Merline Lovelace

A Man of His Word


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Tyree checked in late yesterday afternoon, but things got around fast in a town the size of Chalo Canyon.

      “Hang loose.”

      The phone clattered down. The sound of sheets whooshing aside was followed in quick succession by the snick of a zipper and padding footsteps. Long moments later the phone rattled again.

      “She’s not in her room.”

      Reece rolled his eyes. He thought they’d already established that fact.

      “Well, if she strolls in anytime soon, tell her I left my brother’s wedding early and drove half the night so I would make the meeting she didn’t bother to show for. She can call me here at the site. I’ll get back to her when and if…”

      “You don’t understand, dude. She’s not here.”

      Reece felt the last of his patience shredding. “Tell your boss—”

      “The blinds in her room were open and I looked in. Her bed hasn’t been slept in.”

      Worry put a crack in the kid’s voice. A different sort of emotion put a lock on Reece’s jaw.

      God! He’d been hearing the rumors and gossip about this Scott woman for weeks. How she’d thrown herself at Jamie Chavez ten years ago. How Jamie’s father had all but dragged her out of his son’s bed. How her father had knocked Chavez, Sr., on his butt the next day. Now she was a big, important Hollywood director, coming back to Chalo River to impress everyone with her success…and to try her luck with Jamie again.

      Reece couldn’t suppress the disgust that swirled in his gut. The woman had arrived in town only yesterday afternoon and had already spent the night somewhere other than her motel room. Pretty fast work, even for a big, important Hollywood director.

      Well, Reece had complied with his boss’s direct communiqué. He’d cooperated with the woman, or tried to, damn near busting his butt to get back here in time for their meeting this morning. The ball was in Ms. Sydney Scott’s court now, and she could lob it at the net from now until next Christmas for all he cared. He started to hang up when the sharp concern in the kid’s voice stilled his hand.

      “Syd drove out to the canyon right after we got settled here at the motel yesterday afternoon. She could still be out there.”

      “What?”

      Reece’s irritation spiked into anger. He’d made it plain to Ms. Scott in their exchange of faxes that neither she nor any of her crew should go poking around in the restricted area behind the dam until he briefed them on the repair project and the potential hazards during the blasting period.

      “Syd said she wanted to check the water level in the reservoir and get her bearings. Told me not to wait up for her. You don’t think she, like, got lost or something?”

      “I understand Ms. Scott used to live in this area. She should know her way around.”

      “That was ten years ago, dude.”

      “The name’s Henderson.”

      “Right, Henderson. Could you, like, drive around and check on her? She sorta gets involved in her projects sometimes and forgets what day it is. I’d go myself, but I don’t know the geography, and Syd’s got the Blazer, which leaves me, like, without wheels until Tish and the others get here.”

      Reece wanted very much to tell the kid what he and his boss could, like, do, but he’d assumed responsibility for this project and all the challenges and headaches that went with it. Including, it appeared, Sydney Scott. If she’d entered the restricted area and gotten her vehicle stuck in the mud after that gully-washer last night, she was, unfortunately, his problem.

      “All right. I’ll drive along the rim and look for her. Take down my mobile phone number. If she walks in, call me.”

      “Thanks, man!”

      After a call down to his second-in-charge to advise him that he’d be on mobile for the next half hour or so, Reece exchanged his hard hat for a battered straw Stetson, legacy of those rare breaks between jobs which he spent at the Bar-H, helping his brother Jake. A moment later, he left the air-conditioned comfort of the office for the blazing heat of a summer Arizona sun bouncing off concrete.

      The administration building perched on the east end of the dam, a massive concrete arch that thrust its arms against the steep Chalo Canyon walls. Some 305 feet below, two fully opened spillways poured tons of rushing water into the lower Chalo. Tipping his hat forward to shade his eyes, Reece paused for a moment to assess the reservoir behind the dam. All traces of the thunderstorm that had lashed the area last night had disappeared. Sunlight sparkled on the water’s surface, already, he noted with grim satisfaction, sunk well below its usual level.

      By tomorrow, he should be able to examine from the outside the cracks that had started stressing the dam from the inside. He’d know then how much work he had ahead of him, and how long this Sydney Scott would have to film her documentary before the reservoir started filling again.

      Assuming, of course, that she’d intended to make a movie at all. Maybe the rumors were true. Maybe this documentary was just a smoke screen, a convenient cover for her personal intentions. Maybe she’d really come back to Chalo River to make nothing but trouble.

      If that was the case, she was off to a helluva good start. When and if Reece located Ms. Scott, she might just realize she’d bitten off more trouble than she could chew this time.

      He found her twenty minutes later. Or more correctly, he found the spot where the canyon rim had crumbled, taking half the road with it.

      Chapter 2

      “H ey! You down there! Are you okay?”

      The shout jerked Sydney’s head back. Never in her life had she heard anything as wonderful as that deep, gruff voice. Keeping a tight grip on the twisted piñon tree that had broken her slide into oblivion seven long hours ago, she shouted to the dark-haired cowboy peering cautiously over the edge of the rim.

      “I’m okay. No broken bones that I can tell. Have you got a rope?”

      “Yes. I’ll be right back. Don’t move!”

      Don’t move. Right. As if she planned on releasing her death grip on the rough-barked trunk or shifting her body so much as a centimeter to either side of the narrow toehold she’d found in the canyon wall.

      She leaned her forehead against the tree, almost giddy with relief. Then again, this dizzy sensation might have something to do with the fact that she’d just spent seven hours wedged between a tree root and a cliff face hundreds of feet above a narrow river gorge.

      She’d been prepared to spend even longer. Sydney hadn’t expected Zack to roll out of bed before ten or eleven, much less organize a rescue for his missing boss. Her assistant was worth his 140 pounds in gold once he revved his motor, but getting him going some mornings could take a half-dozen calls that ran the gamut from wheedling to cajoling to outright threats of death and dismemberment. Thank God this was one of his rare self-starting days!

      The thump of a rope hitting against the cliff face above her snapped her attention back to the rim. She looked up just in time to take the shower of small stones and dust dislodged by the rope full in her face. Wincing, Sydney spun her head sideways, which caused the tree to shake and its occupant to let out a small, terrified squeak.

      “Dammit, don’t move!” her rescuer snapped. “I’ll work the rope over to you.”

      Clinging to the tree trunk with both arms, she blew upward in a vain attempt to get the dust and straggling hair out of her eyes. Her Rams ball cap had gone the way of the Blazer during that three-second slide down the cliff face. Sydney only hoped the sacrifice of a hat and a four-wheel-drive vehicle had satisfied the canyon gods.

      Her heart in her throat, she watched the thick rope hump and bump its way closer to her precarious perch. Only after it was within reach did she discover that her arms were numb from the shoulders down. She couldn’t seem to unlock their tight grip on the trunk.

      “Take the rope.”

      Swiping