We'll Never Tell(9)

By: Jannine Gallant



“Did you find the missing hiker?” Arnie Peters yelled.

Swinging the pack over his shoulder, Ethan walked out to greet his nearest neighbor. “Battered but not broken, the guy will live. The person Samantha Beaumont and I discovered wasn’t so lucky.”

Arnie scratched his balding head and frowned. “Huh?”

“The creek below Prophet Point flooded during the thunderstorm the other night. It churned up some old bones—human by the look of them. A recovery team is up there now.”

The man’s muddy brown eyes widened. “You’re kidding!”

“Wish I were.”

He glanced at the other two locals. Bob Harris owned Ravenswood Nordic, the cross country ski center on the edge of town, and Foster Carmichael worked with Arnie at the Fish and Game Department. The back of the Jeep was piled high with gear.

“You headed up to the lake for a little fishing?”

“An overnight trip,” Bob answered. A few years older than Ethan and heavy set, the man’s big frame was squeezed into the back seat of the Jeep along with the hounds.

“Well, enjoy.”

Foster slapped his leg and grinned, teeth flashing in his tanned face. “We will. There’s a cooler full of beer and a bottle of tequila under all that gear, and no women to nag us. It doesn’t get much better than that. You should meet us up there.”

“Can’t. I have a buyer for a couple of the dogs coming in the morning.”

“Too bad. See you, Ethan.” Arnie shifted the jeep into gear, and with a puff of exhaust, they pulled away.

Ethan walked back to the house, hands stuffed in his pockets. A year ago he would have put off the buyer and gone camping, wallowing in tequila and debating the 49ers’ chances in their game on Sunday. It wasn’t that he’d lost interest in football or drinking… He scowled at a pile of dog shit on the front lawn. When was the last time he’d cruised the local bar with his buddies? A couple of months—or had it been longer?

Pushing open the front door, he dropped his pack on top of a pair of socks in the entry, and headed to the kitchen. Dirty dishes littered the counters. Dust was thick on the windowsill beneath the crumbling vines of an ivy plant he’d forgotten to water. He grabbed a sports drink out of the refrigerator and guzzled it down, then went hunting for food. The lunchmeat had a shiny texture he was pretty certain hadn’t been there a few days ago. He tossed the meat in the trash and settled for a box of crackers.

Dropping onto a stool at the high counter, he frowned at the clothes piled around the washing machine in the corner. He hadn’t been so lax about housework when he’d been dating Carrie, but they’d broken up over six months ago. He needed a maid—or a new woman in his life. Someone to motivate him to spend a little more time on domestic chores. Maybe a wife.

Ethan bit his tongue and swore. Jesus, where did that thought come from? He had his dogs for company. Women came and went, parting amicably after the novelty of the relationship wore off for both of them. Most of the time. Apparently, seeing Sam again had messed with his head. He crumpled the empty cracker box and tossed it into the trash. Fun and easy was his style, not a serious relationship.

Who am I trying to convince? He ignored the intrusive thought.

Asking Sam out surely proved his point because he couldn’t imagine a woman less inclined to settle down. Rubbing the tightness in his chest, he grabbed an apple from the bowl on the table and headed out the back door. The dogs greeted him with an outpouring of boisterous enthusiasm and love, canine style. Uncomplicated. Unconditional.

In his experience, women were neither. Sam had left him without a backward glance once before, and he had no reason to think she’d changed over time. He was far better off sticking with man’s best friend.

Even in his head, the thought fell flat. He might be setting himself up to get hurt, but he had to try. Sam Beaumont was worth the risk.

****

Sam held open the studio door as a troop of miniature ballerinas in frilly pink skirts stampeded into the hallway. Across the room, Juliette Shaw spoke quietly to a little blonde pixie and patted her on the shoulder. When the girl smiled and scampered off after her friends, Sam cleared her throat.

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