“Hi, Hank,” she said in a pleasant voice, shutting the door behind her and taking a seat in front of my desk.

“Hey, Jada,” I replied, sitting back down.

Now that I was closer to her, I could see a flush on her cheeks, no doubt from the time she spent outdoors with the animals, something she wouldn’t have done much of at her former job. The color looked good on her, a nice rosy contrast against her light brown skin.

“How’s it going?” I asked. “How was your first week?”

Jada didn’t even hesitate or pause to think before she answered, “Everything has been great! Working on the ranch has been a definite adjustment, but a smooth one. It’s a little strange to live and work in the same place, but I’m always on time for work.”

I chuckled at that before saying, “I’m glad to hear that. I want you to be comfortable working here.”

“I am,” she said, a small smile on her face. “All the guys have been so kind and respectful.”

“I thought they would be, but I’ll admit I was a little worried you may not feel comfortable as the only woman on the ranch,” I told her.

She shook her head. “No, it really has been great. I was a bit worried at first too, mostly because I wasn’t sure I’d have much in common with any of you. But I’ve been happy here.”

“Good.”

“Seki’s been a really great teacher,” she added. “I don’t think it will be too long before I can take over the majority of the veterinary duties.”

“That’s great. I know I’ll be glad to have the extra help.”

I paused, wondering if I had the right to ask her the question that was burning in my mind. I bit my lip as I thought and just decided to go for it. She didn’t have to answer if she was uncomfortable.

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but how are things going with Ben?” I asked. “I heard through the grapevine that the two of you have a bit of a history.”

The flush on Jada’s face deepened. “Yeah, we do,” she said, her voice soft. “A few days ago, we had a good conversation and really cleared the air. Things are a lot better between us now.”

“Good, good,” I replied.

“I’m really enjoying the weather here in Montana too,” she admitted.

“You say that now, but just wait until winter comes,” I said with a laugh.

“You have no idea how much I hate the heat and humidity of the desert,” she retorted. “Coming from someone originally from the bayous of Louisiana, Las Vegas is absolutely miserable.”

“That’s true, I don’t know,” I said, shrugging. “I’ve never been to Vegas before. Unless you count a trip to the Grand Canyon when I was three and don’t remember it, I’ve never even been to the desert.”

Laughing, Jada said, “Count yourself lucky!”

“I do feel pretty lucky, Jada,” I replied.

She was quiet and seemed to take me in. Eventually, Jada said, “You know, I just realized I’ve hardly seen you over the last week but for meals, which you sometimes miss too. You’re a workaholic, aren’t you?”

“Guilty,” I said. “Sometimes I feel lost if I’m not working. I wish I could spend more time on the actual ranch–that’s why I opened it–but the paperwork required to run it never ends. Sometimes I’m up here still doing paperwork until well after dark.”

“Well that’s no good,” Jada said, leaning forward in her chair to study me. “You’ll work yourself into an early grave at that rate. And then who will do all the paperwork you leave behind?”

I cracked a smile. “Damn, I’ve never thought of it that way. Hopefully I won’t croak until I have a kid to pass the ranch down to.”

“I can totally see you being a dad,” Jada told me. “You have a very fatherly air about you. I can see how much you care about everyone here on the ranch.”

I couldn’t help but be a little taken aback by her words. I’d never thought of myself as very fatherly before. Objectively, I’d always assumed I would someday have kids, but never thought much about it beyond that.

Jada was smiling as she’d said it, leading me to believe she was pleased by her revelation, that it was a compliment.

“Thank you,” I said. “I appreciate that.”

“Of course,” she replied. “But, if you want to live long enough to become a dad, you need to find some time in your schedule to relax. I’m a doctor, so you should listen to me.”

I chuckled and said, “Well, if Dr. Hartville tells me that I need to relax more, then I should probably listen to her.”

“You should,” she said, nodding earnestly and clearly fighting a smile. “Oh, I have an idea! We’re going to knock off work no later than five, grab a beer, and chill out. You can pick the day, but it has to be soon. No putting it off!”


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