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Smiling, he looked up and into a pair of familiar amber eyes and a devilish smile. "When did you start working the lunch shift?" he asked.
Libby Carter waited until he'd put his paperwork aside before she placed a cup of coffee in front of him. "Jeanine needed a couple of hours off, so I offered to cover for her. I didn't know you came here for lunch."
A strand of her blond hair had slipped from the twisted knot at the back of her head and fallen along her cheek, and he fought the urge to touch it. He'd always been attracted to Libby and liked her far more than he should.
He pushed the thought aside, smiled again and shrugged. "I had a hankering for one of Kate McPherson's barbecue beef sandwiches and didn't want to wait until after work."
"I can't blame you for that," she answered, tucking the errant strand of hair behind her ear. "Is there anything else I can get you? Besides the sandwich, that is."
Picking up the cup in front of him, he shook his head. "Just the sandwich," he answered. "And keep the coffee coming."
She looked over her shoulder when another customer called to her, and Garrett heard her sigh before she answered. "Be there in a second, Gus." When she turned back to Garrett, she flashed him a smile. "Duty calls. I'll have that sandwich for you right away."
He watched her walk to the bar where several locals sat, their beer glasses and bottles in hand, their talk quiet except for an occasional burst of laughter. He didn't stop in for lunch at Lou's often, preferring to visit in the evenings after work, but today he'd needed the change of scenery. Seeing Libby was a perk.
Picking up the cup of coffee, he took a drink—and nearly scalded the roof of his mouth, causing him to let out a small yelp.
Libby appeared within seconds with a glass of water.
He nodded and set his cup down quickly.
She picked it up and sighed. "I told Lou he was serving it too hot. Did he listen? Like he always does, meaning never. I'll get it cooled down." Shaking her head, she hurried to the bar and reached over the top of it.
Garrett stared, instantly forgetting about his burned mouth. He wasn't the only one in the place who was looking. Nearly every man with decent eyesight was watching, the same as he was. It hadn't escaped his notice or anyone else's that Libby's charms included more than being a good waitress with a sassy attitude. She was a very attractive woman. Especially from the back.
He'd thought more than once of asking her out, but he'd never done it. He didn't have time, and he wasn't interested in a relationship. Libby might be fun to flirt with at Lou's, but he knew from talking to her that she was a single mom and as far as he was concerned, that was a red light.
"I added some ice," Libby said, hurrying back to his table and setting the cup of cooled coffee in front of him again.
The twinkle in her eyes put him on guard. "What, besides ice, did you put in it?"
"Only ice, I swear," she answered, placing one hand flat on the table and holding up the other. "I want to make sure it's all right. After all, we can't have one of our best customers, not to mention our only nonbeerdrinking customer, burning his mouth."
"It's okay," he answered. "I'm good."
"So I've heard."
He couldn't keep from chuckling. Having a conversation with Libby was always a game. "Hassling the injured guy, are you?"
"Get 'em while they're down, I always say." She walked away with an exaggerated swing to her hips.
Within minutes, she returned with his sandwich. "On the house," she told him.
"There's no need for that," he assured her, pulling the plate closer. "I'm not going to sue."
He'd expected a smart answer from her, but instead she said nothing. She looked tired, he thought, noticing the dark circles beneath her eyes, but she always had a smile for everyone.
She leaned forward to wipe a few water rings from the table with the corner of the dishtowel tucked into the waistband of her jeans. "Why hasn't such a nice guy like you settled down with an equally good woman?"
He considered giving her a flippant answer, but instead he decided she deserved honesty. "I practiced family law back in Chicago for several years. You know, divorce and child custody and all that. I thought I could make a difference. Came to find out, I couldn't. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep those kids from being pawns of their parents. Divorce is always messy, even when everybody starts out agreeing, but when kids are involved Well, I guess you could say the whole experience jaded me."
"I can understand how that could happen," she answered, without looking directly at him.
"What about you?" he asked. "You're divorced, right?"
She nodded as she continued to wipe at a spot on the table, but she didn't say anything.
"What about Noah's dad?" he continued, curious. When she straightened, a frown marring her usually sunny expression, he knew he'd stepped over the bounds. "I'm sorry, it's none of my business."
"No, it's all right. I started it," she admitted with a small smile. "Noah's dad isn't in the picture."
He nodded, accepting her brief answer. Before he could say anything else, his cell phone rang. Pulling it from the pocket inside his jacket, he answered. "Garrett here."
"Garrett, were you expecting a delivery?"
He recognized the voice of Tootie Fredericks, the city administrator. "No. Why?"
"You need to get back to the office, right now."
She sounded upset, and he knew that wasn't a good sign. "What is it, Tootie?"
"A package came for you."
"A package? Can't it wait?"
"No, it can't, and you need to get your butt here right now."
He was accustomed to her eccentricities, chalking them up to her thirty plus years working for the city, and he chuckled softly. Tootie was a great administrator, but sometimes she got carried away. "Why? Will it explode?"
"No," she answered briskly, "but you might. Get a move on."
"But what—?" There was no reason to finish. He heard the empty silence and knew she'd ended the call. Sighing, he looked at the halfeaten sandwich in front of him and quickly caught Libby's eye. "Can you get me something so I can take my sandwich with me?" he asked when she hurried over. "I'd really appreciate it. I have to get back to the office."
"Of course. It'll only take a second." Libby disappeared, taking the sandwich and plate with her.
He'd just finished gathering his paperwork together and was pulling some money from his wallet, when she reappeared with a paper sack and handed it to him. "I hope everything is all right."
"Oh, I'm sure it is. She probably thinks I've taken a long enough lunch today. You know what they say. A man's work is never done."
"I do believe it's a woman's work that's never done," she corrected him, as he moved away from the table.
"Could be." He realized he was wishing he didn't have to leave and knew he shouldn't feel that way. Pressing the bills into her hand, he said, "That should take care of it, with a little extra for you."
She shook her head, but he ignored it and left the tavern, turning toward the city building, two blocks away. It was a nice day, and he'd chosen to walk to Lou's and enjoy the outdoors. He didn't hurry, suspecting that Tootie simply thought it was time for him to be back at his desk.
As he reached the ChickaLick Cafe, Morgan Rule, Desperation's sheriff, stepped out and onto the sidewalk. "I didn't see you inside and thought you might be working at home today," Morgan said, joining him.
Garrett explained that he'd gone to Lou's for a change, and they walked on to city hall together. The small building where they both worked sat on the far corner of what was considered the business part of town. Garrett stopped at the first door, while Morgan continued on to the next. Once inside, Garrett passed through the reception area and continued along a hallway.
As he walked by Tootie's office, she stepped out and grabbed him by the arm, leading him to his office.
"What's going on, Tootie?" he asked, tired of whatever game she was playing. "And where's this package?"
"You'll see," she answered, hanging back as he walked into his office and put the paper bag on his desk. When he looked back at her, standing just outside the doorway, she nodded her head. "Go on."
"I don't see any—" He stopped, then shook his head, thinking he was seeing things.
A small girl sat on a nearby chair, her hands folded in her lap. His first thought was that she looked like his sister, and he couldn't imagine how that could be. He was pretty sure she didn't have a daughter.
So who was this child?
He turned to look at Tootie, still standing in the doorway. "Who—?"
"Shush," she whispered, glancing behind him at the little girl. Crooking her finger at him to follow, she directed him outside the door and then pressed an envelope into his hand. "Maybe this will answer your question."
Garrett glanced at the child again and then tore open the envelope. Unfolding the single piece of paper he found inside, he read handwriting that was eerily familiar to him, and he wasn't eager to remember why. It wasn't long before he knew.
Hoping Tootie wouldn't see that his hands had begun to shake, he folded the paper and returned it to the envelope. He wasn't sure he could speak, so he cleared his throat before he tried. "Who brought this?"
She shook her head. "I didn't see her. Geri was up front, and she brought the girl back to me and asked me when you'd be back. I told her you were out to lunch. She said a woman had walked in and asked for you. When Geri told her you were out, she said something about you expecting the girl, handed her that envelope and hightailed it out the door."
He didn't doubt the girl's mother was in and out before anyone could question her. "Did Geri see the car she came in?"
"She said it was a dark color, and it looked like there was a man behind the wheel, but it peeled away so fast, she couldn't get a tag number. But it wasn't an Oklahoma license." Tootie's eyes narrowed as she watched him. "You weren't expecting her, were you?" When he shook his head and avoided looking at her, her sigh was deafening. "What's going on, Garrett?"
He wasn't sure how to say it. If what was in the short letter was true
"Her name is Sophie," he answered. "Sophie Miles."
"Sophie Miles?" Tootie repeated.
He nodded, and his throat tightened around the words he needed to say. "She's my daughter."
Libby watched as the heavy wooden door of the tavern slowly swung shut behind Garrett and reminded herself that she could never get involved with any man, especially him. If he knew the truth She gave herself a shake. He didn't know and never would.
The old, scarred door swung open again, but it was Jeanine who breezed inside. Hurrying toward Libby, she smiled. "Thanks for filling in for me," she said. "I'll take over. You can go home and rest up before tonight's shift."
"Sounds wonderful," Libby answered and turned to the table Garrett had vacated. "I'll just finish clearing this table and—" Tucked next to the coffee cup Garrett had used was his cell phone. "Looks like Garrett forgot something."
"Maybe you should take it to him," Jeanine suggested, a twinkle in her eye.
Libby knew what her fellow waitress was thinking and decided her best course of action would be to ignore it. "I suppose I should. It will only take a couple of minutes, and then I can go home and sleep until Noah gets home from school."
"Sounds like a plan," Jeanine said. "I'll finish cleaning up."
Libby hesitated. "You're sure?"
Jeanine gave her a gentle shove. "Of course."
"Okay, thanks." Libby pulled the towel from her waistband as she hurried to the bar and stepped behind it. She hadn't slept especially well the night before. Usually she had no problem, but she'd been restless and dreams that bordered on nightmares had plagued her, waking her with a pounding heart. She was sure there was no reason to be worried, and she tried not to, but something would trigger memories she thought were buried, and that's when the dreams would start.
Grabbing her purse from under the bar, she slipped the cell phone inside, then headed toward the door, giving Jeanine a wave as she stepped outside. The early afternoon sunshine was bright, and she blinked as she crossed the gravel parking lot to her car. The car door groaned when she opened it, but she ignored it and slid inside. For a brief moment, she was afraid the car wasn't going to start, but the engine finally took hold, and within seconds she was on her way down the street to the city building.
Within a few minutes, she'd quickly parked the car, hurried inside and pulled the phone from her purse. Expecting to give it someone at the front desk, she was surprised to find no one there. With a shrug, she moved on and discovered a hallway that she hoped would lead her to the city offices where she'd find Garrett. A few steps later, she heard him before she saw him.
"Why didn't you call me?" he said, his voice not far away.
"I did, if you remember."
Libby could see Garrett and silverhaired Tootie Fredericks standing just inside a small office she suspected was Garrett's. Not wanting to interrupt or appear to be eavesdropping, she stopped and waited. But not overhearing what was being said was impossible. Although Tootie's voice was low, the volume of Garrett's wasn't.
"You gave me some crazy talk about a package." He raked his hand through his hair, leaving part of it sticking straight up. "It wasn't as if you even gave me a clue."
"You need to lower your voice," Tootie said, sounding like a teacher reprimanding a student.
Garrett happened to look up at that moment, and Libby knew the moment he saw her. "Sorry to bother you," she said, quickly approaching them and ready to get this little visit over with, "but no one was up front."
Tootie stepped out of the office and into the hallway. "I thought Geri was watching the front."
"You can't leave!" Garrett said as she started to walk away. There was no question in Libby's mind that something had him in a panic. She didn't recall ever seeing him ruffled by anything.
Posted October 27, 2011
Posted September 8, 2011
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