Stirring up the Sheriff(2)

By: Leslie North

"How is that even possible?" she muttered as she squinted at the clerk's penmanship. "How do you make two different words look exactly the same?" It was like deciphering ancient runes.

A peal of shared laughter drew her attention. The Saturday morning farmers’ market appeared to be wrapping up. Aunt Celia had always welcomed shoppers to park in the Honky Tonk spaces during the bar's off-hours, and that was at least one tradition Marianne wasn't going to part with anytime soon. A couple strolled back to their car, their arms loaded down with more produce than either of them could comfortably carry, but they were obviously enjoying the day and each other's company. A black lab wearing a bandana bounded at their heels, jaws smiling and tongue lolling as if he was a third party to their joke. Maybe he was.

Marianne felt a sharp pang of longing, so strong the shock of it nearly knocked her out of her galoshes and into the trench she had just dug. The feeling startled her, and she blinked, stupidly watching as the picturesque couple assisted one another in loading up the back of their pickup.

It couldn't be that she actually missed Simon, could it? No way in hell. The mere thought of her ex-husband was enough to make her ill, and that was absolutely a good sign. No, what she missed was the collaboration, the comradery, that came with working toward a mutual goal alongside someone you absolutely gelled with…and that wasn't something she had ever had with Simon. It had only taken getting away from him to realize it.

Maybe it was something she never had at all.

Could a person really miss something they had never experienced in the first place? Maybe I should just get a dog, Marianne thought as she split open a packet of seeds. A dog is a surefire way to avoid cat lady status, right?

"Shit!" she said out loud—drawing attention from the couple, their dog, and the man just rounding the corner.



It was another sun-drenched, slow-and-easy Saturday morning in Lockhart Bend, and Trent Wild preferred it that way. He strolled down the long line of vendors' stalls at the farmers’ market, fielding happy greetings and politely declining any offers of free produce similarly thrown his way. He was well-liked as far as town sheriffs went—which sure as hell made his job a lot easier—but it never got any less awkward turning down gifts. People wanted to reward him for wearing a uniform, but it was the uniform that urged him to politely decline their generosity. Any man in a position of authority had to be especially careful he didn't take inadvertent advantage, and Trent lived by the edict as much as he lived by the badge.

"Morning, Trent. Looking for anything particular?" one of the Bend's beekeepers called his way. The old man was a staple, more than twice Trent's age and still slinging honey. He insisted it was all the stings that kept him young; he claimed to barely notice them anymore.

Trent returned the man's wave. "Howdy, Orson. Told Celia I'd check in on her niece, and I'm afraid I'm a bit late on an introduction. You see anybody around the Honky Tonk this morning?"

"Yep. She pulled up early, just as the rest of us were setting up." Orson nodded toward the backyard of the bar and chuckled. "You watch yourself, Sheriff."

Trent raised an eyebrow but didn't inquire further. He would find out for himself soon enough what Orson meant. He gave the beekeeper a parting tip of his hat and strolled toward the old bar.

The Honky Tonk, like Orson, was a fixture of Lockhart Bend. The bar was old and rustic on the outside and in violation of more than a few minor building codes, but Celia had always taken care of them promptly when she had the money, and Trent had never been one to press her on it. The free pints she slid his way were the only gift he was willing to accept from anyone in town, and their arrangement had always been under the condition that she would call in a repayment when she needed it.

Now Trent found himself in a position to repay his debt, and he was determined not to let Celia down. Time to introduce himself and extend every Lockhart hospitality to her niece.

As he rounded the corner to the bar's backyard, that last thing he expected to find was such a hospitable view. He had been so absorbed with thoughts of what he might say to welcome Marianne that he hadn't anticipated being welcomed by the sight of a very curvaceous female backside wagging in the air.

The view stopped Trent dead in his tracks. He watched as the denim-clad ass bobbed and wove before him like a hypnotist's pendulum, swaying with complete unselfconsciousness, as the woman it belonged to cursed up a storm.

"Fucking dirt! Fucking store-wrapped goddamn mystery seeds! Argh!" Her growling and grumbling was almost bestial. If it wasn't for her tantalizing figure, Trent might have mistaken her for one of the rougher cowboys he had to deal with sometimes down at the Tin Horseshoe. He listened for a few seconds longer, his smile hitching itself up one side of his face, before he cleared his throat to let her know he was there.