But That Was Yesterday

But That Was Yesterday

Kathleen Eagle

May 2015 $13.95
ISBN: 9781611946284

Can he live up to her dreams?

Our PriceUS$13.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Blurb

Sage Parker dragged himself up from an alcoholic pit and now focuses on rebuilding his ranch on the Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. He’s rebuilding his life and helping others do the same by forming a recovery group that honors the Lakota tradition of seeking the Red Road, walking in a good way. And Sage knows his way around roads. Ranching is his hope for the future, but road construction pays the bills now.

Into his life walks Megan McBride, white and blond and idealistic. She’s an engineer; she’s there to build a much-needed road on the reservation. Sage struggles with his attraction to her just as he battles his addiction—one day at a time.

They’re from different worlds. He’s embracing the tribal heart, defending his people from the forces that threaten to destroy them. There’s no way she’ll stay with a lightning rod like him, once her job is done. And yet she’s the courageous soul mate he’s always wanted—and exactly what he needs.

Their slow, simmering, red-hot romance builds to a heart-wrenching question—what happens if he can’t live up to his ideals and her dreams?


Coming soon!



SAGE PARKER hated being locked up. He clenched his jaw when he heard the steel door clank shut behind his back. More than one judge had declared just the sound to be enough to convince a man to mend his ways. It was a sound that chilled the blood, all right. That sound, com­bined with the taste of stale cigarette smoke and the smell of dirty socks, never failed to start his gut churning. But neither the sound nor any part of this place had ever convinced him to do anything.

Sage glanced over his shoulder at the man in uniform, who jangled the keys on the big key ring and jerked his chin toward the cot near the far wall. "He’s got ten minutes before he goes to court, Sage. You know the drill.”

Sage knew it well. He nodded as he shoved his hands into the pock­ets of jeans faded honestly through years of wear. No matter how many times he’d been here, no matter what the circumstances, it never got any easier. He dragged his boot heels against the cement floor as he ap­proached the cot.

"How’re you doing, Jackie?”

The man sitting on the cot had heard the sound of the cell door, too, but he didn’t budge. He hung his head, stared at the patch of floor between his feet, and hugged himself around the middle. The question went unanswered.

Sage looked down at the top of the man’s head and struggled against the urge to turn around and walk out. This was the drunk he most hated seeing—the one who had fallen off the wagon after a period of sobriety. It had disgusted him at first, but he knew the feeling was a cover-up. Truly, it scared the hell out of him. Finally, it humbled him. He laid a hand on Jackie’s shoulder and sat beside him on the cot.

"Got the shakes, huh?” Jackie didn’t have to answer that question, ei­ther. Sage felt the man’s tremors under his hand. The tribal judge would commit Jackie to a detoxification program, but shock was a dan­ger at the moment. "Are you going to make it, Jackie?”

Jackie shook his head slowly. "I dunno, Sage. Idunno. I don’t feel too good. I just dunno.” The litany became a hoarse whisper.

With a glance, Sage acknowledged the watchful eye of the closed-circuit camera. The officer at the front desk had seen the bulge of the airplane bottle Sage carried in his breast pocket when he made calls like this. Nothing was said. There was a tacit understanding that Sage Parker knew what he was doing. He drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"You think a shot would straighten you out enough to get you to de­tox?”

Jackie turned his head and let Sage see the hope his words had sparked in bleary, bloodshot eyes. Sage scorned that false hope, but he couldn’t help sympathizing with the man for being sucked in by it. He pulled the bottle from his breast pocket and broke the seal. About a shot and a half—enough to share—and it was a good brand. Sage had always bought the best when he was buying. He tipped the bottle to Jackie’s lips and administered the gin carefully. A dose of medicine. Jackie reached up, but Sage held the bottle tightly, pulling it away as Jackie swallowed.

"Thanks.” Jackie wiped his mouth with the back of a shaky hand. "The rest of that’s just gonna go to waste, Sage.”

"Yeah, well . . .” Sage lifted a shoulder as he capped the bottle. "Bet­ter to waste the gin than get wasted ourselves.” He slipped the bottle back into his pocket and gripped Jackie’s shoulder again. "Right, buddy?” Jackie nodded dumbly. "You’ll stop shaking in a minute.”

"For a while, at least.”

"Yes,” Sage said quietly. "For a while.”

The keys rattled in the lock again, and both men looked up. "Time to face the music, Jackie.”

Sage helped Jackie to his feet. The handcuffs were always the worst part. The clicking sound pinched his heart.

"Think he’ll be okay for an hour or so?” the officer asked Sage.

"He won’t make it through any lectures from the judge.”

"You’ve heard ’em all, anyway,” said the policeman with a laugh. "Ha­ven’t you, Jackie?”

Jackie cast a soulful look over his shoulder. "I’m sorry, Sage. I met up with a couple guys I haven’t seen in a while. Just wanted to hang out.” He gave a tremulous sigh. "Six months down the tubes now, huh?”

"You’ll start over.” Sage nodded toward the open door. "First things first, Jackie. We’ll be waiting for you.”

"I was doin’ good, though, wasn’t I?”

"You were doing great.”

Jackie squared his shoulders and crossed the threshold with his es­cort. "See? I was doin’ great.”

"You weren’t doing so great when they picked you up last night,” the officer had to remind him.

Sage was glad to walk out of the cell. He put his hand over his breast pocket as he watched the man in uniform lead Jackie down the hall. He could feel the heat of the liquid burning his hand through the glass and the cotton cloth. No matter how vehemently he denied it, the old long­ing nagged at the weaker part of his brain. He gave the men’s room door a hard shove and strode to the sink to pour the rest of the stuff out. He never carried a bottle with a broken seal, and he never tossed a loaded bottle, not even the single-shot model. He rinsed it out before he dropped it in the trash. If he’d left any corners, it was only water, which couldn’t hurt anybody. Sage was thorough. He had to be. He was responsi­ble for his own actions, and he had the weaker part of his brain to consider.

Chapter 1

SUN-BRONZED AND bare to the waist, the man wielding the jack­hammer was an arresting sight. His flesh vibrated as though charged by the power he held in his grip. A red bandanna kept the sweat out of his eyes, but his body was beaded with it, and the moisture glistened like the mica in a granite road cut in the South Dakota sun. Small beads gathered in the valley mid-chest, forming a rivulet that made a quick run to the sleek plane of his abdomen and disappeared into his jeans.

Megan’s gaze skittered over the power tool framed by the man’s flexed-knee stance. Its bit gouged without mercy at the face of bedrock that had been gauged, sampled, and declared by Megan McBride to be in the way of progress. She wondered how this man felt about changing the face of the earth. After all, he was an Indian—Native American, she amended mentally—and traditionally they resented the kinds of changes she was in the business of making. Perhaps it didn’t offend him too much. He was doing his job and doing it well. If he had any sense that he was being watched, he gave no indication of it as he concentrated on his work.

"Sage Parker.”

Megan jumped at the words shouted close to her ear. She turned a questioning look at the older man who stood behind her shoulder. Didn’t Bob think she knew the names of the men on her crew by now? "Good man,” Bob said. "Let’s go back to the trailer where we can talk.”

The noise level wouldn’t be much better in the mobile office, but at least it would be possible to talk there. The machine-gun rattle of the jackhammer became distant as they made their way down a steep grade, turning their feet sideways to keep from sliding. Bob Krueger was a gentleman of the old school, prepared to offer Megan a hand despite the fact that her young body handled this activity far more gracefully than his older one did, but her guarded glance put the brakes on his impulse. She was the engineer in charge of a road construction project with an all-male crew. She was mindful of watching her step.

She noted the progress of the big yellow earthmovers. The opera­tors monitored one another, each challenging himself to move more dirt than the other. It was a form of competition that kept an otherwise tedious job interesting. They would blast through more rock before the day was out, and if all went well, they would remain on schedule.

"How’re you getting along with Taylor?” Bob offered the question af­ter they’d closed the trailer door and shut the worst of the dust outside.

Megan eyed her foreman’s desk. He wasn’t much of a recordkeeper, and the desk showed little sign of organized use.

"So far, so good,” she said. "But, in his mind, I think the project is yours, and I’m just a messenger.”

Bob sat on the corner of Megan’s desk, clear of all but two file fold­ers and a clipboard. She was careful to protect her work from the fine dust that was always in the air on a construction site.

"For all intents and purposes, this is your project, Megan. Has Taylor challenged your authority in any way?” Bob asked. He was a veteran of the Highway Department and a man with enough experience to know that skill was the measure of a good highway engineer.

"Not yet,” Megan said as she pulled out a file drawer. "But I think he’d like to. Whenever we talk, I get the feeling there’s one more thing he wants to say, but he decides he hasn’t quite got me figured out well enough to risk it.”

"Are you ready with a response?”

She withdrew a folder and gave the older man a smile. "How long have you known me, Bob?”

"Since you started with the highway department. What was it? Five—six years ago?”

"Eight, if you count my summers on the survey crew.” She raised an eyebrow as she slid the drawer shut. "I’ll admit I didn’t always have a ready response in those days, but since then I’ve regularly updated my repertoire.”

"Loaded with classics, I’m sure.”

Megan laughed. "Whatever brings the most respect. With these guys, that’s likely to be honky-tonk rather than classical.”

Bob chuckled as Megan handed him the folder. He flipped it open. "Anyone else causing you any problems?” She was his protégé, and he wanted this project to go well almost as much as she did.

"Not really. Not . . . seriously.” Bob glanced up from the first page of her report and waited for a follow-up. She folded her arms and leaned back against the edge of the desk. "A couple of the men seem to have trouble getting themselves to work sometimes.”

"Transportation problems?”

She lifted her shoulder. "They’ve offered that as an excuse once or twice.”

"Are they pals with Taylor or something?”

Megan chortled. "Hardly.”

"It doesn’t matter. A lot of guys are looking for work, Megan. Don’t put up with any—”

"Taylor would like to fire them.” With a look, she told him how un­comfortable she was with the problem. "We had very few applications from Native Americans, and I don’t want to fire the ones we’ve got. They’re good workers, but there are two men, one in particular . . .”

"Not Parker, I hope.”

Megan shook her head quickly. "No, Parker’s completely reliable.”

Bob nodded and smiled. "Parker’s the best man on your crew. I’d hate to hear he wasn’t making it to work.”

Visions of the man flashed through Megan’s mind. Parker could han­dle almost any job on the site, from heavy equipment to explosives. In her business, she saw brawny, sweaty men all the time. It was Sage Parker’s versatility that caught her attention, not his virility. Reliability, versatility—attributes that mattered. His good looks were part of the vision, sure—visions were visual—but the part of the vision that mat­tered was the work that was getting done.

"So why don’t you see if he can help you with the others?”

Megan frowned. "Who? Parker?”

"If you’re not ready to fire these guys, you might get some ideas on how to handle them from Parker. I hear he’s got some kind of recovery program going on the reservation.”

"Recovery program?” She pronounced the words as though they were part of a foreign tongue.

"For alcoholism.”

"Nobody said these men had a drinking problem, and I haven’t seen any reason to . . .” She folded her arms. "I’m not jumping to any conclusions.”

"Of course you’re not,” Bob said calmly. "Neither am I. I’m sug­gest­ing you let Parker in on your concern and see what he’s got to say. I’ve worked with him off and on over the years. He’s put down a lot of miles.”

"You don’t think he’d . . . take offense?”

"You’re the boss here, Megan. And you’re the only woman.” Bob nodded toward the door and offered a conspiratorial grin. "For the most part these guys are worried about offending you.

WHENEVER KARL Taylor went to the office, there were bets taken. One of these days he was bound to make the same kind of remark to McBride’s face as he made behind her back, and one of them was going to come flying out the door. Some said the lady would flee in tears. Others thought she’d kick Taylor out on his ass. Either way, Sage en­joyed the suspense right along with the rest of the crew. They were disap­pointed once again when Taylor emerged at quitting time and closed the door behind him.

"Hey, it’s time to knock off for the day!” he announced. "What’s eve­rybody standing around here for? How about a stop at the Red Rooster?”

Sage only half-listened as he buttoned his shirt, calculating the dis­tance between his sweaty body and his shower. He tossed his leather gloves on the pickup seat and dug into his pocket for keys. He smiled when he noticed the way the stiffened gloves had landed, with the fin­gers curled and clawing at the air. Great for a movie, he thought. Ravaging Gloves.

"Hey, Sage.”

Sage turned his head toward the hand on his shoulder and looked up at Scott Allen’s friendly, sunburned face. "Come on over to the Rooster with us. Let’s you and me play some pool.”

"Some other time, man. I’ve got horses standing around a dry stock tank right about now.”

"Gotta take some time off once in a while.” Scott gave Sage a part­ing pat on the shoulder. "You work too hard, buddy.”

"Making up for lost time,” was the reply Sage regularly gave to that comment, but he knew few people really understood what it meant.

"Parker!” Taylor’s voice brought Sage around again, this time more slowly. He needed the extra seconds to call up his patience. "Boss lady wants to see you before you take off.” Taylor snatched off his cap and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. He chuckled as he put it back on and adjusted the bill. "Ain’t that a crock? My wife’s the only ‘boss lady’ I ever expected to answer to, and there’s no way in hell she’d take on a job like this.”

"Thought you said your wife used to flag,” Scott said.

"Back when she was husband hunting. Now she’s home raising kids.”

Sage stuffed his shirttails into his jeans and slammed his pickup door. He’d heard enough of Taylor’s wisdom on women. He wanted to tell the ruddy-faced foreman that spouting that kind of crap on this particular job was a sure sign of his insecurity, but Sage needed the work. The fact that the engineer on the project was a woman didn’t bother him. Being summoned to the boss’s office was another matter.

"Hey, Sage, why don’t you stop in for something cold to drink?” an­other man asked as he walked by.

"I already asked him, Randy. He’s gotta get home.”

Sage offered the two young men a smile and lifted a forefinger as he walked past their pickup. "You have one for me, Randy. Just one.”

"The legend lives on,” Scott teased. "You entered up in the bronc riding this weekend, Sage? I’d like to have a chance to beat you out, just once.”

Sage laughed. "You wish. The legend lives on because I know when to quit. You guys take it easy.”

Sage lifted the bandanna from his head, raked his fingers through his hair, wadded the cloth and stuck it in his back pocket. The metal steps wobbled under his work boots as he took a deep breath and reached for the doorknob. He’d turned this summons over in his mind several times, and he couldn’t come up with a reason for it. He’d been doing his job. He’d done every task Taylor had tossed at him, and he’d never been late for work. But experience told him that being called to the office generally meant he was about to be reprimanded, and he’d never handled that well.

When McBride looked up from the chart on her desk and smiled, his first thought was, Don’t do that, lady. It makes you look too damn cute.

On second thought, hadn’t he outgrown that first thought?

"Taylor said you wanted to see me.”

"Yes. I know it’s time to go home, and I promise not to keep you long.” She rose from her chair and moved to the front of the desk.

Sage stood about as close to her now as he’d ever been, and it oc­curred to him that he hadn’t noticed how small she was. She wore her honey-blond hair cropped short in back and styled longer on top. He didn’t see any makeup, and the clarity in those deep blue eyes made him uneasy. It wasn’t a look he could deal with. There was nothing hazy or frosty or even provocative about it. Her eyes were simply bright and clear.

"Bob Krueger was here today. He’s pleased with our progress.” She folded her arms and leaned back against the desk. There was nothing feminine about her khaki jumpsuit—except maybe the way she had the collar turned up in the back—or her lace-up work boots, besides the fact that they were the smallest pair he’d ever seen. Sage shoved his hands into his pockets and waited for her to come to the point. "He had high praise for you.”

But? "I’ve worked on a few of Bob’s projects.”

"So he said. You seem to be trained for every job on the site.”

"I’ve had a lot of experience in highway construction.”

"Are you an engineer, too?”

He returned her level gaze. "I’ve had some vocational training, but I’ve never been to college.” He jerked his chin toward a cabinet. "That’s all in your files. Somebody decided I was qualified for this job, and they hired me.”

"I think you’re overqualified, Sage. You should have applied for fore­man.”

Sage scowled. What was this all about, anyway? "We’ve got a fore­man on this project, and you’re the engineer. My paycheck’s the same whether I set charges or operate a blade.”

"I just want you to know the opportunity’s there the next time you ap­ply. Bob thinks very highly of you.”

Sage drew his hands out of his pockets slowly as he struggled to fit the pieces of this conversation together. That clarity he’d seen in her eyes might have been misleading.

"Am I being fired from this project, or what?”

"Of course not. I just wanted to pass Bob’s compliment on to the per­son who should hear it, and then . . .” She raised her eyebrows in a kind of confession. "I wanted to ask for a favor.”

"A favor?”

She braced her hands on the desk at either side of her hips. The suit she wore gave no hint of the shape of those hips, but the crisp cotton fabric had stretched across her thighs when she leaned back. It wasn’t the first time he’d caught himself wondering about those thighs.

"Advice, really,” she said. "I don’t know what to do about Jackie Flying Elk. He hasn’t been to work for two days, and Karl wants to fire him.”

Sage drew a long breath and released it slowly. He had to remind him­self that, yes, Jackie was also a concern of his. He’d taken four hours’ leave on Jackie’s account. But his concern wasn’t the same as his business, and the man was responsible for his own job. This woman had called him in here to talk about one of her employees just because he was Lakota.

She paused for about two seconds, but Sage made no comment.

"Jackie is very good at his job, and I don’t want to fire him.”

She waited another two seconds. Was he supposed to thank her?

"I’d like to give him another chance. He’s got to get back here tomor­row or have a good excuse, Sage. I can’t—”

"Why are you telling me this?”

"Well . . .” She glanced down at her knees. She knew it was a good question, and he wondered how long it would take her to come up with a straight answer. "I can’t find a phone number for him.”

"He doesn’t have a phone. I can tell you where he lives.” Not the re­sponse she was looking for. The look told him he hadn’t been wrong about those eyes. They hid nothing.

"I thought maybe you could talk to him. You’re friends, aren’t you?”

"Of course. Jackie Flying Elk, Gary Little Bird, Lawrence Archam­bault. Who else have you got? We’re all buddies. I even get along pretty good with some of the white guys on the crew.”

The woman pushed her fingers through her hair and cast a glance at the ceiling. Now he’d done it.

"I’m going about this all wrong.” She braced her hands against the desk again. "I was hoping you’d talk to Jackie. Tell him to come back to work tomorrow. I don’t know what else to do.”

Sage shrugged. "If Jackie’s run out of chances, you do what you have to.” And he wouldn’t be making any suggestions.

"I’m trying to be fair.” Cornered, McBride bristled like a cat, but there would be no hissing. She collected herself almost instantly, and her all-biz tone never wavered. "I’ve wondered. . . . It’s possible that Jackie has a drinking problem, and if he does—”

"It’s also possible that I have a drinking problem.” And probable that she’d heard all about it.

"If you do, it doesn’t interfere with your work.” Her fur was up again. "In Jackie’s case, it will mean the loss of his job. He’s definitely letting it get out of hand if it’s . . . if it’swhat I think it is.”

"You’re very perceptive, Miss McBride. It does sound like Jackie might have a problem.” He might as well take what pleasure he could from this conversation. She was every bit asuncomfortable now as he’d been when he’d first come through the door. "I can’t solve it for him.”

"All I’m asking you to do,” she said carefully, "is talk to him. Tell him to be here at eight tomorrow morning.”

"Jackie won’t make it to work tomorrow, and no amount of talk is going to change that.”

Megan’s shoulders sagged, and she looked as though he’d just sur­prised her with an unexpected checkmate. "Why not?”

"Because he’s sick, Miss McBride.”

"Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place? If he’s sick—”

"He was drunk. Now he’s sick. It takes a while to dry out.”

She would have kept the desk between them, but his answer surprised her. All she wanted to hear was, sure, I can talk to him. Just that. But he was standing there telling her things that made her uneasy, and there was no emotion whatever in his dark eyes. If she had her desk and her charts and her aerial photographs spread out between them, she would feel stronger. She thought of Jackie, who worked like a beaver and kept the crew laughing at his jokes. "Is he in jail?”

"He’s in a detoxification unit.”

"Could we call that a hospital?”

"You can call it whatever you want. They have some medical people on call.” He glanced away. "Shouldn’t’ve said anything.”

"Would they be able to give me any indication of how long—”

"Look, you’re not gonna know what they can tell you unless you call and ask.” He lifted one corner of his mouth in a humorless smile. "You don’t have to risk actually setting foot on Big Thunder soil, Miss McBride. The detox unit has a phone.”

"I have been to the reservation,” she said patiently. "Please under­stand that Jackie’s problem bears no reflection on the Native American members of our crew. Anyone who misses work without calling in gets a warning, a reprimand, and then—”

"He gets canned. If you have a policy, why aren’t you sticking to it?”

Megan came away from the desk and took a stance that said she might be willing to square off with this man in defense of the poor man she’d hoped he would defend. "I believe the circumstances might be mitigating,” she said.

"In what way?”

"He . . .” Pick something, she told herself. "You said yourself Jackie doesn’t have a phone.”

"So I did.”

"And you said he was sick.”

He’d said it once. His level stare said he hadn’t changed his mind.

"Illness is a valid excuse for missing work.”

"So there you have it.” Half smiling, he raised his brow. "Your prob­lem is solved.”

"But for how long?”

"Good question.” Sage had been standing over a jackhammer most of the day. He decided Taylor owed him a seat, so he sat on the foreman’s desk. "What are you going to do about Gary Little Bird?”

"He’s not as bad. He’s only missed one day without calling in. He got a warning.”

"You must have forgiven the day he came to work an hour late.”

"He had car trouble.”

"Did he?” He folded his arms across his chest. "Did you know that before this weekend, Jackie hadn’t had a drink in six months?”

"But he’s—”

"Missed work. I know. Because he drives an Indian car.” He lifted one shoulder. "Or should I say Native American?Probably came out of Detroit. We buy American made, American used. Before the summer’s over, my pickup will be sitting along the road halfway between my place and here, and I’ll be tinkering under the hood for most of the morning. It’s heated up on me twice in the last week.”

"If that happens—”

"You’ll dock me. That’s the policy.” He stood up and tucked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. "Look, Miss McBride, I’m sure you mean well. You know, by rights it’s Taylor who runs the crew. I’ll do what I can for Jackie, but that doesn’t include taking care of him on the job. I suggest you make that call and pump them for answers.”

On impulse, Megan offered a handshake.

"Thank you for your time, Sage. I’ve learned a great deal, and I hope you didn’t feel like I was being . . .” Her hand disappeared in his. She knew because she looked. He didn’t squeeze, didn’t shake, merely closed his big hand around her small one. It felt so good that she lost her train of thought and had to miss one or two beats before she could wind the meeting up on the appropriate high note. "Bob Krueger did say you were the best man I had on this crew. I thought you should know that.”

Sage nodded, released her hand, and left without another word.

HIS FAMILY HAD lived on the western side of Big Thunder Indian Reservation for at least five generations. Before that, they had been part of the nomadic Lakota people, also known as west river Sioux. They were not related to the Comanche Parkers, but he was often asked if the famous Quanah Parker had been an ancestor. So far as he knew, he had no famous ancestors. His great-grandmother had married a mixed-blood named Parker, who had given her his name and his child and then wandered away.

Sage turned his battered blue pickup at the approach to his part of Parker land and drove between the two huge posts that had been set there in better days. The crossbar had fallen some time ago. Sage had set a goal for himself. When he owned a hundred head of cattle outright, he would put up another crossbar and hang a sign. With a hundred head, he could call his place a ranch again.

His piece of prairie bordered some of the most scenic land east of the Black Hills—the South Dakota Badlands. The government had once ceded all this land to the Lakota, including the Black Hills, but gold had been discovered, and the Hills had been seized once white occupation had become an accomplished fact. The Lakota were assigned to various Dakota Territory reservations, which shrank in size over the years. Sage’s people had been given a site within teasing reach of the sacred Hills. The Badlands had been a farcical substitute.

Later, the government decided that the Badlands were unique in their own way, and Badlands National Park was created. It had the look of terrain from a science fiction film. Tourists remarked that it certainly was stark, beautiful, bad land, and they traveled on to the Black Hills to see the faces of the presidents. Sage leased government land, the land that had once been part of Big Thunder but was now called "public domain,” and his stock grazed it. Even through his darkest days, he had managed to salvage his claim to the land.

He’d lost his home, but he was feeling no pain by the time he’d stepped aside and watched a truck haul it away. The pain came later. Not much later, but much pain. Now, he was replacing the double-wide he’d shared with his family with a house, and he was building it himself, board by board.

He parked the pickup near the barn and peered between the corral rails. There stood the five horses for whom the roar of the blue pickup was a call to dinner. Sage was glad to see them, too. He remembered the day six years ago when he’d sold the last of his horses. It had been like selling his soul. His uncle Vern bought the last two, and he’d given Sage a terrible look of pity as he’d led them away. Sage never wanted to see that look again, and he’d vowed to feed his horses at least as well as he fed himself.

He balanced himself on the top of the corral, anchoring his boot heels on the second rail. At his back, the five horses ground their oats with teeth that were as efficient as any millstone. It made good music, a rich, rhythmical sound. His father had measured his own success by the number of horses he’d owned. Sage lifted his head toward the eastern horizon and watched his cows amble over the hill in single file, following the well-worn path their predecessors had made for them. He kept them close while the calves were new, and the stock tank was their watering hole for now. Later he would move them out to the hills for better graz­ing.

Here was more wealth, Sage told himself. Fourteen cows, and all but one had calved successfully. The dry cow would be sold and re­placed. Not many ranchers would consider fourteen cows a measure of wealth, but few had learned as Sage had. The cows were hard-earned. They were living testament to his effort to rebuild his life. The house, even in its skeletal state, was a beginning. It stood on the spot where the old house had been. Not the big trailer house the bank had financed when he’d started out. Not the little three-room job the government had built for his parents when they were starting out, the one everybody had called a "six-fifty” when more land had been taken in return for houses built for six-hundred and fifty dollars each. No, Sage’s new house would stand where the cabin his grandparents had occupied when he was a young child once stood.

He was putting it there because he needed to recall that time. He needed to reconnect himself with those good memories. During the summer when they’d built the log house, the family had lived in a tent that stood near the grove of cottonwoods. Only the cottonwoods hadn’t been there then. They’d made a baseball diamond where the corral now stood, and his family had been its own team. His father’s cousin’s family, the rival team, had lived four miles away. Those had indeed been good times, and it was worth digging back through all the baggage of what his life had been in the interim to recall them.

He might have pitched a tent for himself for the summer, but he wouldn’t finish the house before winter. The little silver turtle of a trailer he lived in served his needs adequately. It provided enough hot water for the quick shower he’d been looking forward to, along with a refrigerator large enough to preserve the hamburger he was about to cook and a bed that held—as long as he slept corner to corner—all but his feet. He worked hard enough during the day so that the size of the bed didn’t matter when he finally fell into it at night. Nor did the fact that he slept alone bother him. At least he wasn’t hurting anyone. Not anymore.

He eyed the trailer and thought of Megan McBride. She worked in a little trailer, but he was sure she didn’t live in one. In the last few weeks, he’d permitted himself one foolish indulgence. From a safe distance, he’d watched McBride at work. It hadn’t troubled him that a woman was engineering the construction project. In his culture, women took charge as a matter of course, though they spoiled their men in the way of women everywhere. It had disturbed him when he realized he’d begun to fantasize about her, but he continued to indulge himself. He enjoyed watching her assert her authority on the job. She was smart. She knew hot mix from cold, at least in terms of asphalt. She knew the lay of the land and the shape of the plan. He wondered about the shape of the legs she hid under her jumpsuits. He wondered how strong they were, how agile, how smooth. He’d bet on those heavy work boots housing slender ankles and small, feminine toes.

There were other women in his life—those he met with at least twice a week in the recovery group he’d christened Medicine Wheel. The difference was that Megan McBride was unattainable, which made it safe to think about her. Safe, maybe, but unwise. He’d come to grips with that fact earlier that day when she’d turned the tables on him. She’d watched him work. She’d observed his skill, the progress he was making, the way his piece of work fit into the scheme of the project. Those things she’d seen through the eyes of an engineer. But she’d lingered, and he’d felt the scrutiny of a woman’s eyes. A man knew when a woman was taking a good look at his chest. When he was doing a man’s work, his form was at its best. Take a good look, woman. Look your fill.

Later, she’d asked him to discuss problems that were human and not mechanical, and another barrier had been ripped away. He saw through her. She was a caretaker, a do-gooder, pure and simple. That was the characteristic that drew them to one another, and the one he had to avoid.

Still, he wondered what she had seen when she’d looked at him through a woman’s eyes.

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