Jeff's birthday party." She groaned. She had forgotten about the party. Bonnie had taken care of picking up and wrapping the gift from both of them, a Seattle Mariner's shirt. She would pay her back when she got paid this week. It was going to be a big party at a popular sports bar downtown. Jeff was very excited because Sheila had said she'd attend. Trisha didn't like sports bars, too noisy, though the food was usually good. She'd go, but maybe she could leave early. She could catch the bus home. She dressed a little nicer than usual, wearing her white blouse and soft umber slacks and didn't pin her hair up as she been doing for work, but let it down. By the time she finished, it was after 7:30. She gulped down a cup of coffee. Breakfast would have to be a granola bar in the car again. Bonnie dropped her off and she just made it to Composition on time. She turned in her paper, crossed her fingers for an A and slid into her seat. Mr. Rygg lectured on active vs. passive voice and she dutifully recorded all he said, but wasn't really engaged in the class. She was just too tired. It was all Bobby's fault. She’d have to get to bed much earlier if she wanted to excel. If the party started at 5:30, maybe she could leave by eight. As long as Sheila shows, Jeff won't care if anyone else is around. It seemed foolish now, how she had felt the night she'd met Jeff thinking she and he were in the same boat. Jeff and Sheila really were in love. He wasn't willing to give up on his marriage to Sheila even though it was a rocky one and it seemed Sheila might care enough to give it another try. While she and Bobby..., well, he had never appreciated her and he had dropped her as soon as a better deal came along. And what about her feelings for him? She had been lonely in Seattle, lonely and flattered that anyone so sophisticated would be interested in her. An infatuation at the most. She had learned her lesson well. She wouldn't be so foolish again. Sociology and math class dragged. She had to do something to wake herself up or she wouldn't make it through work, let alone Jeff's party. So as soon as she got off the bus at Crockett's, she dashed into the break room for a quick cup of the industrial strength coffee. She used it to wash down some peanut butter and cheese crackers from the vending machine. Not much of a lunch, but better than nothing. It would have to do until she got to the party. Thankfully, the afternoon went quickly. She filled materials requests and under Rick's patient supervision, she tied half a dozen more flies. Again, he complimented her on her workmanship. She shook her head, "But I'm so slow." He pushed his glasses up his nose. "You'll get faster. The important thing is that you're learning correctly. Crockett's is successful because a fisherman can count on the quality of our flies." "But at this rate, I don't see how Crockett's can make any money." "Many of these flies sell for several dollars apiece. Worth every penny of it, too. I have a few flies I've been using for years." Trisha shoved a shiny butterscotch lock out of her eye. "Then I'll just keep on doing the best I can."
Rick looked up. "Here's Mr. Crockett now." Matt was talking to Rick, but only had eyes for Trisha. Her hair was down today, soft and shiny. He wanted to touch it. She looked beautiful. "Hi, Rick, how's our new apprentice?" "She's going to make a fine tyer, Mr. Crockett." Trisha gave a big smile. "Rick's a good teacher." "Glad to hear it. Trisha, will you help me load the demo supplies?" She followed him into the supply room. His shoulders were broad and he was even taller than she remembered. He'd had a haircut and the back of his neck looked exposed, vulnerable. The supply room didn't seem so large now, in there alone with him. She could smell his fresh male scent. He was irresistible and it was so hopeless. After all, he's practically engaged. She didn't know she was staring at him until she realized he was talking to her. "..sit these over by the door." He handed her two folding display panels. She took the panels, they were light but bulky, and he wheeled the travel chest out the entrance around to the parking lot. She didn't see the jeep. Instead, he was opening the trunk of a gleaming black sedan. She looked puzzled and he read her mind. "Much more comfortable for a long trip. No road noise." He loaded the chest into the trunk and there was ample room left for the panels. He started to thank her and then turned to see a car pull in. There were several people in the car and that same Speed-date guy got out. His heart sank. No wonder she had worn her hair down instead of in its business-like twist; she had worn it down for her boyfriend. "Hi Trish, about ready to go?" What awful, awful timing, but what could she do? She looked at her watch. It was after 5:00. "I'm not sure. Uh, Jeff, this is my boss, Matthew Crockett. Mr. Crockett, Jeff Williams." They shook hands. She turned to Matt. "Will there be anything else, Mr. Crockett?' Guess not, he thought sourly. "I've got it, thanks." "Well then, I'll just get my things." She was miffed and practically ran to get her book bag and purse. Rotten luck, Jeff arriving when he did. Matt closed the trunk, a nice solid sound and returned to his office to get Barney. He ruffled the fur on Barney's neck. "Looks like she's got herself a steady boyfriend, Barney. Certainly seemed anxious to go with him. Are we gonna quit, fella?" Barney got up and shook himself. "I'm with you, Barney. It's time to make a stand and I know just what to do." ***** Chapter 14 Trisha had ten minutes before work, time enough for coffee. She sat down at the nearest table, wrapped her hands around the warm mug, breathed in the rich, brown aroma and thought about last night. March Madness was in full swing and the sports bar was crowded when they got there. Half the customers were watching college basketball on the huge plasma screens. The games were close and the crowd jumped to their feet after every basket, cheering their throats raw. The other half of the patrons, only slightly less rowdy, were Jeff's friends who had claimed the tables in one of the stems of the U-shaped bar. They gave Jeff a rousing welcome and he and Bonnie, Tom and Trisha settled at the reserved table.
The beer was plentiful and the pizza surprisingly good, she'd have to come back on a quieter night, but best of all, Sheila showed up. Sheila walked in around 6:30 and Jeff grinned until she thought his face would split. Sheila was not the needle-nosed harpy she had expected. She was barely five feet tall, a little on the chubby side with a shiny fall of chin-length chocolate hair and huge wide set blue eyes that saw only Jeff. On this night anyway, Sheila found no fault with him. They didn't talk much. Who could have carried on a conversation in this din? They just sat holding hands, looking at each other. Sitting at the back table with Jeff and Sheila and Bonnie and Tom, though they attempted to include her in what conversation there was, Trisha felt like a fifth wheel. Finally, at about 8:30 after a third chorus of "Happy Birthday to You," she said she had to study and excused herself. During the empty bus ride home and the hike to the cottage, she felt less lonely than she had in the crowded sports bar. She rinsed her mug and slipped into the work room just before noon only to be told that Mr. Crockett wanted to see her. Whatever for? Smoothing back her hair and checking to make sure the twist in back was neat, she hurried down the hall and knocked at his door. She was surprised when Mr. Crockett, all six feet plus of him, opened it. He motioned to a chair, "Please come in," then sat behind his desk and smiled at her. Her heart thumped in time with Barney's tail and to ground herself she reached down and scratched behind his ears. "Do you like it here at Crockett and Son?" She raised back up, her face a pretty flush. "Very much so." He steepled his fingers. "I'll get right to the point Miss Long, Trisha. Veronica is going on three months' maternity leave and I'll need help while she is gone. She suggested that instead of hiring a temp, I ask you to step in." She didn't know what to say. Her heart and head were in immediate and total disagreement on this issue, her heart saying, 'Yes, Matt, I'd love to be near you' and her head saying, 'Don't tell me we're calling him Matt again. Hello? He's practically engaged. Whatever happened to focusing on goals and avoiding complications, hmm? Don't do it!' To buy time she stammered, "I... I'm not sure. I'm only here part time." He pushed his chair back and came around to the front of the desk and sat on the corner. His gray eyes looked into hers and he spread his hands dismissing her objection. "You understand what we do here and your qualifications are impeccable. You, five hours a day, would be far more effective than an outsider working twice that. Veronica will be here for a week yet to show you the ropes. It would mean a raise in pay, of course." He gave that sexy, irresistible grin, "Say you'll do it, Trisha, please?" He was close enough to touch and the dizzying effect he had on her made it impossible for her to refuse him. In fact, at that moment, between the compelling twinkle in his gray eyes and his kissable mouth, she would have said yes to anything he asked. "Oh yes," she breathed and they looked at each other for a long moment until she recovered herself and stood up to go. Bad mistake, now they were even closer, so close she feared for her self control so she took a deep breath and stuck out her right hand to shake. "Thank you, Mr. Crockett. You won't regret it." He stood and took her hand in both of his and her knees felt weak. "Call me Matt." Her heart raced and her head taunted, 'You'll be sorry!' 'Shut up, head,' she silently scolded. Still holding her hand, he said, "Why not take today to finish up your work in production and then see Veronica tomorrow when you come in." "Yes, Mr. Crockett, I mean Matt, I'll do that." She reluctantly withdrew her hand and stepped back bumping into her chair, "Sorry!" then smiled sheepishly and fled the room, her head still taunting, 'Boy oh boy, will you be sorry!' ***
Matt was far from sorry. He paced back and forth then pumped his fist in the air. "Yes!" He ruffled Barney's fur and they both jumped for joy. Then he resumed his pacing. "Okay. Okay. She's coming to work here tomorrow. I'll take her to lunch, just to welcome her and get acquainted, of course. Then take it from there. Hopefully, she's not too involved with that Williams guy. Sounds like a plan. Okay with you, Barney?" Barney licked his hand. "Thanks, Barn, I knew you'd agree. Better tell Veronica." He took a deep breath to calm himself then sat back down behind his desk and lifted the receiver to call her on the interoffice telephone. "Veronica, will you come here a moment?" Veronica came in with her pad and sat in the client chair. "What's all the noise?" He reddened. "Noise? Oh, just taking a break with Barney." She waited for a minute as he just sat and looked at her. "You called me in here because...?" He still sat looking then shook his head to clear it."Uh, sure. Veronica, I wanted you to know that I'm really going to miss you while you're out. I don't want you to come back to a huge backlog, either." "I appreciate that." "I had a word with Trisha Long, the new girl you hired? I asked her to help out while you're gone." "She's only part time, but an excellent choice." Veronica gave a thoughtful look. "I'll think about which duties she can absorb to keep things going." "Thanks. I told her she could start tomorrow understudying you." "Tomorrow? Didn't give me much lead time, did you, Matt?" "I'm sorry, I've been busy with the spring expos and I looked at the calendar and realized you only had a week and it was kind of a knee jerk reaction." She raised her eyebrows. "You're usually more deliberate than that, but it's a good idea." He ran a hand over his brush haircut. "Uh, one more thing. I kind of told her you suggested her." Veronica smiled. "Brilliant me." "Wouldn't want her to get the wrong idea." And now she grinned broadly at him. "Of course not." She took her pad and went to the door then turned. "Matt?" "Yes?" "It's about time." He gave her a wondering look then nodded and almost to himself said, "Yes, it is." ***** Chapter 15 Trisha returned to the work room and tried to act nonchalant when she told Hilda about filling in for Veronica. Hilda shook her head, "You caught on so quickly and are such a pleasure to work with. I knew it was too good to be true." Trisha hugged her, "It's only for a little while." Hilda gave her a pat on the shoulder, 'I'm very happy for you, Dear. Now, we better get to work. I'll put away the load of materials that came in last night and fill the tyers' requests and maybe you could finish rearranging the files? That would be a big help." Trisha went to work and worked through coffee break to complete reorganizing the file cabinet.
She had to force herself to stay on task and did not permit herself to think about tomorrow even for a second. Finally, she was done and it was 5:00. She said good-bye to Hilda. "Don't be a stranger, now." She hurriedly collected her book bag and purse and ran out to the bus stop. For once, her timing was perfect and she hopped on and settled in her usual seat near the rear exit. Then, and only then, did she take time to consider what had occurred. She replayed the scene in her mind, especially the melting, 'Say you'll do it, Trisha, please?' She dwelled on the look in his gray eyes, then his fabulous mouth. She pictured herself standing and instead of sticking her hand out to shake, reaching up to put her arms around his neck, 'Yes, Matt, yes,' then kissing him until she was almost faint with pleasure. Several minutes passed while she was lost in this dream, only to be awakened by a loud thud. Her book bag had slipped to the floor. She blushed and looked around and quickly hefted it up to the bench and looked where she was, practically at the downtown station where she would transfer to the Southbound. Her watch said 5:20. She'd lost her grip on time, lost her grip period and sat there silently scolding herself. How could she possibly work with him? Not even in his proximity and she was out of control. What was the matter with her? He was her boss, for goodness sake, and practically engaged. She groaned as she got off the Eastbound and climbed onto the waiting Southbound. What was she thinking? She'd just been majorly hurt in one relationship and was only beginning to get her act together and here she was fantasizing about her boss. Fantasizing. She would put Matt in an embarrassing, awkward position and make a complete fool of herself. How pathetic is that? Why couldn't she have just said no? Just pleaded it would be too much with her classes and all. She knew very well why she didn't say no. The fact is she desperately wanted to be with him. And no, it wasn't a rebound from Bobby. That seemed so long ago now. This was something very different. No one had ever made her feel the way Matt did. No one. All it took was a look or his smile and she melted. It wasn't fantasy. The effect he had on her was very real. And so was that Angela. He had a girlfriend, was practically engaged according to Hilda. Remember her hand on his thigh? If that wasn't proprietorial..., but Angela was so horrid. How could he love her? Easy. She's beautiful and from the way she dresses, she's rich too. That's all it takes for some men, men like Bobby. But he's not like Bobby, there's more to him. Oh, really? How did she know? She didn't even know him. And that's why she would take the job, to get to know him better. That settled, she leaned back only to realize it was her stop. She had money in her account as she had been paid so she went into the store. Tom had a business meeting tonight and Bonnie had said she'd be home so she picked up some fresh halibut and added a delicious-smelling, still-warm loaf of sourdough and a bottle of Oregon pinot noir to celebrate her temporary promotion. Yes, she would look on it as an opportunity to get to know Matt better and, she thought wryly, a chance to save some money in case it all fell apart. The walk home in the cool Spring dusk added to her hopeful outlook so she was humming by the time she reached the fragrant front yard. She stood a moment and breathed in the clean, woodsy smell of the cedars and the heady smell of the hyacinths then elbowed her way through the front door plopping her book bag at the foot of the stairs and grocery bag on the kitchen counter. "The hyacinths smell heavenly." Bonnie dumped a protesting Oliver off her lap. "Here, let me help you. What's all this? Did you get paid?" "Yes, but even better than that. I got a temporary promotion so I thought we'd celebrate. I'll get dinner on the table, then tell you all about it." Bonnie set the table while Trisha broiled the halibut, steamed some sugar snaps and sliced the bread. Then they sat down and for a few minutes just enjoyed the succulent fish. Finally, Trisha took a long drink of the fruity white wine then put her glass down and slowly began to tell Bonnie about
her promotion. Bonnie looked puzzled. "You seem hesitant. What's the problem? Is your boss nice?" "He's a very, very nice man." Now she understood. "Oh-h, another very, very nice man." "No, Bonnie, not another, this is thee very, very nice man." "I don't get it." "This is the man I met at the Speed-date, the one I put down who didn't select me?" Bonnie almost choked on a chunk of slathered bread. "You're kidding! Does he remember you?" Trisha busied herself gathering up the dishes. "I don't think so." Then she went on to tell all about it, how shocked she had been when she went for the job interview and how she felt when she was around him and his asking her to fill in for Veronica and about his relationship with Angela. "Remember Angela, the lady in red?" There was no busy work left so she sat down and looked at her sister. "I said yes, but I really don't know what to do." Bonnie poured out a last glass for both of them. "I know what I would do, I'd go for it." Trisha nodded. "But I'm not you. You're much more...cautious." Trisha found herself drawing hearts in the condensation on her glass and quickly wiped them away then heaved a big sigh. "I can't ignore how I feel and it's not going to go away. Bonnie, I've never, ever, felt this way before and one way or another, I have to resolve this." "So, this means you'll take the job?" Trisha felt like she was about to step off a high precipice into the unknown. "I guess so." She lifted her glass. "Wish me luck." They clinked glasses and she finished the rest of her wine in one long drink. "I'll need it." ***** Chapter 16 She woke early the next morning after a surprisingly good night's sleep. Perhaps Oliver's cuddling and purring by her side had helped. She rejected the suit she had laid out the night before as overkill and decided a dress would be better, a happy compromise between a suit and the slacks she had usually worn in production. She considered the tan jersey, no, too low-cut and settled on the green shirtwaist with its crisp white collar and cuffs. It matched her green eyes and complimented her figure while still looking demure and business-like. She toyed with the idea of wearing her hair down, but decided to play it safe and wear it up in her customary professional twist. She completed the outfit with black leather low-heel slingback pumps. She looked herself over in the full length mirror on the back of the bathroom door and was satisfied with the results then checked her watch. It was 7:15. Good. Still time for tea and toast to calm the butterflies in her stomach. Bonnie came out of her bedroom in a white gypsy blouse and colorful full skirt. She nodded, jiggling the large gold hoop earrings she wore, "Well, don't you look nice." Trisha smiled crookedly as she buttered the raisin toast. "I hope so." They sat quietly for a few minutes munching the cinnamony toast and washing it down with strong, sugared tea. It was pleasant just sitting, eating comfort food and listening to the birds outside the window, pleasant and uncomplicated. Bonnie checked the clock. "Almost 7:30. Let's go." Trisha cleaned the table and grabbed her book bag and purse and they drove downtown. Bonnie dropped her off wishing her good luck and
she hurried to class. The morning went quickly and with the exception of math class where she had a quiz, she absentmindedly recorded the lectures verbatim, her mind wandering to consider Matt. She thought about the passion he'd shown when he talked about Crockett's. Did that mean that hidden behind the cool gray eyes lay a passionate man? She reminded herself to back off or she would come on too strong, make a fool of herself and scare him away. *** She wasn't the only one concerned about scaring someone away. Matt knocked on the adjoining door to Veronica's office. He settled his lanky self in a chair. "If you have a minute, I thought we would discuss Trisha's duties?" Veronica pulled a page from her out basket and handed him a copy. They discussed the pared down duties. She had done well, covering all the bases and he rose to leave then turned as if he had just remembered something. "I thought it might be nice if we took her to lunch to welcome her." "We?" "If you're not too busy, of course." Veronica arched an eyebrow. "I'm not too busy right now, but something might come up at the last minute." Matt grinned. "Thanks, don't want to scare her off." He was so keyed up, work was the only remedy and he threw himself into digesting the figures bookkeeping had pulled together, a balance sheet of the four previous quarters showing steadily increasing profits thanks to his move from a wholesale operation to largely retail. He stood with his hands in his pockets looking unseeing out the window. He'd finally done it. In his dad's day, the business had been marginal. It had provided a living for its employees and only occasionally a little for its owner who had supported his family on his retirement check from the university. Now it was generating enough money for him to support a family comfortably and it was doing so consistently. He smiled. It had been hard work, but he had done it. And that is how Trisha found him. She knocked and entered. "You wanted to see me?" Matt broke from his musing and turned. He gazed at her pensively and she blushed only making herself more lovely. He roused himself. "Yes, I uh, that is, Veronica and I thought we'd take you to lunch to welcome you. Are you hungry or perhaps you've eaten?" "No, I mean yes, I am hungry and no, I haven't had lunch, but it's really not necessary." "We just want to welcome you and he crossed to Veronica's office. Veronica played her role perfectly begging off lunch, but insisting they go on without her and before Trisha knew it, she was seated in the car next to him. Other than "Steak okay?" to which she nodded 'yes,' they didn't talk. He took a looping beltway to Springfield and soon they pulled up in front of a steakhouse. A hostess showed them to a comfortable table in a dark corner and handed each of them a menu. He looked over his at her. She looked lovely in the warm light. "Have you been here before?" "No, I haven't." "Mind if I order for you?" She shook her head no. He ordered salad, two petite sirloins and steamed vegetables. That done, he uncharacteristically froze. He had always been smooth, able to charm any woman, but with her, he was shy. Maybe he was just out of practice. His father's death had had a huge impact on his life. In the days following, his mother had talked about the deep love they had enjoyed and he had realized he wanted that too. He'd given up casual dating and had begun working long hours to build up the business so he would be in a position to marry when the right girl came along. And here she was across from him and he, he was speechless. Finally he asked about her classes and she, as nervous as he, babbled on. They were both grateful when the food came and busied
themselves with it. The steak was seasoned perfectly and almost tender enough to cut with a fork, but it could have been shoe leather for all they cared. Matt began talking about Crockett and Son, a topic in his comfort zone and shared with her the history of the business and his recent achievements. "I'm really pleased. It's really turned the corner, enough so that I think I can support a family comfortably, I'll be able to settle down. That's why I never changed the name, partly to honor my dad and partly because I'm looking forward to sharing it with my son." She looked at him, stunned. "You have a son?" He laughed. "No, not yet, but in the not too distant future, I hope." Trisha's blood ran cold. His dreamy smile at her only showed how happy he was about his upcoming marriage to Angela. This was going all wrong. Suddenly, she felt ill and panicky and just wanted to get out of there. Her mouth was dry and she sipped some water then blotted her mouth with the napkin and very obviously checked her watch. "Look at the time! We really should go back." Matt was dismayed by the change in her. He had blown it. He'd gone too fast and had scared her away, the last thing he wanted to do. Or maybe he'd made her feel uncomfortable, taking her to lunch, bringing up the subject of marriage when she was involved with that Williams guy. He felt miserable, but tried to cover, joking, "Don't worry, the boss and I are like that," and held up two fingers. His lame attempt at humor only made things worse so he asked for the check, slipped some bills under it and they left. The ride back seemed much longer than the ride going. They replaced the comfortable silence they had previously enjoyed with polite conversation. Having said everything one could think of regarding the weather, they were both relieved when Matt pulled into the parking lot. Not even waiting for him to open her car door, Trisha thanked him and hurried inside to the ladies' room and took deep breaths to avoid crying. She could scold herself later for her stupid daydreams. Right now, she had to calm herself as much as possible. Finally, she had herself under control. She wouldn't cry, but she could do nothing about the sheer misery she felt. How could she work with him, be near him every day, knowing he loved someone else? The thought of not being near him, however, was even more unthinkable. She took a few minutes to neaten her hair and refresh her lipstick and forcing a smile, went to Veronica's office. Veronica was disappointed. She could tell from the look on Trisha's face that the lunch had not gone well. She was very fond of Matt. He was a great guy and she wanted him to be happy. She sighed. They still had three months to get acquainted. Maybe things would work out yet. Trisha seemed to welcome the opportunity to occupy her thoughts with work and that is what they did. At least that is what they did until Angela barged in. ***** Chapter 17 "Veronica!" Angela breezed in looking more gorgeous than ever. Thick dark hair framed her expertly made up face then curved gently at her shoulders. She wore an electric blue pants outfit with a flowing jacket and deep V fitted top, a fine gold chain dangling a small gold 'A' in her cleavage. She stopped and studied Trisha noting she was no longer dressed for the workroom. "And here's what's-her-name, uh... Tina?" Veronica masked her intense dislike for Angela and smoothly corrected her, "This is Trisha,
Trisha Long. She's going to fill in for me while I'm gone." Angela's eyes widened. "Oh-h? How sweet of you to try to help out Matt. It will be a nice change from your usual menial job." Trisha, already upset, was barely able to control her anger, but instead smiled. "Yes, well some of us like to be useful." Angela raised her eyebrows, but apparently didn't consider her worth responding to and turned to Veronica instead. "Matt in?" "Yes, but he's awfully ..." Angela swept through the adjoining door, making sure to leave it wide open so Trisha could watch. "Matt Darling, I've come to let you take me to lunch." Matt groaned inwardly. The day just kept getting worse. "I'm pretty busy right now." She rested her palms on his desk and leaned forward giving him a view of her not-so-hidden charms. "Too busy for me?" Matt might be in love with Trisha, but he wasn't dead and was hypnotized for a moment by the dangling pendant and its environs. But he was a man of great self control and eventually cleared his throat, "Actually, I've already had lunch, with Trisha." She slowly straightened up and gave a sly glance Trisha's way. "Oh?" Then she came around behind his chair and snaked her hands over his shoulders and down his chest and stage-whispered near his ear, "My poor Matty and his working lunches. You work too hard. I'll see you tonight at the party, hmm?" "Sure, Angela, sure." She left a scarlet kiss on his temple and rubbed against him as she slid her hands back up then slowly undulated out of his office closing the door softly behind her. Veronica had seen Angela's tiresome performances before and so had made one of her now frequent trips to the bathroom. Angela gave a deadly smile. Good. She had her alone. She sat on the edge of Veronica's desk looking down at her. "Aren't we the fast worker." Trisha drew herself up and looked her straight in the eye. "I don't know what you mean." "Oh, I think you do. You're here, what, two-three weeks tops and already you're his PA?" Trisha blushed and hated herself for feeling defensive. "I, I'm just helping out." Angela gave a short laugh and now stared her down, eyes glittering. "By all means, help out, just don't help yourself to Matt." Trisha said lowly, "Don't worry. I know he's thinking of getting married." What's that all about? She'd sort it out later, but really, this was almost too easy. "Not thinking, honey. We're engaged." She pointed a threatening crimson-tipped forefinger in Trisha's face. "So, you'll just stay away from him, if you know what's good for you." A forefinger in the face is intimidating, but Trisha fought back. "If you're so engaged, where's the ring?" Angela laughed then stood and fussed with her jacket to buy time. "They're, they're at the goldsmith's. Matt insisted on Black Hills gold and designed the rings himself. Quite beautiful, actually. He borrowed a uh, an Indian motif of a ring of salmon, each swallowing the tail of the one in front of it, symbolizing," she waved her hand vaguely, "oh uh, an eternal cycle of renewal, eternal love. Matt's so artistic, you know, and so romantic." Trisha was crushed. It was true, what Hilda had said and what he'd already confirmed at lunch. He was engaged to Angela and any future for her and Matt was hopeless. It is a terrible thing to be without hope and the devastation was written all over her face. Her mission accomplished, Angela started to leave, running into Veronica on her way out. "Leaving so soon?" "Yes, I've got to get ready for tonight. So, your baby is due when?" "Less than a month now."
Angela smoothed her flat waistline. "Better you than me," and flounced out. Veronica rolled her eyes then took a look at Trisha. "Are you all right?" Trisha put a hand to her forehead. "I'm not, not well. I should go home." Veronica patted her arm. "I hope you feel better. I'll see you Monday and Trisha, don't worry about the job. You're more than equal to it and Matt's just wonderful to work for, he really is." Matt may be wonderful to work for, but not so wonderful to be in love with, not when he was lost to her forever. The way home was all a blur and she arrived at the cottage emotionally exhausted. It was midafternoon and very quiet. She dropped her heavy book bag at the foot of the stairs and climbed to her funny little room in the loft. The bed looked inviting, but though she was tired, it didn't invite sleep, only a place to have a long, long cry. She sobbed loudly into her pillow, a wail that came from deep inside, mournful, for that is what she was doing, mourning the loss of her dream for the future. Oliver came to investigate the forlorn sound and nestled against her side, but even his soothing presence was not enough to calm her. She pulled up an old afghan to cover herself. It was a ripple pattern done in soft shades of brown. Her mother had made it when she'd first gotten ill. She could use a mother's comfort about now, but the afghan would have to do and only after a long while, when there were no tears left, did she finally go to sleep. *** After Angela left, Matt sat back to think about his disastrous lunch with Trisha. What a dope he was. Okay, so he was tongue-tied around her, couldn't even manage the 'How long have you been in Eugene' bit, but why did he have to bring up the whole settling down thing? Driving back, the atmosphere had been so strained. What he needed to do now, was to reopen communications. Yeah, that's it. He got up and went to the adjoining office. Veronica was standing up at the printer, but where was Trisha? Veronica told him she wasn't feeling well and had gone home, sick. He beamed. "Great! I, I mean, it's good she went home. " He tried to look grave. "Not too ill, I hope?" Veronica gave him a look. "I don't think so, just a headache." He stood there with his hands in his pockets. "Did you want something?" "Uh no, everything's fine. Great, as a matter of fact." He turned to go. Veronica smiled and shook her head. Nothing much will get done while they're both mooning about. Sure hope those two get it together before the company goes to pot. Back in his office, Matt opened a window and breathed deeply the fresh smell of the newlymowed lawn. Everything was going to be great. He turned to Barney. "How about that? It wasn't anything I said, she was just sick. I'm not a dope after all." He scratched Barney behind the ears and Barney leaned into it, thumping his tail. "Everything's going to be great, Barn, you'll see. Close call, though, better go slowly. Wouldn't want to scare her away now, would we, fella?" ***** Chapter 18 The birds were making a racket and although she would have liked to stay in a state of oblivion, she couldn't sleep any longer. She forced one eye open and looked at the clock, 6:13 A.M. Impossibly early, but she was wide awake so she pulled on jeans and an old candy-striped longsleeved top and padded downstairs to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. She was not a pretty sight, mascara smudged under eyes that were half-swollen shut. A warm, wet washcloth soothed her
eyes and wiped away the smudges, but she still was not fit for man nor beast. Well, maybe beastOliver had found her and was busy serpentining around her ankles. "Okay, Boy, I get the idea." He led the way to the door and they went outside. The air was crisp and smelled wonderful. The sun was already up and promised to burn off the clouds. It would be a fine day and she would spend it outside doing a Spring clean up of the yard. Now Oliver was nagging her and she headed back inside almost tripping over him as he made a beeline for the cupboard where the cat food was kept. "Okay, Oliver, okay. Remember, patience is a virtue." She opened a can of cat food and had barely set the dish on the mat when he started devouring it with the odd alternating biting and licking way cats have. She was weighing the idea of poached vs. scrambled eggs for breakfast when Bonnie came out of her bedroom yawning and stretching. "Poached or scrambled?" Bonnie paused midstretch. "Poached would be wonderful." "Fine. We'll have them with the rest of the raisin toast." She pulled a pan out from the cupboard under the stove and rummaged in the utility drawer for a large spoon. "It would be easier to microwave them." "I know," Trisha smiled, "but I don't mind and they'll be softer." She popped the bread into the toaster. "I didn't hear you come in last night." Bonnie put on the tea. "Tom took me to dinner. We went to a club after. Had a great time. Too bad I have to work all weekend overseeing preparing the community garden." Trisha cracked the eggs and carefully slid them one by one into the boiling water. "You two seem pretty good together." Bonnie dreamily twisted a dark lock of hair around her finger. "We were made for each other. So, how was your first day in the new job?" Trisha carefully lifted out the eggs with a slotted spoon and joined Bonnie at the table. Not looking at her, she replied, "Good and bad." "What was good?" 'The job sounds really interesting, challenging too. I mean, I did some customer relations for Mr. Grant, but it was mostly secretarial. You know, fetch the coffee, type letters." "And?" "Well, Matt's young enough so that keyboarding is natural for him so unless it's a contract or something, he types his own correspondence and he gets his own coffee. I'll be answering the phone, of course, calling repairmen, a lot of customer relations. Veronica will tell me the rest on Monday, I guess." Bonnie took the last piece of toast. "And the bad?" She looked down and toyed with the food on her plate then replied in an almost inaudible voice, "He's engaged." Bonnie put a hand on her arm. "Oh Trish, I'm sorry. How did you find out?" She told her about yesterday, making light of it. She didn't want her to know how heartbroken she was. Any attempt to console her would only make her break down again. Bonnie patted her arm then got up to get dressed "Don't worry, there are plenty of other fish in the sea." Trisha began the washing up. "I don't plan to go fishing anytime soon." Bonnie teased, "Oh, you'll change your mind." "I doubt it." Actually, there was no doubt. There was only one man in the world for each woman and vice versa and she knew in her heart that Matt was the one for her. She had known it from the moment they'd met. He was engaged, but people broke up all the time, look at her and Bobby. And Angela was so wrong for him, so nasty, maybe he would have second thoughts. She had told Oliver that patience was a virtue and that is what she had decided to be-patient.
Having reconciled herself to the situation, she had a pleasant weekend. She found the rake, trowel and gardening gloves and spent the bulk of Saturday cleaning up the yard, digging out dandelions and stray blackberry starts and pulling up hitchhiker plants and other weeds. She worked through lunch, stopping only occasionally for some iced tea and finished in the early afternoon by raking up all the yard waste into the corner compost heap. She gave it a turn with an old shovel nearby then went inside to clean herself up. Tom had gone to eastern Oregon on business so that night she and Bonnie shared a pizza and rented a blockbuster action adventure that somehow both of them had missed in the theaters. She turned in early and the pleasant physical tiredness made for a restful night's sleep. Sunday, she attended services at a small, non-denominational chapel nearby. On the way home, she stopped at the grocery for a few things. Lunch was bagged salad and the leftover pizza. Then she applied herself to her homework reviewing several chapters for a sociology test and writing a persuasive piece for composition on the virtues of working in the garden. Dinner was salmon, salad and new potatoes and by the time she went to bed she felt like her old, cheerful self, renewed and ready for whatever next week might bring. ***** Chapter 19 Monday morning, Trisha hurried downstairs into the bathroom for a last minute check on her appearance. Her hair was a shiny spill of satiny caramel. The brown blouse with its tiny pinstripes and matching brown skirt were not new, but were becoming and business-like. Satisfied with what she saw, she told herself she was just putting her best foot forward. Dressing nicely was a good confidence builder and she needed it. Her morning at the university was successful. She handed in her composition ahead of the deadline, aced the sociology test and managed to stay focused in math class. Would the afternoon go as well? She took a deep breath and pulled open the right of the double doors to Crockett's and went into Veronica's office. Veronica was on the phone and smiled and held up one finger to indicate she'd be just a minute. Finally, Veronica hung up and asked about her weekend. "It was very relaxing." "Feeling well?" Trish nodded. "Good. Today we'll focus on customer relations which really covers most of what you'll do." Trisha opened her pad and listened. "Before Matt took over, Crockett's was mostly a wholesale business. The first thing he did was a cost analysis and he discovered that no matter how much he might build up the business, it was too expensive to hand tie quality flies and then wholesale them to retailers. Most people would have cut corners or jobbed it out overseas, but Matt realized that Crockett's reputation for quality was its greatest asset so he changed his marketing thrust, set up the shop, a website with an on-line catalogue and mail out catalogue and now we're 60% retail." Veronica went on to explain that production and shipping were computerized, had good people in charge and pretty much ran themselves and that e-commerce now represented the lion's share of their sales. "Matt is committed to high tech, but not at the expense of high touch. So he oversees the marketing, doing much of the P.R. himself- regional sports shows, the fishing derby and sporting
goods stores. He deals with a few of the customers, mostly old friends of Mr. Crockett's and fishing guides. "He also handles all dissatisfied customers. He's wonderful with them. They're very impressed when they get a call from the company president and he's a good listener. We may reach the point where he can't personally attend to these, but there aren't that many because our quality is high." Trisha tried to keep her mind on what Veronica was saying, but she kept on waiting for Matt to come into Veronica's office. After all, the coffee pot was there. Surely, he had to want some eventually. Veronica had to go to the ladies' room and it was then that Matt chose to come in. He rapped twice then walked in straight to the credenza behind her where the coffee was located. He was wearing a sky blue shirt that fit his physique well. He was so handsome and suddenly the room felt very small. While pouring his coffee and stirring in cream and sugar, he said, "Veronica filling you in?" She managed a "Yes, it's very interesting." He said, "Good." and left. Although there was nothing to their conversation, being near him still unsettled her, made her giddy like a teenager. Was she going to be able to do this? She rose and filled a mug for herself and leaned against the credenza sipping it and sighed. It had been foolish to take such pains this morning to look nice. Might as well have worn a cardboard box and pinned her hair up any old way. He hadn't looked at her, hadn't even noticed. Of course, she was mistaken. Veronica returned and poured herself a mug of cold milk from the mini-fridge in the corner. "Where was I? Oh yes, Matt is the face of Crockett's. We do the rest. The mailman comes around 11:00 so the first thing you'll do each day when you arrive is sort the mail. Orders for catalogues or products go directly to shipping. Matt gets mail from select long time customers, all complaints and anything addressed to him marked 'For addressee's eyes only' or 'Personal.' We handle the bulk of the rest. When in doubt, give it to Matt. We answer the phone. After I'm gone, Penny, the receptionist will field the calls in the morning. Use the same distribution rules for calls as you do for mail. When in doubt, give it to Matt. "The website gets thousands of hits per month. Shipping downloads all requests for catalogues and all orders. There is a nominal charge for the catalogues and they collect it. Right now, we get about 1000 e-mails per month. In no time, you'll be able to process them in less than two hours a day. Mostly, you sort them, forwarding select customers or complaints to Matt." She clicked on the toolbar. "This drop down is an alphabetical list of the preferred customers that go to him, you forward e-mailed orders to shipping and you handle the rest. "We get a lot of e-mails regarding ideas for flies. Walter handles those, he protects Crockett's against proprietary issues and anyway, he speaks their language. "If you get a compliment, you send a thank you, add them to the mailing list and mail them something in one of these padded envelopes. This month, we're giving these plastic hook removers with Crockett and Son printed on them. Cute, aren't they?" Veronica showed her the folder with sample responses to e-mails and suggested she review the sent mail. The volume of work was amazing and her admiration for Veronica only increased. She spent the rest of the afternoon watching and helping her field the mail, e-mail and calls. At five o'clock, Veronica hefted herself out of her chair. "Usually I stay late, but for the last week, I've been more than ready to leave at five. I know I've thrown a lot at you in a short time, but I'm sure you'll do fine. See you tomorrow." Tomorrow she would sort and answer the mail, answer the telephone and do the e-mail under Veronica's supervision. It was all quite daunting. She would have to be very efficient to keep up with the sheer volume of work . She decided to stay and review the e-mail sample folder and read the sent messages.
At about 5:30, Matt came in. "Coffee still on?" "Yes." "Great." He filled his 'I'd rather be fishing' mug and added sugar and cream. "You're working late." "I thought I'd review the sent messages file. I' m supposed to answer the e-mail tomorrow." "Sounds good." He started to go then turned back around. "I'm leaving in about fifteen minutes, like a lift?" She looked up surprised and nodded. After about ten more minutes of trying to concentrate on the messages, she gave up and turned off the computer and unplugged and rinsed the coffee pot. Matt came in as she was finishing up. "Ready?" She shouldered her book bag and purse and they went out through the double doors. The night watchman locked up behind them. Matt had the jeep today and Barney leaped into the back and settled down. Trisha climbed in the front and leaned back. The jeep was much higher than Bonnie's beetle and although it certainly wasn't as comfortable as the sedan, she enjoyed riding in it. Matt asked, "Do you mind Barney breathing on you?" "No, not at all. I like him, like dogs in general." That was the last of the conversation. She tried to think of something to say, but could come up with nothing and didn't want to babble. He seemed to enjoy driving and turned on the radio to the sports station. Clearly, a signal that he had no desire to speak with her. He dropped her off at the university bus station and showed no interest when she tried to thank him. She was cheered by the fact that he'd given her a ride, but it was obvious he was just being kind. At any rate, amazingly, she had survived the day. ***** Chapter 20 Over the next four days, Trisha worked harder than she had ever worked before. The job she'd had in Seattle was child's play compared to this. Grant, Horton and McDermott had been in a mirrored high rise with deep, plush carpeting and designer furnishings, but she'd been little more than a machine with a fancy title. She had fetched coffee, transferred incoming calls and typed dictated letters. At Crockett's, however, she'd been made to feel like a valued employee whose performance contributed to the success of the company. Crockett's may be small, but she was much busier than ever before. You would think that seeing Matt several times every afternoon would have inoculated her against him, but the opposite was true. Whenever he came into Veronica's office, her focus zoomed into a close-up and all she saw was him, his mesmerizing gray eyes, slow smile. The weather had warmed and so now he'd begun wearing short-sleeved dress shirts and she could see his powerful tan arms. Although she tried not to dwell on him, too often her thoughts drifted to how exquisite it would feel to have his arms around her. Veronica's last day was especially busy. They spent about an hour in Matt's office while Veronica brought him up to speed on the status of the fall catalogue and the redistribution of her duties in her absence. Trisha was impressed by Matt's attention to details. He knew everything that was going on, asked all the right questions and yet didn't get in the way of his employees doing their jobs. He was also a good listener. What a fascinating combination- a magnetic leader who could delegate, a compelling speaker who could listen.
They had a small party in the breakroom for Veronica. Matt made a nice speech about missing her, but wishing her well. "Family is very important at Crockett's and will always come first. So we wish you well. Enjoy your time off and we'll be looking forward to having you back as soon as you are ready." She helped Veronica carry the flowers and baby gifts out to her car, hugged her and then she was gone. Trisha walked back in through the double doors to what was, for a while anyway, her office and it was only now that she realized what she had let herself in for. Yes, she could do the work, but could she stand working so close to Matt? Her desk was only one door and ten steps away. It was as if she could feel his sheer animal magnetism pulling at her through the wall. How would she deal with this? The only way she knew, she'd bury herself in a mountain of work. So she set herself the goal of catching up entirely on the correspondence so that she could start out Monday fresh and banged on the keyboard like one possessed until she did just that. ***** Chapter 21 Saturday morning found Trisha at Saturday Market, a weekly street fair in the middle of town. She passed the food tents and booths of tie-dyed goods. She was looking for a gift for Bonnie's upcoming birthday and found the perfect thing for her, a lovely hemp tote bag. The rest of the day, she would devote to clothes shopping. She had casual clothes and the skirted suits she'd worn at Grant's, but not much in between that would fall into the category of casual office dress. Her clothes budget was small. Bonnie and Tom's romance seemed to be the real thing and Bonnie was gone so much, she wondered how much longer she would keep the cottage. She was contributing to the rent now, but needed to save to get her own place. Most apartments required first, last and a security deposit- quite a chunk of money up front. Unfortunately, if Bonnie moved out, there was no way she afford the cottage on her own. Not knowing how much she might qualify for in financial aid, she needed to save for school too. She had studied her wardrobe and had decided that she could get by with a skirt, pair of dress slacks and perhaps a blouse. Almost as soon as she stepped into the store, she found a green skirt and a matching white blouse with fine mint green pin stripes. The espresso-colored dress slacks came next. Not seeing much else, she was on her way out walking past the better dresses when she spotted the silky paisley-print dress. She tried it on. It was perfect, fitting her like a glove, falling gently about her curves. She hadn't planned to buy it, but it was reduced to a price that was only slightly outrageous and she promised herself she would carry bottled water for the rest of the school year instead of indulging herself with a daily latte' from one of the numerous kiosks on campus. Tired from a long day of shopping and bus rides, the two-mile trudge up the hill with her packages, did her in. Dinner was a tuna salad sandwich after which she fell asleep in front of the television only to wake up in the middle of the night and go to bed. Sunday was church. Then, armed with Bonnie's field guide, she took a walk in the country out Fox Hollow Road. She identified 25 different kinds of trees. She had never realized there were so many varieties of evergreen, but soon she was able to distinguish them by their bark, cones and needles. She turned in early. Tomorrow was a big day- her first without Veronica. Monday, she rose early to dress with extra care. She put on the green skirt and matching blouse . The fresh air and rest had done her a world of good. Coral lipstick only highlighted her gleaming mane of hair, green eyes and rosy cheeks.
The morning went quickly, but the bottled water she had brought in her book bag was no substitute for the strong black coffee she usually drank to keep herself going. Just as well, because now on the Westbound bus, her mind dwelled as much on her longing for coffee as it did on her irresistible boss. Butterflies flitted in her stomach as she pulled open the door to Crockett's. She was on her own. She told herself she had done the job all last week and she could do it now. She'd make a pot of coffee and settle down, she hoped. No need to. A fresh pot of coffee sat on the credenza. Penny must have done it and she thankfully poured a mug then sat at the desk only to see the second surprise of her day. Next to her terminal was a lovely bowl of forget-me-nots with a card- Thank you for being here- Matt. She blushed. What a thoughtful thing to do! She sipped her coffee and mused- he really is a very, very nice man. Then sighed. He's just being kind. It doesn't means anything, . To turn herself away from these thoughts, she flipped on her computer and started on the pile of mail. She slit it all except for those pieces addressed directly to Matt and sorted it into three piles-shipping, Matt's, and the largest pile- hers. Then she skim read hers and added another to shipping's and one to Matt's. She freshened her lipstick and rose to deliver Matt's mail. With her hand up to knock on the door, the door opened and he walked into her, startling her and knocking her off balance. He quickly caught her in his arms. His touch went through her like a shot and her knees went weak. He steadied her. "Are you okay?" "I, I'm sorry. I was just bringing you the mail." Suddenly they both realized he was still holding her and she felt the usual shudder of revulsion shoot through him and he thrust her away from him into a nearby chair. He turned his back to her and poured her some coffee. "Black, right?" Her mouth felt dry, but she managed a "Yes, thank you." Then he realized she already had one and made a face. "Guess you don't need this. Hope I didn't make it too strong." "I thought Penny..." She picked up the mug off her desk and took a sip. "You made this? It's very good." She sounded so lame. Think, Trisha, think. Then she looked in her hand. "Here's your mail." Then added almost as an afterthought, "And, and thanks for the lovely plant." He grinned and stood there for a moment. Oh Lord, tongue-tied again and tipped the mail at her and escaped back into his office. For a moment, they both sat at their desks, dismayed. She, because body language doesn't lie. His involuntary shudder every time he touched her said it all. He wanted nothing to do with her as a woman, couldn't stand her. Maybe, like Bobby, he just kept her around for her secretarial skills. But as long as he'd keep her around, she would stay like one of those dried-up, middle-aged assistants in love with their executive boss, staying late, doing his bidding just for the nearness of him. She was his assistant. That's all. He just sat shaking his head. So lame! He had intended to follow up the plant with some casual, friendly conversation. Instead, he had practically knocked her over, then couldn't think what to say. He would have to avoid physical contact with her. Just touching her threw him. "Tomorrow, I'll script what I'm going to say, okay, Barney? Can't risk touching her. I'll have to use words. Right, Boy?" And Barney did what he did best, thumped his tail in agreement. ***** Chapter 22
The next couple of days went more smoothly. Veronica had been right. Trisha had picked up speed and, by working very hard, was able to keep up with the correspondence. She had also learned what to do with most of the phone calls, routing some to personnel, shipping or Matt and fielding the bulk of the general inquiries herself. The shop manager took care of calls regarding what flies to use when and where and Walter was always available should the call be very technical. She and Matt were more at ease with each other too. They seemed in sync and often were refilling their coffee mugs at the same time. The care he took not to touch her was obvious. She would have to accept the fact that no matter how hard she tried to be attractive to him, he didn't care for her. But then every once in a while there was a glimmer of hope. Yesterday, he was returning to his office and had paused and said, "I like your hair down." Today, he had refilled her cup for her and they had actually talked for a while. True, it was only about business, but it had been friendly and he had complimented her on how quickly she learned. The daily calls she had to put through from Angela, however, served as an ongoing reminder that all no use. On Thursday, she woke with an idea for customer relations. She was excited as she dressed in her green silk blouse and new green skirt. She had no patience with her classes that morning, the lectures seeming dry and interminable. It was all she could do to keep from bursting in on him when she arrived at work. She took a deep breath and calmed herself and decided to tackle the mail first. She would wait until he came in for coffee. He usually worked through lunch, having a sandwich at his desk as he reviewed production and sales figures. He liked to follow lunch with coffee and promptly at 1:00, he came in, greeted her and headed toward the credenza. His coffee ritual was a familiar one by now and she waited until he had filled his mug, added sugar and cream and then had taken a sip to make sure it was just right. "Matt, do you have a minute?" He nodded and sat and regarded her with his gray eyes. He looked particularly handsome today. Departing from his usual blue or tan shirt, he wore a short-sleeved black shirt and black pants. With his crisp black haircut and silver eyes and magnificent physique, she felt the full force of his power, a power that was as elemental as the wind. She took a deep breath as if taking him in and closed her eyes, then opened them again, not daring to look at him. "I, I have an idea, about customer service? Our customers are always sending us pictures of themselves and fish they've caught on our flies. Why not set up a gallery, maybe in the entry? A picture wall, with nice lighting called Crockett's Family Gallery or something. We could feature one of them every day on the web site and maybe a few in the mail out catalogue. It would be good P.R. and wouldn't cost much." At that point, either whether she had run out of breath or had made the mistake of looking him in the eyes, she faltered. His reaction was everything she could have wanted and more. He loved the idea and they went together out to the foyer and planned where to put it. They discussed it the balance of the afternoon. He even put the webmaster on the speakerphone who was very enthusiastic, said it would be easy to do and would liven up the website. He suggested that instead of a daily picture, they create a mini slide show automatically rotating pictures of satisfied customers with their catches. It was 6:00 by the time they finished. Matt got up from his chair. "I'd take you out to dinner to celebrate, but I'm afraid I'm engaged for this evening." Being dowsed with a cold bucket of water couldn't have brought her down more quickly. He had used the word she tried not to think about. Engaged. Suddenly, she realized how tired she was after the creative high of their afternoon of brainstorming. "I'll drive you home. It's the least I can do." She busied herself gathering up her mug, pad and pens. "You don't have to." "I want to. C'mon, Barney." He clicked off his computer and grabbed his leather jacket, the same jacket he had worn the night they met at the Speed-date. He shooed her into her office giving her
only enough time to grab up her book bag and purse and then out the front doors. He had the black sedan tonight. Probably for Angela's sake. She could picture Angela in a slinky low-cut dress, leaning over him, touching him. That sobering thought made for a quiet ride home. Matt didn't seem inclined to talk anyway, other than to comment on the beautiful evening. Following her directions, he drove to the cottage then took her key. He unlocked the door and let her in taking care as usual not to even brush against her. She felt the by now familiar ache of his being off limits and gave only a half-hearted invitation for him to come in for coffee. He looked at her gravely for what seemed like a long time. "Unfortunately, I can't tonight. Maybe next time?" Then before she could reply, he cupped her upturned face in his hands and gently kissed her mouth. Then with a long look at her stunned face, he turned and left. She stood there in the open doorway like a statue watching the taillights of his sleek black car as it cruised down Fox Hollow until it reached the last bend and was out of sight. Eventually, she recovered herself enough to close and lock the door. For a long time that night, she lay in bed wondering at his kiss, a kiss that continued long into her sweet dreams. ***** Chapter 23 Her first thought on waking was Matt's kiss. It was still a thing of wonder. What did it mean? Did it mean anything? Perhaps it was done without thinking. The afternoon of working together had been so charged with excitement and like her, he had been happy and tired. Then his 'I'm engaged' echoed in her mind. But suppose he did care for her? She would leave nothing to chance and very deliberately pulled the silky paisley out of her closet, applied her make up with care and brushed her hair until it shined. She attended her classes like an automaton, albeit a beautiful one. She was too busy thinking about the afternoon before her to notice the many admiring glances sent her way. She decided that the safest way to act when she reached the office was to behave as if nothing had happened. *** After a long strategy session with Barney, Matt had come to the same conclusion- with one minor change. He would act casually, then just before 5:00, he would go in for a last coffee and ask her to dinner. When he saw her, she looked so lovely, he wanted to take her in his arms right then and kiss her long and deeply. He didn't trust himself to speak and instead communicated throughout the afternoon with a salute of his mug, a nod or smile. He accomplished very little as he watched the hands of the clock move imperceptibly toward 5:00. *** At 4:53, Penny knocked on Trisha's door. You've got a visitor, Miss..." A tall, thin man pushed his way past her into Trisha's office. Trisha just stared open-mouthed. It was Bobby! "Hello, Trish." Finally, she found her voice. "Bobby! How...why are you here?" He arched his eyebrows. "Now is that any way to greet an old beau? But I'll answer you. How, is of course, the Lexus and why am I here in this backwater town is obvious- to see you." "But..." "Relax, I'm going back right away. The truth is, I still haven't worked out how to use my list so
I've brought my laptop. I'll take you to dinner, you upload my records and show me how to access them and I head back up I-5." Before she could reply, Matt came in. "Trisha..." He stopped and saw Robert, an imperious-looking man in an Italian suit perched on the corner of Trisha's desk as if he belonged there. He looked at her and she blushed. Why, she's in love with him! It was obvious by the way Matt's look of surprise changed to a scowl that he didn't like it one bit. She might be caught off guard, but she didn't forget her manners. "Bob..., Robert, this is my boss, Matt Crockett. Matt, this is..." Robert inserted himself silkily. "...an old uh, friend, from Seattle. Robert, Robert St. John." They shook hands and eyed each other distrustfully. The room felt very close and time seemed to come to a standstill. Trisha compared the two men. They were about the same height, but there the similarity ended and they couldn't have been more different. Matt looked, well, all-American - clean cut, square-jawed, a handsome, open, straight forward face. Dressed in a blue oxford cloth shirt, snug slacks and hiking boots, he looked ready to go, an action hero. Bobby, Robert, on the other hand, his blond hair obviously styled in a trendy cut and a sardonic smile on his lips wore a silk shirt, an Italian suit, no doubt those sleek shoes were Italian too. He was well turned out, sophisticated, but in spite of the expensive clothes- somehow insubstantial. She couldn't breathe and just wanted to get out of there. She clicked off her computer and stood. Robert slipped an arm around her waist. "Pleasure to meet you, Matt. I've promised to take our girl out to dinner. Care to suggest a place?" Our girl! Matt didn't intend to share her with anyone let alone an obvious sleaze like this St. John guy. Matt looked at Robert's arm around her and at Trisha's face which revealed nothing. So that's why she dressed up today. And he'd foolishly thought it was for him. He replied woodenly, "Pete's Place is a nice supper club. Good place for old friends to catch up." Robert gave her a squeeze. "Have you been there, Trish?" She looked up at Matt. "Yes, it's... very nice." Was he just going to let her go like that? Of course, he would. After all, he had a fiancée. She was just his employee. Nothing more. She didn't want to go out with Robert, but going to dinner with him and uploading his records was probably the easiest way to be rid of him forever. And Matt didn't look too pleased. Maybe seeing someone else want to take her out would change his view of her. She plastered on a smile. "Good night. See you Monday." Then looked at Robert. "Shall we?" Matt watched them leave and took a few steps out into the foyer and watched him help her into a Lexus. He went back to his office, trudging as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. He sank heavily into his chair and sat at his desk for a moment. "Something's wrong, Barney. I don't trust that St. John and she didn't seem particularly happy to see him. I'm worried about her. She looked more tense than pleased. Let's stop in and say hello to Pete. Okay, fella?" At the mention of Pete, Barney stood and barked. Pete meant a scratch behind the ears and juicy beef bones from the kitchen. "Yeah, I thought you'd agree." ***** Chapter 24 Robert navigated the traffic easily and they were downtown in a few minutes. Long enough,
however, for her to study his profile. There was no sign of the Bobby Johnson she had once cared for. He had changed. Actually, changed was the wrong word. He had really just completed the metamorphosis from Bobby Johnson to Robert St. John. Nothing was different, just more so than before. He had always been slender, now he was thin, his cheek bones more prominent. The cold blue eyes were completely frozen over now, no warmth whatsoever, and his lips, if possible, were even thinner than before. His clothes were exquisitely tailored, must be incredibly expensive, but there was no warm and vibrant person in them. He might as well have been a mannequin. They entered the restaurant and the hostess escorted them to the back. He sat back and surveyed the place, drumming the table impatiently with the well-manicured fingers of one hand. When the waitress came he said, "Let's have a drink, shall we?" Trisha expected him to order a bottle of champagne, but that, too, had changed. "Martinis for both of us, very dry." He slid a large bill onto the table. "And keep them filled, will you?" Trisha started to protest, but he gave her a severe look then slid his hand up her arm. "You should try new things, Trish, you might find you enjoy them." She moved her arm slowly away and didn't complain further. After all, she could sip one through dinner, couldn't she? When the waitress brought the drinks, he raised his glass and gave a wintry smile. "To old times." She murmured, "Old times," and sipped the drink. It was very smooth, but incredibly strong. Wasn't there any soda in this drink? He looked amused. "Martinis are an acquired taste. Give it a chance." She sipped again then put the glass down while he drained his. The waitress refilled his and topped off hers. "Are you ready to order?" He ordered for them both- stuffed portobellos, chicken glazed in a hazelnut liqueur with wild rice and sweet peas. Throughout the dinner he talked about himself. He was still with Susan. They had been traveling a great deal. She asked how business was and he said he hadn't been selling, had begun to think it was too bourgeois. "So you aren't working?" He drained off what must have been his fourth martini and the waitress filled it again. "I'm planning a deal. That's why I need the list." He slowly shook his head. "You are so naive. There are all kinds of ways of earning one's living, but in the sense you mean, no, I'm not working." She stammered, "But that makes you a, a ..." His eyes pierced her. "Don't be so quick to criticize. You get paid for the work you do and so do I." He looked disdainfully at her department store dress. "Though obviously rather better." The waitress brought coffee. Robert barely touched his, but continued to drink. He asked what she had been doing and she told him about her college classes and work, but it was clear he wasn't interested. "Fascinating, shall we go?" He threw some large bills on the table and clutching her arm rather too tightly, led her out to the car. Robert didn't see Matt, but Matt had seen him. He'd counted the martinis. The man had to be drunk! And he didn't like the rough way he'd grabbed Trisha's arm or the tense look on her face. Now he noticed that Trisha had taken her book bag, but had left her purse. The waitress clearing their table was walking toward Pete and he intercepted her. "Hi, Mildred, isn't it?" She stopped short. "Yes. Hello, Mr. Crockett, a customer left this purse, I was just taking it to Pete." "That belongs to Trisha, my assistant. I'll see she gets it." Mildred looked in Pete's direction, but he was knee-deep in customers. "I guess that's okay. Thanks." He waved good-bye to Pete then headed outside to the car. He started the car. "Hang on, Barney!" and they took off down Willamette. The car hugged the dark turns of long and winding Fox Hollow Road, barely lit by the cloud-covered moon that peeked occasionally through the black wall
of trees lining both sides of the road. *** Trisha unlocked the door of the cottage. Bonnie had gone to the coast for the day and wasn't expected until very late, but she was beginning to feel uneasy about Robert. "My sister Bonnie's place. She should be home soon." Robert glanced around and grimaced. "A little too rustic for my taste." She ignored his comment. "Why don't you set up your laptop here on the coffee table and I'll get the disc." She ran upstairs, grabbed the cd and hurried down before he could follow her. She sat next to him on the couch, inserted the disc and within a few keystrokes had it loading, then quickly stood up. "It will take a few minutes. Care for some coffee? You've got a long drive ahead of you." He nodded and she busied herself in the kitchen for as long as possible babbling in the general direction of the living room about Eugene, the weather, anything she could think of. She put the mug on the coffee table next to his computer, leaned against the bookcase and looked at him. Fatigue etched his almost skeletal face, but that wasn't all. There was a slyness about the eyes and his once tight-lipped determined mouth was now a cruel jagged line. As in the picture of Dorian Gray, his debauchery was visible. Instead of trading up, the handsome young salesman had fallen quite low since they had met what seemed like so very long ago. She felt sorry for him and something else, a little afraid. He looked up at her. "It's done." Did he see the relief on her face? She sat next to him and quickly used the finger pad to show him the drop down menus for adding or changing a record and calling up an individual client or sorting a list. She turned the laptop toward him and at the same time moved away from him on the couch. "That's it then." He tapped the button to turn off the laptop and folded it closed. As he did so, she rose. "Well, you got what you came for. It's very late." Matt pulled up and switched off the ignition. He saw her walk from the kitchen with some mugs then sit next to St. John. All he could see was a silhouette on the curtain of them with their heads together. Not only could he not see much from the vehicle, but it had begun to rain quite loudly so he couldn't hear if she was in distress. Even though he had an excuse in returning her purse, he would look like a fool barging in on her date, but there was nothing else he could do. His concern for her outweighed his distaste for invading her privacy. . He would have to go up to the cottage, hand her the purse, make sure she was okay. It might make her angry and result in losing her forever, but that was the chance he would have to take. He opened the car door quickly, holding the button inside the jamb to douse the interior lights. Barney sat up. He motioned him down with his hand. "Stay here, Boy," then got out of the vehicle and closed the door with a low clunk. Half-crouching, he quickly crossed the yard and walked up to the door. They were standing. He still could see only shadows on the cafe-curtained door, but now at least he could hear their voices. "No, that's not all. There's something else, something I should have taken long ago." St. John put his hands on her shoulders then slid them down her arms and grabbed her hands imprisoning them behind her back then roughly pulled her against him and kissed her. Trisha wrenched her body away from him. "Stop! You're hurting me!" Then he trapped both her hands in one of his with his other hand ripped the neckline of her dress. Suddenly there was a loud crack. Matt had reared back and slammed his shoulder into the door, breaking it open. "Let her go!" he roared as he grabbed Robert by the shoulders and tore him away from her and shook him like a rag doll. "Get your filthy hands off her and get out of here. Now!" He threw Robert against the couch. Robert looked feral and cornered, no match for the clenchfisted man towering over him. He grabbed his laptop and scurried out the door like the rat he was. Barney lunged for the car window barking ferociously as he rushed to his car, careened out of the
yard and raced down the road. Matt closed the door. He was breathing hard and still quaking with anger. He examined the broken door jamb. "I'll fix that. Where are the tools?" It was only then that he looked at Trisha. She was crumpled in on herself against the bookcase, holding her dress closed with a trembling hand. She pointed toward the kitchen. He came to her and slowly and carefully guided her to the couch and gently lowered her to sit down. He found a small quilt on a rocker nearby and swaddled her in it then carefully sat beside her and slowly put an arm about her and held her to his chest. As she cried, he smoothed her hair and murmured to her as one would to comfort a child. They sat there for a long time. Finally her tears subsided. She looked up at him, dazed and confused at the fact he was there. "You left your purse at Pete's; it's over there." She looked where he'd pointed. "Is your sister coming home?" "She should be here soon." "I'll stay until then. In the meantime, I'll make you a cup of tea and fix the door." He gently removed his arm from about her and laid her head against the arm of the couch then turned down the light. In the kitchen, he found the tea and brought back two steaming mugs. "Here's...", but in her exhaustion, she had fallen asleep. He put her tea on the coffee table and returned to the kitchen, rummaging around as quietly as possible for a screwdriver. He fixed the door, bending the jamb plate back in place and tightening the screws. It would hold for now, but he would send over a locksmith in the morning to install a sturdy deadbolt. He sat in the rocker and watched over her. She looked all of twelve as she lay there. He realized just how deeply he loved her, but he would have to wait for the right time to tell her. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Well then, he would just wait. ***** Chapter 25 Light streamed in the front window onto Trisha's face, waking her. Why was she sleeping on the couch? She started to pull off the quilt and saw she was still dressed in her new paisley dress. Her torn, new dress. Robert. It all flooded back and she was instantly filled with shame. She felt- unclean. Slowly crawling out from under the quilt, she put her feet on the floor. Bonnie poked her head out of the kitchen and that was how she found her, head buried in her hands, elbows on her knees, a study in despair. She rushed out. "Are you all right?" Trisha, her eyes all swollen, looked up at her. "Oh, Bonnie, it was awful. Robert, he was here. He..." Bonnie put her arm around her and smoothed her hair back. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. Matt told me everything." Matt! The memory of him having to break down the door to save her only added hot embarrassment to the shame. " Oh Matt, how can I ever face him again?" Bonnie looked at her sister. Unbelievable. Did she really not know? "Matt cares about you, Trisha. I'm sure of it." Trisha looked away, misery written all over her face. "Not that way. You don't know him. He's kind to everyone." Bonnie looked doubtful and shook her head. "I don't know about that."
"He really is. I'm just an employee, but he treats us all like family. He was just returning my purse. I left it at the restaurant." She looked down again and said softly, "Besides, he's marrying Angela." Bonnie put her hand on Trisha's arm. "And what was he doing at the restaurant?" Trisha waved a hand. "He goes there all the time. He's best friends with the owner." "Well, it was lucky for you he came here." Trisha put a hand up to her mouth as she remembered. "My God, I didn't even thank him." She buried her face back in her hands. "I'm so embarrassed." Bonnie watched her a moment. "Hungry?" A wave of nausea hit her as she thought of Robert, drunk, trying to force himself on her. "Not very. I need to shower first." Bonnie nodded. "Good idea. I'm here if you need me. Maybe you could try some toast after." Maybe. Trisha sat not moving, drained of all energy. She replayed in her mind the sight of Matt, all fury, shaking Robert shouting 'Get your filthy hands off her!' Finally the desire to wash away Robert's touch, the feeling of being soiled, motivated her to get up and go to the bathroom. She showered for a long, long time, first soaping and washing then just standing under the soothing hot water, breathing in the steam to clear her head, stuffy from crying. The water calmed her and she dried herself, wrapped a towel around her head and put on the old green terry cloth robe hanging on the hook on the back of the door. She emerged feeling a little better and found Bonnie on the phone. Bonnie held out the receiver to her. Trisha shook her head no, mouthing 'I can't.' Bonnie glared at her oh-yes-you-can, said, "Here she is," and shoved it into her hand. She slowly put it to her ear and in a flat voice said, "Hello." Matt's warm, concerned voice came over the phone, "Are you all right?" No, I'm not! her mind screamed, but she answered, "Yes. Just tired, I guess. Matt, I never thanked you for, for..." "That's okay. I just wanted to make sure you're all right. Take it easy and you'll be fine. So, I'll see you Monday?" "I, I'm not sure." "Please come in Monday. I...Crockett and Son needs you." "Okay." "Thanks, um, you just rest. If there is anything you need, anything at all, just call me." He was so kind, so sweet, she was barely able to speak, but managed "Okay." Trisha hung up, and Bonnie quickly herded her over to the table for tea and toast. It was strong and soothing and helped fill the hollow feeling inside, a little. It was a sunny day, but she had no energy for working in the yard. Bonnie encouraged her to at least sit outside for a while so she pulled on a long-sleeved top and some jeans then paused at the bookcase on her way out the door. The cottage had come partially-furnished and in the bookcase, above her sister's field guides and volumes on horticulture, were the owner's books. He had an obvious liking for fantasy and adventure for its shelves were filled with Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and the complete works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. She selected Tarzan of the Apes and went out to sit on a wrought iron bench beside the hyacinths. She began reading, but the sun was quite relaxing and after not too long she fell asleep thinking of Tarzan of the Jungle, the magnificent Lord Greystoke, and somehow the shock of black hair above his ferocious gray eyes changed to a short dark brushcut as he roared and protected the woman he loved from a murderous beast. *****
Chapter 26 In the days following Robert's disastrous visit, Trisha retreated into her work. Each morning found her focusing on her professors' lectures, listening intently to block out any extraneous thoughts her brain might conjure up. Then she would complete her math homework on the bus ride to Crockett's. Once there, she was all business. She'd started to wear her hair up again, pulled back more severely than ever. She used little make up and dressed in the skirted suits she'd worn when she worked for Mr. Grant. Matt understood she was embarrassed about the incident with St. John, but he also sensed there was more going on than that. For the time being, she had turned off her emotions. Furthermore, she had sworn off men. He did the only thing he could. He was polite and careful to compliment her work, not her personally. He kept a line of communication open by talking to her, but only about business. He assigned more responsibility for answering the telephone to Penny to free Trisha up to oversee setting up the Crockett Family Gallery and sort pictures for the web slide show. He used every opportunity to meet with her, digging through old e-mail and correspondence for pictures, soliciting more recent ones from the fishing guides he worked with. As a result, they often worked sharing coffee, heads together, going over customers' pictures. He understood this was the only level of communication she could handle right now. It wasn't much, but he would take it. It was better than nothing. At night, she worked on her sociology or composition homework. Then she would read until she fell asleep. Reading was her only escape and although it took her to the dangers of the dark continent, it was safe, safer anyhow than the turmoil of her thoughts.. She went on like this, her routine unvarying until one night Bonnie came home running into the cottage and dancing her around in a circle. Bonnie was laughing and crying tears of happiness and so worked up, it was a full minute before she understood. Bonnie and Tom were getting married. Bonnie flashed a small round diamond perched on a white gold band. "I'm so happy, isn't it wonderful?" Trisha got her to stop twirling her before they both fell down. "When are you getting married?" "Next month." "That's great. I'm really happy for you." Bonnie grabbed her shoulders. "You've got to come celebrate." "What?" We're celebrating the good news tomorrow night. You can't say no to this. Jeff will pick you up at 5:00 and meet Tom, Sheila and me downtown." Trisha backed up a little. "I don't know." "You have to come. Even if it's only for one drink. Promise?" Trisha didn't feel like seeing anyone, but how could she say no? "I promise." "Great. Oh, I'm so excited!" Trisha gave a wry smile. "I better cook dinner. With your head in the clouds, you're a danger in the kitchen." *** The next day, Trisha wore her hair down and her shirtwaist. Matt was pleased to see that she was coming out of her shell. He finished up his work shortly before 5:00 so he could catch her in the parking lot. She clicked off her computer, grabbed up her book bag and her purse and hurried out the front
doors. Matt whistled for Barney and they followed right behind her. He was about to offer her a ride when Jeff Williams drove up in his sedan. She threw her things in the back and climbed in beside him. Matt was thunderstruck. He opened the jeep door for Barney then climbed in and just sat there for a while. He'd read it all wrong. She hadn't sworn off men. She was still seeing Williams. He scratched Barney behind the ears. "What am I going to do? I can't lose her to him. We have a nice enough working relationship, but to her I'm just her boss. Nothing more. I love her, Barn, and somehow I've got to make her love me." He thought for a while. "I know. The fishing derby's coming up. She's been helping promote it, but she's never been fishing in her life. Perfect excuse to get her out of the office. She needs to learn how for her job, doesn't she? We'll go Saturday. I'll ask her tomorrow. This is my last chance, Barney. It better work." He drove home slowly, planning how to ask her, envisioning a nice day alone with her in the sun. *** Jeff talked nonstop all the way downtown. Sheila had moved back in and everything was great between them. He was still talking as they entered the sports bar. Bonnie and Tom had picked the sports bar so they could be a little more rowdy. After all, it was a celebration, wasn't it? They stood inside a moment allowing their eyes to adjust to the dark then saw Bonnie and Tom and Sheila and joined them in the back. Jeff and Sheila sat holding hands and Bonnie and Tom just beamed at each other. Bonnie and Tom, giggling and teasing each other, told the story of the night they had met on their Speed-date. "He was just so suave. 'Hi, I'm Tom. Do you come here often?' " He gave her a wry look. 'You were just as cool. "Hi, I'm...I'm." "No fair!" She tapped him playfully on the arm and he caught her hand and kissed her fingers. "Seriously, it was love at first sight. I made Trisha promise to bring her back to Pete's that Friday so I could see her again. Once I had found her, there was no way I was going to lose her." Jeff proposed a toast, "You know, I could take credit for this. After all, the only reason why Tom went to the Speed-date was to cheer me up." He looked at Sheila and kissed her cheek. "But I won't." Now he stood. "To a great friend and his beautiful bride-to-be, may your seven minute Speed-date lead to a lifetime of happiness." They all drank then Jeff and Sheila, laughing and contradicting each other, told of how they had met at the university. They had bumped into each other, literally, and after he'd helped pick up her books, he'd taken her for coffee. Trisha was glad for her sister. They were the perfect match. She was glad, too, for Jeff and Sheila. But as before, being with them, seeing them so happy together, made her realize how alone she was. She’d been kidding herself. She could no more turn off her emotions than stop breathing! She felt incredibly lonely and even more, she felt the longing she had thought she'd quelled. Longing for Matt. She wanted to sit with him the way Bonnie and Tom sat, arms entwined, giving shy, loving looks. She wanted to feel his arms around her once more as she had on that day she'd crashed into him at the office. She wanted him to kiss her again as he'd done one night, holding her face in his hands, pressing his warm lips so gently to her mouth. She savored the memory of his kiss for a long time until the spell of her blissful daydream was broken by Jeff's particularly bad rendition of "Happy Engagement to You!" There was that word again- engagement. Engaged. Matt was still engaged to be married. Hateful Angela still called daily demanding to be put through, no matter what. No doubt they were making arrangements for their evenings (nights?) together. Worse yet, perhaps they were discussing the details of the wedding that would bar her from him forever. Bonnie nudged her. "Are you okay? You look, I don't know, really mad." Trisha forced a smile. "Rough day, that's all." She took a deep breath and raised her glass. "Bonnie, Tom, I just want you to know how glad I am for both of you. I wish you all the happiness
in the world." They all drank to her toast then she left quietly pleading homework. That night she lay in bed wondering. How could she get Matt to love her? She had lost precious time these last two weeks turning off her emotions. No one would fall in love with a cold robot-least of all a red-blooded American male like Matt Crockett. No more dressing like Miss Efficient! Tomorrow she'd pull out all the stops. She said a silent prayer. It was her last chance. This better work. ***** Chapter 27 There's making yourself look pretty and then there is tarting yourself up and it was obvious from the looks she'd drawn on campus and later on the bus, that she had done the latter. She even smelled seductive, thanks to a quick department store spritz of an intoxicating perfume that cost more per ounce than she made in a week. She took a deep breath and exhaled then smoothed her low-cut latte'-colored jersey dress. It complemented her long, gleaming honey-colored hair, not to mention her slim, but curvy figure. She shook back her hair jiggling the gold hoop earrings she had borrowed from Bonnie and sashayed, as well as one could sashay loaded down with a book bag and purse, through the glass double doors of Crockett and Son. Once in her office, she smoothed her hose and checked her coral lipstick. A lick of her lips, final fluff of her hair and voila'. She had done her best to look good and was as confident as someone about a mile outside their comfort zone could be. She wasn't sure she could carry this off. She was a farmer's daughter from eastern Oregon, for goodness sake, and a very efficient administrative assistant, but the role of temptress was a new one. She was nervous, but determined. There was too much at stake to take it lightly. She might be packaged differently, but inside she was the same Trisha Long. Perhaps her usual balm, work, would help. So, with a deep sigh, she flicked on her computer, sorted and skimmed the mail and began dealing with her e-mail. She had made quite a dent in the correspondence when Matt rapped on the door and popped in. He popped in, but his eyes almost popped out at the change in her, which she emphasized by crossing her long, spectacular legs allowing her dress to ride up well above her knee. Holy Toledo! What the...? What's going on here? This was not the prim legs-crossed-at-the-ankle Trisha he was used to, neat and pretty as a new penny. She looked seductive, uninhibited. Then his heart sank. Of course, it was written all over her. Coming on the heels of her date with Williams, it was painfully obvious. He was too late. She was in love. He turned to the coffee things to hide his dismay. He could not let this happen. What could he do? Then he realized his course was clear. He would follow through on the plan he had devised yesterday. It was a last ditch effort and his chances of success looked slimmer than ever, but he wouldn't give up. He turned. "Trisha, could you come into my office for a minute?" "Why certainly, Matt." She slinked into his office and sank into a client chair, crossing her luscious legs again. He was confused. It was almost as if she were flaunting herself, taunting him with what he couldn't have. He shook his head slightly to clear it. Never mind, stick to the plan. "Um, are you busy Saturday?" Ah hah! Now we're getting somewhere. She studied her nails and answered almost absentmindedly, "No, why?"
He tried to reply just as casually, "Well, you're answering inquiries from our customers and it occurred to me that I should give you a fishing lesson." Fishing? "Fishing." "Yes, uh, fishing, well fly fishing, to be exact." "Let me get this straight, you want me to go with you Saturday so you can teach me how to fish." "The derby's coming up and it would be helpful if you learned how. I think you'll enjoy it." She could not believe it! Here she was dressed like a siren, smelling like a French you-know-what and what did she inspire in him? Fishing. What an idiot she was! The humiliation was almost too much to bear and she felt a hysterical laugh rising. She had to get out of his office before she totally lost it. She stood, rushed out with a "Sure, I'll go," and raced to the ladies room where she sat in a stall laughing at the absurdity of it, that she had thought that she could attract him, could compete with Angela, and at the same time crying because she had failed so miserably. *** Matt, on the other hand, was pleased. He bent to pat Barney. "That went well, didn't it, Boy?" Then he got up and crossed to stand in front of the window. "She seemed a little surprised at the beginning, but toward the end, she looked really happy, didn't she?" Barney barked and thumped his tail in agreement, but of course, like his master, he was mistaken. ***** Chapter 28 Trisha eyed the clock. 7:50 A.M. She sipped the strong coffee she had prepared to fortify herself for the day ahead. As Matt had suggested, she had dressed warmly in a green v-neck fleece top, jeans and two pairs of the heaviest socks she owned. She would be warm enough, but was she otherwise prepared to spend the day with him? She didn't know. He was the man of her dreams and she loved him with all of her heart, but to him, she was strictly an employee. Her stint as a temptress had bombed royally. All she could do was just be herself and savor a day on the river with the man she loved. The motion sickness pills she had taken at 7:30 were beginning to kick in. As a result, she was dulled. Maybe that was a blessing so she wouldn't make a fool of herself over him. At any rate, she had learned it was very necessary when she had traveled on occasion for Mr. Grant. Plane trips, car rides- they all affected her. And boats? The memory alone of a morning whale watching off the coast was enough to turn her green as her tunic. The last thing she wanted today was to be sick. She heard Matt pull up in the jeep, not the quietest car on the block, and opened the door to greet him. He grinned at her- he was so heartbreakingly handsome!- and looked her over approvingly and pronounced her outfit, "Perfect." She smiled and half-curtsied, "Why, thank you, Mr. Crockett." He leaned his powerful body against the doorway, "You look ready for a day on the river. All set?" She nodded. He gently took her elbow. "Let's go then before Barney wigs out. He always gets excited when I pull out the fishing gear." "Do I need a jacket?" "No, I've got something that will do just fine." She locked the door and he helped her into the jeep. Barney was very excited, sitting up in the
back seat, his huge head thrust between the bucket seats, tongue lolling. He barked a greeting, or was he telling them to hurry up? They both petted him and Matt told him sternly to lie down then backed out and they drove down winding Fox Hollow into town. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, something that occurred only 50% of the time during Oregon's rain-soaked Springs. They drove through town on busy Willamette then crossed the river into Springfield. Now they were on 126 with tall pines on their left and the McKenzie River on their right. Now the Dramamine had really kicked in and Trisha yawned. Matt eyed her sourly. She'd probably been out with Williams again. He gripped the steering wheel tightly. "Late night?" She could see his jaw muscle flinching and rushed, "No, not at all. It's just the Dramamine I took." "Dramamine?" "Yes, I get motion sickness." He relaxed and laughed. "But we're not going on a boat." She looked at him. "We're not? Then where are we going?" "Well, if we were really serious fly fishermen, we'd have risen at 2:00 A.M. and headed south to the Umpqua for some of the best fly fishing in the world, catch-and-release, mostly. But, since this is only a day to show you how it's done, the McKenzie will do just fine." He grinned. "In short, we're going to my house." She blinked. "Your house?" "Yes, I live on the McKenzie. In fact, I can usually catch dinner right off my dock, but we'll most likely be a little downstream so you can use the waders, get the full feel of fly fishing." She shrugged an okay. She would like to see where he lived and she watched the passing scenery with interest. A few minutes later, he turned off the main road at a sign that said 'Private Drive.' They drove a little way farther and reached a long single story home. He stopped the jeep, "Here we are," and they got out. It was a log home, but no rustic little cabin. It was beautiful. He unlocked the door. "Welcome to River House." They walked into the living room and now the full effect of the house hit her. The interior was a combination of warm, gleaming wood and huge glass windows overlooking the river. "This was my parents' dream house. It was completed only months before my dad died. After that, my mother couldn't stay here. It wasn't as if it had been their home for many years with memories to hold her. The only memory was that they had built it for their future together and now they'd have none. So, I bought it from her and she moved up near my sister in Salem." "They must have had a very special relationship." Matt rested his eyes on her. "Yes, they did. That's when I decided I'd find the right woman and settle down. The house is plenty big enough for a family. In a way, maybe I'll fulfill their dream for them." She wanted to cry out that he had it all wrong, that she was the one to share his future, make him happy, not Angela, but she turned away so he couldn't see her anguish and looked out the window at the river swiftly flowing by. He took a deep breath. He was in danger of scaring her away again the way he had at the restaurant when he had talked of marriage. He got quite brisk. "So, let's get going. The mud room's back here." He took her to a small, entryway at the back of the house, a built-in bench on either side. Boots lined the walls and odd jackets and long brown footed rubber overalls hung on pegs. "These are waders." He pulled the smallest off a peg. "These should fit you." "Your sister's?" "No, they're Angela's. She keeps them here." A cold hand squeezed her heart and it took great effort for her to reach out and take them from him.
"Just sit on this bench here and take off your shoes. Then put your legs in pulling them all the way up so your feet are straight in the foot part. You're shorter than she is, so I'll tighten up the shoulder straps when you've got them on." The waders were cold and awkward to pull on, kind of floppy and rigid at the same time, but she did as he asked while he pulled on his. "These are chest waders. Some only go up to the waist." He shortened the shoulder straps so they more or less fit her. "Great." Now sit back down on the bench and I'll help you with the boots." He turned one over. "See the felt on the bottom? That helps you to grip the rocks, keep your balance." He tightened and tied the laces on her boots then had her walk around a little to get used to them while he laced up his own. She had never felt so awkward in her life. Awkward and ungainly. Next, he helped her shrug into a beige vest with many small pockets. "When you're wearing waders, there are no pockets, so you wear a fishing vest and put flies, pliers, a granola bar, anything you might need in it. Since it's a little chilly on the river, here's a jacket." He pulled an old jacket over her arms. "And in spite of the coolness, the sun can be fierce on fair skin like yours, so here's a hat," and he plopped an old beige canvas hat on her head. He stood back and looked at her. "You look great. Everything all right?" She tried to smile and it came out all crooked. "Just peachy." He laughed. "You'll get used to it. C'mon, let's go." He grabbed some fishing gear and led her out the back. The backyard was terraced with a wide green lawn that sloped down toward the river. Colorful rhododendron bushes ringed the majestic pines. They walked out onto the dock. "I have 200 feet of river frontage, from that boathouse way up there to well around the bend. The river is wider here so it's a little tamer than in other parts, makes for good fishing. To your left is where the river starts high up in the Cascade mountains. That's upstream. Where it flows, toward town, is downstream. We're going to fish downstream a little ways." He carried the two poles in one hand and a small tackle box in the other and they walked along the bank for a couple of minutes and stopped at a graveled mini-beach with a picnic table. He screwed together one pole. "Fly rods are longer and more flexible than regular fishing poles. The reel has flat floating line on it that threads through these rings and the end has this plastic monofilament line called leader and the fly is tied here, on the end. I'll show you how to cast." He waded several feet out into the water and began gently whipping the pole out in front of him. "This feeds out the line. When you think you have enough, you give it one last fling and then point the tip where you want it to land and lay it out. These are wet flies so they'll sink. You generally cast upstream and toward the opposite shore and let the line float downstream then begin reeling it in slowly, stopping from time to time which causes the fly to rise then sink. Got it?" She looked doubtful, but gamely answered, "I guess so." He waded back to shore, handed her the rod and quickly put his together. "Now wade out, and I'll help you with your first cast. " She slid her feet slowly and carefully into the water, walking awkwardly, feeling more like a little kid buried in a huge snowsuit than an outdoorswoman. She was surprised. Even bundled up, it was very cool."It's a little chilly." "The water temperature this time of year is in the mid-forties. Not too cold, I hope. He waded in effortlessly beside her. "Careful, it's a little deeper and swifter than usual because of the runoff from heavy snows last winter and remember the rocks are mossy and slippery." Then he came up behind her and put his arms around her to help her get the hang of the fly rod. It was lucky they wore many thick layers of clothing or she would have been quite faint from his nearness. Though she could barely feel him, it was very pleasant being in his arms and she took her time getting the flinging part just right. Finally, she couldn't drag it out any longer and he had her try it on her own. Making sure
she was steady on her feet, he quickly walked back to shore to get his gear then joined her. "Stay upstream from me, that's on my left, so if you fall, I can stop you from being carried downstream and stay a good 20-30 feet away so we don't tangle." It was relaxing standing in the river next to him. Her casts weren't half bad and listening to the water gurgling and watching the line float downstream among the eddies was mesmerizing. She reeled in slowly, retrieving the line then cast again. She was getting bolder now and waded out a few feet more so she could cast a little farther into a pool Matt had pointed out. Matt. Standing in the water, not far from him, she felt one with the river and in perfect harmony with him too as they fished silently together in the sun. She would be content to stay like this forever. Suddenly, there was a tug on her line, a huge pull and it caught her off guard. She looked for Matt. He had worked his way halfway to the bend. Anyway, she wanted to do this herself, make him proud of her. She told herself to stay calm. She could do this, all she had to do was reel in. She began reeling for all she was worth, but the fish on the other end was big. He pulled hard and her line darted this way and that. Each turn of the crank only wound up a couple of inches and her arm was tiring, but she kept at it. Now it was getting harder to reel in. The fish seemed determined to make a last stand and he jerked to free himself of the line and jerked again, this time pulling her off her feet into the cold and rushing river. The water was bitterly cold and she gasped for air only to end up with a mouthful of water. The water pummeled her and she couldn't get her footing. She felt helpless and very scared and now she screamed as the water scraped her against rocks and gravel dragging her downstream. Matt was horrified. Trisha was being pulled out into the deep middle of the river by the dangerous current. She was coming up on him fast and he tried to swim out to her, but now he was being pushed downstream toward the large fallen tree that protruded out into the water at the bend. He shouted for her. "Trisha! Swim toward the bank!" She looked his way, a good sign, that meant she hadn't been knocked unconscious, but he could see that the current was too strong for her to work her way more than a few feet into shallower water. It was up to him to save her and he kicked with all his might to swim clear of the tree and swam with long, powerful strokes toward her. They rushed downstream, her tiring, but still trying to move a little closer to him and him swimming as if her life depended on his reaching her. And it might. Finally, he was almost to her. He made a lunge for her jacket and grabbed it. He was tired now, but with one arm across her chest, he swam hard almost willing them to make it to the bank and finally they did. He pulled her up onto the bank. "Trisha, speak to me, are you all right?" Her eyes fluttered open. "Matt, you...you saved me." He didn't know how long she had been in the water. She was conscious, but just barely and her lips were blue. Hypothermia is serious. He had to get her to River House fast. He lifted her up and carried her toward home, jogging the best he could. Finally, they were in the mud room. She half lay on the bench while he pulled off her books, jacket, vest and waders. She was shivering, but conscious. "We've got to get these wet clothes off you. Do you understand?" She nodded. He helped her off with her top and helped her pull off the socks and jeans and wrapped her in an old plaid Pendleton blanket from the shelf and helped her to the living room. "I'll get something to warm you." He poured her a brandy and brought it to her. "This will help. Drink it up." She drank the thick, sweet liquid and felt its warmth course through her. Some of the numbness was leaving her replaced by pain from the cold. She drank it all down and now between the Dramamine and brandy, she felt quite sleepy. "Trisha, Trisha, are you all right?" She opened her eyes. Yes, I'm...I'm fine, just sleepy, that's all." "I'm so sorry. If anything ever happened to you, I don't know what I would do. Can you forgive
me?" But she didn't reply. She had gone to sleep. He looked at her. Her lips were no longer blue and she was breathing evenly and deeply. He carried her into his bedroom, laid her on his bed, and pulled the comforter up to her chin. She was so beautiful and she looked so right in his bed. Then he realized he needed to get out of his wet clothes too and left. Matt changed into a warm long-sleeved Henley and some sweat pants he found folded in the laundry basket and put their clothes into the dryer. Then he went into the living room and poured himself a stiff brandy. He sat, shoulders slumped. How could he have made such a mess of things? He who was usually so confident and competent. He'd let her slip through his fingers at the Speeddate then had scared her away, then had lost her to Williams, then in desperation had dragged her out here and had almost gotten her killed. It seemed the more he loved her, the more of a disaster he became. Thank God she was all right, but he would have to face the fact that he had lost her forever. The sun went behind the clouds and he sat there in a hopeless daze. ***** Chapter 29 Trisha woke. She was in a darkened room in a strange bed. Then she remembered the river. She had fallen and Matt had rescued her. It was his bed she was in. The pillowcases carried his fresh, male scent and she breathed in deeply. She was toasty-warm wrapped in a blanket and covered with a thick comforter. Under those, however, she wore very little. Now she remembered Matt helping her remove her wet clothing. He had saved her and she wanted to thank him. She slowly crawled out of bed and went into the bathroom. A flannel robe hung behind the door and she put it on and headed for the bedroom door. Matt had stirred himself and lit a fire and made a pot of coffee. Now he heard her moving about and headed toward the bedroom to offer her a cup. He knocked and she answered "Come in" and he opened the door. She was standing close to him, apparently had been heading out into the living room. The sight of her in his bedroom, heavy-lidded from sleep, the thin flannel robe clinging to her body, shattered his reserve. He could no longer stop himself. He placed his hands on her shoulders then ran his fingers up underneath her hair. The feel of his hands in her hair was electric. He kissed her neck and gently holding back her hair, nuzzled and kissed the sensitive bone behind her ear. He put his arms around her, brushed her lips with his once, twice, then claimed her mouth as his. Trisha responded by parting her lips allowing him to probe her mouth with his insistent tongue. She reached her arms around his neck to feel his hard, muscular body closer to her and he kissed her as she had never been kissed before, so thoroughly that her knees went weak. She began to sink to the floor. Matt paused. She must still be dizzy from the Dramamine. As desperately as he wanted, no, needed to embrace her, he couldn't continue with her half-drugged. He would be taking advantage of her, no better than St. John. A groan rose from deep inside him. It took every bit of his self control to thrust her away from him. Breathing so hard he could barely speak, he rasped, "I'm sorry... I couldn't help... I have no right." Trisha opened her eyes- Don't stop!- and saw on the picture wall behind him a large photo of Angela and him laughing and holding a string of fish between them. The reality that he loved another woman chilled her to the bone and she took an unsteady step back. She shivered and clutched the
robe around her and looked away to hide her torment. It was hopeless. In a flat voice she said, "May I have my clothes, please? I'd like to go home now." ***** Chapter 30 She sat unseeing during the long ride home. Her mind overloaded with the memory of his male scent and smoldering look of desire as he had brushed then claimed her lips with his. She flushed and looked away toward the window so he could not see the effects that still swept through her at the memory of his embrace. She bit her lip. Why had she let him stop kissing her? There was no question he had wanted to. He might have resented her afterward, but she had nothing to lose. He must love Angela very much to have exercised such self control. Too bad they were alike in that respect. She was a model of selfcontrol too, which is why she hadn't told him how much she loved him. She sighed. At least she had the memory of his passionate embrace. As he drove Trisha home, Matt watched her. Her sitting turned away from him clinging to the passenger door made it clear she wanted to have nothing to do with him. He felt so bad. He loved her deeply and had kept himself in check all this time so as not to scare her away, but when he'd seen her fresh from sleep in his room, he'd lost control. He had never felt such self-loathing as now. He saw her shiver and used it as an opportunity to break the silence. "Cold? I can turn the heat on." Hah! As if she needed any help warming up with him so close. She stole a glance at him and saw his gray eyes regarding her with concern. "Trisha, please listen to me. I want you to know how sorry I am." She held up a gravel-scraped hand. "A little iodine and I'll be fine. I'm the one who should be apologizing, I never thanked you for saving me." "That's not what I'm apologizing for," he said lowly. *** He was sorry he had kissed her! A sob escaped her, but she covered it quickly with a nervous laugh. "Think nothing of it. I don't. It's forgotten already," she lied, knowing that if she lived to be 100, she'd never forget his kisses, the feel of him holding her. She touched her lips. "Not the type of behavior one who is contemplating marriage should engage in, however." *** So, it had been a useless effort. She would marry Williams. The thought of her marrying someone else choked him up, but he managed, "No, it's not," looked miserably straight ahead and drove on. He walked her to the door. She gave a crisp "See you Monday then," and practically shut the door on him. Thank goodness Bonnie and Tom had gone to eastern Oregon for the weekend. She would have the cottage to herself. Her mind was in a muddle, but she would deal with that later for now she could feel all the physical pains her rampant emotions had covered. Her palm was pretty well torn up and her right knee and elbow were swollen and stiff. She needed to shower, wash the dirt out of her hair and hopefully the hot water would abate some of the throbbing pain. The hot shower did her good. She toweled her hair dry and wrapped herself in her terry robe then swallowed some aspirin. She was applying iodine to her palm when she heard Oliver meow and scratch at the door. "Are you hungry?" He walked around her feet and licked her toes.
"Guess so. You know what? So am I. Let's see what there is." Not much. Bonnie had been too ecstatic to do anything as mundane as eat and she had been too caught up in loving Matt. Rummaging in the refrigerator, she found half a can of cat food for Oliver. Eggs would have to do for herself. She scrambled three, adding a small amount of milk to the egg mixture and pouring out the balance for Oliver and made some cinnamon raisin toast and strong coffee. She was hungrier than she had thought and ate quickly then sat sipping the hot, rich coffee and only now after she was clean and fed did she allow herself to think. Her mind went to the gray wintry place where her self-control reigned. She would dowse her feelings of love for Matt, stamp out the flame that flared deep inside her. No longer torturing herself with the false hope of a future with him. Could she continue to work for him? Could she bear to be near him, have him look at her with those eyes, sit next to him smelling his clean masculine scent, stand the occasional brush of his hand as she handed him coffee or mail? It might be impossible, certainly difficult, but jobs were few and far between and she needed the money. Bonnie would give up the cottage any day now. She had to work to afford a place of her own. She would have to stick it out until Veronica came back then return to production where she could avoid seeing him. Suddenly, she felt exhausted, could barely keep her eyes open. She climbed the stairs to her small loft, snuggled under the covers and sank into a deep undreaming sleep. Sunday morning she rose and went to chapel. The minister's homily explored the meaning of the phrase 'In the fullness of time, all will be revealed.' She was confused and she hoped things would indeed sort themselves out. After the service, she took a long walk out Fox Hollow enjoying the warm gentle breeze and the many wildflowers along the way. It was very peaceful. She sat on the bench in the garden, ignoring the book she had brought with her and enjoyed the feel of the sun on her face and the purring of Oliver half-asleep in her lap. What else could she do, but take one day at a time? She would just have to have faith and hope that all would come out right in the end. ***** Chapter 31 Matt knocked and stuck his head into her office. "My mother's coming to town so make sure she gets right in, okay?" Trisha smiled warmly at him. "Sure, Matt." Matt's mother. He was lucky to have a mother to pamper for Mother's Day. It had always been a slightly melancholy day for her. It had been worse, of course, when she was a child. Every year her classmates had made gifts for their mothers. Her teachers had been understanding and she had always made something for dad who was the best single parent he knew how to be, just not equipped to provide the gentle softness only a mother could give. She shook her head. Get to work! No need dwelling on what she could never have. How many times had she told herself that very thing over the two weeks that had passed since that day on the river with Matt? The first few days back, still raw with emotion and, let's face it, desire, had been difficult. Then she told herself to grow up. You can't always get what you want. She had accepted the fact that she could never have him and tried very hard not to think about it. As a distraction, she had signed up for an aerobics classes at the Y. Located near the end of the bus line, it was convenient to home and inexpensive. For a small fee, she had drop-in privileges and she went almost daily. After an hour of intense exercise, she was soaking wet and tired, but the relief
of her physical tension and exhaustion brought a sense of well-being. Afterward she would trudge the two miles home, shower, then have a light dinner over homework. Most nights she was asleep before 9:00 P.M. Not very exciting, but then she had never been into excitement. She was filing away the last piece of correspondence when Penny stuck her head in. "Mrs. Crockett's here, " and showed in a pleasant-looking middle-aged woman. She had Matt's gray eyes and they twinkled as she held out a hand. "Hello, I'm Barbara Crockett, Matthew's mother. And you must be the girl who's filling in for Veronica." Trisha stood and took her hand. "Yes, Trisha Long. It's very nice to meet you, Mrs. Crockett." "Is Matthew in?" Trisha went to the door and rapped once then opened it for her. She looked at Matt and smiled wistfully, a look not lost on Mrs. Crockett. "Matt, company." Mrs. Crockett stepped into his office, arms up for a hug, "Matthew dear, how are you?" He came around the desk to hug her. "Fine, Mom, just fine." He looked up at Trisha, his smile quite similar to hers. "Thanks, Trisha." Trisha left and he guided his mother to a seat and sat down next to her. She put a hand on his arm and searched his face. "Are you sure you're okay? You look thin." "I'm okay, Mom." he grinned crookedly, "Just working hard, I guess." Maybe too hard. She leaned back and studied him. He was handsomer than ever, but looked thinner and more worn than tired. He had changed since his father died. He'd gone from being someone who thought life was one big party to almost the exact opposite. Of course she was proud of him, he'd made Crockett and Son a huge success, but that didn't prevent her from worrying about him."Don't you ever just have fun, maybe ask someone out? That assistant of yours is pretty enough, um, Trisha, isn't it?" In an instant she sensed she'd hit a raw nerve. He quickly backed her off. "Mom, you've been here five minutes and already you're matchmaking." She patted his arm. "I just want you to be happy, Dear." He sighed. "I know, but..." He changed the subject. "I'm playing hooky the rest of the afternoon. What would you like to do?" "Your sister's planned a barbecue for Sunday so I'm just staying overnight with Agnes. We'll catch up on old times. What I'd really love is for you to take me for a walk in Hendrick's Park to see the rhodies, but first, I could use some lunch." "Great." "And invite that nice Trisha girl to eat with us." "Trisha." "Yes, I like to meet your co-workers. Besides, she looks awfully thin, looks like she could use some fattening up." To buy time, he ran his hand over his hair, "I don't know, Mom." She leveled a gaze straight at him. "I think you do." Matt went to Trisha's door. "I'm taking my mother to lunch and she insists that you come too." Trisha looked up surprised. "She does?" He gave an irresistible grin. "Yes, and we better do as she says or we'll be grounded for a week." She laughed. "Wouldn't want that, now, would we?" He just stood smiling at her, he loved it when she said 'we', and his sexy smile unsettled her. "Um, okay, um, I'll just let Penny know to get the phones." On the way downtown, they made small talk and Mrs. Crockett very kindly sat half-turned in her seat to include Trisha in the conversation. "I'm taking you to Pete's, Mom, he'll want to see you." "Me too." She turned to Trisha. "Peter's like a second son to me. Growing up, he and Matthew were inseparable."
They walked into the restaurant and she gave the same open-armed hello, "Peter!" Pete beamed when he saw her and rushed out from behind the bar and hugged her. "I'm so glad to see you!" He held her at arm's length. "Let me take a look at you. You look beautiful!" Mrs. Crockett loved it. "You charmer. How come no girl has succumbed to your flattery yet?" "Oh they're succumbing, left and right, but I'm like Matt, waiting around for the right girl to come along, someone just like you." Trisha felt an annoying stab. Angela was about as far from this nice woman as you could get. Mrs. Crockett shook her head. "What am I going to do with you two?" Pete showed them to the back of the restaurant. "Right now, you're going to have a great meal." Matt ordered for them-antipasto, eggplant parmagiana. "I'll go see Pete about the wine." Now Mrs. Crockett eyed Trisha. She wasn't like some of Matthew's previous girls, all flashy and cold. Was Peter's sister Angela still trying to get her claws into him? No, this girl was just as attractive, but she was quiet, reserved. And it was obvious from the glances she had seen them give each other that there was something between these two, something good. She gave Trisha a kindly smile. "It's so nice to meet you. Matthew's doing a good job, Lloyd would have been so proud of him, but I know from experience that it takes a lot of support to succeed. "Tell me about yourself." Trisha glanced down shyly then back up. "Not much to tell, really. I'm from eastern Oregon, grew up on a farm. I went to business school and worked for several years in Seattle as an executive assistant. Then I moved to Eugene a couple of months ago to live with my sister and go to the university and I was lucky enough to get a job working at Crockett's. "Do you like it at Crockett and Son?" "Yes, it's very interesting work and Matt's just wonderful to work for." She blushed. "He... he makes you feel important, as if you are contributing to the company's success, like you're a part of it all." Mrs. Crockett eyed her approvingly. She liked this earnest young girl and it was obvious that Matthew did too. So why was he holding back? She patted her arm. "Matthew is lucky to have you." Trisha's lovely shade of pink only grew deeper as Matt returned with a sparkling wine and three glasses. He poured and held up his for a toast. "I'd like to propose a toast to a wonderful and gracious lady whom I love and admire, the best mom in the world." They clinked and all sipped the delicious, bubbly drink which was cold and warm at the same time going down. "Matthew, that was sweet. Thank you, Dear." Mrs. Crockett stopped to give a last hug to Pete then they collected their things and headed back to the office. Trisha stuck her hand out to say good-bye. "Thank you so much for including me. I enjoyed it." Mrs. Crockett took her hand in both of hers. "I'm glad I met you, Dear. I hope to see you again soon." Then Matt joined them. "Matthew's taking me for a walk in Hendrick's Park, kind of a Mother's Day tradition." Looking after them as they left, Trisha envied her. She would have liked to have taken a long walk with him arm in arm among the lovely flowers. Such a nice lady. Too bad she probably wouldn't see her again. *** The park was lovely, over 6000 azalea and rhododendron bushes at their showiest. Like many other Eugene families, they had always taken mom to Hendricks Park for Mother's Day. The outing always included a long walk, taking some pictures and then a picnic lunch, usually fried chicken, under the towering Douglas firs. The rhodies were especially beautiful this year and they strolled for quite a while catching up on family news. Matt shared with her the success of Crockett and Son and talked about implementing Trisha's idea of the Crockett Family Gallery.
She looked searchingly at her son. "You like this girl, don't you, Son?" He gave her a sharp look- Was it that obvious?- then laughed. "Never could fool you, could I, Mom? As a matter of fact, I do." "Then what's holding you back?" He couldn't believe he was having this conversation with his mother, but it was a relief to talk about it with someone. So he told her all of it, most of it anyhow, then gave a big sigh. "I don't know, Mom. I get tongue-tied around her. I've been so clumsy about it and now she's in love with someone else." "Is she now? I'm not so sure of that. I've seen how she looks at you. And don't worry about not being all suave. You're a lot like your father, you know. He was quite the ladies' man, but would get all shy and awkward whenever he was around me. Many women find clumsiness a very endearing trait." "You think so?" She nodded a yes then took his arm. "Now how about that ice cream cone you promised me?" *** For the first time in weeks, Matt drove home feeling light-hearted and hopeful. He loved Trisha so much, he hadn't been able to think straight. It wasn't like him to give up. Come to think of it, he hadn't seen any ring on her finger. Had his Mom really seen something in the way Trisha looked at him? No more crazy plans. He would take her to coffee tomorrow. Just be himself and honest with her about how he felt. He didn't know what he would say or how she would take it, but he'd give it his best shot. ***** Chapter 32 Angela stopped by Pete's to show him the beautiful mother's ring she had ordered from both of them. It was a lovely cocktail ring with two marquis cut stones, an aquamarine for Pete's birthday and a ruby for hers. Pete was impressed, their mother would love it. "Thanks for taking care of that. Hey, speaking of mothers, guess who had lunch here today? Matt's mom. She was here with Matt and Trisha, his assistant." Angela's eyes narrowed. "Oh, really?"Then the wheels began turning. "No time to chat. Gotta run." "See ya, Sis." Angela ground the gears on her sports car as she peeled out of the restaurant parking lot. That conniving little sneak! Insinuating herself into his life, kissing up to his mother even. How dare she poach on her territory! Time for another visit. But first, she checked the clock on the dash. If she hurried, she could just make it. In a heartbeat, she was on Washington Street and in less than 10 minutes, she was at the Made in Oregon store at Valley River Center. She chuckled then her eyes glittered. Why hadn't she thought of this before? She had underestimated little Miss Trisha. She'd been a fool. Remember how quickly she'd latched onto him at the Speed-date? What an idiot she had been, agreeing to set it up for Pete. She had thought it would be another way to showcase herself for Matt, show that she was a rose among thorns. She'd looked at those girls. A couple of them had been okay-looking, but none of them could compete with her beauty and brains. She was the woman for Matt. With her pushing him, Crockett's would branch out and become a nationally known
sporting goods store, maybe even go public. And River House. Properly landscaped with a massive redecoration effort of course, River House would become a showplace. She walked toward the back of the store past myrtle wood bowls, polished agates, smoked salmon and hazelnuts to the jewelry section. Thank goodness, they still had them! The salmon ringsa little spendy, but worth every penny if it would get rid of Trisha once and for all. Now to rush over to Rosen's. She loved Rosen's jewelers. Loved just walking through and looking at all the beautiful pieces. He really was an artist. She bought what she could, bought judiciously, small but exquisite pieces. She would be able to buy more when she was married to Matt, decorate herself for him with beautiful things. After all, he would want her to look nice for their busy social life. Mr. Rosen looked up, surprise on his wizened face. "Miss Crockett, Daniel told me you were in here earlier to pick up the mother's ring. Anything wrong?" She flashed her most winning smile. "Not at all, Mr. Rosen, it's lovely." He looked relieved. "I'm glad you like it. I was pleased with how it turned out. So, how may I be of help to you?' "I need some quick engraving." She plopped the ring out of the bag. "Can you help me?" He looked at the clock. "When do you need it?' "Today." She batted her eyelashes once. "Pretty please, Mr. Rosen? It's awfully important." He gave a slight nod. She was a good customer. What other choice did he have? "For you, dear girl, anything. He handed her a pad to write out the inscription. "About an hour. You may wait or perhaps you would care to shop?" She gave a satisfied smile. "Till I drop, Mr. Rosen, till I drop." She blew him a kiss. "You're a sweetie. I'll be back." He watched her leave. Even from the back, she was lovely, but he felt sorry for whomever she married. She was beautiful, but clearly hazardous to one's health. He picked up the pad and raised his eyebrows as he read the inscription and sighed. These modern women. A man didn't have a prayer. The next afternoon, Trisha was just beginning to sort the mail when Angela flounced in unannounced. She shot a cool look at Trisha then turned to pour herself a mug of coffee, giving Trisha a chance to study the woman who had caused Matt to thrust her away. Angela looked spectacular. She wore a white jersey top with thin horizontal black stripes. It clung to her, the stripes serving to emphasize the swell of her breasts threatening to escape from the low-cut neckline. She wore a tiny black skirt and barely there stiletto sandals. Angela turned around, the golden A, as usual, dangling in her ample cleavage and, Trisha gasped, she wore a silver ring on the third finger of her left hand. No! It couldn't be true! But it was. Matt and Angela were engaged. Trisha's heart sank. Angela smiled sweetly. "Would you like to see the inscription?" She pulled it off and held it for Trisha to read- For my darling Angela, Eternal love. Matt. She slid the ring back on her finger and preened, a triumphant smile on her face. "Isn't it wonderful! Matt and I are officially engaged. I'm so excited, I had to share it somebody and I'm sure Matt would want his assistant to be one of the first to know. His mother came to town yesterday and he gave it to me when we all went to dinner last night. She was ever-so-helpful in making the wedding decisions. After all, there isn't much time. I insisted on being a June bride, but Matt can't wait one minute longer so it's June 1st. I do hope you'll come." Trisha was trying to choke back the tears. There was no way she would let Angela gloat. "Wild horses couldn't ..." Unfortunately, she was not skilled at dissembling and a sob escaped her throat. Angela faked a surprised look then gave a hard, short laugh like glass breaking. "Don't tell me... you couldn't... did you really think he wanted you? Trisha, Trisha, Matt's all man. I mean, we celebrated all night long, if you know what I mean. Which, I guess you don't. He could never be interested in a popsicle like you, when he has me."
Trisha whispered hoarsely, “You’re not worthy to wear his ring. You look like, like something from Sluts-R-Us." Ah, now she had her. She smoothed her hands down the sides of her clothes. "Perhaps, but that's the way he likes it." She checked her watch. "Oh, look at the time. He gets so impatient." She carefully licked her lips then barged into Matt's office and quickly closed the door behind her. Trisha was devastated. She had to get out of there, get out of there fast and never come back. She had thought she could stand to be around Matt even though he was engaged to another woman, but seeing the ring on her finger, knowing there was no hope for her love, made it impossible. The horror of it was that last night while she was lying in bed thinking of him, oh God, she couldn't bear it, he had been kissing Angela. She tried to wipe the picture from her mind, but she couldn't. She shook her head and moaned "No, no!" Sobbing hysterically, she grabbed her things and ran out of her office, crashing open the double glass doors. There was no waiting for the bus. She had to get as far from Crockett's as she could so she stumbled blindly down the street toward downtown, crying, her book bag and purse slapping against her. *** Matt removed Angela's arms. The woman was like an octopus! "What's that shouting. Did you hear something?" Angela tried to turn him back toward her, but he shook her off. "Let go!" He threw open the door to Trisha's office. "Trisha, Trisha, are you all right?" It was empty. Then he turned to Angela, his face dark with fury. Shaking with anger he said in a low, hard voice more terrible than a shout, "What did you say to her? Tell me!" Angela tried to look innocent. "Matt, darling, all I did was tell her we, we..." He had never hurt a woman in his life, but she was pushing him close to it. He clenched his fists and glared at her. "Let's get one thing straight. There is no We. There never will be a We. Understand?" then he hurried out to the reception area. "Penny! Did you see Trisha?" Penny had never seen him so upset."She ran out the front. She was crying." He flung open the doors, but she was nowhere to be seen. He turned back to Angela and gave her a murderous look. "Don't be here when I come back." Then he raced to the jeep. It was difficult to make himself drive slowly, but he had to scan the area, had to find her! Finally, he saw her walking down the sidewalk as fast as she could. He pulled over and cruised beside her. "Trisha! What's the matter?" She turned her tear-stained face toward him then looked away, hurt in her eyes and kept walking. "I've got to go! Please, just leave me alone." He drove beside her. "But why? Has that creep, that Robert been bothering you again?"" She shook her head. "No. I just can't work for you anymore!" He stopped the car and got out and tried to bar her way, but she just walked around him. He got in front of her again, this time making her stop. "Just tell me why. Please?" She could not look at him or her heart would break in two. "I, my sister's getting married and moving to eastern Oregon to farm and I'm going with them." He looked stricken. "You're leaving?" "I have to." "But, but what about your job? What about school?" What about me? he wanted to say. "I'll find another job and I can get a grant to go to school there." He gently raised her chin making her look him. "Are you sure this is what you want?" She choked back a sob and pulled her chin away from his touch so she wouldn't break down completely. "Yes." The bus pulled up at a stop a few feet from them. "I'm sorry. I've got to go," and hurriedly climbed on, flashed her pass and sat in a seat with her back to him. He stood there on the sidewalk, watching the bus carry her away, her shiny hair glinting in the
afternoon sun. He was rooted to the spot for some time. This couldn't be happening! He couldn't allow her to slip out of his life. He walked back to the jeep and drove slowly back to the office. He walked through Trisha's office, past the forget-me-nots he'd given her, into his office. He could not believe it! Angela was still there waiting for him, sitting on his desk, leaning on her palms, her breasts barely contained by her top. In the past, he had found her flirty playfulness amusing, but the act was getting old. His eyes shot daggers as he confronted her, biting out the words. "No more games, no lying. What did you do to her?" She was caught. There was only one way out, but it would work. It had always worked. She looked at him and blinked several times then scrunched up her pretty face and cried. "Matt, oh Matt darling. You know I love you. I've always loved you, you know that. And when, when you two matched at the Speed-date, I...I" He grabbed her by the shoulders. "What did you say? Look at me? What do you mean, matched?" She sniffed prettily."Well, you know, you both marked each other down and she's all wrong for you and I love you, and I had to stop it, so I...I sent you each a No match e-mail. Then, then she went to work for you and I was afraid you would forget about me so I kind of told her..." Her voice trailed off and she looked up at him with big, sad eyes. He was so angry he forced himself to let go of her and stood over her, now speaking with an ominous calm. "Told her what?" She pouted a little as she confessed, "I told her we were engaged." Then she rushed. "I'm sorry, Matt. I just wanted you so much!" And now she batted her lashes changing her big cow-eye look to a seductive smolder. She rose, slid her arms around his neck, rubbing against him and standing on her tiptoes stretched up to kiss him. She put on a dusky voice, "You can't deny that you find me attractive too." Very deliberately, he removed her arms from around his neck, walked away from her and stood looking out the window. In the same voice of controlled anger he said, "Get out of here and don't come back." Angela was shocked, then angry. Her eyes narrowing, her luscious mouth becoming an ugly jagged line, she headed for the door. Just before opening it, she turned to him, "I don't know why I wasted my time on you. There are plenty of men with lots more money than you who would marry me in a heartbeat. You'll be sorry you chose that frigid little bitch over me!" Then she slammed out. Matt ran a hand over his short black hair. Things between Trisha and him had been bad enough. She would never listen to him now. Maybe not, but he had to try. He moved around to his desk and picked up the telephone. ***** Chapter 33 Trisha opened the door of the cottage and wearily dumped her book bag and purse at the foot of the stairs. Now that she was home, she could let go, open the floodgates. She sat on the couch clutching the quilt and cried her eyes out. The phone began ringing. It rang many times. It had to be Matt, but she wouldn't answer it. He was going to marry Angela. Why was he calling her? Didn't he know she loved him? If he cared at all for her as a person, he would just leave her alone. She covered her ears and the ringing finally stopped, only to begin again two minutes later. She had to get out of there, outside. She'd work in the yard. Gardening was always soothing. Slowly she climbed the stairs and pulled on old clothes. Then she found the garden gloves, trowel and hand rake.
The rains had raised a fine crop of weeds. She began pulling them out or that failing, digging them out with the trowel. The sun was pleasant, not too hot and there was a breeze blowing through the pines. It should have been calming, but the fresh woodsy scent reminded her of Matt and the sound of the wind rushing through the trees did not drown out the intermittent ringing of the telephone. She wondered again why he was calling. She had always thought of him as being a thoughtful and kind man. Why would he torture her like this. Didn't he realize she loved him? But it looked like he was not going to give up. Finally, she could stand it no longer. She stood up, pulled off the gardening gloves, wiped her damp hands on her jeans and went inside. She picked up the receiver and took a deep breath. "Hello, this is Trisha." For a moment there was silence on the other end then, "Trisha, are you all right?" "No." "I've got to see you, talk to you." "Matt, leave me alone." "I... I can't." "What's the point? Angela said..." "We have to talk. I have to explain things, things I can't go into right now. Have dinner with me tonight at Pete's, please?" "I don't know." "I don't want to leave things like this. Meet me at Pete's at seven. Please?" "All right." "I'll see you at Pete's at seven." "Good bye, Matt." She hung up before he could reply. So. She had agreed to meet him at Pete's. It was her last chance to see him. She hadn't been lying about leaving. Tom had put a down payment on a farm and he and Bonnie were moving to eastern Oregon and had invited her to come along. She hadn't agreed to go, but it looked like the safest course for her. Safest. Why did she always have to play it safe? She was running away again, wasn't she? Just as she had run away from Seattle. And look where it had gotten her. She would go with Bonnie and Tom, but before she went, she would at least face Matt and tell him she loved him. Even though it would make no difference, he deserved to know. She would still be leaving, might be running away, but at least she would have faced things head-on. Tonight would be difficult, especially if she wanted to retain a shred of dignity and not break down. She was so very tired, she would set the alarm and rest. In a few hours, it would all be over. ***** Chapter 34 Amazingly enough, she had been able to rest and that plus a shower had refreshed her to the point that she felt almost equal to the task ahead. She was calm, stoic even. Meeting at Pete's tonight, they would come full circle. She decided to dress as she had the night they first met, wearing her green silk blouse and umber slacks. She brushed her hair until it gleamed. The concealer hid most of the puffy after effects of her tears and although she looked a little pale, the coral lipstick helped to brighten her up. Bonnie had left her the beetle. She hadn't taken it this morning, parking on campus was impossible, but she would drive it now. As it chugged down toward Pete's she grew more nervous.
She tried deep breathing to relax and it helped, but only a little. By the time she reached the restaurant, she was half-inclined to turn around and go back, but she had to do this. She approached the door of Pete's Place and looked at her watch. 6:58 P.M. She was nothing, if not punctual. Gathering her courage, she lifted her chin and pulled open the heavy carved door. It was dark inside and she stood for a moment allowing her eyes to adjust. Now she could see Pete approaching her, a big smile on his square face. He grabbed two menus and ushered her to the back, directing her to the second table in the right-hand side row, the same table she had been assigned on the night of the Speed-date Was it really only two months ago? She stared into the red-globed candle. "Would you care for a drink while you wait?" Pete's question broke her from her reverie. She was about to order when Matt appeared. He leaned against a post, searching her face with his smoky gray eyes, a half smile on his sensuous lips. He was dressed just as he had been that night in a blue chambray shirt tucked into snug jeans. And he wore a name tag! MATT #28. Without removing his smoldering eyes from her face, he said to Pete, "A chardonnay for the lady." "Hi, I'm Matt." She just gaped at him, too stunned to say anything. "May I sit down?" This is a dream. Now his smile broadened. "Look, seven minutes is not very long and I don't want to waste a moment of it." She shook her head to clear it. "No, of course not, I mean, yes, yes, please sit down." He sat across from her, his clean, male scent dizzying. Dear God, did this mean...? "Have you been to Pete's before?" She didn't reply. "I come here a lot. You see, Pete and I are best friends, like brothers. We've been like brothers since kindergarten." She just sat looking at him, afraid if she spoke she might wake up and he would disappear. "It was great except his pesky sister Angela was always tagging along. I dated her for a while, but that was a few years ago. Now we're just thrown together from time to time at family gatherings, that sort of thing." Finally, Trisha found her voice. "Is she good-looking, this Angela?" "Pretty enough, but as my mother always says, 'Pretty is as pretty does' and this girl lies, lies big time." Trisha gave him an incredulous look, then looked away when she spoke, afraid of the answer she would hear. "So, you're not engaged or anything?" "No, I'm not." He took a deep breath. "What about you?" Now she looked up, wanting to be looking him straight in the eye when she told him. "I... I 'm not engaged, but I do love someone, love him very much." Matt grimaced slightly as if steeling himself. He looked at the candle and asked slowly, "Anyone I know?" She reached out a hand and gently caressed the side of his face. "Yes, you do. Although if you knew him better, you would have known we were made for each other and would never have doubted my love for an instant." Now he smiled at her and checked his watch. "Our seven minutes is about up. Not very long to sweep a girl off her feet." She held his gaze. "You swept me off mine with one smile." He pulled a card and pencil out of his pocket and laid them in front of her. "Time to mark your card."
She read TRISHA #15, Will you marry me? Yes________ No _______ Her hand surprisingly rock steady, she marked a large X in the Yes block. He took the card and pencil from her hand, kissed her palm and rose pulling her up with him. He took her in his arms and whispered hoarsely. "Sweetheart, I love you so very much. I'm going to make you the happiest woman on earth." She beamed at him. "Matt darling, you already have." Then he kissed her, a long, sweet kiss full of promise of the many years of happiness to come. ###
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