Carter: Montana Man (first chapter continued)

     “Sure, sure. They’re in the office.” Then he tugged her by the elbow. “C’mon. Let me show you. It’s so beautiful.”

Franklin used his opposite hand to finger comb his dark blond hair from his eyes.

     About three years her junior, he’d make a fine asset to the graduate program when he entered next year. The man started hanging around a year ago and seemed to love paleontology as much as she. Still an undergrad, the only way he’d get to go on digs would be if he worked in the graduate department. Li, as her friends and coworkers called her, would know, as she’d done the same.

     So she hired him as her assistant and a beautiful friendship blossomed. Though friendship was as far as it could ever go between them. Beside the fact that Li kept herself as far away from anything relationship as humanly possible, married to her job, or so the saying goes. But more importantly she lacked… no, a better way to put it, Franklin sought out the same kind of company she’d seek, if she’d ever decide to date. He dated enough for the both of them and was worlds better at it. Men flocked to Franklin and his buoyant, jovial personality, boyish good looks and ehem… from what she understood, he had a lot to offer a guy.

     His crystalline blue eyes avoided hers, excitedly eyeing the spot which would change her future.

     Li ducked under the taped off area, a wide area probably a small parking lot width, set up to keep tourists away from the dig site. Tourists inevitably showed. Even up there in the hottest, baddest section of the badlands of Montana. Once she had the tile nippers to dig away the rock, and paintbrush, used for dusting, in her hands the rest of the world fell away.

     Transported back to the Jurassic era with every squeeze of the handle to expose more of the bone, a bone which beside the ancient dino DNA held all Li’s hopes and dreams. A culmination of her life’s work even at the tender age of twenty-six, a baby in comparison to the ground she dug through. But what most people didn’t know about her, Li had been at this literally her whole life. There wasn’t a time she could remember not being on a dig site with her dad, until he took his place with the dinosaurs two years ago. Ashes to ashes, he believed that. He’d devoted his life to it as an archaeological concept.

     And now she dug alone. 

     It was better this way, really. Dinosaurs, she understood. People, not so much. Although when the initial intel came in to her office about this dig, the first thing she did was pick up the phone to dial her dad. Someone else, a woman Li did not know, answered before she remembered that her father would never answer his phone again. Awkward on her end, she apologized to the woman citing a wrong number and hung up. Then she sat and cried for the next twenty-five minutes.

     But that was then. Now she had to keep focused, sitting in the dirt like a toddler. That being the only position Li could really get in there and dig. Hard to do when the sweat just kept dripping and stinging her eyes. She pulled the dusty red bandanna from her back, jean-clad pocket and refolded it so the less dusty area faced out, and wiped at her eyes.

     “You Amelia?” Whomever it belonged to, his voice sounded as husky and dusty as the mountain in which she dug.

     She tipped her chin up, with the sun still following only her, it rested at his back so only his silhouette appeared in blackened focus in front of her eyes. Shielded by her hand like a visor to try for a better look.

     “I’m Amelia. Can I help you?”

     “You got a permit?”

     “It’s in the office. Franklin will get it for you.”

     “The blond guy?” he asked. She nodded. “He said you had it.”

     “No, that’s a mistake. He told me it’s in the office.” And that would be when a terrible thought hit her. He wouldn’t have, would he? He wouldn’t have risked the integrity of the dig and put their whole operation in danger. “Franklin!” she pushed up from the ground as she screamed, pretty much at the top of her lungs.

     Slowly, too slowly to keep her temper in check, Franklin made his way over to the pair.

     “Tell the man you have the permit in the office,” Li demanded.

     Franklin swallowed hard, but didn’t give the answer she needed him to give. “Jane tracked a couple people sniffing around the site. If we waited, we could have lost it.”

     Jane was another assistant Li’d sent out to scope the area after the read on their initial ultrasound implied something huge, bigger and full of more significance than any discovery they’d ever made as a team, came in.

     The silhouetted man cleared his throat. “I’m going to have to shut you down.”

     “Wait, no.” Li pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling a headache coming on. “We’re all adults here. No need to resort to anything rash. I’ll head into town.” She looked down at her watch. “The permit office should still be open. I’ll talk to them about a temporary work permit until the regular one comes in. Maybe see what it’ll take to put a rush on it.”

     But it’s when she stepped away from him, and he started to follow, that Li actually got a sense of the man. With his thick, lustrous raven hair which hung down just past his shoulders, and his even darker inky black eyes, not to mention skin almost as dark as the beautiful sandy soil she spent her day working in, he was nothing short of a Native American warrior god come to life and disguised in the skin of a Montana cowboy. Down to his black Stetson and scuffed cowboy boots, wearing a t-shirt so fitted, she wondered how his lungs took in enough oxygen to accomplish all his day to day warrior god activities. His rugged, use-worn jeans rested low on his hips, held in place by a thick black leather belt with an interesting, intricate silver belt buckle. 

     Annnd from the way he cleared his throat again, she realized she’d not only been staring, but doing it with her mouth hanging open like a darn fool. That made a great first impression. After pulling herself together, she quickly snapped her mouth shut.

     He grabbed ahold of her upper arm to give it a light shake. “You okay?” he asked.

     “I’m sorry, what?” she answered, blinking rapidly. Apparently not as together as she needed to be.

     “I asked if you’re okay. I tried to tell you the permit office is closed today, but you blanked out. Are you on drugs?”

     “I’m sorry, what?” she repeated herself.

     “Drugs. Are you on drugs?”

     “No I’m not on drugs,” she answered him indignantly, hands thrown to her hips. “How can the permit office be closed?”

     “Holiday.”

     “It’s not a holiday,” she countered.

     “It is in Pierpont. Founder’s day.”

     “Well when will it be open again?”

     “Next Monday.”

     “Next Monday? That’s a week away. Founder’s Day is a whole week?”

     “It is in Pierpont. We like to celebrate.”

     Yeah, right. That’s how she knew she was being played. Li bet he was probably one of the creepers sniffing around that Jane saw. She’d seen her way through many a different founder’s day celebration in a host of different cities growing up. But none of them went a whole week. Maybe a four day weekend, but never a week.

     “Franklin, stay. I’ll call if you have to pack up,” she ordered her assistant who was still in the doghouse as far as she was concerned. And then she stormed off toward her pickup, unfortunately with the warrior god cowboy quick on her heels.

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