She laughed, a soft chuckle that was both sweet and sensuous. “He told me about you. And so did Belle. You’re the youngest of the Outlaw brothers and a Texas Ranger.”
“Yes, ma’am. That’s me. How about a dance?” It was the best way he could think of to get her into his arms.
Skye’s eyebrows lifted as she glanced around the room. “There’s no music and no dance floor.”
“Darlin’, I’m not one to let a little thing like that stop me. There’s an empty spot behind the buffet table, and I’ll hum.” He grabbed her hands and pulled her to him.
A big German shepherd who’d been lying beside her suddenly rose, hackles up. His teeth were bared and a low growl rumbled in his throat.
“Take your hands off me,” Skye said.
“Honey, I’m harmless. Honest.”
The dog growled again.
Sam dropped his hands.
The dog sat. But he didn’t take his eyes off Sam.
“He yours?” Sam asked.
She nodded. “He’s very protective. Excuse his manners. Gus, Sam is a friend.”
No stranger to animals, Sam tentatively held out the back of his hand for the dog to sniff. Gus didn’t seem interested in getting acquainted. He merely eyed him suspiciously, as if waiting for a reason to take a plug out of his butt.
“May I get you a drink?” he asked.
She held up her wineglass. It was full.
“Okay. How about you get me one?”
Skye looked amused. “What would you like?”
“Anything you want to give me.”
She caught the eye of a kid with a tray and motioned for him. She plucked a glass from the tray and handed it to Sam. “Champagne. In honor of Belle’s new position. Cheers.” She clinked her flute against his.
Sam sipped. “Mmm. The good stuff. Have you raided the food yet? I just got here, and I’m starved.”
“Can’t have that. Let’s find something to take the edge off.” She walked to the spread on the table. He and Gus followed. She handed him a plate and took one for herself.
“Skye, dear, who is this darling man? I swear he’s as tall as the door. And just as solid I suspect.” The middle-aged woman dressed in purple sparkles flashed a big smile up at him and held out her hand. “I’m Flora Walker, Skye and Gabe’s mother. I’m guessing that you must be Sam. I must have missed you when you came in.”
“Yes, ma’am. Sam Outlaw. I just got here.”
“You look a lot like your daddy,” Flora said. “And your brother Cole.”
“Yes, ma’am. All the Outlaws look pretty much alike. Mama says we’re like peas in a pod.” He grinned. “Except for a few things. Cole’s the oldest. Frank’s the prettiest.”
Flora laughed. “And you’re full of the devil.”
“No, ma’am. That’s J.J. I’m the sweetest.” He winked.
Flora cocked her head this way and that, studying him for a moment, then she reached up and patted his cheek. “You are sweet, dear boy, but you’ve got a streak of the devil in you, too. I like you, Sam Outlaw. You must let me paint you sometime. Look after Skye. I don’t doubt that you can. I’m going to circulate.” She fluttered her fingers and waltzed off to a group nearby.
Feeling as if a whirlwind had just picked him up and set him down, Sam watched Flora go. “Fascinating woman.”
“Yes, she is,” Skye said. “Salmon?”
“Would you like some salmon?” She’d shoveled some up on a serving spoon.
“Sure.” She put some on his plate.
“Aren’t you having any?”
She shook her head. “I’m a vegetarian.”
“Really? You know, I don’t think I’ve ever met a vegetarian before.”
She smiled. “I can’t believe that. They may be scarce in Naconiche, but Austin is full of vegetarians.”
“Guess we don’t eat at the same places. I’m big on barbecue, Tex-Mex and hamburgers. And I don’t live in Austin anymore.”
“Oh, that’s right. Belle said that you’ve been transferred to San Antonio. Do you like it there?” She piled his plate with roast beef and hers with some pasta salad.
“Haven’t seen enough of it yet to tell.”
When their plates were full, they found a quiet table in a corner and sat down. Gus tagged along. He didn’t look any friendlier.
Trying to make points with the dog, Sam broke off a piece of roast beef and held it out to Gus. He ignored it.
“Is he a vegetarian, too?”
Skye laughed. “No. But he’s been trained not to accept food from people.”
Sam shrugged. “If our shepherd had been trained like that, I’d have been in a mess growing up. I hated liver, and I always sneaked mine under the table to him.”
“I think Belle did, too. He must have been very full on liver day.”
“J.J. fed his to the cat. I think Cole and Frank had to eat theirs.”
She laughed. “Growing up in a big family must have been fun.”
“It had its moments. Do I remember Gabe telling me that you’re a veterinarian?”
“I am. I’ve been in practice for several years.”
“Somehow I can’t picture you walking around a cow lot in rubber boots.”
“I treat cows sometimes, and I’ve delivered many a calf, but mostly I see small animals in my practice. Cats, dogs, birds. Pets. Do you have a pet?”
“Not since Bounder died a couple of years ago. He was my bird dog. But I could get one. What would you suggest?”
She cocked her head at him the same way her mother had. “Hmm. A toy poodle maybe.”
He must have looked horrified because she burst out laughing.
“Bite your tongue, woman. Do I look like the poodle type?”
“Poodles are very smart and very lovable. And quite fearless.”
He grinned. “That’s me. Smart, lovable and fearless.”
“Is that part of the Texas Ranger code?”
“Maybe the smart and fearless. But I don’t know of a single Ranger who has a poodle. Wait. I take that back. I think Carson’s wife has a poodle. Or is it a Pekinese?”
“The breeds aren’t very similar.”
“Except that they’re both little yappers. Want some more champagne?”
“Thanks, no.” Skye glanced toward the door. “Are those your other brothers?”
“Where?” He turned to look over his shoulder. “Well, I’ll be. They’re here. I thought J.J. and Frank weren’t coming because their wives are expecting.” He stood. “Come on and meet them.”
She hesitated. “Go ahead. I’ll meet them later.”
“Don’t you run off now, darlin’. I’ll be right back.”
Skye watched him as he strode across the room and slapped backs with his brothers. They did look very much alike. They were all tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired and quite good-looking. Sam was a charmer, just as Belle had said. And he seemed to have a well-defined sense of himself. He certainly didn’t suffer from low self-esteem. Maybe that came from being a Texas Ranger. She’d bet that he didn’t lack for female companionship. He surely