“Thanks.” She took the cup of coffee and wrapped her hands around it. “I’m not sick, I just didn’t sleep well last night. Then I was outside for a bit this morning. The cold got into my bones, I guess.”
“It’ll do that,” Cab agreed and sat down, too. “I’m not in any rush today, so you take your time.”
“Tell me—why do your friends think you’re in North Dakota right now?” Cab knew he should probably mind his own business but he was singularly unable to do that where Rose was concerned.
“Because that’s where I was headed. I changed my mind after I talked to Jason.”
“Ah. How did that go?”
She made a face. “About as well as you’d expect. He blamed me for everything and claimed he was just as interested as ever in marriage, then got right back to the business of bossing me around.”
“So, you’re still together?” he asked cautiously.
“No. We’re through,” she said in a clipped voice.
He tried to squash the feeling of elation that filled his chest. Failed. “Where are you staying?”
She took a sip of her coffee. “I’d rather not say.”
Cab looked up. “Why not?”
“Because I’d rather not.” She met his gaze and held it. “You’re my friend, Cab, not my father.”
Damn. Here they were again. Did she not trust him or was there some other reason she acted so bull-headed around him? “I’m just curious. I’m not going to stalk you.”
“You did follow me home the other night.”
Cab shifted in his chair, frustrated. “I apologize for caring about your safety.”
She took a breath. Let it out. “Look, Cab, I appreciate that you care about my safety. Right now I need to be on my own, though. I need to figure out who I am without a bunch of people trying to take care of me or tell me what to do. I’d like you to be my friend. Can you do that?”
He stifled all the words he wanted to say about safety in numbers, the fact he was a sheriff—and a man, for God’s sake—and how he’d hate himself if anything ever happened to her that he could prevent. “Yes, I can.” The sentence sounded about as strangled as he felt.
“Good. Now how about that shooting lesson you promised me?”
“Coming right up.”
The pistol was far heavier than she’d imagined. Rose held it at arm’s length, aimed, took a breath, and pulled the trigger as she exhaled.
“Better,” Cab said, peering at the target. They stood in a canyon far from habitation where he’d set up a target a number of yards away. When they got to the canyon, he had put her through a lengthy safety spiel that only avoided being a snooze-fest because of Cab’s inherently sexy voice. After that he’d allowed her to hold an unloaded pistol, and walked her through each step of loading it, releasing the safety, aiming and firing. In Cab’s large hands, the pistol seemed like a toy and all the moving parts operated easily.
In her hands, it was unwieldy and the mechanisms hard to maneuver.
He was patient, she’d give him that. Several times she’d forgotten the rule against pointing the gun anywhere except at the target. She’d turned her head to speak to him and the pistol had turned with her. Each time he’d stopped her before she got very far, urged her to pay strict attention every moment it was in her hands, and listened to her response. The man was an excellent teacher.
She wished she were a better student.
The truth was being this close to Cab unnerved her in all kinds of ways. On an average day, she found him incredibly hot. But put a weapon in his hand and all those womanly fantasies about tough guys and heroes rolled into one in her brain. At one point he’d stood behind her, wrapped his arms around her and showed her exactly how to stand and hold the pistol. Her heart pounded the entire time and she barely heard his words over the roar of her blood in her ears. Even now that he stood several paces away she still felt warm and tingly all over. Firing the pistol was fun and exciting, but every move Cab made set her nerves on fire.
“That’s probably enough for one day,” he said a few minutes later. “Unfortunately, ammunition is expensive. Put the safety on, would you?” She did so, then handed him the pistol butt-first. “Come on, let’s see how you did.” He led the way to her target and they examined the holes her shots had made. “That’s the way you want to do it,” he said, pointing to a hole that pierced the outline of the male target right where his heart would be. “This one isn’t bad, either.” It had caught the man squarely in the forehead.
Rose shivered. “I don’t think I could do that in real life.”
“You have to be able to do anything in real life,” Cab said, his voice going hard. “There are people out there that wouldn’t think twice about doing it to you.”
“Your job must be hard sometimes.”
He nodded. “Especially lately. It’s been a tough few months.”
She reflected on that. “Because of the serial killer? You haven’t talked much about that.” Maybe he had to Ethan, Rob and Jamie. She supposed it wasn’t party conversation. But would Cab talk over the details of his job with his friends? He kept things pretty close to his vest. He pretended to be so easygoing, but there were depths to him she thought a lot of people missed.
“Yeah, because of that.”
“He’s in police custody, though.”
“I was there that day. Did you know that? When they found him.”
Rose sucked in a breath. “No. You never said anything.”
“I didn’t want to talk about what I saw. I still don’t. But I think I have to. Otherwise one of these days you’re not going to forgive me for the way I act.” He gave her a chagrined smile.
“I don’t understand.”
“Grady hacked Amanda Strassburg nearly to bits, Rose. She’s still in the hospital recovering. I got there right after they found him. And her. The investigation had been going on for months; we thought we’d tracked him down. But the FBI guys wanted to catch him in the act. They knew he had her—they let him get her in his car.” His voice had gone thick with emotion—anger and pain and frustration all mixed together. Rose held still, knowing he needed to say all of it. She was determined to hear him out, determined to be the friend he needed her to be. “They underestimated him. He got away—with her. And he cut her up like he was skinning a deer. I got there seconds after they found him—pure coincidence I was in the area. I didn’t know what it was—what I saw on the ground. I didn’t even recognize it. And then she moved.”