Also, it had felt good to tell Shannon about the pregnancy, to have a friend who knew what she was going through. And a level-headed friend, too.
In minutes Shannon was dancing with Buck McDougal while Lila danced with Jeff. Sam was on the dance floor with Piper Kindred, one of Royal’s paramedics. As she turned, Lila noticed the ex-rodeo rider, Ryan Grant, on the sidelines watching Piper intently. Lila looked away, thinking about how she tried to avoid watching Sam or even looking at him, but it was impossible. He was light on his feet, sexy. It didn’t matter how much appeal he had—his personality, his opinions, his most basic beliefs all were opposite from her own. He was old-fashioned and would never understand her career or her attitude.
She thought about that night with him. Her dad had seen Sam in Royal and talked him into dinner with them in town. When Sam had said he would take her home, her dad had gone ahead to the Double H, her family’s ranch. She and Sam had flirted through dinner and afterward, until Sam invited her to his place for a nightcap and she accepted.
The flirting grew more intense until she was in his arms. A night of wild passion, laughter, loving, a night she had known she would always remember. Now there was no doubt. A few weeks later, she had learned she was pregnant.
Lila’s thoughts came back to the present while she danced in the barn. They had gone from line dancing to a square dance and she noticed Shannon had dropped out and was gone.
They square danced, changing partners as the steps were called out to the fiddlers’ music. When they called “Promenade left, promenade right,” and she moved to the next dancer, she faced Sam and the look in his eyes made her heart pound. He wasn’t saying a word, yet sparks flew and she felt at any second he might grab her and kiss her wildly.
She danced away from him and the moment was gone, but her heart still raced and she wondered if they would talk again or if he would ask her to dance. She gave a shake of her head as if to clear her thoughts. She needed to stay away from Sam. She didn’t want him to guess that she was pregnant. She had to be mentally prepared for when he learned the truth.
Finally, she told Jeff she’d had enough dancing. As they left the barn, she glanced back and met Sam’s smoldering gaze. Even with the length of the barn between them, the minute she looked into his eyes, a current spiraled, tickling her insides. Why did she have such a physical response to him? She did not want to know Sam better or go out with him again. Yet now she had not only bound her life with his indefinitely, she would have to struggle with his old-fashioned, narrow view of the world.
The tempting smells of the barbecue were beginning to have the opposite effect on her. To get away from the cooking, she crossed the yard until she saw a friend.
“Sophie,” she called, catching up with her high school friend.
Sophie Beldon turned to wait, her light brown eyes friendly as she smiled. “This is a great party, Lila. Your family really knows how to do this. I think everyone in these parts looks forward to August because of your family barbecue. It’s legendary.”
“Thanks. They’ve been doing it long enough. It’s good to see you. Where are you headed?”
“Some quiet corner—if there is such. I’m getting looks and people ask all sorts of questions. Some act like I have the answers and just won’t say anything about Alex’s disappearance.”
“Sorry. That must be tough. You’re his executive secretary, so everyone probably thinks you know something about him. I’m sure everyone has been shocked to hear Alex has disappeared. Still no word?”
“Nothing. What’s bad—they don’t know whether something’s happened to him or his disappearance is something he has deliberately done. He had a quiet side where he kept things to himself. I’ve always thought of my boss as a man of mystery. Or it could be just circumstances where communication has failed and Alex thinks we all know where he is.”
“That seems impossible. You’d hear from him, I’d think.”
The blonde shrugged. “Who knows. You can’t rule out any possibility, but his disappearance has some people on edge.”
“Reasonably so, I’d say. You dealt with him daily. You should know the most about him,” Lila said, stopping in the shade of a tall oak to the east side of the house and away from the crowd.
Long lashes framed Sophie’s eyes while her brow furrowed. “I get looks from Nathan Battle, but Nathan’s fair, so I’m not worried about his opinion where I’m concerned. I really don’t have any idea about Alex and what’s happened to him.” She studied Shannon in silence a moment as if debating something. “I know I can trust you—I’m working now for Zach Lassiter. He’s Alex’s business partner.”
“I’ve heard Dad talk about him. From what I hear, no one seems to know much about his past.”
“Talk about a man of mystery—Zach is more mysterious than Alex was. I don’t think anyone knows much about Zach. I thought if I could get close to him, I might find out something about Alex’s disappearance.”
A chill ran down Lila’s spine. “Sophie, be careful. You have no idea what’s involved in Alex’s disappearance. It could be foul play. You really don’t know anything about Zach Lassiter and it sounds as if no one else in Royal does. what you’re doing might be dangerous.”
“I’ll be careful, and I don’t see how Zach can suspect my true motives. It’s a business. I can’t keep from wondering what he knows about Alex, because they worked closely together.”
Lila shook her head. “I don’t think you should take such a risk. Be really careful about what you do. You’re not a trained detective and you don’t know anything about investigations. Does anyone else know what you’re doing? Does Nathan Battle?”
“Heavens, no. You do now, so there’s one person who knows. I promise, I’ll be careful. I see friends headed our way.”
Lila turned to see three more friends she had been close to in high school and her private conversation with Sophie ended, but as she listened to the light chatter of her friends, she still had a nagging concern about Sophie. She wished she had urged Sophie to say something to Nathan, although Nathan and Amanda had recently married, so he might not have his mind on Alex’s disappearance. Still, Lila felt certain Nathan would advise Sophie to stay out of it and her friend might actually listen to him.
Later, lines formed at the long tables covered with food while servers at each end carved chunks of meat and ribs. Lila went inside to eat more fruit, passing up the steaming barbecue, knowing her dad saw to it that they cooked so much there would always be some leftovers if she wanted any later.
After dinner, fiddlers swung into music for more dancing and Lila enjoyed herself, dancing with many of the Texas Cattleman’s Club members who always attended the Hacket barbecue. She danced with Ryan Grant, one of the newest members. His tangled brown hair fell over his forehead as he concentrated on dancing. He was light on his feet, which didn’t surprise her, because she had danced with him before.
The next dance was with rancher and widower Gil Addison. She knew his four-year-old son, Cade, was with the other kids. Her parents always hired local nannies to watch the small kids during the barbecue. She enjoyed Gil in his quiet way and was sorry he was raising his son alone.
As soon as that dance ended, Sam’s twin, Josh Gordon, politely asked her to dance. She could sense the coolness and disapproval in spite of his invitation and she knew he was one of the club members who disapproved of her independence. She suspected he