Sam moved into the store. "I'm sorry, Miss Graham, there won't be a next wagon. It's quite a distance to the ranch and it's getting late. You'll need to leave now." He wiped his hands on his slacks, glanced at the clerk, then at the deputy.
The itch was now a full-scale conviction. "Your clerk here—"
"Julia?" Sam glared at the clerk.
"Was telling me about Shadow Woman. And her dogs."
Bram folded his arms.
Sam opened the door behind him and waved for me to exit. "Miss Graham, I really see that as none of your business."
Go now. Run. You have nothing to offer. Well . . . almost nothing
. I slowly walked over to the counter. "I know Shadow Woman's check bounced. How much money did she owe you? And how much to cover all the dog food?" I opened my purse.
"How many times have I warned you to keep your piehole shut!" Sam said to Julia.
"I didn't say nothin'!" Julia crossed her arms. "She figured it out on her own."
Sam closed the door and approached me, both hands held out as if to show goodwill. "I don't know what it is that you figured out, Miss Graham, but—"
"Please don't try lying to me, Sam." I pulled out my checkbook. "You figured the Anatolian dog would pay Shadow Woman's bill, but when you saw he was neutered, he had no more value to you. The minute I leave, you're going to have Deputy White here shoot both dogs. Your pound of flesh." I stared into his eyes. "I intend to stop you."
There were times when Bram hated his job. Rarely, as he'd wanted to serve in law enforcement his entire life, but today was one of those loathe-my-work days. Shooting stray dogs was wrong. They didn't have rabies. Hadn't bitten anyone. No threat to domestic animals. Not chasing wildlife. The dogs just needed a good home, but Sam wouldn't listen. The owner had been sent several letters with citations for letting the dogs run and for lack of rabies vaccinations, but she hadn't bothered to show up in court. The sheriff had given Bram the court orders for the dogs' destruction. He'd spent the entire drive from St. Anthony trying to figure out a solution. Sadly, only Sam could reverse the decision.
Dispatch alerted him to the earthquake as he pulled up in front of Sam's Mercantile. Nothing seemed to be disturbed, and the usual group of guests waited outside the store for transport to Mule Shoe. He pulled out a file and looked at a photograph, then compared it to the two dogs lying under a pine. The big dog was memorable and a perfect match. Unfortunately.
He backed into a parking spot, straightened his uniform, and stepped from his cruiser. The black Lab mix spotted him and raced in his direction. Was this dog attacking? How could the dog know why he had come? He reached for his pistol as the lab launched herself at him, placed two dusty paws on his chest, and landed a sloppy, wet tongue across his cheek.
"Uck! Down." He pushed the eager canine off, then brushed the dirt from his crisply pressed uniform. Small black hairs had managed to tangle in the material. He plucked them out as he strolled into the store. He knew where the restroom was and aimed for it, where he grabbed a paper towel and wiped the dog slobber off his cheek. A quick inspection showed most of the canine's damage had been taken care of. He returned to the store. The earthquake had sent a variety of cans to the floor. He reshelved them as he passed, making sure the labels were turned outward and they were evenly placed. The Campbell's and Progresso soups had been mixed together.
He resisted the urge to rearrange the display, turned, and spotted her
. Thick, shoulder-length, light-brown hair, perfectly brushed. Flawless complexion. Slender but well-toned body. Large eyes behind oversized glasses. The glasses put him off slightly, but they didn't seem to be overly thick. She looked like a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Demi Moore.
"Hello there. I'm Bram White," he blurted.
He knew she was a guest, she'd soon be heading up to the ranch, and she was in a financial stratosphere out of his reach. The cost of staying at the Mule Shoe was almost a thousand dollars a night. But for the first time in a very long time, he wanted to get to know a woman. This woman.
* * *
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book All that is Secret by Patricia Raybon.