The Texas Cowboy's Triplets

By: Cathy Gillen Thacker

“Actually, if it’s not too much trouble, a sandwich would be great.”

She layered shaved ham and provolone on wheat, added lettuce and tomato. Then brought out the Dijon and mayo. He chose both, then sat down on the other side of the island. “I’m guessing you are concerned about the thin little girl with red hair.”

So he had spotted the issue, too. “Shoshanna Johnson. She moved here a couple of months ago.”

Ever observant, he guessed, “And is still feeling a little down about being uprooted to Laramie County, I take it?”

Kelly added cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks and cucumber wedges to the divided lunch containers. She closed them with a snap and slid them into insulated lunch sacks. “That’s what the other teachers think.”

“But you don’t buy that?”

Kelly knew what it was like to be a little kid of a single mom and an only child, at that, who was sad or worried. It really cut deep. But, not wanting to divulge that, she merely said, “Well, a move is always scary and unsettling, especially at that age, but…the preschool is a cozy, safe place, and she’s been welcomed by the other kids. The staff has gone out of their way to make her feel comfortable, too.” Their hands brushed as she handed him a bottle of sparkling water.

Dan made no effort to move away. “Yet she remains isolated.”

“Yes.” Hand still tingling, Kelly slid the lunches into the fridge.

Dan surveyed Kelly thoughtfully. “Are there any learning difficulties?”

“No.” Because that would have explained a lot, too. “She’s able to pay attention, color within the lines, answer questions and follow directions when she wants to.”

“And yet…she just usually doesn’t want to?”

“That’s just it.” Kelly handed Dan a package of chips. “Some days she does. She’ll come to school with a smile on her face and participate. And other days, it’s like she’s deeply worried about something, and she remains withdrawn the entire time.”

He continued devouring his sandwich. “Any signs of abuse or neglect?”

Deciding it was silly to stand there when he was sitting, Kelly came around the island and took the stool next to him. “None that I can see.”

He swiveled so they were facing each other. “Have you talked to her parents?”

Kelly sighed. “Shoshanna’s dad died almost a year ago, rather suddenly I understand. I’ve asked her mom to come in for a parent-teacher conference, but Sharon Johnson keeps rescheduling. Work issues at the auto dealership where she works as the new financial manager, she says.”

Dan opened the bag of chips and offered her one. “Think she’s avoiding you?”

Kelly took one and munched on it. “Maybe,” she said as the salty deliciousness melted on her tongue. “But maybe she’s just settling in, too.”

He finished his sandwich, stood and carried his plate to the sink. He looked ready for action.

His brow furrowed. “What would you like me to do?” he asked gruffly.

Besides kiss me?

Flushing, Kelly said, “Be…discreet.”

* * *

HER REQUEST SUDDENLY had a slightly shady ring to it. One he had heard before. “Discreet,” Dan repeated. “As in operating outside the normal rules and regulations?”

She inclined her head. “You have connections. As well as a background as a detective.”

Also something he had heard before.

He tensed. “Which means I could do what…in your view?”

She shrugged, the ends of her silky hair brushing her shoulders. “Ask around. Maybe do a clandestine background check…”

Dan’s gut tightened.

There were times in his life when he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. This was one of them. “That’s not allowed, Kelly.”

She met his level gaze with an indignant one of her own. “Maybe not in an official capacity as a sheriff’s deputy,” she theorized.

“In any capacity,” he corrected sternly, stepping nearer. The fragrance of her hair and skin sent his senses into overdrive. “Unless I want to file a report and go through official procedure.” He paused to let his words sink in. “In which case I’d be duty bound to report anything the least bit suspect that I found.”

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