“Oh.” The little boy’s shoulders slumped and with a wistful look down the hall, he turned and went back to his toys.
Ty ran a hand through his freshly washed hair and watched the kid’s retreating back. Beyond the plain white walls, clear skies and balmy breezes had combined to make a perfect day on Florida’s east coast. Why, then, wasn’t the boy outside learning to ride a two-wheeler instead of cooped up in this office breathing stale recycled air? He shrugged, and with a final wave at the kid, moved farther down the hall.
Sarah Magarity’s name hung outside a workspace slightly larger than the rest. Flowers perfumed her empty office, and he bent over pink blossoms whose fragrance reminded him of tropical islands and swaying palm fronds. He inhaled, appreciating the change from the odors of horse and cow, hay and sweat that usually filled his days. He glanced around, hoping to get a better sense of the woman who’d insisted on the meeting, but she didn’t keep photographs on her desk. Rolling his hat brim through his hands, he settled onto a vacant chair and tried without success to block out the incessant ringing of telephones.
At last, he glanced into the corridor in time to catch sight of a slender foot wearing an open-toed shoe. The footwear was completely impractical, but it was pretty, and as its owner appeared in the doorway, his gaze rose past elegant ankles and trim calves to a loose-fitting business suit that effectively camouflaged womanly curves. He stood, extending a hand as he let his gaze wander Sarah Magarity’s face. The hazel eyes that met his filled with unexpected emotion when her warm hand pressed into his grasp.
She swallowed visibly. “Mr. Parker, I know we didn’t part under the best of circumstances last time, but I appreciate your coming in today. Please, take a seat.”
“Most folks call me Ty.” He remained on his feet until she was settled behind her desk.
“And I’m Sarah.” She smiled one of those vague smiles people give when their thoughts are somewhere else.
Still wondering why she had demanded his presence, Ty waited while she opened a blue-edged folder and flipped through several official-looking documents.
“Mr. Parker—Ty,” she said, looking up from the papers. “You were married to Millicent Gage, weren’t you?”
“Millie?” Ty frowned. As far as expected topics of conversation went, his ex-wife was pretty far down on the list. He hadn’t seen the woman in nearly six years, hadn’t given her more than an occasional thought in the past two or three. He met Sarah’s eyes. The concern he read there made him uneasy enough that he shifted in his chair.
“Ty,” she said softly. “I’m afraid I have some sad news.”
Sarah paused long enough for his mind to form a hundred different questions. Across from him, she drew in a breath so deep it made her chest swell.
“I’m very sorry to have to tell you that your ex-wife, Millicent, passed away a few months ago.”
Ty shook his head, trying to wrap his thoughts around the idea that the woman who’d been his childhood sweetheart was gone.
“How? Where?” he managed to ask.
“In New York. Apparently, she was mugged.”
Nodding to himself, Ty absorbed this piece of news. Millie’s hunger for more than a quiet life on the Circle P had driven them apart. He’d always hoped that she’d found someone else. Someone who would give her a brick house in the city, like the one she’d wanted him to buy. He brushed his hand over his face. Moisture had gathered in his eyes. He wiped it away and sighed.
Rising, he began, “Ms. Magarity…”
“Sarah, please,” she interrupted.
He tried again. “Sarah. If that’s why you called me here, you could have delivered that news over the phone and saved both of us some trouble.”
“No, I couldn’t.”
“Why not? Millie walked out of my life a long time ago. I’m sorry she passed on, but it doesn’t make sense that I’d have to come here so you could tell me about it.”
He shook his head, cursing his foolishness for even considering that Sarah Magarity might be interested in him. Whatever he’d been thinking about her, he’d been wrong. The woman was so argumentative, she couldn’t even deliver the news about his ex-wife without disagreeing with him.
Behind her desk, Sarah stood. Her soft features hardened. “Aren’t you even going to ask about your son?” she demanded harshly.
“My… What?” Ty’s knees bent. His backside hit the chair again, this time hard enough to hurt.