Mary straightened, her eyes darkening. "Bite your tongue, Elsie Brookes. Any man would count himself lucky to earn your affection. You just don't grant it easily." She leaned on the broom. "Maybe this summer we'll both find nice boys to take us away from all this."
"Take us away? Why would anyone want to leave?" Elsie glanced out the open door toward the distant springs, the late morning sunshine casting a golden glow over the rising steam. If she could secure a teaching position in Gardiner, she would stay forever.
"You've got a classic case of park fever. You should just marry a ranger and get it over with." Mary dropped her broom and dustpan into the cart. "What about the new fella? He's a little quiet, but he looks like a movie star. What was his name?"
"Teddy Vaughn." Elsie managed to speak his name without her voice wobbling. The first time she'd encountered the brown-eyed ranger, she'd somehow lost all ability to string words together or even swallow for a heady moment. But she couldn't let her heart go there. No one would ever want her in that way. "I'm dedicating my life to education; you know that. I'm not looking to get married."
"I'll never understand you." Her roommate wrinkled her nose. "Why waste time on other people's children when you can have ones of your own? You and Ranger Vaughn would make beautiful babies."
Elsie couldn't help giggling at Mary's silliness. Just having her friend back in the park made everything brighter. "Why don't you head off to meet the boys for lunch? I can finish the last cabin."
Mary brightened. "Really? But what about your mother?"
"I'll still have time to check in. Go have fun."
Her friend tore off her kerchief and fluffed her hair. "You're the best, Els. I'll give Bernie a peck on the cheek from you."
"Don't you dare."
Elsie made short work of the last cabin and then pointed the molly cart in the direction of the laundry. A small herd of elk grazed on the green lawn surrounding the lodge. A cow elk, heavy with her unborn calf, lifted her head to stare back, chewing leisurely. The animals had over three thousand square miles of park to wander but seemed to prefer it here. And the visitors enjoyed the close proximity to the wildlife.
"There's my girl. I was looking for you." Her father strode toward her, the broad-brimmed Stetson casting shadows over his face. "Are you finished for the morning?" He reached for the cart handles.
"You don't have to do that. I've got it."
"You think I'm too good to haul laundry?" He cast her his usual grin. "How do you think I won your mother's affections? It wasn't with my stamp collection. Or my dashing good looks."
"She said it was your servant's heart." Her mother's true words wrapped around her own heart.
"Yes, indeed. 'Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.' It's not just the key to a happy home, Elsie—"
"I know. It's the key to a happy life." Only her parents could make the golden rule sound romantic. "And I'll remember that when I finally get all my pennies saved for college. Then I'll make you proud."
"I've always been proud. You were meant for bigger things than this place."
"Bigger than Yellowstone?" The idea rippled through her. "That's ridiculous."
"Bigger than being a simple ranger like your old man."
Her eyes slid over her father's frame, his long years dedicated to the park showing in his stooped shoulders. Too much work, too few staff. It was as much a part of the job as the uniform. "You look tired. What have you been doing today?"
"I went to the new campsite, making sure everything's ready."
"You're opening the campground already? It's only April."
They arrived at the laundry, and he slid the molly into the waiting spot. "Not the auto camp. The ECW camp."
She thought through the acronym. As the daughter of a federal employee, she was accustomed to negotiating alphabet soup, but this was a new one. "What's that?"