"I can't complain. I'm staying busy, and that helps. I'm still volunteering on a couple nonprofit boards, and I'm involved in a Christmas fundraiser next month. On top of that I try to catch as many of the grandkids' sporting events as I can."
She chuckled. "Maybe I'm not the only one who needs to slow down."
"I think about stepping down every once in a while, but staying busy helps.
Gail and I had so many plans. So many places we wanted to travel to together. I guess you plan your whole life for retirement with the idea of enjoying it with the person you love, but sometimes... Sometimes life doesn't go the way you think it will."
Aubrey heard the regret in his voice. He wasn't the only one who found it hard to believe Gail was gone.
"But enough about me," he said. "You're the one I'm worried about. You seem tired this trip. More tired than usual."
She stared out across the water as the sun continued to slowly bathe the horizon in yellow and gold. She was tempted to tell him about the threats she'd received, but she wasn't going to add to his worry. "Things never seem to slow down, but moments like this remind me how much I need a break."
"You could always transfer and get a job down here. I understand they're hiring game wardens. It's got to be calmer than what you're doing in Houston."
She took another sip of her coffee. "The job has its ups and downs, but I love it, and can't imagine doing anything else."
"Meaning your promotion to detective?" She nodded.
"I remember when you first started talking about law enforcement. You were probably ten, maybe eleven. You always had this desire to serve your country."
"And you were one of my biggest influences. If it wasn't for you and your family, I'd be in a different place right now."
"I don't know. You've always been strong, no matter what life throws at you. Besides, I think I'm the one who should be thanking you. I love my boys, but we needed a bit of softness to balance out all the testosterone. We all love it when you're around."
She laughed, loving how he always made her feel like she was one of his own. "You've definitely got that between Ryan and the twins. But now that Kyle and Mitchell are married, it's a bit more balanced."
"True. And don't get me wrong. You know how much I love my daughters-in-law, but you'll never catch them out here duck hunting."
"You do have a point." She watched the rays of light start to edge their way across the marshland, the yellows and oranges of the sunrise reflecting across the water. Renee and Kim had no idea what they were missing. "Mitchell told me they took advantage of their husbands being gone and are Christmas shopping in Houston."
Even her mother had never understood how she preferred camping and hunting to a weekend shopping trip, but she'd choose time out in the middle of God's creation over shopping any day. It always helped lower her stress and calm her mind.
Papps squeezed her knee. "I'm glad you're here, but there's something you're not telling me, isn't there?"
She glanced at him. The morning glow on the water gave her just enough light to read his worried expression. "You always know when something's going on, don't you?"
"It must be a sixth sense. In case you forgot, before I got into politics, I was a father, counselor, and youth pastor."
She let out a slow breath. "I'm just learning how to deal with some of the aspects of my job, but it's nothing really."
"Were you threatened?"
She closed her eyes for a moment, wishing she could permanently erase the image of the dead bodies on the living room floor. And the chilling expression their suspect had given her when they arrested him. But what she'd experienced was part of the job. Part of her commitment to making the world a safer place. And nothing anyone could say or do was going to change that.
"Empty threats," she said. "The man's now sitting behind bars and looking at life in prison."