We'll Never Tell(5)

By: Jannine Gallant

“Then let’s go find him.” The husky boy who spoke didn’t look old enough to shave. His voice rang with enthusiasm.

The kid was new to the team. Sam rolled her eyes, feeling every one of her twenty-nine years. Had she ever been that naïve…

“Partner up and choose a grid. Our hiker’s name is Barry Rutledge. Grab a photo from the stack.” The fire chief pointed to the front table. “Someone out backpacking may have seen him. Everyone stay in close contact. You know the drill.”

Chairs scraped across the floor as men bent to pick up their packs. At a light touch on her arm, Sam turned. Ethan looked down at her, long-lashed blue eyes intent. She was five-nine in her socks, but he topped her by half a foot.

“You want to team up with me and Sadie?”

She glanced at the dog and let out a slow breath. “Sure.”

They picked up their gear, and she grabbed a picture of the hiker while Ethan chose a grid to canvas.

“Ready?” he asked.

She nodded. They left after the others, boots thumping down the stairs. Sam paused when they reached the street. “Where’re we headed?”

“The area below Prophet Point.” Turning north, Ethan fell in beside her as they headed into the woods. The yellow lab led the way.

“Sadie? You still had Max when we—”

She bit her lip. What could she say? Hooked up for a night of wild sex after too many margaritas at one of Ken’s famous barbecues? She didn’t have one night stands. Lately, she rarely had time for dates, period, let alone relationships that lasted beyond the getting to know each other stage. After that night, she’d made a point of avoiding Ethan when she was in town. Hadn’t she? Or was the reason she hadn’t seen him in five years and two months because he’d made a point of avoiding her?

“Max lived to be fourteen.” He shot her a quick smile that lit up his incredible eyes. “He was a great dog once he got over the habit of knocking people down when he greeted them. Sadie’s young, only three years old, but she’s one of the best search and rescue dogs I’ve raised. She has superb focus.”

“How’s business?” Better to talk about work than anything more personal.

“Improving. It’s not just California ski areas getting their avalanche rescue dogs from me now, and I’m supplying several international outreach organizations with dogs. RAW had a lot to do with that, I think.”

Heat crept up Sam’s neck. “I may have put in a good word for you at Relief Around the World corporate offices. Your dogs are the best at what they do.”

He pushed a longish hank of hair off his forehead. “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

The man needed a haircut. Sam let her gaze drift across his pilling fleece jacket to faded jeans, ripped at both knees. “You know, if you made an effort to present yourself a little more professionally…” She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her windbreaker and kicked a pinecone out of the path. “No offense, but earthquake victims in third world countries dress better than you do.”

He laughed. “None taken.”

She stared straight ahead. “Don’t you have a girlfriend who could buy you some decent clothes?” Juliette would have mentioned it if he’d gotten married. She was the only one Sam had told about her—indiscretion.

When he didn’t answer right away, she dared a quick glance in his direction. A grin stretched across his face. She drew in a breath.

“Several have tried. All failed.”

“Sounds like a challenge.”

“Naw, I’m a hopeless case. I do buy new clothes now and then, but my old ones are more comfortable. Do you know how many years it takes to break in a pair of jeans?”

“Hmm?” She shook her head, but the image of soft, faded denim cupping hard thighs and… Don’t go there, Sam.

She focused on her surroundings—and drew in a breath. It didn’t matter that she’d been past this spot dozens of times over the years; seeing the clearing always sent a shiver through her. What ifs nagged at odd moments. What if she, Juliette, and Darby had marched out of hiding before he pushed the woman? What if they had told someone afterward? They’d been little girls, scared out of their minds.

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