Not Just a Cowboy (Texas Rescue) (10 page)

BOOK: Not Just a Cowboy (Texas Rescue)
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“Thank you.” Luke took the glove and turned to the two men. “Don’t bother zipping it. I’m leaving.”

He had one foot out the door, literally, before he realized that he wasn’t certain if he’d see Patricia at dinner—and if she’d sit with him or anyone else. If she’d come by to see the engine. If she was committed to a week of romance or an indefinite relationship. Anything.

“Do you happen to know what’s for dinner?” he asked.

She shook her head the way he’d seen her do when she’d so graciously, so regretfully, been unable to help someone. “I’m sorry, I’m really not sure.”

“Then I guess I’ll have to wait to find out. Good afternoon.”

He stepped out of the tent just as three distinct tones sounded on the radio at his waist. He hoped Patricia hadn’t heard them.

Chapter Eleven

I
t’s not that dangerous.

Right. Easy for Luke to say, hard for Patricia to believe. She’d turned her handheld radio to the town’s emergency frequency and deciphered enough to know there was no fire. The rain had caused some already-damaged buildings to collapse. Power lines that weren’t downed by the hurricane were down now. It sounded like Luke and the rest of the crew were being called upon to use those axes and sledgehammers. Not that dangerous.

Patricia sat at her desk, resolved to put firefighters out of her mind. She had a hospital to run—or rather, to help Karen to run. Updating her records for Texas Rescue hadn’t taken very long, so Patricia didn’t mind reviewing the areas Karen was supposed to manage, too.

The hurricane had come through Sunday night. It was now Thursday, and the hospital was running nicely on autopilot. Outpatient, inpatient, emergency: all shifts were covered, all equipment functional. Supply lines had been established. Personnel were departing and arriving as scheduled.

In other words, she had nothing to do. There were no Texas Rescue problems to solve at the moment. There was no firefighter to distract her.

Patricia had time to work on her personal problems, then. She’d left Austin with a banking issue unresolved. Specifically, money was disappearing from the trust fund she shared with her father. Since neither one could withdraw money without the other one’s signature, it had to be a banking error, one she’d caught and reported on Friday. It should have been resolved when the banks opened on Monday, Patricia had been running a hospital in a town with no cell-phone service, so she had no way to verify it.

Out of habit, she checked her cell phone again. Nothing.

She looked over to Karen Weaver’s desk. The hospital had one phone that could make outgoing calls by a special satellite uplink. It was not for personal use. Patricia repeated that rule to others regularly.

Still, it was tempting. Patricia couldn’t have a conversation with the bank, not with clerks coming and going, but she could dial the automatic teller and check the balance on her account. That would tell her if the problem had been rectified. One quick call. Karen would never know, because she never asked for itemized bills. She’d never see the number that had been dialed.

Disgusted with herself for even thinking of misusing Texas Rescue resources, Patricia left the tent. The Cargill fortune had survived through one hundred and fifty years of Texas history. It would survive this week.

The original Cargill millionaire, her several-greats grandfather, had made sure of that. Cliff Cargill had set up all kinds of rules to protect his money, and generations later, most of those rules still held.

The entire fortune was tied up in trust funds. Perhaps he’d done it to keep his children together, but Cliff had set up the trust fund so that no one family member could spend a dime. Three legal signatures were required to disperse any funds. His descendants had to sink or swim together.

Decades after his death, Cliff’s grandchildren had spread across Texas in what Patricia thought of as clusters of legal-signature siblings. There were now three branches of the family. The Dallas, the Houston and the Austin Cargills each held their own trust fund, but each fortune still required multiple signatures.

For generations, the Austin Cargills had been the richest, because they’d been the stingiest. Not with their money, but with their
seed,
for lack of a better word. Having few children meant fewer people among whom to share the money, of course. Fewer combinations of siblings and cousins existed, so the Austin Cargills didn’t experience episodes where one group would gang up and sign money away from other cousins who didn’t want it spent or invested the same way. Those episodes were part of a saga that had provided fodder for Texas lore for generations.

Daddy Cargill had continued the Austin tradition, fathering only one child, and that one only because Patricia’s mother was no fool. Patricia had been born exactly nine months after her parents’ wedding. If her father had paid more attention to his inheritance before his young marriage, he would have realized he had to share his money with his progeny. Patricia doubted she ever would have been conceived.

Afterward, he’d certainly taken steps to ensure he’d never have any more children. There were only two living Austin Cargills, Patricia and Daddy. Only two possible signatures on every check. Lord, how she envied those Dallas Cargills. There were so many of them, they probably ran into a co-signer every time they went to the grocery store.

Not her. She had to persuade the same obstinate man to agree to every investment, every expenditure, every time.

Patricia sat at her picnic table, the one that was just far enough away from the mobile hospital to prevent people from passing by. The one where Luke Waterson had found her sleeping. He said he’d been coming to get his glove. In retrospect, it had been much simpler. Boy had met girl. Boy had wanted to get to know girl.

I’m that girl.

She felt the most sublime shiver of satisfaction. Luke Waterson had found her at this table because he’d come looking for
her,
not a glove.

If she sat at one particular corner and perhaps craned her neck in an unladylike way that would never have passed muster at Fayette Prep, Patricia could see two fire engines from her picnic table. The Houston ladder truck was parked in its usual spot. Engine thirty-seven was still gone.

Her pleasure dimmed.

She didn’t want to sit alone at this table any longer.

I have friends,
she’d assured Luke
.

Not many. She’d recently damaged the one friendship she’d relied on the most: Quinn’s.

She couldn’t fix any other problems right now. The bank was unreachable. She couldn’t snap her fingers and produce a qualified husband. With engine thirty-seven out on a call, she couldn’t even enjoy a summer romance that wouldn’t last a week.

But she could apologize to Quinn MacDowell. Then, when Luke asked her if she had any friends, she could look him in the eye the next time and say yes.

* * *

Patricia found Dr. Quinn MacDowell in the mess tent at a crowded table, eating his supper. She paused behind the chair across from him, summoning her poise. It took a lot of summoning. Not only might Quinn reject her overture of friendship, but so might everyone else at the table.
I was saving this seat for someone else
was polite-speak for
I don’t want you to sit with me
.

Luke thought people were glad she ran the hospital. She didn’t believe him, but she was going to risk that he was right. Right now.

“May I sit here?”

There, she’d said it.

Quinn hesitated for the briefest moment. “Of course.”

She sat down, but he said nothing else. They ate in silence for a few minutes, until the two people next to them got up and left. Patricia told herself not to take it personally. Besides, now she could talk to Quinn in relative privacy.

He didn’t seem inclined to talk. He didn’t even glance up from his plate.

She’d been hard on his girlfriend, she knew. Cold, shutting her out of their social circle, hoping that Quinn would see Diana didn’t belong. Diana had nothing to do with the medical world. She volunteered at dog shelters, of all things.

Patricia started there. “Did you see the dogs I had to corral yesterday because of the pet-shelter fire?”

Quinn didn’t answer, but he did meet her gaze. He was gauging her, she knew, wondering where the conversation was headed. He no longer trusted her. He no longer found her conversation amusing.

Her heart sank. He’d been her closest friend every other time they’d served together with Texas Rescue. He’d never been intimidated by her, and there were very few people in her world who treated her like she was normal, not like her DNA came from a Texas legend. She wanted her friend back.

“Your girlfriend would have been a real asset in that situation,” Patricia said. She had to call on a considerable reserve of Cargill confidence to keep chatting as if he weren’t staring her down.

Quinn stopped eating and sat back, watching her warily.

“Dogs are her specialty, right?” Patricia asked. “If your girlfriend is interested, she could come back. I could get her—
Diana
—in touch with the pet-friendly shelter. Diana would be a huge help with them.”

It could have been her imagination, but Quinn’s expression seemed to soften. “Patricia Cargill, are you trying to apologize for something?”

She looked around a little, making sure their conversation was private. “How much humble pie would you like me to eat? I can do it. I hate having you not speaking to me.”

Quinn picked up his fork, digging back into his meal casually. “What, exactly, made you so set against the idea of me dating Diana?”

“I wanted to get married.”

“To me?” He looked very concerned, like she was telling him she was experiencing some terrible medical symptom.

“I still need to get married.” She sighed, wishing she didn’t need to explain anything at all. “It’s a long story, but Daddy Cargill’s involved, so it’s no joke. You were the man I thought would be the least horrible to be married to.”

“Least horrible. I was supposed to jump at the chance to be your least horrible option?”

She felt defensive. “I would have made you an excellent wife.”

“In a terrifying way, you probably would.”

“I couldn’t get you to see me as a potential wife as long as Diana was in the picture.”

“That’s true. Although you’ve made it clear your heart isn’t exactly broken over me, I’d like you to hear something from me before you hear it from the grapevine. I intend to ask Diana to marry me as soon as I get back to Austin.”

So soon?
Patricia stopped herself from saying it out loud. She wanted to be Quinn’s friend again. He knew his own mind—or rather, his own heart. If he wanted to marry a woman he’d known a month, she could support him.

“You know,” she said, “I heard the power is back on at a McDonald’s on the other side of town. Karen Weaver came back from an errand with a milkshake today. You know what that means.”

Quinn set his fork on his plate with a bit of a smile. “It’s the surest sign we won’t be needed much longer. Once a town gets their McDonald’s up and running, our days are numbered.”

“We’ve seen it before, haven’t we?” She consulted her clipboard, flipping through her rosters. “I don’t see why I should keep you past Saturday morning, if you had something in Austin you’d rather do.”

Quinn started to smile.

“Congratulations in advance,” she added, and then forgot the rest of her friendly, no-hard-feelings sentence, because Luke walked into the dining area. He spotted her immediately and winked, but rather than pretend he barely knew her, he started to walk straight toward her.

Patricia felt her heart beat a little harder. She directed her attention back to Quinn, summoning a smile while she wondered what on earth Luke was doing, coming right up to her table. They had an agreement. They were discreet. He couldn’t just walk up and say hello like this.

“How’s it going?” Luke clapped Quinn on the shoulder.

Quinn looked up at him. “Hey, Luke. Long time, no see. How’s it going with you?” He extended his hand and they shook hands like old friends.

“Same old, same old,” Luke said. “How’s your mom?”

“Better. Thanks for fixing that light for her.”

“No problem.” Luke nodded politely at Patricia as if she were an acquaintance with whom he played cards, then left to get in line for the food.

Quinn resumed eating, like nothing was out of the ordinary.

It took Patricia a moment to find her voice. “Do you know that fireman?”

“Who? Luke? He’s a good kid. I used to ref his Pee Wee football games. Why do you ask?”

She and Quinn were the same age. Thirty-two. Quinn had been a referee while Luke was in Pee Wee football. How old were children in Pee Wee football? Six years old? Luke’s boyish charm suddenly took on more significance.

Good lord, I’m a cougar.

Patricia studied Luke’s back as he waited in line. She’d been lusting after a man far too young for her, following in her father’s footsteps, chasing an outrageously young piece of eye candy. It was so unfair, though, to be expected to resist those blue eyes and those kisses. The man could kiss.

Quinn squeezed her hand. “Why Patricia Cargill, you think he’s cute, don’t you?”

She jerked her gaze back to Quinn. Alarm made her stiffen her spine. She couldn’t give herself away. She couldn’t stand for everyone to make fun of her for being just like her father.

“Who?” She raised her chin, prepared to brazen it out. Patricia Cargill was never teased, not about anything.

“Luke. You think he’s cute.”

“Cute?” She flicked her fingers dismissively. “That word isn’t in my vocabulary. I wouldn’t describe a puppy that way, let alone a man.”

“No? How do you describe puppies, then?”

“Très charmant.”

Quinn laughed, but he wasn’t deterred. “You think Luke Waterson is cute. You can’t take your eyes off him.”

Caught staring at Luke again, Patricia cut her gaze back to Quinn and leveled her most condemning look on him, the one where she didn’t so much as blink. It made bankers and businessmen squirm.

Quinn didn’t squirm. “What is this, a staring contest? I was great at this in fourth grade.”

She only narrowed her eyes at him, boring a hole right through his eyeballs into his tiny, man-size brain.

Quinn leaned in to speak conspiratorially. “Can you see what he’s doing? Is he coming this way, or is he going to sit with another girl? Aren’t you dying to take just a quick peek? Maybe he’s checking you out right this second.”

Patricia gave up and sat back, disgusted that Quinn was laughing at her. “Oh, do be quiet.”

“Well, you have my blessing. Have some fun for once in your life. Those sharks you call your girlfriends are blessedly scarce around here, so I’ll have to fill the role.” Quinn affected a high-pitched voice. “
He’s a total hunk
. No, wait.
He’s a total hottie
. I think that’s the going term.”

BOOK: Not Just a Cowboy (Texas Rescue)
4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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