There was maybe an hour of daylight left when Eleanor finally turned onto a stone and dirt road was like a car path through uncut forest. Finally she pulled up to a guardhouse made of logs with ‘Welcome to Lewis Wilderness Park’ carved in a wooden plank that hung so that it greeted any arrival.
She hoped for her first meeting they didn’t ask her much about Lewis & Clark. She didn’t recall much history from her high school history class. A tall light brown complected man with a short afro approached her car door.
She lowered her window. “Hi, I’m Eleanor Lewis. I’m the new employee. I’m to meet with Mr. Murray in about thirty minutes.”
“Welcome to the Wilderness family. I’m Glen,” he said extending his hand through her window.
“Nice to meet you Glen.”
“So, you’re going to continue down this road and take a left where the road forks up ahead. Oh and no need to be nervous, Sean…well Mr. Murray is a cool guy. He will immediately put you at ease. See you later Eleanor.”
Eleanor now smiled a little easier. “Thanks Glen. I appreciate that.”
As he stepped back he smiled and waved her through and she smiled thinking of the friendly sparkle in his brown eyes. She eased the car forward and tried to follow his advice as she took deliberate slow breaths to attempt to calm her heart.
They’d done all the interviews by Skype, so this would be the first time they’d meet in person. They’d been desperate to fill the position and she’d been desperate to start a new life. Hiding out in some wilderness park seemed as different a life she could shoot for. Here, she was certain none of her old crowd would show up forcing her to suffer sneers from those she’d alienated or looks of pity from those that once considered her a friend.
Soon she drove toward a group of buildings with log paneling on the outside sharing an extended porch embellished with tall rough rafters. She grabbed only her purse, deciding to retrieve her luggage later. As she walked up the steps of the porch she could see the first building was a restaurant and bakery with the next being an Outfitter store.
Moments later, she stood before the main lodge building. She took a deep breath and pushed the door forward stepping into the main lobby, hearing a chirpy greeting which she searched out as her eyes adjusted to the cozy incandescent lighting.
The scent of fresh cut wood hung in the air and she was aware of the whirring sound of an electrical saw accompanied with hammering. Her gaze scanned the lobby which was beautifully decorated in leathers and faux fur textures.
Whatever construction was behind the scenes from where she stood, which was at the front desk before a bubbly, blond woman with a brass pin that read, Belinda who peered at her with clear blue eyes and a contagious smile looking to be no more than nineteen or twenty.
“Welcome to the Lewis Wilderness Park and Camping Lodge. Do you have reservations?” she repeated with no hint of it being the second time she’d asked.
“Hi Belinda. I’m Eleanor Lewis and I have an appointment with Mr. Murray.”
“Oh yes, I was expecting you. He should be ready to meet with you in about ten more minutes. Can I get you a beverage or cup of coffee in the meanwhile?”
“Some water would be great.”
“I’ll get that right away. Feel free to have a seat.”
Eleanor turned and after scanning the spacious lobby filled with various casual seating groups, decided to walk toward the chocolate colored leather club chairs beside one of the lit fireplaces. She was glad the lobby was empty. She didn’t want the added pressure of making small talk with a stranger.
Soon, she was sipping from a bottle of water trying to calm her frenzied mind and shrug off some of the traveling weariness. There was distraction in the quaint beauty of the room made cozy by warm colors and textile carpets that scattered across the stone tile floors and hung on some of the log paneled walls complimented by two huge stone fireplaces at opposite sides of the lobby.
“Mr. Murray will see you now,” Belinda said suddenly beside her, startling her from her wandering thoughts.
Elaine stood up and took a deep breath as she followed the petite woman across the tiled floors to a discreet stairway tucked beneath a curved wall. Plush carpet met her foot fall and soon she was in a lavishly decorated office, reflecting a constrained passion for the Safari lifestyle.
She immediately recognized the aged Scottish man with shining dark eyes and plump cheeks that she’d been corresponding with over the past few weeks and smiled as she thrust her hand into his extended one. It felt like she was meeting an old friend.
“I’m so glad to finally meet you in person, Eleanor! Did you have a hard time traveling through the snow storm last night or were you already in town?”
Sean Murray had a slight trilling of his Rs despite the nearly thirty years of living in the States. Eleanor had come to love hearing him speak. “No, I was still a few hours away, but safely ensconced for the night.”
“Wonderful, wonderful well please have a seat. We are so happy you were available this weekend. There is a small investor group that will be arriving on Friday. They are interested in seeing some of the package tours that this lodge offers and as you can see there is a race to finish up the last of the construction projects on the main floor—only two days away mind you.”
“Well, as I’ve already expressed Mr. Murray, I am eager to jump in and get us completed by deadline if not before. I’ve been reassured even since arriving how kind you are, so I am thrilled to be working for you.”
She watched the once jovial expression on the man suddenly falter, his mouth now twisting to the side as his wiry eyebrows slash in lines pointing toward his nose.
“Did I say something wrong?” Eleanor inquired quickly.
“No, I think that somewhere along the line I have mis-communicated to you. I am not your boss. I merely handle the HR business. No my dear, your boss, well our boss… well here he is now.”
Eleanor watched as Sean Murray gestured with his hand even as he lifted his gaze beyond her.
She on the other hand was caught off guard by a subtle and yet familiar cologne that she’d only known one person to wear. No! It couldn’t be. Could it?
“Mr. Lewis, I’m so glad that you will finally meet our new employee, Eleanor Lewis. I thought it funny that you two shared the same last name. Don’t you?”
Eleanor turned so quick she thought her neck would suffer whiplash. “Oh no!”
“You.” He managed between gritted teeth.
Eleanor stood from the wing chair she’d been seated, even as she continued to grasp tightly to it for fear her jelly legs would collapse beneath her.
She stared into the clear brown eyes of the man who’d stolen her heart when she had only been a girl and dropped her gaze in haste. She was too afraid to decipher what she might read there—most likely the truth about her, about the person she’d been but from whom she was trying to evolve. But he didn’t know that, nor would he believe it.
Still too afraid to meet his gaze, she instead took in his navy cashmere sweater and button-down striped shirt collar that revealed sparse hairs peeping from the top. His wide shoulders reminded her of how she once felt incredibly safe tucked within his strong arms.
Even standing still, his swagger was as she remembered, except somehow more charismatic.
Intensity bounced off him in waves and she knew she was the lightning rod for much of it.
He appeared calm, his hand casually tucked in the pant pocket of a pair of khaki pants, yet the tic in his jaw something only those who knew him well enough to look for, told the story.
Finally, her gaze lifted and she was slammed with his gaze, the ferocity of too many emotions, all focused directly at her. Sweat beaded on her forehead even as her heart did a frenzied canter within her chest.
“I can’t believe it,” she whispered. “It’s really you. This wasn’t the way I wanted us to meet again.”
The tension was thick as the HR manager’s eyes pivoted between the two of them. “Do you …know each other?”
“Actually Sean, you have managed to successfully hire my soon to be ex-wife, that is if the judge could ever sign and discharge the papers,” Terry said while he moved quickly, his long legs crossing the room in only a few strides.
In seconds he was a breath away from her. “Do you never do anything on the up and up? What are you doing here?”
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