After a hectic first day, Sheriff Andrade invites Isabella for dinner.
The deep ache in her limbs from riding Marisol so far in such a short amount of time has yet to wear off and every time Isabella moves –or, hell, thinks about moving – her body makes sure that she remembers and regrets. She’s been following Alexandra all day around town, getting introduced to the people she’ll be protecting and locking up if it comes right down to it.
Temptation Valley might not be a big town, but there’s a lot of ground to cover. By the time that the sun starts to set, Isabella’s feet are killing her in her too-tight boots. She stretches and then yawns, not even trying to hide her exhaustion as she follows Alexandra through the quickly emptying streets.
“Are we almost done?” Isabella says, voice edging into a whine against her will. She bites her bottom lip and tries not to look too embarrassed when Alexandra stops in front of a narrow two-story house and then turns around to fix her with a steady gaze. There’s something about the way that Alexandra looks at her, something about the way that the older woman has been looking at her since that morning, that Isabella can’t quite parse.
Alexandra nods her head once, hard enough to send her multitude of braids swinging, and then heads toward the little house. Her boots thump on the stairs, heavy enough to make Isabella’s teeth rattle in her head.
At the door, Alexandra pauses and then turns so that she can glance at Isabella over her shoulder. “Well?”
Isabella blinks. “Well what?”
“Aren’t you going to come in?” Alexandra asks in a quiet, almost hesitant tone. A faint frown settles on her wide mouth. She turns the handle at the front door and pushes gently, sending the door swinging open on silent hinges. “You’ve been unsteady on your feet for a while now and it’s been hours since we had lunch. You’re no good to me if you’re half-starved and set to topple over, now.”
Perhaps Isabella should take offense.
It has been an awfully long day.
Isabella all but bounds up the steps, skidding when she comes to a stop beside Alexandra. Like this, standing side by side, it’s hard to ignore that Alexandra is a tall woman. All Isabella can think of as Alexandra smiles at her and then walks into the dark house, is that it’s been a long time since she’s been around someone taller than her that didn’t make her feel like panicking. Unlike Perez and some of the ranchhands back in Juarez, Alexandra doesn’t loom. She doesn’t get in Isabella’s face, in her space, or use her height to cow her.
Isabella’s so busy thinking, that Alexandra has to repeat her name twice in order to get a response. When she finally realizes that it’s her name being called, she jumps and directs a small and somewhat shaky smile at her host.
“Sorry ’bout that,” Isabella says. “I was just… thinking.”
Instead of prying, Alexandra nods her head as if she understands. Maybe she does. Either way, the lack of nosiness is nice and Isabella feels herself relaxing as she follows Alexandra from the narrow entryway back through a combined living and dining room into the kitchen. It’s a really nice kitchen, heavy iron appliances and a solid table taking up much of the space. It’s not as nice as the kitchen where Isabella’s mama used to work, but then —
Nothing could be.
“I don’t know what you like to eat,” Alexandra says, moving to the stove and lifting lids to release the most fragrant smells into the air. “So I asked my mother to make some of everything.”
Isabella’s nose wrinkles. “You don’t cook?”
Alexandra laughs. “Last time I tried, I burned my daddy’s kitchen down around us,” she says with the last remnants of her amusement warming her husky voice. “He and Ma tried to teach me how to cook, but I’m a lost cause.” Alexandra grabs for a pot spoon and then waves it in Isabella’s direction. “What about you, Deputy? Can you cook?”
“Some,” Isabella says, deliberately noncommittal. Silence from Alexandra prompts her to expand a moment later. “My mama used to work for a rich rancher and his family. He — he had her in the kitchens when she wasn’t looking after his spoiled children.”
The bitterness in Isabella’s voice surprises her and she frowns, fingers clenching into fists. “I mean — yeah — I know how to cook. Mama taught me how to do traditional cooking and the fancy French and Spanish cooking the soldiers expect.”
Alexandra utters a low humming noise. “That right?”
“Yeah,” Isabella says, suddenly wary. “Why?”
Instead of answering, Alexandra tosses the spoon at Isabella who scrambles to catch it. “You’re a good worker and I expect that we’ll work well together. If you’re planning on sticking around, maybe you should do it here?”
Isabella blinks, nonplussed. “Here?”
“In my house,” Alexandra explains. “I’ve got two bedrooms upstairs and it makes sense to have you where I can reach you in case of an emergency. The inn isn’t the best place to stay when you’re working in the law, not even one run by my Ma.” Alexandra nods her heads as if the matter’s already been decided. “You won’t even have to pay me rent, just cook extra if you decide to cook.”
Sighing, Isabella pushes her hands through her hair and thoroughly destroys her braid. “Fine,” she says, more ornery than she probably should be when faced with the offer of free housing. “But if you snore, I’m going to come in there and smother you.”
Alexandra’s smile only widens.
“I think I can keep my snoring under control.” She reaches out and grabs Isabella’s hand, squeezing it firmly before shaking it. “It’s going to be a pleasure working with you. I can just tell.”