ExcerptOUT FOR JUSTICE
"Shotgun Sallys, Book 1"
Harlequin Intrigue® #774
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Harlequin Books
Pub. Date: May 2004
"IF ANYTHING HAPPENS to me, look after Short Stuff." Andrew's words reverberated in Wade Lansing's mind as he walked down Main Street and spied Kelly McGovern.
Kelly looked different from the out-of-his-class girl that she always presented to the world. Instead of the feminine, silk blouses and lacy skirts or designer dresses she favored, she was wearing jeans, boots and a tucked in blouse with a blazer. She'd done something to her standard shoulder-length blond hair, pulling it back softly with a clip that showed off her blue eyes and model cheekbones.
Wade wished he'd questioned Andrew more fully during the short phone conversation the night of his friend's death, but the bar had been packed and he'd been shy two waitresses. Still, he'd taken the time to ask why Andrew thought anything might happen to him, but Andrew had told him it was probably nothing.
Nothing, my ass.
Andrew wasn't prone to panic or exaggeration. He'd stumbled onto something he shouldn't have and it had gotten him killed. And as much as Wade had liked and respected Andrew, his friend had grown up protected from the harsher side of life. Andrew trusted people, whereas Wade did not. Andrew always gave people the benefit of the doubt. Wade expected the worst, so he didn't need evidence to listen to his gut, which told him Andrew had been murdered. He'd been around trouble too many times not to trust his instincts.
As a kid, those instincts warned him to hide on Saturday nights so that his drunk father couldn't find him until he sobered up. The few times he'd forgotten to hide had taught Wade to never let down his guard. He had few friends, but Andrew had been a good one and Wade owed him more than one favor.
Besides, watching Kelly's back and cute little bottom was certainly no hardship. With her long slender legs, she should wear jeans more often. She'd always been attractive in that don't-touch-me-I'm-off-limits-to-the-likes-of-you kind of way, which he'd accepted out of respect for Andrew, but today she actually looked approachableif he could discount her five-hundred-dollar boots and the designer bag she'd slung over her saucy shoulder.
The sight of Kelly's new look not only reminded Wade of his promise to his friend but had his instincts screaming. He and Kelly didn't patronize the same kinds of establishments or reside in the same part of town. Kelly probably hung out in Dallas or Fort Worth's fanciest malls or perhaps at the Mustang Valley's finest steak house, or at the movies, but he'd rarely seen her on grounds he considered his turf. And why was she walking instead of driving her spiffy new Jag? What the hell was she up to?
His curiosity aroused, he followed her down Main Street past the post office and the pharmacy, keeping his distance and a few shoppers between them, considering possible destinations. Kelly didn't date guys from this side of town. She picked proper and preppie college boys with impeccable credentials and a family history as tony as her own. She'd only visited his saloon once to pull Andrew home during a family emergency. He recalled how out-of-place she'd looked in her lacy skirt and soft, sophisticated blouse, and yet she hadn't hesitated to enter his rowdy bar alone, shoulder past several inebriated cowboys to demand that her brother accompany her to the hospital. Her granddaddy had had a stroke. She'd looked sassy and sad then, letting neither Andrew's drunken state nor Andrew's lost cause of the moment, who'd been clinging to her brother's arm, deter Kelly from her task.
On the sidewalk in front of Wade, Kelly suddenly spun around and made a bee-line straight at him with that same determined pout of her lips that he so vividly remember from years ago.
He braced for a confrontation. "Hey, Short Stuff. What's up?"
"Don't call me that, please."
Kelly was always ultra polite, except with him she usually sounded annoyed and irritated that she couldn't quite hide that annoyance. In return, he couldn't help feeling gratified that he was getting under that Cosmo girl skin. Maybe it was a remnant from his teenage years, but he loved bringing out the spark that she so carefully kept reined in. Watching her control all those simmering passions, he cocked one hand on his hip and swiped her sunglasses.
She maintained a cool, superior tone, but vexation and perhaps a gleam of fury shined in her vivid baby blues. "What are you doing?"
"I've missed your gorgeous green eyes," he teased.
"They're blue." She snatched back her sunglasses, her pretty polished pink nails shimmering in the sunlight. "Are you trying to distract me from the fact that you're following me?"
Ah, she might look like a fairy princess, even in those hip-hugging jeans, but she had a brain almost as sharp as Andrew's. Wade reminded himself not to get so caught up in the glisten of her lip gloss that he underestimated her. "You caught me in the act."
She chuckled, her lips absolutely adorable and way-too-appealingly kissable. "It wouldn't be the first time."
If she was trying to embarrass him with the memory of her walking up to the car her brother had lent him and her getting an eyeful of him and Mary Jo Lacy in the back seat, she wouldn't succeed. Of the three of them, she'd been the embarrassed one. Funny, he could barely recall Mary Jo's expression, but Kelly's had been a sight to behold. Her blush had started at her shapely chest, risen up her delicate neck, flowered over her cheeks and forehead. Her teenage-innocent eyes had narrowed in surprise before her lips had parted into a big round O.
"So what are you up to?" He eyed her from the tips of her new boots to the designer sunglasses she'd grabbed and thrust up high on her forehead.
"Yeah, right. When I see Miss Kelly McGovern sashaying down Main Street on this side of town in blue jeans, I know something's up. If I didn't know you better, I'd think you had an assignation at the Lone Star Lodge."
"I don't sashay. I don't frequent that establishment. And I have better things to do than stand here and"
"Better things to do? That doesn't sound like 'nothing' to me."
"My business is no concern of yours." She turned around to dismiss him.
He fell into step beside her. "Aren't you even a little curious why I was following you?"
"Not particularly." She yanked down the sunglasses.
"Okay." He matched her step for step and didn't say another word. He tipped his hat to a few of the townsfolk and waited. Wade hadn't always been this patient. In his younger days he'd been known for his hot blood and his blazing temper. But he'd mellowed during his mid-twenties. And he had the advantage here. She wanted to be rid of him, so she would either have to speak to him again or accept his company. He looked forward to either decision.
Her floral scent floating between them, the sunlight shimmering off her blond hair, she stopped on the sidewalk and peered over her sunglasses at him. "What do you want, Wade?"
Her respect? Her trust? Damned if he knew. "It's not what I want but what Andrew wanted."
"Don't play word games with me about my brother." She almost snapped at him, and he realized that the unhealed wound in her heart was responsible for the rawness in her voice. She'd adored her brother, tagging after Andrew into her mid-teens, shooting hoops with them in the park and getting underfoot. Andrew hadn't minded, and Wade had enjoyed teasing the prickly princess. But they hadn't run into one another that often. Andrew hadn't brought his friends home, much and as Kelly's popularity increased into her late teens, she'd found her own group of friends. Wade and Kelly might not ever have even spoken if not for Andrewand now he was gone.
"I'm sorry. I miss him, too." Wade ran a hand through his hair. "Let's start over."
"From ten minutes ago? Or eighteen years ago?"
She was referring to the first time they'd met. At ten years old, Wade had been the terror of the school yard and a class A bully, copying his father, his only role model up to that point in his life. Wade had caught a stray ball from a group of kindergardeners playing kick ball. No one dared ask him for the ballexcept five-year-old Kelly. She'd skipped over in her immaculate yellow ruffled dress, smiled at him like an angel and had plucked the ball right out of his hands, murmuring a sweet thank you. He'd been so stunned at her audacity that he'd just stood there and let her get away with it.
Wade didn't answer her rhetorical question. "I spoke to your brother the night he died."
"And?" she prodded.
"He said that if anything happened to him that I should look after you."
Her tone turned all-businesslike. "What do you meanif anything happened to him? Are you saying my brother expected trouble?"
"I'm not sure. He sounded more excited than concerned. I didn't question him thoroughly."
"Why not?" Her voice turned sharp enough to slice and dice and he refrained from wincing, especially since he'd asked himself that same question a hundred times.
"The saloon was packed. I was shorthanded and I expected him to be over within the hour."
She stood still for a moment, clearly thinking. "Have you mentioned your conversation to Sheriff Wilson?"
He shook his head. "I've spoken to Mitch, Deputy Warwick. He's looking into it for me on the QT."
"Why on the QT?"
He squared his shoulders and it only helped a little to know that she wasn't prying into his personal life but trying to understand the situation with her brother. "Sheriff Wilson isn't exactly a fan of the Lansing family. Deputies don't like answering domestic squabbles." And his folks had habitually fought every Friday and Saturday night. Deputies had stopped at his house as often as the local coffee shop.
He refrained from mentioning that he'd never liked Sheriff Wilson, but Mitch was an all-right deputy. The man had compassion, probably learned the hard way since growing up half Native American wasn't easy in these parts.
To give her credit, Kelly didn't fault Wadeat least out loud. "If you hear anything from Deputy Warwick, you'll let me know?"
"Sure." He wished he could see her eyes that she'd hidden behind those sunglasses.
"You needn't worry about looking after me. I'm fine."
Kelly dismissed him, her booted feet taking the steps, two at a time, up Doc Swenson's front porch. Wade almost left her to her business. But when Doc opened the front door and stepped onto the porch, Wade decided this meeting had nothing to do a personal medical problem. He wanted to hear what she'd say next.