The Texas Cowboy's Triplets(7)

By: Cathy Gillen Thacker

Dan opened the bag of chips and offered her one. “Think she’s avoiding you?”

Kelly took one and munched on it. “Maybe,” she said as the salty deliciousness melted on her tongue. “But maybe she’s just settling in, too.”

He finished his sandwich, stood and carried his plate to the sink. He looked ready for action.

His brow furrowed. “What would you like me to do?” he asked gruffly.

Besides kiss me?

Flushing, Kelly said, “Be…discreet.”

* * *

HER REQUEST SUDDENLY had a slightly shady ring to it. One he had heard before. “Discreet,” Dan repeated. “As in operating outside the normal rules and regulations?”

She inclined her head. “You have connections. As well as a background as a detective.”

Also something he had heard before.

He tensed. “Which means I could do what…in your view?”

She shrugged, the ends of her silky hair brushing her shoulders. “Ask around. Maybe do a clandestine background check…”

Dan’s gut tightened.

There were times in his life when he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. This was one of them. “That’s not allowed, Kelly.”

She met his level gaze with an indignant one of her own. “Maybe not in an official capacity as a sheriff’s deputy,” she theorized.

“In any capacity,” he corrected sternly, stepping nearer. The fragrance of her hair and skin sent his senses into overdrive. “Unless I want to file a report and go through official procedure.” He paused to let his words sink in. “In which case I’d be duty bound to report anything the least bit suspect that I found.”

Kelly’s face suddenly reflected the concern he felt. Color flushed her cheeks. “Let’s forget it,” Kelly interjected quickly, looking sorry she’d ever started down this path. And while that comforted him, he was still worried that she’d been all too willing to bypass ethics. And worse, had wanted him to do so, too.

A long silence fell.

Her worry returned.

He waited until she looked at him. “As I mentioned the other day, if you are this concerned, why don’t you just talk to a social worker?”

She scoffed. “Who, if approached, would be forced to open up an official investigation?”

He edged closer, taking in the agitated gleam in her amber eyes and the stormy set of her luscious lips. “And I wouldn’t be?”

Calmly, he corrected her mistaken view of Laramie County Department of Child and Family Services. “You can trust social services here, Kelly.”

“No.” She rubbed the toe of her sneaker across the oak floor beneath them. “You can’t.” She bit her lip and glared at him mutinously. “You can’t trust them anywhere.”

Okay, so she was ticked off at him. “How do you know?” he challenged.

She released a short, bitter laugh. “Because I spent years in and out of the system.”

He paused. “You were a foster child?”

A brief, terse nod. “Off and on, my entire childhood.”

She stalked out of the kitchen. He followed, keeping a respectful distance. “What happened?”

She spun around, shoving her hands into the pockets of her knee-length shorts. “It’s a long story.”

And obviously a very painful one.

He put a consoling arm about her shoulders. When she didn’t continue, he prodded gently, “If you want me to understand where you’re coming from, never mind help you, you’re going to have to tell me a little more.”

She stepped back slightly, so they were no longer touching, and ran her hands through her hair. “My mom was a registered nurse who suffered from cyclical depression. She also developed an addiction to prescription medicines.”

Regret pinched the corners of her mouth.

Swallowing, she shook her head, recalling, “So, whenever things spiraled out of control, she would end up in the hospital, or rehab, and I would end up in the system.”

No wonder she mistrusted DCFS. “That must have been really tough on you.”

“It was.” Moisture glimmered in her eyes. “My mom always got better when she underwent treatment, but then she would have to prove that she could take care of me again. And that would take weeks and months of both of us living under the microscope.” Kelly sighed. “And then by the time I was finally allowed to be back with her, the stress of maintaining her sobriety would send her spiraling again.” Kelly compressed her lips miserably. “I’d have to hide it and pretend nothing was wrong. I knew if I didn’t I’d be taken away from her again. And it was awful.”

Dan pushed aside the need to pull her into his arms and asked gently instead, “Where is she now?”