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“I like that expression you’re wearing,” he said. “But there’s one I like better.”


He strode over to her, wrapped his hand around the nape of her neck, slid his fingers into her hair to hold her where he wanted, and covered her mouth with his. When she gasped, he took full advantage, stroking his tongue to hers, kissing her until she’d plastered herself full front to him. Her arms had snaked around his waist and up under his shirt, where the touch of her fingers against his bare skin was sending currents of electricity out to every nerve ending he had, including the ones currently pressed against her pelvis.

She blinked up at him, dazed, her fingers still fisted in his shirt at his back.

“There.” He smiled down at her. “That expression. That’s my favorite.”


At the end of the day, Emily took Sammy home with her. Yes, she’d named the turtle. She couldn’t help it, he looked like a Sammy.

She and Sara sat on the bottom step outside their front door, staring at the box Emily had tipped on its side so that Sammy could walk away when he was ready.

He waited a good five minutes before walking cautiously out of the box and to the start of the grass.

“There he goes,” Sara said.

But Sammy stopped. Went still as stone.

“It’s all good,” Emily told him. “I’ll be here if you ever need me. Enjoy the rest of fall, eat a lot of good stuff. Have a great life, Sammy. But pick a nicer girl next time, okay?”

“Not a supermodel,” Sara said.

Sammy took a few steps and vanished into the grass.

Sara went inside to cook dinner.

Emily stayed outside until dusk, watching for Sammy. But he was gone.

The next morning, Emily once again woke up to Q-Tip on her chest, nose to nose with her. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”


“Yeah, yeah.” Emily slid out of bed and fed the bossy thing. Then she did her usual online thing.

And maybe placed a new bid on Wyatt.

Dammit. At this rate, she was going to need to take out a loan . . .

Shutting her laptop, she walked through the house, heading toward a hot shower. She took a quick detour to the front door and peeked out, not sure whether she hoped to see, or not see, Sammy.

He was at the bottom step, and Emily would’ve sworn he was smiling up at her. She whirled into the house, put some lettuce and a strawberry on a paper plate, and ran back outside, setting it before the turtle.

He went to work on the lettuce while she crouched at his side and looked over his injury. It was definitely getting better. “I have to go to work,” she told him as he gobbled up his breakfast. “But if you want to show up here again tonight, I’ll be back with more food.”

“Talking to yourself?” Sara asked from the doorway. She saw Sammy and shook her head. “Nope, you’re talking to your animals, just like Dad.”

“Sammy isn’t mine,” Emily said, rising. “He was just hungry and needed some TLC, is all.”

“Uh-huh,” Sara said wryly. “You’re halfway to a menagerie, you know that right?”

“Q-Tip belongs to the house, not me. And Sammy’s a wild animal.” And with that weak defense, Emily lifted her chin in the air and, in her Mickey Mouse pj’s, strode past her sister toward a shower.

When she got home that night, Sammy was there, waiting on her. So was Q-Tip, and Emily had to admit the truth.

She was halfway to a menagerie.

The next day promised to be as long and busy as all the others had been, but Emily was used to long days. At school she’d put in at least eight hours, and then study for several more before working part-time at whatever job she’d managed to hold onto that month. Waitressing, usually. So she was used to running ragged on little sleep in difficult, stressful conditions.

What she wasn’t used to was brushing elbows all day with the hottest vet she’d ever met. Today Wyatt had come in wearing sexy army green cargoes and a T-shirt that read: Will Work for Food.

“And you can’t figure out why women bring you food?” she asked.

He stopped at the front desk. They’d been rotating shifts there, all of them, and they all hated it equally. They grabbed their files and headed to the back, where they both slipped into white lab coats. They were unflattering on everyone but Wyatt. Somehow they always looked different on him. Cool different. His hair was finger combed at best and he hadn’t shaved that morning.

He was edible. “What?” he asked when he caught her staring at him.

“Nothing.” Thankfully, at least at the moment, his talents didn’t appear to extend to mind reading.

They worked together for four straight hours, practically on top of each other. At lunch, she sneaked out the back door for a breath of air that didn’t include the delicious scent of Wyatt.

The day was bright, the sun warm, and she texted Sara almost blindly: he’s got two-day scruff and is wearing army cargoes, and I want to eat him up with a spoon. Tell me no.

She waited a minute for a response, and didn’t get one. Instead, the back door opened behind her. When she turned her head, she nearly swallowed her tongue.

Wyatt stood there holding his phone, his eyes lit with a good amount of trouble and even more heat.

Oh God. She looked down at her phone, squinting past the bright sun.


She’d texted him instead of Sara.

This wasn’t good. This was the opposite of good. This was bad, very, very bad. She strained for dignity, but fresh out, she had to settle for humility. Retreat, she decided, and tried to stride past him and back inside. But two things happened simultaneously. First, her body brushed against his and a shiver raced through her, the good kind that made her want to rub all over him. And second, he caught her arm, whirled her around and pressed her against the wall, covering her body with his.

“So,” he said, watching her intently. “My cell buzzed, and I got a very interesting message.”

“Oh yeah?” she asked as casually as she could.

Laughing softly, he ran the tip of his nose along her jaw.

Her legs wobbled.

“I realize that both Adam and I are wearing army cargos,” he said. “I’m trying not to make any assumptions about who you’d like to eat up with a spoon . . .” This time he used his teeth. On her earlobe.

Emily had to bite back her moan.

“So I have to ask,” he murmured, and sucked a patch of her skin into his warm mouth. “Me?”

“Yes! Okay? Yes, you, and you damn well know it.”

When he grinned like a cocky, confident alpha male who’d probably never once had to wonder if he was having a bad hair day, or if his jeans made him look fat, she shoved him.

The sexy bastard.

She didn’t budge him. Instead he dipped his head and nipped at her lower lip, then soothed the ache with a single and devastatingly arousing stroke of his tongue.

“We’re at work!” she hissed, trying to lock her knees.

“Mmm,” was his only response to her struggle against him. He liked it, damn him. “You started this.”

“I did not.” Okay, she totally had. “I didn’t mean to. You weren’t supposed to see that text.”

“So it was a Freudian slip?”


His busy, clever mouth had made its way back to her ear, and when he let out a slow, long exhale, she shivered and realized she was clutching him to her with her hands fisted in his shirt. She let go and then tried to smooth the wrinkles she’d left. “You’re going to need to pretend you didn’t see that text.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because you’re a good guy.”

“Not that good.”


His hooded gaze met hers. “I’m not making any promises.”

Oh boy.

He kissed the tip of her nose and backed up to let her out from between him and the wall.

“All bets are off if you sext me again,” he said.

“I won’t!”

“That’s too bad,” he murmured, sounding disappointed, and then, recovering with shocking ease, he took his sexy ass back inside.

Emily didn’t recover nearly so quickly.

The next morning, Sammy was once again at the bottom step waiting for Emily. Finding him there, she felt a little stab in the region of her heart. She’d put out a pie tin the night before with lettuce and a few strawberries on it.

Sammy had a red stain around his mouth, assuring her he’d enjoyed the goods. And just in case she couldn’t tell, he reached out with one claw and banged on the tin.

She laughed. “Okay, but if you start biting my ankles like Q-Tip does, I’ll—”

“Feed him faster?” Sara asked wryly, coming up behind her. She was dressed for work in cargo shorts, her usual wife-beater, and steel-toed boots. “Your menagerie’s food bill is going to be bigger than ours.”

“I’ve told you,” Emily said. “Q-Tip belongs to the house, and Sammy isn’t mine.”

Sammy banged on the tin again and Sara laughed. “Right,” she said, heading down the walk toward her truck. “Whatever lets you sleep at night, Dr. Doolittle.”

Emily’s day was like most of the others. The variety of animals they saw here at Belle Haven on a daily basis never failed to amaze her. Today alone she’d seen a llama, and then an ostrich.

The challenge came from trying to help patients who couldn’t talk, point to what hurt, and tell her what was wrong.

And then there was the stress. Some of this came from being a thousand miles away from her father when his number popped up on her cell phone. Standing in an exam room with Wyatt and Dell admiring a new litter of kittens that had been born overnight and brought in to be checked, she looked down at her buzzing phone and froze. He never called mid-week. She must’ve made some sort of giveaway expression because Wyatt and Dell both looked at her.

“My dad,” she said.

“Take it,” Wyatt told her. “We’re done for the day, anyway.”

Dell nodded. “Go ahead and take off.”

She stepped into the hallway and answered. “Dad, you okay?”

“Have you seen my iPod?”

She was stunned into momentarily silence. “Dad, I’ve been gone six weeks.”

“Well, I know that,” he said, sounding irritated now. “What do you think, that I’m going crazy?”

She paced to the end of the hall and stared at the wall in front of her, not seeing the framed certificates of all the various degrees and awards that the men who worked here had obtained. All she could see was her father standing in the living room that she knew by now probably qualified for an episode of Hoarders. He’d be in his baggy khakis and wrinkled shirt, lab coat opened, pockets stuffed, scratching his head as he turned in a baffled circle looking at the mess around him.

“I don’t think you’re crazy,” she said. “I think you’re probably working yourself into the ground without looking up. Have you been eating?”


She resisted thunking her head to the wall. “Dad.”

“Kiddin’, pumpkin. I ate. I nuked one of those frozen breakfasts you have Mrs. Rodriguez stuff into my freezer every week. You know, I can do my own food shopping.”

She let out a breath, relieved to hear good humor in his voice. “I know you can, the question is will you?”

“I’m fine, Emily. I can feed myself. Last week’s oven fire was a total fluke.”

She froze for a beat, mentally calculating the balance in her bank account versus what she had available on her credit card for a last minute fare to L.A.

“Emily, I’m kidding. I haven’t even used the oven. You take such great care of me that I haven’t had to.” There was love and affection in his voice, and she sighed again, softening.

“I just worry,” she said.

“Well, don’t. That’s my job.”


“Your job’s to enjoy your year in God’s country,” he said. “Speaking of which, aren’t you on the job right now?”


“Well if you don’t know where my iPod is, get back to it. I’ve got to get to the shelter, it’s free adoption night. We’ve got pizza coming and everything.”

He was already gone, she could tell, distracted by the night ahead. “Okay, Dad. I’ll talk to you soon. Love—” But she could tell he’d already disconnected. “—you.”

It was dusk, with dark quickly closing in. Needing to clear her head before she hit the road for the night, Emily stepped out the back door. It was indeed “God’s country” as her father had said.

With the sun already behind the Bitterroot mountains, the amazing, rugged peaks cast shadows hundreds of miles across the valley floor.

She pulled out her cell again. She hit Sara’s number as she leaned against the fencing of the horse pen and took in the beauty sprawled out for thousands and thousands of majestic acres before her.

“Hey,” Sara answered, sounding harried. “I’m on a third-story roof with a crew, this better be good.”

“Oh my God. Why did you answer your phone if you’re on a third-story roof? Hang up.”

Sara laughed. “I’m fine. I’m roped in. Got a crew around me. A bunch of shirtless men, too. Too bad it’s totally wasted on me.”

“I talked to Dad.”

“He still can’t find his iPod?” Sara asked.

Emily sighed. “He called you first.”