Merline Lovelace

A Man of His Word

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disappear before their eyes, though.

      As the nation’s fifth-largest electric utility and the second-largest wholesale water supplier, the Bureau of Reclamation’s network of dams and reservoirs generated more than forty billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and delivered over ten trillion gallons of water each year. One out of five farmers in the western states depended on this water for irrigation to produce their crops. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of sports fishermen and recreationists plied the man-made lakes behind the dams, contributing their share to the economic fabric of communities like Chalo Canyon.

      Even more important, the dams harnessed rivers like the Salt and the Gila and the mighty Colorado, controlling the floods and the devastation they’d wrought over the centuries. Born and bred to the West, Reece had grown up with a healthy respect for a river’s power. In college he’d double-majored in civil and hydroelectric engineering. After college he’d worked dam projects all over the world. His father’s death and the itch to get back to the vast, rugged West where he’d grown to manhood had led to a position with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Structural Analysis Group in Denver. The Chalo River inspection and repair project had brought him home to Arizona.

      Patiently he addressed Lula’s concerns about the project’s impact on the serious business of pleasure boating and sports fishing. “My headquarters in Washington began coordinating this project more than a year ago with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Fish and Game Department. The government facility at Willow Bend has doubled its rainbow trout output to resupply the reservoir. The state hatchery will restock channel catfish, black crappie, perch and striped bass. The take won’t be as plentiful for a year or more after the lake refills, but it should still provide enough catch to bring in the sport fishermen.”

      “It better,” Lula grumbled. “Things are lookin’ pretty thin now, I can tell you. Martha said she doesn’t have a single room reserved after your crew and Miss Fancy-Pants Scott’s folks leave.” The waitress shook her head. “Imagine her driving right off a cliff!”

      Reece took a long pull on his beer while Lula rambled on about the accident. Fancy-Pants wasn’t exactly how he’d categorize the woman he’d pulled out of a piñon tree this morning. Unless, of course, she wore something decidedly provocative under those baggy U.S. Army rejects.

      An image of the leggy, tousle-haired brunette in lacy black bikini briefs flashed into his mind for an instant. Resolutely Reece pushed it out. What she wore or didn’t wear under her fatigues was none of his business. His only concern was the safety of her and her crew during their filming around the dam site.

      The same couldn’t be said for everyone else in town. The imminent arrival of the filmmaker and her crew had dominated the conversation at the café and the town’s only bar for weeks. Everyone had an opinion about why she’d come back, and most were only too willing to voice it. Clearly ready for another discourse on the prodigal’s return, Lula flapped a hand at Reece.

      “Go on, go on, eat that steak while it’s still sizzlin’. I’m just keepin’ you company while I’m wait-in’ for them Hollywood people. Did you know that boy with the Scott woman has rings through every part of him that moves, and a few that don’t?”

      Reece sawed into his steak, not particularly interested in a discussion of Zack Tyree’s body parts. It took more than a disinterested grunt, however, to discourage the garrulous Lula.

      “Martha says she sneaked a peek at him when she went in to change the bed linens this morning. Couldn’t hardly miss him, really. He was prowling around buck naked, wearin’ nothing but them rings.”

      Thankfully, the sound of the door opening sent his hostess swiveling around. A grin beamed across her broad face.

      “Hey, Jamie! You’re lookin’ good, boy, as always.”

      Tanned, golden-haired Jamie Chavez ushered his wife into the café and guided her across the room to Reece’s table.

      “Hey, Lula. You’re lookin’ beautiful, as always.” His smile shifted to include her customer. “How’s the spill going, Henderson?”

      Reece got to his feet, taking the hand Chavez offered in a firm grip.

      “It’s going,” he replied easily. “Another hundred and fifty feet to river level. Nice to see you again, Mrs. Chavez.”

      The rail-thin redhead at Jamie’s side smiled. “Please, call me Arlene. After all the hours you’ve spent out at the ranch, briefing Jamie and my father-in-law on the dam project, I think we can dispense with formalities.”

      She was even thinner than Reece remembered from his last visit. Her feathery auburn hair framed sunken cheekbones and hollowed eyes. Skillful makeup softened the stark angles of her face, and her natural elegance drew attention away from her gauntness, but Reece glimpsed the same desperate unhappiness in her shadowed eyes as he’d seen in his mother’s not long ago.

      Both women had learned to live with the fact that the man they loved had cheated on them. His mother found out about her husband’s infidelity after his death. Jamie’s transgression occurred during his engagement to Arlene, if the tales of ten years ago held any truth. Now that long-buried embarrassment had come back to haunt her.

      Reece had to admit the green-eyed brunette he’d walked up a canyon wall this morning could certainly give this woman something to worry about. Sympathy for the worried wife tugged at him as Lula heaved herself to her feet.

      “Did you two come in for dinner? I’ve got some prime rib-eye in the cooler that was wearin’ the Chavez brand not too long ago. I laid in an extra supply for those Hollywood folks, but they said they’d eat light when they got back tonight, whatever ‘light’ means,” she grumbled.

      “Probably tofu and soybean salad,” Jamie teased.

      “Ha!” Lula hitched her apron on her ample hips. “If they’re expectin’ tofu and such, they’re sure as hell not gonna find it at the Lone Eagle Café.”

      “Where are they?” Jamie asked casually.

      Too casually, Reece thought. Arlene evidently thought so, too. She threw her husband a sharp glance.

      “Well, they loaded up two vans and took off just after one,” Lula told him. “Said they’d be back after the light went, though, so I expect them anytime. If they aren’t gonna eat those steaks, I gotta do something with them. What do you say I throw two on the grill for you and the missus?”

      Arlene shook her head. “No, thanks. We just stopped by to—”

      “Sure,” her husband interrupted genially. “Why not? Bring out two more of those beers, too.”

      “But, Jamie…”

      “We don’t have to get back to the ranch right away, darling. Mind if we join you, Henderson?”

      Reece shrugged. “Of course not. Please, be my guest.”

      A tight-lipped Arlene slid into the chair he held out for her. She didn’t want a steak. That much was obvious. From the nervous glances she darted at the front door every time it opened, it was also obvious she didn’t want to be sitting at the Lone Eagle Café when the Hollywood folks, as Lula termed them, returned.

      Reece reminded himself that neither Jamie Chavez, his wife, nor the woman who’d almost come between them were any of his business, but that didn’t kill the little stab of pity he felt for Arlene when the door swung open twenty minutes later and Sydney trooped in with her crew.

      They were certainly a colorful bunch, from the kid with the green hair and the be-ringed nostrils to the statuesque, ebony-skinned six-footer who toted camera bags over each shoulder and sported a turquoise T-shirt with Through a Lens Lightly emblazoned in glittering gold across her magnificent chest. The guy with the earphones draped around his neck like stethoscopes was obviously the soundman. The mousy little female beside him had to be the gofer no crew could operate without, Reece’s included.

      But it was the writer-director who drew every eye in the café. Reece’s included.

      She was laughing at something one of her crew had said. The sound flowed across the room like rich, hot fudge. Her hair looked like chocolate fudge, too, shining