Page 27


A comfort.

And now, a nightmare.

He stepped close, until they were toe-to-toe, waiting until she tipped her head back to look at him. “If getting attached is the worst thing you do while you’re here,” he said quietly, the teasing light in his eyes gone, “that’s not such a bad thing.”

“You said you didn’t eavesdrop.”

“It’s not eavesdropping if a person’s talking to herself.”

“I was talking to Woodrow.”

He smiled at her and she was hit with another wave of longing for him that nearly took her out at the knees.

“I’ll be in surgery this morning,” he finally said. “You’re scheduled to shadow. Is that going to be a problem?”

“Of course not,” she said. “Is your shoulder—”

“Fine,” he said.

Not that he’d tell her if it wasn’t fine. He liked to chide her for keeping to a plan, but he’d kept himself a virtual island. He held the door open for her and Woodrow.

They were greeted by Gertie and Jade, who’d returned the night before. Woodrow sat patiently while Gertie sniffed him for the second morning in a row, taking a long time at his bandages. Woodrow’s tail was wagging with an air of hopefulness that made Emily’s throat tighten. When Gertie was done, Woodrow licked her.

Gertie licked him back, flopped to the floor, her hundred plus pounds shaking the place.

“Bed hog!” Peanut yelled.

Emily had put flyers up throughout town, and on several online bulletin boards as well. She’d gone by her neighbor’s house twice but no one had been home.

Jade handed her a stack of messages and watched Emily flip through them. Lots of people had called, wanting to adopt Woodrow. But no one had claimed to be his owner.

“You gonna adopt him out to one of the people who want him?” Jade asked.

“Can’t. He’s not mine.”

They all looked down at her feet. Woodrow was sitting on them, eyes bright, tongue lolling.

Jade snorted. “Uh-huh.”

Emily looked at Woodrow and felt her heart squeeze. Yeah. He was hers to the bone. She looked at Wyatt, who was back to giving nothing away. If the thought of losing Woodrow killed her, it was nothing compared to what she felt over imagining herself losing Wyatt.

But he was no more hers than Woodrow was. And she needed to remember that.

Three days later, Wyatt was spending his Friday night on the Victorian’s roof, a tool belt around his hips, earbuds in his ears blasting loud enough to drown out the voices in his head.

The voices in his head belonged to his sisters, who’d had the blowup of all blowups earlier, over a trip to Target of all things.

Zoe had taken Darcy there on the way home from her PT appointment, and it had gone bad when Darcy got Zoe kicked out of the store. Exactly how this had happened was anyone’s guess since neither of them would say. Wyatt had decided to escape the tension by knocking something off Darcy’s never-ending to-do list.

The roof had been leaking over the attic’s overhang and into the pantry for months. Maybe years. He’d just finished nailing down a new panel when a car drove up. From three stories up he watched Emily and Woodrow alight from her car.

Something clenched deep in his gut. For three days, they’d been perfectly professional at work, in sync.

He’d hated every moment of it.

He saw her look to his truck parked in the driveway, and then at the ladder leaning against the house. He saw her gaze follow the line of the ladder to the second-story roof, where he’d shimmied up the patio awning to get to the very top level.

Her mouth dropped open.

Far below him, he heard the front door open. He couldn’t see who’d done so, but he was betting on Zoe.

Darcy never bothered to answer the door.

Emily and Woodrow disappeared inside the house.

“That can’t be good,” he said out loud.

“Sincerely doubt it.”

He nearly startled right off the f**king roof at the sound of Darcy’s voice. She was in the attic, her face level with his as she peeked out the window she’d opened. “Jesus,” he said. “What are you doing up here?”

She shrugged.

“How did you even get up here?”

“I have my ways,” she said.

She’d walked. Or crawled. Or hell, maybe she’d flown her broom. The woman had amazing staying powers when she set her mind to something.

“So why’s Emily here?” she asked.

“Dunno,” he said. “How did you get Zoe kicked out of Target?”

“Shockingly easy,” Zoe said from behind Darcy as she came into the attic as well. “She grabbed a case of condoms and randomly dropped individual boxes into people’s carts when they weren’t looking.”

Behind Zoe came Woodrow. Attached to the end of his leash was Emily, and she choked out what sounded like a horrified laugh.

Wyatt, on his knees on the roof, shook his head.

“That’s not why,” Darcy said.

“True,” Zoe said. “It was because you also set every alarm clock in Housewares to go off at five minute intervals.”

Darcy smiled. “Still not why.”

Emily stared at her. “How long were you in there?”

“Half an hour,” Zoe said, tossing her hands up. “I was grocery shopping!”

“You weren’t,” Darcy said. “You were lingerie shopping. And I don’t know why, he’s not worth it.”

Wyatt blinked. “He who?”

“Never you mind,” Zoe said, and pointed to Darcy. “This is about her. When the manager put an announcement over the loud speaker to watch out for the crazy chick in the motorized wheelchair wreaking havoc on the store, Darcy put her hands over her ears and screamed ‘The voices are back!’”

“Hey,” Darcy said. “This is what we do, we humiliate each other in public, it keeps us humble. And I humiliate Wyatt, too. Remember the last time he had a date over? We told her how he didn’t potty train until third grade?”

“Which was a lie,” Wyatt said.

“I don’t remember that,” Zoe said. “I remember telling someone that he slept with Petey the Bear until he was twelve.”

Wyatt locked gazes with Emily, who was soaking this all up with avid shock. “Hi,” he said. “Welcome to the house for the criminally insane.”

“So what’s the party for?” Darcy asked.

They all looked at Emily.

She clearly forced a smile. “I just came by to bring Wyatt his latest casserole dish from the Casserole Brigade.”

“Who’s it from?” Darcy asked. “Tell me it’s from Rachel Masters. She makes a great enchilada casserole. I keep telling Wyatt to flirt with her, or better yet, take one for the team and sleep with her so that she’ll make more enchiladas.”

Emily gave another slow blink. “Um, no. It’s not from Rachel.”

“Damn, Wy,” Darcy said. “You’re falling down on the job.”

Emily gestured behind her. “I’ll just be going now.”

“Oh, don’t leave on our account,” Darcy said. “Not when you made up such a good excuse to come out here and take advantage of my brother.”

Emily’s cheeks went red. “What? I didn’t—”

“Sure you did,” Darcy said. “But there’s no need to be embarrassed. All the women in Sunshine go to great lengths to take advantage of him. So far he hasn’t been real good at letting them, but there’s always a shot, and we all know he has a thing for you. So go ahead, take advantage all you want—”

“Out,” Wyatt said, pointing at his sisters. “Both of you.”


“Now,” he said, ignoring Darcy entirely and giving the I-Swear-To-God eyes to Zoe.

She correctly interpreted the look and hauled Darcy to the door. “We’re going out to dinner. We’ll be late. Real late. So just carry on with . . . whatever.”

Emily’s gaze locked on Wyatt’s. She nibbled her lower lip and went beet red, but she didn’t turn tail and run. Neither of them moved, not until the front door shut far below them and Zoe’s car started up and pulled out of the driveway.

“I didn’t come to take advantage of you,” Emily said into the silence.

He crawled through the window and into the attic. She was in black slacks and a soft sweater the exact color of her eyes. She was dusted in dog and cat hair, her own hair was falling out of its ponytail and framing her face, which was lined with exhaustion.

She’d never looked more beautiful to him. “Did you really come out here to bring me a casserole?”

“Yeah.” She stared at his Adam’s apple like she wanted to lick it. “It’s in the car.”

“Who’s it from?”

She bit her lower lip.

“Emily.” He was smiling. “There’s no casserole, is there.”


He put a hand on her hip. The other he slid into her hair, fisted gently, and tipped her face to his, letting his thumb rasp lightly over the pulse at the base of her throat.

She met his gaze, her own a little dazed. “You’re dog-whispering me like you do to your patients at work, where you go all silent and alpha pack leader, and wait for them to surrender to you and tell you all their woes.”

“I like the surrender part,” he said.

She pushed him but she didn’t mean it, and they both knew it.

“Okay,” she murmured. “You were, right, okay? Does that make you happy?”

“Yes, always,” he said. “But for the record, what am I right about, other than everything?”

A second push, and he laughed as he pulled her in against him. He hadn’t laughed in days. Christ, he’d missed her. Even though he’d seen her for eight to ten hours a day, he’d missed this.


Which meant he was totally screwed, of course, but in that moment, he didn’t care. Yeah, she had one foot out the door, so what. He’d survived it once, he’d survive it again. He pressed his lips to her jaw.

She shivered. “We said we’re not doing this anymore.”

“Actually, you said that. I didn’t sign on to the not doing this anymore program.” It was just about as revealing a statement as he could make without manipulating her into making a decision.

And he wasn’t about to do that.


She went still, then dropped her head to his chest and banged it a few times.

“You could take it back,” he said.

She paused, like she really wanted to, but in the end she shook her head. “I can’t because Darcy was right. I’m wrong for you, Wyatt. And even if I wasn’t, I’m leaving.” Her face was a mask of misery. “I’m sorry but I’ve got to go.”


At the morning’s staff meeting, Darcy brought donuts. She was working the rest of the week, helping Jade catch up. Everyone dug in including Emily.

Wyatt knew this because he was watching her, unable to take his eyes off her. She was currently two fisting matching chocolate donuts, digging into them like they might solve her problems.

After she’d left him the night before, he’d gone to AJ’s gym and worked himself into a near early grave. He’d needed to be beyond exhausted to sleep.

He hadn’t examined his feelings too closely, and he could tell by the way Emily was avoiding eye contact that she wasn’t any more eager to do so than him.

Which meant that they were just as messed up as ever.

The meeting covered the usual items on the itinerary, and at the end, when they’d all stood to head for the door, Dell looked at Emily.

“I took another call from the Beverly Hills animal center,” he said. “The head vet there wanted to remind me that her intern’s still unhappy. I reiterated how well you’ve worked out, and how lucky we are to have you.”

Wyatt looked at Emily, waiting for her to say how she’d give up her right nut, if she’d had one, to switch.

But she said nothing.

And he didn’t know what to make of that either, or the relief that swamped him.

That night, Emily made her weekly call to her dad. He’d apparently finally found his iPod, but then had gone on to lose his keys, having to call a locksmith to make a new set. He and the locksmith had traded services, and her father was going to give the guy’s three cats a checkup.

He’d also lost his wallet, and had bribed the lady at the DMV to putting him to the front of the line if he immunized her dog as a trade.

“Maybe you could actually charge people for your services sometime,” Emily said.

“But then I wouldn’t have a new key or my license.”

Emily didn’t know how to fight that logic. “Dad, what if I said I could come home sooner. I could help you out more.”

He laughed. “I think I’m beyond help.”

“But if I could—”

“Honey, you can’t. You know I’d love to have you here, and you will be. After you put in your time. Don’t worry about me. As long as my head’s still attached, I can’t lose that at least. But do you happen to know where my Kindle might be?”

After they hung up, Emily went to her computer. She wasted a few minutes with the usual time-wasting techniques like Facebook, and then the charity auction. She was still top bidder for Wyatt.

Since this made her feel like she was on a boat at sea, she closed her browser and brought up her e-mail.

She started a new e-mail to Dell. It took her an hour to get it right and even then she stared at it for a long time before she hit Send.