This was a horrible thing she’d just been caught up in, and she had survived far more horrible things before.
She would survive this.
* * *
Growing up on the farm, Sam had never had to worry about staying in shape. He’d had a lot of chores, and in their every free minute, he and his cousins had run wild. He’d played baseball and football, and when he’d decided to join the army, he’d taken up running. Choosing an occupation where people were likely to shoot at him made it seem a wise idea.
These days staying in shape didn’t come as easily as it had back then. Sitting behind a desk or in a vehicle didn’t tend to burn calories as efficiently as chasing cows or hauling hay, though wrestling with a suspect usually got his blood pumping. So he’d gone back to running, which would be okay if he could just find that damn runner’s high he’d heard so much about…
He stopped hearing his footsteps pounding the downtown sidewalk when a door on the next block opened and a big yellow dog raced outside, dragging her owner with her. Where did Mila find the energy to wrangle the animal for a walk after the day she’d had?
He kicked up his speed a few notches and indulged for a moment in pure vanity, wishing he wasn’t sweaty and smelly and out of breath and sure as hell not looking his best, but screw ego. He took his chances where he found them.
She and Poppy had reached the intersection of First and Main and turned south by the time he caught up. He could tell when she heard him by the way her muscles tightened and how she moved to the outside edge of the sidewalk. Her fingers curled tightly around Poppy’s leash, leaving him plenty of room to pass…and herself plenty of room to move away if need be.
Was that because of the two murders, or had she needed to get away before? He hated either possibility but hoped for the first one.
Poppy was the first to look at him, her mouth curving into a goofy smile of recognition as she leaped toward him without care for the fact that she and her owner were attached. Mila stumbled at the sudden jerk, then caught her balance by grabbing the no-parking sign ahead of her.
Damn. He would have been glad to steady her.
“Hey, Poppy, pretty girl.” Sam crouched to scratch the dog’s ears, amused by the way she twisted to get his fingers in just the right spots. She was downright orgiastic, body trembling, tail swirling, legs giving way beneath her body. She was delighted and didn’t care who knew it.
Looking up at Mila, he grinned. “Enjoying this nice cool evening?”
She looked at the time and temperature display on the bank across the street. “It’s eighty-nine degrees.”
“Thirteen degrees cooler than it was at noon.”
“But still eighty-nine degrees. Most people are sprawled in near unconsciousness in their air-conditioned houses trying to avoid heatstroke.”
“Well, we’re obviously not most people, are we?” He straightened and swiped his sleeve across his face. Since the shirt was dripping wet itself, mostly he succeeded in rearranging the sweat drops. “Mind if I walk with you?”
“Don’t you need to keep your heart rate up?” She let go of the street sign and began walking again, still hugging the curb.
“My heart rate’s not settling down for a while. Trust me.”
She made a noise that might have been an aborted laugh or a derisive snort. He chose to think she’d come that close to laughing.
He liked that she seemed to find it easier to talk to him this evening. Her gaze had actually met his right from the start, and some of that tension had drained from her body. She looked… His gaze went sideways to her. Softer. Prettier.
Every time he saw her, he thought she was prettier than before. At this rate, it wouldn’t be long before he was using words like beautiful and gorgeous and sexy.
And innocent. In shorts and flip-flops that made her legs look a mile long and a thin white shirt that molded to her breasts, with her hair collected into a ponytail high on top of her head, she looked young and sweet and small-town wholesome good.
Not too young, though—only nine years younger than him—and sweet and small-town wholesome good were two of his favorite things.
“Did you guys have a better afternoon than your morning turned out to be?”