Falling for the Flyboy(128)

By: Trish Milburn


Immediately after passing the sign for the Dry Creek city limits, Cade pulled into a gravel parking lot filled with vehicles, mainly pickup trucks. The plain white building had a homemade sign painted with the words “Jillian’s Country Cooking.” Gwen’s stomach rolled just thinking about all the fried food likely clogging the menu. But from the looks of the crowd, it must be popular with the locals. Of course, it might be the only restaurant in town.

Several “howdys” rang out as Cade walked through the door, and Gwen sensed more than a few pairs of eyes watching her, the stranger in the town where everybody knew everybody. It dawned on her that if that was so, surely an outsider would have been noticed the day Haley disappeared. That meant one of their own could be responsible. The news was filled with stories of seemingly normal people who led secret lives of crime or who had sick fetishes. A shiver ran across her shoulders at the thought.

They slipped into the only available booth, and a young waitress materialized almost instantaneously with plastic-covered menus.

“You want your regular, Cade?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“And for you, ma’am?”

Gwen hadn’t even opened the menu. She guessed they were simply for show, that everyone in the building probably had memorized every dish on it and how much it cost. She quickly glanced at the listings and decided on the least of many evils, a plain cheeseburger and a soda.

“Hey, Cade, how’s it going?” The question came from one of those tiny women who always made Gwen feel like a descendant of a giant redwood tree. The stylish gray pantsuit marked her as a professional of some sort, and her pretty face caused an uncharacteristic burst of envy to shoot through Gwen.

“Same old thing,” Cade said, leaning back and stretching his long arm along the top of the booth.

The woman paused briefly then directed her gaze at Gwen. Extending her hand, she said, “How do you do? I’m Rita Womack.”

“Gwen Phillips,” she said as she shook the proffered hand.

“Ranger Phillips,” Cade added, looking comfortable on his side of the booth. “She’s here to help with the Haley Bright case.”

“Oh, that’s good. I know Cade could use the help. It’s so sad about that little girl.”

Gwen glanced over at Cade. He fiddled with the napkin-wrapped silverware, and his jaw tensed. This woman, evidently someone he knew well, had reiterated the fact that he needed help on this case. Gwen felt a little sorry for him. She knew how difficult it was to admit you couldn’t do everything by yourself. Truth be told, Gwen faced the same struggle every day.

Rita returned her attention to Cade. “You’re coming to the bank barbecue, right?”

Gwen watched as he loosened his jaw and smiled at Rita.

“Wouldn’t miss it. I’ll take any opportunity to not eat my own cooking.”

“Your cooking’s not that bad.”

Either Gwen truly was cracking up or this conversation had some personal undertones. She looked out the window, not wanting to see any winks or innuendoes that might pass between Cade and Rita. Not wanting to care if they did. She suddenly wished she’d passed on lunch. The cheeseburger would sit in her stomach like an anvil all afternoon anyway.

“And bring Gwen,” she heard Rita say. Gwen turned to see Rita smiling as she and another suited woman headed for the front door.

Bring Gwen. She found she couldn’t look up at Cade. Sheriff Duvall wasn’t going to take her anywhere but back to her own car so she could begin her investigation—on her own.

“Sorry about that,” Cade said. “Rita has decided it’s her duty to fix me up with every single female who passes through the county.”

“A matchmaking cousin?” she asked as she took a drink. She couldn’t help her curiosity.

“Ex-wife.”

Gwen choked to keep from spraying Cade’s uniform with sticky soda.

~