Chapter 3

1626 Words
Chapter Three Travis paced back and forth in front of the large stone fireplace that anchored the great room of the Kincaid family home. Three paces across, turn, three paces back, glance at his watch, then at the booster seat on the floor by the door, then another turn and the pattern began again. Where in the hell was Weston? Weston was going to make him late. And he hated being late. Almost as much as he hated oversleeping. As soon as he heard Weston’s truck roar into the yard, he was out the door, booster seat in hand. By the time Weston’s boots hit the porch step, Travis had locked the deadbolt and was making a show of checking his watch. “You’re gonna make me late.” Weston snorted. “It’s just now eight-thirty. How long is it going to take you to drive through town? A whole ten minutes?” “To the FEMA park?” Most of the FEMA trailers had been placed in the KOA at the edge of town. “Thirteen minutes and twenty-six seconds.” “But who’s counting?” “You know we’ve had to take a few late-night calls out there,” he grumbled. Just one of many reasons why Travis had ordered extra patrols through the FEMA park. It had nothing to do that he might be worried about the safety of a certain single mom and her son. Weston eyed the booster seat. “I see someone’s been busy. Where’d you get that?” Travis shrugged. “Drove into Manhattan. I picked up several for the station. Probably something we should have on hand for emergencies.” Weston quirked a smile. “Probably. But I was talking about that.” He tilted his chin at the Transformer tucked under his thumb. Why was Weston staring at him like he had grown an extra head? “What? Kid needs a toy and I sure as hell wasn’t going to get him a teddy bear.” He was off his game this morning. Unsettled. Distracted. He wasn’t even like this before a mission. Sure, he might feel the adrenaline thrumming in his fingers and toes, but it only heightened his awareness. Made him more focused. This morning, the thrumming came from an entirely different place and he needed to shut it down fast. Travis tossed the keys to the beat-up ’76 Chevy truck that he still thought of as his dad’s over to Weston. “Trade me.” Weston easily caught the keys and jammed them in his pocket, chuckling and shaking his head. “No way, man. I’m coming along for the ride.” What? He couldn’t say why that irritated the s**t out of him. He’d fallen asleep last night mulling over all the potential topics of conversation with Elaine. But if Weston was along, judging every word he uttered, he was screwed. He’d f**k it up like he had the day before. “I don’t need a chaperone.” “I didn’t think this was a date.” The fucker was already laughing at him. “It’s not.” “Then what’s the big problem?” Three’s a crowd. But he couldn’t say that, even though every cell in his body shouted it. Because he wasn’t interested in Elaine. Couldn’t be interested in a lady like her. He opened his mouth to explain, but then snapped it shut. It wasn’t worth the ribbing he’d have to endure. Weston placed his hands on his hips and dropped his head back, laughing. “You got it bad, man. Just admit it.” “f**k you.” “I love you too, champ.” “I know why you’re doing this.” “Yeah?” “Once a swim buddy always a swim buddy.” Weston huffed out a laugh. “Maybe something like that.” There was a reason Weston was the first person Travis had called when he’d become police chief. Weston had been there for him in some of his lowest moments during BUD/S training. And a bond forged in the cold, sleep-deprived waters off Coronado was never broken. “Come on, then.” As they pulled into the FEMA park, the knot in Travis’s stomach tightened. There were too many people in town post-tornado to keep track of. Between builders, inspectors, and demolition crews, he no longer recognized every face. It was hard to know who was a part of the recovery effort and who was just passing through town. It set him on edge. He pointed Weston to Elaine’s trailer. Weston slid him a knowing glance. Travis squirmed in his seat, drumming his fingers on the console. Why wouldn’t he know where Elaine lived? He also knew that the Waldrons lived three houses down with their son, Davie, who was the same age as Dax. So what? Weston pulled the truck to a stop and set the brake, turning to him. “I’ll wait here. And be cool, man. Remember to tell her she looks nice.” “It’s not a date,” Travis grumbled as he hopped out of the truck. As he approached the door, he pulled up short, stomach lurching. The door stood ajar six inches. s**t. Had someone broken in? Were they safe? What if the intruder was armed? His brain flew through half a dozen ugly scenarios and he turned back to Weston, giving him the silent signal to circle around. Weston’s eyes grew wide with concern. Travis signaled again, going into full-on stealth mode. Weston slipped out of the truck, and ducked around the far side of the trailer, shaking his head as he went. Silently, he approached the door, scanning left and right, c*****g his ear for any sounds of trouble. His fingers itched to pull his weapon, but in a small space it was too dangerous. He’d have to rely on his hand-to-hand skills if Elaine was in trouble. He could use the Transformer he clutched as a projectile if necessary. Blood pounding in his ears, he gave the door a little push, breathing a silent prayer of thanks that the door didn’t squeak as it fell open wider. Slowly, he stepped in, quickly scanning the empty room for signs of danger. Nothing. A tiny space with a short hall to the left past the tiny kitchen. In front of him a small table and chairs. To his right, a couch and a folding door. Where were they? He pivoted toward the noise he heard on his left, the tight knot between his shoulders unspooling when he saw Dax standing at the edge of the short hall. “Why was the door open?” he growled. “Why wouldn’t it be?” Elaine asked, her normally soft voice sharp with surprise. The sight of her freshly showered, with still damp hair, turned something liquid inside him. So fresh. So sweet. So kissable. He recognized her jeans and black Converse. Her shirt was simple – a white cotton pullover with a wide scoop neck revealing her collarbone and a splash of freckles. It was cut closer than her Dottie’s tee-shirts, skimming her ribs and stopping just above the curve of her hip. He liked it much better than her work uniform. And he’d never seen her hair down before. She wore it pulled back into a ponytail at Dottie’s. Now, her blonde hair hung in waves below her shoulders. His palm itched. What would her hair feel like sliding across it? Silky and fine like gossamer? Thick and heavy like satin rope? He shut down the stirring low in his belly the only way he knew how. “Someone could walk in off the streets,” he growled again, voice rough, but not from impatience. She rolled her eyes and stepped around him. “I know pretty much everyone in the park. Who’s it gonna be? Waldrons? Bateses? Oh, let me guess. Angelina Sanchez who’s seventy-six? Besides.” She waved a hand around the tiny space. “It’s not like I have anything worth taking.” Travis scanned the small room again. Not even a TV. Damn. He’d gone Captain Caveman, and it had been completely unnecessary. Maybe he did need a chaperone. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Still. You should always keep the door locked.” Elaine made a face as she grabbed a glass from the cupboard, filling it with water and handing it to Dax. “So someone can kick in the door and take… oh, I don’t know… my coffee maker? Puhleeze.” “What’s that?” Dax asked, pointing to the Transformer still encased in his hand. Shit. What an a*s. He squatted low so he was eye level with the little boy. “You excited for today?” Dax looked uncertain. Travis held out the Transformer. “I thought this might help. So you can have a friend with you if you get scared.” Dax took it, his eyes brightening. “Mommy says horses aren’t scary.” “They’re friendly. I think you’ll like them.” “Dax,” Elaine cut in. “What do you tell Officer Kincaid?” Travis shook his head, an ache forming in his throat at the formality of it. “Just Travis, okay?” Dax nodded, his eyes in big circles as a smile brightened his face. “Thanks.” He drained his glass and held it out for Elaine, who took it and placed it in the sink. “All right, kiddo. Outside.” Elaine smiled indulgently and ruffled her son’s hair. The ache in Travis’s throat grew. There was pure love on her face, and it lit her up, smoothing out the worry lines that were too many on a face so young. His stomach flip-flopped at the sight of it. Elaine gave him a funny look as she stepped around him and paused in the threshold. “Are you coming?” He stood. “Are you going to lock the door?” She made a scoffing noise and, shaking her head, disappeared down the steps. He followed, quickening his pace to catch up with her. “You should lock the door.” “Don’t want to.” He dragged his eyes away from her full lower lip, which now jutted out as she scowled at him. So. Cute. He fisted his hand to keep from reaching a thumb out to touch it. “It keeps you safe. And bad people out.” “Or good people locked in. No thank you.” Weston interrupted their standoff. “Are you two going to stand there arguing, or are we going to go ride horses?”
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