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Wild Horse Springs (Ransom Canyon #5)

By:Jodi Thomas

aring blue boots.

He relaxed. The main room was only half-full and most of the crowd looked far more interested in talking than fighting. Ike Perez, the owner, had put in a big-screen TV. If a game wasn't on, he played reruns. The drunks didn't seem to care. They cheered and bet as if they hadn't seen the game before.

"Evening, Sheriff," the bartender said as she reached for a cup and the coffeepot. "Wondered if you'd make it in tonight."

Dan stood at the corner of the bar, his back almost touching the wall. It was the only spot in the room where he could see the whole place. "Evening, Kimmie." The bartender might have been in AA for ten years, but she was still working making drinks. She reminded Dan of an old bull rider who walked among rough stock on the night before a rodeo. Kimmie might not take the ride anymore, but she stayed near the noise and the excitement.

When he set the fancy boot next to his cup, Kimmie winked at him. "If that's your date, I'd say you lost a bit of her on the way in."

Dan shrugged. "Story of my life. I start out with a woman and end up with a boot."

Kimmie crossed her arms and leaned against the railing of the bar that was just right to be boob-resting height to her. "It might help, Sheriff, if you didn't wear your gun and uniform on a date. You're one fine-looking man, tall, lean and just enough gray to tell a lady that you probably know what you're doing, but, honey, all that hardware around your waist won't encourage any woman to cuddle up."

Dan took a gulp of the coffee. He never added any comment when Kimmie started telling him how to live his life. She might be in her late thirties, which made her dating age for him, but she'd never be his type.

In truth, Dan had decided he must not have a type. Near as he could tell, any women he liked usually ran the other way. The first and the noisiest being his wife twenty years ago. When he'd refused to move to Dallas, Margaret packed a bag and left him with their only child. He'd raised Lauren and kept loving his wife for a long while, hoping she'd come back, but she only called monthly to lecture him on all the things he was doing wrong with his job, the town and most of all with raising their daughter.

It took him years to try even talking to a woman other than to ask for her driver's license. And then, none seemed right. Some never stopped talking; others expected him to carry the conversation.

Finally, when he decided to date a little, no woman felt right in his arms on the few occasions he managed to stay around long enough to hug her. Or, worse, she didn't seem that interested in him. At first he'd thought it was because he was divorced and raising his daughter or because of the career he loved, but lately, there just didn't seem to be a woman in the state he wanted to go out with.

Dan got to the point of his current problem. "I found the boot out on 111. Thought you might have seen someone wearing it."

Kimmie shook her head. "I found a cowboy boot under my bed once. Worn and muddy. Never did remember who it belonged to."

Dan didn't want to hear more of the bartender's love life. If she ever got around to writing down just the facts she'd been sober enough to remember, she'd have a shelf full of steamy encounters. Since she'd quit drinking, talking about sex had become her favorite pastime.

"Where's Ike?"

"He went over to check out that new bar. They call it the Nowhere Club like it was something fancy. What kind of name is that for a bar? Someone said they got a real singer over there. Can you imagine someone trying to sing to a bunch of drunks?"

Dan picked up the blue boot. "Maybe I will go check it out sometime."

Kimmie cleared his empty coffee cup and wiped down the bar. "I'll keep my eye out for a woman hobbling around on one boot. If I spot her, I'll send her your way."

"Thanks." Dan left thinking about what the owner of the boot must look like. Tall, he'd guess, to wear this high a boot. And wild as the West Texas wind. His imagination filled in the rest of her through the night when he should have been sleeping.

* * *

MONDAY MORNING HE carried the boot into his office and set it on the corner of his desk, still thinking about what kind of woman would own it. It might be nice to meet her when he wasn't in uniform. Maybe, halfway through his life, it was about time he did something unpredictable.

All morning he worked on the paperwork that always piled up over the weekend like leftovers from Sunday dinner.

The blue boot kept crossing his line of vision as if whispering to him.

Pearly, the county secretary, came in a little after eleven with the mail. She spotted the boot. "You thinking of cross-dressing, Sheriff?"

Dan simply stared at her. Pearly hadn't asked a question worth answering in years.

"I have to leave." He stood. "I'll be back in an hour or so."

"Might as well eat lunch while you're out, Sheriff." Pearly started planning his day. "It's already almost lunchtime, and you know when you get back you'll have calls to return, and by the time you're finished it'll be too late to catch a lunch special. Next thing I know, Lauren will be home from Dallas complaining about how thin you look and telling me I should take better care of her father, like she left you in my charge."

"And the point of this discussion, Pearly?"

She puffed up. "Eat!" she shouted as if he needed to be addressed in single syllables.

Dan dug his fingers through hair in need of a cut and put on his Stetson. "Thanks, Mom, I'll remember that." He grabbed the boot and walked past Pearly. Dan hated being mothered, but some women had that gene wired in them.

He was two miles out of town when he glanced at the boot and grinned. "Where you want to go, babe?" he asked as if a woman were beside him.

Funny. Something about the boot riding shotgun made Sheriff Dan Brigman feel reckless.