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       Dream Lover, p.1

           Jean MacIntyre
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Dream Lover


  Jean MacIntyre

  Copyright ? 1987 by Jean MacIntyre

  Cover design ? by Jean MacIntyre

  This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


  To my Dad, Alan E. Thompson, for giving me a love of writing,

  along with his quirky sense of humour?.

  ?and to my very handsome nephew, Jamie Montreuil, for

  allowing me to put his 'head in the clouds.'


















  What the hell, I've already lost the job so there's nothing to be gained by being polite.

  "Very well, Mr. McKinnon. But I'd like to make a small wager with you. If I win, you hire me. If I lose, you hire any man you like."

  As she was speaking, Charly saw the muscle in his jaw relax, the hostility in his eyes change to interest and speculation.

  "And the nature of this wager?"

  "You choose any company files you wish and give them to me. I'll carry out the inspections under your supervision. Today is Friday. The wager will start Monday morning at nine and end at five p.m. on Wednesday, if you can spare the time, of course. And I'll work without pay. You can make my salary retroactive when you hire me Thursday. Have we got a deal?"

  "We have a deal, Miss Benson. I'll meet you here at nine on Monday. But don't spend any money yet." And he smiled.

  It was the first time his face had relaxed since the interview started two hours earlier. But the smile wasn't friendly. It was smug, a definite smirk. Oh well, she'd won the first round.

  Picking up her r?sum? she stood, said, "Thank you for your time, gentlemen," and left the room. The tension that had been with her for the past several hours drained away as she shrugged into her coat, under the curious glances of the office staff.

  Moving towards the door, she swung around as she heard her name being called. Bearing down on her was a still-smug Mr. McKinnon, some files held loosely in his right hand.

  "You might like to look these over this weekend. We'll do three a day. See you Monday."

  Taking the files from him, Charly had time only to murmur, "Thank you," before he had turned back to the boardroom.

  Tucking them into her carrying case, along with her r?sum?, Charly went out and got behind the wheel of her SUV. Aware that she was still under the surveillance of the staff, she started the engine and moved off down the road, out of their line of vision.

  Why the devil hadn't the manager told her that Mr. McKinnon was a confirmed misogynist? Was it just her he hated, or was it women in general? The manager had assured her the job was as good as hers two days ago, after reviewing her qualifications and interviewing her. He'd said the meeting with the Board of Directors was only a formality and a courtesy to herself and the directors.

  In retrospect, it was clear he'd known beforehand that there'd be a problem with McKinnon. Suddenly she was struck with the feeling that she'd been set up. Mr. McKinnon had bristled from the moment she had walked in the door and the battle lines had been firmly drawn. His questions had been repeatedly slanted towards the problem that her femininity would cause. Also her size.

  Was it possible he hadn't been told she was a woman? If he'd seen her application and read her name as Charly Benson, he might have assumed she was a man. Well, she'd show him!

  Five years of intensive study had prepared her well for this job and she knew she could do it, given the chance. She had spent three years at Mohawk College studying for her Insurance Institute Certificate and had passed in the top five of her class. Then, knowing she'd need an edge because she was trying to break into a man's field, she had spent two more years at Conestoga College in Guelph graduating with an Electrical Technician's papers.

  So now, she was well qualified, maybe even over-qualified and quite aware that Mr. McKinnon's doubts were well founded. Growing up on her parents' dairy farm near Picton, she had known of the hesitation with which farmers were accepting women in men's roles.

  Girls now were frequently a part of relief milking teams and were also employed as milk inspectors. She found it amusing that wives and daughters were often pressed into service driving tractors with heavy equipment behind them, and often helped with the milking, feeding and cleaning around the barns. But just let one of them apply for a job that was traditionally carried out by a man and watch the hackles rise!

  Leaving the town of Picton behind, Charly drove, without conscious thought, to her parents' retirement home on the outskirts of Belleville. They had sold the farm last year because Charly was an only child and had no desire to be a dairy farmer - just a farm Insurance Inspector.

  So much was riding on this job. She had bought the SUV with a loan from her Dad, had student loans to pay back, and wanted to rent or buy her own place so her parents could enjoy their retirement without having her underfoot. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday would probably be the three most important days in her life so far, and she had to make good.

  McKinnon's smug smile likely meant that he'd chosen the most difficult files he could find and was probably anticipating her downfall with great glee. To be forewarned was to be forearmed and she would be ready for him. There was nothing she could do about her five foot four inches in height, but she could research and memorize the files until she knew them inside out.

  Telling her parents only that she'd been given a three-day trial period, Charly poured over the files until she felt she knew everything there was to know about them. She had noticed the one right away that was causing McKinnon to smirk. There was a note on it suggesting that the policy should be cancelled immediately if repairs to the barn weren't completed. It was dated several weeks ago. The file also told her there was no mortgage, so the farmer was probably in good shape financially and his buildings, pigs and equipment were well insured. So what was his problem?

  There didn't appear to be anything remarkable about the other two files, but she strongly suspected that they were also women-haters. There would be something to look out for anyway.

  She checked her digital camera over carefully and made sure she had an extra fully charged battery. Although brokers were required to submit photos with the policy applications, she knew some would be missing and others outdated.

  As Monday morning approached, she found herself becoming increasingly nervous. She had purchased a detailed county map and had located the three farms, then planned the route she would follow in order to visit them without backtracking.

  Her next problem was what to wear. She had to look professional but her clothes also had to be wash and wear, so she had bought five serviceable jumpsuits in deep pastel colours. They were sturdy, washable and quite attractive with an elasticized waist that emphasized her figure.

  But she didn't want to wear one on Monday when Mr. McKinnon would be accompanying her. Finally deciding on a pair of chocolate brown trousers and tan blazer, with a tailored antique-gold shirt, she braided her waist-length auburn hair into one long plait which she twined into a knot on the back of her head. Slipping her feet into a comfortable pair of sand desert boots, she picked up matching clutch
purse, her files and camera and headed for the car, pulse racing and a knot in her stomach.

  The drive to Picton passed in a blur as her mind concentrated on the files and the information she had tried to assimilate. Anything to avoid thinking about Mr. McKinnon and the prospect of having him looking over her shoulder every inch of the way. But thoughts of him rushed solidly to the forefront when she pulled up outside the office at 8:50 to find him already there. All six feet two inches, leaning against his black Cadillac, legs crossed at the ankles, arms folded across his chest. Determined to hide her nervousness, she drove up beside him and, reaching across the width of the car, opened the door for him.

  "Good morning, Mr. McKinnon. All set?"

  Sliding his body into her little SUV wasn't easy and he grunted as he tried to arrange his long legs between the dash and the seat.

  "Sure I'm all set. I'm just along for the ride. Remember?" He glanced at her, unsmiling, implacable, giving nothing away. Certainly not friendly!

  So that's how it's going to be, she thought, as she pulled away from the curb. We'll see. Glancing side-ways, she realized he hadn't fastened his seatbelt and couldn't resist telling him to do so.

  "Buckle up, please."

  "Is your driving that bad?" No sarcasm, but no humour was evident either.

  "My driving record is excellent, but why take a chance? Besides, the fines are heavy."

  As he buckled up, she noticed how well dressed he was, and almost giggled aloud when she realized they must look like Mutt and Jeff because his outfit, with the exception of the shirt, was almost the same as hers. Brown slacks with a knife-sharp crease, tan blazer and brown loafers, and almost a foot of difference in their heights.

  "Something amusing you, Miss Benson?"

  The words were spoken sharply, and Charly realized he might think she was laughing at him, so decided to come clean.

  "It just struck me that we might have the same tailor, judging by our appearances. Will anyone believe this wasn't planned?"

  "Frankly, I couldn't care less. I'm only concerned with your performance, not your looks."

  And that puts me firmly in my place, I guess. God, what a humourless creature! How does his wife stand it?

  Silence reigned for several miles, and it wasn't until they neared Mr. Baker's farm that he broke it.

  "I assume you're doing Baker's first?"

  At her nod of agreement, he continued, "You know what's required?"

  "Check the state of his barn, primarily, and inform him he has one week to complete all necessary repairs, or his policy will be cancelled. Can I ask why it hasn't been done before now?"

  "Mainly because we've been without an inspector for some time. But I'm sure you'll manage."

  Without looking at him, she could again sense the smugness in his answer. But there was also an undercurrent of bitterness in his voice when he mentioned the former inspector and she wondered briefly about it.

  She was lucky - very lucky. Because Mr. Baker was just coming from the barn with a hammer and a fistful of nails as she stepped out of the car. Quickly, she introduced herself and Mr. McKinnon, and informed him why she was there. It didn't take long to realize that he was normally crotchety and crabby, and didn't like strangers. But she poured on the charm, praised the efforts he had made in repairing the missing boards on the barn, and admired his antique tractor. When he realized she knew what she was talking about, he began to unbend and walked with her as she made her inspection.

  While her eyes took in details of electrical wiring, general housekeeping, the presence of fire extinguishers, and she made quick notes on her clipboard, he told her he'd been in the hospital for an operation, and that his hired man hadn't bothered with maintenance. She told him about her Dad's farm and about a pet pig she'd had once, and all the while she was aware of Mr. McKinnon just behind them, watching and listening.

  Out in the sunshine again, she looked around the machine shed and workshop, but could find nothing to criticize.

  "Would you mind if I take some pictures for our files? The ones we have are outdated and should be renewed."

  "You go ahead and take your pictures, Miss Benson. I'll put the kettle on and we'll have a cup of coffee when you're finished." He turned and walked into the house.

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