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He caught the back of her sweater. “I just don’t want you to risk getting hurt.”

Her face, when she turned to him, had softened, and she nudged him. “Well where’s the fun in no risk?” she murmured.

The next day at work, Emily got an unintentional reprieve from having to face Wyatt when he was once again called up north with Brady and Adam, working some of Dell’s ranching clients.

She wasn’t sure if she was relieved or not. Maybe they did need to discuss, so that they both knew exactly where they stood.

And yeah, okay, there was some truth to what Sara had announced to the free world. Emily had let pieces of herself go. She was working on that, but the truth was, she wasn’t all together. How else to explain why she was beginning to fall for this small town of Sunshine, which was literally the opposite of everything she thought she wanted?

And then there were the people in it, and the connections she’d made, like Dell, Adam, Lilah, Jade.

Wyatt . . .

She had no idea what she thought she was doing there, with him, no idea at all. And yet the thought of not having him in her life every day actually hurt.

What did that mean?

She had to give up thinking. She fed Q-Tip and Sammy, and grabbed the ice cream from the freezer, along with a microwaved bag of popcorn and her laptop. She sat on the couch to watch a Say Yes to the Dress marathon, finding it reassuring to know that other people’s lives were more out of control than hers. Half an hour later, she’d checked on her auction bid on Wyatt to verify she was still on top.

She was.

Then she looked at the empty ice cream carton in her lap—Double Fudge—and the empty bowl of popcorn.

She didn’t need a pity party—she needed an overeater’s anonymous meeting.

When her phone rang, she frowned at the number she didn’t recognize. “Hello?”

“Dr. Emily Stevens,” said a velvety male voice when she answered. “It’s Evan. Need another hit of chocolate chip cookies?”

Cute cop guy who made great cookies. She looked down at the empty ice cream carton. “Not right now, thank you. I’m on a dessert moratorium.”

He chuckled low in his throat. “You’re a hard woman to get a hold of.”

He was referring to the three messages he’d left for her at Belle Haven. She winced and pushed Q-Tip off her lap. “I’m sorry. It’s not a good policy to date a patient.”

“So it’s a good thing I’m not patient. I was hoping to take you riding on Saturday. You free?”

Her brain scrambled. He really was a very handsome man, and maybe under some other circumstances she’d be interested, but she had Wyatt. At least for right now she had Wyatt, and he was more than enough man for her.

Truth was, he was almost too much man for her.

And then there was the bigger truth, the one she wasn’t ready to think about, much less admit—she had zero desire to be with anyone else but him. “I’m sorry, Evan. But I can’t.”

He was quiet a moment. “I understand. Good night, Emily.”

She disconnected, remoted the TV off and looked over at Q-Tip.

The cat was watching her.

“I know,” she said. “You’re thinking I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Q-Tip just stared. She turned to the aquarium on the coffee table, where Sammy now resided.

It was raining again, and she’d been worried about him. As much as she knew about animals, she had no idea if his type of turtle could swim.

He hadn’t objected to his new home in the least. In fact, she kind of thought he liked it.

He was watching her, too, making her realize that she was Q-Tip’s and Sammy’s reality show.


“Okay,” she admitted to the room. “So I don’t have any idea what I’m doing.” She thought of Wyatt, and how he’d reacted to Sara’s tirade.

He’d given her a long, thoughtful gaze.

No obvious sympathy, which was good. But he hadn’t given her anything. Some reaction might’ve been nice.

You could have returned his text, she told herself. She had a feeling she’d have learned his reaction by now if she had.

That’s when she heard it. Through the sound of the steady rain hitting the roof and the wind beating at the windows, she heard the animal crying again.

The haunting sound went right through her. “Dammit.” She grabbed a flashlight, shoved her feet into sneakers, and went outside. Standing on the porch, she cocked an ear and listened.

The cry came again, filled with pain and fear, raising every hair on her body.

Not willing to be the stupid chick in the horror flick, she got into her car, driving slowly with the windows down, getting drenched as she followed the haunting noise.

She came to her neighbor’s ranch. The house was dark. There were no other places around here, so she remained still, chewing on her lower lip.

Get out of the car and walk around?

No. That was definitely the stupid chick in the horror flick.

Then she heard the sound again, clearer now. Definitely a dog. A dog in trouble.

And close.

Crap. She threw the car in park and got out into the rain, her sneakers making a squishy sound as she ran toward the sound until she found the dog huddled in a ball of misery just off the road, in a clearing between two trees.

She paused a few feet away and used her flashlight.

Definitely a dog, a young one, male, but hard to tell what breed in these conditions. “Oh you poor baby,” she breathed, crouching at his side.

He lifted his head and . . . licked her hand.

Her heart stuttered in her chest. He was bleeding from multiple open wounds, attacked by a coyote? She let him sniff her hand a minute, during which she tried to see if he was in shock. Hard to tell in the dark without a stethoscope to check his heart rate, but the weakness wasn’t a good sign. Cautiously she checked his limbs.

Nothing obviously broken. She ran back to her car, to the trunk, and yanked out her emergency kit. Returning, she wrapped the Mylar emergency blanket around the dog. Then scooping him into her arms, she brought him to her car, setting him carefully onto the passenger’s seat.

By this time, she was shivering herself, and breathless. She slid behind the wheel. “You’re okay,” she whispered to her patient. “Well, you’re not really, but you’re going to be okay.” Reaching out, she carefully crossed the seatbelt over him the best she could. “There,” she said and hit the gas.

Wyatt sat hunched over his desk at Belle Haven, typing up the patient files he’d put off all damn week.

He hated typing.

He hated the glow of the computer in the dark of the night.

He hated the stack at his elbow that indicated he wasn’t anywhere close to done.

He was just getting into his bad mood, looking around for something else to hate on, when he heard someone at the front door.

Earlier he’d locked it behind Dell. Being the last one in the place required a locked door. They were out in the boondocks, but that didn’t stop the crazies looking for drugs, or stupid teenagers looking for kicks, or any as**ole looking for trouble.

Not only was the door locked, but he had the alarm on as well. Half braced for it to go off, he strode down the hall through the darkened receptionist area as a key turned in the lock.

The door opened before he got there and he stared in surprise at Emily. Her arms were full, she was struggling to hold onto an animal and pound in the alarm code at the same time.

He got to her and reached for the . . . dog. A very bloody young dog who bared its teeth when he came close.

“Careful,” Emily said, sounding distressed and possibly in tears.

His stomach clenched as he brushed her hand away from the keys and entered the code. Then he turned back to the dog. Definitely young, possibly not even a year old. Male. Lab, with some pit bull in him, approximately fifty pounds. “Aw, buddy,” he said in a quiet, calm voice, “what happened to you, huh?”

The dog stopped showing his teeth.

“Someone hurt you,” he murmured. “Let’s fix you up, okay?”

The dog stopped growling.

“That’s a good boy,” Wyatt said, continuing to talk as he reached for him again.

This time the dog let him scoop him from Emily’s arms. She straightened, visibly relieved at the loss of the weight. She ran ahead of him, turning on lights to the surgery room.

“What happened?” Wyatt asked, gently placing the dog on the table.

“I don’t know,” Emily said. “I found him like this. I think maybe he was attacked by coyotes, I keep hearing them near my house.”

She came close with a stethoscope, and listened to the heart rate while Wyatt stroked the dog’s head, silent until she looked up at him.

“One eighty,” she said.

Normal for a dog was sixty to one hundred and twenty. One eighty was too high, forcing the heart to pump too fast for it to fill adequately. Still, the dog wasn’t behaving all that abnormally. He was clearly hurt, tired, and weak. He was panting, but that could be nerves from being on a table at a vet’s office. He certainly wasn’t disoriented or overly aggressive. Wyatt waited, watching Emily to see if she wanted him to take over for her. He could tell she was emotionally invested, and that was both a great thing and a curse.

He’d seen more than a few vets fresh out of medical school attempt this crazy life and then quit within a few months, unable to take the emotional strain. He hoped that wouldn’t be her, she was far too good a doctor to walk away.

She moved around the table to check the dog’s mouth. It was what he’d have done next as well, checking the color of the gums. Nodding to herself, she began to look over the injuries. “Pain meds, antibiotics, and a sedative,” she said. “To keep him calm while we scrub out the wounds and stitch.” She looked up, caught him watching her, and cocked her head. “What?”

He smiled. “You’re going to be okay.”

“I am okay,” she said. “It’s the dog who isn’t.”

“I mean you’re going to do this. You’re going to stick with being a vet.”

“You think I accrued a mountain of college debt not to stick?”

He grinned. “Just checking.”

“Well how about you just check his temperature and I’ll clip, flush, and scrub?”

“Ah,” he said. “You gave me the fun job.”

She snorted, and at the sound, he felt better. He took the dog’s temp, found it normal, and was further relieved. He cranked up the heater in the room and used a Bair Hugger, a blanket that blew warm air around an injured animal in danger of going in shock.

She had the clippers and was already working on trimming fur away from the worst of the cuts.

“We going to talk about it?” he asked.

She didn’t play dumb. “Yeah. Sure.”

“It was serious stuff, the things Sara said.”

Her mouth went a little grim as she administered the meds with a steady hand. “True, but it wasn’t her stuff to say.”

“Maybe not,” Wyatt murmured. “But her heart seems to be in the right place.” He hadn’t liked knowing how hurt Emily had been in the past, but he’d needed to hear it. Something had begun to shift for him over the past few weeks when it came to his feelings for her.

They’d deepened. Far more than he’d ever expected them to.

She met his gaze, her own flashing a fierce independence and pride. “I’m fine,” she said firmly. “I want you to know that much. I have all my stupid pieces.” She rolled her eyes. “Okay, so maybe a few pieces are dented, but I’m not broken or anything. I really am fine.”

He gave a little smile. “You are that.”

“And we never talked about it before because we both know where we stand,” she said. “We started this thing out as a one-time thing, and I get that its since turned into a few times, but it’s still just . . .”

“Fun and games?” he asked wryly.

“You said it, too,” she reminded him. “That night in your truck. You said that when we parted in Reno, you hadn’t planned on seeing me again. I wasn’t on your plan either, Wyatt. So yeah, this is fun and games. Well, minus the games, because I’m not playing games with you. I wouldn’t even know how.”

He took in her earnest expression and let out a long, slow breath. He knew that about her. He loved that about her. “Well, I know how,” he admitted. “But I wouldn’t. Not with you. Never with you.”

“So . . .” She searched his face. “We’re good?”

She wanted them to be okay. She needed them to be okay. And damn, but he did, too. He wanted a lot of things actually, most of which would have to wait. “Yeah. We’re good.”

They worked in silence on the sedated dog, flushing the wounds with disinfectant, suturing a few of the deepest wounds, treating and bandaging everything else.

“He’s going to need antibiotics, pain meds, and bandage management daily for a good solid week,” he said when they’d finished. “Are we releasing him into your care?”

She blew out a breath and picked up the still sleepy, sedated dog with a sweet gentleness that was more than doctor to patient.

Recognizing the signs well, Wyatt smiled. “Yeah, we’re releasing him into your care.”

“Just until I find his owner,” she said. She looked exhausted, on edge, and deeply unnerved.


“He’s going to need watching over tonight,” he said, “and I’ve got a lot more paperwork to do, anyway. Let me take him for you.”