The Maverick

By: Diana Palmer

“Oh, she’s something a little less conventional than that, Harley,” Police Chief Cash Grier said as he came up the steps to the store. “How’s it going, Jones?” he asked.

“I’m overflowing in DBs, Grier,” she replied with a grin. “Want some?”

He held up his hands. “We don’t do a big business in homicides here. I’d like to keep it that way.” He scowled. “You’re out of your territory a bit, aren’t you?”

“I am. I was asked down here by your sheriff, Hayes Carson. He actually does have a DB. I’m working the crime scene for him per his request through the Bexar County medical examiner’s office, but I didn’t bring enough supplies. I hope the hardware store can accommodate me. It’s a long drive back to San Antonio when you’re on a case.”

“On a case?” Harley asked, confused.

“Yes, on a case,” she said. “Unlike you, some of us are professionals who have real jobs.”

“Do you know him?” Cash asked her.

She gave Harley a studied appraisal. “Not really. He came barreling up the steps and hit me with a door. He says he’s a cowboy,” she added in a confidential tone. “But just between us, I’m sure he’s lying. He doesn’t have a horse or a rope, he isn’t wearing a cowboy hat or boots, he says he can’t sing, and he thinks bulls roam around loose in hardware stores.”

Harley stared at her with more mixed emotions than he’d felt in years.

Cash choked back a laugh. “Well, he actually is a cowboy,” Cash defended him. “He’s Harley Fowler, Cy Parks’s foreman on his cattle ranch.”

“Imagine that!” she exclaimed. “What a blow to the image of Texas if some tourist walks in and sees him dressed like that!” She indicated Harley’s attire with one slender hand. “They can’t call us the cowboy capital of the world if we have people working cattle in baseball caps! We’ll be disgraced!”

Cash was trying not to laugh. Harley looked as if he might explode.

“Better a horseless cowboy than a contractor with an attitude like yours!” Harley shot back, with glittery eyes. “I’m amazed that anybody around here would hire you to build something for them.”

She gave him a superior look. “I don’t build things. But I could if I wanted to.”

“She really doesn’t build things,” Cash said. “Harley, this is Alice Mayfield Jones,” he introduced. “She’s a forensic investigator for the Bexar County medical examiner’s office.”

“She works with dead people?” Harley exclaimed, and moved back a step.

“Dead bodies,” Alice returned, glaring at his obvious distaste. “DBs. And I’m damned good at my job. Ask him,” she added, nodding toward Cash.

“She does have a reputation,” Cash admitted. His dark eyes twinkled. “And a nickname. Old Jab-’Em-in-the-Liver Alice.”

“You’ve been talking to Marc Brannon,” she accused.

“You did help him solve a case, back when he was still a Texas Ranger,” he pointed out.

“Now they’ve got this new guy, transferred up from Houston,” she said on a sigh. “He’s real hard going. No sense of humor.” She gave him a wry look. “Kind of like you used to be, in the old days when you worked out of the San Antonio district attorney’s office, Grier,” she recalled. “A professional loner with a bad attitude.”

“Oh, I’ve changed.” He grinned. “A wife and child can turn the worst of us inside out.”

She smiled. “No kidding? If I have time, I’d love to see that little girl everybody’s talking about. Is she as pretty as her mama?”

He nodded. “Oh, yes. Every bit.”

Harley pulled at his collar. “Could you stop talking about children, please?” he muttered. “I’ll break out in hives.”

“Allergic to small things, are you?” Alice chided.

“Allergic to the whole subject of marriage,” he emphasized with a meaningful stare.

Her eyebrows arched. “I’m sorry, were you hoping I was going to ask you to marry me?” she replied pleasantly. “You’re not bad-looking, I guess, but I have a very high standard for prospective bridegrooms. Frankly,” she added with a quick appraisal, “if you were on sale in a groom shop, I can assure you that I wouldn’t purchase you.”

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