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Bashful Banker, page 1


Bashful Banker

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Bashful Banker

  Bashful Banker

  Cindy Caldwell

  Copyright © 2017 by Cindy Caldwell

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20


  Chapter 1

  Dusk turned to dark in Fred Wharton III’s office at the Bank of Riston, but he’d completely missed it. He squinted at the stack of papers on his desk, and leaned back in his black leather chair while he closed and rubbed his eyes.

  When he opened them to the darkness, he tugged on the chain of the green and brass lamp hanging over the leather blotter that had been his father’s. He glanced at the clock—eight—and shook his head slowly. Another late night at work in a string that had gotten longer than he could remember. It certainly had been more common than not since Dani Weston married Travis. Although he was happy for both of them, it had taken him several months to not cringe when he thought of it.

  He’d tried his best to move on, and with that had come the late nights at work. Shoot, he hadn’t been out to the ranch at all since Wyatt’s baby was born and that had been a bit ago.

  He stood and stretched, peering out the glass door of his office to the darkened bank beyond. He glanced at the small table beside the door. He saw a to-go box and was sorry he hadn’t said goodbye to Mrs. Green, let alone noticed that she’d left him something to eat. The kind, older woman had been his father’s secretary before him, and he felt a twinge that he made her worry, working so late every night.

  Just as he took a bite of the sandwich that Mrs. Green had left for him, he turned at a rap on the window of his office that lined the sidewalk of Riston, right next to the flower shop.

  Outside on the step, Mr. and Mrs. Weston smiled, waving. He stood quickly and held up a finger as he left his office and fumbled with the keys to the door.

  As he swung it open, his two longest-term clients came in, Mrs. Weston gracing him with a big hug as Mr. Weston stomped his feet from the fall chill.

  “You’re out late,” Fred said as he gestured for them to follow him into the office. It wasn’t particularly common for them to stop by this late in the evening but he had been talking with them quite a bit lately.

  They sat across the desk from him, the glow of the green lamp falling on the flowers Mr. Weston set on the desk beside the containers of what looked like leftover Chinese food that Mrs. Weston set down.

  “It is a little late, but Wilber wanted to pick up some flowers and since we were in town, we decided to have a date night,” she said as she turned and smiled at him, the love in her eyes radiating.

  Fred couldn’t help but smile. Mr. Weston returned her gaze and patted her hand.

  “Flowers are important,” he said as he turned back toward Fred.

  “Yes, flowers. And dates,” Mrs. Weston said.

  Fred leaned back in his chair, the heartwarming display before him also producing a bit of a knot in his stomach. The Westons—and River’s End Ranch—had been his dream of what a family should be. It was a far cry from his own life, growing up the only child of very busy parents, and lately he’d sometimes wondered if his interest in Dani was more about wanting to be a part of it all. She would have been quite a catch, sure, but they really hadn’t had much in common and she’d never shown interest in him.

  He shook the thought out of his head. That train had left the station and he needed to concentrate on the matter at hand. He’d spoken with his clients several times about their time away in the RV and he’d taken care to help Wade and Dani with taxes and paperwork as the elder generation transitioned.

  “It’s very nice to see you,” he said as they settled back in their chairs. “To what do I owe the honor tonight?”

  The Westons exchanged a quick glance before Mrs. Weston reached for her husband’s hand and gripped it tightly. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath.

  “Fred, as you know Wilber and I have been transitioning out of the daily operations of the ranch for some time,” she said as her eyes met Fred’s.

  He stifled a smile as the thought of all the projects they’d requested their kids take on while they were gone. From the chapel to the Kids’ Korral to the barn, there’d been more than a few. But Wade and his siblings had been up to it and done a great job.

  “Yes, it’s been quite a year of transition. And now that you’re back, that’s changed?” Fred asked as he leaned forward on his desk.

  Mr. Weston leaned forward also and twisted the bouquet of flowers he’d brought in as he glanced at his wife. The fall bouquet of chrysanthemums, with yellow and red throughout, was beautiful and reminded Fred that the saloon should be offering pumpkin drinks of all kinds by now—maybe even pumpkin ice cream, and he shuddered. He’d hated the taste of pumpkin since he was a kid. He made a mental note to visit as soon as he could—although he’d make sure to avoid anything pumpkin.

  “I have one last request, but Wade’s already on it. A flower shop would be a perfect addition. Why, if I’d had a flower shop on the ranch all those years ago, I wouldn’t have had to drive into town every time I—”

  Mrs. Weston laughed and patted the flowers. “It would have saved you a lot of time, that’s for certain.”

  Fred tapped his fingers on the desk. “So, if the flower shop is in process, what’s next? How can I help?”

  Mrs. Weston fidgeted with a pen that sat on the edge of Fred’s desk.

  “Well, as you know, it’s always been our intention to turn over the full ownership of the ranch to the kids. All of them have worked hard to make it a success and over this past couple of years, they’ve proven their ability time and time again.”

  “That’s right,” Mr. Weston added. “We’ve decided that while we’ll be traveling in the RV but still at the ranch quite a bit, it’s probably time to make it official.”

  Fred’s eyebrows rose slowly as he listened. Part of him had never believed that they’d do it officially. The ranch was in their blood and had been their life work. But here it was.

  “That’s quite a statement,” he said. “I’m sure the kids will be thrilled.”

  “I believe they will be,” Mrs. Weston said with a broad smile. “It’s time, and they’ve earned it.”

  “You’ve done a great job for us personally, protecting and developing our retirement portfolio, so there’s really no reason not to do it now,” Mr. Weston added. “Especially with the floral shop underway.”

  “One thing, though,” Mrs. Weston said. “We want it to be a surprise. We’d like to have it all done by Halloween, established well before the holidays. We’ll make an announcement then, but before that we don’t want them to get wind of it.”

  The wheels started turning immediately for Fred. The official change of hands was a fairly daunting legal task and he glanced over toward the corner of his office where several file cabinets s
tood—each labeled River’s End Ranch. There would be paperwork to complete—loads of it—including a complete audit by a CPA to confirm current values. Halloween wasn’t that far away, and suddenly he felt a little dizzy.

  But as the Westons and River’s End Ranch had been clients of his—and of his father before him—he’d seen the ranch grow. As a boy, he’d spent a great deal of time there with his good friend, Wyatt Weston. After his father died and he’d taken over the daily operations of the bank, he’d come to know them as kind, considerate and thoughtful.

  He’d do whatever he had to do to make it work. Maybe hire some part-time help if needed—but he’d get it done.

  “I think that’s a fantastic idea, and the family will be thrilled. I’ll start tomorrow, and I’ll let Wade know I’ll need some time in his office as well. His office and Dani’s have information I’ll require to finish this up.”

  Mrs. Weston tapped her chin. “Hm. We’ll need a reason for you to be in there, not related to the turnover.”

  “What if we tell them we need to do an audit. Maybe from the IRS or something?” Mr. Weston said with a smile.

  Fred laughed. “That might make them a little nervous unnecessarily but that’s probably our best bet.”

  “Oh, goodness. I hope they don’t lose any sleep over it. And don’t forget, we’ll need to keep it secret. Maybe we need a code name.”

  “A code name?” Mr. Weston asked as he smiled. His wife glanced around the room and Fred followed her gaze to the Halloween decorations Mrs. Green had sneaked into his office when he wasn’t paying attention.

  “I know. We’ll call it Project Jack-O-Lantern.”

  All three of them chuckled as the Westons stood and gathered their things.

  “This should be interesting,” Mr. Weston said as they headed toward the door. “Thank you, Fred. I know it’ll be quite a bit of work for you. We really appreciate it.”

  “We sure do,” Mrs. Weston added. “Remember, not a word to anyone. And make sure not to stay too late.”

  He waved as they walked out the door and he locked it behind them. He rested his hand on top of the file cabinets that held the entire financial history of River’s End Ranch. At that particular moment, he couldn’t fathom how completing this turnover and not staying too late could possibly work together. But he’d make it happen. Somehow.

  Chapter 2

  Fred was pretty positive he’d only rested his head on the high back of his leather chair for a second, but he snapped to attention as the door to his office opened the next day.

  “Were you sleeping? I’m sorry,” his secretary, Mrs. Green, said as she brought in a sandwich and set it on his desk.

  “No, I don’t think so,” he said sheepishly, hoping he hadn’t actually been snoring. The spectacle of all the work he had to do in a relatively short period of time had kept him up most of the night, but he’d hoped it didn’t show.

  “I’ll get you some more tea, too,” the older woman said.

  “Thank you,” he said as she smiled and headed for the door.

  “You’re welcome, but you might want to think again about calling for some help with this.” And just before she left, she said over her shoulder, “And if you don’t each your lunch, I’m telling your mother.

  As she closed the door, he took in a deep breath. When he’d arrived before six a.m., she was already seated at his desk. He quickly told her he’d be doing an audit of River’s End Ranch, but didn’t share why. He’d promised, and that promise meant everything to him. Besides, Mrs. Green had been the secretary of the bank since he was born, and confidentiality was as important to her as it was to him, so she hadn’t even asked.

  She had mentioned right away that he wouldn’t be able to get this done alone and he’d spent a good portion of the morning agreeing with her as he took his first glance through the file cabinets. Since they’d come up with the idea of the tax audit, he didn’t need to worry much about covering up the surprise at the ranch office, and he’d eventually swallowed hard and made a call to Dani. Her assistant, Erica, was a CPA and would be perfect for him to liaison with. He wouldn’t need her full time, but she’d sure fit the bill.

  He’d left a message a couple of hours earlier and Bernie had said she’d leave a message as Dani was out that morning. He hadn’t talked to her since she’d gotten married, and he was a little grateful that she wasn’t there right off the bat. His cheeks still burned sometimes at the memory of her easy let-down when he’d wanted to date her, and he hadn’t had the time nor the inclination to think about dating anyone since.

  He took a big bite of the sandwich Mrs. Green had left for him just as the phone on his desk rang. He chewed as quickly as he could and swallowed, washing the ham and cheese down with a swig of water before he picked up the phone.

  “Bank of Riston, Fred Wharton speaking. How may I help you?”

  He heard a familiar laugh at the other end and felt his cheeks flush.

  “That’s quite a mouthful, Fred,” Dani Weston said. “How are you?”

  “Hi, Dani,” he said, and he brushed crumbs from his desk into the wastebasket as if she could see them. “How are you? And congratulations on your wedding, by the way.”

  “Wow, has it been that long since I’ve seen you? Thanks! Travis and I are very happy,” she said softly.

  Things just really needed to go back to normal, so he shook the past out of his head. He and Dani had been friends for years, beyond anything else, and he was certain they could be again.

  “I’m glad to hear that,” he said, pleased to notice that it felt very sincere. He was happy for her.

  “Thank you, Fred. That’s nice to hear. What can I do for you? Bernie said you called.”

  “I did, I did.”

  He realized he hadn’t taken the time to think through how he might explain this, and knowing he couldn’t tell her the whole truth, he hesitated for a moment, his late father’s words echoing in his ears. It’s never right to lie, no matter how big or small. Not even to spare someone worry.

  But he forged ahead, determined not to lie outright.

  “I spoke with your parents last night and we need to do an audit. A full and complete one, and it needs to be done rather quickly,” he said, none of it untrue. So far.

  “Oh, okay. I’ll help in any way I can. Have you talked to Wade?”

  He reached for a pen on the other side of the desk and a pad to jot down some notes. “No, I haven’t. I wanted to talk to you first, actually. I was hoping that Erica could help gathering some of the information I’d need. Jace, too. I’ve only got a couple of weeks and I could use the help. Everyone here at the bank is tied up but me, and—”

  She groaned on the other end of the line.

  “Oh, Fred. The timing couldn’t be worse. Erica and Randy just left for a belated honeymoon. She’ll be gone until after Halloween. I thought this was a good time. You know, before the Christmas rush and everything.”

  “Crud,” he said as he rested his chin in his hand. “Figures.”

  “I’m sorry. And Jace is out of town, too, with Dink. Murphy’s law and all that. Is there anybody else around here who could help?”

  He thought for a minute and couldn’t identify anyone who’d have the skill set that he’d need to sift through all of this information quickly enough to meet their deadline.

  “We’re not in trouble or anything, are we?” she asked.

  “What? Oh, no. Not at all. Um, I mean...” He remembered that they’d thought of the Internal Revenue Service as a cover story if they needed one, but he really didn’t want to lie. “No,” he said firmly, hoping she’d just leave it at that.

  “Phew,” she said with a laugh. “Well, anybody you know from when you went to CPA school that you could tag for a little bit? Someone who might want to visit the ranch? We could put them up if you need, and they could use Erica’s desk while she’s gone. A lot of the paperwork’s here in the office anyway.”

  His eyebrows rose at the thought
. It was actually a good one.

  “Now that you mention it, I do have someone I can call. Started a firm in New York, and since it’s not tax season they might be able to spare a consultant. Thanks!”

  “My pleasure. Let me know what you need, and meantime I’ll mention it to Wade. We’ll get it done.”

  “I sure appreciate your help, Dani, and congratulations again,” he said before they ended the call.

  He flipped through his contacts on his cell phone and waited as the phone rang, tempted to literally cross his fingers as he looked nervously at the file cabinets.

  When his friend from college picked up the phone, he breathed a little easier. Jason had been his good buddy, and had returned to New York to work for his father’s firm, just like Fred had come back to apprentice with his father at the bank. They took a few minutes to catch up—Jason now had a wife and kids and sounded very happy.

  “Is this a social call, or is there something I can do for you?” he finally asked after inquiring about Fred’s current state of affairs. Fred didn’t go into much detail—certainly didn’t mention Dani, only that he was single and working most of the time—and finally got right to his request for help.

  After explaining the situation, Jason paused for a few moments.

  “Jason?” Fred eventually asked, wondering if the connection had been lost.

  “I’m thinking.”

  Fred heard him snap his fingers even over the phone.

  “I’ve got the perfect person. Specializes in audits of organizations like yours. She’s due for a vacation, and I know she grew up in Texas. Might like the great outdoors.”

  “She?” Fred said, and he gulped.

  “Yes, she. Her name’s Olivia Hamilton, and she’s smart as a whip and really nice, too.”

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