Margaret Fisher glanced around the attorney’s waiting room, her heart fluttering like a hummingbird on steroids. Too nervous to concentrate on the magazine in her lap, she took a couple of deep breaths and let her gaze linger on her surroundings.
The random-width plank floor made from exotic woods added visual appeal while the muted tan-colored walls provided the perfect foil for the “artwork” in the room. Like many businesses in Jackson Hole, the designer had carried the cowboy theme a bit too far for her liking. Ryan Harcourt’s rodeo awards were featured prominently on the wall and a well-oiled saddle sat on display in one corner.
Despite Ryan having graduated from a prestigious east coast law school, there was not a diploma in sight. Margaret assumed there would be one in his office. It didn’t surprise her to see him focus on his roots in the outer waiting area. In Jackson Hole, the majority of his clients would relate better to his rodeo background than to his Ivy League education.
The young attorney—and former champion bull rider—was well-known to Margaret. He’d been a classmate of hers at Jackson Hole High School as well as a close friend of Margaret’s boyfriend, Cole Lassiter. Not boyfriend, she corrected herself. Cole was simply the jerk who acted as if he loved her, took her virginity and then unceremoniously dumped her, all without taking her on a single date.
It had been years since she’d seen Cole. She’d half expected their paths to cross at the funeral. After all, growing up, he and Joy had been next-door neighbors. Margaret had also heard he stopped in to see Joy and Ty whenever he was in town. But then, Cole hadn’t bothered to come to her parents’ funeral so it hadn’t surprised her when he didn’t show. Respect didn’t seem to be a word in his vocabulary.
“Charlie, would you like to play with these?” Lexi Delacourt, the social worker seated to Margaret’s right, opened the large colorful bag and let the child she’d brought with her peer inside.
Margaret smiled as the boy’s eyes brightened, and she pushed aside the old memories. There were more important things to think about today. Cole was the past. Today was about her future. Just like it had been when she’d sat in the attorney’s office on her seventeenth birthday. That day she’d been with her seven siblings. The normal laughter and joking that always occurred when they were all in the same room had been noticeably absent.
It was understandable, of course. They’d been stressed and grieving. Anxious about what was going to happen to them now that their parents had died. She wondered if Charlie had that same sick feeling in the pit of his stomach she’d had back then.
She cast a sideways glance at the little boy who was now lining up plastic dinosaurs on the rough-hewn top of the wooden trunk coffee table. The six-year-old was the son of Margaret’s childhood friend, Joy, and her husband, Ty.
Now they were both gone, killed in an accident only weeks before Christmas near Brown’s Curve on Route 22. The same stretch of Jackson Hole roadway where her folks had died.
It’s not fair.
Tears stung the back of Margaret’s eyes. Though she hadn’t seen as much of her friend as she’d have liked since leaving Wyoming fifteen years ago, thanks to the internet and cell phones, she and Joy had remained close confidantes and friends.
Without warning, Charlie jumped up from the brown-and-white cowhide sofa, his boots making a loud thud on the floor.
“I’m gonna look at the fish,” he announced to Lexi when she cast him a questioning look.
He crossed the room looking adorable in his blue chambray shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. He’d been wearing something similar in the picture Joy had emailed Margaret last summer, the one taken at the Lil’ Buckeroo Rodeo in Pinedale.
Charlie had been a much-loved child. Her friend had embraced motherhood and Ty had doted on his son. Both wanted more children, but for some reason Joy had been unable to get pregnant again. They’d been trying since Charlie turned two and this past year had started expensive fertility treatments.
Margaret could understand why her friends had wanted more children. She’d fallen under Charlie’s sweet spell when she’d returned to Jackson Hole last Christmas for the christening of her brother’s twin babies. She’d been thrilled for Travis and at the same time envious of the way his life had so happily fallen into place. Before leaving town she’d stopped and spent time with Joy and her family.
When it came time for her to leave, Charlie had wrapped his arms around her and given her a kiss. Looping an arm around his waist, Margaret had teased Joy that she was taking him with her. But, as always, she’d left Wyoming alone, single seat on the aisle.
“They’re ginormous.” Charlie whirled around, his eyes wide with awe.
“Super big,” Margaret agreed then sighed when he turned back to the aquarium. She’d once hoped to have a husband to love and a child just like Charlie to cherish. But she was already in her early thirties and that dream was looking less likely with each passing year.
As a physical therapist who dealt primarily with stroke patients, Margaret didn’t have much opportunity to meet eligible men at work. And she’d never been one for the bar scene. To complicate matters, most of her friends were married. Of course, she reminded herself, if she’d been willing to exchange vows with a man she liked and respected but wasn’t madly in love with, she’d be married, too.
But last year, after much soul-searching, she broke it off with her fiancé. She hadn’t regretted her decision. Okay, maybe a couple of times on dark, lonely nights when she remembered how good he’d been to her and feared she’d simply been expecting too much. After all, they’d gotten along well and had fun when they were together. Did “madly in love” really have to be part of the equation?
Then she’d run into him and his new girlfriend