After a vigorous washing, she felt brave enough to look at him.

“That was your fault,” he accused. He was glowering, waist-deep in icy cold water, soaked to the skin.

“My fault?” she sputtered. “You pulled a gun on a skunk!”

The corner of his mouth quirked up. “If you hadn’t shown up and started laughing, it wouldn’t have sprayed.”

She smiled back at him, admitting her guilt. Then, cocking her head to one side, she said, “I don’t know about that. You were tromping around by her babies, way off the beaten path.”

“Beaten path,” he scoffed.

The pool they were standing in was one of many along Deep Creek. It was a pretty area, sun-dappled and bright, surrounded by cattails and purple larkspur. The water wasn’t deep, but it was clear and fresh, fortified by snowmelt from Palomar Mountain, and so cold it made her teeth chatter. Even on a hot day it wasn’t the place to take a leisurely dip, but she found herself wanting to linger. When Luke Meza let his guard down, he was good company.

She lifted her arm to her nose and sniffed. Either she’d washed off the scent, or she was suffering from olfactory fatigue. “Is it gone?”

He eyed her warily. “I don’t know.”

Shay was about to ask him to smell her when she noticed him averting his gaze. She looked down, realizing that her tank top had been rendered see-through, putting her black lace push-up bra on intimate display. Embarrassed, because the lingerie was designed to accentuate curves that didn’t exist, she waded out of the water and pulled her tank top over her head.

“Our clothes will dry faster this way,” she said, wringing out her top and spreading it over a flat rock in the sun. They still had another hour to hike before they hit civilization, if Tenaja proper could be called such, and walking in wet fabric was miserable.

When he took off his own shirt, she felt her jaw go slack. He may be tall and lean, but the man had muscles. Nice ones. His chest was smooth and taut, there were lateral ridges along his rib cage, and his stomach looked as flat and tight as a drum.

She shivered, wondering how all those muscles would feel against her fingertips. Her lips. Her nipples. The tips of her breasts tingled at the thought. The hard little nubs were already threatening to burst through the lace of her bra.

Flushing, she turned her back to him, lamenting her “look at me!” nipples and barely-there breasts. At the zipper of her jeans, she hesitated, considering her skimpy underwear. It had been chosen as part of her “girls’ night out” ensemble, like her bra, and was an insubstantial swatch of pale pink. It couldn’t be helped, so she shucked out of her jeans, squeezed as much water from the well-worn denim as she could, and hung them up to dry on a tree branch.

He was looking again, she discovered, and this time he wasn’t so quick to avert his eyes when she caught him. Crossing her arms over her chest, she decided turnabout was fair play. “Keep going, Sheriff,” she said, gesturing for him to continue undressing. “It’s not like I’ve never seen a man in his shorts before.”

“I’m sure you have,” he said, dropping a pointed glance at her wet panties.

She stifled the urge to cover herself there, too. “Your underwear can’t be any more revealing than mine,” she added, giving him a tight smile.

He didn’t dispute that, but when he came out of the water he removed his pants slowly, obviously not pleased by the role reversal. As it so happened, she was wrong. His boxer shorts were white, soaked through, and left absolutely nothing to the imagination.

He didn’t appear to be suffering unduly from the cold, and she felt her entire body flush with heat. Cheeks flaming, she turned away from him, wishing she hadn’t looked.

Feeling like a ninny, and a drowned rat, she scrambled onto a large, sun-warmed rock by the edge of the pool. Lying down on her back, she fanned her wet hair out behind her. Despite the tension humming in the air and the grim duties they’d performed that day, Shay found herself savoring the moment. The afternoon sun felt glorious on her bare skin and the icy dunk had revived her senses, making her more aware of her body, of the damp fabric against her tingling flesh and the soft caress of the breeze.

She let her eyes drift shut, not opening them even when he settled in beside her. “This has been the worst day ever,” she murmured. It was an offhand comment, for she had experienced far worse days, one in particular that made today seem like a cakewalk, but she didn’t want to talk about that. She never talked about that.

On the scale of bad days, however, it ranked pretty high. She’d woken up with the mother of all hangovers, examined a dead body, and been forced to kill an animal she loved. Getting skunked was just the icing on the cake.

Happy birthday, baby.

She snuck another glance at Luke, wondering how old he was. At first glance, she’d have guessed him to be about thirty, but now she wasn’t so sure. He was calm and deliberate, with none of the bravado she associated with younger men. Whatever his age, he was in prime condition, hard and well muscled, his face as fine as his physique.

She squirmed, self-conscious about her soft tummy and flat chest. Next to him she couldn’t help but feel awkward. Her skin was too pale, her hair a tangled mess. Here she was, half-naked with a good-looking man, and she hadn’t shaved her legs all week.

“So what’s with you and Jesse Ryan?”

“Jesse Ryan?” she parroted. He’d never been further from her mind.

“He’s your boyfriend, right?”

“No. Not since we were kids.”

He gave her a look that said she was still a kid, which was insulting.

“We went steady in high school,” she clarified, her pulse kicking up a notch. “Almost ten years ago.” She may be younger than Luke, but she wasn’t a kid. She hadn’t been since Dylan was born, maybe even earlier.

Was Luke wondering if she was available?

“It didn’t bother you that he left the bar with another woman?” he asked.

Shay’s ego deflated like a popped balloon. He wasn’t interested in her-he was investigating. “It bothers me to see him self-destruct,” she admitted quietly.

“Was Yesenia Montes dangerous to a man’s health?”

She threw an arm over her eyes, blocking out the sun. “She was poison, but that’s not what I meant. He’s married.”

“Really.” His tone was flat, indicating he knew that already.

“I mean, he’s separated,” she corrected, then cringed at what she’d given away. She and Jesse may have broken up after graduation, but they’d dated off and on all throughout college, and slept together more than once since he’d said his vows.

This was perhaps the only aspect of her life she was ashamed of, and like hard alcohol, she’d sworn off Jesse Ryan many times.

Luke didn’t miss the nuance. “Is that so?” he asked, studying her face.

She looked away. “His wife and daughter live on the other side of town.”

“How old is his daughter?”

Her stomach twisted with regret. “Six months.”

“And how long have they been separated?”

“Three years.”

Of course, this information cast Jesse in a terrible light, exactly where he deserved to be. He’d been bouncing back and forth between women since puberty. Shay hadn’t spoken to him since she’d found out Tamara was pregnant. She didn’t miss his lying, cheating ways, but she did miss his friendship. Jesse Ryan was a charming ne’er-do-well, the mischievous boy who refused to grow up, the life of every party.

In retrospect, she’d used him as an escape from her depressing family situation. But playtime was over. She’d matured, and moved on.

If only Jesse would do the same.

“He said he didn’t go home with Yesenia last night. Do you believe that?”

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