About the Author
Tory Cates is a Rita Award nominee who lives in Texas.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Different Dreams Chapter 1
The April breeze was laden with the fresh green scent of mesquite buds just beginning to blossom. It riffled gently through Malou Sanders’s wispy, wheat-colored hair, a color that was repeated in her khaki shirt and shorts. She breathed in the moist air, knowing that the Texas sun, still just a scarlet crack of dawn along the far horizon, would sear every bit of softness out of the air before long. Spring in this sunbaked land so close to where the sweltering borders of Mexico and the U.S. rubbed together was little more than a crack in time. By May, just a week away, the brief season would be well on its way to becoming memory.
Sitting down on a large flat rock within the grassy, fenced-in enclosure, Malou tucked up her legs—extravagantly long for her height and already tanned to a rich coppery color—and lifted the binoculars hanging by a strap around her neck to scan the two hundred acres spreading out before her.
Her eyes burned slightly from lack of sleep. She blinked and focused on her search. In an unconscious gesture of nervousness, she nibbled at her bottom lip, exposing teeth that were strong and white but ever so slightly crooked. Malou had never been bothered enough by the tiny imperfection to correct it.
“Where are you, Jezebel?” she whispered to herself as she strained to see beyond the stands of prickly pear and mesquite that blocked her view.
Her gaze slid over sleeping forms that, from a distance, appeared to be slightly fuzzy, tawny gray boulders. They weren’t. The furry clumps were monkeys, Japanese macaque monkeys to be precise. To Malou Sanders, resident manager of the South Texas Primate Research Center, known locally as El Rancho de los Monos—the Monkey Ranch—they were much more. Besides being the focus of her life’s work, each and every one of them was a clear and distinct individual complete with a unique face, name, family history, and personality. And one was missing. That was her first worry. Her second worry also had a name, though no face. The name was Mr. Cameron Landell, the new owner of El Rancho de los Monos, and he was a far more serious source of concern. Since Mr. Stallings’s death two weeks ago, dozens of developers had been sniffing around El Rancho de los Monos, but Cameron Landell had been the high bidder. Malou doubted that he would have the same soft spot for macaques that Mr. Stallings had had.
When, at long last, Malou had been able to chase that ominous name from her thoughts and fallen asleep last night, there had been 313 members in the troop. If her calculations were correct, there should be 314 monkeys this morning. She swiveled around searching for the newest troop member to be born in this strange land so far from their ancestral home in Japan. She hadn’t worried this much about the other births, but Jezebel was different. Since Jezebel herself had been abandoned by her mother as an infant, there was no telling what the flighty creature might do after delivering her first baby.
“Where are you, you little bubble brain?” Malou muttered to herself; like all the monkeys, in Malou’s eyes Jezebel had a very pronounced personality: scatterbrained and impulsive.
While Malou was studying the sleeping macaques’ watermelon-pink faces, suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown, they all came to life at once. As many times as she’d witnessed the awakening, it never failed to thrill Malou. For the moment she forgot her anxiety about the newborn and her even more pressing preoccupation with this Cameron Landell person who suddenly loomed so large in her life. Being present at the instant when the complex drama that was macaque life began anew with the rising of the sun was Malou’s reward for the long years she’d spent in lecture halls and labs. Her reward for the absorption in her field that had left her few outside interests and a social life that extended no further than her colleagues and her family. For Malou—when the sun was rising, at least—it was enough.
Elbows propped on brown knees, binoculars pressed to her face, Malou became lost in the quickening pace of activity. A streak of gray fuzzed across the prairie, followed hotly by three more streaks as a quartet of young monkeys, “juveniles” in primatology terms, chased one another across the dusty earth. New mothers with infants snuggled to their bellies awoke to suckle their babies. Sumo, the troop’s alpha male, its leader, stretched with a lordly yawn. His powerful squat body and combative nature gave clues to the origin of his name. A small harem of the highest-ranking females began to groom him, combing carefully through his thick fur. He remained imperiously detached throughout the process.
Lower-ranking females and their offspring occupied spots farther away from the center of the troop. Farther still, the troop’s outcasts, the peripheral males, perched in scrubby mesquite trees along the fence enclosing the compound. Malou chuckled. It was so much like small-town human society, with the mayor and his cronies living at the center of town and the less affluent and prestigious fanning out from there.
It was all so complicated, she marveled, yet so orderly. So structured, yet so unpredictable. She pulled out her field notebook and jotted down some notes on the interactions she was observing.
As she continued watching, Malou saw that she wasn’t the only one observing the troop. Kojiwa, at well over thirty the oldest monkey in the troop, sat in the shade of a cactus, keeping an eye on the troop he had once led. The old curmudgeon held a special place in Malou’s heart, for he was one of the few males who could be counted on to intervene in a fight on behalf of a weaker combatant. He was also the only male she’d ever seen care for an abandoned infant. That infant had been the errant Jezebel.
Just as Malou was reflecting on the unique relationship between Kojiwa and his adopted daughter, Jezebel, the expectant mother capered out of the backcountry bush, rushing forward to greet her guardian. Malou winced. Jezebel was alone and clearly no longer pregnant. All Malou’s worst fears were confirmed. Knowing no better, Jezebel had abandoned the baby she’d borne during the night, just as her own mother had abandoned her.
Before Malou could begin searching for the baby, a distant, mechanical hum intruded to remind her of far greater worries.
Just as he promised! Malou fumed, remembering the curt phone message his assistant had left on her voice mail. The message had said Landell would arrive bright and early. It was certainly early, but for Malou, the morning had now become considerably less bright.
She trained her binoculars on the plume of dust rising along the dirt road that led up to the compound, and she groaned softly. Of course he would drive a Cadillac Escalade. It fit the land developer’s image to a T. She was sure Cameron Landell would live up to all her worst fears of what a soulless, money-grubbing Texas wheeler-dealer was like. He was of a type and from a world that usually would never concern her. But, because of Mr. Stallings’s death, their worlds had collided. Malou couldn’t concern herself anymore with Jezebel’s baby; she had the whole troop’s survival to worry about now.
The claret-colored SUV stopped alongside the portable building that served as both research station and home for Malou and for Ernie Pierce, the researcher-in-residence temporarily living at the ranch. Malou didn’t make a move. She kept her binoculars trained on the Escalade and waited for her first glimpse of her adversary.
Cameron Landell stepped out and, in one split second, shot Malou’s preconceptions all to hell. Where she’d expected a paunchy middle-ager, Cameron Landell looked to be the kind of man that, even when he did reach middle-age, would never let his age show. He had the tight, spare build of a prizefighter or a dancer, an aggressive modern dancer. And instead of the button-down shirt and slacks she would have predicted, Landell was wearing worn Levi’s and a faded blue workshirt. A cowboy hat of gray felt shielded his eyes.
Malou shifted her focus and zoomed in on his face. She needed clues and needed them fast. She needed to know everything she could about this man. Again, the face surprised her. She’d figured that a man responsible for turning as much natural, unspoiled land into ticky-tacky tract housing as Cameron Landell was reputed to have would have a much different face. A bland face that never registered any second thoughts, any qualms, any deeper consideration than, “Will it make money?”
But Cameron Landell’s face wasn’t like that. More than the thickly lashed dark eyes and full mouth, Malou noticed the edgy wariness that animated it. His eyes searched the landscape with a predatory intensity. Malou had the impression that everything Cameron Landell saw registered. That nothing escaped his notice. It was a most unnerving first impression.
His appraisal completed, Landell moved to the front door of the research station. His walk was brisk, much faster than the loping gaits of most Texans she’d known in the ten years since her father, a physics professor, had moved the family from Chicago to Austin to teach at the university there. Landell’s was a tough, muscular walk that again brought to Malou’s mind the aggressive motions of a modern dancer. Cameron Landell walked like a man in a hurry. Even on a spring morning in the middle of nowhere with the day barely begun.
Malou couldn’t hear the sound of his knock against the door of the distant research station, but she could tell from the force Landell put into it that it was loud. Several minutes passed while he stood bouncing slightly from foot to foot like a tennis player waiting to receive a match-point serve. Finally Ernie opened the door.
Her fellow researcher looked as if he too had had a hard night—hair tousled, eyes swollen, shirt buttoned crooked. That was when Malou remembered that the shower in Ernie’s bathroom was broken and she was supposed to look into getting it repaired. He was doing some study on visual acuity, comparing the vision of caged versus free-ranging macaques. Malou could never remember the precise subject. Just that it involved running tedious but harmless tests on animals in his lab. Her interest lay strictly with uncaged animals, with the fascinating behavior rituals that bound the troop together. Blinking into the morning sun that sliced across the land, myopic Ernie, blind without his glasses, pointed a vague finger in the general direction of the enclosure. With a brisk wave of both thanks and dismissal, Cameron Landell left Ernie, who was still speaking, and headed toward the enclosure.
Malou sighed and rested the binoculars on her chest. The signs were not good. Not good at all. She’d searched Cameron Landell for signs of vulnerability, softness, a crack in that stern facade. She hadn’t found any. Her hands went icy in the south Texas heat. So much depended on this meeting. On her. She had to do whatever was necessary to charm, cajole, intimidate, and/or educate Cameron Landell into keeping the troop together. She stood, pulled herself up to her full five foot four and a half inches, and marched to the front gate. She tried reviving her sagging confidence by reminding herself that she was a competent adult of twenty-seven, a highly trained professional, and a scientist who, at a very early age, had already won several major awards in her field.
Cameron Landell reached the gate before she did. He leaned against it with a loose-jointed ease as he waited on the other side for her. Waited and watched. Malou suddenly became very conscious of her walk and of the length of brown leg her khaki shorts left on display. She even noticed, for the first time ever, how the binoculars pressed against her breasts, rising and falling with each step she took. Landell clearly noticed too, soaking in that detail just as he seemed to absorb every other detail around him. She felt his eyes on her, appraising her as if she were a prime piece of real estate he was interested in acquiring—acquiring and despoiling.
In that same instant, Malou realized something else: She was coming to him. Just like the female monkeys who came to Sumo to offer their services, she had put herself in a subordinate position by being the one to come to Landell. She was certain the same pattern held in human society. Landell probably would have made her come to his office in San Antonio if he hadn’t wanted to inspect the property himself. No, Landell was the sort that somehow always turned others into subordinates, always made them come to him.
And that, Malou realized, anger sparking within her, was precisely what he had succeeded in doing to her. He’d managed to make that damned gate he was leaning on into his office for the moment, and to turn her into a humble supplicant coming to him. Well, she hadn’t studied the behavior of lower primates for this long without picking up a few tricks of her own. Such as overfamiliarity. She’d observed the way low-status troop members always deferred to Sumo, cringing and cowering and fleeing any contact with the head honcho. Malou was determined to win back the ground she’d inadvertently lost—there would be no cringing or cowering.
“Cam,” she called out casually, “I’d forgotten when your office said you were coming.” She could see by the slight flutter of those thickly fringed, espresso brown eyes that she’d momentarily nonplussed him with her nonchalant greeting. She followed up her advantage by coming to the side of the gate where he waited and thrusting her hand out boldly. “I assume you are Cameron Landell, proud new proprietor of El Rancho de los Monos. As you’ve no doubt guessed, I’m Malou Sanders, resident manager.”
“You’re right on the first count.” His voice was as clipped and staccato as his walk had been. Betraying origins Eastern and urban, it was a far cry from the good-old-boy Texas drawl she’d anticipated. “As far as being proud goes, that remains to be seen.” He took her hand in his. An ironic smile flirted around his lips.
Remembering Sumo’s model, Malou brought her free hand over to rest on top of Landell’s clasped hand. She patted it lightly in a condescending way, touching him with the easy familiarity that Sumo would use with an underling. “Hope you didn’t have too much trouble finding the way out,” she said, implying that he had experienced difficulties.
“Not really,” he answered, still holding her hand, his words edged with mocking irony. “Once you leave San Antonio, it’s pretty easy. You just head south. If you end up in Mexico, you know you’ve gone too far.” The edge softened and he smiled. Still holding her hand, he now held her eyes as well.
“And you’re clearly not a man who ever goes too far,” Malou shot back, freeing her hand and her gaze. She’d wanted Landell to be the one to withdraw first, but the feel of his hand, strong and warm against her own, was far too disconcerting; if there was one thing she absolutely could not afford to be at this moment, it was disconcerted.
“Oh, clearly. Never,” Landell agreed. But the quirk of his eyebrows told Malou that just the opposite was true. Dangerously true. “And now, Mylou? Milieu? What in the devil is your name?”
“Muh-lou,” she sounded out the name that no one ever got right the first time. “It’s short for Mary Louise.” Malou reflexively bit her lip. She shouldn’t have told him that. Shouldn’t tell the enemy anything more than what was absolutely necessary—name, rank, and serial number.
“Well, Mary Louise . . .”
She knew she shouldn’t have told him. She hated her r...
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