Read an Excerpt
"I can't spare the time to fly to Wyoming," Susan Collins said to her administrative assistant, Bev Irwin. Susan held up the clipboard that was packed with papers. "Many of these orders require my personal attention."
"It's nothing that we can't take care of." Bev shook her head. "You haven't had any kind of vacation in ages. This would be a good compromise. You can fly to the Gold Buckle Ranch, enjoy their new spa and do a little business."
Susan didn't even look at the pamphlet Bev shoved in her hand, and began to pace. "Look, Bev, I appreciate your concern, but I have a business to run. I'll send one of our sales people to the Gold Buckle to handle whatever Emily Dixon needs in sportswear for the campers. I'll only charge her half of our cost, or I'll donate whatever she wants. Anything for the kids."
"Mrs. Dixon didn't ask for any donations. All she asked for was you," Bev insisted. "She's heard of the fund-raising you've done for physically challenged children, and wants to see what you can do for her program."
That was flattering, but she didn't raise the money for any accolades. She did it in memory of her sister, Elaine. The money went for research, for any special equipment the kids might need, for tutors and books while they were in the hospital, and for fun. All children needed to have fun. She could help a little with the fund-raising, but she didn't have time for more.
Susan sighed. Surely whatever the owner of the Gold Buckle Ranch wanted could be done by phone, fax and e-mail. She flipped through the papers on her clipboard and paced. Where was the order for uniforms from that high school marching band?
Bev handed Susan another colorful pamphlet. "You're exhausted and you know it. You need a change of scenery, Susan. You need to relax.Besides, Emily Dixon seems like the nicest lady. You'd love her."
"How on earth did she hear about me out in Wyoming?" Susan asked, stopping her pacing long enough to lean against her desk.
Bev smiled. "Mrs. Dixon also liked the fact that your company is called Winners Wear. And she loved our mottoFor Those Who Try Their Best. She said that's the very philosophy of the Gold Buckle Ranch. They try to reinforce the same goal to each of their campersto do their personal best in spite of their handicap. Isn't that terrific?"
Susan nodded. Clearly, Emily Dixon got it. Bev slid an unopened brochure across Susan's desk and began to unfold it. "You should see all the programs they have for children with different disabilitiesWheelchair Rodeo, the Gold Buckle Gang, Cowboy Quest for emotionally troubled kids who are facing legal troubles "
Susan barely listened to the litany of programs. She didn't want to turn Mrs. Dixon down, but she had plenty of competent salespeople who could handle this project.
As she looked at her to do list on the clipboard, the page began to blur. Her eyes were tired, scratchy, and she was having a hard time focusing. She didn't panic. Small things. Easily correctible with a squirt of eye drops and another cup of high octane coffee.
Bev continued to push. "Why can't you just let your very talented staff do their thing and take a break?"
Because Winners Wear was her company, and she had to be involved in every detail, that's why.
But maybe Bev was right.
Bev snapped her fingers. "Uh-oh. None of the other salespeople are free to go to Wyoming. They'll be at the big trade show in Orlando that week."
The twitch under Susan's eye returned. "I forgot about the trade show."
"Susan " Bev took a deep breath and held up the brochure. "Emily wants you to experience the essence of the ranch so you can develop a meaningful logo. She also wants cowboy-style shirts and jeans to give to the campers for each program. Then she'd like all kinds of other gear to stock a little camp store. She thinks it'll be a good fund-raiser and that the parents, caregivers and all their donors would want to buy that kind of merchandise."
Susan rubbed her forehead, feeling the start of a headache. She liked the fact that Emily Dixon chose her company, and really liked the fact that Emily was so dedicated to helping children.
Her sister, Elaine, would have loved to spend time at a place like the Gold Buckle Ranch.
Susan stood and leafed through the clipboard again, not remembering what she was looking for. "A week is too long."
Truthfully, she was exhausted. If she had enough energy to stand at the window and lookdown at the street, she'd see people pushing clothes racks from building to building. Vendors would be hawking goods from tables on the sidewalks, and shoppers looking for bargains would be haggling with them for better deals.
There was no place like New York's Garment District, and Susan loved the hustle and bustle and the energy of it all.
She'd started Winners Wear seven years ago, after her mother died. She'd bought this century old building with the money her mother had left her, her entire savings and a huge bank loan. Then she'd hired the best employees she could find, mostly eager young graduates from the city's fashion and design schools.
It had been a big gamble for her financially, but her sales staff started bringing in contractsbig contractsimmediately.
For most of the past seven years, she'd felt overwhelmed, but it had paid off. She worked hard, but she couldn't take all the credit. Everyone worked hard.
She hated to admit how tired she was. She couldn't do her best when she felt like a pile of scrap material.
Maybe she should go to Wyoming." Go and breathe some clean mountain air, boss," Bev said. "You'll come back nice and refreshed and raring to go. Don't worry about a thing here. We'll take care of everything while you're gone."
Susan took in a deep breath and let it out. Maybe it would be a good ideabefore she ended up in the hospital herself.
No thanks. She'd had enough of hospitals when her sister was alive.
"Okay. I'll go," Susan mumbled. "Not for a week, though. I'll leave this Thursday and return on Saturday. Then I have to get back here and take care of business."
Clint Scully meandered through the parking lottoward the front doors of the Mountain Springs Airport. Every now and then, he'd slow his pace even more and take a gulp of strong, black coffee from a white take-out cup.
Nothing like a perfect Wyoming day. Not too hot. Not too cold. A warm breeze and a lot of sunshine. A perfect July day to drag out a lawn chair and take a snooze in the sun. He yawned in anticipation of doing just that.
Mrs. D had promised to bake him a blueberry pie if he picked up Susan Collins at the airport. His buddy Jake Dixon had warned him about his mother's matchmaking tendencies and reminded Clint that she'd sent Jake to pick up Beth Conroy, who became Mrs. Jake Dixon, just last year.
Clint swore under his breath. If Mrs. D had any ideas about matching him up with Susan Collins, she might as well spit in the wind.
Been there. Done that. He liked his freedom too much to commit to anyone.
Once inside the terminal, he checked the monitor and saw that Susan's plane had landed a few minutes ago, so he headed for baggage claim.
"Anyone here from the Gold Buckle Ranch?" He looked around to see who was speaking, and his gaze landed on the prettiest woman he'dever seen. She was tall, slender and buzzing from person-to-person like a bee in a flower bed.
Clint grinned. That had to be Susan Collins. Her red-brown hair was done up in some kind of fancy braid. Her dark eyelashes fanned out onher cheeks like paint brushes. She was as pale as an Easter lilyshe looked as though she hadn't seen the warm kiss of the sun in years. She had on some kind of black jeansdesigner jeans. A red blouse with a vee-neckline worked for her. The vee wasn't very plungingjust deep enough to make things interesting. Strappy black sandals with a slight heel made her legs look long and slender.
He stifled a wolf whistle and approached her. Clint tweaked the brim of his hat. "I'm Clint Scully from the Gold Buckle." He stared into magnificent purple eyes. They must be colored contact lenses, he decided. No one had eyes like that." And you must be ?"
"Susan Collins." She held out her hand, giving him a strong handshake. "Are you here to drive me to the ranch?"
He enjoyed warmth of her touch and the sureness of her handshake. "At your service."
"Thank you." She studied her luggage. "Where's the skycap for these bags?"
"I can get them. There's only two," he said, flexing.
"Oh, no. They are terribly heavy, especially that one." She pointed to the bigger black suitcase. "It's stuffed with samples and a couple of my catalogs."
"No problem," Clint said, lifting up the suitcases. Damn, they were heavy. What else had she brought from New York, the Statue of Liberty?
He managed a smile instead of a groan. "No problem, darlin'. No problem t'all." He laid on the Texas accent. Ladies from the East usually loved his drawl.
"My name is Susan," she snapped. "And they wheel."
Mmm Seemed like she wasn't the Texas drawl type.
"Right this way, Susan. My truck's out front." He wheeled her luggage and tried to keep up with her pace. She was walking fast, like she was late for a meeting or something.
"I'd like to get a massage after that dreadful flight," she said. "I'm really looking forward to the spa."
The words came out in a rush. She walked fast. She talked fast.
"The spa hasn't been inspected yet. Should be soon, though."
"Inspected?" she asked.
"A father of one of our campers donated the hot tub to the ranch. He said that it'd be good relaxation for the caretakers of the children. Mr. D had it installed on the deck of the Caretaker Hotel by the baseball diamond."
She raised a perfect eyebrow. "A hot tub? But what about the spa? Massages? Facials? Wraps?"
He shook his head and looked confused. "Mrs. D is the only one who calls it a spa. Everyone else calls it a hot tub. I think there's a communication problem somewhere."
Susan closed her eyes. "I came all this way for a hot tub by a baseball diamond?" She sighed. "Wait until I tell Bev."