She shrugged. “She’s not his usual type.”

“Why not?”

“His standards may be low, but hers were non existent.”

“Was she a prostitute?”

“People said that.”

“Who went to her?”

Shading her face with one hand, she said, “You’ll have to find that out on your own, Sheriff.”

Satisfied with her answers, he rested his head back against the rock and threw one arm over his eyes. Apparently, the interview had concluded.

Shay lay back and closed her eyes also, irritated by his nonchalance. It didn’t seem fair that she be interrogated when he’d revealed nothing of himself. “Have you ever been married?” she asked, posing the first question that came to mind.

“No.” His tone suggested he didn’t care for the topic.

She pressed on, undeterred. “Do you have a girlfriend back in Vegas?”


“Don’t you like women?”

He shifted beside her, lifting the arm that was covering his face. Too late, she realized how provocative her question sounded. She could feel the heat of his gaze all over her body. Her nipples tightened, pebbling against the lace of her bra, and a beat pulsed between her legs. The sun was shining on the front of her panties, soaking them in warmth, and the sensation was so pleasurable she had to smother a moan.

She wanted to squeeze her legs together to ease the ache.

Instead, she sat up. Desperate to find something else to focus on, she reached out and plucked a green sprig from the plant next to her. “This is white sage,” she said inanely, because he was still watching her. “Cowboys used it for deodorant.” Like a moron, she rubbed the tiny leaves against her armpit to demonstrate.

His eyes darkened and his nostrils flared.

It was a pleasant fragrance, she supposed. Better than skunk anyway. “Do you want some?” Twisting off another sprig, she held it out to him, moistening her dry lips.

He moved so fast she gasped. Ignoring the sage, he took her upper arms in his hands, pressing the full length of his body against hers. When the hard wall of his chest met her lace-covered breasts, the sprig of sage fell from her hand, forgotten. “Do you always get what you ask for?” he said, his eyes on her mouth.

He was breathing hard, and she could feel tension in his pectoral muscles and the tautness of his abdomen. More to the point, she could feel the exciting proof of his arousal, nudging the sweet spot between her legs.

“Yes,” she said, brushing her lips over his, answering the question his body was asking rather than the one his mouth had posed.

He let her go as quickly as he’d grabbed her, denying them both.

Muttering a curse, he stalked over to the tree branch where his pants were hanging and proceeded to put them on. In his condition, the damp fabric must have been twice as unforgiving, because he had some trouble with the zipper.

While she sat there, feeling confused and dejected, he wrestled into his shirt and strapped on his gun belt.

Then she finally understood. The signs had been right there in front of her face all day, but she hadn’t seen them. Now the answer to that question she’d asked was as clear as tracks in the snow: Luke Meza liked women, all right. He just didn’t like her.


The hike back to Luke’s pickup really sucked. Shay was hungry, tired, and uncomfortable. Each step she took was an agony of damp, form-fitting denim. The adrenaline that had been driving her since sunup fled, leaving her running on empty.

Every few moments a fresh wave of humiliation washed over her. She wanted nothing more than to stop and rest, to collapse in a pathetic little heap, to curl up in a ball and wrap her arms around her head.

Instead she straightened her shoulders and lengthened her stride. On the downhill grade, she went faster than she should, and was pleased to hear him stumble a few times in an effort to keep up with her, sending a spray of loose pebbles down the trail.

What had possessed her to throw herself at him? Even at her lowest, loneliest moments, she’d never come on to a stranger. She’d never had a one night stand. She’d never picked up a guy at a bar and gone home with him.

So why had she acted like such a desperate slut after one touch from Luke Meza? God! He hadn’t even kissed her.

Clenching her hands into fists, she rounded the last bend to the clearing where his truck was parked, torn between wanting to punch him and wanting to punch herself.

“I need to talk to your neighbor,” he said as he got behind the steering wheel. He consulted a small wire-bound notebook that had been resting on the dash. “Fernando Martinez?”

Frowning, she pulled on her seat belt. “Why?”

“He found the body.”


He gave her an assessing glance. “You’re State Parks, right?”

She nodded, catching his drift. A lot of park employees were also trained peace officers, assigned to serve and protect the people as well as the land, but Shay was a field biologist, not a ranger. Dark Canyon State Preserve didn’t get many visitors, and she had no law enforcement experience. Nor did she want any.

The last thing she felt like doing was spending more time with Luke, extending what had already been an excruciating, exhausting, embarrassing day.

“I really shouldn’t do a drop-in interview alone,” he said.

Sighing, she furrowed a hand through her drying hair. It was hanging loose down her back, keeping her shirt damp and her neck cool. At early evening, the Santa Ana winds were still blowing, warming the night air.

Although she wanted to refuse, she’d engaged in enough unprofessional behavior today. “What do I have to do?”

“Nothing, really. Just come along and let me do the talking.”

“Fine,” she muttered, annoyed with his ability to focus. After what had transpired between them, she felt painfully self-conscious. How could he act so unaffected?

With Hamlet gone, the immediate threat had been taken care of, but the work had only just begun. Weeks of study would be dedicated to sorting through the particulars of the attack. If Shay could discover a reason for the lion’s behavior, she would do her damnedest to prevent another tragedy from occurring.

Because Hamlet had been her baby, her lion, her research experiment, Shay felt as though she had Yesenia Montes’s blood on her hands. Maybe Fernando had seen something she hadn’t, a track she’d overlooked, a detail she’d missed. The sooner they talked to him the better, because once word got out about Yesenia’s death, rumors would fly.

There were no secrets in Tenaja Falls.

Fernando Martinez lived a quarter of a mile down the road from Shay. Like hers, and most of the residences on Calle Remolino, his was a ranch-style adobe, flat-roofed and low to the ground. In the summer, when temperatures soared above 100 degrees on a regular basis, this type of building stayed relatively cool.

As Luke parked his truck in Fernando’s driveway, two brown-skinned boys came flying around the side of the house wielding super-soaker squirt guns. Smiling at their antics, Shay pulled on her sweatshirt before she exited the vehicle.

She knew the boys’ names, if not which was which. Fernando had two kids in grade school, another teenager besides Angel, and the sweetest little curly-haired kindergartener you’d ever seen. Shay had often wondered what kind of mother would leave so many children behind, especially one so young.

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