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Amazed at how far she'd come in a few months, Cassidy Outlaw jogged along the path beside Austin's Lady Bird Lake without even breaking a sweat. When she'd first started her exercise regimen, she couldn't make half a block without being winded and dying from the burn in her legs. Now she could actually enjoy these early morning jogs.
Especially with the current view to hold her interest.
She trotted behind a very tight set of male buns attached to a terrific torso with a lovely expanse of shoulders. The shorts were black, the T-shirt gray and the hair short, a damp brown, and probably less curly when it was dry. A white towel was draped around his neck.
She liked his legs, too. Well-muscled thighs and calves. Was his front as good as his back? Some good-looking guys ran this trail—and some real dogs. Which was he?
Suddenly, Tight Buns stopped. Cass, being in midstride, didn't, and she couldn't get her footing quickly enough to keep from tripping over him and going down onto the decomposed granite path.
"Ouch! Dammit! Dammit!" She grabbed her knee.
"Oh, God, I'm sorry," Tight Buns said.
"Idiot! What were you thinking, to stop like—" The words died on her lips when she looked up and saw the klutz was no putz. He was an Adonis.
"Are you hurt?" he asked.
Maybe he was a putz, after all. "I figure if there's blood, I'm hurt for sure."
He grabbed the towel from around his neck and dabbed the blood from the scrape on her knee.
"Is that sanitary?" she asked, glaring at him and trying to keep from being mesmerized by a pair of the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. Real baby blues, so pale they seemed to cut into her like lasers.
"Oh, hell! I didn't even think of germs. Let's get some proper first aid." He flagged down a cab, which was a miracle in itself, since Austin didn't have cabs cruising the streets like New York.
Before she could sputter more than, "What the hell do you—" he'd scooped her into his arms and slid her into the backseat.
"To the nearest E.R.," he said to the driver.
"You're nuts! I don't need to go to an emergency room for a skinned knee. I just need some peroxide and a Band-Aid."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure."
"Make that the nearest drugstore," he told the driver.
The cab drove a couple of blocks and stopped. "Here we are."
Tight Buns pulled out a twenty from a small zippered pocket and handed it to the driver. "Keep the change," he said, flinging open the door. He reached inside and made to pick her up again, but Cass slapped his hands.
"Have you got any more money in your pocket?" she asked.
He felt inside. "Nope. That was it."
"Keep a couple of bucks for yourself," she told the driver, "and give us the change."
The man didn't look too thrilled, but he handed her a ten. She started to hold out for more, but gave it up and got out.
"Why did you do that?" Tight Buns asked.
"Because the only things in my fanny pack are my car keys and pepper spray." She waved the bill. "This is for first aid supplies."
"Good point. Can you walk?"
"Of course I can walk," Cass said. With blood dribbling down her leg, she marched into the drugstore, Blue Eyes close behind.
Inside, he walked her to the pharmacy area and had her sit on the chair near the blood pressure cuff.
"Stay here and I'll gather the supplies."
In a couple of minutes he was back with a basketful of stuff: gauze pads, peroxide, first aid spray and ointment, tissues, and a big box of Band-Aids.
"Isn't that overkill?" she asked.
He glanced down at the basket. "I don't think so. I wasn't sure what we'd need."
"Have you paid for the items yet?"
"I didn't think so," Cass said. "You've got more than ten dollars worth there, I'm sure."
"I have a credit card."
"Well, why on earth didn't you say so? I wouldn't have arm wrestled the cab driver for change."
He merely looked at her as if he were indulging a child, and squatted in front of her. After he assembled his supplies, he patted his thigh. "Put your foot up here."
She didn't argue for once.
Very gently, he flushed the area with peroxide, mopping up spillovers with gauze pads and tissues, squirted a line of ointment along the scrape and topped it with a large bandage. "There."
She studied his handiwork. "Good job. Thanks. I'll be running along now—sorry, I don't even know your name."
He grinned, flashing dimples that made him almost pretty. "Griff. Griffin Mitchell."
She stuck out her hand. "Cass. Cassidy Outlaw."
"How about I buy you breakfast?"
"Thanks," Cass said, "but that's not necessary. I need to get home and dress for work."
"What time do you have to be there?"
"Oh, nine-thirty or ten."
He glanced at his watch. "It's only seven-thirty. We'll make it quick. What do you like?"
"There used to be a great little place on the next block that served the best breakfast tacos you've ever tasted, but it's gone now. That monster of a hotel gobbled up most of the neighborhood." She nodded toward the lakefront and the several stories of concrete and glass where several small businesses had once stood.
"I take it you don't approve."
"You take it right," Cass said. "I miss those tacos."
"How about we try the coffee shop at the hotel?" Griff asked. "My treat."
"Like this?" She looked down at her shorts and dirty T-shirt. "Austin is a supercasual town, but I doubt if they'd let us in the door as grungy as we are."
"Let's storm the gates out of spite." Those blue eyes twinkled with mischief. "I understand the coffee is good and the omelets are first class."
Never one to back away from a challenge, Cass said, "You're on. Let's go."
He paid for the items in his basket, and the cashier, a middle-aged woman with a severe underbite, didn't even mention that they'd been opened. In fact, she was so busy gawking at Griff she could barely wield the scanner. "Did anybody ever tell you that you look like Paul Newman?" she asked, drool practically dripping from the corners of her bulldog mouth.
He smiled. "Once or twice."
Cass hadn't been around for Paul Newman's heyday—she was more familiar with his salad dressing than his early movie roles—and she didn't get the connection at first. Then she remembered a couple of classic films she'd seen on cable. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, of course, and another one in which he'd worn some sort of short toga. She couldn't recall the name of the movie, but she remembered those eyes. They were the same mesmerizing color as Griffin Mitchell's. No wonder women went ape over Newman back then.
"Ready?" Griff asked, touching her back. "Shall I get a taxi?"
She chuckled. "I think I can make it a block or two."
They crossed the street, and she favored her knee slightly as they walked.
"Are you in pain?"
"It smarts a little. Nothing serious," she said. "I'll take a Tylenol later."
"Damn," he said, snapping his fingers. "I should have thought of that. If you'll wait here, I'll run back to the drugstore and get some."
"Whoa." Cass grabbed his arm. "Not necessary. You're making too much of this. I have some in my car."
"If you're sure." He seemed ready to sprint through traffic at her signal.
She felt a little strange going into the upscale hotel, but Griff walked in as if he owned the place. "Want to wash up first?" he asked.
"That would be great."
They parted at the restrooms, and Cass cleaned up as best she could. She'd give twenty dollars for a brush right then, but settled for a finger comb, then rejoined Griff.
The hostess met them at the door of the coffee shop, to turn them away, Cass figured. Instead, she smiled brightly. "Good morning, Mr. Mitchell. Your usual table?"
"Yes, thank you, Helen." He steered Cass to a window table overlooking the lake and the jogging path.
When they were seated, Cass lifted her eyebrows. "Your usual table, Mr. Mitchell?"
"I often stay here when I'm in town. I've been here a lot lately." He opened his menu. "Are you a bacon and eggs person or a fruit and yogurt type?"
"If I can't have breakfast tacos, I'm a French toast and sausage lover. You?"
"I like the omelets here."
Coffee and a pitcher of orange juice arrived, along with a waiter to take their order.
Cass sipped her coffee. "Ahh. Caffeine. So you're in Austin on business?"
"What business are you in?" she asked.
"I'm a lawyer."
She chuckled and shook her head. "I might have known."
"You don't like lawyers?"
"Some I do, some I don't. I'm a recovering lawyer myself."
He grinned. Why did he have such devilishly adorable dimples? "How does one become a recovering lawyer?"
"One gives it up for a healthier lifestyle." Cass poured herself some juice.
"I see. And what do you do now?"
"I sell chili."
He laughed. "With beans or without?"
"Bite your tongue, Yankee. No self-respecting Texan puts beans in chili."
"Sorry. Where do you sell this chili?"
"In a little café called Chili Witches up near the capitol. It's a family business that my mother and aunt started years before my sister and I were born. What kind of lawyering brings you to town?"
"I'm doing some research for a client."
"What kind of research?"
He cocked an eyebrow and looked amused. "I thought you said you were a lawyer."
"Ahh," she said. "The confidential kind. I assume you're not a trial lawyer then. Not a defense attorney from back East who has come to defend a dastardly criminal?"
"Nope. I'm more into corporate concerns than drug dealing and murder."
"Is there a difference?"
His eyebrow went up again. "You really are down on the profession, aren't you?"
"Sorry," Cass said. "I went too far. How do you like Austin?"
"It's a fantastic little city. I'm thinking of moving here."
This time her eyebrows went up. "Really?"
After their food was served, they ate and chatted about the town and its various attractions. Casual talk, but unspoken inferences seemed much more intimate. She couldn't quite put her finger on the subtle undercurrents she felt, but they were there.
He was a charmer to be sure. Slick, handsome and magnetizing with those fabulous baby blues. Her own lawyer's antennae went up.
She wouldn't trust the bastard as far as she could throw him.
Cass would have bet a thousand dollars Griff Mitchell would show up at Chili Witches that day. She would have lost. Guess she'd read the signals wrong. Usually she wasn't so far off.
Oh, well, no big loss. He was a nice looking guy and interesting—even if he was a Yankee lawyer. Her track record with Yankee lawyers wasn't good. Her former fiancé was both. They'd worked for the same New York firm, and he'd sworn his undying love for her when he'd presented her with a large emerald-cut diamond and asked her to marry him. First chance he had to make points with the senior partners, he'd thrown her under the bus for a leg up.
What was worse, he didn't see anything wrong with what he'd done.
Cass couldn't see being married to someone ruled by jungle ethics. She quickly soured on New York, the high-powered firm and the eighteen-hour days. She also missed Austin and her twin sister, Sunny. They'd never been so far apart for so long.
At closing time, Cass locked up behind the last of the staff and stashed the cash in the office safe. As was their custom, she made a final round of Chili Witches, with its rough-hewn walls and over forty years of rotating Texas kitsch. Her New York colleagues would laugh if they could see her now in jeans and a red tee instead of a power suit, but she was happy here among people who mattered.
She was startled when she saw the gray-haired man sitting at a corner table with a cup of coffee. He smiled at her as she approached.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I didn't realize anyone was still here. We're closed. You'll have to leave."
He suddenly vanished. Poof. Gone. Her heart jumped into overdrive. Oh, gawd! Was she going crazy? Maybe her eyes were playing tricks on her. She double-checked the locks, then hurried out of the café and up the back stairs to her apartment on the second floor.
She locked her door, reset the alarm, slapped her hand on her chest and struggled to keep herself from hyperventilating. No way was she admitting to what she'd seen. Correction: make that what she thought she saw. No way.
Not only had the incident scared the pants off her, the whole thing was impossible. Totally, utterly, completely impossible. Snatching up her phone, she punched the speed dial for Sunny, but hung up before it rang. Her sister would never let her hear the end of it if Cass admitted to seeing some sort of apparition. There was some perfectly reasonable explanation for what she thought she'd seen. Perhaps a flicker of a passing car or a glint from streetlights had somehow created an odd image. It had been a long day, and she was tired and ripe for her eyes to play tricks.
Certainly there was no reason to be afraid. After all, there was a cop in the apartment only a few feet away from her front door, and a baseball bat under her bed.
Posted March 22, 2011
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Posted May 11, 2011
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