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And then her.

“Not too far,” she said, reminding Wyatt that she was no pushover. She was in fact, a city girl, smart. Wary. Tough.

But so was Evan, and he wasn’t easily deterred. “Name the day,” he said.

“I’ll think about it,” Emily said.

Evan nodded, and gestured to the bag of cookies. “Enjoy.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I will.”

He spent an extra few beats holding her gaze, and then walked out.

Emily dug into the bag and took a bite of cookie, sighed in pleasure, and then offered Wyatt one.

“You shouldn’t eat stuff from people you don’t know,” Wyatt said.

She laughed. She laughed so hard she choked on the damn cookie and he had to pound her on the back and bring her a glass of water.

When she could breathe, she grinned up at him.

“You ever worry about eating the things all those women bring you?”

“No,” he admitted. “But it seems different when it’s a guy.”

She just kept grinning. “Guess you’re not the only one getting in on the Casserole Brigade, Dr. Sexy.”

“Dr. Sexy?”

“Oh, like you don’t know it.” She took another bite of cookie.

“You didn’t give him the almost boyfriend line.”

Emily cocked her head at him. “You’re jealous.”


“Good,” she said. “Because I’m perfectly willing to share.” She opened the bag and held it out to him, smiling guilelessly.

He stared at her, realizing they were on entirely different pages, and found himself laughing. “You don’t have a clue,” he said softly.

Her smiled faded. “A clue of what?”

He leaned in close, but not to take a f**king cookie. “That you’re the Dr. Sexy.”

The next morning Emily got up early to waste a little time online angsting over the fact that she’d upped her bid on Wyatt yet again.

She needed an intervention, she thought later as she walked into Belle Haven and, as she had since Jade had been gone, found Dell standing behind the counter, pulling out his hair. “Whatever happened to your three leads?” she asked.

He shoved his fingers through his hair. “First Choice told me there wasn’t enough money in the world. Second Choice told me that she’d love to . . . except she didn’t want to.”

Emily laughed. “And your last choice?”

Dell blew out a breath. “She’ll be here soon.”

“What does Jade say about all this?”

“She doesn’t know,” Dell said. “If I told her, she’d be home already, and I don’t want her to miss out on time with her family because of this.”

Emily smiled. “You’re sweet.”

Dell’s mouth turned up at the corners. “Hope you still think so after you have to take your shift back here.”

But she never got to take her turn behind the counter at all. Adam strode in, spoke to Dell for a terse minute, and then both men looked at her. “Field trip time,” Dell said.

“Where to?” she asked.

“Rob from Camarillo Ranch just called,” Adam said. “They need help. Three of their horses got spooked and tangled themselves in a downed barb wire fence. They need medical care ASAP.”

“It’s a good one for you to observe,” Dell told Emily. “It’ll give you a real taste of what’s out there for this type of practice.”

Camarillo Ranch was sixty miles north, and Dell contracted with them as their mobile vet care. Emily looked at her watch. “If we take a truck and go now, we could be there in an hour and a half—”

“One of the horses doesn’t have an hour and a half,” Adam said. “Brady’s readying the chopper right now. Wyatt’s already over there.”

The airport was literally across the street. “Grab my ready bag from the staff room and run,” Dell said.

She stared at him. “You want me to go in the helicopter and assist Adam and Wyatt in a horse rescue?”

“I want you to observe, and learn,” he said. “Unless you’d rather stay here and run this entire center by yourself while I go.”

Hell no. “But—”

“I’m offering, because it’s a great opportunity for you, and also with Adam, Wyatt, and Jade gone, I shouldn’t leave the center. You’ve got three seconds before I change my mind.”

Emily whirled and ran for the staff room and heard Dell’s low laugh behind her.

Twenty minutes later she was in the air, in her first chopper ride. It was terrifying and glorious at the same time. Adam was across from her. Wyatt sat next to her—Mr. Lived In Twenty Countries And Traveled The World Over—looking cool and calm.

Emily tried to look calm and cool, too. She failed. “Holy cow,” she whispered to herself as the chopper banked a hard right.

Across from her Adam grinned, and so did Wyatt, making her remember her headset.

The three guys could hear every word she uttered.

She could only see the back of Brady’s head but somehow she knew he was grinning as broad as Adam. She couldn’t find it in herself to care that they were laughing at her. She was a city girl, through and through. As a kid, once in a blue moon her parents would drive her and Sara to the mountains for the day.

But the mountains for the day in Los Angeles were a lot different than these mountains.

And they’d driven there.

Now she was . . . well, she had no idea how many feet in the air exactly, seeing the countryside up high, coupled with the whistle and whine of the chopper. She was enthralled by mazes of mountains and valleys below, sprawled out for what was surely hundreds of miles. She could see forever, it seemed, nothing but crests of the ridges of the Bitterroots and beyond, countless lakes and rivers, and isolated, rugged territory as tough as . . . well, the men in the chopper with her.

Or maybe the land had made them so tough. She wondered if it could do the same for her.

In any case, it was a thrill, a rush, at least until Brady banked hard, and dipped hard toward the ground.

Emily gasped, a hand to her heart to hold it into her chest.

“Damn,” she heard Brady say with great disappointment in her ear. “That usually gets a scream out of the first timers.”

“She’s pretty good with the self-control at work,” Wyatt said, his warm tone making her belly go a little squishy.

She met his gaze and he smiled his bad-boy smile, and she knew what he was thinking. He was thinking that outside of work, specifically in bed, she wasn’t nearly so good with the control . . .

Which was true.

Maybe she hadn’t exactly screamed for him, but she’d come pretty damn close a couple of times.

He nudged her knee with his.

She opened her mouth to tell him to stop making her think about their . . . escapades. But the truth was, she thought of him all on her own, without any help from him. At least she could be secure in the knowledge that he was doing the same. There was comfort in that, that their misery was shared.

Except he didn’t look miserable. He looked hot and sexy, and then there was that light of trouble and mischief in his gaze, like maybe he wouldn’t mind having another . . . escapade to be teasing her about.

But that couldn’t happen. The first time with him had been the one-night stand she’d always wanted.

Twice had been . . . well, magic. So had their third time. And their fourth.

And their fifth . . .

After talking to Sara the night before, she’d decided to own those memories, collect them in her mind, and file them under the label Hot Fantasies to Pull Out as Necessary.

But to continue on like this would only prove Sara right. Someone—she—was going to get hurt. To continue on would surely take things to the next level, a level she didn’t even know what to call, other than a huge mistake, because as Sara had so helpfully pointed out, it could and would derail her life plan.

The chopper banked again, steeper now. Biting her lip, Emily reached out in blind panic, and felt her hand gripped.


No longer laughing at her. “Okay?” he asked.

“Worried I’m going to throw up on your shoes?” she managed to ask.

“This is a no throw up zone,” Brady said from the pilot’s seat.

“Take your thumb and middle finger and press firmly on both sides of your wrist,” Adam told her. “It’s an acupressure point, and should reduce nausea.”

Wyatt didn’t take his gaze off Emily as he reached out and did the acupressure for her. “You’re all right,” he said, holding on.

She was very glad he thought so.

But he was right. She was fine. They landed on a concrete pad to the side of a huge ranching operation. And even better, she didn’t toss her cookies.

They were met by Tex, the ranch manager, and immediately taken by truck to one of the back pastures.

“The rains have wreaked havoc and hell on everything,” Tex said. “The creek overflowed, took down the northwest fence line. The horses got out at some point in the night, and a few of them tangled in the barbed outer line fence. We got all but Aurora free.”

Emily knew the recent night rains had saturated the ground, but she’d had no sense of how bad it could be until they alighted from the truck near a line of fence that vanished around a hill.

Even making their way closer was difficult, her feet kept sinking in the mud, and then a terrible scream stopped her heart.

Not human.


There were three men surrounding the downed horse, who was struggling wildly, entangled in the barbed wire. Both Adam and Wyatt turned to Emily at the same time.

“Stay here,” they said in unison.

She started to balk because she wanted to help, but the look on Wyatt’s face was steel.

So she stayed, watching in horror, at the horse stuck in the mud and barbed wire, fighting itself and the men already in place trying to help. With every movement, Aurora only succeeded in embedding the wire deeper and deeper in her flesh.

Wyatt, Adam, and Brady waded right in, not a single one of them hesitating in any way or dodging the possibility of getting caught beneath those wild hooves or the weight of the horse. She watched Adam take charge of the rescue while Wyatt did something with a syringe. Then he was adding his hands and voice to the mix. Calm. Sure. Absolutely one hundred percent in charge as he worked to soothe Aurora.

The horse thrashed and fought, not going down easy.

“The wire’s beneath her,” Wyatt clipped out to Adam.

“Get her up,” Adam said.

Heedless of the danger to himself, Wyatt dug his feet into the mud and added his bulk to the efforts of getting Aurora upright. Meanwhile Adam tried to work around the flailing horse to cut the wire free, all while Aurora did her best to trample the shit out of all of them.

Wyatt grabbed Aurora’s face and spoke right into her ear with calm authority, and Aurora’s ears flattened. She was listening. Not necessarily liking, but listening.

And Emily was transfixed. Watching Wyatt in action was like watching a rock star. A vet rock star.

Like Adam, like Brady, like Dell—all men she’d come to admire—Wyatt never rattled, was always willing and ready to be in charge of any given situation.

Just as they got the horse free of the wire, Aurora finally began to succumb to the sedative. The poor, exhausted thing dropped her head and huffed, pressing close to Wyatt, knocking him back a step.

Wyatt just spread his legs for better balance and wrapped his arms around her, stroking her face, murmuring something low that Emily couldn’t hear, while the other men pulled the rest of the wire as far from them as they could get it.

Wyatt gestured Emily in. “She’s good now,” he said, eyes locked on to Aurora’s. “Aren’t you, sweetheart?” He stroked her, loving her up, and the horse tossed her head. “I know,” he murmured softly. “You’re still beautiful.”

The horse, bleeding from a dozen deep cuts, snorted her agreement and gave Wyatt a not-so-gentle head butt to the chest that once again knocked him back a step.

He just grinned at her. “Still feisty. I can understand that. You’ve had a rough morning. Emily, you ready?”

She was ready, and side by side they began treating her wounds.

“Stay sharp,” Wyatt told Emily quietly as they worked. “She’s still looking for someone’s ass to kick after her ordeal.”

And indeed, when Emily shifted too suddenly, Aurora whipped her head around, teeth bared.

She might have taken a nice bite right out of Emily’s shoulder if Wyatt hadn’t given Emily a shove, a move that sent her flying back.

To her ass in the mud.

Aurora bit Wyatt instead, getting him on the forearm. Emily scrambled up to her feet and reached for him.

“I’m fine,” he said.

Great. He was fine and her ass was covered in mud and smarting from the fall. But this was the job. She knew this. She accepted this. So she pushed her own discomfort aside and dove into the work.

Wyatt showed her some quick bandaging techniques for temperamental, still pissed-off and frightened horses so that she didn’t get almost bit again.

It was the sort of experience she never would have gotten in the Beverly Hills vet office, and she knew it. By the time they all got back on the helicopter an hour later, she was exhilarated, but aching everywhere and starving.

Brady was there ahead of them, ready and waiting with—God bless him—food. Hot pastrami sandwiches loaded with cheese and spicy mustard. The exact perfect food. She stuffed in her first bite and moaned. “I could kiss you,” she told Brady.