“It’s a deal. Sorry I upset you and got your hair wet.”
“It’s okay.” She flipped onto her back and sculled along, enjoying the feel of the water against her skin, and, surprisingly, feeling safe with Sam close by. Maybe it was because he was bigger than life or maybe it was because he was a Texas Ranger, but he exuded an aura of power and control that was extremely comforting as he paddled along beside her.
It was a lovely feeling.
For the first time in many years she felt free to relax and enjoy swimming, an activity that had once been an important part of her life. For that alone, she wanted to hug Sam.
But there were others reasons, too. She laughed.
“Oh, nothing. Everything. Isn’t it a beautiful day?”
ONCE SHE GOT INTO THE WATER, Skye hated to get out, but she was turning into a prune, so she reluctantly dragged herself from the pool and everybody went inside to change. The guys were going to grill steaks and veggies while she and Belle made salad and dressing.
Maria, the cook, and her husband, Manuel, had the weekend off, and Suki and her husband, Ralph, had gone to visit her sister for the weekend. Only Flora and the two couples were around—except for the guards, who were always on the grounds.
When she came downstairs, Skye found her mother in the kitchen with Pookie and Tiger, her tiny Yorkshire terrier, dancing around her feet.
“I just put the icing on a chocolate sheath cake,” Flora said. “Maxine is picking me up any minute.”
“Aren’t you going to stay for dinner?” Skye asked.
“No, dear. Maxine and Bess and I are driving over to San Marcos for dinner. It’s Bess’s birthday. Didn’t I tell you?”
“It must have slipped my mind. The cake looks scrumptious.”
“Mmm,” said Belle as she joined them. “I adore chocolate.” She bent and scooped up Pookie, who had taken an immediate liking to Belle. “You are such a cutie pie, Pookie. I can’t believe you belong to Sam.”
“I’d be willing to part with her if you want her,” Sam said as he joined them.
“Sorry. Animals aren’t allowed in my townhouse.”
Gabe walked in. “Move back here, and you can have all the animals you want.”
Belle merely rolled her eyes at him.
The doorbell rang, and Flora said, “That must be Maxine. I’ll be going now. I should be back by nine.”
“I’ll walk you to the door and get the alarm,” Gabe said.
Skye kissed her mother’s cheek, and Sam followed suit. Flora looked extremely pleased by his gesture.
“Don’t you ladies get into any trouble now,” Sam said.
Flora laughed and patted his cheek. “I can’t make any promises, dear boy.”
Gabe and Belle walked out with Flora, leaving Skye and Sam alone in the kitchen with the dogs.
“My mother likes you,” Skye said.
“Good. I like her, too. And I like her daughter.”
For a moment Skye couldn’t make herself look up from the ears of corn she’d taken from the fridge. Then she told herself she was being as silly as a teenager. She smiled. “Do you?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do.” He touched her chin with his knuckle.
Sam sighed and moved his hand. “Need any help with that corn?”
“Sure. We usually grill it in the shucks, but we have to remove the silks.”
Sam picked up an ear and skinned back the shuck. “Like that?”
“Exactly. But let me get some newspaper to catch the mess.”
“Wonder what happened to Gabe and Belle?”
Skye laughed. “Bet they’re making out in the entryway.”
“I wouldn’t cover that bet.”
By the time Gabe and Belle rejoined them, the corn was ready for the grill. The guys tended to the steaks while Belle and Skye handled the rest of the meal, including skewering an assortment of marinated vegetables for the barbecue.
In no time, their meal was done, and they were sitting around the table enjoying the food they’d prepared.
“I can’t believe that you’re not eating a single piece of this rib eye,” Sam said. “It’s fantastic.”
“Ugh!” Skye said. “Looks gross to me. Sure you won’t have more grilled zucchini?”
Skye glanced at Gus and smiled. She caught Sam’s attention and motioned toward her dog. Pookie was cuddled up next to Gus, sleeping.
“Looks like Gus has a new admirer,” Gabe said.
“He’s been awfully patient with her nipping and tumbling over him,” Belle added.
“With Tiger around, he’s used to it,” Skye said. “Plus he’s around rambunctious animals all the time at the clinic.”
“Yes,” Sam said. “It’s only me he doesn’t like.”
“I’m really sorry about what happened at the pool today,” Skye said.
“No harm done.”
After dinner, everybody pitched in to clean up, then Gabe found an old Trivial Pursuit game, and they played until Flora came home.
“I need to get going,” Sam said, standing. “I don’t want to wear out my welcome.”
“Not much chance of that,” Gabe said.
“I don’t know,” Belle said. “He eats a lot.”
“Look who’s talking.”
Belle laughed. “I need to get going myself. A publisher’s job is never done, and I have paperwork that I’ve ignored too long.”
Sam scooped up Pookie, and everybody moved toward the front door except Skye. As was her custom, she hung back a bit. Sam hung back with her. “I’ve really enjoyed the day. Could we get together next weekend?”
“Sure,” Skye said, her anticipation almost palpable. “I’m almost always here or at the clinic.”
“I’ll give you a call.”
Skye wanted to touch him, to brush her fingers over the rough stubble beginning to show on his face, but she settled for stroking Pookie. “I enjoyed the day, too. Good night.”
ON WEDNESDAY MORNING, not too long after he arrived at work, Sam’s lieutenant, Heck Pruitt, called him into his office. He had a fat stack of files on his desk.
“Have a seat, Sam,” Heck said. “I wanted to talk to you about this case that’s been referred to us. Rather, it’s a series of cases. Didn’t I hear you say that you and Gabe Burrell over in Wimberley are friends?”
“That’s right. We’re fishing buddies, and he’s my insurance agent. I expect that he might become my brother-in-law one day soon.”
“Oh?” Heck raised his eyebrows. “Do you know his sister?”
“Skye? Sure do. She’s my…veterinarian. Why?”
“Do you know about what happened to her some years back?”
Puzzled, Sam said, “I guess not. Was she involved in a crime?”
“She was a victim, one of several victims of a kidnapper, but she was the only one who lived. Remember the coed kidnappings?”
“Oh, my God. The papers were full of it for months. That was Skye? Gabe’s never mentioned a word about it to me.”
“Take these files and read over them,”