Rand Calloway leaned forward to peer through the darkened windshield of the pick-up. Was that woman waving at him? He could barely see past the frost on her window. When she rolled it down and blew him a kiss, he jerked and jostled his coffee. Stinging heat penetrated the thickness of his brand new khaki sheriff’s uniform. He slapped at it, muttering to himself, and by the time he looked back up, her white pick-up was gone.
Another glance at his slacks showed he’d avoided the disaster of spilling coffee on the seat of Deputy Shaw’s truck, really, the department’s truck, but Shaw drove it. The only reason Rand had it now was that his Land Rover was still in the shop getting outfitted with county sheriff decals. He’d been in such a rush to begin his new duties, he’d taken Shaw’s detail at the elementary school zone. There was no better way to see the locals than to watch as the parents dropped kids off at school. And he wanted to learn the faces in his new town.
That brought him full circle to the woman. Vibrant, long auburn hair and a vivacious smile. Quite a looker. Did she also have a cliché fiery temper? She was certainly free with her kisses, or with blowing kisses. Perhaps she had meant that for one of the small children in the crosswalk. He could have sworn she was looking dead center at the truck. Maybe she was a nut who liked cops. Just what he needed, a cop stalker. He’d ask Shaw and the other officers if they knew her.
He could imagine how that conversation would go. “Does anyone know a red-head in a white pick-up who blows kisses?”
Forget it. He’d learn the locals soon enough. With less than 2,000 people in his county, he was sure to see her again, and maybe he’d kiss back.
It wasn’t until late afternoon that he ran across his mystery lady. He was cruising down the main street in town when he pulled up beside her at a traffic light. She laid on her horn then bounced in her seat as she blew him another kiss. He was just about to roll down his window and let her see he was a stranger, when she turned off. He had half a mind to follow. She was that cute, with a wide, open smile that made you think of the girl-next-door. Before he could make up his mind, he got a request from the station. Duty called.
Jane tossed her medical bag across the seat of her truck and planted her foot on the running board to hoist up her five-feet-six-inch frame. One of these days, she was going to buy a nice, small pickup with great gas mileage, but for now, her dad’s old crew cab would have to do. It was paid for, even if it did guzzle gas.
As she turned the key in the ignition, her cell phone blared out a ringtone, Help, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up. She started the truck and grabbed the phone. “What is it, Mama? I haven’t even gotten out of the driveway.”
“Could you bring home some of those peaches from South America?”
“Peaches aren’t in season.”
“That’s why I said to get those South American ones. They have the right flavor, even in winter.”
“And they cost an arm and a leg.”
“Well, if it’s too much trouble…”
Her mother sniffed, and Jane wanted to toss the phone out the window then relented. Being stuck in the house with crippling arthritis couldn’t be pleasant. Maybe just a couple of peaches.
“It’s not too much trouble, but I can’t promise when I’ll be home. The Jacksons have a mare who’s trying to foal.”
No sooner had she hung up, than her phone rang again. She checked the caller ID. Pete Jackson.
“Hey, Pete, I’m on my way.”
“You better step on it. I think she’s breech.”
“Doing my best. Try to turn her. You can do it, Pete.”
The horse trainer sighed. Since he’d lost that one foal, he’d become hesitant. “Right,” he said and hung up.
Jane increased her speed on the straightaway. Thank goodness, cars were few and far between in the Montana outback. She high-tailed it right through the three-way stop, blowing a kiss at Shaw as she passed. Third time today she’d seen him. He certainly was making the rounds. Maybe he was trying to impress that new sheriff.
From the corner of her eye, Jane caught sight of the flashing red and blue lights in her rear-view mirror. She waved, and Shaw turned on the siren. “Seriously? I do not have time to play.”
She pulled to the side of the road, and her foot began a nervous tap. What was taking him so long?
He rapped his knuckles against the window, and she lowered it and got a blast of cold air in the face.
“Shaw, what are you doing? Pete’s waiting on me. Got a breech foal.”
A broad form bent to peer in the window, and a gloved hand reached up to remove dark, mirrored sunglasses. “License and registration, ma’am.”
Her mouth dropped the same moment his eyes widened. She wasn’t sure who was more shocked. Stunning, clear grey eyes peered at her. No man deserved to have eyes that pretty, certainly not one who was making her late. Her gaze traveled down a narrow nose with a slight bump. From her professional experience, she’d say that at some point, his nose had been broken. When she reached those parted, full lips, she wanted to sigh. What nice, straight, white teeth, and she was on her way to look at a horse’s back end. He was better scenery, but he was keeping her from a call.
“You’re not Shaw.”
“Rand Calloway, I’m the new sheriff. License and registration, please. Do you realize you didn’t even slow for that three-way stop…and you’re speeding?”
“I’m on an emergency call. Listen, Sheriff, my patient may not make it if I don’t get there as quickly as possible.”
Those mesmerizing grey eyes stared into hers, then he blinked. “I’d say follow me, but I don’t know where you’re going. I’ll follow you with the siren and lights. It should be safer than you tearing across the countryside on your own.”
“Thank you.” I think I’ve just been insulted.
He walked away, and Jane steered back onto the tarmac. Seconds later, Shaw’s truck, lights and siren blaring, pulled out behind her.
Eight miles down the road, Jane turned onto a paved driveway, waving at Mack, one of the hands who opened the cattle gate. The new sheriff came right behind her. Why? Surely she didn’t need an escort on private property. Maybe he still wanted to give her a ticket.
She rolled her eyes. Grit and Gumption probably wouldn’t appreciate another set of eyes watching her attempt to push her baby into the world. Grit could be a skittish thoroughbred, and now wasn’t the time to make her nervous.
Or me. That new sheriff had steely eyes that bored into hers. To think, she’d assumed he was Shaw driving around all day. Jane’s hand rose to cover her mouth. She had blown that blasted man a kiss…more than one. She snatched up her bag and ran for the barn, not waiting to see if he’d follow.
As she passed stalls inhabited by Pete’s other horses, she called out. “I’m here. How is she?”
“In the back…definitely breech,” Pete called.
Jane flung off her coat and dropped her bag to the side. At that point, the sheriff strode up behind her.
“Your patient is a horse?”
“Obviously. Pete Jackson, meet the new sheriff.”
“The sheriff? What’s he doing here?”
“He wants to give me a ticket. Disinfectant?”
Pete pointed at the bucket in front of the next stall. “I pushed the foal back in as far as I could. Grit’s breathing a whole lot easier, but I want to be sure.”
Jane rolled up her sleeves and rubbed the disinfectant up and down her arms, noting that the sheriff hadn’t opened his mouth to speak since viewing the laboring mare on the floor. As Jane stepped forward, Grit jerked and let out a high-pitched whinny.
“Pete, go around to her head and calm her.” Jane looked at the sheriff. “Roll up your sleeves and put that disinfectant on your arms.”
He stared blankly for the space of three seconds then pulled off his regulation Stetson and complied by unbuttoning his cuffs and shoving them back. Jane took another step toward Grit’s hind legs, wary of that back kick, but the mare seemed stable. Jane carefully pushed her arm inside the horse and felt for the foal. “You did it, Pete. The legs are presenting.”
Jane backed up, and Grit let out a loud whinny, straining. A white membrane appeared, then Jane could see tiny hooves and legs. The mare cried out again, and the head came out, quickly followed by the shoulders. At this point, Grit sighed and let her head rest against Pete. He brushed back her forelock and whispered to her.
Several minutes passed, and the sheriff pointed at the half-exposed foal. “Should we do something?”
“No. Mama’s just resting. She’s done the hard part. She’ll move soon.”
No sooner had Jane spoken, than Grit’s head jerked up and she groaned loudly. The foal came gushing out, and Jane quickly moved in to make sure the membrane was open and the foal breathing.
“Towel,” she said to the sheriff, holding out her hand. Once she gripped the cloth, she wiped at the foal then stepped back. “Aww, Pete, it’s a filly!”
“That’s a nice early Christmas present.” Pete stood, and they both moved away from mother and child.
The sheriff stood just behind them, looking on. “Don’t you need to cut the umbilical cord?”
“Nah,” Pete said, “the foal is still getting blood from the mother. See how the mare is nuzzling the baby? They rest a few minutes, then Grit will take care of the umbilical cord herself and probably even encourage the little gal to stand.”
They watched in companionable silence as mare and foal bonded. Soon after, both horses managed to stand, though the foal was wobbly. Jane turned to the sheriff and wrapped her arms around him. “She did it! Did you see that?”
He stood there stiffly for a few seconds, and Jane realized she’d just hugged a total stranger and smeared horse membrane on a brand new uniform. The awkward feeling passed just as quickly as his arms tightened around her and his eyes met hers. A slow smile spread across his features. “That was pretty incredible.”
Jane retreated and thumped Pete on the back. “Congratulations, Pete! Another successful delivery. Won’t be long before you won’t even need me.”
“I wouldn’t go saying that. Always appreciate your help, Jane.”
Thirty minutes later, Jane was ready to leave. She shook hands with Pete, grabbed her medical bag, and clomped outside to her truck. She wanted nothing more than a quick get-away, so she could get her mother’s peaches then go home for a shower, but the new sheriff was leaning against her door, arms crossed over his wide chest. His placid features revealed nothing about his state of mind, but those crystal-clear grey eyes could make a woman swoon. The women in town would be lining up for speeding violations.
Jane’s steps slowed. Why was he still here? Was this where she got her ticket? When she reached the truck, he shifted so she could open the door and toss her bag inside. “What’s keeping you, sheriff?”
“You. I was wondering if you had any other emergencies planned this morning.”
“Can’t exactly plan emergencies, but I promise not to run through any more stop signs.”
He seemed to hesitate, opened his mouth, closed it, then offered her a tight smile and tipped his Stetson. “Well then, it’s been a pleasure…and call me Rand.”
He nodded. “Jane Turner.”
He turned to walk away, and Jane climbed into her truck. With the keys in her hand, she looked back. He was unlocking the black truck. For some reason, he looked alone. Before she knew what she was doing, Jane hollered out. “Sheriff, if you aren’t busy tonight, you might enjoy meeting a very large group of people at The Shoehorn.”
“Yeah, it’s the local hangout. Fabulous burgers, rowdy music, and even rowdier cowboys…but you’ll meet a lot of townfolk.” And practically every single woman for thirty miles.
“I’ll see if I’m free.”
Jane nodded. What an utter fool she’d just made of herself, and all because she thought he looked lonely. He probably had a wife and 2.5 kids. White picket fence, too. Practically everyone around here did. She started the truck and drove off. Hopefully, I won’t see the handsome Sheriff Rand Calloway for a very long time. Long enough for him to forget she’d blown him kisses, hugged him, and asked him to hang out. She was an idiot. Lord, if he could just forget all that, it would be truly wonderful.
Rand started the pick-up and reached for the computer screen to send in a text that he had finished a call. After he reported to the station, he followed Jane down the long drive. Once again, a man waited to lock the gate behind them. When they reached the highway, Jane lifted a hand and waved before pulling out.
She certainly was a perky individual. And cute. And sexy. Who knew a woman in a flannel shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, with slime covering both arms could be so appealing? When she threw her arms around his neck, he wanted to lean in and kiss her. It didn’t help that he’d been thinking of kissing her ever since that morning. Had she figured out that she’d blown a kiss to the wrong man? He felt a clutch to his stomach. Was she seeing Shaw? Was it serious?
Rand shook his head. He had no business thinking about kissing the girlfriend of one of his deputies. He turned the truck in the opposite direction and drove back to town. The sooner he forgot about those luminous green eyes and full lips, the better. He probably needed a change of uniform, if he didn’t want to walk around all day smelling like horse.
At the door of the station, Rand stomped off his boots and walked inside. Immediately, a wave of heat hit him in the face. Dotty. Their dispatch/secretary was old as dirt and cold all the time. She and Rand had already gone to war over the thermostat.
He shrugged out of his coat and hung it on a peg before reaching for the control. “Dottie! Why is the heat set on seventy-five? You don’t think all the men in this building are hot-blooded enough?”
Her chuckle preceded her down the hall. “I like you, Sheriff. Just for that, I’m gonna leave it where you put it…’til you walk out that door.”
“Agreed.” That was probably the best compromise he’d get. “Where’s Shaw?”
“Writing up the traffic reports from last week…like you told him.”
“He writes slowly.” She took a sip of coffee.
“Any of that left?” Rand asked as he walked past, pointing at her cup.
“Well, it’s like this. I do dispatch. I order supplies. I don’t make coffee, but I’ve tasted yours…”
“Does that mean you’ll have mercy on me?”
“That means I’ll teach you how to make coffee.” She lifted her cup in salute. “Joys of the season.”
Rand laughed. His life with Dottie might be one long string of compromises, but he liked her.
When he walked into the staff room, Shaw looked up. “Your Rover is ready. Can I get my truck back?”
“Depends. What can you tell me about Jane Turner? She drives a good fifteen miles over the speed limit and ignores stop signs.”
“You didn’t give her a ticket, did you? We don’t ticket Jane.”
“Why not? Is she your girlfriend?”
“What? No. She’s the vet. The only vet for miles. If she’s speeding, she’s got an emergency.”
“And that means we don’t ticket her?”
“Not if we don’t want the ranchers ticked off. Sometimes she drives a long way to care for some very expensive cattle. Even a few minutes can make a difference.”
“Not if she’s dead.”
Shaw frowned. “She’s careful.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” And he’d get Miss Turner some flashing caution lights. At the very least, people would see her coming.
“It’s not just the animals, Sheriff. Last year, Jim Bowman wouldn’t have made it if she hadn’t been there. She was one ranch over when he had a heart attack, and she drove in immediately. By the time the ambulance arrived, she had him stable.”
That was probably enough time spent on the subject of Miss Turner. “What’s this I hear about a get-together at The Shoehorn? Is that a bar?”
“Oh, Sheriff, you gotta go. You’ve never had a burger til you’ve had one of Jerry’s. And the curly fries…” He shook his head. “I’m hungry just thinking about it. But it’s not a bar. They just serve beer, and there’s a band every Friday night. It’s the place to be if you want to meet the locals. Are you going?”
“Who’s on patrol tonight?”
Dottie answered. “That would be Frank and Larry.”
Both extremely competent and not young, like Shaw. Rand could probably risk going out tonight. If anything came up, they could call.
“Does Ms. Turner have any strange habits?” He asked, turning back to Shaw.
Dottie burst out laughing as a dull red crept up the deputy’s ears. “She, uh, probably thought it was me, Sheriff. You were in my truck.”
“She blows you kisses, and she’s not your girl?”
“She blows kisses at everyone who wears a uniform…even me,” said Dottie, settling in her chair and propping her feet up. “That girl has a zest for life that sort of bubbles over, and she’s proud of our emergency response team. She likes them to know it.”
“So, are you coming to The Shoehorn?” asked Shaw. “It’s the best way to meet people.”
“I thought church was the best way to meet people.”
“The band is the same one that leads worship on Sunday morning. Lots of the church folk will be there tonight.”
“Thanks for asking.” Rand offered Shaw a brief smile that was more like the tightening of facial muscles. “I’ll consider it. I’ve got to pick up my vehicle, and there’s still a lot of paperwork undone.”
“Not really. I finished mine and started the station updates. We should have everything filed before I leave today.”
“Dottie and me.” He shrugged. “She offered.”
“Don’t get any ideas, Sheriff,” Dottie chimed in. “I’m just protecting my system. Once he learns his way around, he can file his own business.”
“That’s nice of you, Dottie.” And completely unexpected. She must have a soft spot for their youngest deputy.
That didn’t explain why the paperwork had gotten so far behind after the previous sheriff suffered a heart attack. Someone should have known what to do. Perhaps Sheriff Tate was one of those leaders who did everything himself. If so, Rand had no intention of following in his footsteps. He wanted a life…and a wife, in whatever order God saw fit to send them.
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