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Rolling Like Thunder

By: Vicki Lewis Thompson

1

FINN O’ROARKE SCANNED the boarding area for the umpteenth time. First class was already on the plane and still no Chelsea. He would have gladly picked her up instead of meeting her here, but they hadn’t been able to agree on timing. He preferred early and she liked to cut it close.

Too damned close. Good thing he didn’t fly with her on a regular basis, because this kind of thing would drive him...ah! There she was. He exhaled and promised himself not to say a word. She was doing him a favor by making this trip.

With a roller bag behind her and a laptop case over her shoulder, she walked toward the boarding area with her typical “I have the world by the tail” stride. She wasn’t tall but she dressed tall—skinny black jeans, high-heeled sandals and a multicolored tunic belted around her hips. Her light blond hair, recently streaked with lavender, swayed gently with each confident step.

As she came closer, she surveyed the crowd waiting near the Jetway and her brown eyes widened when she spotted him. She hurried over. “Holy smokes, you’re dressed like a cowboy! I did not expect that.”

At one time Finn would have been annoyed. But after owning a Seattle microbrewery and tavern for nearly five years, he didn’t think of himself as a cowboy anymore. He couldn’t very well expect her to think of him that way, either.

But they’d be spending time at the Last Chance Ranch in Jackson Hole this weekend. Finn had never seen it, but he’d heard plenty of stories. The Chance family was royalty in Wyoming.

So he’d hauled out his dove-gray Stetson, his yoked Western shirts, his Wranglers and his black boots. He gazed at Chelsea and shrugged. “We’re making our presentation to ranch people. It seemed like a good idea.”

“Should I have done that, too? If so, I’m screwed. I have these sandals and gym shoes. That’s it.”

“No worries, Chels. You’ll be fine.” He thought she looked more than fine. He’d known from the moment they’d met in a coffee shop five years ago that she was too cool and stylish for him.

But meeting her had been a gift. She was a PR and marketing whiz. After listening to his plan for a microbrewery and tavern in downtown Seattle, she’d suggested a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to renovate an old building slated for demolition. Then she’d offered to help him for a percentage. He’d saved the building and launched O’Roarke’s Brewhouse thanks to Chelsea Trask.

This trip would put him even more in her debt. His foster parents, Herb and Rosie Padgett, were in financial trouble and could lose the ranch where Finn and many other homeless boys had found refuge. A group of them were trying to save it, and because Chelsea knew Finn’s background and admired the Padgetts, she’d agreed to help him once again.

Thanks to Chelsea, a Kickstarter campaign had been launched in June for Thunder Mountain Academy, a residential equine education program geared toward teens. But the September 1 deadline for donations was less than two weeks away and they were thousands shy of the goal. Everybody connected with it, including Finn, had begun to panic.

This weekend was make-or-break time. Cade Gallagher, once a foster boy and one of Finn’s best friends, had recently discovered he was a Chance cousin. Because of that family tie, Finn and Chelsea had been invited to pitch the concept to potential TMA backers at a gathering hosted by the Chances. Chelsea was the pro, so she’d run the event, but Finn would also talk about the debt he owed Thunder Mountain Ranch.

As the first economy-class group was called to board the plane, Chelsea gave Finn another once-over. “It’s probably good that you’re all decked out like that.”

“I’m glad you approve.” He decided not to let the “all decked out” comment bother him, either. Coming from Chelsea, that was a relatively mild dig. When she was wound up, she could really turn on the snark. She’d been irritated with him for months, which made working together on this project somewhat awkward.

Apparently she’d expected them to get together after his divorce from Alison last year, but she, of all people, should have realized that he was married to his business, which was why Alison had left. Yeah, he’d had his share of hot dreams starring Chelsea, but he had no intention of turning them into reality.

Guaranteed if they got together, it’d disrupt his careful routine right when he needed to concentrate all his energy on keeping the microbrewery solvent. The divorce had been expensive. Besides, he’d proved himself incapable of running a business and maintaining a relationship. He’d told her that when he’d turned down her dinner invitation, but she hadn’t taken it well.

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