Disclaimer: Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings: Sex and love between women.
Author's Note: This is a sequel to my earlier story "Alive Day." Everyone agreed with me about what great characters Kelsey and Tyler were (I'm not surprised <g>) so I decided to let them out to play a little more. Enjoy!
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
A Little Gossip
Copyright © 2008 Geonn Cannon
Judy Ennis walked down the counter inside Daisy's Diner, carafe of coffee in her right hand as she checked the customer's mugs. She stopped in front of Larry Diggs and placed her free hand on her ample hip. His breakfast plate was clean, his orange juice drank down to the dregs. "You all done here, sugar? Want a slice of key lime pie?"
"Nah, I'm good," he said. He pushed the plate across the counter for her to take.
As she lifted the plate, she caught a flash of sunlight against a windshield outside the diner. She turned her head and watched a police car cruise by, Deputy Andrea Tyler behind the wheel. Judy lifted an eyebrow and said, "Hm."
Diggs looked up at her. "Something wrong?"
She turned to face him, having forgotten he was there, and shook her head. "Oh. No. Nothing. I was just noticing that Deputy Tyler has been passing by here a lot lately."
"Think she's casing the joint?" Howard Tell asked from a few stools down, his smile half-hidden behind his mug.
Judy shot him a 'don't be ridiculous' glare. "Her apartment isn't that far from the police station. And both of those places are on the other side of town. No reason for her to drive by here on her way to work."
"You're just mad she ain't stopping in for breakfast," Howard said. He stood up and dropped a couple of bills onto the counter. "See you tomorrow, Judy."
"Mm-hmm," she said as she poured a refill for another customer. "I just think it's odd," she continued after Howard was gone.
Diggs said, "That new fella moved in a couple months back, right? What's his name? Something German. His place is out there. Maybe Sheriff Stevens got 'er on a stakeout."
Leo, the cook, said, "Order up, got scrambled eggs and sausage." When Judy took the plate, he said, "Jesse Quinn's widow lives out that way, you know. They're pretty good friends. Maybe they're just keeping each other company." He waggled his eyebrows and grinned suggestively.
Judy rolled her eyes. "God, Leo. You got a mind dirtier than your grill. And you, Larry Diggs, read too many spy novels. What, you think that new German fella out there is a Nazi spy?"
"Stranger things have happened."
"Not in Road Ends, Montana," Judy said as she delivered the food to the customer. "Teach me to open my fat mouth. Just noticing there's no real reason for a woman to drive by, that's all. Hell, she may just be taking the scenic route to work. Or maybe she's on patrol. God forbid I try to liven up my day."
"We understand," Diggs said. "We're just trying to make your day even livelier." He folded his newspaper, finished his orange juice and stood up. "Give me a call if Deputy Tyler needs to round up a posse and take down the Third Reich out there."
Judy threw a wadded-up napkin at his head as he ducked out of the diner.
The Road Ends Sheriff's Office shared a building with the mayor's office, the hall of records and the one-person DMV. The police force, consisting of Andrea Tyler, Daniel Stevens, and sometimes-volunteers Lee Reynolds and Nathan Boswell, occupied the entire first floor. Tyler parked at the back and went in through the rear entrance, past the holding cells to the bullpen. Sheriff Stevens technically had his own office, but a perpetual remodel meant his walls were just a square of wooden support beams.
Tyler glanced inside as she walked by and offered him a good-morning wave. He was on the phone, but held up a finger for her to wait. She stopped, slipped between two of the wooden beams, and stood in front of his desk until he finished his call. When he hung up, he said, "Hey. I need the report on the Hutchins break-in. Did you file it under H?"
"No," she said. "I filed it under P, because it was the Peterson break-in. Don Hutchins was the burglar."
Stevens frowned, stood up and went to the filing cabinet. He pulled the drawer out, ran his fingers over the tabs, and sighed when he found the file. "Thank you."
"No problem," she chuckled. She was almost out of the office when he spoke again.
"I was actually looking for it last night, but you weren't home."
She stopped. "Oh. Uh, what time did you come by?"
"Just past nine." He pushed the filing cabinet closed and returned to his desk. "Where were you?"
She shrugged. "Just out. Sorry I missed you."
He took a seat. "Ah. It's not important. I'll try and keep the brain farts to a minimum. Or at least just schedule them for when you're in the office."
Tyler chuckled. "Let me know if you manage that."
"Manage what?" Stevens said as he looked over the file. "Who are you? Why are you in my office?"
Tyler chuckled and went to her desk. By the time she pulled her chair out, her smile had vanished. They knew it would only be a matter of time before people started to notice how much time she was spending out at Kelsey's ranch, she just hadn't expected it so soon. They were going to have to come up with some excuse, or just come right out and tell people, for why they were spending so much time together.
The truth was that they were... what was the right word? Dating? It certainly didn't feel like dating, and they never left Kelsey's property. Lovers? It sounded sordid, like they never left the bedroom. After their first, tentative explorations of lovemaking, they had found a nice balance between making love and getting to know each other better. Kelsey took her horseback riding, they watched movies, or sat on the porch and drank tea or lemonade.
So what did that make them? "A couple," she said under her breath.
"A couple what?" Boswell said as he walked past her desk.
"Nothing. Uh, hey, did you get the Xerox working again?" Boswell and Lee weren't official deputies, weren't allowed to wear badges or carry a gun, but they were eager and willing to lend a hand around the station when necessary.
He nodded. "Up and ready. Got a handful of those Fall Dance flyers printed out earlier. Came out real nice."
She thanked him, pushed away from her desk and went down the hallway. She needed to refresh her stack of report forms. She placed a blank form under the cover, pressed the button for fifty copies, and scanned the pegboard as the machine ran. Garage sale over the weekend, a new ESL class being run at the community center, and a notice for the Fall Dance Boswell had mentioned.
The notice was printed on orange paper with black ink, and it looked more like a Halloween party than a dance. Summer was coming to an end, the days were getting shorter, and the annual Fall Dance was upon them. Tyler had ignored it in the past, choosing to sit at home rather than bother finding someone to take. Now that she had someone...
She replaced the flyer and took her copies from the machine. She didn't even know if Kelsey liked to dance, let alone if she would be willing to be seen in public with her. She shuffled the papers and left thoughts of the Fall Dance in the copy room.
The best part about living in the middle of nowhere, ten miles from town, was that she hardly ever got surprise visitors. Kelsey was outside the barn when she saw the first plume of dust on the road and, by the time she went inside, washed her hands, and headed up the gravel driveway, the police cruiser was still just rounding the stand of trees on the outside of Kelsey's gate. She smiled, waved, and unlocked the gate, holding it open as Tyler drove past.
She latched the gate and walked toward the house. Tyler parked her cruiser in the dirt roundabout near the porch rather than going around to the garage at the back. Tyler got out, blonde hair down on her shoulders to show it was a social call, and turned around. Kelsey felt her heart leap, her face breaking into a spontaneous smile. Before, she had always been happy to see Tyler. She valued the deputy's friendship and the support offered after Jesse's accident. But now that they were 'together,' she found every time they met was some huge happening.
She put her hands on Tyler's hips and said, "Hi."
"Hi," Tyler said. She cupped the back of Kelsey's head and kissed her lips briefly. They were both smiling when they parted.
"I didn't know whether or not to expect you today. Do you want to come in? I was just about to take a lemonade break."
Tyler nodded. "Sure. I'd love some." She put her arm around Kelsey's and walked her toward the porch. "Rough day?"
"Not too bad. Why, do I reek?"
"Not too bad," Tyler said as she smiled.
Kelsey opened the back door and ushered Tyler into the kitchen. "You can serve up the lemonade. I'll go get changed into something less sweaty."
Tyler nodded and they parted ways, Tyler toward the kitchen and Kelsey to the stairs. Tyler opened the fridge, peered at the tall jug of lemonade, and then looked toward the kitchen door. She closed the fridge and left the kitchen. She used her toes to pull off her shoes, and walked quietly in her socks up the stairs. Kelsey's bedroom door was open a crack, and Tyler stopped in the hallway before she pushed it open wider with her foot.
Kelsey stood next to the dresser in an undershirt and a pair of panties. Her back was to the door, the lines of her bra visible through the shirt. She pulled open one of the drawers and bowed her head as she dug through it. Tyler let her eyes trail down Kelsey's back, over the wrinkled tail of her T-shirt, to her long, bare legs. Legs that had been wrapped around her waist, legs she had ran her tongue down the length of. She loved Kelsey's legs; smooth and muscled and powerful...
Kelsey turned with a button-down white shirt in her hands and started when she saw Tyler standing in the doorway. "Damn peepers. Can't get away from them."
"You're not even naked," Tyler said as she stepped into the bedroom.
Kelsey flipped the shirt open and slid her arms into the sleeves. She turned to face the mirror and Tyler stepped up behind her. She put her arms around Kelsey and began doing up the buttons. Kelsey leaned back against Tyler's chest and closed her eyes. Tyler kept her eyes on the reflection of Kelsey as she worked the buttons, leaving the top three undone to show off her white undershirt. When she finished, she kissed Kelsey's temple and said, "Do you want jeans?"
"Do I need jeans?"
Tyler put her hands on the outside of Kelsey's bare legs. The shirt was long enough to reach her thighs, but only barely. "Not for me." She slid her hands up and under the tails of Kelsey's shirt. She rested her hands on Kelsey's hips, focused on the lace under her fingers, and moved her lips to Kelsey's earlobe.
Kelsey rolled her head on her shoulders and moaned. "I really wanted lemonade."
"It'll still be there later..."
"Mm," Kelsey murmured. She rolled her head, eyes still closed, and said, "What else don't I need?"
Tyler's heart was pounding, and she was sure Kelsey could feel the throb of her left shoulder. "Well, these definitely have to go." She hooked her fingers in the waistband of Kelsey's underwear and waited for a stop sign. After a moment, she pushed them down. The flimsy cotton skated down Kelsey's legs and pooled around her feet.
"How about my shirt?"
"No," Tyler said. Her voice was barely a breath, her eyes closed and her fingers trembling as they curled in Kelsey's pubic hair. "I want the shirt on while I make love to you."
Kelsey shuddered in Tyler's arms and made a quiet sound like a purr. She opened her eyes and turned her head. "I love it when you talk to me. Will you talk to me while you're making me come?"
"Yes," Tyler promised. She moved her hand between Kelsey's legs, and Kelsey gripped the edge of the dresser. "You're so beautiful. All I've thought about all day was being inside of you, feeling you tight around... my fingers..." They both made a sharp inhale as Tyler parted Kelsey's labia with two fingers. Tyler bowed her head so that her lips moved against Kelsey's neck when she spoke. "I'm so in love with you, Kelsey... I want to make you come... Do you remember telling me your fantasy? Me, in my uniform? How badly you wanted that?"
Kelsey whimpered and put her hands on Tyler's forearm, squeezing through the sleeve of her uniform blouse.
"Tell me if you remember, Kelsey."
"Yes," Kelsey gasped.
"Good girl." She moved her head and Kelsey's dark hair caught on her nose, her eyelashes and her bottom lip. She put her free hand in the small of Kelsey's back and eased her forward. Kelsey pressed her stomach against the edge of the dresser and her ass against Tyler. Tyler cupped Kelsey's mound and gently circled with two fingertips. "So wet, already. Did you get wet seeing me drive up? Did you know I wanted this? That I needed you so badly?"
"Yes," Kelsey managed.
Tyler saw her reflection in the mirror, her hair hanging over her face, her cheeks and throat red from arousal. She slid her hand from the small of Kelsey's back up to her shoulders, to the nape of her neck. She kissed, then licked the warm flesh and rocked her hips against Kelsey until they were both grunting. "Kelsey... come for me..."
"I am, Andy, I'm... oh, Andrea..."
Tyler closed her eyes and continued to thrust her hand into Kelsey until she cried out, held on tight until her body relaxed, and then kissed the back of her neck as she gently withdrew her hand. Kelsey turned inside the ring of Tyler's arms, touched her jaw, and kissed her hard. Tyler pressed tight against Kelsey and moaned, speaking between kisses, "Was it okay?"
"It was wonderful, Andy, just wonderful. Just perfect." She let one hand drop and rested it over Tyler's badge. "I was worried you would think it was too kinky."
Tyler shook her head and kissed Kelsey's pinky. "It's your fantasy. I wanted to make it come true."
"You did. Oh, you did, in spades."
They embraced and Kelsey pressed her face into the curve of Tyler's neck. After a moment, she lifted her head, flicked her tongue into the shell of Tyler's ear, and said, "It's your turn. Whatever you want me to be, or do."
Tyler shuddered. "Can I think about it?"
Kelsey smiled. "Yeah, baby. But for now, how about that lemonade?"
Kelsey only bothered with her underwear, following Tyler downstairs in her mostly-buttoned dress shirt with her long legs stretching from the hem. In the kitchen, Tyler poured them each a glass of lemonade and they took it outside to the rocking swing. They sat, Kelsey crossed one leg over the other, and Tyler stared at the muscles as she started the swing going. "Can my fantasy be that you never wear pants?"
"No," Kelsey said.
Tyler reached out and rested her hand on Kelsey's thigh. She squeezed, and then looked out over the immense front yard of Kelsey's ranch. She could see a few horses grazing in the field, but she couldn't tell them apart from this distance. "Who is out there?"
Kelsey answered without hesitation. "Maid Marion, Jazz and Hero."
Tyler sipped her lemonade. "Do you want to go to the Fall Dance with me?"
Kelsey glanced sideways at her. "The dance?"
"I don't know. There were flyers up at the cop shop today, and I was thinking about it. I thought it might be nice."
"You mean as your date?"
"Yeah. I wouldn't want you there as a chaperone." She smiled nervously. "You don't have to. It was just a..."
"I want to go. It's been God knows how long since I actually went out and socialized. Since I went on a date. If you're willing, I'm willing."
Tyler twisted her glass and watched the ice move against the curve. She took a long drink and then said, "I'm not sure yet."
"That's okay." She covered Tyler's hand with her own and brushed her thumb over the knuckles. "Let me know when you're ready to be out." She looked up into Tyler's eyes. "That's right, right? 'Out'?"
"Yeah," Tyler laughed. "I'm in the closet."
Kelsey put her head on Tyler's shoulder. "Is there room for two in there?"
Tyler closed her eyes and smiled. "Plenty of room."
Just past ten o'clock, Kelsey forced herself off the couch and began shutting the house down for the night. Lights off in the kitchen, dishwasher running, locked the doors, and then returned to sit next to Tyler for the rest of the movie. Tyler put her arm around Kelsey and pulled her close. It was no longer awkward to be in the house after lights-out, to know she was going to stay past bedtime. She smiled and pressed her lips against Kelsey's hair. "I like spending the night with you."
"Good," Kelsey said quietly. She lifted her head and they kissed slowly. When they parted, Kelsey said, "You know, you could... no. Never mind."
Kelsey lifted a shoulder. "No, I was just thinking that if you wanted to bring a few clothes over... I have the closet space. I love having you over. But if you don't want to..."
"No," Tyler interrupted. She nodded and said, "I could move some things in."
Kelsey looked up at her, hopeful. "It's not too soon?"
Tyler looked into Kelsey's eyes and whispered, "Too soon for what? To know I'm in this for the long haul? That I love you, and I want to spend as much time with you as possible? No. It's actually long overdue."
"Move in," Kelsey said.
"Move in. That whole 'bring some clothes over' thing was just a cover." She gripped Tyler's hand. "Move in. Live with me. I've wanted to ask you every morning I wake up in your arms. But I was scared. And now I'm worried I'm babbling and you're going to run like hell and I'll never see you again."
Tyler laughed and brushed her hand over Kelsey's cheek. "You really want me here?"
"Every morning and every night."
"Okay. We can give it a shot. Of course, if I do move in, we won't be able to hide what's going on. Especially not with the busybodies who live in this town."
Kelsey sighed wearily. "Are we leaving the closet already?"
"I think we'll have to."
Kelsey leaned into the caress of Tyler's hand, closed her eyes and sighed. "In that case, I would love to go to the Fall Dance with you. It'll be our debut. I always wanted to be a debutante."
Tyler laughed and glanced toward the TV. "Did you see how the movie ended?"
"Want me to rewind?"
Kelsey took Tyler's hand and stood up. "No. I'm going to go check on the horses, and then I'll be up." She kissed Tyler long and slow, her hand sliding between the buttons of Tyler's blouse. When they parted, Kelsey said, "Will you stay up?"
Kelsey smiled, pecked Tyler's cheek, and slipped off the couch. She went out to the barn to make sure the horses were set for the night, then went back into the house. She turned off all the lights, made sure the doors were locked, and went upstairs. Tyler was already under the covers with a book in her lap, and looked up as Kelsey came in. "All closed up for the night. I'm going to take a shower."
"Okay. See you soon."
Kelsey undressed down to her underwear before she went into the bathroom. She took the fastest shower possible, shampooing her hair and scrubbing without soap. When she finished, she blow-dried her hair at the sink, put on a nightgown, and joined Tyler in the bedroom.
The overhead light was off, but there was a nice romantic glow given off by the bedside lamp. Tyler had put her book aside and sat with her knees tenting the blankets, watching as Kelsey walked around the foot of the bed. "You're not going to turn into a blanket hog, are you? I'm used to having all this to myself."
"I'll try to stay on top of you all night so it won't matter."
Kelsey chuckled and slid under the blankets. So rolled onto her side and scooted close, leaning in to give Tyler a goodnight kiss. Tyler lifted her lower body and bumped hips with Kelsey. Kelsey's eyes opened wide and she broke the kiss, looking down at the blankets. "What...?"
"So," Tyler said, hair down and shadowing her eyes, "I was thinking about my fantasy... the one you said you wanted to fulfill." She guided Kelsey's hand to her lap and rested the fingers on the rubber shaft of her strap-on. She was breathing hard, shaking as she wrapped Kelsey's fingers around it. "I've made a decision."
Kelsey smiled and slid closer to Tyler. She began to stroke the shaft as she lowered her lips to Tyler's neck. "Oh, really? Care to enlighten me?"
"You can be on top."
Kelsey moaned quietly and moved to straddle Tyler's hips. They both pushed the blankets aside and looked down at the new addition. Kelsey brought a hand to her lips, licked the palm, and gently cupped the rubber cock. Tyler watched Kelsey's hand for a moment, then looked up and met her eyes. Kelsey leaned forward and whispered, "I'll give you a blow job later. I want to feel you inside of me..."
Tyler whimpered helplessly and kissed Kelsey's neck, her shoulder, and moved her hands to the small of Kelsey's back. She drew up the flimsy material of her nightgown and smoothed her hands over the bare curve of Kelsey's ass. Kelsey brushed her thumb over the head a few times and moved forward, her breasts hypnotizing as they moved against the bodice of her nightgown.
Tyler's fingers shook as she moved her hand between Kelsey's legs. Kelsey gasped her approval as Tyler parted her lips. Kelsey scissored the cock between two fingers and closed her eyes as she slowly lowered herself. She put one hand on Tyler's shoulder to steady herself. By the time the dildo was fully inside her, they were both breathing heavily. A line of sweat, one side painted silver by the moonlight and the other gold from the bedside lamp, had formed on Kelsey's forehead.
"Good?" Kelsey whispered, breathless.
"Mm-hmm," was all Tyler could manage.
Kelsey leaned forward to kiss Tyler and began to roll her hips. She broke the kiss, but stayed close enough that their lips brushed when she spoke. "Fast? Or slow? How do you want this?"
Tyler moved her hands to Kelsey's hips and guided her in a slightly faster rhythm. Kelsey pressed her knees into the mattress, let her hand slide from Tyler's shoulder to her breast, and she tweaked the nipple through her T-shirt. Tyler groaned and Kelsey whispered, "Let me know if I'm too rough..."
"Okay," Tyler said. She nodded, closed her eyes, and began to lift her hips to meet Kelsey. She moved her hands over Kelsey's body; back of her hand along Kelsey's thigh, pressing her palm against her belly, cupping each breast in turn and pinching the nipples until Kelsey groaned and arched her back. "You're so beautiful..."
Kelsey tried to laugh, but didn't have the breath for it. She pushed her hand into Tyler's hair and pulled her head forward. She rested Tyler's head against her chest, and Tyler closed her eyes to listen to her pounding heartbeat. After a moment, Kelsey whispered, "I'm close..."
Tyler moved her hand between their bodies and split her fingers around the toy. She found Kelsey's clit and brushed her knuckles against it, slowly at first but harder with each grunt and sigh. Finally, Kelsey tightened her thighs and arched her back, grinding against Tyler until the waves passed. She exhaled, kissed Tyler's hair, and gently lifted herself off the toy. She rolled onto her side of the bed, curled against Tyler, and rested her head on Tyler's shoulder. "Was that okay?"
Tyler laughed and kissed the top of Kelsey's head. "Yes. It was perfect. Thank you."
"Did you come?"
Tyler shook her head and Kelsey moved her hand between Tyler's legs. They rearranged themselves until Kelsey was pressed against Tyler's back, arms wrapped around her, kissing her shoulder. She stroked the dildo with one hand, and cupped Tyler's mound with the other. Two fingers slipped inside as Kelsey began kissing along the curve of Tyler's shoulder. "So wet," she breathed against Tyler's ear.
"And so hard," Tyler grunted.
Kelsey snickered and squeezed the cock. "Mm, yes, very hard..." She crossed her fingers and pushed them deeper, and Tyler gripped the sheets in her fist. Kelsey thrust her hips against Tyler's and closed her eyes.
After a few seconds, Tyler reached back and clutched Kelsey's hip. "Right there," she breathed. "Don't stop... I'm going..."
Kelsey licked Tyler's neck and Tyler cried out. She circled Kelsey's wrist with her hand to keep it in place, then gently pulled her hand away. She laced their fingers together, brought Kelsey's hand to her lips, and kissed each fingertip in turn. She rolled onto her back, pulled Kelsey on top of her, and they kissed passionately until both were out of breath.
Kelsey brushed the hair out of Tyler's face and said, "So. Got any other fantasies?"
Tyler laughed. "I'll work on some."
Kelsey closed her eyes and settled her head on Tyler's chest. "Mm-kay," she sighed. "You do that. Keep me apprised... keep me... informed..."
Tyler closed her eyes and threaded Kelsey's dark hair through her fingers until they were both asleep.
Bobby rose off his stool as Kelsey approached the counter. "Afternoon, Mrs. Quinn," he said as he began ringing up her groceries. "Find everything all right?"
"I was actually hoping to get more than two six-packs of Mountain Dew. You have any in the back?"
"Truck's coming this afternoon. I could set a couple aside for you."
"That'd be great, thanks."
Bobby nodded. "Always thought of you as a coffee woman," he said, holding up the canister of Folger's. "When'd you get on the soda train?"
"Oh, they're not for me." She picked up one of the toys off the impulse-buy rack, spun the dial, and replaced it.
Bobby waited for her to expand on why she would need more than twelve cans of something she didn't drink in her fridge, but she merely turned her attention to the newspaper display. He finished bagging her groceries and said, "Total comes to twenty-three and eight pennies."
Kelsey handed him the cash and he made change. She took the bag and Bobby watched as she left the store. "Wonder if she's stocking up or something."
Larry Diggs, who was examining bottles of motor oil as if the labels were written in code, shook his head. "Between you and Judy, this town ain't gonna get a moment's rest. Just leave those poor ladies alone."
"What poor ladies?"
"Kelsey and Deputy Tyler. Judy got all Matlock because Deputy Tyler's been spending her nights out at Kelsey's ranch, and now you're getting all suspicious just because Kelsey's doubling up on her groceries." He held up two bottles of motor oil. "What's the difference between these two?"
"Thirty-five cents," Bobby said.
Diggs looked at the bottles again and put back the more expensive one. He carried it up to the counter and said, "They ain't hurtin' nobody out there, why not just leave 'em alone?"
"I ain't saying we should go out there and spray them with a hose, Diggs. Five-seventy-five," he said when Diggs added a candy bar to the counter. "I was just making a comment on her buying stuff I know she doesn't use. I'd make the same comment if you started buying deodorant."
"Hardy-har," Diggs said. He took his change and headed for the door. "Don't you talk about me behind my back, neither, hear me?"
Toby Ralston hadn't been seen in Road Ends since the day he put a gun in Tyler's face and pulled the trigger. He went to Helena to stand trial and serve his sentence, and his truck remained in the fenced-off area behind the police station. On the first day of spring, when it was cool enough to work outside but not too cold for a jacket, Sheriff Stevens allowed Tyler to check the truck out. She drove it to her apartment and, with the help of her downstairs neighbor, loaded the back of the truck with her belongings.
She sold her bookshelves and the coffee table to any neighbors who were interested, and loaded her television, stereo, and borrowed suitcases full of clothes into the back of the truck.
Joseph and Jonathan Whitlock, teenage twins who lived in her building, sat on the curb and watched as her neighbors helped her load her things. They were mainly intrigued by Tyler's unbuttoned blue shirt, hanging open to reveal a tank top underneath. Her sleeves were rolled up to reveal well-muscled arms, and her jeans were tight enough that the twins sucked in a breath and prayed for the sound of a rip every time she bent over.
"Damn," Joseph, or maybe it was Jonathan, said.
"Too right." He took a sip of the whiskey they had painstakingly poured into empty root beer bottles and winced as he handed it to his brother. "Too bad, though."
"Too bad about what?"
"She's moving in with a chick, man. Kelsey Quinn. Outside of town."
"Shit, man, you're kidding."
"Nope. Heard it from that dude who runs the gas station."
"Damn," Jonathan, or perhaps Joseph, said. He sighed and took a sip of whiskey. "Don't mean we can't look, though, right?"
His brother laughed and took the bottle back. "Too right."
Kelsey was on eggshells all day. She raced through her chores, sent her ranch hands home early, and spent the rest of the afternoon tidying up her already-clean living room. "It's a room she's been in a hundred times," she told herself under her breath, but she continued to run the duster over a coffee table that shined like glass. She sighed and put her hands on her hips, checked the clock on the mantle, and threaded her hair through her fingers.
Finally, she decided to go outside and wait for Tyler to arrive with her things. She had paced along the front porch and pulled what had to be a thousand dandelions from the grass alongside the driveway. When Tyler finally appeared in the borrowed truck, Kelsey hurried up the drive to open the gate for her. She held her breath as Tyler drove past and followed the truck up to the house.
Tyler opened the door, turned in the seat, and smiled when Kelsey caught up. She slipped between Tyler's parted legs and rested her hands on the denim stretched tight over her legs. "God, sweaty and in denim. I think I picked a very good roommate."
"Do you?" Tyler said. "Well, you should see the roommate I picked." She kissed Kelsey quickly and slipped out of the truck. "Want to help me unload this? I want to get the truck back to the station by tonight."
"Sure." She went to the back and looked at the artifacts from Tyler's apartment. "Is this it?"
"It's all I had to bring. We didn't need a second coffee table, and the bookshelves... unless... was I being presumptuous?"
"No, not at all." Kelsey opened the bed of the truck and climbed inside. She bent down, grabbed two suitcases, and jumped back down to the grass. She smiled at Tyler and said, "This is going to be your house, too."
Tyler embraced Kelsey and pulled her close. They kissed and Kelsey moved her hands to the back of Tyler's belt. She hooked her thumbs in the leather and said, "Welcome home, Andy."
Tyler woke a few mornings later, blankets bundled against her back, and watched as Kelsey removed the last curler from her hair. Tyler pushed the pillow away from her face, squeezed the bridge of her nose, and rolled onto her back as she tried to determine whether or not she was dreaming. Why else would rough and tumble Kelsey Quinn be wearing a flowered dress and white stockings? Unless... "Are you suggesting a new fantasy?"
Kelsey turned and smiled. "Hi. Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep."
"What's going on?"
Kelsey crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed. She pushed the tangled hair out of Tyler's face, bent down, and kissed her lips. "I'm going to church."
"Big building on the corner by the bank, steeple. Often quite busy on Sunday mornings?"
"I'm familiar with the concept. I didn't know you went."
"It's the first time you've been here on Sunday morning. I'll be done about noon. I could pick up some lunch while I'm in town if you want..."
Tyler was already pushing the blankets away. "Mm. No, I'll go with you. Is it too late? Do I have time to get ready?"
Kelsey raised her eyebrows. "No, uh... you still have time. You don't have to go just because I am. Really, I won't call you a heathen or flick holy water on you or anything."
Tyler chuckled and nearly fell out of bed. "No, I want to." She squeezed Kelsey's hand as she went by. "I'm going to take a quick shower, then I'll be ready."
"Okay. Take your time; it doesn't start for another hour."
Twenty minutes later, Tyler came downstairs ready to go. She wore her nicest pair of blue jeans and a crisp white button-down shirt. "How do I look?" she asked. "Too casual? Should I put my hair up...?"
"You look just fine," Kelsey said. She rose from the couch and said, "Just..." She unfastened Tyler's belt and, ignoring Tyler's raised eyebrow, began to tuck the shirt into the jeans.
Tyler jerked as Kelsey's hand brushed a particularly sensitive area. "Aren't there rules about that kind of touching on the Sabbath?"
"Nope," Kelsey said. She finished tucking, refastened Tyler's belt, and slapped her ass. "Get a move on, Deputy."
They walked outside together, and Tyler hesitated by her car. "Um, should we... we should go in separate cars."
"People are already talking, Kelsey. If we walk in together..."
Kelsey shrugged. "Let them talk. They're going to find out sooner or later. Might as well make it on our terms."
Tyler hesitated another second, then took Kelsey's hand and continued to her truck.
Larry Diggs didn't necessarily dress up for church. He wore his cleanest shirt, wet down his hair, and did a passable job shaving. It was adequate for going out in public, and most people gave him points for trying. He sat in the middle pew; close enough to the front so people would see him, close to the doors so he could make a quick escape as soon as the last prayer was said. In the pew behind him, Nathan Boswell said, "Shoot. Kind of hoped they would have fixed the air conditioning since last time."
"They did," his wife said. "It's just been so long since you came that it got broke again."
Judy Ennis snorted through her nose and continued to fan herself with the thin bulletin.
The preacher stepped onto the stage, motioned for everyone to rise, and the room fell silent save for the flipping of pages to find the right hymn. They were almost all the way through "In the Garden" when the sanctuary doors opened. A handful of people turned to see who the late arrivals were; it was hard to gossip if you didn't know all the facts. There was a quiet gasp, and more than a few people lost their places in the hymnal.
"And the joy we share as we... tarry... there..."
Kelsey and Tyler didn't pay attention to the wavering voices all around them. They entered hand-in-hand, but Tyler released Kelsey when they reached a pew. Someone muttered, "Lord, Lord," as Tyler put her hand in the small of Kelsey's back, right above her belt, and guided her down the aisle. They whispered apologies to those they were brushing by and finally reached the far end with two vacant places.
Kelsey took the hymnal from the pew in front of them, found the hymn they were on, and held the book so that Tyler could use it as well. They joined in singing just as the last verse began, then joined in the shuffling as people closed their hymnals and took a seat. The preacher moved to the podium and said, "Praise God," which the congregation echoed. "It's wonderful to see you all again on this fine morning. I see some familiar faces, a couple of new faces." He glanced in the direction of Kelsey and Tyler, but said nothing more. "Welcome, welcome."
After church, the church ladies auxiliary had lemonade, cookies, and cake in the Sunday school room. Sheriff Stevens stood in line to get his cup filled by Miss Ella Zimmer. She wasn't a member of the ladies, being single and all, but she liked to help out whenever she could. She looked up, met his eyes as he held out his cup. "Miss Ella. We meet again."
"Sheriff. Funny how you always seem to get in line right when I'm at the lemonade bowl."
"Funny how things work," he agreed.
She took the cup from him and filled it with lemonade. She plucked two cookies off the plate and held them out to him. "Your deputy was sure the center of attention earlier."
"She seemed to be, wasn't she. Can't fault her, though. Hard enough to find someone to spend time with in a town this small."
Ella shrugged. "Depends on whether you're looking in the right place."
"Hi, Sheriff," Howard Tell said.
"Well, where might a fella look?" Stevens asked Ella.
Howard gestured at the punch bowl. "Looks like some mighty good lemonade you got there, Ella..."
"Here and there," Ella said. The corners of her mouth curled up in a sly grin. "Sometimes all he's gotta do is open his eyes, see someone standing right in front of him."
"Sheriff?" Howard said.
Stevens looked at Howard, looked at the lemonade in his hand, and gave it to the man. "Here. Get."
Howard took the cup and shuffled off. Ella laughed and said, "You want another glass?"
"Ah, no. Don't much care for lemonade, truth be told."
Ella laughed again.
Tyler pulled to the curb and let the car idle for a moment. Kelsey gathered her purse from the backseat and draped her denim jacket over her arm. It was still warm outside, but the clouds on the horizon were threatening at least a drizzle before the day was over. "You sure you want me to just drop you off? I could call in and say I'll be late..."
"I'll be fine," Kelsey said. "Haircut, then to the general store. I'll track down Hal, and he can drive me back to the ranch."
"Hal? Is that your new hand? How's he working out for you?"
"Usually late, unreliable, but good with heavy lifting. I'll probably keep him around until next payday and then let him go."
Tyler nodded. "Hard to find good help these days."
Kelsey sighed her agreement and looked out the window. "What do you expect to find in there?"
"A request for my badge and gun, or a posse to run me out of town. One or the other."
"It's not that bad," Kelsey chuckled.
Tyler shrugged. "Okay, call that a worse case scenario. I will probably have to deal with a lot of staring and stupid questions." She stuck out her jaw, crossed her eyes and waved her hand as she spoke in a thick Southern accent. "So, like, how do you guys, uh, like, do it?"
"Tell them 'on top and with handcuffs.'"
Tyler laughed. She leaned over the console and kissed Kelsey's lips. "Bye." She threaded her fingers in the long, dark hair and said, "Don't let them take too much of this, okay?"
"Perish the thought." She kissed Tyler again and said, "It feels nice to do that in public."
"It does," Tyler agreed. She leaned back in her seat and playfully pushed Kelsey away. "All right. Get out of here. I'll see you tonight."
"Okay. Love you."
"Love you, too."
Kelsey got out of the car and walked across the street. Tyler waited until she disappeared into the barber shop before pulling away from the curb. She dreaded walking into the police station, seeing everyone stare at her. She didn't know if she would prefer silence or awkward interrogation. She drove to the station, parked in the back, and forced herself to get out of the car. She hesitated at the back door, took a deep breath, and stepped inside.
Lee was sweeping up the back room and barely glanced at her when she came in. "Deputy Tyler."
"Lee. Sheriff in?"
"For about twenty minutes."
She nodded her thanks, even though he was focused on the floor, and continued to Sheriff Steven's office. She knocked on a bare wood strut and pushed the plastic aside. The sheriff had his head down on the desk, his hands forming a pillow for his forehead. "Dan?"
He grunted. After a moment, he straightened and blinked bloodshot eyes at her. "Never trust little girls you meet at church. They'll drink you under the table." He pressed the heel of his hand against his eye and leaned back in his chair. "You on patrol until seven?"
He nodded. "I think I'm going to head home for a while, since you're here. Hold down the fort."
"No problem." She watched him stand, pull on his uniform jacket, and walk carefully to the door. "See you this evening, Tyler."
"Sheriff," she said once he was out of the office. He turned and raised an eyebrow. She wanted to ask if everything was all right with them, without coming right out and saying the words. "Milk," she finally said. "Big tall glass of milk. Works for me every time."
He gave her a thumbs up and shuffled on down the hall. Tyler watched him until he disappeared around the corner before she finally turned away. The small radio at the back of the room was tuned to an oldies station and Jimmy Buffett was singing Come Monday. The coffee maker hissed and bubbled in the corner. When she walked to her desk, she saw the weekend report from Boswell, who held down the fort when she and Stevens were off-duty. It was just an ordinary day, a run of the mill Monday.
She took her seat and looked around the room for some sign that she had simply dreamed going to church with Kelsey the day before. Finally, she shuffled the papers in front of her and began reading Boswell's report.
Kelsey knocked on the open door as she walked into the general store. Hal Cooper looked up from the newspaper as she came in. He was leaning against the counter, but straightened when he saw who she was. Bobby remained on his stool and nodded to her. "Mrs. Quinn."
"Hey, Bobby. Hal, I was going to come look for you later."
"Oh?" He watched her as she walked past him to the coolers. "Why's that?"
"Thought I might catch a ride with you back to the ranch. You remember the ranch, right? Place I hired you to work, end of August?"
He nodded. "Right. Um, about that. I don't think I'll be able to make it out there today."
Kelsey frowned. "Allie isn't sick, is she?"
"No, she's just fine. I just, uh, I got another offer. Closer to town. Gonna stick with it."
Kelsey looked at Bobby, who was being very careful not to look at Kelsey or Hal. Kelsey pursed her lips and said, "You go to church yesterday, Hal?"
"Ain't been to church in... gotta be ten years, Miss Quinn."
She thought back and remembered a lace white dress, a whippet-thin woman hurrying on high heels to wrangle the three Cooper toddlers outside in the parking lot. "Allie was, wasn't she? I think she told you about something that happened. That right, Hal?"
"You know how womenfolk are," he said. A slow smirk spread across his face and he covered it with a swipe of his hand. "She might've told me something or another."
Kelsey nodded. "Right." She put her milk and eggs on the counter for Bobby to ring up. "Hope you're not expecting to get a full two-week salary from me, then. You kind of left me high and dry here."
"No, ma'am. Wouldn't be fair."
"Don't talk about fair, Hal," Kelsey said. She took her change, nodded her thanks to Bobby, and turned to face Hal as she took her bag. "Don't ever talk about fair, all right? Good luck finding another job."
"Told you, done got one."
"Sure," Kelsey said. She turned around at the door and said, "You found someone close to town who will pay you what I pay you, and won't fire your ass for hanging around the gas station all damn day. Yeah. You got mighty lucky. My love to Allie. Thanks, Bobby."
She carried her groceries down the street, seething at Hal's attitude. There was no way anyone in this town was willing to pay him enough to support that family of his. Too many of them had been burned too many times. He either showed up late or not at all, and seemed to work at half-speed the entire time he was there. It didn't take a genius to understand why he was reluctant to work for her.
Kelsey went up the steps outside the police station, into the main building, and took a moment to compose herself before she went through the Sheriff's Department door. Tyler was, as she'd hoped, alone at her desk doing paperwork. She glanced up and straightened when she realized it was Kelsey. "Hi. Your hair looks great."
"What? Oh. Thank you." She put the groceries on the desk and said, "Can I store these in the break room fridge until I find a ride home?"
"I thought Hal..."
"Hal's been fired."
Tyler frowned. "What happened?"
"He decided he would rather work 'closer to town.'"
"Where?" Tyler said. "Everyone in town has fired him at least once. The guy has the work ethic of a..." She met Kelsey's eyes. "Shit. Because of yesterday?"
Kelsey shrugged. "That was the impression he gave me. He wouldn't come right out and say it, of course..."
"Of course," Tyler said. She stood up and called into the back room. "Lee!" She waited until Lee Reynolds appeared at the doorway. "I'm going out on patrol a little early. Hold down the fort, keep an eye on the radio and the phone. Call me if anything comes up."
"Yes, ma'am, Deputy Tyler."
Tyler motioned for Kelsey to follow her. "I'll take you home."
"You don't have to..."
"Yeah, I do." She led Kelsey through the corridors to the back door. Instead of going through the door to the parking lot, she stopped and put her hands on Kelsey's shoulder. "If anything worse happens, if you even get the impression someone is going to start being violent, I want you to call me. Not the police, call me. I'll take care of it. All right?"
Kelsey nodded. Tyler leaned in and kissed her lips. She moved her hands to Kelsey's hair and twisted a few strands around her finger. "I do like this, by the way. Not too short. Just right."
"Thanks." She kissed Tyler again and said, "Come on. I have milk and eggs here..."
Tyler sighed. "Nice. Just so we know where your priorities lie."
Kelsey chuckled and slapped Tyler's hip. "Don't taunt me while you're wearing your uniform, woman. You know I'm weak. Take me home."
"Yes, ma'am," Tyler said in her best drawl. She opened the door and ushered Kelsey out to the parking lot.
The morning of the Fall Dance, Tyler came out to the barn to find Kelsey before she left for work. "Hey."
Kelsey looked up from the horse she was brushing. She smiled. "Morning. Did I wake you?"
"No. You should have, though." She walked up to the horse, Maid Marion, and gently massaged her ear. "We should ride sometime this weekend."
"I'd really like that."
"Maybe we could do that instead of the dance."
Kelsey frowned. "Why? You have the tickets, right?"
"I have the tickets. I'm just not sure it's the best idea to go."
"Because of a few bad apples?" Kelsey said. "Please. If they don't want to work here just because of who I'm sleeping with, then I don't want them here."
Tyler walked around Marion and stood behind Kelsey. She put her hands on Kelsey's hips and said, "I'm sorry you have to deal with all this."
Kelsey turned in Tyler's arms. "It's not bad. The majority of people in town couldn't care less about us. I even got Henry to help me out around here. Our news was big, when it was new. Then it got old, and now people are talking about Sheriff Stevens shacking up with a girl young enough to be his daughter."
"She's actually thirty-five."
"She is not."
Tyler laughed. "I stopped her last year when she failed to observe a yield sign. Looked at her driver's license and there it was in black and white."
Kelsey rested her head against Tyler's chest. "Mmm, it's going to be fun having a girlfriend with inside knowledge on the townsfolk. I've always been interested in blackmail, in theory."
Kelsey stepped back and looked up at her. "We can ride tomorrow. Take me to the dance tonight."
Tyler wanted to argue, but instead she sighed and rested her hands on Kelsey's hips. "Okay."
"Will you wear a dress?"
"There are two people in this world I will wear a dress for," Tyler said. "My father hasn't had his funeral yet, and you are going to have to really make it worth my while." She looked past Kelsey's shoulder into one of the stalls. "Sex in the barn?"
Kelsey gasped and lowered her voice. "Heavens... not in front of the children!"
Tyler chuckled and stepped back. "Drive into town around five-thirty. I'll meet you at the station, we'll have an early dinner, and I'll escort you to the Fall Dance like the lady you are."
"You'll meet me at the station?"
"I'll meet you at the station."
Kelsey began to hum Last Train to Clarksville and then nodded. "All right, monkey. I'll see you tonight, then."
Tyler nodded, kissed Kelsey's lips, and reluctantly let her go. As she walked out of the barn, she called over her shoulder, "That is not going to be my new nickname."
Kelsey chuckled and went back to Maid Marion.
Kelsey left Henry to finish things up and went into the house to get ready for the dance. She was surprised to find how excited she was. She hadn't been to one of the big town dances since... well, since Jesse. The thought gave her pause, but she pushed past it. Jesse had been dead for a long time, and she had mourned him appropriately. She had no guilt for moving on, and she knew Jesse would have wanted her to be happy, whatever form that happiness happened to take.
She showered, wrapped herself in a towel, and stood for a long moment at the closet door before she pushed aside the dresses and chose a pair of dark brown slacks. She put on the pants, tucked the hem of a white blouse into them, and sat on the edge of the bed to pull on her boots. High heels be damned. If Tyler wasn't going to dress up, there was no reason for her to be uncomfortable.
She went downstairs and stopped at the hall closet. As long as she was going for comfort... She opened the door and pulled one of the cowboy hats down off the top shelf. Settling it on her head, she walked to the mirror in the hallway and checked out how it set.
"Yeah," she said. She hooked her finger on the brim and flicked it down. "Yeah, that'll do just fine." She smiled at her reflection, gave it a wink, and went out to the garage. Henry was still in the stable, and she stopped to make sure he was good on his own for a few hours. "I've got my cell phone. You can call if there's any problem."
"I certainly will. Enjoy the dance."
"I'm certainly going to try. Night, Henry."
On the drive to town, she continued to question her wardrobe. She took off the hat twice, dropping it into the passenger seat before putting it back on. She parked the car in front of the police station, took off the hat as she walked into the main office, and looked around for her date. She spotted Sheriff Stevens first and smiled. He looked dapper in his blue jeans and white shirt, but his salt and pepper hair was a mess from a day of running his fingers through it. "Evening, Sheriff."
He lifted his eyes and returned the smile. "Evening, Mrs. Quinn. Or... should I..." He glanced toward the back room. "Miss?"
"Well, since we're on the subject, Kelsey will definitely do. Thank you." She gestured at his civilian clothes. "I take it you're coming to the Fall Dance?"
"I am, but I'm not sure why. I'm better at falling than dancing."
Kelsey laughed. "Is my date ready?"
He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Told me to let her know when you came in. She's in the drunk tank."
Kelsey blinked at him.
"It has a door that closes. Privacy and all that."
"Ah, gotcha. Thank you, Sheriff."
She walked down the corridor and knocked on the drunk tank door. "Andy? It's me. Can I come in?"
Kelsey pulled the door open, peered into the room, and had to stifle the urge to gasp. Andrea Tyler was in a dress. It ended just below her knees, the thick shoulder straps partially hidden by her long hair. She cleared her throat, stopped fiddling with her stocking, and let her dress fall back into place. She smoothed her hands over the material and finally met Kelsey's gaze. "Hi. I decided to wear a dress."
"I see that... wow. I think I just decided to tear it off of you later."
Tyler blushed and reached up to touch her hair. "I feel silly."
"You look gorgeous." She closed the distance between them and kissed her lips. She stepped back and brushed the back of her hand down the shoulder strap. "I never thought... no, never mind."
Kelsey sighed and looked into Tyler's eyes. "You keep surprising me. The way you make me feel, the way I've fallen for you and the way I want to keep falling. I never thought I would feel that way ever again, for anyone. You're a constant surprise, Andrea."
"A good surprise I hope," Tyler said, looking down to hide the tears in her eyes.
"Oh, yeah," Kelsey breathed. She hooked her finger under Tyler's chin and lifted her head for another kiss. She moaned and pressed herself against Tyler, loving the soft feel of the dress brushing against her thighs. It was an odd, backwards feeling to feel the dress on the person she was kissing, but it was good.
"We can't... have sex in the drunk tank," Tyler said between kisses.
Kelsey sighed. "Why not?"
Tyler took Kelsey's hand and squeezed. "Because I want to dance with you in public."
Kelsey smiled and laced her fingers through Tyler's. "Well. When you put it that way, Deputy. Lead on."
Kelsey drove them to the community center and found a parking spot in the already nearly-full lot. "Looks like we're late."
"Nah. A lot of the singles get here early to mingle. Over-excited."
"I'm sure you weren't one of those over-excited young singles back in the day."
Tyler shook her head. "No. I was just horny."
Kelsey laughed as she shut off the car. "So you dated men?"
"Once or twice," Tyler said. "You know how sometimes there's an itch in the middle of your back that you can't scratch, so you lean against the wall or the side of a bookcase? And it's not quite what you want or need, but it helps a little bit?"
Kelsey reached over, put her hand between Tyler's shoulder blades, and scratched gently. "There?"
Tyler smiled at her in the darkness. "Just right. Come on." She got out of the truck and walked around to the back bumper. She waited for Kelsey to join her and then offered one arm. "I think the person in blue jeans has to escort the one in the dress."
"Oh," Kelsey said as she looped her arm around Tyler's. "Does that mean I get to lead when we dance?"
The side doors of the community center were propped open with folding chairs, music and golden light spilling out onto the pavement. Tyler's steps slowed as they approached the doors, and Kelsey put her hand on Tyler's upper arm and squeezed. "It'll be all right."
Tyler looked at her, then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yeah. Okay. Let's go." They stepped through the doors and took in the decorations. There were tables covered with orange and yellow paper ringing the room, holding cookies, punch and other various refreshments. Small tables were also set up here and there so people would have the opportunity to sit down and catch their breath occasionally. The corners of the room had stacked hay bales, and orange, yellow, brown and green balloons were tied to every vertical surface.
The music had already started, and a few people were dancing in the middle of the erstwhile basketball court. A few heads turned to take in the new arrivals as Tyler fearlessly guided Kelsey into the room. She barely moved her lips when she spoke, speaking low enough that only Kelsey could hear. "Do you want something to eat, or do you want to dance?"
"Let's get it out of the way before there are enough people for a riot," Kelsey said. She slipped her hand away from Tyler's and turned to face her. "May I have this dance?"
"You may," Tyler said. She clasped Kelsey's hand, put her other hand on Kelsey's hip, and stepped close to her.
Kelsey looked at Tyler's hand on her hip. "So much for leading."
Tyler leaned in and whispered, "I'll let you be on top tonight to make up for it."
Kelsey shivered and said, "Deal."
Tyler smiled, closed her eyes, and pressed her face against Kelsey's dark hair. "Girl in a cowboy hat and boots... you really know how to push my buttons, don't you?"
"It's just comfortable."
"I know," Tyler said. "That's why I love you."
Kelsey blushed and pressed her cheek to Tyler's shoulder.
"Are people still staring?"
"Some," Kelsey said, glancing surreptitiously around the room. "But I think it's more of a 'the deputy is wearing a dress' kind of staring."
Tyler chuckled. "Well, it's like Haley's Comet or a Yeti. Might as well let them stare since they'll only see it once."
Kelsey laughed. She turned her head and kissed Tyler's bare shoulder. "I'm glad you wore the dress for me. Thank you."
"Well, you know," Tyler said.
Kelsey looked up as some more people wandered into the room from outside. Sheriff Stevens escorted Ella Zimmer into the room, their hands linked and his hair smoothed down and apparently gelled. "Well. Looks like someone else is getting changed for the better in this town."
Tyler looked over her shoulder and smiled.
"Thirty-five?" Kelsey said. "That little girl?"
"Believe it," Tyler said.
Kelsey shook her head as Stevens approached. "Sheriff. Ella."
"Miss... ah, Kelsey. Andrea."
Tyler nodded. "Sheriff. Evening, Ella."
"Hi," Ella said softly. She was staring at Kelsey's hand where it rested in the small of Tyler's back. She brought her eyes up, blushed slightly, and smiled. "It sure is a nice night for a dance."
"Sure is," Kelsey agreed.
Stevens nudged Ella and guided her toward a punch bowl. "I'll catch up with you ladies once we wet our whistles."
They nodded and continued to dance as Stevens was dragged off by his youthful paramour. "Up close, yeah," Kelsey whispered. "Yeah, I can see it when she's that close. Wow. She should be a model."
Tyler chuckled and guided Kelsey across the floor. They continued to dance as the room filled up with other dancers. A few people kept their distance, but the majority would return pleasantries. The town doctor reprimanded Kelsey for not being in for a check-up lately, and Bobby from the General Store let them both know that there were two cases of Mountain Dew cans waiting for them at the store, whenever one of them wanted to pick it up.
Tyler was just started to relax when Kelsey tensed in her arms. "What..."
Tyler turned and watched the white-haired preacher walk across the room toward them. He had no date, but he didn't seem to be there on business. He wore a plaid work shirt open at the collar rather than his tie and blazer. He stopped a few feet from them and said, "Miss Quinn?"
She stepped away from Tyler so she could face him fully, ready for the sermon. She kept her hand on Tyler's hip for support. "Yes, sir."
"You remember my daughter, Evelyn? The riding lessons I bought her for her sixteenth birthday?"
A line appeared between Kelsey's eyebrows and she nodded. "Yeah. She was an excellent student. She still comes out now and then to ride." The dark part of Kelsey's brain fired and she knew what was coming next. She began to form her reply: No, she had never been alone with Evelyn Berg, yes, she was sure, no, she would never have touched the girl inappropriately.
"My youngest, Sara, has been crying foul ever since she turned twelve. Her sixteenth is coming up sooner than I would like to admit, and the only thing that will get her off my back is to pay for another round of lessons, and a stable fee, and truth be told, I wish I could just buy the girl a car."
Kelsey's face broke into a slow smile. "Well, Mr. Berg, I'll see if I can offer you a returning customer discount. And a birthday-gift discount, of course."
He exhaled and nodded. "I'd be much obliged. I'll call you sometime this week to get it all set up." He nodded to her, then said, "Deputy Tyler."
He walked away and Kelsey fell back into Tyler's arms, her hand on Tyler's shoulders. "Well. I guess that puts that to rest."
"I guess it does." She clasped her hands in the small of Kelsey's back. "Do you want to go and rest for a while? I can get us punch."
"No, I want to dance a little while longer. Is that okay?"
"Yeah," Tyler said. She smiled and pulled Kelsey closer. "Yeah, that's perfectly okay."
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