The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Page 7)

The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #5)(7)
Author: Cora Seton

Well, he had a body to lend to the cause. And he was definitely responsible. Sometimes too responsible, if you asked him. He’d kept on the trail of that serial killer even when it ceased to strictly be his job. Once the FBI had moved in, he and the rest of the locals been asked to back off. Cab respected the separation of duties in law enforcement and didn’t make a pest of himself, but he kept his eyes peeled, kept asking questions, kept going over the information he had. He hadn’t been the one to solve the case, or the one to catch the killer in the act, but he’d done his part to help and he’d been on the scene within minutes of the man’s capture. He’d seen the dead bodies at the previous crime scenes and he saw the live one at that one, too. The thought of that woman lying in the dirt, moving—barely—still alive, but mostly dead, and hardly recognizable as human would haunt him to his grave.

What if it had been Rose? What if she was hurt and he couldn’t reach her? What if it had been Autumn, or Morgan, or Claire? Normally Cab liked working in his own home town, but he thanked God the serial killer had operated out of Tucker Hills some fifty miles away. People here had been frightened by the headlines, but not consumed by them, and once Samuel Grady was captured they returned to their lives as if nothing had happened.

Cab moved toward the bank of windows, pulled back the curtain and peered outside. A quarter-moon lit the night faintly. If there had been snow on the ground, it would have helped to raise the visibility, but so far they hadn’t seen any in Chance Creek. Looking out over the massive garden Carl had hired Rob to install just last month, he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

The sound had come from the woods on the other side of the garden, if he wasn’t mistaken. Carl’s mansion sat back from the road at the end of a winding driveway that first passed through a fringe of trees at the perimeter of the property, then swept through a grassy lawn. The house itself sat perpendicular to the road, the garden to its rear sandwiched between it and a wide strip of woods. Those woods swept all the way down to meet the road, forming a definitive barrier between Carl’s spread and the next ranch over.

He couldn’t recall a track into those woods, but there was a pullout where they ran down to the road. Unfortunately, he wasn’t familiar enough with this property to judge by sound if that was where the car had parked. He hadn’t grown up on a spread like this one. His own family lived on the other side of town in a modest three-bedroom house on a couple of acres. They’d kept horses growing up and he was as comfortable in the saddle as any of his ranching friends, but like his father he’d chosen law enforcement instead of cattle. Someone’s gotta keep the peace, his dad liked to say. Cab agreed with that sentiment.

Which was why he couldn’t go back to bed and pull the covers up over his head without investigating that sound. Cab hesitated only a brief moment before he let the curtain drop, pulled on his jeans and a flannel shirt, and shrugged into his shoulder holster. Patting his piece into place, he strode through the large house without turning on any lights, and found his heavy fall coat near the front door. He shrugged it on and reached for the door handle, but changed his mind. Someone might be watching for him there. Best to make his way into the basement and let himself out the side door.

Cursing in the darkness as he stumbled down the steps and toward the secondary door, he finally found the cold metal knob, slid back the bolt above it, and let himself outside. Frigid air feathered over his face as he closed it behind him and stood listening. Pure silence greeted him.

He hesitated to walk past the house toward the garden, afraid he’d be seen before he could get anywhere near the trees. The garden that stood between him and his goal was a full acre. It was only because the night was so still that he’d heard that vehicle at all. Might as well give it a try, though.

He stepped as carefully as he could over the bare ground, made it past the house and waited in the shadows until he planned his route. He skirted the garden, using its enclosing stone walls as a partial cover, then slowed down again at the far side where another stretch of bare ground stood between him and the forest.

He couldn’t hear anything now, but he didn’t think the person—whoever he was—had left, since he hadn’t heard the truck’s engine start up again. After another moment of listening, he moved silently across the last stretch of ground and gained the trees. Now he found it easier to slip through the shadows without announcing his presence. He heard the crackle of twigs breaking. Someone was moving through the woods, trying to be quiet but not doing a very good job of it. He eased forward and slipped from tree to tree, keeping to the shadows, wanting to get as close as possible before he announced his presence in any way.

As his eyes adjusted to the dim light he could make out the bulky shape of a truck pulled off the road. Standing several dozen steps inside the trees was a slim figure clad all in black. He couldn’t tell much about the person, except that he or she was on the short side. Whoever it was simply stood and surveyed the forest. Well, that wasn’t a crime, except the matter of trespassing. They didn’t seem to be hunting or vandalizing anything. Just looking.

Cab didn’t think he moved, but suddenly the person turned, stared right at the thick cluster of trees where he crouched, and hurried back toward the truck. He didn’t get a chance to see the make or model of the vehicle before it pulled away, let alone its license plate, and he cursed himself for not ascertaining those before he focused on the perpetrator.

Person, he reminded himself. Whoever had come to Carl’s woods hadn’t done anything against the law.

Still, he’d bet just about anything they’d planned to. That wasn’t a call of nature he’d stumbled onto; the person had been looking for something, he was sure of it.

He just didn’t know what.

Back in bed a half-hour later, he waited for the sleep he knew wouldn’t come. Thoughts of Rose vied with worries about who might have stopped in Carl’s woods and why. He’d have understood it if the person was casing out Carl’s mansion. It held enough items to satisfy the greediest thief.

The person hadn’t been anywhere near the house, though. It was the woods that interested him, and Cab couldn’t fathom why. There wasn’t anything special about them as far as he could tell. As long minutes passed and he found no answers to the puzzle, he let his thoughts wander to other things. If he was going to settle down sometime soon, he needed a house of his own. He’d thought about buying property before, but each time he looked in the paper, something stopped him. The problem was his future had no shape to it. He could get a house in town, but maybe his wife would like a bigger property. He could get an acreage, but without anyone to help, it could prove to be too much work. He liked horses, but did he like them enough to have his own stables? Right now he kept a gelding at Ethan’s and used it whenever he liked. It seemed cruel to keep a single horse off on its own, but he didn’t know if he had the time to care for several of them.