There was a tap on her door. “Skye?” her mother said. “Are you dressed? Sam’s here.”
She flung open the door. “I can’t go. My hair is a mess. Just look at it.”
“Calm down, dear. I think your hair looks cute, except for right here.” She patted the left side. “Do you have any gel?”
“I’ll be right back.” Her mother hustled out, stopping long enough to shout downstairs, “We’ll be down in a minute.”
Skye felt so foolish—like a teenager on her first date. The idea of going out into a mob of strangers was nerve-racking enough. Add the fluster of trying to dress for the evening, and her anxiety level was off the chart. Why had she ever agreed to such a thing?
That was easy. Sam Outlaw. The thought of him made her toes tingle.
She could do this. She could.
Her mother returned with a basket of stuff. “I thought you went after some gel.”
“I did,” Flora said. “Sit down here.”
Skye sat down at the desk in her sitting room, and her mother squirted and sprayed gunk on her hair and picked and poked at it.
“Finished?” Skye asked.
“Not quite. Wait a minute until that dries. It looks really cute.”
“Let me see.” Skye started to rise, but Flora put a hand on her shoulder.
“Be patient for a moment, dear. Close your eyes.”
She felt a brush across her lids. “What are you doing? That’s not eye shadow, is it? I don’t wear eye shadow.” She felt another brush across her cheeks. “Or blush. I don’t want to look like a clown.”
“It’s just a touch, dear. Close your eyes again, please. And don’t wiggle so.”
“Is that mascara? Good Lord, I’ll look like a raccoon.”
Flora tittered. “No you won’t. Open your mouth just a tad. And don’t get upset, it’s only pink lip gloss. There. Now you can look.”
Skye hurried to the bathroom mirror, expecting to see something akin to a hooker, but she was shocked. Her hair looked kind of spikey and not too bad, and the makeup was subtle and very flattering. When she rejoined Flora, she bent and kissed her cheek. “Thanks, Mom.”
Flora beamed. “You’re welcome, dear. You look lovely. Here, slip this in your pocket.” She held out a tube of lip gloss.
The final stamp of approval came when she went downstairs and into the den, where Sam had joined Gabe for a drink.
He stood and a smile spread over his face as he looked at her. “Wow,” he said.
Her stomach settled, and a warm glow stole over her. Wow, indeed. It was Sam who was wow material. He wore a starched white shirt with the cuffs rolled back and low-slung jeans that emphasized his long waist and slim hips. His shoulders seemed enormous. With his star pinned to his shirt and his gun clipped to his belt, he looked every inch the tough Texas Ranger. Until he smiled in that infectious way he had.
“Ready to go boot-scootin’?” he asked, sidling toward her with a playful shake of his hips.
She chucked. “You’ll have to feed me first.”
“I’ll get the car,” Gabe said. “We’ll pick up Belle on the way.”
DINNER WAS GREAT. They ate at a small Mexican restaurant where she had eaten many times, so there wasn’t a problem. Except to wonder where Sam put all those enchiladas.
Walking across the street to Fancy’s was a different story. It was night, and cars were parked everywhere, casting hulking shadows and providing hiding places for God knew who. That terrible feeling of vulnerability stole over Skye. Halfway there her knees began to wobble, and she felt a familiar prickly, sweaty feeling in her scalp. She heard the band playing and several “yee-haws” coming from the place, and her knees shook worse. A big lump rose in her throat and she tried to swallow it back down. She could do this. She could. Dammit, she could!
She took a deep breath and lifted her chin.
“Doing okay?” Sam asked softly.
She smiled. “Doing fine.”
He offered his hand, and she grabbed it like a lifeline, lacing her fingers through his. The strength she felt from touching him steadied her and she calmed down.
But the calm was temporary. The moment Gabe opened the door, music and crowd noise assaulted them. The place was a mob scene. She tensed, aching to run like crazy.
Before she could bolt, Sam put his arm around her, drew her close and said in her ear, “I’ve got you.”
Gus pushed between them, but Sam didn’t let go of her shoulders.
They skirted the dance floor and headed for a table in the corner. Pete and one of the other guards from the compound rose from where they’d been sitting as place holders and turned the table over to the two couples.
When they were seated, Skye looked around and saw several people she knew, who spoke and waved. Sally Olds, her hairdresser, who was in her yoga class, sat at the next table with her husband, Tim.
It seemed as if there were almost no strangers there. Her anxiety level began to slack off.
Sam stood and offered his hand. “Let’s dance.”
“To that?” The band played a fast swing. “I don’t think I could keep up.”
Sam grinned. “Sure you can. Let’s show these folks how it’s done.”
No way could she resist that grin. Against her better judgment, she took his hand and stood. Sam led her to the dance floor, then looked down and laughed. “Gus, are you going to lead or am I?”
Gus had followed them onto the floor, and most of the other people were laughing and pointing.
Skye shrugged her shoulders and grinned. “Sorry about that. Give me a minute.” She led Gus back to her chair and whispered for him to stay.
He whimpered when she walked away, but he didn’t move.
She walked straight into Sam’s arms, and, before she knew it, she was dancing like she’d never danced before, feet flying and laughter bubbling from her like an artesian well. One dance led to another. And another. She could have danced all night, but her breath gave out.
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