The Texas Cowboy's Triplets(6)

By: Cathy Gillen Thacker

Kelly knew Dan’s reputation with the ladies. He was both gallant to the core and a heartbreaker. “I’m not looking for a husband. Been there, done that.”

Cece studied her, accepting that. “Even as a lover, he’d be a bad bet.”

“Not looking for that, either,” Kelly said.

Even though the sinfully sexy lawman stirred her senses the way no man ever had, or likely ever would.

* * *

UNFORTUNATELY, KELLY’S ATTEMPTS to connect with Dan, once her kids were in bed asleep that evening, went to voice mail. Finally, around nine thirty, she was about to give up waiting for a return call when she heard a vehicle pull into her driveway.

She looked out to see Dan emerging from a silver pickup truck that had seen better days. He was clad in jeans, an untucked denim shirt and boots.

Her heart skittering in her chest, she stepped onto the porch of her one-and-a-half-story bungalow before he could ring the bell.

“Sorry it’s late,” he said. As he neared, she caught a whiff of soap and mint. “My shift ended a little later than I expected.”

“You didn’t have to come by.” Or shower before getting here, either.

He shrugged, affable as ever. His glance drifted over her. “Conversations like this usually go better in person, don’t you think?”

He had a point. Even if this was, oddly enough, beginning to feel a little like the beginning of that date with her that he’d been wanting.

Catching a couple coming down the block with their two dogs, she said, “Why don’t you come in?”

He followed her inside.

Aware there was less of a chance of them being overheard if they moved to the rear of the house, she led him toward the kitchen, where she had the makings of the next day’s school lunches spread out over the kitchen island.

Catching his hungry look, she asked, “Have you eaten?”

“I’ll grab something on my way home.”

It would be rude not to offer. Especially since he had just done her a pretty big favor with nothing asked in return. “I think we can do better than that.” She smiled. “If you are interested in a sandwich that is.”

“Actually, if it’s not too much trouble, a sandwich would be great.”

She layered shaved ham and provolone on wheat, added lettuce and tomato. Then brought out the Dijon and mayo. He chose both, then sat down on the other side of the island. “I’m guessing you are concerned about the thin little girl with red hair.”

So he had spotted the issue, too. “Shoshanna Johnson. She moved here a couple of months ago.”

Ever observant, he guessed, “And is still feeling a little down about being uprooted to Laramie County, I take it?”

Kelly added cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks and cucumber wedges to the divided lunch containers. She closed them with a snap and slid them into insulated lunch sacks. “That’s what the other teachers think.”

“But you don’t buy that?”

Kelly knew what it was like to be a little kid of a single mom and an only child, at that, who was sad or worried. It really cut deep. But, not wanting to divulge that, she merely said, “Well, a move is always scary and unsettling, especially at that age, but…the preschool is a cozy, safe place, and she’s been welcomed by the other kids. The staff has gone out of their way to make her feel comfortable, too.” Their hands brushed as she handed him a bottle of sparkling water.

Dan made no effort to move away. “Yet she remains isolated.”

“Yes.” Hand still tingling, Kelly slid the lunches into the fridge.

Dan surveyed Kelly thoughtfully. “Are there any learning difficulties?”

“No.” Because that would have explained a lot, too. “She’s able to pay attention, color within the lines, answer questions and follow directions when she wants to.”

“And yet…she just usually doesn’t want to?”

“That’s just it.” Kelly handed Dan a package of chips. “Some days she does. She’ll come to school with a smile on her face and participate. And other days, it’s like she’s deeply worried about something, and she remains withdrawn the entire time.”

He continued devouring his sandwich. “Any signs of abuse or neglect?”

Deciding it was silly to stand there when he was sitting, Kelly came around the island and took the stool next to him. “None that I can see.”

He swiveled so they were facing each other. “Have you talked to her parents?”

Kelly sighed. “Shoshanna’s dad died almost a year ago, rather suddenly I understand. I’ve asked her mom to come in for a parent-teacher conference, but Sharon Johnson keeps rescheduling. Work issues at the auto dealership where she works as the new financial manager, she says.”