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"Honey, are you seeing anyone special?" Travis Bravo's mother asked.
Travis stifled a groan. He should have put off calling her back.
But he'd already done that. Twice. In a row. Aleta Bravo was a patient and understanding mom, and she got that he wasn't real big on keeping in touch. But she did have limits. After the third unreturned call, she would have started to worry. He loved his mom and he didn't want her worrying.
Besides, when Aleta Bravo started to worry, she might get his dad involved. And if his dad got involved, steps would be taken. The two of them might end up boarding a helicopter and tracking him down in the middle of the Gulf.
No joke. It could happen. His parents had money and they had connections and when they tracked you down, you got found.
So now and then, he had no choice but to call his mom back, both to keep her from worrying and to keep from getting rescued whether he needed it or not.
She was still talking, all cheerful and lovingand way too determined. "I only ask because I have several terrific women I want you to meet this time. Do you, by any chance, happen to remember my dear friend Billie Toutsell?"
He did, vaguely. Not that it mattered if he knew the woman or not. He knew what she had. Daughters.
At least one, probably two or three.
His mom continued, "Billie and I go way back. And I've met both of her girls. Brilliant, well brought up, beautiful women. Cybil and LouJo. It so happens both girls will be in town for Thanksgiving week
" In town meant in San Antonio, where his mom and dad and brothers and sisters still lived. "And I've been thinking it would be nice to invite both of them out to the ranch over the holiday weekend, maybe Friday or Saturday. What do you think?" Before he could tell heragainthat he didn't want to be set up with any of her friends' daughters, she went right on. "Maybe Billie and her girls would even like to come for Thanksgiving dinner and our reaffirmation of vows."
After forty years of marriage, his parents were reaffirming their wedding vows, which was great. They'd had some troubles in the past few years, even separated for a while. He supposed it made sense that they would want to celebrate making it through a tough time, coming out on the other side still married and happy to be together.
But did his mother have to invite him and every available single woman in south Texas to the big event?
What made him so damn special? His mother had six other sons and two daughters and they'd all been allowed to find their own wives and husbands. In fact, as of now, he was the only one who had yet to settle down. That, somehow, seemed to have triggered a burning need in her to help him find the woman for him.
Hadn't she done enough? She'd already introduced him to both of his former fiancées. Rachel, whom he'd loved with all his heart, had been killed eight years ago, run down by a drunk driver while crossing the street. He'd thought he would never get over losing her.
But then, three years later, he'd met Wanda at a family party, over the Christmas holidays. His mother and Wanda's mother were friends. He shouldn't have gotten involved with Wanda. But he had. And it had not ended well.
Evidently his mom thought the third time would be the charm. "Oh, Travis. I'm so glad you'll be there."
"Wouldn't miss it," he muttered. "But, Mom, listen. I really don't need any help finding a girlfriend."
"Well, of course you don't, but opportunity is everything. And you're always off on some oil rig somewhere. How many women are you going to meet on an oil rig?"
She didn't even let him finish his sentence. "It's been years. You have to move on. You know that." She spoke gently.
"I have moved on."
She sighed. And then she said briskly, "Well, it never hurts to meet new people. And, you know, I've recently been acting as a docenttwice a month at the Alamo. It just so happens that I met a lovely young woman there, also a docent, Ashley McFadden. I know you and Ashley would hit it off so well. She's perfect. Great personality. So smart. So funny."
Travis winced and sent a desperate glance around the lounge. He could a use a little help about now. He needed someone to rescue him from his own mom.
But rescue was not forthcoming. He was alone with a wide, dark flat-screen TV, a row of snack and drink machines, random sofas and chairs and a matched pair of ping-pong tables. Across the room, a couple of roughnecks were Wii bowling on the other TV. Neither of them even glanced his way.
Faintly all around him, he could hear pounding and mechanical noises and the mostly incomprehensible babbling from the PA system, sounds that were part of life on the Deepwater Venture, a semi-submersible oil platform fifty-seven miles off the coast of Texas.
His mother chattered on, naming off more charming young women she knew, more of the still single daughters of her endless list of women friends. He was starting to think he would just have to back out of the Thanksgiving visit, to tell her he wasn't going to be able to make it home after all.
Sorry, Mom. Something big has come up, something really big. I just can't be there
But then he heard swearing. And the swift pounding of heavy boots on the stairs. The sounds were coming closer, descending on him from the deck above.
He knew the voice: Sam Jaworski, the rig manager in charge of the drilling departmentaka the tool pusher. Sam was one of eight women on the rig. The safety officer was also a woman. And the rest worked in food service or housekeeping.
Sam, in coveralls, safety glasses and a hard hat, stomped into the lounge at full volume. She was on a roll with nonstop, semi-dirty, surprisingly imaginative language.
His mother was still talking. "So you see, I have found several fun, smart, attractive girls you'll get a chance to meet."
Sam sent him a quick acknowledging glance. He raised a hand in greeting. She gave the roughnecks a wave and then clomped over to the coffee machine. She poured herself a cup. There was a patch sewn on the right butt cheek of her coveralls. It read I Ain't Yo' Mama. She had to stop swearing to take a big swig of coffee.
But as soon as she swallowed, she was at it again. "And then dunk his sorry, skinny ass in a burnin' barrel of bubbling black crude
Travis grinned for the first time since he'd picked up the phone to call his mom. Sam's swearing was always more enthusiastic than obscene. And it never failed to make him smile.
And then he said, without even stopping to consider the possible consequences, "Mom, I already have a girl." He held back a chuckle. Well, sort of a girl.
Sam took off her hard hat and safety glasses, turned toward him and propped a hip against the counter. She slurped up a big sip of coffeeand swore some more.
On the other end of the line, his mom let out a delighted trill of laughter. "Travis, how wonderful. Why didn't you say so?"
"Well, Mom, you haven't exactly let me get a word in edgewise."
"Oh, honey." She was instantly regretful. "I'm sorry. I was just so glad to hear from you. And I wanted to.
Well, it doesn't matter now. Forgive me for being a poor listener?"
"You know I do."
She asked eagerly, "What's her name? Do I know her?"
More choice expletives from Sam. He turned to the wall, cupped his hand around the mouthpiece of the phone, and told his mother, "Samantha, Mom. Saman-tha Jaworskiand no, you don't."
His mother made a thoughtful sound. "But you've mentioned her often, haven't you, over the years?"
"Yeah, Mom. I've mentioned her." He'd known Sam for more than a decade now.
"And she's nice, isn't she? You two have been friends for a long time, as I recall."
"Yeah, we have. And she's
she's lovely." He slanted a glance at Sam as she sniffed and rubbed her nose with the back of her grease-smeared hand. "Very delicate."
Sam stood six feet tall and she was stronger than most men. She had to be, to get where she'd gotten in the oil business. Most tool pushers were older than she was. And male.
On a rig, the buck stopped at the tool pusher. Sam was on the drilling-contractor payroll. She did everything from making sure work schedules were met to setting up machines and equipment. She prepared production reports. She recommended hirings and firings and decided who was ready for promotion. She supervised and she coordinated. She trained workers in their duties and in safety procedures. She requisitioned materials and supplies. And if it came right down to it, she could haul and connect pipe with the best of them.
On this job, Travis had had the pleasure of working closely with her. He was the company man, paid to represent the interests of the oil company South Texas Oil Industries. Some pushers didn't get along with the company man. They didn't like being answerable to the exploration and operation end of the business. Sam didn't have that problem. She not only had her men's respect, but she also worked well with others.
She was an amazing woman, Sam Jaworski. But delicate?
Not in the least.
"I get it now," his mother said. "I've been chattering away and the whole time you've been trying to tell me that you're bringing her to Thanksgiving, to the reaffirmation of our vows."
Crap. He should have seen that coming. Suddenly, his little private joke took on scary ramifications. "Uh, well."
"Honey, I understand how it's been for you." She didn't, not really. But he knew she meant well. She kept on, "You've been
hurt and let down before. I can see where you might be afraid to let it get serious with Sa-mantha. But that's all right. Just ask her to come with you. Just take that step."
" He stalled some more, grasping for the right words, the magic words that would get his mother off his back about this once and for all. Those words didn't come. "Mom, really, I don't think that's a good idea." "Why not?"
"I just don't, okay?"
His mom finally gave it up. "All right, if you don't want to invite her, if your relationship hasn't gotten to that point yet, well, all right." She sighed. And then she brightened and teased, "At least Cybil and LouJo and Ashley will be happy to know they still have a chance."
Trapped. His gut churned and his pulse pounded. And then he heard himself say, "As a matter of fact, Sam and I are engaged."
It just kind of popped out. He blinked at the wall. Had he really said that?
His mother cried out in joy. "Travis, how wonderful! I can't believe you didn't tell me until now."
Had Sam heard him say that? He sent the tall, broad-shouldered woman in the grease-streaked coveralls another furtive glance. Uh-uh. She'd turned back to the sink to wash her hands. As he faced the wall once more, he heard her rip a paper towel off the roll.
He looked again. Clomp, clomp, clomp. Coffee mug in hand, she sauntered over to the nearer TV and grabbed the remote. The screen came alive and she started channel surfing.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the line, his mother was on the case. "And that settles it. You must bring her with you. I won't take no for an answer, not now."
He stared at Sam's I Ain't Yo' Mama backside, at her short brown hair, creased tight to her skull from the hard hat's inner band, at her big steel-toed boots. Had he lost his mind? There was no win in lying to his momes-pecially not about being engaged. "Uh, well."
"Please, Travis, invite her. I'm so happy for you. And you know we're all going to want to meet her."
"Please." Her voice was so gentle. And hopeful. And maybe even somewhat sadas though she knew that in the end, he was going to disappoint her, that Sam would not be coming with him, no matter what his mother said to encourage him to bring her.
Now he felt like a complete jerk. For lying about
Sam. For disappointing his mom. For everything. "Look, Mom. I'll
check with Sam, okay?"
Dear God in heaven. Where had that come from? Bad, bad idea.
"Oh, Travis." His mom was suddenly sounding happy again. "That's wonderful. We'll be expecting both of you, then."
What the hell? "Uh, no. Wait, really. You can't start expecting anything. I said I would ask her."
"And I just know she'll say yes. Two weeks from today, as planned. Love you. Bye now."
"Mom. I mean it. Don't
" But it was no good. She'd already hung up.
He took the phone away from his ear and gave it a dirty look. Then he started to call her backbut stopped in mid-dial.
Why ask for more trouble? Hadn't he gotten himself plenty already?
Grumbling under his breath, he snagged the phone back onto the wall mount, yanked out a chair at the table a few feet away and dropped into it.