He hadn’t intended to wait for Milagro when he stopped by half an hour ago. Knock on the door, exchange a few quick words, then home to shower, dinner and maybe an entire evening in front of the TV in his boxers. But some part of him had decided to wait while sweat began breaking out all over. The back of his shirt was soaked, and if he took his shoes off, he would leave wet prints wherever he went.
And still he’d waited.
This was a much nicer place to wait. The chair was comfortable, old and creaky, probably a family antique passed through the generations. The flowers filled the air with a dozen fragrances. Two brilliantly colored hummingbirds darted from bloom to bloom, the larger one trying to commandeer the smaller one’s choices. When the little guy whirled and scolded him before chasing him away, Sam laughed. He always rooted for the little guy.
“Well, aren’t you a handsome addition to the garden.”
Sam shifted his attention to the woman standing on the walk to the side of the house. She wore a sleeveless shirt, yoga pants in eye-popping colors and running shoes in enough hues to match something in everybody’s closet. Her gray hair was pulled back from her face with a band, and a turquoise activity monitor circled her left wrist. She was pretty, fit, older than his parents and twice as spry.
“I appreciate the compliment.”
Instead of walking to the corner and around to the gate, the woman carefully swung one leg over the fence, found good footing, then swung the other over. “Mila hates when I do that. She thinks I’m going to hurt something. I don’t know whether she worries it’ll be me or her plants.”
“Milagro. Spanish for miracle. Did you know that?”
“I didn’t.” He’d seen a lot of things in his career involving kids. It was sweet to think that a pair of parents had loved their baby girl enough to name her Miracle. Though he liked the nickname, too.
She wove through the beds before climbing the steps and plopping into the other rocker. “I’m Jessica Ramirez. Mila’s gramma.”
Ah. Sam took the hand she offered and found her grip strong and her squeeze firm.
“This, young man, is where you say—”
Grinning, Sam interrupted. “I’m Sam Douglas. It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Ramirez.”
“See, I knew you’d get it with a nudge. Is she home? No, she must be, or Poppy would be dismantling the front door.” She rocked a few times, her head tilted to one side. “Why are you here this evening, Chief?”
“I just stopped by to…” To see if Mila was all right, and she’d said she was. He’d asked about nightmares, and she’d admitted to a couple. That really was the end of their conversation, unless he could come up with something else before she walked out the door. He could throw together a couple of quick questions of a cop-ly nature, nothing really important but enough to satisfy her and her grandmother.
Jessica was still looking at him, one thin brow arched high. “You stopped by to…?”
“Sorry. I got distracted.”
Her broad smile hinted that she’d already guessed at reasons for him to be there and was happy with the one she’d chosen. She didn’t comment on how pretty her granddaughter was or mention that she was single, though. Instead, she replied from a totally different angle. “If you kept lists like that nice young Detective Little Bear does, you wouldn’t get distracted so easily.”
Sam’s eyes widened. “You know Detective Little Bear?”
Quietly in the background came a rattle, then the door opened and Mila stepped out. When she saw her grandmother, Sam wasn’t sure whether it was dismay or resignation on her features. Was Jessica the type to embarrass her with old stories or on the constant search for a potential bridegroom whether Mila wanted one or not? Sam’s aunt Leah was in year three of a campaign with no end to get her five daughters married off, and her behavior had gotten downright desperate.
“I work at one of the antiques stores downtown,” Jessica said. “Called A Long Time Ago. We had a couple of incidents that Detective Little Bear took care of for us.”
Sam remembered: two cases of malicious mischief. Two teenage girls had left nearly a thousand dollars’ of damage in their wake, then posted pictures of themselves in the midst of the mess on Facebook.