Erin Joy Delong stood before the closed conference-room door. On the other side lay the truth she needed to face no matter how ugly. Grasping the doorknob, she took a deep breath and turned it.
All talking ceased. The air-conditioning clicked on, filling the dead silence.
Erin looked at each of the seven men seated around the table. No one would meet her gaze except for the stranger standing at the head of the table. A slide of his presentation on how to reorganize the bi-county rodeo lit the screen behind him.
Her knees nearly buckled. She hadn’t gotten the job. No, the job of reorganizing the rodeo that her great-grandfather established had gone to a total stranger.
“Erin, we didn’t expect you,” Melvin Lowell, the rodeo board’s president, said.
She didn’t doubt it. “Sorry I’m late, but after I talked with dad's doctors at the hospital this morning, I ran into a big accident on the interstate just outside Albuquerque. Then, finding this unscheduled Thursday meeting proved tricky, since you’d moved it from the rodeo headquarters.”
The men around the table shifted in their chairs as if they were ashamed of themselves. They continued to avoid her gaze.
“How’s your father?” Mel asked, as if nothing was off-kilter.
She stepped into the elegant meeting room at the new conference center. “He’s improving from the stroke, but we won’t know the extent of the damage for several days. I drove in as his representative on the board.”
“Is that legal?” Norman Burke, one of the board members from Harding County, asked. “I mean, if he can’t talk—”
“You can call my mother or the floor nurse at the hospital, Sylvia Carter, who witnessed Dad nodding for me to represent him until he came back.”
Erin glanced at the man giving the presentation and caught the hint of a smile that crossed his face, before it disappeared.
The muted brush of her boots on the carpet was the only sound in the room as she walked to the empty chair on the opposite side of the table and sat. In front of her was a slick folder that read Tucumcari Rodeo Proposal by Sawyer Jensen. Her eyes jerked up and clashed with Melvin’s. He didn’t look away.
“I take it Mr. Jensen won the contract?”
“Yes, we voted for him at the last meeting,” Mel replied, his head held high. “Didn’t your father call and tell you?” Too much satisfaction laced his voice. Most of the other board members kept their gazes fixed on the table