Don't Hex with Texas
“I still don’t like it. It hits a little too close to home. Why here, and why do all these things seem to be happening around your family?” I opened my mouth to answer him, but he held up a wing to silence me. “Answerin’ those questions is my job. You’re out of this. Keep your eyes open, of course, but this ain’t your fight anymore. Now you go home and get your beauty sleep, and I’ll take care of everything.”
Getting back up on the porch roof was a little more difficult than getting down, but I made it safely back to my bedroom with only a scratch or two. I was out of practice for that kind of sneaking around. It was hard getting to sleep, but I kept telling myself that Sam had things under control. All I had to do was keep Mom from seeing anything she shouldn’t until Sam had wrapped things up and caught the bad guys.
Over the next day or so, I resisted the urge to run by the square every time I needed to go through town, and made more offers to run to the grocery store for my mom than I used to when I was in high school and had a crush on one of the bag boys. That was the only way to keep her completely away from the area of maximum magical activity.
Friday morning, I had the pleasure of dealing with some of the less glamorous aspects of the business (which was pretty nonglamorous to begin with). Dean wasn’t to be found and Dad was making deliveries, so I got to help Teddy and Frank unload a shipment. By the time we were done, I was drenched in sweat. I found a T-shirt advertising cattle feed left from a vendor’s visit in my office and changed into that so I wouldn’t be too hideously smelly for the rest of the day. I was afraid to look in the mirror at what my hair and face looked like, so I hid in my office, catching up on paperwork.
Just after lunch Beth showed up. I took Lucy off her hands while she worked the register. I was getting ready to head home when Beth called me from the front of the store. “Katie, someone’s here to see you.”
I had the usual reaction to being told that someone wanted to see me—racing pulse, pounding heart, a bit of a shiver down my spine—but it went away more quickly than usual. With Sam in town and on the case, the odds of anyone else showing up were pretty slim. It was most likely a salesman or, God forbid, Steve Grant.
Boosting Lucy up on my hip, I made my way out to the front of the store, a fake-pleasant smile plastered on my face as I prepared to deal with a salesman. And then I froze in shock and horror.
Owen Palmer was standing live and in the flesh in the middle of Chandler Agricultural Supply.
“Oh. You,” was all I could think of to say.
W e stared at each other for a long moment. I’d thought I’d become pretty good at reading Owen, but I hadn’t the slightest idea what was going through his mind. Normally I could gauge by the color and intensity of his blushes, but given sun exposure and the Texas climate, I couldn’t tell how much of the redness on his face was an emotional blush and how much was possibly sunburn or heat.
Beth, being the sensitive soul that she is, beat a strategic retreat to the other side of the store, where she busied herself straightening shelves that were already in good order. It was nice of her to do so, but it didn’t seem to do Owen and me much good since neither of us managed to say anything.
Finally, he cracked the slightest hint of a smile, and a spark of humor lit his eyes as he gestured toward Lucy. “I know you haven’t been gone that long.”
It took me a second to realize I was still holding the baby. Meanwhile, I let my breath out in a big whoosh of relief. It certainly didn’t sound like he hated me. “She’s my niece,” I explained. “She belongs to Beth, the one who made such a nice show of giving us some privacy. Beth’s married to my youngest brother.”
In all the scenarios I’d daydreamed about the reunion I couldn’t help but hope for one day, I hadn’t ever imagined it this way, with me explaining my family tree to him. I also hadn’t looked quite like this. Why did he have to show up when I was at my worst, wearing grubby jeans, a T-shirt three sizes too large, my hair straggling out of a ponytail, and no makeup? It wasn’t fair at all.
The store’s phone rang, but it only rang once, which meant Beth must have picked it up and couldn’t be eavesdropping on us very intently. I decided to take advantage of that. “I wasn’t expecting you,” I said. “I mean, with Sam here already.”
“With Idris involved, this isn’t a one-man job anymore. I want to get to the bottom of this.” He kept his voice low, which was probably a good idea, since Beth’s ears were practically out on stalks as she tried to listen in, even if she was on the phone. I thought I detected a note of bitterness in his voice, but that could have been my guilty conscience playing tricks on me. He wasn’t scowling or looking angry.