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"I NEED YOU, Casey T."
Casey Kent knew of only one person in the world who called her by that nickname. Her father. A man who'd always gone out of his way to make it abundantly clear he didn't need anyone. Especially not a daughter, who should have been a son. A son worthy of taking over the Willow Creek ranch.
Casey took a calming breath and maneuvered her chair closer to her desk. She nudged aside the brief she'd been studying and rested her elbow on the smooth surface. A neat desk was part of her trademark as an organizational wizard. "Hello, Red, what's up?"
"We're under attack," he answered. His voice was the same gruff bass she'd heard her whole life. But something was different.
Was that a twang of fear? No, couldn't be. Roderick James Buchanan or, Red as he was called, wasn't afraid of anything or anybody.
Her Aunt Meg used to say the only person her father feared was Casey's mother, but since Abigail had died when Casey was six, she had no real memory of her parents' relationship. She only knew her father. A man she'd worshipped and adored until he'd washed his hands of her.
"What kind of attack?" she asked to be polite. Her father's troubles really didn't concern her. He'd sent her away when she was fifteen. Banished her from the world she knew and loved and shipped her off to Boston to live with her maternal aunt.
Margaret Dawson-Merryweather had been quick to admit that she wasn't the motherly type. Smart, savvy and socially ambitious, Meg's life had revolved around her politician husband, their A-list friends and her charitable foundations. But when Senator Merryweather, who was nearly twenty years Meg's senior, hadpassed away after a brief illness, Red had been all too happy to send his daughter back east to fill the empty spot in Meg's life.
After a few months of thinking she might die of homesickness, Casey had accepted her fate and grudgingly allowed Meg, who had never been around teenagers in her life, to turn her tomboy niece into a refined woman of the world.
Did Casey still miss the fifteen-hundred-acre ranch in the Central Valley of California where she'd spent her formative years? On occasion. Like whenever she heard her father's voice.
"You're still running cattle, right?" she asked before he could reply. "It's not Mad Cow, is it?" As an environmental lawyer working with one of the largest nonprofit land protection consortiums in the country, anything that affected the herd population in California would have repercussions.
"No, nothing like that," Red said impatiently.
"It's those goldang turkeys. We're gonna be overrun with 'em, if you don't git your behind out here and do something about it."
Turkeys? Casey frowned. Was it possible her father's mind was slipping? This was only April--half a year away from Thanksgiving.
"You've lost me. What about turkeys?"
He made a huffing sound that seemed to imply she was the slowest thinker on the planet. A surge of acid in her belly made her reach for the roll of antacids tucked unobtrusively in her paper-clip tray. Rocking back in her chair, she peeled away the wrapper and worked one free. Good for my calcium, she told herself. Another voice worried about the possibility of an ulcer. That practical Boston twang sounded a lot like Meg, who had been gone almost three years now. Casey still missed her.
"Some big turkey outfit bought the Booth Ranch. Word has it they're going to build the biggest turkey holding pen in the state right across the road from me. Can you picture the smell?"
How does one picture smell?
She shook her head to focus on what he meant. Lately, she'd developed a bad habit of making light of serious subjects--or so her husband claimed. "Is everything a joke with you, Casey?" Nathan had griped last night. "This is our life we're trying to plan."
Ours? Or yours? she'd been tempted to ask. Nathan Kent was on a professional roll. His latest win in court, which had made national news and posted Nathan's young-Richard-Gere-in-glasses photo all over the place, was well deserved. She could firmly attest to the number of hours he'd logged on his client's behalf. And the payoff, it appeared, was a golden ticket west.
Despite the fact Casey had made it abundantly clear from the day they'd started dating that she didn't want to return to California to live, Nathan had accepted his law firm's offer to run their San Francisco branch. "It's the only way I'll make partner, Casey. We'll be closer to Oregon and Washington. Didn't you say you were interested in looking there to live if we left the east coast? And the salary increase means you'll be able to stay home and nest for as long as you want," he'd argued. Nathan was a masterful debater.
Returning to the conversation at hand, she asked, "How do you know this?"
"How does anybody know anything around here? Someone blabbed. But in this case, it's not just a rumor. I saw the paperwork myself. They have an application in with the county. Somebody showed me a picture of one of their operations down south. The hatcheries are big enough to be seen from space. They process something like half a million birds per cycle."
He said the last as if they were talking nuclear weapon production. "That does sound like a lot of turkeys, but turkeys are a legitimate agricultural product. People have a right to build on land that's zoned agricultural. Sometimes, that stinks."
"That's the best you can do, Miss Fancy-pants College Educated Lawyer?" her father shouted. "Ag stinks. Live with it? I don't think so. I was here first. I just planted a quarter section of nut trees. I'm not going to watch my investment get ruined by the smell created from half a million turkeys. I'll fight them with my dying breath."
His impassioned speech forced Casey to hold the receiver a good six inches away from her ear. When she thought it was safe, she tried again. "I can tell you're upset about this and I'm sorry, but I don't know what you expect me to do about it. I'm in the middle of a move. Life is chaotic around here."
"You're headed back to California, aren't you?"
An uneasy feeling crept through her bones. "San Francisco. Is that still considered part of the state?"
"Close enough. And last I heard your husband is going to be the breadwinner while you sit twiddling your thumbs."
"I've never twiddled in my life," Casey said indignantly.
She hadn't told her father about hers and Nathan's ongoing efforts to get pregnant. For several reasons. One, she and Red weren't close, and even if they were she would have held off sharing the news for as long as possible so he wouldn't worry.
But after a year and a half of working with a prominent group of fertility specialists, their efforts had been a bust--sperm and eggwise. "You're both operating under too much tension," one counselor had suggested.
Nathan was right. His promotion meant Casey didn't have to work. Unfortunately, the downside could well offset that small gain. Although closer to his quest of making partner, Nathan's job came with no guarantees. He'd need to put in long hours--hours that might further impede his sluggish sperm's swimming abilities.
Plus, there was the whole question of family. His and hers.
Nathan's mother, a widow since shortly before Nathan had graduated from high school, lived in Granite Bay, an affluent suburb of Sacramento. His younger brother, Kirby, was a graduate student at UC-Davis and sister, Christine, was married and lived close by. All three relied on Nathan for free legal advice, monetary support and emotional comfort. Casey shuddered to think how much more dependent his family would become once Nathan was within driving distance.
Casey had felt rather smug that her father was self-sufficient enough never to ask for advice--legal or otherwise. But that was before the turkeys came to roost.
When Casey had argued that returning to California meant she and Nathan would be in their family's respective backyards, her husband had tried to point out the positives. "You and Mother have never been able to build a real relationship, and it's time you healed the rift between you and Red. They're going to be our baby's grandparents, you know."
Casey put a hand to her much-too-flat belly as her father complained about her unenthusiastic response to his call to arms. "I tried you first, since you're my daughter, and this is your heritage we're talking about. But if that's the best you can give me, I'll call your husband instead."
Casey sat up sharply. "Don't do that. Nathan is swamped with last-minute details. His company is throwing him a going-away party tonight and the movers come in the morning. We're staying at a hotel this weekend then fly out Tuesday."
"The planning department hearing isn't until the twenty-fourth of May. That'll give you plenty of time to unpack and read up on it. Where should I send the paperwork?"
To your real lawyer, she almost said, but she knew the joke would be lost on him. Casey was a girl. She might have graduated at the top of her class and passed the bar the first time out, but girls didn't have the same stuff guys did. Her father was a misogynistic old fool, and she knew better than to let his bias get to her.