"Ready?" Donovan asked as he slid the spatula under the horse and placed it on Abigail's plate. Her face lit up and a peal of delighted laughter filled the kitchen. Donovan helped her with the butter and syrup, and she smiled with each bite.
"Your turn, Daddy. What are you going to make?"
"I'm going to create a Gulfstream pancake," Donovan said as he poured her a glass of milk.
"You always make an airplane," Abigail challenged.
"I like airplanes." Donovan grinned as he measured out the fuselage, wings, and tail of a sleek jet. From long practice he expertly added the batter that became the engines and then waited, spatula in hand for the batter to bubble. He'd been making pancake shapes for Abigail since she was little, right after she'd fallen in love with the Little Mermaid. His first efforts were more symbolic than accurate, but he quickly improved. It was their special treat, one that Lauren left to him. A deft flip of the pancake and a perfect golden brown Gulfstream was cooking in the skillet.
"Is it an Eco-Watch Gulfstream?" Abigail asked with her mouth full.
Donovan smiled. Eco-Watch was the company he'd founded and now ran. It was the premier private scientific research foundation in the world. With two highly modified Gulfstream jets as well as two ocean capable ships, Eco-Watch's services were sought out by some of the most advanced universities, laboratories, and scientists in the world. A third ship was being built, and there were plans to add to the aviation section as well. At fifty-one years of age, Donovan had lived two lifetime's worth of success, and it was Eco-Watch that made him the most proud. Very few people knew he'd founded Eco-Watch with his own money. Only seven people in the world knew the truth about Donovan, and his past, and he went to great lengths to keep it that way. The more he could distance himself from the man he'd once been, the more freedom he enjoyed. He was able to do work he was passionate about, and still do what he loved most, which was to fly. Eco-Watch was home.
"Daddy, make me another," Abigail said as she took the last bite of pancake number one.
Donovan stirred the batter and went to work. Two more horse shapes and one little surprise turtle pancake, and Abigail was finished and happy. As Donovan lifted her down from the counter, he got an impromptu kiss on the cheek before she bolted for her room to change clothes. Donovan cleaned up the kitchen and managed to down some coffee before he, too, headed upstairs to get ready to go to the equestrian center. A quick glance at his phone produced a frown, still nothing from Lauren. He tried to call her mobile, but it went straight to voicemail.
"Daddy, come help me," Abigail called out from her room. Donovan rounded the corner and found his daughter half-dressed. She was wearing her tan jodhpurs, a white blouse that needed to be tucked in, and she was combing her long reddish-blond hair in preparation for a ponytail. He helped her smooth her hair, gathered it in, and then secured the ponytail low on her neck so it wouldn't interfere with her riding helmet.
"I need my white ribbon, Daddy," Abigail declared the instant her hair was set.
Donovan found two ribbons on Abigail's dresser, and held them both up for her to choose. Without hesitation she pointed at the one dangling from his right hand. Abigail was the perfect mix of her mother's high IQ, matter-of-fact point of view approach, coupled with his sometimes-impetuous adventuresome streak. She was already a handful, but he wouldn't have it any other way. Donovan carefully tied the ribbon the way Lauren had taught him, and got a nod of approval as Abigail checked his work in the mirror. Then he helped her fix her shirt. Once that was finished, Abigail launched herself on the bed and held up her right leg. He slid the first black paddock boot into place, then the second. She jumped up, made sure her boots were pulled up just below her knee, and then she slid on her jacket. "You look perfect," Donovan said.
"Let's go!" she called as she strode past him for the hallway.
"Not so fast," Donovan said. "I need to take a shower and get dressed. You make sure you go to the bathroom, wash your hands, and then brush your teeth. Oh, and don't get any toothpaste on your jacket. No television. If you're bored, sit down and read something. I promise I'll be quick."
The exasperated sigh of an impatient five-year-old was all he heard as she tromped off for the bathroom.
Donovan glanced at the time, it was eight-thirty, late enough to make a call to Lauren's section at the DIA. If there had been a delay of some kind, hopefully they'd be able to tell him what was going on. He dialed the direct number, but didn't recognize the voice, or name, of the woman who answered.
"This is Donovan Nash. I'm Dr. Lauren McKenna's husband, and I was wondering if you could give me an update on her ETA to Washington."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Nash. I don't have that information."