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People wanted to have dinner with her. She tried to process her thoughts on that and decided she was flattered.

There were also bids for Dell, Brady, Adam . . .

But topping the list was Wyatt himself. Seemed that just about everyone in town wanted to “shadow” him for a day. His top bid was for two hundred bucks over what she’d last bid.

She opened a new screen and checked her account balance. She’d been socking away every spare penny she had, which wasn’t all that many pennies.

But she had enough.

You’re crazy, a little voice said. Certifiable.

Which is the only explanation for why she upped her bid on one Dr. Wyatt Stone and became his highest bidder.

Two minutes later her cell phone rang. It was Lilah.

“Funny thing happened,” Lilah said. “I get an alarm when someone bids on the auction site. And someone just bid on Wyatt.”

“Huh,” Emily said casually. “I imagine that’s happening quite a bit.”

“Yes,” Lilah said. “Actually, this person has bid four times for Wyatt so far.”

“Five,” Emily said, and clapped a hand over her mouth.

Too late. Lilah snorted with mirth. “Honey,” she said, “you do realize you don’t have to pay to shadow him, you do that every single day. They pay you.”

“I just wanted to contribute to the cause,” Emily said, and grimaced.

“That’s your story?”

“Yep,” she said with much more confidence than she felt.

Lilah laughed at her.

Emily sighed. “You’re not going to make a big deal about this, are you?”

“Oh hell yes,” Lilah said. She laughed again and disconnected.

Great. Shaking her head, Emily got showered and dressed, and stepped off their porch to head to work, cutting across the wild grass growing in her yard to her car. They’d had rain several nights in a row now, and the grass had grown halfway up to her knees. She made a mental note to ask the landlord if she was responsible for cutting it.

She hoped not.

At the odd rustling sound, Emily went still, and then slowly turned around.

There, just behind her, was something moving in the grass. Hopefully not a snake, the only animal she wasn’t crazy about.

When the rustle came again, she almost acted like a complete girl by turning tail and running, but something had her taking a step forward instead.

Parting the long strands of grass, she smiled. A turtle was on the move. He—or she—was about nine inches long, olive and black, and had a nasty-looking gouge on one side of its face from jaw to left eye. It was so puffy he couldn’t possibly see out of it. “Oh,” Emily breathed, and crouched low. “Oh you poor baby.” She scooped the thing up in her hands to get a better look, and it retreated into its shell.

“It’s okay,” she said, moving back to the garage to grab a box leftover from when she and Sara had moved in. Gently, she set the turtle in the box and then set the box on the front passenger’s seat of her car. “I’ll fix you right up at work.”

The turtle remained in its shell, but she could feel its misgivings.

“Really,” she promised. “I actually know what I’m doing. At least when it comes to animals. Life, not so much, but we’re not going to go there.”

Her patient was polite enough not to respond.

Wyatt walked into the center to find Dell had beat him in. Jade had flown back to Chicago for two weeks to help her mom recover from knee replacement surgery, and she’d gotten someone to fill in for her.

Either that person hadn’t shown yet, or her substitute was Dell, which was highly doubtful. Dell and Jade had a solid relationship, but Jade had a rule—her husband wasn’t allowed in her domain. She called it the how-to-stay-married rule.

No one was more respectful of that rule than Dell himself. He had a caller on speaker phone as he tried to retrieve a pencil from Peanut, who didn’t want to give it up.

“How’s it going?” the female caller asked.


“Great,” Dell said, still playing tug-of-war with Peanut.

“Boner,” Peanut yelled.

“Great, huh?” Jade asked doubtfully.

“Fantastic,” Dell said, giving up on his pencil.

Peanut cackled in triumph.

“I’ll be available if you need anything,” Jade said. “Don’t let Peanut eat any more pencils.”

Dell looked at Wyatt and grimaced.

“I almost forgot,” Jade said. “I saw you’d ruined your favorite shoes.”

“Yeah,” Dell said. “Gertie ate the laces and threw up on them.”

“I bought you new ones,” Jade said. “They’re in your office closet. Keep her out of there.”

Dell’s face softened. “Thanks, babe.”

“Anytime.” Jade’s voice was soft now, too, and filled with affection. “Love you, babe. Don’t mess up my front desk or we’ll have problems. Oh, and Wyatt’s kicking your ass in the auction. Don’t worry, I’ve put in a bid for you that’ll top it. You can thank me in person.” And then she disconnected.

Dell stared at the phone for a long beat, that warm, affectionate look still on his face, and Wyatt felt an odd pang.


He was happy for Dell, even as he envied the hell out of what he’d found with Jade.

Wyatt had had that once, however briefly, with Caitlin. She’d worked in town at the local medical clinic, and they’d had about six months of bliss.

Until an opportunity had come up for her to go work for Doctors Without Borders. She’d promised to be gone only a year, two tops.

How the hell did a guy resent that? Easy answer— he shouldn’t. He couldn’t. Just because he wanted to settle down and grow roots and a family, and she wanted to save the world . . .

No, he couldn’t have asked her to stay. For years he never had a say in where the wind took him. He’d refused to do that to Caitlin, to anyone. He wanted to settle down in one place without having to ask someone to want the same.

So he hadn’t asked, not that Caitlin had given him any sign that she’d wanted him to ask. It had sucked, making the break with her, but he wanted to believe that there was someone else out there for him. A woman who would belong to him the way Jade belonged to Dell. A woman he could belong to the way Dell belonged to Jade.

“If I screw anything up,” Dell muttered, hands on hips, looking uncharacteristically flustered, “she’s going to kill me.”

The chances of this happening was high. Dell was famous for screwing up the scheduling, the billing, whatever he got his fingers on.

So Wyatt understood the concern.

Adam walked in the front door wearing S&R gear, two yellow Labs at his side. He took one look at his brother behind the counter and shook his head. “Jade’s gonna kill you, man.”

“Whatever,” Dell said, scowling. “I’ve done this before. I did this before Jade.”

“And you sucked,” Adam reminded him.

“Then you do it.”

“And risk the wrath of your gorgeous wife?” Adam asked with a rare laugh. “Hell no.”

Dell’s shoulders sagged a little. “Who am I kidding, I totally can’t do this. I promised I wouldn’t, but the woman she hired to cover us got sick. I’ve called in some favors from everyone I know. I’m waiting to hear back.”

“You’re fucked,” Adam said under his breath.

Yeah, Wyatt was getting that. “What are our choices?” he asked Dell.

“I’ve got a great choice, and one . . . not so great,” Dell admitted. “And the last one is oh-holy-fucking-shit we’re in trouble, but she’s better than nothing.” He paused, rubbed a hand over his head. “Maybe.”

Adam gave Wyatt a told-you-so look.

The front door opened and Emily walked in. Weeks ago now she’d wised up and ditched the business suits for more practical clothing. Today she was in khaki pants and a knit top that was one of those snug wraparound deals that tied beneath a breast with a bow. He watched her walk toward them while having some pretty damn explicit thoughts about that bow. Like untying it.

With his teeth.

She had a box under each arm. She set the smaller box down and read the note out loud:

Dear Dr. Dreamy Eyes,

Heard you love homemade mac and cheese, so for treating my dear Boo-Boo yesterday, I whipped some up. There’s plenty more where this came from, anytime.

Sue Mason

Dell and Adam started laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Wyatt demanded. “When you first opened up this place, every single woman in town suddenly had a dog or a cat that was sick.”

“Just happy to have passed the torch,” Dell said. “Dr. Dreamy Eyes.”

“Shit.” Wyatt snatched the note from Emily. It read exactly as she’d read, with one notable exception. “Hey. It does not say Dr. Dreamy Eyes.”

Dell wiped away tears of mirth. “I should give you a raise for that alone,” he told Emily.

“Feel free,” she said demurely.

Wyatt shook his head. “Payback’s a bitch, you know.”

“No hazing the new employees, especially the cute ones,” Dell said.

Emily grinned at him.

Dell grinned back at her.

Wyatt shook his head again and grabbed a stack of files to go to the back.

“Have a good day, Dr. Dreamy Eyes,” Dell said.

“Shit,” Wyatt said, turning back. “You are not going to call me that.”

“All day long.”

Wyatt realized he’d forgotten about the other box Emily had brought in. “What’s in there?”

“Our first patient,” she said.

Wyatt reached into the box and pulled out a painted turtle—indigenous to Idaho. “Ouch,” he said, checking out the little guy’s injured, puffy, bloody face.

The phone rang.

“Shit,” Dell said.

Another phone started ringing, and Dell swore again.

Adam quickly made his escape. Smart man. Dell looked over and Wyatt cracked up at the look on his face.

“Not funny,” Dell said.

“Yeah, it is.”

“It won’t be this afternoon. I’ve gotta be up north,” Dell said. “Brady’s flying me. So guess who’s going to be standing right here if no one shows up to help?”

Wyatt stopped laughing.

Five minutes later he was in the back with Emily and her turtle. “A new pet?” he asked.

“No, he was in my yard.”

He smiled. “So the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”

She stared at him. “Do you know my sister, Sara?”

“No.” He smiled. “Rescuing’s a good quality. Especially in a vet.”

“Maybe. But not so much in a father.”

He glanced at her, but she was bent over the turtle. “He didn’t take care of you?” he asked.

She shrugged. “He did his best.”


She lifted her head. “But what?”

“There’s definitely a but at the end of that sentence,” he said.

She looked a little embarrassed to have been so transparent. “No. No but. Think this little guy is someone’s pet?”

Okay, so they weren’t going to chat about her dad. “I don’t know, your neighbors aren’t very close. This poor guy’s had it rough. And he’s been rudely rebuked by his mate.”

“How do you know?”

“The males use their claws to stroke their woman’s face, to woo her when he wants to mate.”

Emily’s gaze flew to his.

He smiled at her.

She dropped eye contact and looked at his hands, maybe remembering how he’d stroked the hair from her face when he’d been “wooing” her. “If she’s not in the mood,” he said, “she uses her claws to ward him off. I’m taking it she wasn’t in the mood.”

“Maybe she was just nervous.”

He looked at her over the turtle.

She bit her lower lip. “Or maybe she wasn’t ready, I don’t know.”

“Maybe she’s just prickly, and she has to be the initiator,” he said.

Her cheeks reddened, and he laughed softly. “Hold him for me,” he said.

Emily cradled the turtle between her two hands while Wyatt cleaned him up and put some antibiotic cream on the nasty cut. “You poor little man,” she whispered, stroking one of his legs. “Next time choose someone nicer.”

Wyatt smiled. “You’re not returning him to the wild.”

“Of course I am.”

He gestured to the way she’d picked the thing up and cradled it to her chest.

“Hey,” she said. “He’s hurt, that’s all.”

He nodded, but he had sisters. He knew exactly when a woman was in denial, and this was a woman deep in denial. “We have extra crates,” he said. “Take one of the small ones. It’ll make a nice little home for him.”

“I’m not keeping him!”

“Okay,” he said, watching her stroke the little guy across the head. “Whatever you say.”

She made a noise, grabbed a crate, and walked out of the room holding her turtle.

He was smirking when she stuck her head back in, looking quite pleased with herself. “What?” he asked.

“Dell says you’re backup to Mike at the front desk.”

“What about you?” he asked.

“He said I’m shadowing him on an out of office call. To one of the ranches he takes care of,” she said, smiling, her eyes flashing good humor, the little minx.