“Must be the lovely weather.”
“Humph. I’d bet my last dime it has more to do with a tall drink of water named Sam Outlaw,” Suki said.
Gabe lowered his newspaper. “Something going on that I don’t know about?”
“Lots of things going on around here that you don’t know about,” Suki replied. “You spend more time at Belle’s place than you do in your own house. You ought to marry that gal if you ask me.”
Skye smiled as Suki stomped from the kitchen. Suki and her husband Ralph had worked for Gabe for years, Suki as housekeeper and Ralph as overseer of the compound, and were more like part of the family than employees. Ralph was a big, easygoing man, but Suki was a tiny thing with flashing black eyes who didn’t hesitate to speak her mind about everything. Skye adored them both.
“Yeah,” Skye said, “when are you and Belle going to get married?”
“As soon as she says the word.”
“And what word is that?”
“Yes.” Gabe folded his newspaper. “Don’t change the subject, baby sister. What’s going on with Sam?”
“Nothing’s going on with Sam. I’ve only seen the man once in my life. At the party.” She dug into her cereal. “He seems nice. I liked all of Belle’s family.”
“So did I. And don’t get me wrong, Sam’s a great guy, but I don’t think he’s your type.”
A sudden flash of anger jerked her head up. “Really? And exactly what is my type?”
“Whoa. I didn’t mean to insult you, honey. I just meant that he seems a little rowdier than someone I’d pick for you.”
The doorbell rang, and Gabe seemed decidedly relieved. “That must be Napoleon.”
“Suki will let him in. Define rowdy.”
“Well, I didn’t exactly mean rowdy. Maybe high-spirited would be a better term. He’s a rough, tough kind of guy in a rough, tough occupation.”
“And you don’t think I would appeal to a man like that?”
“Skye, I think you’re a lovely woman who would appeal to any man. It’s just that you haven’t shown any interest in anyone since…well, in a long time.”
“It’s Carlotta ringing the bell,” Suki shouted. “And looks like Napoleon is coming up the drive.”
Skye sighed and rose. “I guess you’re right, Gabe. Let me go tend to Carlotta.” She grabbed a banana, then she and Gus headed for the door.
Carlotta was her banana-loving pal, a llama that nobody wanted any longer and had ended up in their pasture. In a moment of mischief, Skye had taught the smart creature to ring the doorbell. It ceased to be amusing after she started escaping from the pasture frequently and trying to get into the house.
“I thought you said Carlotta was going to quit getting out and pulling them shenanigans when you got those sheep for her to tend,” Suki said.
“You’ll have to admit she’s better nowadays. This is the first time she’s rung the bell in a long time. Napoleon and I will put her back in the pasture.”
She stepped out on the porch and patted Carlotta as the llama nuzzled close to Skye and sniffed the banana.
“She get out again?” Napoleon asked.
Napoleon Jones, an ex-tackle from Texas State and a hulking brute of a guy, climbed the steps to the porch. Not only was Napoleon her bodyguard, but he was also her assistant at the clinic. Even as fierce-looking as he was, animals adored him, and he was loving and gentle with every fury and feathered creature she treated. He picked her up every morning, drove her the quarter of a mile to the clinic, and stayed by her side until he dropped her off after seeing the last patient in the evening. He’d been with her since before she opened her practice, and she’d be lost without him.
Carlotta’s soft lips nibbled the piece of banana that Skye held out to her, and she and Napoleon easily got her back into the pasture with the two sheep. Skye had gotten the sheep for Carlotta to tend and keep her from being lonely. It had worked until today, and the arrangement would continue to work as long as Skye remembered to give her a bit of attention now and then. And a banana.
As Napoleon drove her over to the clinic in the Jeep, Skye thought about what Gabe had said. Sam might have made her as giddy as a teenager with her first crush, but she couldn’t imagine him fitting in with her lifestyle. Sometimes she got so angry and disgusted with herself that she wanted to scream. Maybe she should consider therapy again.
SAM WAS STANDING AT THE SINK shaving when he heard the siren outside his townhouse. He dropped his razor and grabbed his gun as he hurried to the door.
An ambulance had stopped at his elderly neighbor’s home. Two EMTs raced for the house while her maid stood on the porch calling, “Hurry! Hurry!”
“What’s going on?” Sam asked.
“It’s Mrs. Book. I think she’s had a stroke.” The woman was bug-eyed and wringing her hands.
A small hunk of fur came racing out of Mrs. Book’s place, shot between Sam’s legs and zipped inside his house.
“Oh, that dog! She’ll be the death of me!”
“What can I do to help?”
“Lord, I don’t know. They’ll be taking Mrs. Book to the hospital, and I need to go along with her. Can you see to Pookie?”
“Sure,” Sam said.
In a couple of minutes, the EMTs wheeled out his neighbor, loaded her in the ambulance and took off, siren screaming. The maid slapped a key in Sam’s hand, ran to her car and peeled out behind them.
Sam checked to make sure his neighbor’s door was locked, then went back inside to finish shaving the other half of his face. Slapping on some aftershave, he walked around calling the dog.
Why in the hell would anybody name a dog Pookie?
He was sorry about Mrs. Book’s stroke—if that was the problem. Since he hadn’t lived there long, he didn’t know any of his neighbors very well, mostly just enough to nod to them. He’d met Mrs. Book when she’d pecked on her window one day as he’d walked by. She’d needed a light bulb changed and wondered if he’d mind doing it. She’d seen his Ranger badge and gun and figured he was safe. Since then he’d done another small favor or two for her, and she’d baked him cookies. Good ones, too. Chocolate chip with pecans.
She didn’t have much family except a nephew who never came around. Pookie was her constant companion. The dog was cute, spoiled rotten, and the little rag mop had taken to Sam. Every time he grilled on the patio, she managed to crawl through a little hole in the fence between their places and dance around his feet until he gave her a bite of whatever he was cooking. She was partial to rib eyes.
“Pookie! Where are you?”
Sam heard a faint whimper under his bed and got down to check. He found the dog there, cowed down and shaking like a leaf. “Come on out, girl.” He scooped her from her hiding place, held her in the crook of his arm and stroked her. “It’s all right, darlin’. I know you’re scared. Just calm down.”
He could almost hear the dog sigh as she relaxed, and she rooted closer to him.
In a few minutes, Sam set her on his bed. “You stay here. I’ll be right back.”
He went next door and gathered up Pookie’s stuff, including food and bowls, her toys and bed. He even found a small carrying crate and lugged it back to his house as well. He figured he could handle one small dog for a day or two. At least she liked him. Most animals did. Except for Gus.
Thinking about Gus reminded him of Skye. Then, of course, lots of things reminded him of Skye. She’d been in his thoughts a good deal.
He glanced at his watch. Damn! He was going to be late.