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“Butterflies don’t have a very long life span. You’ll need to get out there soon.”
Jaiden was surprised by Marshall’s knowledge. Not many developers had any concern for the lives of the wildlife they disrupted. “Some only last a few days. If this one is what I think, it’s in the butterfly stage about two weeks. I need to get out there. We heard about the butterfly right after I hurt my ankle. I may have missed the window already.”
“Do they leave eggs or chrysalis if the butterflies themselves are gone?”
“Eggs, maybe. They’ll be really hard to find, but I’ll have to look while I still have access to the land.”
The waitress brought their sandwiches. A chicken Caesar wrap for Marshall and a bowl of French onion soup for Jaiden.
“Why’s that?” Marshall said after demolishing half his wrap in three bites.
Big men needed to eat fast, she guessed.
“The property is going to be under new ownership. The new owner may have other plans…” She let the words sit between them as if they were an oversized centerpiece. Would Marshall protest her insinuations? He merely blinked, so she went on, “If I can find the butterfly, I can limit what those plans might be.”
“How would that work?” Marshall asked.
He hadn’t taken her bait. He was circling, like a bear at a bait pile, checking the approaches.
“Because the Karner Blue is so rare, any land established as its habitat can be protected. Several acres around the discovery site would be protected from any development, even so much as a multi-use trail.”
Marshall tipped his head to the side. He was thinking, mulling over her words, but he didn’t say anything right away. “How long would the process take?”
Probably developing his own game plan to thwart her. Paperwork with any government organization could take months if not years to be processed and confirmed. His development of the property could break ground before she even found the butterfly. If she didn’t find it in the next couple weeks, she would have another brief shot toward the end of the summer. “It depends on how long it takes me to find the butterfly.”
“Then we best get working on that.”
“I’m all for preserving rare creatures.” The edge of Marshall’s lip curved. Something about his comment was funny to him. His cryptozoology interests were one thing, but proving the existence of actual animals was something else.
“The picture we received is blurry but the wings have more blue on them than any other butterfly previously discovered in our area. It may be an anomaly, but it warrants more research. If it is a Karner Blue, it can change a lot of the guidelines for land use around the forest.”
“I don’t see how anyone can document all the insects around. It’d be hard to keep track of all the types of squirrels. Seems like there are a dozen varieties of them scurrying around the woods. I’ve seen black, gray, tan, and everything in between.”
“You do spend a lot of time in the woods then?”
“I enjoy hiking.” Marshall nodded. A piece of lettuce dripped out of his wrap as he took a bite and left an oily stripe on his purple tie. “I’m going to hear it from Hilde.” He grabbed a napkin and blotted the excess oil from the silk.
Jaiden’s heart sank. She’d forgotten about Hilde. She still didn’t know the nature of Marshall’s relationship with the woman. It seemed strange that he would agree to lunch with her if Hilde was his significant other, but then some people considered a lunch date something for friends or people from work and not a romantic event.
“How is Hilde by the way?” Jaiden asked, hoping she could find a way to clarify Jennifer’s status without blurting out a rude question.
“Doing well. Recovering not as quickly as she would like, of course. Caught her trying to clean the blinds the other day.” Marshall laughed. “She doesn’t think I’m getting my money’s worth if she doesn’t clean the house from top to bottom once a month.”
Jaiden wrinkled her brow. Well, that doesn’t clear much of anything up. Her confusion must have been evident on her face.
“Hilde’s my housekeeper. She has an apartment on the grounds, so it makes it easy for her to sneak over and work when she’s not supposed to. She’s afraid I’m going to be strangled to death by a dust bunny or starve if she doesn’t make me dinner. As you can see, I don’t have much trouble finding food. I can even cook a little myself.”
Jaiden sighed in relief. “I didn’t want to assume—” She couldn’t think of a good way to describe Hilde and Marshall as dating or married without implying that she was interested in him or had spent some time thinking about Marshall’s relationship status.
He wasn’t going to let her off the hook. She was going to have to articulate something about the embarrassing meandering of her thoughts. “That you and Hilde are an item.”
There that was safe. Nothing to hint at her own feelings or interests.
“Were you wondering” Marshall’s eyes sparkled. He was enjoying this. She shifted in her seat.
“It’s not every day that I fall at someone’s feet.” Jaiden’s cheeks flushed. She leaned her chin on her elbow, hoping her fingers were cold enough to cool her burning cheeks.
“I can’t say I often have woodland fairies tumble at my feet.”
“Mythical creatures?” Jaiden asked, secretly delighted with the fairy comparison. It wasn’t often she was compared to something so light and ethereal. Generally, she was more grounded, digging in the dirt, searching for the elusive millipede or ant hill. Despite her interest in butterflies and moths, she was rarely compared to one.
“They’re only mythical if you haven’t seen one.” Marshall leaned forward and propped his hand on his chin, mirroring her own position.
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