“Stillwater, Oklahoma’s Lake McMurtry offers both primitive and improved campsites.” Mark Ross read the description from the computer screen, and then glanced up. “Primitive or improved? I hate to even ask, because I doubt I’ll like the answer, but what’s the difference? And more importantly, which one are we going to?”
Logan Hunt grinned back at him from the other side of the desk. “Why? You worried?”
“Yes. Do you blame me? Primitive. What kind of descriptor is that to try to sell this place to the public? They need some help with their marketing materials, I can tell you that.” With one finger, Mark pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose, from where they’d slid down. “And you still didn’t answer my question.”
“The difference is that the primitive campsites only supply water, while the improved sites have both water and electric.” Logan leaned back and rested one heavy-looking combat boot on the camouflage-covered knee of the opposite leg. Logan tended to make himself comfortable anywhere, whether he was lounging on Mark’s office furniture, or in an easy chair in his living room.
Mark, on the other hand, was not at all comfortable with the idea of this camping trip. “And we’re going to which site?”
By the smug expression on Logan’s face, Mark had a feeling he knew which the man had chosen for the staff retreat even before he answered. “The primitive.”
“Of course.” That’s what the university got for turning over the planning of the year-end faculty event to the military science department. Soldiers had a different idea of fun and relaxation—and comfort—from English professors.
“Stop scowling, Mark. We take the ROTC cadets there for overnight trips a few times a semester. Never lost one of them yet.” Logan’s persistent grin was enough to make Mark want to wipe it right off his face.
As if he could. Mark had a feeling the six-foot-two lieutenant colonel seated across from him had been trained well during his years in the army. At least well enough to defend himself against a disgruntled English professor armed with nothing more than a pen. Though they did say the pen was mightier than the sword, Mark figured Logan’s combat training would win out in this case.
“Jeez, Mark. Back out if you’re that miserable about going.”
“I can’t. I’m a department head. I have to lead by example.” Besides, it had been strongly suggested by the powers-that-be at Oklahoma State University that all heads of the departments go, whereas the assistant and associate professors working beneath him could choose not to, and quite a few had. “It is still one night, correct? Or did you tack on a few more fun-filled days?”
“Yes, we’re only staying for one night. And stop acting like the whole time is going to be torturous for you. Come on. It’ll be fun.” Logan’s enthusiasm, whether fake or not, still wasn’t very convincing.
“Oh, I’m sure.” Tons of fun.
Sleeping in a tent, in the pitch dark no less, since there was no electricity. Yeah, sure. That sounded like a blast. He’d be lucky if some animal didn’t crawl in with him in the middle of the night.
“Seriously, Mark. The site’s laid out real nice. The lake has separate areas for swimming and for fishing.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Meaning he’d be in the water right along with the fish that probably all congregated in the designated swimming area, knowing fishermen couldn’t get them there. “What other fun things do you have to entice me?”
“Come on. There’s nothing like it. Think what a sense of accomplishment you’ll have when you catch your own dinner and cook it over an open fire.” Logan leaned forward, looking truly excited at the concept.
Landing his position as the youngest head of the English department at OSU—that had given Mark a sense of accomplishment. Landing a fish? He wasn’t certain that would qualify as being in the same league.
Oh, well. Nothing Mark could do about it now. The plans had been made, and if nothing else, he’d learned his lesson. Next year, he’d plan the faculty retreat, and it wouldn’t entail fishing. He’d have to look into the local winery. They did tours and tastings. They could probably host a faculty retreat. Now there’s a place he wouldn’t mind camping out. Rather than catching a trout, or whatever species of fish he’d be swimming with shortly, he could catch a nice wine buzz.
Speaking of camping and biting insects that went buzz in the night . . . “You’re still bringing an extra tent for me, right?”
Sleeping in a tent might be pretty low on the list of things Mark wanted to do in his lifetime, but sleeping outdoors without one was even lower. The thought sent a chill straight up his spine.
“Yes, sir.” Logan nodded. “Tuck has an extra tent he’s bringing. And I’ve got a spare sleeping bag for you to use.”
He hoped Logan’s friend Tucker was aware he’d not only be loaning the tent, but also instructing Mark on how to erect the damn thing. These guys were used to camping if they owned extras of both tents and sleeping bags, while Mark didn’t own a single one of either.
Tucker Jenkins was one of Logan’s military science and ROTC instructors. Mark knew the man, though not well. He should try to get to know him better since Tuck was engaged to Becca Hart, one of the associate professors in Mark’s department. She had conveniently planned to be visiting her home in New York this week.
No dummy, that girl. Her fiancé, the owner of not one but at least two tents, had probably already taken her camping, or at least tried to. City girl that she was, Becca knew to get out of town or she’d have to go on this overnight trek into the great outdoors.
Mark had no doubt he’d have plenty of time to bond with Tucker this weekend. With no electricity, there wouldn’t be much else to do except get to know each other. He should pack a deck of cards and some poker chips, just in case they all got bored.
“Oh, and good news. I grabbed my extra fishing rod last time I was home visiting my parents. It’s light action, but it’ll be good for what’s in the lake, so I’ll bring that along, too.”
Mark had never held a fishing rod in his life and chances were Logan damn well knew that.
It looked like Mark would be learning how to fish on this trip as well as erect tents. “Okay. Thanks. I’ll, uh, bring along my extra eReader, if you’d like.”
The early morning sky, streaked with vibrant colors, made for a breathtaking start to the day. No doubt about it. For millennia, man had waxed poetic about sunrises this magnificent. Mark knew he should be more appreciative. Take note of the experience. After all, it’s not as if he was up and outside early enough to see the beauty of this natural phenomenon all that often. But instead, he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
To be fair, she was a natural beauty as well, silhouetted in profile against the hues painting the sky. She stood on the shoreline of the lake, holding a fishing pole. His first glimpse of her had him tripping over his own feet.
A few steps ahead of him, Tucker strode toward the lakeshore. “Hey, Carla. You catching anything?”
“More than you got while you were sleeping in, that’s for sure.” She turned and Mark got a better look as she faced them and teased Tuck with easy familiarity. Of course she did. Tucker wore a hat that looked almost a mate to the cowboy hat she wore. Or perhaps hers was a cowgirl hat. Mark didn’t know these things. That was probably obvious to the stranger from the canvas bucket-hat Mark had chosen for this excursion. It had looked pretty sporty on the mannequin in the store, but here and now, up against Tuck’s headwear, or even Logan’s baseball cap, not so much.
Mark watched the interaction between Tucker and the cowgirl fisherwoman. He didn’t recognize her as one of the faculty. Not that he knew everyone, but still, he thought he’d remember seeing her.
“Is she with our group?” he asked Logan.
Logan dumped a load of camping gear on the ground and glanced up. “Carla? Yeah. She coaches the rodeo team with Tuck.”
“Ah.” The university’s rodeo team had never been on Mark’s radar before. After seeing Carla, it would be from now on.
How could a woman manage to look so tempting this early in the morning? And while fishing?
Maybe it was the long brown braid draped over one shoulder. If he loosened that braid, set those waves of hair free, it would reach all the way down her back. Her cowboy hat was pulled low over her eyes so that it accentuated the heart shape of her face. He wanted to peer beneath the brim of that hat and discover what color those eyes were.
All in good time. For now, this view would have to do. And oh what a view.
The contour of her Cupid’s bow lips drew him. He couldn’t help but stare and want to see it all closer. Even this distance, just a couple of yards away from her, seemed frustrating. Was her complexion genuinely that rosy, or was it a trick of the light? He needed to find out.
She stood in the ankle-deep water with her jeans rolled to her knees. Most of the women Mark had dated wouldn’t even venture outside in the rain. Everything about her seemed to be the opposite of the females he was used to, and he liked the differences.
The weight of the overnight bag in his hand finally drew Mark’s attention away from his ponderings. He lowered it to the ground and glanced up to find Logan staring.
“I’ll introduce you if you want.” Logan wore an amused expression.
Mark managed to maintain a poker face while playing poker, but judging by Logan’s smirk, he wasn’t doing too well at hiding his interest in Carla now. He swallowed hard. “Oh, sure. That would be good, since we’ll be fishing together.”
Sure, fishing. That’s what he wanted to do with this vision in denim before him. Fish.