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“I was less likely to freak out on him.”

“I didn’t freak out.” Emily paused. “Much.”

Sara laughed.

“I don’t think he’s eating, Sara. And—”

“Honey, he’s fine. He’s happy. Stop borrowing trouble.”

“I think we should fly to visit him this weekend,” Emily said.

“And I think you should have some chocolate. Or get laid. Listen, I get that you’re lonely, and I swear I’ll pretend to watch So You Think You Can Dance with you tonight but for now, I really am on a roof, so . . .”

Emily sighed and ended the call. She inhaled some really fresh air before she felt a nudge.

Reno, Adam’s horse, looking for goodies.

Emily searched her pockets and came up with nothing. “Sorry, baby.”

Reno snorted.

“I know, rude of me.” Emily sat on a fallen log and leaned back. When she was little, she’d loved to try to star watch. In L.A., this was tricky because of all the city lights, not to mention smog. Doing it here, in the land of the big sky, was a whole new ball game. “I’m not lonely,” she said to the horse, who snorted again and swished his tail.

“Good. Cuz you’re not alone.”

Two long legs came into her peripheral. Wyatt crouched at her side and looked into her face. “How’s your dad?”

“Fine,” she said.

He nodded. “And you?”

“I’m fine, too,” she said.

Nodding again, he sat on the log at her side and leaned back, presumably to look at whatever she was looking at. “Pretty night.”

His shoulder and a part of his chest brushed her arm and shoulder. Actually it was more like he was encircling her within his arm span, which was considerable. It was a guy move, an alpha guy move, and it made her feel . . . protected.

She was getting far too used to that, she thought with a sigh.

“I smell something burning,” he said.

“Where is everyone?”

“Gone,” he said, and there was an odd quality to his voice that had her taking a second look at him. He didn’t take his gaze off the sky so she got him in profile, the tousled hair, the fine lines crinkling the corners of his eyes from long days out in the sun, the square, scruffy jaw, and broad shoulders built to take on the weight of the world.

He’d been working his ass off, here at Belle Haven, helping Dell take up the slack for the out-of-town Jade, and then going home and helping his sisters with the monstrous house they were fixing up. He did so much for everyone, and she found herself wanting to do something for him. Make him smile. Make him relax. Make him forget, even for a few minutes . . . She nudged him with her shoulder.

He nudged her back and turned to look at her then, his eyes dark and unfathomable behind his glasses.

Chickening out, she turned her head this time, and stared up at the sky as he had been only a few seconds before.


When she didn’t tear her gaze off the stars, he leaned in and nipped her ear.

Sucking in a breath, she looked at him again. His gaze was still dark, but there were things swirling in those dark depths now. Need. Heat.


He stole her breath.

“Let the record state,” she said, reaching out to snatch off his glasses, “that I don’t always make the first move.”

He blinked in momentary confusion, and probably also because he could no longer see. He opened his mouth to say something, but she sank her fingers into his hair and kissed him, hard and long and deep.

“Emily,” he said when they broke for air, his voice rough and husky.

She climbed into his lap and then pushed him backward off the log so that he fell to his back in the wild grass with her straddling him.

Laughing, he slid his hands beneath her top and up her back, drawing out a delicious shiver from her. Then his hands slid slowly down her spine, and into the backs of her jeans. “Let the record also state,” he said in a delicious growl, “who made the rest of the moves.”

“Please say that it’s you,” she whispered hopefully.

He rolled, tucking her beneath him, making himself right at home between her thighs. “Got it in one,” he said against her mouth.

When Emily got home much, much later, Sara gave her a brow’s up from the couch.

“Worked late,” Emily said.

“Uh-huh.” Sara got up and picked a piece of wild grass from her hair.

“Work hazard,” Emily said, thinking of what’d happened between her and Wyatt in the wild grass by burgeoning moonlight—and then again in the staff bathroom where he’d bent her over the counter.

Sara studied her face. “Right.”

“Did you see Sammy when you got here?”


Worry niggled at her. She dropped her purse and went back outside, walking to the edge of the grass.

“What are you doing” Sara asked.


“Liar. You’re looking for your turtle.”

“He’s not my turtle. Sammy,” she called, wading into the grass. “Sammy?”

When he appeared at her feet, she had to sit down on the step in relief. “Oh God,” she said. “He’s totally my turtle.”

Sara sat next to her. “Yep.”

“This is how it starts, isn’t it?” Emily, having bad flashbacks to their house growing up, filled with the rescues her father could never bear to let go, shook her head. “We keep him, and then the next thing you know, I’ve also brought home a dog, a cat, a sheep, and an iguana.”

Sara went brows up. “Iguana?”

“It could happen. I’ve lost control. Every surface of this place’ll be covered with cages and crap. We’ll be a zoo.”

“I don’t actually think we have approval for that from our landlord,” Sara said, looking amused. Her smile faded. “You’re not going to turn into him, you know. Dad. And so what if you did? He saved a lot of animals over the years. Hell, babe, have you looked in the mirror lately? You became a damn vet.”

“I love animals,” Emily said. “I just plan to have a life as well.”

“I know,” Sara said. “Everyone knows about your damn plan. How many days left?”

“Three hundred and twenty-seven.” Emily looked at Sammy. He was watching her with his obsidian eyes, and if she wasn’t mistaken, there was some judgment there. She picked him up. “You’ll be in good hands,” she promised him.

But would he? Would the new tenant of this house feed him, look out for him? Not mow the lawn so as to avoid accidentally killing him? And what about Q-Tip?

Or her own heart?

“Uh-oh,” Sara said. “You’ve got that look.”

“What look?”

“Like you’re at the edge of a cliff peering down.”

Emily blew out a breath. “I made a tactical error tonight with Wyatt.” She paused. “Horizontally.”

Sara laughed. “Again?”

Emily sighed and stroked Sammy’s head. He gazed up at her adoringly, or so she wanted to think. Probably he was hoping for more strawberries. “Just like a man,” she said to him. “Flashing me the eyes to get what you want.”

Sara took Sammy from Emily and set him down. “Emily,” she said solemnly. “I thought we had this talk.”

“I know. Me becoming an animal collector isn’t a sign that I’m going to go bat-shit crazy like Dad—”

“No. You’re not bat-shit crazy at all. You’re just a woman who’s always given everything to the people in her life who she loves, who’s always looked out for everyone but herself, and now maybe you’re a little lost, that’s all.”

“The lost part might be true,” Emily whispered.

“So, Dr. Sexy?”

Emily covered her face with her hands. “It’s not my fault. He’s just . . .” Everything.

Sara reached out and pulled Emily’s hands from her face. “He’s your supervisor. He shouldn’t be coming on to you.”

“You don’t understand.” Emily huffed out a mirthless laugh. “It’s not Wyatt coming on to me. I’m the one who can’t control myself!”

Sara hugged her. “It’s okay,” she said. “You can tell me the truth. I’ll bury the body deep.”

Emily laughed again. “I realize you’re not attracted to hot and sexy men, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one. It’s all on me.”

Sara was quiet for a long beat, considering. “Well, I still think you need to talk to him. Tell him that this isn’t fun and games for you, that you’re going to get hurt.”

“I can’t do that,” Emily said. “I’ve told him time and time again that this isn’t in my plan. I’m trying to ignore his damn sexy ways.”

“Well, you could always switch teams,” Sara suggested. “It’s better on my side of the fence.”

Emily set her head on her sister’s shoulder and sighed. “If that was true, then you wouldn’t be hiding out here in Sunshine nursing a broken heart.”

It was Sara’s turn to sigh. “True that.”


At the end of the next day, Wyatt stood behind the front desk watching Emily attempt to print one of her files. When she’d said “Crap!” for the third time, he leaned over her and did it himself.

“Are you kidding me?” she asked, craning her neck to glare at him. “Why didn’t you do that five minutes ago?”

He smiled and showed her how to print the day’s receipts as well. Still leaning over her, the inside of his arm brushed the outside of hers, and she went still.

“What?” he asked.


“It’s something. You moaned.”

“Did not.”

He stared down at her bowed head. Her hair had fallen forward, revealing the nape of her neck, a spot he badly wanted to put his mouth to.

As if she could read his thoughts she shivered.

Christ. They were in trouble.

A truck pulled into the lot. “Damn,” he said, not sure if he was grateful or frustrated at the interruption. Both, he decided. “So close to escaping on time tonight, too.”

Emily let out a breathless laugh. “There’s actually an on time?”

“Only if you run fast.” He gestured with his chin for her to make her escape. “I’ll take this, you head out.”

“No,” she said, stubborn to the end. “I’m not leaving you here by yourself.”

He looked into her fierce eyes and felt more than a physical arousal. Far more. “Emily.”

“I mean, what if it’s another woman in the Casserole Brigade?” she asked.

“Then maybe I’ll get something good for dinner.”

“And if she wants something in return?”

He smiled. “Depends on how good the casserole is,” he teased to lighten the mood.

Her eyes narrowed. “That’s not even funny.”

The driver of the truck walked in wearing jeans and a police sweatshirt, hoodie up, badge and gun on his hip, carrying a brown bag in one hand, the leash to a young pit bull in the other.

Wyatt recognized him as one of the players on the police team that he occasionally played flag football against. The guy worked for the county on Highway Patrol.

“We’re just closing up here,” Emily told him. “Do you have an emergency?”

The guy gave a nod to Wyatt as he came up to the counter and leaned on it casually, smiling at Emily. “No emergency,” he said. “Just been hearing about our new vet in town. You’re as pretty as they say.”

Wyatt mentally rolled his eyes and glanced at Emily, figuring she’d be doing the same as she had a very accurate bullshit meter.

She was smiling back at the guy. WTF?

“That’s sweet,” she said.

Sweet? How about stupidly cheesy?

The cop removed his dark sunglasses and pushed back his hoodie. “Evan Russell,” he said, and held out his hand.

“Emily Stevens.” She shook the guy’s hand and looked at Wyatt. “And this is Dr. Stone.”

Evan gave Wyatt a cursory nod. “Brought you something, Dr. Pretty,” he said to Emily. “I’ve got a ranch full of animals at home, so I thought knowing the pretty vet might come in handy.” He set the bag in front of her.

“A bribe?” she asked.

He smiled. “Open it.”

She opened the bag, inhaled deeply, and closed her eyes on a blissful sigh. “Chocolate chip cookies. Heaven.”

Evan smiled. “There’s more where those came from.”

“I bet,” Wyatt muttered.

Emily looked at him. Evan didn’t take his eyes off Emily. “So how’s Sunshine been treating you so far?” he asked her.

“Well, the traffic’s not as bad as it was in L.A.”

Evan chuckled. They all knew traffic was nonexistent in Sunshine. Well, except on the days that the errant cow escaped a ranch and stood in the middle of the road. “I think we’ve got more to offer you than better traffic. You ride?”

“You mean motorcycles?” she asked.

He chuckled again, and Wyatt had to resist the odd urge to put a fist through the guy’s mouth.

“Horses,” Evan said.

“Oh.” Emily smiled. “No. Not yet.”

“I’ll take you. You live nearby?”

Wyatt shifted. If she told the guy where she lived, he was going to have to kill him.