Come sundown, p.7
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       Come Sundown, p.7
 

           Nora Roberts

  “You bet. I’ll see about starting the new staff this week.”

  When he walked off, Bodine turned to Jessica. “How would you feel about taking on an assistant/intern?”

  “I’ve got Will.” Alarm flickered in the cool blue eyes. “You’re not taking Will away?”

  “No, adding one. Potentially. She’s the niece of a friend of my mother’s—but,” Bodine continued, “she’s got good qualifications. Majored in hospitality, took a job at a hotel in Billings after she graduated, but her mother took a bad spill last month, and she came home to help out. She wants to stick closer to home. She’s young, but she’s got excellent references. She strikes me,” Bodine said. “Feels like you could train her the Bodine way.”

  “You’re the boss.”

  “Well, true enough, and I’m going to hire her on regardless. But if, after you look over her résumé, you’d rather not take her on in your area, I’ll put her in activities or sales to start off.”

  “I’ll look over her file.” Jessica took it from Bodine. “Have her come in for an interview.”

  “That works. Let me know when you can, soon as you can.”

  “I will.” Setting it down, Jessica anchored it with her tablet. “Have you talked to Rory?”

  “Not since breakfast. Why?”

  “We’ve got two bookings for the Snow Sculpture Extravaganza.”

  “Already? It just went on the website this morning.”

  “That’s right.” With a smug smile, Jessica toasted with her water bottle.

  Bodine tapped her folder on her palm. “Looks like I’d better get busy hiring more fill-in winter staff. Can I ask you something?”

  “Sure.”

  “Why do you wear heels every day when you spend as much time running around here as sitting down? Probably more time,” she amended. “They have to hurt by the end of the day.”

  Jessica’s eyebrows rose; her gaze dropped down to Bodine’s feet. “Why do you wear gorgeous boots every day? We wear what we are, Bodine.”

  Bodine glanced down at her smoke-gray Dingos with the buckles running up the sides. They were sort of gorgeous. “I am my boots.”

  “And your Levi’s, and most days—like this—your snappy vest. I do admire your collection of snappy vests.”

  Amused, Bodine tugged at the hem of the thinly striped blue and green vest. It could be considered snappy, she supposed.

  “They’re my compromise between a suit and just jeans.”

  “Works on you.”

  “Well.” Bodine tossed her hair—in a long braid today—over her shoulder. “I’m going to take my gorgeous boots and snappy vest over to talk to Abe. I’ve got an application here for him, too, and another for Zen Town.” She started off, turned back. “I’d be crying in those shoes of yours inside two hours.”

  “You’re tougher than that.”

  “On the inside,” Bodine qualified, “I’d be crying.”

  She grabbed her coat and hat from her office. According to her schedule, Abe should be finishing up a pair of lessons at the Equestrian Center.

  She hopped in her truck for the ten-minute drive winding through the resort, out to the road toward the center.

  She wandered inside the big ring to the smell of horses and the sound of a nervous giggle.

  “You’re doing fine, Deb, just fine. Heels down, Jim. That’s the way.”

  Frowning, she stepped closer, and saw Callen rather than Abe mounted and running a lesson.

  Couple of novices, no doubt about that, but Callen had them under control.

  The man could sit a horse, she mused. Just as easy as another might sit a Barcalounger.

  He had the novices on a couple of reliable hacks—though the bay they called Biff could be as lazy as a teenage boy on a summer morning. He plodded along under the man while the nervous giggle rode the cooperative Maybelle.

  “Ready to try a little trot again?” Callen asked them.

  “Oh gosh, I guess.” The woman looked across the arena at Jim. “I guess, huh?”

  “Let’s go for it.”

  “Tell ’em what you want,” Callen advised.

  Asses hit leather hard enough to make Bodine wince, but both students managed to circle the entire ring at an easy trot.

  “Go ahead and change leads, go around the other way. You’ve got it now. Give him a nudge there, Jim. He’d rather stand than walk. That’s the way.”

  Callen took his own horse—a gorgeous buckskin Bodine didn’t recognize—in a tight circle to keep both riders in view. When he spotted Bodine, he tapped the brim of his hat.

  “You ready to try a canter? Elbows down, Deb,” he instructed when they jerked up on another giggle. “You can do this. Show her what you want.”

  “I’m a little—okay.” Lips pressed in a tight line, Deb rocked in the saddle, and let out a squeal when the mare smoothed out into a gentle canter. “Oh my God! I’m doing it. Jim!”

  “I see you, babe. We’re riding!”

  They circled twice, and though the woman swung back and forth in the saddle like a metronome, she had a huge smile plastered on her face.

  “Ease them back now, that’s it, all the way down to a walk. You did great.”

  “Can we do it again? Time’s up,” Jim added with a glance at his watch. “But—”

  “Once more around.”

  “Yeehaw!” he said and, with some enthusiasm, had Biff reluctantly loping another circle.

  Grabbing a mounting block, Bodine started across the soft dirt as Callen dismounted. He held a hand up to his horse, who blew out his lips, then stood hipshot with the reins tossed over his neck.

  A little breathless, a little flushed, Deb beamed down at Callen. “Jim bribed me into this with a pair of boots I fell for in the shop back at the resort. I can’t believe how much fun it was! How do I get down?”

  With a laugh, Callen held Deb’s mount. “Just swing your leg over, slide off. The block’s right here.”

  Clumsy but game, Deb got her feet on the block, then grinned at Bodine as she stepped off. “Hi! Do you work for Cal?”

  “This is the boss lady,” Callen told her. “We all work for her.”

  “Oh! It’s so nice to meet you.” Deb stuck out a hand. “We had the best time, didn’t we, Jim? I went from never being on a horse in my life to a—What was it, Cal?”

  “Canter.”

  “That’s it. Oh, I’m going to be sore for a week, but I can’t wait to do it again. Let’s do a trail ride, Jim.”

  “Sign us up.” With slightly more grace than his woman, Jim dismounted. “Or I will. I got the resort app on my phone. That’s a hell of an idea. Jim Olster.”

  “Bodine Longbow.”

  “Oh, even your name sounds like Montana. I love it here. We just got here yesterday, and I love it. Would you take a picture? Would you mind?” Deb pulled out her phone. “Of me and Jim and Cal and the horses. I love your hat. Now I have to have a hat, too. I like that flat-brim style. We’re going shopping, Jim, and celebrating in the Saloon. I rode a horse!”

  Bodine took pictures, ending with one of Deb pressing her cheek to the mare’s.

  As they left, Deb still chattering, Bodine walked the mare to the rail to uncinch the saddle. “I’d say there’s a pair of satisfied customers.”

  “Then some. She must’ve really wanted those boots. Her hands were shaking when they came in.”

  “We carry some really nice boots. Where’s Abe? He’s on the schedule for the Olster booking.”

  “Ah, Christ.” Callen hefted a saddle from horse to rail. “You didn’t hear yet. His wife had some chest pains, so—”

  “Edda? Chest pains? What happened, where is she?” Even as she peppered out the questions, Bodine yanked out her phone.

  “Slow down. I got a text from him about halfway through the lesson. It looks like she had a little heart attack.”

  Bodine nearly had one herself. “A—a—little?

  “Mild’s what I got. They’re keeping her in the
hospital for now, but she’s stable. I was here when he got the call. She was out—her day off, right?—with a couple of lady friends, and started having chest pains. I told him to go, I’d cover for him.”

  “I appreciate that, I do, but somebody should have called me.”

  “Abe was a little distracted—out of here in a flash. I was a little busy making sure the customer didn’t faint on me.”

  “Right, you’re right.” To calm herself, she pulled off her hat, swatted it against her thigh as she paced back and forth. “I just—I need the details. She’s stable? You’re sure?”

  “Abe said—here’s a quote: ‘She’s squawking about going home. But they’re keeping her overnight, doing some tests.’”

  “What kind of tests? Why would you know?” she said before he could answer. “I’ll look it up. I’ll look up what they do, and I’ll call him.”

  Calmer with a plan somewhat in place, she put on her hat again. “What else is on Abe’s schedule?”

  “There’s a trail ride coming up,” he said before Bodine could pull it up on her phone. “Carol can take it. And a weekly lesson at four.”

  “That’d be Lessie Silk, she’s twelve. I can take that myself.”

  “I’ve got it,” he assured her. “Chase knows where I am.”

  “Okay. All right. I’m hiring another hand. I’ve got someone to interview. I was going to talk to Abe about it, but I’m just going to call him up—the new hand—have him come in. If he’s not an idiot, we’ll take him on.”

  She’d contact Abe, get details on Edda. Call the applicant, schedule an interview, and since Edda was in charge of housekeeping, she’d adjust the schedule herself, as Edda wasn’t going to come back to work until her doctors gave her an all clear.

  “Got it worked out?” Callen said after a moment.

  “I will have. Mild, you said?”

  “That’s the word Abe used, same as he used stable.”

  “Okay.” Bodine blew out a breath, steadied. “Who’s this handsome boy?” She rubbed the unfamiliar buff-colored gelding’s neck.

  “This is Sundown. My better half. Sundown, meet Bodine.”

  Callen swept a finger down, and the horse bent his forelegs, bowed.

  “Now, aren’t you the clever one?”

  “Smartest damn horse I ever met.” Callen tapped Bodine’s shoulder. Sundown eased closer, laid his head where Callen tapped.

  Laughing, Bodine hooked an arm around Sundown’s neck. “How long have you had him?”

  “Since he was born—at sundown—four years last May. I was helping out a friend, between projects, and his mare delivered this one. Love at first sight. I bought him on the spot, and when he was weaned and ready, he came with me.”

  Callen wrapped the reins securely around the saddle horn. “Want to show off, Sundown?”

  With a toss of his head, the gelding trotted out to the center of the ring.

  “Rattlesnake!”

  At Callen’s call, Sundown reared, hooves striking air. “Backstabber.” Dropping his forelegs, Sundown kicked his back legs high. “Do-si-do.” Brightly, the horse danced laterally left, swung his hindquarters around, danced right. “Pretty filly.”

  Amused, impressed, Bodine watched as a kind of gleam came into the horse’s eyes before he did the equine version of a manly swagger back to Bodine.

  “Kiss the girl.”

  Sundown lowered his head, rubbed his blowing lips over Bodine’s cheek.

  “You are a charmer,” Bodine said, pressing her own lips to the gelding’s cheek. “You trained him? You always had a way, but this is really something.”

  “I picked up some tips from the experts on my travels, but I’m working with prime here. Absolute prime.”

  “I sure wouldn’t argue.” And love, the sort she knew very well that bloomed between horse and human, shined in Callen’s words.

  “Do you do any trick riding? You used to do some.”

  The quick grin Callen aimed had—by Bodine measure—a hefty dose of flirt in it.

  “Want me to show off now?”

  “I’m just thinking how we get a lot of families, a lot of kids on the weekends, and more yet when summer comes. A little show in the paddock by the BAC, some fancy riding, ending with the tricks he can do? They’d eat it like ice cream.”

  “Maybe.”

  “Say a half hour, and another half hour to let the kids ask questions, pet the horse. You’d get paid extra. If you want to think about it, I’ll see where it would best fit.”

  Sundown butted Callen’s shoulder as if to say: I’m in!

  “I can think about it.”

  “Good, then we’ll talk. Do you need help with the horses?”

  “I can manage well enough.”

  “Then I need to get back.” She started out, turned, walked backward as she spoke. “You’re a good teacher, Skinner. I never figured you for the patience.”

  “I spent some time developing it.”

  “Considerable, I’d say.”

  When she turned around again, Callen admired her long legs until she moved out of sight.

  “Patience ain’t everything,” he said to his horse. “Maybe next time I should kiss the girl.”

  Sundown let out a sound no one would have mistaken for anything but a laugh.

  * * *

  Bodine squeezed all she could into the rest of the day, and the morning after.

  She made her calls, her appointments. With the rare move of closing her office door, she assured herself of enough uninterrupted time to adjust the schedule to compensate for having Edda and Abe off the roll, at least for a few days.

  It pleased—and relieved—her that not a single soul she shifted around complained.

  After begging a container of chicken soup from the Dining Hall kitchen, she made the trip out to see Abe and Edda. Heated the soup herself to make sure they ate, while Edda insisted she was fine.

  Once Bodine got home—missing dinner yet again—she snagged the pork chop meal out of the warmer, settled down with it and her laptop to run a last check on the people she hoped to hire.

  She ate with one hand, worked the keyboard with the other. And looked up with her mouth full when her mother came into the kitchen.

  Bodine said, “Mmm.”

  “I thought I heard you come in. You oughtn’t to work so late all the time, my baby.”

  Bodine swallowed. “Everything went to hell. I’m fixing it.”

  “You always do. I just got off the phone with Edda. She sounds a little tired, a little sheepish about it. I think I’m going to have some of that wine, too. She told me you went over there with soup, warmed it up for them.”

  On her way to get a glass, Maureen paused to kiss the top of Bodine’s head. “You’re a good girl.”

  “Scared me. She always seems so … sturdy. She’s not going to need surgery, but she’s got to take medication. And make some lifestyle changes. Diet, exercise.”

  “We’ll see she takes better care of herself.” After sitting, Maureen poured her wine, added a little more to Bodine’s glass. “That goes for you, too. More sleep, regular meals. Ma and I—and your dad—didn’t start up the Bodine Resort to see you work all day and half the night.”

  “Special circumstances.”

  “Aren’t there always?” Maureen said in her placid way.

 
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