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Emily was looking into his face. “You look like you just had an epiphany.”

Yes, and it wasn’t all that pleasant. He shook his head.

She opened her mouth to say something but Mike called for her from down the hall.

With one last long look at Wyatt, she left his office.

When Darcy poked her head in five minutes later, Wyatt was still standing in the exact same spot.

She barely reached his shoulder, to which she gave a good shot with her fist, right where he’d been bitten.

“Jesus,” he said, rubbing it. “What the hell’s your problem?”

“You,” she said, and did it again.

He caught her fist in his hand. “Knock your shit off, Darcy. I don’t have time for your games.”

“Even if I give you a hint?” she asked, and leaned in close. “You’re an idiot.”

He let out a breath and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Go away.”

“Can’t. It’s my job to give you your messages. And this one’s from me. You got screwed by Caitlin. She left you for a job, and you don’t even get to be mad about it because it was noble and all that bullshit. But that didn’t negate your feelings for her, did it? You’d have eventually married her, and then it would have been worse. You didn’t deserve that, Wyatt, honest to God you didn’t, and there’s not a person in Sunshine that appreciates how she treated you in the end. But if you let yourself fall for Emily—another woman who isn’t the right one for you, you will get exactly what you deserve. Disappointment—again.”

“I’m sorry,” came a quiet voice.

Wyatt and Darcy both turned to face a pale Emily standing in the doorway. She bit her lower lip. “I really didn’t mean to hear that.”

Darcy blew out a breath. “No, I’m the sorry one. Don’t pay any attention to me, I’m crazy. Everyone knows that.”

“No, it’s true,” Emily said.

“That I’m crazy?” Darcy asked.

“That if Wyatt falls for me, he’d be disappointed. It’s a recurring theme in my life.”

Shit. Wyatt started toward her, but she put up a hand. “No, we really don’t need to discuss.”

Mike had come into the front room behind her, a file in his hand. Behind him was Woodrow. Around the dog’s neck was a badge on a braided lanyard, just like the ones all the staff wore. It had his pic, name, and addy—Belle Haven— just like a real one.

Emily took the file from Mike’s fingers, bent to kiss Woodrow on the head, and vanished into an exam room.

Woodrow and Mike vanished.

“Nicely done,” Wyatt said to his sister. “You really outdid yourself there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Save it,” he said. “It’s my fault, anyway.” He pushed past her and went after Emily.

She was with Mr. Myers and his thirteen-year-old golden retriever Buddy. “I’ve got this,” she said without looking at him, nose buried in the file.

Wyatt smiled at Mr. Myers.

Mr. Myers smiled back. He was somewhere between eighty and two hundred years old. He hadn’t worn his teeth today. Wyatt was counting on the fact that he wasn’t wearing his hearing aid, either. The guy hated both with a wellknown passion. “Emily—”

“Dr. Stevens,” she corrected. “And I’m a little busy right now.”

“I just want to be clear about why you’re upset.”

“Shh!” She slid a quick look at Mr. Myers.

“He can’t hear you. He can’t hear anything without his hearing aid.”

She relaxed marginally but emotion still sparked from her. “I’m trying to be professional,” she whispered.

“Professional?” he asked. “Is that what we’ve been doing?”

She flicked another glance Mr. Myers’s way, found him sitting there humming to himself, and then glared at Wyatt. “We both know exactly what we’ve been doing. Fun and games.”

“Which we both agreed to,” he reminded her.

“Yeah.” Her eyes shuttered. “Which apparently doesn’t include discussing your ex with me. Which doesn’t matter anymore since we’re done as of now. So if you’ll go on your merry way, I have a patient.”

Wyatt looked at Mr. Myers. “Excuse us a moment.”

“Eh?” Mr. Myers cupped a hand over his ear. “Sorry, sonny boy, I forgot my hearing aid.”

“Hall,” Wyatt said to Emily. “Now.”

“As lovely an offer as that is,” she said. “No, thank you.”

Wyatt held up a finger to Mr. Myers, signaling that they needed a moment. Wrapping his fingers around Emily’s arm, turning her to face him, he pulled her into the far corner.

“Back off.” She held up a syringe. “I’m about to express Buddy’s anal glands.”

Buddy let out a sigh and dropped his head to his paws.

“According to his file,” Emily said, “he needs sedation first.” The syringe got a little closer to Wyatt’s face. “Get your hand off me or I’ll treat you instead.”

He paused and resisted the urge to smile. “Did you just threaten to sedate me and then express my anal glands?” He leaned in a little closer so that their noses were nearly touching. “Because I’ve gotta tell you, sweetness, I’m all for getting adventurous, but payback’s a bitch.”

She gasped and reared back, her gaze flying to Mr. Myers.

Mr. Myers smiled at her.

She gave him a shaky smile, blew out a breath, sent Wyatt a nasty look before heading back to the table. “We’re done discussing this,” she said. “All of it.”

“All of what exactly? Spell it out for me.”

“Everything, starting with that night in Reno. It’s done, over, and finished. We’re clearly not suited. In any way.”

“Funny,” he said. “That’s not what you said last time you had your tongue in my mouth.”

“Shh!” Her gaze whipped to Mr. Myers, who was studying the ceiling. “And that’s exactly what I mean,” she whispered furiously. “Listen, I realize this is my own fault, not yours. I’ve put out mixed signals. I’m not going to do that anymore. It’s not good for either of us. We’re done, Wyatt. We’ve got to be done.”

“Maybe you’d better put that in writing,” he said, feeling his own temper rise, hating how easily she said that. “And keep a copy on you, since you tend to forget every single time you jump me.”

“Fine,” she said through her teeth. “Now if you’ll be so kind as to vacate my patient’s room. I think I can handle this procedure by myself.”

“Squeezing a guy’s balls? Yeah, you got that one down.”

Mike poked his head in the room. “Emily? Call on line two.”

“Take it,” Wyatt said. “I’ve got this.”

She shook her head and left.

“Holy cow, you’re bad at that, sonny boy,” Mr. Myers said into the silence.

Wyatt turned to Mr. Myers. “Excuse me?”

“I was kinda hoping you were going to teach me something,” Mr. Myers said. “But I’ve got more game than you. Hell, Buddy has more game than you.”

Buddy licked Wyatt’s face as Wyatt stared at Mr. Myers. “You’re wearing your hearing aid.”

“Nope, I got perfectly good hearing. I just pretend I don’t cuz no one ever tells me anything.”


Sara had dinner going when Emily came in the door. She paused from stirring the pot on the stove as Emily removed Woodrow’s leash.

“Thought you weren’t keeping him,” Sara said.

Emily hugged the dog into her and he licked her ear.

She hid her face in his fur. It had been a really bad day. She was pretty sure that whatever she and Wyatt had been playing at was over.

It hurt, so much more than she could have imagined.

“Right,” Sara said. “Dad.”

Emily lifted her head. “What the hell does that mean?”

“I don’t know, let’s see,” Sara said. “You’ve got a turtle, a cat, and now a puppy. Our house is starting to resemble another vet’s house—a vet we both know and love, one whose genes we share. I’m just hoping that the next thing you bring home is Dr. Sexy.”

“We’re done doing whatever it was that we were doing,” Emily said, and rubbed a hand over the ache in her chest.

Sara shook her head. “You’ll forgive me if I doubt that.”

“It’s true,” Emily said. “And Woodrow’s only staying until I find his family.” Emily stared into twin pools of warm brown puppy eyes. “Right?”

He licked her chin again, and Emily felt a sharp stab of pain in her chest. “Great. And now I’m going to have a heart attack in Idaho.”

Sara shook her head. “You’re not having a heart attack. Your heart hurts cuz you’re falling for a damn rescue. Like you’re falling for Sunshine, and the people in it.”

“Bite your tongue.”

“Can’t. My new tongue piercing is still sore. Stop being stubborn, Emily, and get your head out of your ass. Plans change. Change yours and move on.”

She’d purposely not thought about her lifelong plan. So much that it’d taken Wyatt to point out to her that she’d forgotten to even look at it, much less update it. The fact was, she didn’t know how to make changes to it and still do the right thing. What did one do when the right thing wasn’t necessarily the right thing for her?

The next morning Emily got online to look at the bidding on the charity auction. Cassandra was now the high bidder. Crap. She had no business even caring who won Wyatt. None. She told herself to walk away. Instead, she bid again and drove to work. She sat in the car for a moment, engine off. Next to her in the passenger’s seat, Woodrow lifted his sleepy head and blinked at her. He wasn’t a morning dog. And since she wasn’t a morning person, they were perfect soul mates.

However temporary.

With a sigh, she got out of the car and turned back for her patient. He was doing much better today, but was still moving slowly. She started to help him down, but he hopped out on his own.

“You okay?” she asked.

He sat at her feet and pawed the air at her. She was pretty sure he did this because he knew exactly how cute he was when he did. “Yeah,” she said, heart squeezing. “You’re okay.” She kneeled in front of him. “I’m working hard at finding your owner, but I need you to be good for me. Can you do that?”

He licked her chin, and she hugged him. “Oh, Woodrow. What am I going to do with you?”

He panted happily in her ear.

“Okay,” she said, pulling away to look into his eyes. “I like your attitude. But since I’m sure whoever lost you is dying to have you back, there’s no use in us getting attached, okay? I get it’s going to be hard, because I have the same problem. I’m temporary here, too. And inside this building there’s this incredibly smart, incredibly funny, incredibly sexy guy. Only I can’t fall for him, and neither can you. I know, he’s got a great smile and amazing hands, and he always seems to know the right stuff to do to make me—I mean you—melt, but no melting, okay? We’re going to be strong. We have to be, because I talked to him and we’re not a thing. Not anymore.”

Woodrow barked his agreement.

That, or he was telling her that she was a complete idiot. It was a toss-up.

“Don’t make this harder than it is,” she said. “It’s best this way. You’re not staying. I’m not staying. So remember, no falling for the hot guy.” They shook on that, and then she rose to her feet. Turning, she plowed right into said hot guy. She thought of the things she’d said to him yesterday and had to lock her fingers together rather than reach for him.

Unlike her, Wyatt seemed to wake up in the mornings completely alert and ready to roll. His gaze was sharp on her, accessing but also somehow warm and affectionate. Either he hadn’t let yesterday sink in, or he wasn’t bothered in the slightest that they were no longer a thing. He was in low-slung cargoes, battered boots, and an untucked button-down, open over a T-shirt that read: I like big mutts.

Her stupid heart skipped a beat. “It’s rude to eavesdrop,” she said.

“I wasn’t eavesdropping.”

She searched his expression for the truth but couldn’t determine whether he was being honest or not. He was good at hiding his feelings when he wanted to. “Good,” she finally said, deciding to believe him, “because I wasn’t talking about you, anyway.”

Wyatt laughed. Laughed. And then he crouched on the balls of his feet and held out his hand to Woodrow. “Come here, little man.”

Wriggling in joy, Woodrow followed the demand.

Wyatt looked him over good, gave him a very careful body rub, working around his bandages. Woodrow’s eyes rolled in ecstasy into the back of his head. “He’s looking good,” Wyatt told Emily. “You did a great job with him the other night.” He rose up to his full height, looking disturbingly wonderful with Woodrow in his arms.

The dog licked him from chin to forehead, and Wyatt pressed a kiss of his own to the top of his head before setting the wriggling pup back on the ground.

Emily started to walk past Wyatt into the building, but he stopped her, a hand on hers. She looked up into his face. His hair was still damp, undoubtedly from his morning shower. It curled around his ears and at the nape of his neck. He’d shaved, and she . . . ached. She wanted to press her face into his throat and try to inhale him up. She had no idea what she’d been thinking, because she couldn’t imagine being just co-workers now that she knew how it felt to be in his arms. The problem was that she knew he wasn’t the guy for her. Not just because he wasn’t on her plan but because Darcy had said so and he hadn’t disagreed. He never lied, never misled, never misspoke. She could take him at his word.