The people who seemed so real to me in the two historics (Arizona Sunset came first) were ancestors of the heroine of Desert Inferno which takes place in the same rugged country. Have things gotten any safer? Not a lot.
When a truck finally did come bouncing down the driveway, Rachel sighed with relief. Standing at the top of the step, she waited. Still feeling a little dazed by the death she'd witnessed, she realized she'd forgotten to put on shoes.
A large man unwound himself from the green Bronco, his eyes hidden behind the brim of a Stetson and reflective sunglasses. Her immediate impression was of one big man.
Even shaky from her experience, her artist's eye couldn't ignore the sheer grace with which he moved that long, lean, body as he strode across her yard. When he reached the porch, he stopped, not climbing the three steps. He looked at her for a moment, perhaps expecting her to speak; then pulled off the glasses.
His face was craggy, with a hawk-like nose, a long scar across one cheek, a square jaw, covered with a day's growth of bristle, and magnificent tawny, almost yellow eyes, rimmed with dark lashes. Nobody could call it a handsome face, maybe some would even see it as ugly, but it was mesmerizing to her. Beneath his Stetson, his hair appeared to be dark blond, a little long on the neck for a Border Patrolman."You the one who called?" His voice was deep, resonant. Those, golden eyes, appeared to look right through her.
"You're Border Patrol?" She could only blame the stupid question on her shock over the morning because his uniform clearly made it unnecessary.
When he smiled, the expression never reached his eyes. "Jake Donovan." He reached into a back pocket and pulled out ID. "Sorry I look... rough. I’ve been on an all-night stake-out."
Trying to get control of herself, she looked away from his eyes and found her gaze traveling down his body. Ignoring the dusty and wrinkled clothing, she saw broad shoulders, muscular chest, tapering to narrow, horseman hips. Swallowing hard, she looked at the only safe place she could think of--the ground. "I didn't expect... that is, yes, I'm the one who called," she answered finally.
"They said you found a body." His voice was deep, the tone carefully politely.
She forced her gaze back to meet his. "Well, to begin with he wasn't a body. That is, he wasn't dead but--"
"You're sure he was before you left him," he tried to finish for her, shaking his head in barely concealed frustration at trying to get a straight story from her.
"Of course. That is--" She was doing a good job of convincing him she was simple-minded.
"Start at the beginning and take your time," he suggested.
"I expected a deputy sheriff," she said abruptly changing the subject.
"You want to call and make sure I am who I say I am?" he asked. His eyes did look tired and he was making an obvious effort to be polite.
"No, it's just I thought... I guess the county police or something."
"I was closest. They asked me to stop, and unless there was sign of foul play, it could be our business anyway."
Rachel nodded, satisfied, but still flustered by her strange reaction to this man. She explained then about her painting, about seeing white where it shouldn't have been, then finding the man.
"If you give me instructions, I'll take a look," he said.
"Well I... It's off toward Alamo Canyon, but I don't think I could explain. I better show you."
He grimaced. "I know this country pretty well. Draw me a map."
She shook her head. "I wish I could. It's just I never think about where I'm going when I'm going, which way is north or south. Matilda and I just drive. I never know where we'll end up."
His eyes lit with interest. "Matilda? Maybe she could help."
"I doubt that." She smiled. “She's my truck."
He looked away, swallowing whatever he looked as though he would have preferred to say. He patted his shirt pocket, curling his lip as if remembering something unpleasant. "Are you sure you can find it again... by this feeling or whatever it is?"
"Get your boots on then and come with me."
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Huh?" Those golden eyes narrowed, and his lips thinned.
"If I drive, I can retrace my steps. It's not the same if someone else drives. These old dirt roads, well they all look a lot alike." She stopped, shivering as she thought of the dead body. She looked up at him, knowing she felt suddenly near tears. "I'd like it if you rode with me... It would give me something else to think about if I was driving and… well, I'd rather not drive back alone. Would that be okay? That is can you do that?"
It was obvious he didn’t like leaving his truck, probably against regulations. He rubbed the back of his neck, as though fighting off a headache. When he looked back at her, she thought he appeared to be seeing her for the first time and not much liking what he saw. Rachel met his gaze and tilted up her chin.