Both times, it was a fall that nearly did him in...
The first time, it was a tumble down a mountain that threatened Donovan McRae's very survival. And though he had once been the Man Who Had Everything, at that point he thought he had nothing left to lose.
Until Abilene Bravo walked into his life—and he realized he was wrong. Because though he thought he'd lost his heart years ago, he found himself losing it again as he fell fast...for the feisty woman who wouldn't take no for an answer.
"Impress me," Donovan McRae commanded from behind a matched pair of enormous computer screens.
The screens sat on a desktop that consisted of a giant slab of ash-colored wood. The slab of wood was mounted on a base hewn from what appeared to be volcanic rock. The desk, the screens and the man were way down at the far end of a long, slant-roofed, skylit space, a space that served as Donovan's studio and drafting room in his sprawling, half-subterranean retreat in the West Texas high desert.
Abilene Bravo could not believe he'd just said that.
After all, she'd been imagining this moment for over a year now. At first with anticipation, then with apprehension and finally, as the months dragged by, with growing fury. She'd waited so long for this day—and the first words out of the "great man's" mouth were Impress me?
Hadn't she already done that? Wasn't that how she'd won this prize fellowship in the first place?
And would it have killed him to emerge from behind that fortress of screens, to rise from that volcano of a desk, to gesture her nearer, maybe even to go so far as to offer a handshake?
Or, hey. Just, you know, to say hello?
Abilene gritted her teeth and tamped her anger down. She reminded herself that she was not letting her big mouth—or her temper—get the better of her.
She did have something to show him, a preliminary design she'd been tinkering with, tweaking to perfection, for months as she waited for this all-important collaboration to begin. Donovan's assistant had led her to a workstation, complete with old-school drafting table and a desk, on which sat a computer loaded up with the necessary computer-assisted design software.
"Well?" Donovan barked at her, when she didn't respond fast enough. "Do you have something to show me or not?"
Abilene saw red, and again ordered her heart to stop racing, her blood not to boil. She said, in a voice that somehow stayed level, "I do, yes," as she shoved her memory stick into an empty port.
A few clicks of the mouse and her full-color introductory drawing materialized in front of her. On his two screens, Donovan would be seeing it, too.
"My rendering of the front elevation," she said.
"Self-evident," he grumbled.
By then, her hand was shaking as she operated the mouse. But beyond that slight tremor, she kept herself well under control as she began to show him the various views—the expanded renderings of classrooms, the central cluster of rooms for administration, the negative spaces that made up the hallways, the welcome area, the main entrance and vestibule.
She intended to cover it all, every square inch of the facility, which she had lovingly, painstakingly worked out—the playgrounds, the pool area, even the parking lot and some general landscaping suggestions. From there, she would go into her rough estimate on the cost of the project.
But she didn't get far. Ninety seconds into her presentation, he started in on her.
"Depressing," he declared darkly from behind his wall of monitors. "Institutional in the worst sense of the word. It's a center for underprivileged children, not a prison."
It was too much—all the months of waiting, the wondering and worrying if the fellowship was even going to happen. Then, out of nowhere, at last—the call.
That was yesterday, Sunday, the second of January. "This is Ben Yates, Donovan McCrae's personal assistant. Donovan asked me to tell you that he's ready to begin tomorrow. And to let you know that instructions will be sent via email...."
She'd had a thousand questions. Ben had answered none of them. He'd given her a choice. She could be flown to El Paso and he would pick her up...