“Damien heard about our troubles when he was here last night.” Her eyes flicked to his, as she quickly added, “He left pretty much right after he found out.”
Was she trying to tell him something with that look? Had there been a message in her eyes?
He looked away. Pretty, young women didn’t telegraph hidden messages to men like him. More fool he.
“Damien has some friends,” Sorrow continued, and he could’ve sworn he heard something like guilt in her tone.
“Yeah, okay,” she said flatly, “Damien has a lot of friends. He knows a few restaurant owners—”
“Some as far away as Reno,” Bear boasted.
Billy forced his pleasant expression not to fade. He’d offered his help, but restaurant owners? How could he compete with that? All he had to offer was a buddy who worked as a line cook in Silver City.
Her smile was gone now, her mouth a tight line. “Yes, Dad. Some as far away as Reno. So anyway, apparently any minute now, men will start showing up with food. Enough to tide us over, but not so much that it won’t keep in the regular fridges.”
Billy said, “Well, that’s wonderful.” So how come he didn’t feel wonderful? He was disappointed, and the reaction surprised him.
“It is, isn’t it?” Sorrow crumpled her napkin and dropped it onto her plate. Did she look disappointed, too? “Though I can’t imagine what Damien offered to convince them to sell us food from their own kitchens.”
“What’d he offer?” Bear put down his coffee hard enough that some sloshed over the edge of the cup. “The guy offered not to kick their asses if they helped you.”
Sorrow stood and patted her dad’s shoulder. “Easy there, cowboy.” She met Billy’s eye. “I may not need to buy food, but if that other offer still stands…?”
She grabbed her purse from atop the bar. “It’s as good a day as any to spend a ridiculous amount of money on appliances.”
Bear handed his daughter her coat. “You help her, Preston. Have her pick out a good one.”
Billy helped her shrug into her layers. “I’m sure your daughter is perfectly capable of picking out her own appliances, but I’ll be happy to offer my help if she asks for it.”
Was it his imagination, or was that a mischievous glance she just shot him? He resisted the urge to put his arm around her shoulders as they walked out to his SUV.
It was a long drive to Silver City. Forty-five minutes in which Billy would not notice the curve of Sorrow’s thigh on the seat next to him. To not savor the smell of her, something like vanilla and shampoo. To not allow his gaze to be pulled over and over again to the slash of sunlight that cut across her face, sparking her blond hair to a thousand shades of gold.
His mind went to Keri again, and he knew his usual grief, but this time it was cut with something else. He felt the sadness, but oddly, it didn’t sear through him like it usually did.
Was this him moving on? Because for the first time, he was glimpsing what it might be like to turn the page on that chapter of his life and step into another.
Was that what Keri would want him to do?
He stole a look at Sorrow. His heart was heavy, but something in his mind felt lighter than before. More open. He imagined it was hope. It was a heady feeling.
Sorrow was like those rays of early morning light that cut through the windshield, and he was a creature emerging from darkness, blinking at this new reality, feeling a tentative fascination.
She was so different from his late wife. Keri would never ride in the car with her shoes propped on the dash. She’d never sit with her face turned toward the sun. His wife had shied from the sun, slathered herself in sunscreen, worn designer hats.
But there was Sorrow, with a faint dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose, wearing jeans, a T, and a flannel shirt layered overtop. Fitted and purple, it was definitely a women’s shirt, but it made him think how good she’d look wearing his flannel shirt. Romping around his apartment in his ancient red plaid. Wearing nothing else but her panties.
He needed to stop thinking. He wasn’t ready for this.
Talking. Talking would stop this thinking. “We should be in Silver City by ten. Stroke of luck Damien knows so many people. Good thing I’m not competing with him,” he said, attempting a joke. “Money, charm, and powerful friends…a guy could get easily outmatched.”
The line had been funny enough in his head. Hell, he needed to stop talking and thinking. He turned on the radio, and an old rock song filled the truck.
“Yeah,” she muttered, “Damien’s something else.” She leaned forward, peering at the complicated police console. Her hair slipped from behind her ear, sending a waft of flowery shampoo scent his way.
He stared hard at the road. Maybe talking had been better.
He’d told himself he wasn’t interested. That he couldn’t allow himself to be interested. He’d sworn off relationships—he’d barely survived getting gutted by the last one. He wouldn’t survive another loss like that. Couldn’t.
But could he survive his current life? Going on like he’d been, closed to all but the most superficial of interactions.
He’d come to Sierra Falls, hoping to find peace in a small town. To find solace dealing with small things. But in the past weeks, he’d discovered the most peace while spending time with her.
He stole another glance. She was so different, so refreshing.
And so beautiful. Long hair tucked haphazardly behind her ear. Fresh, rosy cheeks. A love of life, a passion for food, and a smile ever on her face, even as she dealt with the most challenging of issues—finances, the lodge and tavern, her father.
She was just right.
But would a woman like that want a man like him? He felt like an old shell sometimes, but there Sorrow sat, a woman of appetites, fresh and ripe and…
It sheared like a bolt straight through him. He wanted her.
Was this him deciding to live again? Because where his mind went, his body eagerly followed. If he were honest with himself, he’d wanted to get to know her all along, had enjoyed learning about her. But what consumed him now was something else entirely.
He adjusted himself in his seat, racking his brain for idle chat.
This was no good. The woman had a boyfriend, for God’s sake. He might want Sorrow, but that wasn’t his decision to make.
The current station went to a commercial, and she reached over the console for the radio. “May I?” she asked.
He nodded, desperately trying to come up with some topic of conversation. “You like music?” Lame conversation, apparently.
“I like a little of everything.” She zipped through, searching for a good song. The scent of her hair wasn’t so much flowers as it was flowery vanilla.
Cooking. That seemed safe enough territory. “Why do you cook?” It was the best he could come up with, though he could guess the answer. He’d tasted what Sully called pot roast.
But he was surprised when her answer was slow in coming.
“The kitchen is my solace,” she said finally. “It’s a place for me to go. You know, in my head. I mean, there’s not much else to do around the lodge.” She gave a rueful laugh. “Though you’d never be able to tell with how crazy things have been lately. But usually it’s just me sitting long hours behind the desk, or cleaning the rooms—”
He shot her a look. “You clean the rooms? When do you sleep?”
She sighed, sounding older than her years. “It’s not like we have tons of people in and out of there. It’s not that much. Anyway, planning menus, all the kitchen prep…it helps me imagine traveling to a place. When I cook, tasting Indian curries, or stir-frying Chinese, it’s a way to visit there. In a way.” She got quiet.
“You’ve never left Sierra Falls?” He cursed the disbelief in his voice—he would hate to think he sounded patronizing.
“Well, sure I’ve left,” she said quickly. “Class trips to Sacramento, San Francisco. That sort of thing. But real traveling…I guess that’s not in the cards for me.”
He wanted to tell her she could determine her own cards. That she needed someone to help prod her father. Why Damien didn’t apply some friendly pressure on her behalf was a mystery. Hell, he’d been pressuring Bear on her behalf since the day their roof caved in. Billy wanted to say that and lots of other things, but instead he just kept driving.
She shifted in her seat, and he felt her eyes glued to his profile. “How about you?”
The bald way she’d asked it took him aback. “How about me?”
He gave a little laugh, but when he turned to catch her eye, he wished he hadn’t. She was watching him avidly, her expression serious, like she might be able to uncover something he hadn’t realized he’d been hiding.
He wanted her to turn and look out the window instead.
He wanted to reach across the seat and sweep the hair from her face. Then he’d take her hand and tuck it in his, to hold it nestled in his lap.
“You were a high-ranking police officer,” she said. “In Oakland. It must’ve been so exciting.”
He put his entire focus on the road. That’d been another time. Another life. His voice was tight when he replied, “Exciting is one word for it.”
“It must pale in comparison to what we’ve got going on in Sierra Falls.”
He shot her another look. He was so in control in all aspects of his work. His whole job was getting people to confess to things they wanted kept secret. And yet Sorrow always caught him off guard, always got him talking—how did she manage it? “Hey, we were talking about you. How’d the tables get turned?”
She gave him a wicked smile that would’ve worked on any perp, in any interrogation room. “I’m not done with my questions yet, Sheriff. So you decided to leave gangs for grandmas?”