The law is a lady, p.5
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       The Law is a Lady, p.5

           Nora Roberts
 
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  “I’ll bring you something when I take care of this guy. Think you can keep an eye on things for me for a few minutes?”

  His mouth fell open in astonishment. “Yes, ma’am!”

  “Okay, you’re in charge.” She headed for the door, grabbing her hat on the way. “If Silas wakes up, you can let him out. The other guy stays where he is. Got it?”

  “Sure thing, Sheriff.” He sent Phil a cool look. “He won’t pull nothing on me.”

  Stifling a laugh, Tory walked outside.

  Resigned to the wait, Phil leaned against the bars and drank his coffee while the boy went to work with the broom. He worked industriously, casting furtive glances over his shoulder at Phil from time to time. He’s a good-looking boy, Phil mused. He brooded over his reaction to Tory’s friendly gesture, wondering how he would react to a man.

  “Live in town?” Phil ventured.

  Tod paused, eyeing him warily. “Outside.”

  “On a ranch?”

  He began to sweep again, but more slowly. “Yeah.”

  “Got any horses?”

  The boy shrugged. “Couple.” He was working his way cautiously over to the cell. “You’re not from around here,” he said.

  “No, I’m from California.”

  “No, kidding?” Impressed, Tod sized him up again. “You don’t look like such a bad guy,” he decided.

  “Thanks.” Phil grinned into his cup.

  “How come you’re in jail, then?”

  Phil pondered over the answer and settled for the unvarnished truth. “I lost my temper.”

  Tod gave a snort of laughter and continued sweeping.

  “You can’t go to jail for that. My pa loses his all the time.”

  “Sometimes you can.” He studied the boy’s profile. “Especially if you hurt someone.”

  The boy passed the broom over the floor without much regard for dust. “Did you?”

  “Just myself,” Phil admitted ruefully. “I got the sheriff mad at me.”

  “Zac Kramer said he don’t hold with no woman sheriff.”

  Phil laughed at that, recalling how easily a woman sheriff had gotten him locked in a cell. “Zac Kramer doesn’t sound very smart to me.”

  Tod sent Phil a swift, appealing grin. “I heard she went to their place yesterday. The twins have to wash all Old Man Hollister’s windows, inside and out. For free.”

  Tory breezed back in with two covered plates. “Breakfast,” she announced. “He give you any trouble?” she asked Tod as she set a plate on her desk.

  “No, ma’am.” The scent of food made his mouth water, but he bent back to his task.

  “Okay, sit down and eat.”

  He shot her a doubtful look. “Me?”

  “Yes, you.” Carrying the other plate, she walked over to get the keys. “When you and Mr. Kincaid have finished, run the dishes back to the hotel.” Without waiting for a response, she unlocked Phil’s cell. But Phil watched the expression on Tod’s face as he started at his breakfast.

  “Sheriff,” Phil murmured, taking her hand rather than the plate she held out to him, “you’re a very classy lady.” Lifting her hand, he kissed her fingers lightly.

  Unable to resist, she allowed her hand to rest in his a moment. “Phil,” she said on a sigh, “don’t be disarming—you’ll complicate things.”

  His brow lifted in surprise as he studied her. “You know,” he said slowly, “I think it’s already too late.”

  Tory shook her head, denying it. “Eat your breakfast,” she ordered briskly. “Merle will be coming by with your clothes soon.”

  When she turned to leave, he held her hand another moment. “Tory,” he said quietly, “you and I aren’t finished yet.”

  Carefully she took her hand from his. “You and I never started,” she corrected, then closed the door of the cell with a resolute clang. As she headed back to the coffeepot she glanced at Tod. The boy was making his way through bacon and eggs without any trouble.

  “Aren’t you eating?” Phil asked her as he settled down to his own breakfast.

  “I’ll never understand how anyone can eat at this hour,” Tory muttered, fortifying herself on coffee. “Tod, the sheriff’s car could use a wash. Can you handle it?”

  “Sure thing, Sheriff.” He was half out of the chair before Tory put a restraining hand on his shoulder.

  “Eat first,” she told him with a chuckle. “If you finish up the sweeping and the car, that should do it for today.” She sat on the corner of the desk, enjoying his appetite. “Your parents know where you are?” she asked casually.

  “I finished my chores before I left,” he mumbled with a full mouth.

  “Hmmm.” She said nothing more, sipping instead at her coffee. When the door opened, she glanced over, expecting to see Merle. Instead she was struck dumb.

  “Lou!” Phil was up and holding on to the bars. “It’s about time.”

  “Well, Phil, you look very natural.”

  Lou Sherman, Tory thought, sincerely awed. One of the top attorneys in the country. She’d followed his cases, studied his style, used his precedents. He looked just as commanding in person as in any newspaper or magazine picture she’d ever seen of him. He was a huge man, six foot four, with a stocky frame and a wild thatch of white hair. His voice had resonated in courtrooms for more than forty years. He was tenacious, flamboyant, and feared. For the moment Tory could only stare at the figure striding into her office in a magnificent pearl-gray suit and baby-pink shirt.

  Phil called him an uncomplimentary name, which made him laugh loudly. “You’d better have some respect if you want me to get you out of there, son.” His eyes slid to Phil’s half-eaten breakfast. “Finish eating,” he advised, “while I talk to the sheriff.” Turning, he gazed solemnly from Tory to Tod. “One of you the sheriff?”

  Tory hadn’t found her voice yet. Tod jerked his head at her. “She is,” he stated with his mouth still full.

  Lou let his eyes drift down to her badge. “Well, so she is,” he said genially. “Best-looking law person I’ve seen . . . No offense,” he added with a wide grin.

  Remembering herself, Tory rose and extended her hand. “Victoria Ashton, Mr. Sherman. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

  “My pleasure, Sheriff Ashton,” he corrected with a great deal of charm. “Tell me, what’s the kid done now?”

  “Lou—” Phil began, and got an absent wave of the hand from his attorney.

  “Finish your eggs,” he ordered. “I gave up a perfectly good golf date to fly over here. Sheriff?” he added with a questioning lift of brow.

  “Mr. Kincaid was stopped for speeding on Highway Seventeen,” Tory began. “When he refused to sign the ticket, my deputy brought him in.” After Lou’s heavy sigh she continued. “I’m afraid Mr. Kincaid wasn’t cooperative.”

  “Never is,” Lou agreed apologetically.

  “Damn it, Lou, would you just get me out of here?”

  “All in good time,” he promised without looking at him. “Are there any other charges, Sheriff?”

  “Resisting arrest,” she stated, not quite disguising a grin. “The fine is two hundred and fifty, bail set at five hundred. Mr. Kincaid, when he decided to . . . cooperate, was a bit short of funds.”

  Lou rubbed a hand over his chin. The large ruby on his pinky glinted dully. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” he mused.

  Incensed at being ignored and defamed at the same time, Phil interrupted tersely. “She pulled a gun on me.”

  This information was met with another burst of loud laughter from his attorney. “Damn, I wish I’d been here to see his face.”

  “It was worth the price of a ticket,” Tory admitted.

  Phil started to launch into a stream of curses, remembered the boy—who was listening avidly—and ground his teeth instead. “Lou,” he said slowly, “are you going to get me out or stand around exchanging small talk all day? I haven’t had a shower since yesterday.”

  “Very fastidious,” Lou told Tory.
“Gets it from his father. I got him out of a tight squeeze or two as I recall. There was this little town in New Jersey . . . Ah, well, that’s another story. I’d like to consult with my client, Sheriff Ashton.”

  “Of course.” Tory retrieved the keys.

  “Ashton,” Lou murmured, closing his eyes for a moment. “Victoria Ashton. There’s something about that name.” He stroked his chin. “Been sheriff here long?”

  Tory shook her head as she started to unlock Phil’s cell. “No, actually I’m just filling in for a while.”

  “She’s a lawyer,” Phil said disgustedly.

  “That’s it!” Lou gave her a pleased look. “I knew the name was familiar. The Dunbarton case. You did a remarkable job.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Had your troubles with Judge Withers,” he recalled, flipping through his memory file. “Contempt of court. What was it you called him?”

  “A supercilious humbug,” Tory said with a wince.

  Lou chuckled delightedly. “Wonderful choice of words.”

  “It cost me a night in jail,” she recalled.

  “Still, you won the case.”

  “Luckily the judge didn’t hold a grudge.”

  “Skill and hard work won you that one,” Lou disagreed. “Where did you study?”

  “Harvard.”

  “Look,” Phil interrupted testily. “You two can discuss this over drinks later.”

  “Manners, Phil, you’ve always had a problem with manners.” Lou smiled at Tory again. “Excuse me, Sheriff. Well, Phil, give me one of those corn muffins there and tell me your troubles.”

  Tory left them in privacy just as Merle walked in, carrying Phil’s suitcase. Dynamite wandered in behind him, found his spot on the floor, and instantly went to sleep. “Just leave that by the desk,” Tory told Merle. “After Kincaid’s taken care of, I’m going out to the house for a while. You won’t be able to reach me for two hours.”

  “Okay.” He glanced at the still-snoring Silas. “Should I kick him out?”

  “When he wakes up.” She looked over at Tod. “Tod’s going to wash my car.”

  Stuffing in the last bite, Tod scrambled up. “I’ll do it now.” He dashed out the front door.

  Tory frowned after him. “Merle, what do you know about Tod’s father?”

  He shrugged and scratched at his mustache. “Swanson keeps to himself, raises some cattle couple miles north of town. Been in a couple of brawls but nothing important.”

  “His mother?”

  “Quiet lady. Does some cleaning work over at the hotel now and again. You remember the older brother, don’t you? He lit out a couple years ago. Never heard from him since.”

  Tory absorbed this with a thoughtful nod. “Keep an eye out for the boy when I’m not around, okay?”

  “Sure. He in trouble?”

  “I’m not certain.” She frowned a moment, then her expression relaxed again. “Just keep your eyes open, Merle T.,” she said, smiling at him affectionately. “Why don’t you go see if the kid’s found a bucket? I don’t think it would take much persuasion to get him to wash your car too.”

  Pleased with the notion, Merle strode out again.

  “Sheriff”—Tory turned back to the cell as Lou came out—“my client tells me you also serve as justice of the peace?”

  “That’s right, Mr. Sherman.”

  “In that case, I’d like to plead temporary insanity on the part of my client.”

  “You’re cute, Lou,” Phil muttered from the cell door. “Can I take that shower now?” he demanded, indicating his suitcase.

  “In the back,” Tory told him. “You need a shave,” she added sweetly.

  He picked up the case, giving her a long look. “Sheriff, when this is all over, you and I have some personal business.”

  Tory lifted her half-finished coffee. “Don’t cut your throat, Kincaid.”

  Lou waited until Phil had disappeared into the back room. “He’s a good boy,” he said with a paternal sigh. Tory burst out laughing.

  “Oh, no,” she said definitely, “he’s not.”

  “Well, it was worth a try.” He shrugged it off and settled his enormous bulk into a chair. “About the charge of resisting arrest,” he began. “I’d really hate for it to go on his record. A night in jail was quite a culture shock for our Phillip, Victoria.”

  “Agreed.” She smiled. “I believe that charge could be dropped if Mr. Kincaid pays the speeding fine.”

  “I’ve advised him to do so,” Lou told her, pulling out a thick cigar. “He doesn’t like it, but I’m . . .” He studied the cigar like a lover. “Persuasive,” he decided. He shot her an admiring look. “So are you. What kind of a gun?”

  Tory folded her hands primly. “A .45.”

  Lou laughed heartily as he lit his cigar. “Now, tell me about the Dunbarton case, Victoria.”

  ***

  The horse kicked up a cloud of brown dust. Responding to Tory’s command, he broke into an easy gallop. Air, as dry as the land around them, whipped by them in a warm rush. The hat Tory had worn to shield herself from the sun lay on the back of her neck, forgotten. Her movements were so attuned to the horse, she was barely conscious of his movements beneath her. Tory wanted to think, but first she wanted to clear her mind. Since childhood, riding had been her one sure way of doing so.

  Sports had no appeal for her. She saw no sense in hitting or chasing a ball around some court or course. It took too much energy. She might swim a few laps now and again, but found it much more agreeable to float on a raft. Sweating in a gym was laughable. But riding was a different category. Tory didn’t consider it exercise or effort. She used it now, as she had over the years, as a way to escape from her thoughts for a short time.

  For thirty minutes she rode without any thought of destination. Gradually she slowed the horse to a walk, letting her hands relax on the reins. He would turn, she knew, and head back to the ranch.

  Phillip Kincaid. He shot back into her brain. A nuisance, Tory decided. One that should be over. At the moment he should already be back on his way to L.A. Tory dearly hoped so. She didn’t like to admit that he had gotten to her. It was unfortunate that despite their clash, despite his undeniable arrogance, she had liked him. He was interesting and funny and sharp. It was difficult to dislike someone who could laugh at himself. There would be no problem if it ended there.

  Feeling the insistent beat of the sun on her head, Tory absently replaced her hat. It hadn’t ended there because there had been that persistent attraction. That was strictly man to woman, and she hadn’t counted on it when she had tossed him in jail. He’d outmaneuvered her once. That was annoying, but the result had been much deeper. When was the last time she had completely forgotten herself in a man’s arms? When was the last time she had spent most of the night thinking about a man? Had she ever? Tory let out a deep breath, then frowned at the barren, stone-colored landscape.

  No, her reaction had been too strong for comfort—and the fact that she was still thinking about him disturbed her. A woman her age didn’t dwell on one kiss that way. Yet, she could still remember exactly how his mouth had molded to hers, how the dark, male taste of him had seeped into her. With no effort at all, she could feel the way his body had fit against hers, strong and hard. It didn’t please her.

  There were enough problems to be dealt with during her stay in Friendly, Tory reminded herself, without dwelling on a chance encounter with some bad-tempered Hollywood type. She’d promised to ease the town through its transition to a new sheriff; there was the boy, Tod, on her mind. And her mother. Tory closed her eyes for a moment. She had yet to come to terms with her mother.

  So many things had been said after her father’s death. So many things had been left unsaid. For a woman who was rarely confused, Tory found herself in a turmoil whenever she dealt with her mother. As long as her father had been alive, he’d been the buffer between them. Now, with him gone, they were faced with each other. With a wry laugh Tory decided he
r mother was just as baffled as she was. The strain between them wasn’t lessening, and the distance was growing. With a shake of her head she decided to let it lie. In a few months Tory would be back in Albuquerque and that would be that. She had her life to live, her mother had hers.

 
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