The Texas Cowboy's Triplets

By: Cathy Gillen Thacker


“No. Out here is fine.” She rocked back on the heels of her sneakers and peered at him intently, her guard up once again. “But first, I want to make sure whatever I do say to you will be held in the strictest confidence. The same way it would be if I went to a doctor or lawyer or minister.”

Disappointment tightened his gut. “So you’re coming to me in my capacity as an officer of the law?” He had a miserable sense of history repeating itself.

“No.” Kelly shook her head and followed him up to the porch. He walked inside and came back out with two bottles of chilled water.

She accepted one and continued as if he hadn’t left. “This is completely off the record. In fact—” she paused meaningfully, watched as he uncapped the bottle and drank deeply “—I don’t want you to report anything of what I am about to tell you.”

Another really bad sign.

Slowly, Dan let the bottle fall to his side. He gave her the kind of once-over he usually reserved for folks who were about to make a terrible mistake. “You understand that I can’t be a party to anything criminal,” he told her gruffly.

Delicate hand flying to her heart, Kelly took a step back from him. “Goodness, yes! I would never ask you to do anything illegal.”

Famous last words, Dan thought, wondering if she had any idea he’d heard them before in a very similar situation. “Or even look the other way if I suspect a crime is being committed,” he added brusquely.

Pink color dotting her high, sculpted cheeks, she carefully set the still-unopened water he had given her on the porch railing. “I understand.” She ventured closer. “But, on the other hand, if there is a personal problem you could perhaps help with, would you be willing to do that?”

This sounded a lot like his ex. Telling himself there was no way that Kelly could be that conniving, he said, carefully, “I would.”

“Good.” Her shoulders relaxed. “Because sometimes things aren’t what they might seem on the surface.”

She looked surprisingly vulnerable now. Subdued. Aware he might have misjudged her—without meaning to—he asked, “Like this conversation?”

Kelly paused for several long beats. Finally, she said, “I have a student in my class I’m worried about.”

He squinted at her. “I’m guessing there is a reason why?”

“There is.” She paused and took a deep breath that lifted the lush fullness of her breasts. “But I’d rather not divulge that just yet.”

As he stood there, inhaling the sweet fragrance of her perfume, he realized he kind of liked her coming to him for help. Assuming, of course, it was all on the up-and-up. “Have you told anyone else of your concern?” he asked kindly. “The school director? Another teacher?”

Her delicate brow pleated. “I spoke with Cece Taylor, another teacher at the school.”

“And…?”

Kelly raked her teeth across her lush lower lip. “She thinks I’m overreacting. Which is why I wanted you to come and speak to our two three-year-old classes at the preschool. I know you’ve worked with at-risk youth, both in your early days at the Chicago Police Department and as a volunteer at the boys’ ranch here in Laramie, so I thought if there was a problem with this particular child, you’d be able to spot it.”

“Why not just get social services or the school counselor—if you have one—involved?”

“Because,” she said, her expression becoming troubled, “then it becomes a whole thing. And if I’m wrong, as I very well might be, then I’m needlessly putting the child and their family through an ordeal that never should have been.”

She spoke as if she’d endured a similar contretemps. “Are there any bruises or signs of physical abuse?”

“No.” Kelly ran a hand through her hair and began to pace. “Nothing like that. Just…something feels off. And I wanted another opinion.” She swung back to face him, more composed now. With a beleaguered sigh, she added, “One not likely to be anywhere near as overly emotional as mine.”

His heart went out to her because she really did seem to care about whoever she deemed potentially at risk. He strode closer. “Is it a girl or boy?”

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