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Authors: Elizabeth Hunter

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BOOK: Shifting Dreams
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“Nice ass,” Ted whispered.

“Nice boots,” Allie said. “No wonder you—”

“Please, shut up.”

Actually, on second thought, Caleb-with-the-
superb
-ass-and-boots didn’t walk. He swaggered. Jena narrowed her eyes. Yep, that was definitely a swagger. A cocky one. One that said, “I’m going to blow your mind with my kisses, then hang around for another hour looking tempting.” Okay, maybe it only said that to her. Jena peeked at her two best friends, one of whom was married and the other who claimed no man would ever live up to her exacting standards. Two sets of eyes followed Caleb intently.

Never mind, apparently the swagger was a universal language.
 

She was an idiot for thinking she could have one crazy night without consequences. It may have been just a kiss—or a few—but Jena Crowe was not the kind that usually gave in to temptation that way. It was one thing when he was a cute guy passing through town that she’d likely never see again. Someone who lived in the Springs? No way. She was just going to have to pretend the new chief of police didn’t exist.
 

And really—her shoulders slumped a little—Caleb-who-really-was-an-amazing-kisser would move into town, take one look at the myriad family, community, and professional obligations heaped on Jena’s shoulders and back away quickly. It would be more like a fast jog than a swagger, if she had to guess.

Matt took over. “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Caleb Gilbert, former decorated detective of the Albuquerque police department. Caleb here was on several very prestigious task forces before he decided to make a move to California. We’re very lucky to have him. He was instrumental in—”

“Good evening.” Caleb stepped in front of both Matt and Alex, easily drawing the attention of the curious crowd. “I’m pretty positive your mayor and Mr. McCann will paint me in a far better light than I deserve.” Caleb offered a friendly grin to the crowded church. “The simple fact of the matter is I’m really looking forward to making this my home. I lived in the city for years and… well, I never really got used to it to tell the truth. I’m from a small town myself.”

That would explain the boots and the attitude,
Jena thought. In her experience, men who carried themselves like Caleb Gilbert hadn’t grown up in the cushioned comfort of air-conditioning and smooth roads. The holes in his jeans weren’t put there by the manufacturer.

“Anyway, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to learn about all of you, and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve been informed that Jeremy McCann here”—Caleb nodded to one of Alex’s cousins near the front— “is going to be my deputy, and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Well, that part made sense. Jeremy and his wife were expecting their first child. He’d been living near San Bernardino and working in the police department there, but McCanns always moved back to the Springs when they had kids.

“Anyway, I don’t want to draw this out. I have a lot of work to do, organizing everything from the ground up, but, like I said, I’m looking forward to it.” Then Caleb grinned. His eyes deliberately sought hers and locked, just for a second, before they continued on their friendly journey. “I’ll go ahead and let you all talk behind my back now.” That drew a low laugh from the crowd. “And I’ll be on my way. Deputy McCann and I should have the station open early next week if any of you want to stop by. Consider the door open to anyone who’s curious.” Then Caleb tipped his head in a fashion his mother would approve of and turned to shake Matt and Alex’s hands.

His new deputy rose and met him at the back of the room before the two walked out into the night. Silence blanketed the church. Jena could hear some shuffling papers and feet, but not a single person spoke.

Ted mumbled, “Wait for it…”

Outside, the engine in Jeremy’s truck started. Low voices drifted in the wind. One door slammed. Then another. The sound of spitting gravel hit the night air and a few moments later, the telltale retreat of the old Dodge could be heard by everyone in the church.

The silence was broken by Elder Gabe Vasquez glaring down at Matt and Alex. His voice boomed through the silent desert night.
 

“Will someone please explain to me what the heck just happened?”

Chapter Four

As Caleb drove away from the church with his new deputy, he cracked open the window to let the creosote air flow into the pickup truck. It was monsoon season in the desert and a quick intense burst of rain had come during the meeting he’d just left. He didn’t know quite what he had stepped into, taking the chief’s position in this odd desert enclave, but he knew one thing: he wasn’t bored. And that was a good thing, because a bored Caleb Gilbert wasn’t fun to be around.

Jeremy McCann drove the truck over the rutted gravel road that led toward the old concrete block building that would be their station, once they cleaned it up. Caleb decided he liked the quiet man already. He had the lean, confident look of a man who could handle himself in a fight and the intelligent eyes of a born cop who’d try to avoid the conflict in the first place. Yes, he liked the idea of Jeremy backing him up. The young deputy had worked for four years for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s department, but was moving back to his childhood home. A young cop who would appreciate Caleb’s experience and a local who would set the rest of the town at ease. Jeremy McCann might just be the saving grace of this tangled mess Mayor Matt had dumped him in.

“So,” Caleb finally said, “think they’re talking about me yet?”

A smile lifted the corner of the young man’s mouth. “The question is are they
still
talking about you? Or have they moved on to Alex’s latest scheme?”

“Alex McCann has a scheme?”

Jeremy chuckled. “My cousin always has a scheme.”

Caleb narrowed his eyes. “Just what percentage of this town are you related to, McCann?”

“Call me Jeremy. Really, there’s too many McCanns around to call me by my last name. And the answer to your question is… probably a quarter, though a lot of that is distant. All the McCanns claim relation one way or another. And then, over the years there’s been people move in and move out. The main families you have to know in the Springs are the McCanns, the Campbells, the Vasquezes, the Crowes, the Leons, and—the ones you’ll meet the most—the Quinns. That’s the seven families who founded the town.”

Caleb’s instincts buzzed for the second time that night. The first had been when he’d set eyes on Jena. There had been a second, just as she’d turned and he caught the angle of her jaw, that the woman was familiar on a gut level. He’d known her, or at least recognized her from a long time ago. If he were still in Albuquerque, he’d think she shopped at the same market or took the same route he did on the way to work. Then the moment passed, and she was just the pretty woman he’d had the distinct pleasure of flirting with the night before.

“Seven families, huh?”

“Spread out and diluted now. Lots of new families have come in over the years. Most tend to go away, then come back after we get married and have kids. It’s kind of a hard place to pull away from completely, if you know what I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

He’d watched her. Watched her try to avoid him. Watched her friends needling her quietly, knowing it meant she’d talked about him. He liked the idea. He liked the idea a lot. And it was a small town; no doubt he’d run into her again.

“What family does Jena belong to?” Caleb asked.

She’d belong to one. After she’d overcome her initial embarrassment, the woman had watched him with the rooted confidence of an insider as he’d spoken to the assembly. Caleb was careful to play up his small town credentials, which were entirely genuine, if very much in the past. You didn’t get much smaller than a town in the checkerboard of Northwest New Mexico. He’d escaped his grandmother’s home on the Navajo reservation as a teenager, but if someone mentioned the word “home,” the dusty town was still what sprang to mind.

“Jena? Jena Crowe?” Jeremy’s eyebrows raised in amusement. “Where did you meet… Oh, you went to The Cave last night, right? She’s helping Ollie out this week.”

Caleb shook his head. “I forgot how creepy it is, knowing everyone’s business like it’s your own.”

Jeremy chuckled. “Jena’s a few years older than me, but she’s one of Alex’s best friends. And she runs the diner. Everyone knows Jena.”

“Jena Crowe.” He liked the sound of it.

“Technically, she might be a McCann, but I don’t think she ever changed her name when she got married.”

His head whipped toward Jeremy’s. “She’s married?”

“Widowed.”

The instant of relief was taken over by a weight in his chest. She was too young for that.

Jeremy continued. “She goes by Crowe now. A lot of girls from the Springs don’t change their names to begin with. The Crowes own the Blackbird Diner on Main Street. Her grandmother is one of the council members who runs things.”

“Ah.” Not just an insider, but an important one. Interesting. “The diner, huh?”

“Yeah. She’s…” Jeremy chuckled. “Good luck with that one.”

Well, things just got more and more interesting. “I like a challenge.”

“You’ll get one.”

“Claws?”

Jeremy grinned. “Talons.”

They pulled into the gravel parking lot in front of the old building. Jeremy flipped on the truck’s light rack, which flooded the front of the building. An enormous owl was perched on the porch railing, as if waiting for them. It gave an eerie blink, then flapped its enormous wings and soared into the night. Caleb heard Jeremy muttering under his breath.

“What’s that?”

“Nothin’. The place will be good once we get it cleaned up. Let me make sure the lights are working.” He took a flashlight from the door pocket and clicked it on; then he ambled around the side of the old building surrounded by cactus, scrub brush, and hairy-looking yucca plants that looked like they needed a shave. Jeremy walked back around after a few minutes and waved to him; then he opened the door and flipped on the lights of the old building, flooding it with the cool, buzzing glow of old fluorescents. Caleb got out, the wet gravel crunching beneath his feet.

“What did you say this was? The building, I mean?” He stepped through the door. It was dusty and cluttered, but not as bad as he’d imagined. It needed paint, but the old block walls were in good shape and would stay cool during the worst of the heat. It was a solid building. He nodded in satisfaction. He’d worked in worse.

Jeremy was already tossing empty boxes into a corner. “It was a sheriff’s station for a while. Maybe… thirty or forty years ago? But then, there wasn’t really enough money to keep it running, and not enough reason, either.”

“I’m still not quite sure why the town hired me.” He joined Jeremy, moving old boxes to one corner while he kicked a mummified rat toward the open door. “It sounds like there’s not much crime.”

“I don’t think there is. I’m not asking too many questions, to be honest. I’m just glad I’m not going to have to commute to Barstow with a new baby at home.”

Caleb felt guilty. He may not have had a life, but Jeremy had a nice wife at home whom he spoke about in glowing language. She was five months pregnant.

“You don’t have to help me do this. I’m still gonna drive back to Indio tonight and I don’t want to—”

“It’s no big deal.” The young deputy shrugged his narrow shoulders. “Brenda’s staying with her mom in Hesperia for the week while I get our house set up here, so there ain’t nothing waiting at home for me except beer and reruns on the TV.”

Caleb looked around the dusty office and grinned. “That doesn’t sound bad, actually.”

Jeremy laughed. “No, it doesn’t. But this has got to be done, and it’ll be easier to do it now, when it’s not so hot.”

“Speaking of that…” The building was stifling, so Caleb walked over to the windows and tried to pry them open. One moved. The other was stuck. But the two on the other side of the building opened and created a nice cross breeze, clearing out the dead air and filling the station with the earthy scent of rain and creosote.

Caleb took a deep breath. Much better.

“Now, I think…” Jeremy began fiddling with some old keys at the back door. “This part of the building was added on. There are a couple holding cells back here that…” One of the keys finally worked and the metal door opened with a screech. “Nice! Come take a look, Chief.”

“Call me Caleb.”

“Eh… I’d better call you Chief. You’re going to have a hard enough time as it is with these folks.”

“Why does that not surprise me?” Caleb walked through the door and into what felt a lot like a walk-in refrigerator. It wasn’t quite that cold, but almost. Despite the stuffy air, the room felt refreshing. He ran his hands along the smooth walls around him. “Is this…?”

“Adobe. The old kind.” Jeremy smiled and looked around. “This must have been a house at one point. Look how small the rooms are. They turned it into cells. Clever. The walls are thick. The windows are small.”

Caleb nodded. The rooms were dark, but the flashlight showed two rooms, one of which was split into two cells with thick old bars and the other, which he supposed they could use for a break room or an interview room, should the need arise. “I can tell you one thing. When it’s one hundred and twenty degrees out there, the prisoners are going to be nice and comfortable.”

BOOK: Shifting Dreams
11.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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