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Wild Horse Springs (Ransom Canyon #5)

By:Jodi Thomas

he'd never had an irresponsible thought.

And he wasn't for her. Forget that "attracted at first sight" thing. She no longer acted on impulses. Brandi had not only sworn off men, she'd sworn off family and friends, as well. For months she had simply drifted in the emptiness and the music, telling herself there was no future or past, just now. If she worked hard on just getting through one day at a time, she could survive and almost forget that her reason for living had gone.

Fourteen months and counting. Now wasn't the time to break her streak even to make one friend or take a lover. The very thought of having a lover after all these years made her smile. If she ever did take another lover, he would have blue eyes like the sheriff's. True blue.

She opened the door to a small room that doubled as her dressing room and the paper storage for the bar and bathrooms.

The sheriff followed her in.

"Leave the door open," she ordered.

"Of course," he answered, as if it were a rule he already knew.

He seemed to take up half the space in her small quarters as she tossed clothes around looking for the other boot.

"I'm not very organized," she admitted.

"I've seen squirrels better at it." He crossed his arms and waited.

"The boot is here somewhere." She was loaded down with clothes and still saw no sign of it. "Maybe it would be easier to try on the one you have." She plopped down on the room's only chair and tugged off her tennis shoe. The leggings she wore were warm and fit like second skin. "If it fits, I get to keep it, right?"

To her shock, he knelt on one knee and helped her with the boot. His hand slid along her calf as he pushed her foot gently into the leather.

Brandi couldn't move. His hand glided ahead of the boot until his fingers rested just above her knee. She could feel the warmth of him through the material as he pressed gently into her flesh as if he was testing to see if she were real.

"It fits perfect," he said. "I guess I've found Cinderella."

"Thanks for bringing it back. I'm really grateful, Sheriff."

"You're more than welcome. Just part of the job." He stood and offered his hand. "Dan Brigman."

She took his hand and stood, noticing he was only a few inches taller than her as she balanced on the one boot. "Can I buy you a drink, Sheriff, to say thank you?"

"No, thanks."

He hadn't turned loose of her fingers, and she wondered if she should ask for her hand back. When she looked down, she spotted the blue toe of her other blue cowboy boot and squealed as she jerked her hand away from him. She dropped to the floor so she could crawl under the card table that served as her dressing table.

He tried to step out of the way, but her bottom bumped into him several times before she backed out from under the flimsy table. Then she hopped around trying to tug on the second boot while accidentally bumping into him again.

He gripped her waist and steadied her as she finally got the boot on.

When she straightened, he let go of her, but one hand rose to brush her hair from her face.

"You have a mass of long hair, pretty lady. It seems to fly around you like a midnight cloud. I've got a daughter who has hair as long as yours, but hers is straight and the color of sunshine."

"Sorry." She shook her head back. "My hair's always had a mind of its own. I not only kicked you while I was trying to pull on the boot, you probably got a mouthful of curls."

"I'll survive." He laughed.

"Sure you won't take that drink? I feel like I owe you one, Sheriff."

"No, but I might let you buy me lunch. The best Mexican food place for a hundred miles around is right across the street."

Brandi wasn't looking to be picked up, and she couldn't tell if the sheriff was trying to start something. If so, he was so far out of practice with this switch from a drink to lunch thing. She needed to cut this off quick. "Wouldn't you rather go home and have lunch with your family?" The last thing she needed was to get involved with a married man.

He hesitated but didn't back away like a man who'd been trying to flirt might. "My wife left me twenty years ago, and my daughter is grown and now lives in Dallas. If you don't want to come along, I'm still planning on eating Mexican food. Pearly, my secretary, told me to eat lunch before I came back, and she's not an easy woman to cross."

Brandi felt like a fool. The sheriff wasn't using a line on her. If he thought he was, it came pretty close to the worst one she'd ever heard. He'd given her the facts of his life as small-town people did. As people who have nothing to hide did.

"My name's Brandi Malone."

"I guessed that. Saw it on the board out front." He backed a few steps to the door. "It was nice to meet you, Miss Malone. Maybe I'll come hear you sing sometime."

"Do that," she said, noticing neither bothered with goodbye.

After he disappeared, she decided that the sheriff was shy. She'd embarrassed him by insinuating that he was trying to flirt, or maybe he felt like he'd dumped too much information on a total stranger.

She dug through her pile of clothes and pulled on her leather jacket with fringe. It wasn't warm enough for today's weather, but she didn't have time to find another coat.

Five minutes later she stepped out of the Nowhere and walked across the street. One car, the sheriff's cruiser, was in the café's parking lot. The lunch run was long past being over. She wasn't surprised he'd kept to his word.

Brandi was shivering when she made it to the table in the back where he sat alone. "This place still open?" she asked.

He looked up from his cell phone. She caught the surprise in his eyes before he glanced away.

"I'm buying your lunch, Sheriff. You have a problem with that?"

"No." He stood and moved his hat off the empty chair. "You think you could call me D