He followed Ranch Road 12 toward the square, passing over the bridge where Cypress Creek had smoothed the limestone boulders along its bumpy path. Not that he could see anything square about the square. There was a crooked Y in the road and a couple of streets off to one side with a bunch of shops and restaurants painted different colors. His mother would call the town picturesque.
He found the Wimberley Star office down one of the side streets and parked out front. Belle liked it here. Mostly he figured that Belle liked it here because Gabe was here.
Gabe was a good guy.
Skye was spectacular. She didn’t deserve what had happened to her. Sam wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to do it, but somehow, some way, he was going to track down the bastard who had screwed up her life and put him behind bars.
On Friday morning, Skye was just finishing up a surgery when Napoleon said, “You have a phone call on line two. That Ranger man. You want to call him back?”
“No, I’ll take it. I’m done here. Would you put Buster back in his cage?”
Napoleon nodded and gently lifted the cat while she stripped off her gloves and picked up the phone.
“Hi, Sam. This is Skye.”
“Hope I didn’t get you at a bad time.”
“No. I have a minute, but I have to tell you that I haven’t made a decision yet.”
“I’m not pressuring you,” Sam said. “And the call isn’t business. It’s personal. Belle was telling me that she and Gabe often go dancing at a place called Fancy’s on Friday nights. I was wondering if you might like to go tonight. With me. And with Gabe and Belle.”
“Oh, Sam, I don’t know. It might be fun, but I haven’t been dancing since—Well, I haven’t been in a long time. I doubt if I remember how to two-step. I don’t go out much.”
“Well, darlin’, it’s time you started. And I’m a two-steppin’ terror. It’ll all come back to you. I’ll be there about seven. Maybe we can grab a bite somewhere. Listen, I gotta run. See you tonight.”
He hung up before she could protest further. She couldn’t go out dancing. There would be a mob of people there. Just the thought of going out into such a setting was enough to make her break out in hives. It had taken her months to be comfortable going to church surrounded by her whole family and sitting in the balcony with Gus and two bodyguards. She could handle lunch with Gabe and Gus at a small, familiar café, and she’d come a long way in going to yoga class with Belle and Gus, but dancing at Fancy’s? A zoo would be calm and quiet compared to that place on Friday night. No way. She’d have to call him back and cancel.
But she didn’t know where to call, and she got busy. The next thing she knew it was noon.
Everybody usually congregated at the house for lunch, even Napoleon, who could eat more than any three men, and there was always a big spread, plenty for drop-ins. Belle had picked up Flora from the Firefly, an art gallery that displayed her soul paintings, and joined them for the meal.
When Skye was about halfway through her salad, her mother said, “I’m definitely buying the Firefly. Mason and I are signing the papers this afternoon, and I’m taking over on Monday.”
“Fantastic!” Belle said.
“Mom,” Gabe said, “are you sure that’s not too much for you? Running an art gallery is demanding.”
“Oh, fiddle, there’s nothing demanding about it. Mostly I just sit there and paint until someone wanders in. I’m hiring Grace Winslet to work part time, including some weekends, and her daughter is going to help out, too. She’s a junior over at Texas State and needs a job. Misty, her name is. Very responsible girl.”
Skye said, “Mom, I think you should do what makes you happy.”
“This makes me very happy. I love being downtown in the thick of things, and I really enjoy people coming in just to watch me paint. It’s good company. I’m not cut out for painting in a lonely garret.”
“I’m excited for you,” Skye said. “It sounds like a wonderful new venture, Mom. And by the way, Belle,” she added, trying for a casual tone. “Sam called this morning. He asked me to go dancing tonight at Fancy’s.”
Everybody stopped eating. Except Napoleon.
Belle’s eyebrows went up. “Did he now? And what did you say?”
“He didn’t really give me time to say anything before he hung up. But I don’t see how I can go.”
“Sounds like a fine idea to me,” Suki said as she passed the potatoes to Napoleon.
“Oh, Skye,” Flora said, “I think it would be great fun for you. And a wonderful experience. Why, Belle and Gabe will be there. And Sam certainly can protect you with that gun he wears on his belt.”
“And I’ll take my gun if you want,” Belle said. “Not that there’s any need of it. I’m sure you know almost everybody there.”
“I don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, Skye,” her brother said. “Don’t let anybody pressure you into something that you’re not ready for.”
Belle rolled her eyes. “We’re not talking about going into a war zone in a foreign country. It’s downtown Wimberley, for gosh sakes. What are you going to wear, Skye?”
“I hadn’t thought about it. Do you think the place will mind if I bring Gus?”
“I’m sure they won’t,” Flora said. “Gabe, why don’t you call to be sure? And for good measure, perhaps a couple of the guards could be there, too.”
Gabe hesitated for a moment. “Skye, if you’d like to try it, I’ll make the arrangements.”
Inside, her stomach felt as if she’d swallowed a handful of marbles, but she fought to contain her nervousness and managed a smile. “Maybe I could try it for an hour.”
Gabe nodded. “I’ll take care of things.”
WHEN SAM OPENED THE DOOR to his place, Pookie met him, dancing around his feet and yapping until he picked her up. “How’s it going, girl? You keep the burglars out?”
She wiggled and licked his face.
“Not on the mouth, Pookie. Not on the mouth.” He held her away, then put her down, but she wasn’t deterred. Excited, she circled his feet as he made his way to his bedroom, where he dumped a handful of junk mail into the trash.
The light was flashing on his answering machine. He hoped it wasn’t Skye canceling their date tonight.
It wasn’t Skye’s voice he heard on the playback. It was Gabe’s. And from all the arrangements he’d made, you’d think they were preparing for a presidential visit instead of going dancing at a local honky-tonk.
“And you’ve been invited,” Sam said to the dog. “Want to go play with Tiger tonight?”
Pookie barked. She seemed to be ready and willing.
Sam took a quick shower, put on his dancing duds and pinned his star on his shirt. He clipped his gun on his belt and scooped up the dog. “Let’s boogie.”
SKYE CHANGED CLOTHES four times. And her hair wouldn’t do anything right, even though the short cut had always suited her fine. She could step out of the shower, towel it dry, finger comb it and be ready to go. Wouldn’t you know that her mop had picked that evening to act up? It looked as if she’d stuck her finger in the proverbial light socket—except the left side, which was flattened to her head.
She’d finally settled on a pink patterned tee with a sprinkle of sequins that her mother had given her for her birthday last year and a comfortable pair of jeans and boots. But her hair! How