He spoke in a low voice, aimed for her ears only. “Don’t worry. We’ll handle this one problem at a time. I have some business in Silver City tomorrow—why don’t you come with? We’ll hit one of those big box stores in the morning, you can stock up, maybe even buy a small freezer unit to tide you over till you figure this out. I’ll be driving the SUV—it’s more than big enough to fit whatever you need.”
She took another deep breath. A plan—she liked plans. They made her feel in control. She attempted a smile, having found humor the best way to deal with this ridiculous string of bad luck. “The Sheriffmobile, huh? Does that mean we can speed?”
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
She looked up at him to express her thanks, but what awaited her stole her breath. Billy was staring down at her, such a solid male presence, his rich brown eyes trained only on her.
She did have a thing for him.
Had he seriously just told the woman he’d speed to the store for her? And in an official vehicle, no less. What the hell had gotten into him?
Billy jogged to catch up to Sorrow, striding purposefully to the tavern. His eyes grazed down her back—God help him, that was what’d gotten into him. Her fleece jacket and jeans hugged every curve, and he fantasized about giving that rump a good squeeze.
He rubbed a hand over his eyes. What was his problem?
He’d had a few flings since Keri died. Emotionless hookups. And they’d been enough to satisfy the part of him that, though grieving, was still a man. But never had he been so curious about a woman. Through the day, he found himself wondering how Sorrow was, if she was hanging in there, what she might be cooking up next.
The only trouble was, the pangs of guilt and regret were always quick to follow. Why should he get to enjoy and feel and live his life while Keri hadn’t been given half a chance at hers?
The sound of yelling drifted out to them. Sully and Bear, shouting at each other. Sorrow’s face fell, and their eyes met. “Sully never fights,” she said, sounding a little lost.
He got the sense the man was like an uncle to her. So now she had drama to add to the current crisis.
Laura caught up to them—he hadn’t realized she was following. “Wow, check it out,” she said. “Sully actually has a voice.”
He shot her a look. Big sister didn’t seem to get it, obviously too concerned with her own issues, whatever those might be.
Laura caught his expression. “Seriously. If you Googled ‘strong, silent type,’ you’d find a picture of Sully.”
They made their way back into the kitchen just as Sully was saying to Bear, “The girl didn’t touch your freezer.”
Bear scowled. “Freez-ers.” He spotted his daughters. “Sorrow. What the hell have you done? Why are the freezers busted?”
Billy clenched and unclenched his hand. He didn’t consider himself a violent guy, but just then he wished he weren’t an officer of the law. Just then, he longed to get in one good punch. Instead, he stepped forward. “Calm down, Mister Bailey. I’m sure your daughter knows nothing about it.” It was beyond him why that boyfriend of hers hadn’t nipped Bear’s attitude in the bud. Maybe Damien lent a hand around the place, but it sure didn’t seem like he stood up for her enough.
Sully growled, “Neither of us knows about it.”
“Well, it can’t be coincidence.” Bear kicked the huge industrial freezer. “Both of them are dead, and the food’s all spoiled. Somebody must’ve done something to overheat ’em.”
Laura opened the door and shut it again quickly, scrunching her nose against the smell. “Did you take a look, like, under the hood or whatever?”
It was the first semireasonable thing the woman had said all day.
“Good idea.” Billy nodded at Sully. “You get that side,” he told him, and they pulled it from the wall. Dust was a thick, gray blanket along the baseboard, carpeting the floor in thick rolls like tumbleweeds. A dark puddle glistened along the floor.
“I can’t look.” Sorrow hoisted herself up to sit on the counter with a sigh. “I wish BJ were here.”
Now there was an unfortunate name. He peeked from behind a panel of stainless steel to give her a questioning look.
“Bear Junior,” Laura clarified. “He’s got the magic touch when it comes to machines.”
Sully grunted. “And if he ever gets tired of that, the kid could just as easily fix them.”
“My boy knows his way around a motor,” Bear said proudly.
Billy had another question for Sorrow and looked at her just as she unzipped her fleece. His mind blanked.
Damn. When had thermal underwear shirts become so sexy?
He darted his eyes from her lush body to focus on the freezer instead. He struggled to remember his question. “You got a screwdriver? I’m not as gifted as your brother, but I can take a look.”
Everyone stared silently, except for Sorrow, who hopped down and grabbed one from a junk drawer. Was she the only one who knew what was what in this place?
Their eyes held for a second as she handed him the tool, and he felt a clench in his gut he hadn’t known in years. He turned his entire attention to unscrewing the back panel.
He didn’t have to be an electrician to see the problem at once. Condenser tubes ran in an S-pattern along the back, and Freon dripped from them, a slow, glistening ooze.
Bear saw it too and exclaimed, “What the hell?”
Sorrow stepped in. “What is it?” She smelled like shampoo, or lotion maybe—some female smell.
“Yup.” Billy had to force himself to focus. He studied it closely, wishing the light were better. “It must be cracked or…” His voice trailed off as he concentrated, running his finger along the tubes. Then he felt it—a sharp edge. Too sharp to be just a crack.
“Not wear and tear.” Billy stood and wiped the grime from his hands. “I think it was sliced.”
With a nod, he faced Bear and said, “Looks like you have a vandal on your hands.”
Bear laughed outright. “Vandal? There are no vandals in Sierra Falls. Everyone knows everyone. This is just how it goes around this place.” He looked at his daughter. “Isn’t that right, Sorrow? All hell breaking loose on a regular basis.”
Billy didn’t buy it for a minute. Those wires had been cut, and it called into question every other thing that’d been going wrong lately. He’d stake his badge that the Baileys were up against something more menacing than just the usual chaos of a family business.
Bear may not have wanted to hear it, but Sorrow did. She seemed to get it, and was looking at him with widened eyes. “Who would destroy our freezers?”
“Nobody destroyed our damned freezers,” her dad said. “You’re not in the big city anymore, Sheriff. There’s no crime out here. It may bore you, but all the suspicions in the world aren’t going to make any criminals appear.”
“Not to interrupt,” Sully said, “but what are we going to feed people?”
Sorrow pulled her shoulders back. “Billy said he’d drive me to Silver City for supplies.” There was something in her voice—Resolve? Camaraderie?—that made him happy he’d offered.
“We can stock up,” he added. “Get a small replacement freezer till you can get a bigger one delivered.”
“That doesn’t feed people right now.” Bear checked his watch. “Hell’s bells, girl. It’s 4:30. People are going to start showing up for Sully’s early bird any minute.”
There was a moment of tense silence, then Sorrow said, “I could cook.”
Bear shook his head. “Ain’t you been paying attention? All our food is spoiled.”
He loved how she stood up to her dad. The way she snapped right back at him had a way of defusing the man’s temper, till he seemed like nothing more than a harmless grump. “She makes a good pasta,” Billy said with a grin.
Sorrow’s sister pinned him with a wicked look. “When have you had her pasta?” Something in her voice made him self-conscious.
He was grateful when Sorrow broke in, “I’ve got all I need in the pantry. Some garlic, olive oil, a couple of cans of olives, some capers…I can make a puttanesca.”
“Give the girl a shot,” Sully said, his voice almost comically somber.
“You, too?” Bear looked from his cook to his daughter and stiffened. It was like witnessing a lightbulb flicker to life above the older man’s head. “You’re serious.”
Sorrow crossed her arms at her chest, and Billy fought the urge to gently pull them apart and give her shoulders a quick rub. And then stroke down her back to the curve of her waist…
Hell. He really needed to stop thinking like that.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” she said. “I want to start cooking one night a week.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Bear said instantly.
Sully shrugged. “I told you the other day. I could use a night off.”
Bear looked aghast. “What the hell? It’s a conspiracy, that’s what this is.”
“The girl can cook, and you should give her a shot,” Sully said, which for him seemed tantamount to a speech.
“If it weren’t for Sorrow’s cooking,” Laura added, “I’d have been five hundred pounds overweight when I graduated high school.”