Word Count: 3,796
He woke up to two things at once. A ringing cell phone that wasn't his and Kylie talking to him. Well, three if you counted the fact his body was very much aware that he had an attractive woman sleeping next to him. A woman who'd been willing the night before. Willing and being in the right state of mind weren't the same thing. If they'd been on a few more dates maybe he'd have continued further than he had. He didn't want her hating him this morning. Or worse, quitting her job or leaving Wheelsy altogether because he moronically took advantage of her neediness. Of course she still might, getting into her pants wasn't exactly showing he had been concerned for her state of mind.
His body rebelled a little at his mind being so logical, tugging her closer against him as he opened his eyes. Sure enough, Kylie was in his room looking very much as if she'd walked in on the last thing she wanted to see.
"Thought I was picking you up?" He lifted his head, glancing at the alarm clock on Claire's side of the bed. It'd been so long since he'd slept the night with a woman things like being able to see the alarm clock were taken for granted.
"Tina's mom had to go to work so dropped me off on the way."
"That was nice of her," he said simply.
"I'll go now, I didn't know she was here…"
"It's all right, Kylie, nothing's going on." He sat up then. "See, both fully clothed. She had a bit of a scare last night, that's all."
"If you say so." He thought he saw a glimmer of amusement in her eyes. "You're adults, you don't have to explain to me."
"Well, yeah, I kind of do since I'm responsible for you now and what have you."
"You're allowed to have girlfriends."
"I know, Kylie, but really she had a bit of a fright last night. Found a rose in her bedroom," he added softly, not wanting to wake her up. She'd slept most of the night, but she'd woken quite a few times. And she talked quite a bit, too. He couldn't understand any of it, babbling and gibberish. He knew someone who was legitimately frightened, though.
Kylie's mouth formed an 'oh', but no sound came out. He'd explained to her about the other rose, so Kylie knew. It was strange, foreign even, to have someone to come home to and tell about his day. He couldn't help but think when Kylie went away to college he'd miss it.
"Yeah," he said simply, slipping out of the bed as quietly as he could. Lucky perked up at the sound of movement, though Bill was curious why he'd laid there sleeping while Kylie not only came into the house but the room his master was helplessly sleeping in.
"Let's go see if we can rustle ya'll up something to eat. I told Claire I'd make her breakfast."
"I know how," he said sounding defensive, hoping the wink he gave her let her know he was teasing her back.
She gave a soft laugh. They were coming a little more frequently and easily these days. He was glad to hear them. He knew it would be a long time before she was fine again, if ever. How did one recover from what she'd seen and survived? Survived knowing her family didn't at that.
"Is she going to be all right? I mean, you're going to catch who's doing it, aren't you?" she asked as they walked downstairs.
"I'm going to do my best, but no one can know about this for now, Kylie."
"I wouldn't tell anyone anyway."
"All right, just so we're on the same page. She's asked me to hold off on an official report for now. I told her I would unless, or until, something more dangerous happens."
"Do you think she knows who's doing it?"
"I think she has someone in mind, and I suspect based on things she's said it's no one we know. So, until she's willing to open up and share all I can do is try to keep her safe."
"If you can take on a town of alien zombies, I think you can take on a stalker."
"Let's hope so," he said. It was two different animals, if it was a stalker and not just someone with a rabid crush.
He opened the backdoor for Lucky who ran out but nowhere near as quickly as he had last night when they'd gotten back to her house. That got him thinking and he ambled over to the phone.
"Who are you calling?"
"Dr. Conlin," he said simply, dialing the number he found in the phone book. Never having animals, he hadn't needed the number before now personally.
"Why?" she asked.
He held up his finger. "Dr. Conlin. This is Sheriff Pardy, I was wondering if you could do me a favor."
'I can sure try, Bill."
"I've got a dog I'd like you to test for drugs or chemicals, something that made him run outside when he was allowed to as if he'd been shot out of a canon."
"Well, chocolate would be the most obvious culprit if he didn't appear sedated or anything else, but I can take a look to be sure. I don't open for another hour, but bring him to the back door and I'll take a look."
"Much appreciated, Doc. I'll be there shortly," he said, hanging up. "I'll see to breakfast when I get back."
"It's okay, maybe we can do it while you're gone."
"If you want. I'm going to go change and tell Claire what I'm doing."
He and Lucky returned about ninety minutes later. He paused in the doorway for a minute, thinking he'd walked into his parents' house instead of his own. It smelled like, well, breakfast. Real breakfast, not something warmed in a microwave or covered in cream cheese when it came out of the toaster. And home. He couldn't remember thinking his house had ever seemed like a home before this point. Oh, Kylie being there made a difference, but there was still something missing as if he knew her presence was only temporary.
"Smells good in here," he said, Lucky darting ahead of him to the source of the smells.
"We figured you'd be hungry when you got back. How is he?" Claire asked, kneeling to pet Lucky. She was happy to have her dog back and it was equally clear she cared for him as if he was a part of her family. Maybe he was given she was alone down here.
"Fine. Doc Conlin tested him for drugs and things. He got the all clear from that. So, he got his paws on something bad for him. Chocolate being the likeliest candidate."
"I don't leave chocolate laying around for just that reason," Claire said. "I mean, I have some, but it's in a cabinet that he can't get to."
"Yes! I know all about not giving him chocolate, onions, macadamias, alcohol, and so on."
"I'm not blaming or accusing, just asking. Because that would suggest whoever came to your house knew you had Lucky and brought a treat for him."
Her eyes widened as the realization dawned on her.
"He could have died!"
"Doc Conlin wagered they didn't give him much or your house would have been a mess. Probably just enough to be allowed in."
"Thank you for taking him."
"I'm sorry I hadn't thought of it last night, the pieces just fell into place today when I let him out. He didn't seem to be in as much of a hurry as last night. And I remembered that you'd said that wasn't normal for him."
He noticed she'd taken the time to shower and dress while he was gone. He couldn't help but wonder if she'd used his bathroom or Kylie's. And cursed himself for hoping it was his. As if it mattered, but for some reason it did.
"Well, let's eat and then I'll get you home I guess. I want you to look around at the things I mentioned last night. I'll call a locksmith before we leave here and while you're looking I'll ensure new locks are put on your doors and that your windows are secure."
"I'll pay for it if money's an issue," he added quickly. He really had no idea what her situation was. The fact she owned the house outright suggested that paying for some locks shouldn't be a hardship. Of course, the outright part was gossip and nothing he knew for sure. The gossip mongers could have gotten that part wrong.
"No, that's not it. I just, thank you. You're thinking of things I haven't yet, and should have. My father would be disappointed in me."
"It's all right. It's what I do, and I doubt that about your father, Claire. You're safe, that would be most important to him I'm sure."
She and Kylie had gone all out for breakfast: pancakes, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, sausage and ham, and hot biscuits. The biscuits were of the store-bought variety, but that didn't matter. They were piping hot as if they'd just taken them out of the oven when he walked in the door.
"You two did this?"
"No, it was the breakfast fairies," Kylie said.
"That was the best breakfast I've had in a while. Thank you both, ladies."
"Kylie said you don't normally eat breakfast. So, we thought we'd see how you liked having a good one for a change."
"I like it a lot, might just get used to it if you aren't careful."
"I'll take my chances," she said as Kylie brought the carton of milk to the fridge.
"Well, go and get your stuff together and we'll head out then."
She lived on the other side of town from him. So, while Wheelsy wasn't that large it took a bit of driving time to get there. He could sense her nervousness the closer they got to her place, almost as if she was expecting there to be trouble.
He took her hand in his much the way he had the night before last as they drove to her place after their date. Only, today, he was trying to offer her comfort over anything else.
He had no sooner come to a stop on her driveway when she tore out of the truck with a loud squeal that he was pretty sure would leave him deaf in his right ear for a few minutes at least. Lucky was fast on her heels with a joyful bark. It wasn't until he saw her throw her arms around someone that he noticed the man now standing in front of her swing.
"Good detective work there, Bill," he muttered. Judging by her enthusiasm he wasn't someone she was suspicious of, but that didn't mean Bill wasn't.
He grabbed his hat before stepping out of the truck. He tried to listen in as he approached them, but they were both talking pretty quietly.
"How did you get here? And why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
The man's eyes met Bill's and he saw the man hesitate. "Well, I flew in."
"You flew?" There was something in the way she said it that made Bill think there was more to it than him simply getting on a plane. He couldn't imagine what, though.
"Yeah, Nathan and I talked about it. The more I thought about our conversation last night the more it bothered me. When I mentioned it to Nathan, he agreed with me I should come."
"He did, huh?"
"Yes, he would have come himself, but you know."
"Yeah, I do, it wouldn't look right and Heidi would ask questions."
It sounded to Bill like she'd heard that line a time or two. And he couldn't help but wonder, in addition to who this guy was, who Nathan and Heidi was.
"At least you're all right," the man said. "I was worried about you after you called."
"Did you find out anything?"
"No, it's like I told you last night, no one's heard boo from him in a long time." He glanced at Bill then and stood, his arm remaining around Claire rather possessively. At least Bill thought so. "I guess I have you to think for giving her a safe place last night."
"My pleasure," he said simply.
"You must be the sheriff, she's told me a lot about you."
"Funny, she hasn't mentioned anyone but her brother and mother to me. And I know you ain't him."
It was a catty thing to say and wasn't usually his style. He'd never really been prone to jealousy. He'd felt a lot of things about Starla and Grant, but he wasn't so sure jealousy was one of them. Because if what he felt now was that emotion he'd swear he never experienced it before now. He didn't like the way he was touching Claire or that she was letting him as if what happened last night didn't matter. Or that she wasn't fresh out of his bed and making him breakfast.
He did, however, recognize something in the other man's eyes that he saw in Kylie's and Claire's. As well as his own when he took the time to focus on them in a mirror. This man had been through something and survived it. He hadn't asked Claire about that look in her eyes, because he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.
He'd assumed that something bad that had happened to her, a guy forcing himself on her or something. She didn't act that way last night, though. He wasn't sure she would have put a stop to things if he hadn't.
So who the hell was this guy then?
"Well, I guess I've just been put in my place," he said, moving his arm from around Claire to offer his hand. "I'm her friend, Peter."
"Just a friend, huh?"
He eyed the both of them and he had to admit while they looked comfortable with one another there wasn't a vibe of anything beyond friendly affection between them. He'd seen the way lovers looked at one another when they'd been separated and that look wasn't there. They were legitimately happy to see one another, but that seemed to be it. It didn't mean he wasn't cautious, though.
"I'm Bill Pardy," he said finally, taking the other man's hand. He thought he heard Claire let out a deep breath. "What brings you to Wheelsy?"
"I was worried after Claire's phone call last night. I thought I'd come offer her some company."
"You don't work?"
"I'm in between jobs right now."
"Lucky for her."
"He's a home-care nurse," Claire offered.
"And besides, if she needed my help I would find someone to take my spot for a while."
"I suppose that means your last client didn't come out too well?"
"Just the opposite, fully recovered and no longer needs me."
"I guess that's good news."
"It means I did my job at any rate," Peter said. "So, what's the plan?"
"Bill is having a locksmith come out and change my locks. We're going to go through and check all my windows, too."
"Don't forget the other things we talked about."
"I won't," she said.
"Good idea," Peter said with a nod.
"Like you evidently, I know how to do my job."
"I wasn't saying you don't, Claire's spoken highly of you when she's mentioned you."
"You have?" he asked Claire.
"Well, yeah," she said with a shrug, ducking her head a little behind Peter's shoulder. "I mean, you've come up when we've talked about how things are going here."
"I see," he said, not exactly the response he was looking for. At least she spoke of him, that was a good sign he supposed.
"How about I do this, since you two seem to have things under control here. I'll head to the office for a while and do some things I need to do."
"Your office is open Saturday's? I thought you didn't work Saturday," Peter said.
"It isn't, she doesn't," Bill said. "I use the day sometimes to catch up on work. I was going to put it off 'til later, but you two can handle the locksmith. You said you didn't need help paying."
"I'll get it," Peter said. "I've got plastic."
"They won't take that," Claire said.
"Oh, well, I can get cash."
"Don't worry about it, I have enough in my checking account yet to cover it."
"All right, just remind me before I head back to get it back to you."
"You don't have to do that, Peter. Really. I'm okay."
"I know, but Nathan would kill me if I let you pay for this."
"All right," she said, though she didn't sound entirely happy about accepting the money.
"So, do I get the grand tour or what?"
"Of the house or Wheelsy?"
"Both," Peter said, draping his arm around her. She went with him willingly, as he walked toward the steps. Lucky was waiting by the front door, tail thumping on the wooden floor beneath him impatiently.
"Any problems you've got my number."
"Yeah, I do," she said.
Well, he thought, that pretty much tells me what I need to know. Friends but definitely more there. Enough more that spending the night with him - and part of it with his hand in very private places - didn't even warrant a goodbye kiss or anything. Women, he'd never understand them.
He watched from the cab of his pickup truck as the three of them went inside, Lucky leading the way once she'd opened the door. It was only one date, that wasn't the problem. He had to work with her, though, knowing that she could kiss him and respond to him as she had last night. He could still hear her gasp of pleasure as he brought her over the edge. The look in her eyes was the most sincere thing he'd seen.
He ran his hand over his face, shaking his head. Thinking like that wouldn't get him anywhere. It was best he found out now anyway before he had invested any more into getting to know her better. Kylie would be disappointed he imagined, but the girl'd gotten over worse. She'd get through this, too. She liked Claire for whatever reason. Well, so did he for that matter.
He turned around in her yard, careful not to spin the tires as he left. He couldn't get out of there fast enough. And, well, it gave the whole thing with the flowers a whole new perspective. Was he the only one she'd fooled around with? She seemed so genuine when she said she hadn't much experience, but he hadn't actually gotten down and dirty enough to find out if that was true.
Only thing was, she didn't come across as a liar. She was withholding information from him, that he knew. He got the impression that wasn't to lie to him, but more because she was scared. He passed Billy Ray in the locksmith truck on his way back to town, waving as their vehicles passed. He had plenty to do at the office to take his mind off things. Maybe he'd call Kylie and see if she wanted to join him for lunch.
Different from most girls her age who couldn't wait to get out of the house and away from their parents, she seemed to crave whatever time he was willing to give her. He understood why, and it was an adjustment for him being responsible for someone else. His mother thought it was sweet. Whatever that meant. He felt kind of responsible for her situation truthfully. If he'd acted a little quicker, figured things out a might faster maybe…
Well, he could maybe himself to hell and back. Facts were facts. Her family was gone and for whatever reason she told the county she wanted to stay with him. Bachelor and potentially dangerous job aside, they'd given her what she wanted. She was a good student and close enough to being an adult that they were willing to abide by her wishes. If he'd said no, he supposed they would have found other arrangements for her. He couldn't find it in him to say no to her, though.
He dialed her cell phone number once he parked in front of the sheriff's office.
'Hi! That was fast,' she said.
"Nah, turns out I was playing the part of a third wheel so I came into the office. Care to join me for lunch?"
'Sure, what do you want me to pick up?'
"Whatever you want, Kylie. Just tell them to send the bill with you and I'll take care of it later."
'I do have money, you know?'
"Yeah, I know, you don't need to spend it on lunch for us."
'Okay,' she said, and he knew somehow she was smiling. It was odd to him that he was getting to know her well enough to know things like that. Before that night, she'd barely registered on his radar. She was a good kid, not one of the ones he had to worry about, even if she dressed a little strangely. However, that had stopped since her parents' death. 'I'll be there in about an hour? I still have to take a shower.'
"That's fine. Sounds good even. I'll see you then."
He hung up as he unlocked the door. Truth was, he didn't have that much to do here. Claire kept the office running pretty well so the paperwork he'd been accustomed to doing due to Shelby's inadequacies only required his signature and maybe a few additions here and there. If that at all. He found her to be competent despite his hesitance at hiring her. He still wasn't sure how long she'd be staying.
He left the lights on, walking to the back room that served as a temporary holding cell if he needed it. It was empty at the moment, so he grabbed a pillow he kept in one of the lockers and went to the cot. The sheets were clean, though it didn't much matter to him just then. Kylie didn't have a key to the office, as much as he wanted to give her one he couldn't do that. So, she'd call him on his cell when she got here. He could close his eyes for a bit until then. Maybe then he'd be able to stop thinking about how nice she felt under him last night.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com