Merline Lovelace

A Man of His Word

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to be back on-site by dawn tomorrow. I’ve got a reservoir draining at the rate of eighty cubic feet per second and a dam with some cracks in it waiting for me.”

      Among other things.

      His jaw tightened at the thought of the woman who’d pulled every string in the book to muscle her way into the restricted area behind the dam. She intended to shoot a documentary film of a sunken Anasazi village as it emerged from the waters of the reservoir, or so the letter from the Bureau of Reclamation directing Reece’s cooperation had stated.

      He knew better. She was returning to Chalo Canyon for one reason and one reason only…to finish what she’d started ten years ago. Everyone in town had told Reece so, including the man she’d begun the affair with.

      Well, he didn’t have to watch the woman in action. He’d meet with her bright and early tomorrow morning as promised. He’d advise her of his schedule, set some rules of engagement. Then she was on her own. He had more important matters to engage both his time and his attention than Sydney Scott.

      Putting the woman firmly from his mind, Reece crossed the floor to claim a dance with his radiant new sister-in-law.

      Chapter 1

      A rms wrapped around her knees, Sydney sat bathed in warm summer moonlight on one of the limestone outcroppings that rimmed the Chalo River Reservoir. Although she couldn’t see the movement, she knew the water level in the vast reservoir was slowly dropping. She’d been gauging its progress for hours now, measuring its descent against the shadowy crevasses on the cliff face opposite.

      Another thirty-six hours, she estimated with a shiver of anticipation, forty-eight at most. Then the magical, mystical village she’d first seen as a child would emerge from the dark waters of the reservoir and feel the touch of the sun for the first time in a decade.

      Once every ten years, the sluice gates of the dam that harnessed the Chalo River yawned fully open. Once every ten years, the man-made lake behind the dam was drained to allow maintenance and repair to the towering concrete structure. Once every ten years, the waters dropped and the ancient ruins reappeared. This was the year, the month, the week.

      Excitement pulsed through Sydney’s veins, excitement and a stinging regret that went soul deep.

      “Oh, Dad,” she murmured softly, “if only you’d had a few more months…”

      No! No, she couldn’t go down that road. She shook her head, fighting the aching sense of loss that had become so much a part of her she rarely acknowledged it anymore. She couldn’t wish another day, another hour of that awful pain on her father. His death had been a release, a relief from the agony that even morphine couldn’t dull. She wouldn’t grieve for him now. Instead, she would use these quiet, moonlit hours to celebrate the times they’d been together.

      With the perfect clarity of a camera lens, Sydney recalled her wide-eyed wonder when her father had first shown her the wet, glistening ruins tucked under a ledge in this small corner of Chalo Canyon. Then, as now, goose bumps had raised on her arms when the wind whispered through the canyon, sounding much like the Weeping Woman of local legend. According to the tale, an ancient Anasazi warrior had stolen a woman from another tribe and confined her in a stone tower in his village. The woman had cried for her lost love, and leaped to her death rather than submit to the man who’d taken her.

      A youthful Sydney had heard the legend within days of moving to Chalo Canyon, where her father had taken over as fish and game warden for the state park that rimmed the huge, man-made lake behind the dam. Her dad had pooh-poohed the tale, but it had tugged at his daughter’s imagination. So much so that she’d counted the years until she could capture the ruins on film as a special project for her cinematography class.

      Sighing, Sydney rested her chin on her knees. How young she’d been then. How incredibly naive. A nineteen-year-old student at Southern Cal, she’d planned the film project all through her sophomore year. Couldn’t wait for summer and the scheduled draining of the reservoir. Pop had gone with her that day, too, maneuvering the boat, keeping it steady while she balanced their home camcorder on her shoulder and shot the emerging village from every angle. Sydney had been so elated, so sure this project would be the start of a glorious career in film.

      Then she’d tumbled head over heels in love with handsome, charming Jamie Chavez.

      Even after all these years, the memory could still make Sydney writhe with embarrassment. Her breathless ardor had by turns amused and delighted the older, more sophisticated Jamie…much to his father’s dismay. Sebastian Chavez’s plans for his only son didn’t include the daughter of the local fish and game warden.

      Looking back, Sydney could only shake her head at her incredible stupidity. Jamie was more than willing to amuse himself with her while his fiancée was in Europe. Even now Sydney cringed when she remembered the night Sebastian found her in his son’s bed. The scene had not been pretty. Even worse, the swing her father took at the powerful landowner the next day had cost him his job. The Scotts had moved away the following week, and neither of them had ever returned to Chalo Canyon.

      Until now.

      Now Sydney was about to see the ancient ruins for the third time. With a string of critically acclaimed documentaries and an Oscar nomination under her belt, she intended to capture the haunting ruins and the legend she’d first shared with her father so long ago on video-and audiotape. She’d worked for almost a year to script the project and secure funding. The final product would stand in loving tribute to the man who taught her the beauties and mysteries of Chalo Canyon.

      Hopefully, she thought with a wry grimace, the documentary would also take her fledgling production company out of the red. Her father’s long illness had cut both Sydney’s heart and her financial resources to the quick. Even with the big-money financing her recent brush with the Oscars had generated, starting up her own production company had eaten what little was left of her savings. This project would make her or break her.

      She brushed at a gnat buzzing her left ear, thinking of all the obstacles she’d overcome to get even this far. The preproduction work had taken almost eight months. She’d started on it just after her dad’s leukemia robbed him of his breath and his mobility. She’d shared every step of the process with him during those long, agonizing hours at his bedside. Talked him through the concept. Described the treatment she envisioned, worked out an estimated budget. Then she’d hawked the idea to the History Channel, to PBS, to half a dozen independent producers.

      Pop’s death had hardened Sydney’s resolve into absolute determination to see the project through…despite Sebastian Chavez’s vehement objections. When Sebastian heard of the proposed documentary, he’d used every weapon in his arsenal to kill it. He’d refused all access to the site through his land. He’d flexed his political muscle to delay filming permits. He’d even rallied Native American groups to protest the exploitation of sacred ruins. Evidently the hard feelings generated ten years ago hadn’t died.

      As a last-ditch attempt to block the project, Chavez had dragged the engineer in charge of the dam repair into the controversy and got him to weigh in against any activity in the restricted area behind the dam.

      Sydney had played shamelessly on every connection she had from L.A. to D.C. to overturn Reece Henderson’s nonconcurrence. Finally the powerful coalition of PBS, the National Historic Preservation Society, and her wealthy and well-known financial backer, who just happened to have contributed significantly to the president’s reelection campaign, had prevailed.

      As a condition of the approval, however, Sydney had to coordinate her filming schedule with the chief engineer and shoot around the blasting and repair work at the dam. Henderson’s curt faxes in response to her initial queries had set her teeth on edge, but she refused to allow some bullheaded engineer to upset her or her tight schedule. She had only two weeks to capture a legend…and recapture the magic of her youth.

      Her chin wobbled on her knees. Weariness tugged at the edges of her simmering anticipation. She should go back to the motel, grab a few hours of sleep before the rest of her crew arrived. She’d learned the hard way that rest and exercise were essential to countering the stress caused by tight schedules, the inevitable snafus, and the