The Texas Cowboy's Triplets(3)

By: Cathy Gillen Thacker

He sighed. “They keep escaping the pen they were using. As you can see, the original walls are only four feet high. Apparently they need to be at least five feet, so I decided to be extra safe and make it six until I can find them all suitable homes. Then I plan to just take the entire structure down.”

That made a lot more sense.

Aware they were at the end, and he no longer needed her help, Kelly stepped back. She gazed at the collie racing back and forth in the grass next to the woods. “Why is Shep barking at that goat?”

Dan grinned proudly. “I trained him to herd them back toward the enclosure. The doe he’s chasing is getting a little too far away.”

Doe? Kelly squinted. “You can tell the sex from this distance?”

“They’re all female.” Dropping his tools into the box at their feet, he caught her semi-amused look. “I know. I’m surrounded.” His soft laugh was infectious and oh so sexy. “Why, even you…”

Kelly groaned, refusing to let herself be drawn in by his irresistible charm. “Don’t start.” His constant quips had her smiling and had a way of leading her way offtrack.

“So…” A twinkle appeared in Dan’s eyes. He let his gaze drift over her in another long, thoughtful survey. “Let me get this straight. You want us to become better acquainted, but you don’t want me to flirt with you?”

Only because of where it would inevitably lead. “No,” she said blithely. “I don’t.”

He took a moment to consider that. Then, seeming to know intuitively she was fibbing about her ever-escalating attraction to him, he opened the gate wide and whistled a command to Shep. Immediately his dog began rounding up the goats and pushing them toward the enclosure.

Dan turned back to Kelly. Serious now, as he asked, “So why do you want to get to know me better, if you don’t plan to accept any one of my ten invitations for an evening out? ’Cause I have to tell you, Kelly, I’m really not interested in being ‘just friends.’”

She knew that, too. Which left her only one option. Distract—with facts.

“Actually, Dan,” she countered, doing her best to put the brakes on his shameless flirting with a haughty lift of her chin, “you asked me out seven times. Not ten.”

“Ah.” He stood with his arms folded across his chest and regarded her smugly. “So you’re counting, too.” The corners of his sensual lips turned up.

Darn him for pointing that out!

Kelly ignored what that might mean. With effort, she met his probing blue gaze. Realizing the time had come to lay all her cards on the table, said, “I’m here because I need a favor. And,” more importantly still, “I’d really like it to come from you.”

* * *

WHATEVER THIS REQUEST WAS, it was serious. And from the looks of it, highly confidential, as well. “Okay,” he concurred, immediately sobering and calling on the gentlemanly good manners that had been instilled in him since youth. Aware it was uncomfortably hot outdoors, he pointed to the house. “Would you rather go inside to talk?”

Kelly shook her head, looking more beautiful than ever, and he felt his senses kicking into high gear. It wasn’t just the delicate physical perfection of every inch of her that constantly captured and held his attention. It was the way she moved—with a kind of sultry, inherent grace. The way her lips curled up softly when she was happy, and the way her chin tilted stubbornly when she was not. She was all energy, all woman. And the slender curves that were hidden beneath a loose-fitting pink cotton shirt and faded jeans—along with her cloud of shoulder-length caramel blond hair and pretty amber eyes—made it impossible for him to look away.

“No. Out here is fine.” She rocked back on the heels of her sneakers and peered at him intently, her guard up once again. “But first, I want to make sure whatever I do say to you will be held in the strictest confidence. The same way it would be if I went to a doctor or lawyer or minister.”

Disappointment tightened his gut. “So you’re coming to me in my capacity as an officer of the law?” He had a miserable sense of history repeating itself.

“No.” Kelly shook her head and followed him up to the porch. He walked inside and came back out with two bottles of chilled water.

She accepted one and continued as if he hadn’t left. “This is completely off the record. In fact—” she paused meaningfully, watched as he uncapped the bottle and drank deeply “—I don’t want you to report anything of what I am about to tell you.”

Another really bad sign.

Slowly, Dan let the bottle fall to his side. He gave her the kind of once-over he usually reserved for folks who were about to make a terrible mistake. “You understand that I can’t be a party to anything criminal,” he told her gruffly.