Excerpts for Last Real Cowboy


Angela Beck tapped her fingers against the boardroom table and frowned. The seat across from her was noticeably empty and she grew more irritated by the moment. They'd held things up long enough, though why Molly Diamond was running so very late was a mystery. Molly was usually right on time.

"Angela, we really can't hold off any longer." Charles Spring, the President of the Butterfly Foundation board, folded his hands and looked down the table at her, his gray eyes stern over the rims of his glasses. "We need to get started."

Charles had graciously agreed to let the foundation meet in the boardroom of his oil and gas company's headquarters. It meant a drive into Edmonton, but Angela knew it was easier for her to commute than for the entire volunteer board to drive to Cadence Creek for a meeting. As a result she'd put together a list of things she needed for the renovations, determined to make the most of the trip. She didn't have any time to waste if she wanted to make her projected opening date.

"I know." Angela forced a smile and made herself remember that every person in the room was volunteering their time. She was the only one drawing a salary from the foundation. The reminder was enough to ensure her patience. The shelter was her dream, but success relied on a lot of peoplepeople who didn't have this project as their top priority the way she did. She couldn't afford to alienate any of themshe'd come too far and invested too much.

"I'll call the meeting to order, then, at 2:18."

For an hour the board members discussed the latest fund-raising campaign; Angela outlined the latest PR push and upcoming open house, adding her input to the proposed operating budget and counseling services she'd organized for residents of Butterfly House. She'd thought she'd worked long hours before as a social worker for the province, but that was nothing compared to her days lately, especially as she was a staff of exactly one.

"And now," she said, "I wanted to bring up the suggestion that we hire some short-term help for the minor renovations still needed to the house."

Charles tapped his lip and looked over at the board treasurer, a graying woman with glasses and a stern demeanor. "Iris?"

"Leave it with me," she suggested. "But don't get your hopes up. The budget is already stretched. What's allocated is barely going to cover the cost of materials. Start adding in labor costs and I start seeing red ink."

"Perhaps if we can get more donations" Soliciting sponsors was definitely not Angela's favorite part of the job; she hated feeling like the center of attention and preferred to be behind the scenes. But it had to be done and so she did itwith a smile and an eye on the big picture.

The talk then turned to drafting up letters requesting sponsorship. Angela pinched the bridge of her nose. The place needed paint and window coverings and the floor in the living room was in dire need of replacement. Who would come good for all of that?

She straightened her back. She would do it, somehow. She was thrilled that her vision was becoming a reality and it was worth the long hours, the elbow grease and the worry. It would be better when the house was actually ready for residents. In its present state it looked the way she felttired and droopy. She'd make it right if she had to do it all herself.

They were down to the last item on the meeting agenda when the door opened andhe sauntered in. Sam Diamond needed no introduction, Angela thought with disdain.Everyone knew who he was. She resolved to keep her expression bland as she looked up, wondering why on earth Sam had shown up instead of his mother, Molly, the Diamond family representative to the board.

Sam turned a slow smile on the group and Angela clenched her teeth. He was going to be troublewith a capitalT. She'd known it from the first moment he'd sidled up to her at the Butterfly House fundraiser and had asked in his smooth, deep voice, "Have we met?" Her tongue had tangled in her throat and she'd hesitated, feeling stupid and predictable as a purely feminine reaction warred with her usual timidity when it came to dealing with members of the opposite sexespecially in social situations. Well, maybe he'd had her at a disadvantage during their first meeting, but she'd kept the upper hand in the end and she would today, too. She was far more comfortable in a meeting room than at a cocktail party.

But she'd have to do it delicately. His family had made Butterfly House possible, and it wouldn't do to bite the hand that was feeding her project.

"Mr. Diamond." Charles lifted his head and offered a wide smile. "I'm afraid we started without you."

Started without him? Angela silently fumed. He was over an hour late and had just walked in as though he had all the time in the world! And Charles Springshe felt her muscles tense. Old boys' club, indeed. Spring might frown at her over his glasses, but to Diamond he was as sweet as her mother's chocolate silk pie!

"I got held up." Sam gave the board a wide, charming smile and removed his hat. "I hope I didn't inconvenience anyone."

"not at all! There's always time for the foundation's biggest supporter." Heads around the table nodded. Sam shook Charles's hand and then put his thumbs in his pockets.

"I didn't realize I'd be in the company of such lovely ladies," he drawled, popping just the hint of a dimple. Angela swore that she could hear the sighs from three of the board members old enough to be Sam's mother. "I would have made a better effort to be here earlier."

Angela thought she might be sick from all the flattery stuffing up the room. Where was Molly? Why had Sam come in her stead?

"I do hope your mother's okay," Angela said clearly. She took off her reading glasses and put them down on the table. Sam pulled out his chair and met her gaze as he took a seat. Recognition flared in his eyes for a moment, then cleared as if they were perfectly polite strangers.

"She's fine, why do you ask?"

There was an edge to his voice and Angela didn't like it. Maybe he was still nursing a bit of hurt pride where she was concerned. She blinked. Men like Sam Diamond weren't used to being refused. Especially when they bought a lady a drink and told her she was a pretty little thing.

She'd simply said, "No, thank you." It was only afterward that she'd realized that she'd given a Diamonda pillar of the communityhis walking papers. It put her in an awkward position. She needed his family's support.

She ignored the uneasy glances from the board members and pasted on a cool smile. "Molly hasn't missed a meeting yet. She's been so supportive of the foundation. So I'm a bit surprised to see you here today, Mr. Diamond."

Dark eyes met hers, challenging. "And you are?"

Oh, the nerve! He knew exactly who she was. She could see by the gleam in his eye that it was a deliberate cut, intended to throw her off her stride. She lifted her chin and rose to the challenge. "Executive Director of Butterfly House, Angela

Beck."

"You obviously didn't receive my message. I called this morning."

And this morning she'd been outside chasing Morris around, trying to get the infernal creature indoors before she had to race into Edmonton. She hadn't stopped to check messages. She resisted the urge to bite down on her lip. She wasn't feeling quite as in charge as she'd like. She was well aware that the Diamond family had a place on the board; after all, they'd donated the building and land for Butterfly House and promised an annual donation toward maintaining the facility. Which was all down to Molly's generosity, she knew. The younger Diamond had a reputation that preceded him and it wasn't all favorable. The fact that he'd tried his charms on her only made it more awkward. Maybe the deed was already signed, but without the continuing support the program would die a quick death unless she could find another sponsor with deep pockets.

"I'm so sorry, I didn't receive it. I've been in the city for several hours already."

Angela was aware that every pair of eyes were on the two of them and that everyone seemed to be holding their breath. Everyone knew Sam. He was a big man, with big money and a big ego. Most of the residents spoke of him as if he were a god. Men respected him and women wanted himuntil he trampled on their affections. She'd had her ears filled about that already.

But Angela could see the appeal. He was over six feet in his boots, sexy as sin and looking scrumptious in jeans and a shirt with a sport jacket thrown over top as a concession to business attire. Paired with his unassailable confidence, he made quite the package.

Just because she could understand the attraction did not mean she was interested, though. He was too Well, he was too everything. She'd known it from the moment he'd tipped his hat and looked down at her with his bedroom eyes. And after she'd refused his overtures, he'd gotten this little half smile. "Do you know who I am?" he'd asked. Clearly she hadn't. But she did now. They both knew exactly who had the upper handand he was enjoying it.

How kind, gentle Molly Diamond had spawned such an egomaniac was beyond her. Did he really think his transparent charm would work on her now when it hadn't the first time?

"My mother won't be attending any board meetings for the foreseeable future. My father suffered a stroke last week and she'll be looking after him for the time being. She requested I sit on the board in her place."

Oh, brother. Sympathy for the lovely Molly and her husband Virgil warred with annoyance at the turn of events. Angela and Molly had hit it off from the start, and she'd so looked forward to talking things over with the older, friendly woman. Molly had insisted that she'd love to be involved with turning the house into a real home and had even helped plan the upcoming open house. Angela couldn't imagine Sam helping with those sorts of things. Undoubtedly his impression of "service to the community" was throwing money at it, then smiling and shaking a few hands and feeling proud of himself.

"I hadn't heard." Angela forced herself to meet his gaze. "I'm very sorry about your dad, Mr. Diamond. Please tell Molly that if she needs anything to give me a shout."

"Thank you."

But the words came out coolly, without the warm flirtatious charm he'd used on the other board members. great. It seemed his pride was still smarting from her response that night. His questionDo you know who I am?had struck a nerve and made her so defensive that goose bumps had popped up over her arms. "Should I?" she'd answered, looking over her shoulder as she walked away. Her insides had been trembling, but she'd covered it well. She was done letting domineering men run roughshod over her.

She'd utterly alienated Sam and she'd done it in front of the board. He turned his head away now, effectively ending the conversation. And why wouldn't he? She'd been prickly as a cactus. Both times they'd met.

Charles wrapped up the meeting, but before he adjourned he smiled at Sam.

"I'm sure Angela would be happy to fill in the gaps, Sam. She knows more about the project than anyone."

Angela felt the blood rush to her face as Sam's gaze settled on her again. "Of course," she murmured. She would just have to suck it up. What was important was getting Butterfly House off the ground no matter how often she had to smile. Maybe Sam wouldn't even be interested in the details and this would be short and relatively painless.

She could afford a few minutes as long as she could make it to the hardware store in time to pick up her supplies. By the time she finished running her errands, it would be evening before she returned to Cadence Creek. Her whole day would be gone with little accomplished.

The meeting adjourned and the board members filtered out of the room. Sam pushed back his chair just far enough that he could cross an ankle over his knee. Angela organized her papers, avoiding Sam's penetrating gaze as long as possible. Finally she put her pen atop the stack and folded her hands. She looked up and into his stupidly handsome face. "Shall I bring you up to speed, then? Or will you be on your way?"



----------------------