The moment the black-and-gray helicopter swooped into sight and landed behind the Golden Slipper ranch house, a half-mile down the road, Josie Wyatt knew that trouble was on the way. And sure enough it arrived on her doorstep in the form of Houston multi-millionaire Wade McCabe several minutes later.
He drove up in a black Ford Expedition truck and parked adjacent to the four Wyatt Drilling Company trailers and the towering, twenty-eight-foot rig. Her heart pounding, Josie watched as the ruggedly fit, six-foot-plus businessman-investor climbed down from the truck and started across the gravel parking area.
For a moment he simply stood there in the hot Texas sun, hands braced on his hips, staring in mute disapproval at the ancient rotary-drill oilrig. Josie heard him mutter several choice words before he swung around and strode toward her in a grim-faced, take-charge, all-male way that made her throat go dry.
He was wearing black jeans, a pale sage-green silk-linen shirt and darker sage-green tie. A creased black Stetson was pulled low across his brow. Sexy aviator sunglasses shaded his eyes. High, flat cheekbones framed a blade-straight nose, and the masculine set and shape of his jaw indicated this was not a Texan to be messed with.
His sensually chiseled lips curving slightly upward, he clasped her hand in his. "Wade McCabe. I'm looking for Big Jim Wyatt."
Josie had been afraid of that. And unfortunately, she thought, as tingles of sexual awareness swept all the way up her arm, since she was momentarily the only one on the drilling site, it was left to her to deliver the bad news. Giving him a welcoming smile, Josie extricated her much smaller hand from his.
"Big Jim is in South America, " she replied, keeping her eyes on his.
This was not what Wade McCabe wanted to hear, Josie knew.
"And he didn't even call me to let me know he was leaving the country?" Wade demanded irately as he whipped off his sunglasses and tucked them in the pocket of his shirt.
Josie tried not to get her dander up as she stared into the most beautiful pair of dark brown eyes she had ever seen. "He left on very short notice, but there's no cause for concern. There's still a four person team working on your site, including me."
Wade McCabe shook his head in barely suppressed aggravation, swept off his Stetson and slapped it against his thigh. Still looking her over from head to toe, he drawled sarcastically, "And have you struck oil yet?"
Josie ignored the utter lack of confidence in Wade McCabe's tone as she squared her slender shoulders to face off with the owner of the land. "It's gonna happen any day now," she stated firmly.
"Uh-huh." His eyes still locked with hers, Wade McCabe blew Out a disbelieving breath and Swept a hand through the rumpled ash-brown layers of his hair. He set his hat on his head and tugged it low across his brow. "Get Big Jim On the phone," he ordered, closing in on her. "Now."
"I can't." A warm flush filled Josie's cheeks as she backed toward the trailer that was serving as their on-site office and laboratory.
"Why not?" Wade McCabe snapped, keeping pace, as Josie headed up the steps.
"Because he's in a remote jungle that's miles from any phone, Josie replied, ignoring the calmly assessing glint in his chocolate-brown eyes. She held the door, ushering them both into air-conditioned comfort. "In fact, it's impossible for me to even get a message to him until he gets to a place where he can call in again."
Wade McCabe blew out a frustrated breath as he shut the aluminum door behind them and braced his broad shoulders against the frame. "And he didn't see fit to let me know any of this, even after I'd signed and returned the drilling Contract?"
Big Jim didn't know about this Contract. It had come in after he'd taken the rest of his crew with him to South America and left Josie in charge of the Midland-Odessa office.
"You know you can trust Wyatt Drilling," Josie said. In fact, in the Past Big Jim had done plenty of drilling Contracts with Wade McCabe and had quickly and efficiently struck oil with every discovery well he drilled for him.
"I sure as heck thought I could," Wade returned as he shoved away from the door. "Otherwise I never would have just signed the papers and sent them back with a hefty check to begin operations, without at least first talking to Big Jim."
Josie stacked the sample logs that she had been studying on her desk. "I'm sure your faith hasn't been misplaced," she said stubbornly.
Finished, she folded her arms in front of her.
"I might believe that, if a modern jackknife derrick were sitting on my property," he replied, raising his voice. "Which brings me to my next point. Where in blue blazes did y'all get that hunk of metal out there?"
Josie glanced out the window at the drill that was - even now - grinding away, rhythmically digging into the earth. The steel A-frame structure looked much like a radio tower and was topped off by a crown block that was threaded with long steel cables that held the traveling block to which the hook, swivel and drill were all attached. Two sets of metal stairs ran up the sides of the derrick to the metal platform that served as the derrick floor. On that were two small shed-size buildings. One was the tool house. The other contained the powerful engines that ran the rig. At ground level were the slush pit and mud pump. None of it was pretty, shiny or new, but it was doing its job, and for a fraction of the cost of a new rig. As far as Josie was concerned, that was all that counted.
"That hunk of metal-as you so unkindly put it-came from Big Jim's warehouse," she said as she held Wade McCabe's steady, probing gaze. "And. I'll have you know, it has quite a history."
Wade rubbed his jaw with the flat of his hand and glanced out the window at the grunting, groaning machinery. "I'll bet."
"Big Jim found his very first producing well with that rig." Josie was hoping-for reasons that were both practical and sentimental-that it would also help her strike oil for the first time. "Furthermore,"she added, "you should be pleased to know that this particular rig is costing you only one-tenth of the expense of the rig we've used in the past on your various leases." That ought to appeal to a man who spent all his time making money.
He squinted at her, taking his time about it, before he returned his insultingly frank gaze to her face, "What'd you say your name was again?"
She hadn't, Josie thought, swearing inwardly. But she would have to now. "Josie. Josie Lynn Corbett," Josie replied reluctantly, deliberately leaving out the last part of her hyphenated last name, which was way too long, anyway, thanks to her parents, who'd never been able to agree on anything even before she was born.
"Well, Josie," Wade McCabe drawled, "you tell Big Jim I've never been one to drill down a dry hole for long. Never mind with substandard equipment and a second-string crew! And that being the case, I'm pulling out now."
Josie's mouth fell open. "Wait a minute," she protested hotly as she circled around her desk and grabbed him by the arm. "You can't do that!"
Wade looked askance at the feminine hand curved around his bicep. "Watch me!"
Josie moved to block his way, putting herself between Wade and the door. "Quitting now would be like throwing all this hard work we've done away!"
"And speaking of that, exactly what part do you play in this?" Wade demanded.
Josie stepped past the dual phones, computer, printer, fax and copier and plucked the drilling and billing records for the site from her desk, which she promptly handed over. "I'm acting site coordinator, and I'm also handling the financial end of things plus all the record keeping and necessary paperwork."
Wade carefully perused the drilling and billing records she'd handed over. Apparently unable to find anything amiss, he finally looked up. His glance swept her from head to toe, taking in every inch of her snug-fitting blue jeans, electric blue T-shirt and dusty red cowboy boots before returning with slow deliberation to her face. "I've never known Big Jim to employ any women."
As his gaze settled on the delicate features of her oval face, Josie did her best to suppress a moue of regret. "Unfortunately, in the past that's been true."
"Then why did he hire you?" Wade persisted as their eyes clashed and held.
Feeling her abilities were in question, Josie lifted her chin defiantly. "Because I'm an aspiring land woman myself." She wanted to be able to find the land, acquire the mineral leases and put the deals together. And then make it all work. "And I told him I wanted to learn all about the oil business from the ground up from the very best locator of wildcat wells in Texas. I'm persistent as all get-out when I want something, and I talked him into it."
Seeing the start of an appreciative face, Josie settled on the edge of her desk continued more easily. "And, to be perfectly blunt, with Big Jim and most of his regular crew in South America on that emergency, they needed some additional hands-on help on this project for Gus, our resident equipment expert, Dieter, our geophysicist, and Ernie, our petroleum engineer." Overall, the experience for her had been invaluable.
"Couldn't they have hired another roughneck for that?"
"I'm perfectly competent to help out the guys in any number of ways, I assure you." In fact, she was more than competent. And furthermore, Big Jim would have seen that firsthand when she'd started working for him six months ago, Josie thought irately, if he'd just taken into account her wide range of experience and given her half a chance, instead of relegating her to answering phones and doing silly errands and filing papers for him.
"Yeah, well," Wade McCabe continued to glance at Josie skeptically, "be that as it may, I'm still pulling out."
Was the trailer smaller with him in it or was that her imagination? "Now wait just a minute," Josie countered, irked to find McCabe every bit as chauvinistic in his attitude toward her as her very own father. "Wyatt Drilling has always struck oil for you in the past, haven't they?"
Wade McCabe nodded. "Which is why I hired Big Jim Wyatt and not someone else to do the drilling. 'Cause I didn't want to pour thousands of dollars down some dry hole in a vain search for black gold where none was to be found."
"There is oil on this property," Josie announced adamantly."
"I don't doubt that for a moment," Wade agreed complacently. "Otherwise I never would have bought the property for myself and acquired the lease. But if you and Big Jim and the rest of his outfit think I'm gonna just empty my pockets while Big Jim's second-string stand-ins fumble around finding it for me, while he and the rest of his regular top-notch crew are off in South America, working for somebody else, you are sadly mistaken. So you can tell Big Jim if and when he calls-" Wade took the contract signed with Big Jim's scrawled initials, JLW , and his own name out of his back pocket, and tore it in two. "That I'm invoking the quit clause, and the deal is off. Now."