The Texas Cowboy's Triplets(5)

By: Cathy Gillen Thacker

“I live at my ranch,” he said, sending another deferential glance her way. Kelly told herself it was the heat of classroom making her sweat. She moved closer to the air-conditioning vent.

“With horses?” Paul Robertson inquired.

A slow smile tugged at the corners of Dan’s lips. “Six miniature goats and a dog, actually.”

The students appeared perplexed.

“I don’t think anyone has any goats as pets,” Kelly ventured.

So Dan brought out his cell phone and showed pictures. Kelly relaxed. Maybe, she thought, ignoring the melting sensation in her middle, she would get through this without making a besotted fool of herself yet.

It wasn’t that she was attracted to him, per se.

It was that he was so big and handsome and confident-looking, and exuded strength in a hundred different ways that was the problem. A fact he seemed to know darn well, judging by the pure masculine devilry in his smile.

“What are their names?” Sally Baker asked.

Dan put his phone away. “They don’t have any.”

Moans and cries of dismay followed. “If you have a pet, you have to name it,” Teddy Franklin pointed out.

“Point well-taken,” Dan said.

Kelly smiled. “Maybe we can think up suggestions later and send them to Deputy Dan.”

Excited suggestions followed, while in the middle of the group, Shoshanna Johnson sighed, burying her head in her knees.

“Any more questions?” Kelly said, trying not to worry over her new student’s continued lack of involvement.

Another hand shot up.

Uh-oh, Kelly thought, knowing where this was likely to go as Dan turned and called on her triplet daughter. Michelle squinted at him. “Are you married?”

Despite the fact they’d just gone from goats to his marital status, Dan somehow managed to keep a poker face. “No,” he said genially. “I’m not.”

“Are you going to be?” Kelly’s son Matthew asked out of turn.

Dan flashed a devastating smile. “I hope so.”

Kelly could imagine that. There were some men who were just meant to be surrounded by loved ones. Dan McCabe was one of them.

Michelle raised her hand again, and it was all Kelly could do not to groan aloud. “Well, then, can you marry our mommy?” Michelle asked plaintively. “Because she needs a husband.”

Michael—the most independent of Kelly’s triplets—frowned. Forgetting for a moment what he was supposed to be doing, he stood up and argued back stalwartly. “No, she doesn’t!”

Doing her best to stifle a self-conscious blush, Kelly interjected quickly in a desperate attempt to change the subject. “Actually, I have a question for Deputy Dan.” All eyes, including the handsome lawman’s, turned her way. She noted the amusement in his eyes. “Have you ever been called to help a kitten or puppy in trouble while on duty?”

Dan’s masculine confidence lit up the entire room. “Actually, I have.” He launched into a dramatic tale that quickly had all twenty-eight preschoolers captivated.

“Nice save,” he murmured twenty minutes later when Kelly walked him to the door.

The kids were busy attaching their Sheriff’s Star stickers to their clothing with teacher Cece Taylor’s help. Only Shoshanna—who was idly inspecting the goldfish in the tank—seemed uninvolved. “Sorry my triplets put you on the spot,” she murmured, embarrassed.

His eyes glinted with an indecipherable emotion. “Not a problem.”

But there was one. She wanted to ask him if he had come to the same conclusion she had. Aware this wasn’t the time to get into it detail, however, she said only, “About what we had talked about a few days ago. Did you notice anything?”

“I did.”

Hoping he might have some ideas about what she could do, Kelly asked, “Would it be all right if I phoned you later?”

He nodded briefly, his eyes taking in the thoughtful look Cece was giving them. “Thanks for inviting me to speak.” Hat still in hand, he strode off.

Kelly returned to the kids in the classroom. Aware it was time for outdoor play, she and her fellow teacher escorted the children to the playground. Cece’s glance followed Dan, who was getting into his squad car.

“Don’t,” the fifty-five-year-old educator said.

“What?” Kelly asked, even though she already knew.

Cece harrumphed. “Every single woman in town has a secret thing for him.” She raised a hand in frustration. “I mean, why not, the man practically took out an ad in the paper when he moved back here, saying Wife and Kids Wanted Immediately.”

She turned to look Kelly in the eye, as much substitute mother now as friend. “But he’s never going to follow through on that wish. If he were, he certainly would have chosen one of the thirty or so women he’s taken out for dinner—or should I say an interview—in the last couple of years. One of my nieces, included.”