He caught her watching him and winked.
Heat crept up her throat, and she glanced away.
“You okay, Dr. Walker?” Pete asked.
Skye glanced up at Pete, one of four security guards working the party. “I’m fine. Thanks.”
He nodded and stepped back to his post, his eyes scanning the crowd.
In a moment, Sam was back. “You look like an orphan sitting there by yourself. Come on and join the party.” He pulled her to her feet.
Gus growled again.
Sam eyed the dog. “Listen, fella, you and I are going to have to have a serious talk.”
Gus didn’t relent. Skye squatted down and ruffled his scruff. “Gus,” she whispered, “you’re embarrassing me. Behave yourself. Sam is a good guy. He won’t hurt me.”
Gus licked her chin.
As she rose, Sam put his hand to her elbow to help her up. “Come meet J.J. and Frank. Did you know that Gabe sent a private jet after them? Their wives hated to miss the party but figured that they could do without the guys for a few hours. Cole’s wife Kelly is their doctor, so they’re in good hands in case one of them goes into labor.”
Sam guided her to where his brothers were talking with Gabe and Belle. Gus pushed his way between them and walked along, too.
Flora had taken Nonie and Wes Outlaw, Sam’s parents, under her wing and was escorting them around the room, chatting with this small group and that. Skye wished she was as socially adept as her mother. Even though she knew almost everyone in the room, she was still uncomfortable in the crowd, feeling not only awkward but a little panicky as well.
Gus bumped against her trying to move her apart from Sam, but for some reason she clung to his arm, feeling safer when she could touch him. Odd for her. She was usually wary of strangers.
Skye had already met Cole, the oldest outlaw brother and a former cop who was now taught criminal justice. He’d driven his parents to Wimberley, and they were staying with her family for the weekend. Sam introduced her to his brother Frank, a judge, and to J.J., a sheriff.
“Leave it to you, baby brother, to latch on to the prettiest woman in the room,” J.J. said.
“Gee, thanks,” Belle said, punching J.J. on the arm.
“Sorry, Madam Publisher, but sisters don’t count. Did I hear there was some grub here?”
Frank smiled at Skye. “And leave it to J.J. to find the food. Pardon his manners.”
“Skye,” Gabe said, “would you show J.J. and Frank to the buffet? I see a new batch of folks arriving. Looks like the mayor.”
Frank and J.J. each offered Skye an arm, and they headed to the food with Gus and Sam trailing behind. The dog was careful to stay between Sam and Skye.
What was it with that dog? Sam wondered. Gus didn’t seem at all disturbed by Frank and J.J. being around Skye, just him. Sam was a little pissed about it. Dogs and babies always liked him.
Between his family and the rest of the people at the country club party, he didn’t get any more time alone with Skye. A couple of elderly ladies, twins from the look of them, cornered him and grilled him for half an hour about the Outlaw family and about being a Texas Ranger. He really didn’t mind. Lots of folks were fascinated with both the story of his family’s names and occupations as well as everything about the legendary Rangers, but he’d rather have been spending his time with Skye.
“Well,” Sam said, “My granddaddy was Judge John Wesley Hardin Outlaw, and he figured it was a political asset to be named for a famous outlaw. He named his boys John Wesley Outlaw, Jr. and Butch Cassidy Outlaw and encouraged them to go into public service. My daddy, who’s known as Wes, was sheriff of Naconiche County for years, and Uncle Butch was in the Texas legislature. My daddy just followed the custom in naming his kids.”
“And your uncle?”
Sam shook his head. “Died a bachelor.”
“We know that Belle is Belle Starr Outlaw and that she was in the FBI,” one sister said.
“Yes, ma’am. She’s the one who finally bucked tradition when she left the bureau. My brother Cole used to be a homicide detective in Houston, but he teaches criminal justice in college now.”
“Cole. That’s for…?”
“Cole Younger Outlaw. J.J. is Jesse James Outlaw and he’s a sheriff. Frank James Outlaw is a judge, and I’m Sam Bass Outlaw, Texas Ranger.”
“How every interesting,” one of the ladies said.
“Is it true,” the other one asked, “that there are only a hundred Rangers in the entire state?”
“Used to be,” Sam told her, “but we’ve added a few more. There are a hundred and sixteen of us now.”
“I don’t see your badge,” the other one said.
He pulled back his suit coat to show them the distinctive silver star on his shirt.
The first one leaned closer for a look. “Marvelous. Alma, look what it says.”
Alma leaned closer, too. Two old ladies reading his chest wasn’t Sam’s idea of a good time, but his mama had trained him to be polite. He waited until they’d studied his badge before he let his coat fall back into place.
“Oh, there you are, Sam,” Flora said, sweeping into their threesome. “Ladies, will you excuse me if I borrow Sam for a minute? There’s someone I want him to meet.” Without waiting for a reply, she whisked him away as pretty as you please.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Flora tittered. “You looked in pain. Alma and Thelma Culbertson mean well, but they can be a trial sometimes. They adore Belle. She met them in her pottery class.”
Flora led him to a corner where Skye was talking to a sharp-looking dude in an expensive suit. Sam didn’t like the way the dude was standing so close to Skye or the way he was looking at her. He noticed that Gus didn’t seem to care.
“John,” Flora said to the guy, “I’d like for you to meet Sam Outlaw, one of Belle’s brothers. Sam, John Oates is the mayor of Wimberley.”
The two men shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries.
Flora took John’s arm, and said, “I don’t think you’ve met Belle’s other brothers, John. Come along and let me introduce you.” She waltzed him away before he had time to protest, leaving Skye and Sam alone.
“Hi, again,” Sam said.
“Hi, again, yourself.”
“Did your mother just engineer that?”
Skye smiled. “She did. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not a bit. I was trying to figure out a way to escape the twins and make it back to you. Sure you don’t want to dance?”
She laughed again, and the sound of it reminded him of the wind moving through a stand of pines on a spring day.
“Who’s John Oates?”
“He’s the mayor.”
“I mean besides that.”
“He’s a building contractor.”
“Is he married?”
Skye shook her head. “Divorced. We went to school together. I’ve known him most of my life. I treat his dog Commander.”
“Will you treat my dog?”
“I thought you didn’t have a dog.”
“I’m going to get one.”
“You sure do seem to be humming a lot these days,”