“Strong as a horse. I can’t wait until it’s born.”
“Come spring your life will be really different,” Rose told her.
Autumn met her gaze. “How about you? Seems like you might be making some changes, too.”
Rose nodded, but didn’t say anything more, even though it was hard to keep secrets from Autumn. “Thanks for letting me come and cut the wood.”
A half hour later, with Ethan’s tools put away and everything else loaded back into her truck, Rose made sure neither Cab nor Ethan was visible before she drove away from the Cruz ranch. She didn’t want the sheriff to see where she was going next. Picking Carl’s woods had both advantages and disadvantages. They were relatively close to town and to where her friends lived. Plus, there was a tap in Carl’s huge garden not far from the edge of the woods. Most of the time she’d haul her own supply in, but she figured in a pinch she could sneak in and grab water from it if Cab wasn’t at home. On her reconnaissance the other night, she’d even discovered a place she could pull into the woods and hide her truck among a thick clump of pines. From there she’d need to carry everything deep into the forest where it was safe to build, but at least her vehicle couldn’t be spotted from the road.
She reached the woods without incident and made sure no one was coming as she pulled off the country road in between the trees. She spent an hour scouting the woods until she found a building site. As she hauled the two-by-fours in a few at a time, she thought about what Cab had said. Contrary to his belief, she had thought about a foundation. She doubted he could have come up with anything suitable, no matter how much experience he might have in construction; she wasn’t building a cabin on the ground—hers would be high in the air.
Rose had always wanted a tree house of her own. Now she was going to get one.
Just six feet by six feet, the tree house would hold a bench seat, a desk and two windows. Shelves for her painting supplies. A door. That was it. She wouldn’t damage Carl’s property. He’d never know she’d been there.
Her plan was flawless.
She uncovered a bundle she’d kept wrapped in a tarp in the bed of the truck while she was at the Cruz ranch. She’d completed this little project at the abandoned Sutter place on the south side of town. Since she didn’t want to harm even a twig on Carl’s property in case she got caught and had to answer for what she’d done, she’d taken four long four by four posts and stuck one end of each into metal buckets filled with cement mix. After leaving them there to harden overnight, she’d picked them up first thing this morning. It had been a bear to lift them into the truck and would be a bear to move them to the building site, so she positioned an old radio flyer wagon she’d found in Emory’s shed under the tailgate and shifted one post at a time until it fell off the end and landed in the wagon. With the plain end resting on her shoulder and the cement end in the wagon, she could just pull them one by one to her building spot, with a fair bit of cussing and complaining. She measured off the correct distances, poked sticks into the dirt at each corner and set about the task of digging holes for her posts.
Again she underestimated the time it would take. She’d only set two posts in place when she checked her watch and saw that it was after three. By four-fifteen, the four posts were in place and she’d fastened the cross-pieces to them designed to hold up the floor. She was tired, dirty, and more than a little frustrated, but she was elated, too. Her hideaway was taking shape.
Still, she needed to get out of here before Cab came home. There was a chance he’d stay to dinner at the Cruz ranch, but if not, he’d head back this way soon. Checking her watch again, she hustled to pile up the remaining boards and supplies into a heap, cover them with the green tarp and pile evergreen branches on top. She couldn’t do anything about the four pale four-by-four posts sticking out of the ground, however. It was too late to paint them so that they blended into the surrounding fir trees. All she could hope was that no one decided to take a walk through these woods tonight.
She looked at her watch again and swore; she’d meant to be long gone by now. Doing one last sweep to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything, she hurried to the edge of the woods where she’d stored the truck. All was quiet on the country road when she reached it, so she climbed in, got it started and pulled quickly out of her hiding place. She reached the asphalt safely, and passed Carl’s place, her heart slowing down as she breathed a sigh of relief, but just as she accelerated to head back toward town, Cab’s truck pulled around a bend in the road.
Damn. Could she drive on by without him noticing her? She didn’t have a good reason to be out this way. She hunched in her seat and hoped like heck he’d be too preoccupied with his own thoughts to even look at her, but no—his truck slowed as it approached, he rolled the window down and stuck out his hand to wave.
There was nothing for it but to do the same. They came to a stop in the middle of the road and Cab eyed her curiously.
“Hey, Rose. Long time, no see! What are you up to way out here?” This was Cab in sheriff mode, his voice friendly but his question probing. Rose could trace his line of thought. Back at the Cruz ranch she’d said she was cutting lumber to build a shed at home. Now she was coming from the wrong direction entirely. Even if she’d been at home and was returning to visit Autumn again, she’d have been coming the from the other way—and she’d have missed her turnoff already.
There was no good reason for her to be where she was.
If he’d simply said hello, or asked where she was going, or even came right out and asked if she’d been trespassing on Carl’s land, she could have told a white lie and gotten away with it. Something about his tone when he asked what she’d been up to told her he wouldn’t be fooled by a white lie, however. He was about to catch her and she was about to lose her hideaway.
She needed that hideaway. Desperately.
Summoning all her strength of will, she looked him right in the eye.
“I came to see you.”
Cab set out two plates of macaroni and cheese and kicked himself again for not having something else to offer Rose. The steaks in his freezer would have taken too long to defrost, and that was pretty much the extent of the food he had on hand. They sat in Carl’s kitchen, a restaurant-level facility that always made him feel like he was playing at cooking instead of really doing it. A solid oak table and chairs sat at one end of the room. It was better than eating in Carl’s formal dining room, but only a little. Rose didn’t seem to notice her surroundings, or that the meal he set in front of her was singularly lacking in anything green. She picked up her fork and toyed with it.