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And then he heard the telltale sniff. Grimacing, he pulled back and gave Zoe a pained look. “Again?”

She swiped a tear. “Dammit! I didn’t expect to get all sappy. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s because you’re old now,” Darcy said.

Wyatt wrapped an arm around her neck, covering her mouth with his hand.

“Mmffl!” Darcy said.

“Zip it, I’m saving your life,” he said. He looked at Zoe. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” She sent them each a watery smile. “I know this is a birthday, but I gotta say, the crazy makes it feel a lot like how our first Thanksgiving together with just the three of us went, doesn’t it?”

They’d never celebrated Thanksgiving growing up. They’d never been in the States in November. But they’d celebrated this year, and not surprisingly, had fought like cats and dogs. Being here together now, fighting like cats and dogs yet again, he agreed that this was exactly what Thanksgiving had been like—crazy as shit. And crazy wonderful.

The next few days at work with one adorably sexy Dr. Emily Stevens flew, and he was getting pretty good with the ignoring thing. Or at least he’d done a good job with the faking of the ignoring thing.

Because she, with her tough, smart ways, was pretty damn difficult to ignore.

Except she wasn’t going to stick. She had one foot out the door. He didn’t have to work at remembering that—he couldn’t forget it. “So,” he said conversationally as they scrubbed up for their first patient. “How many days left?”

“Three hundred and forty-seven.”

He’d been just teasing her, but her ready answer was a sober reminder. Like his parents, like his ex-fiancée, like at least one of his sisters, she was yet another person in his life with one foot out the door. He needed to remember that.

The day was long and challenging as they saw twenty-two patients. They’d done their best for each of them, and each of them had appreciated it. It had been in every soft, warm lick, every tail wag, and in some cases, a rumbly purr.

It was the people who owned his patients who were the pains in his ass.

Mr. Thicket hadn’t appreciated being kept waiting and had bellowed at Jade behind the receptionist desk.

Since Dell had flown north to a client’s ranch to inoculate horses that morning, Wyatt was in charge. When he heard Mr. Thicket go off, he excused himself from a patient’s room and strode out to the front, standing in front of Jade’s desk, hands on h*ps to face Mr. Thicket. “Problem?”

“You have incompetent help.” He jabbed a finger at Jade.

Wyatt couldn’t see Jade, but he could feel her narrow her eyes. Jade was a lot of things, and maybe impatient was one of them, but incompetent? Hell, no. In fact, she was just about the most competent woman he’d ever met.

“You need to fire her,” Mr. Thicket said.

Wyatt had a very long fuse, but that fuse didn’t extend to a guy taking his frustration out on a woman, no matter that the woman in question had a baseball bat behind her desk and knew self-defense moves that could take down a man twice her size. “You have two choices,” he told Mr. Thicket. “Wait outside while I treat your dog, or go somewhere else to be treated.”

Mr. Thicket glared at him, weighing his options. There weren’t many. Everyone and their brother knew that there was no comparable animal center to Belle Haven for two hundred miles.

“It’s cold out there,” Mr. Thicket said. “Effing fall arrived.”

“Two choices,” Wyatt repeated, unmoved.

In the end, Mr. Thicket huffed and puffed, but went outside, where he proceeded to bitch to every person who walked in or out the front door until Wyatt finished seeing his dog.

The day didn’t improve when he was assisting Emily in treating a ferret named Franko and Franko’s owner—a teenage girl—grabbed the animal incorrectly. Franko lashed out, going right for Emily’s face. Wyatt caught him in mid-air, and got his finger bit nearly to the bone for his efforts.

Emily treated him in the staff room. He could tell she was shaken—not at the blood, she had nerves of steel—but that it was his finger and not hers. “You shouldn’t have done that for me,” she said.

In all truth, it had been instinct. He’d have done it for anyone.

“Does it hurt?” she asked softly when she was done with him.

“If I say yes, you going to kiss it better?”

She rolled her eyes and cleaned up.

Wyatt had no idea why he baited her.

Okay, he knew. After being near her for the past couple of weeks, and then remembering how good their long-ago night had been, seeing that they still had chemistry and knowing it would be that good again now, he wanted her. He wanted her na**d beneath him, her tongue in his mouth, her legs wrapped around his back, her h*ps rocking up to meet his until they both came so hard they saw stars.

And she could take or leave him. The f**king story of his life.

A few hours later, Franko’s owner was back. The teenager had bought Wyatt a present—a tie with puppies and kittens on it. Jade made him wear the tie for the rest of the afternoon.

Much later, he stood at the front desk after their last patient, getting his messages from Jade and giving Gertie some love. His day was topped off when Cassandra Hastings came in carrying a casserole dish.

Cassandra was in her forties, unhappily single, and a regular at Belle Haven. She always paid on time and was polite. And warm and friendly.

Very warm and friendly.

“Here she comes,” Jade warned him beneath her breath. “The cougar, at six o’clock.”

“Cougar!” Peanut the parrot yelled, and ducked dramatically.

Wyatt turned his body away. Cassandra had a problem with roaming hands. And sure enough, she set the casserole dish down on the counter to give him a hug.

He pretended he’d dropped something, and evaded, a maneuver he’d gotten good at.

“Brought you lobster ravioli,” she said. “Your sister said it was your favorite.”

Wyatt was going to kill Zoe. Or maybe Darcy. Hell, he’d just kill them both and be done with it.

Jade, behind her counter, gave him the laughing eyes. She knew damn well that the last time he hadn’t turned away fast enough, Cassandra had copped a feel. Not something he cared to repeat.

Cassandra patted the casserole dish. “I’ve been told I make the best lobster ravioli this side of the Mississippi. Why don’t I come out to your place tonight to gather the dish?”

“Your place,” Peanut said.

Wyatt glared at the parrot. Jade was no help, she’d ducked behind her computer screen, shoulders shaking with silent laughter, the ingrate.

Taking his silence as consent, Cassandra shifted closer. “Poor baby, I bet you’re exhausted, what with how hard you work and all.”

“I’m not tired,” he said. He’d passed tired about three hours ago. “But I am busy later.”

“No problem.” She smiled and winked. “I’ll come early.”

He heard what he’d have sworn was a gagging noise behind him, and when he craned his head, he met Emily’s gaze.

She nudged Wyatt out of the way and offered her hand to Cassandra. “Dr. Emily Stevens,” she said. “The new intern. Why don’t I go in the back and transfer the dish to another container for you right now so you don’t have to bother Dr. Stone tonight?” It was worded as a question but everyone knew she wasn’t asking, including Cassandra.

She stared at Emily for a long heartbeat before pulling her hand back. “Not necessary,” she finally said. “I’ll get the dish back from him another time.”

“Boner!” Parrot yelled merrily as Cassandra left.

Jade put out her finger and Peanut high-fived her with one of his parrot feet. Then Jade grinned at Emily. “You’re good.” She turned away to answer the phone and then said, “Hold on a sec, they’re both right here.” She hit Speaker. “Go ahead, babe.”

Dell’s voice filled the room. “I can’t get back in time for dinner,” he said. “You two go on without me.”

Their welcome to Belle Haven dinner for Emily. Wyatt had forgotten that was tonight.

Emily stared at him and gave him a wide-eyed head shake that he got loud and clear. She wanted him to get them out of this. It made perfect sense.

But he said nothing.

Emily narrowed her eyes at him, and he found himself smiling.

“Problem?” Dell asked into the silence.

“No,” Emily said. “Of course not.”

“Use the company card, Wyatt, this one’s on me.”

“Got it,” Wyatt said, watching Emily bite her lower lip. The same lower lip he’d once sucked on until she’d moaned his name.

“You should come with us,” Emily said to Jade when Dell had disconnected.

“Oh, that’s sweet, but I can’t. It’s book club night and it’s at our house. You’ll have to join us next time, Emily. Sorry, Wyatt, chicks only.” She stood up and began her closing up routine. “Shoo,” she said to both of them. “Go have dinner. After the day we had, you both deserve it.”

Which is how Wyatt ended up in his truck driving Emily to dinner.

“This is silly,” she said. “You should’ve let me take my car. We could’ve left at the same time, and each gone our own way. No one would’ve ever known that we didn’t do dinner.”

“We’re doing dinner,” he said.


Yeah, genius. Why? “We’re going to be working closely together,” he said. “Ignoring each other isn’t going to work for a whole year.”

“Three hundred and forty-seven days.”

“Or that,” he said. “We might as well settle in and get to know each other.”

She slid him a look. “We already know each other. Far more than we should.”

He laughed. This was true, to an extent. He did know certain things, such as she had a warm, perfectly curvy bod that fit his perfectly. He knew what she tasted like—heaven. And he knew the soft, erotic little sounds she made when she was desperate to come. And those thoughts weren’t helping one little bit. He shifted in his seat. Yeah, definitely, he shouldn’t be remembering any of those things. “We could get to know each other on a conversational level,” he said.

Her gaze dropped to his mouth, and he did his damnedest not to do the same. “How is that a good idea?” she wanted to know.

“We can learn each other’s tics and idiosyncrasies.”

She stared at him. “You think that if we get to know each other, we won’t like what we learn, and that will put a coolant on our chemistry?”

He laughed a little, unable to help it. But there was a fat chance in hell that they could put a coolant on this thing.

Over there in the passenger’s seat, she turned to face him, arms crossed, clearly having taken his amusement in the wrong way.

“Oh my God,” she said. “You think you won’t like me. Why not?”

He was still smiling. “You already know you don’t like me all that much, so why the hell do you even care?”

“Humor me,” she said, eyes narrowed.

“All right.” He shrugged again. “I don’t want to fall for a woman who has one foot out the door.”

She opened her mouth, and then closed it and turned to the window.

Conversation over. Clearly he was right, which didn’t give him any satisfaction. But he was glad they’d gotten that out in the open. His parents had chosen their life’s calling over their own kids. His ex’s career had meant more than anyone or anything in her life, including him. And here was Emily, giving off that same vibe.

Good thing he learned from his mistakes.


“Sounds like you’ve been hurt,” she said softly. “What happened?”

He didn’t like that she read him so easily. And as attracted as he was to her, he knew she wasn’t going to be his, so he had no intention of sharing his own fucked-up life with her.

She surprised him by suddenly seeming hugely relieved at his lack of response. “This is good,” she said, leaning back. “We can’t talk to each other. You know what that means? It means we’re totally unsuited. So all we have to do is not sleep together again, and it’ll be okay.” She glanced over at him. “We can do that, right?”

No, he was pretty sure they couldn’t. His expression must have answered for him.

“Crap,” she said finally. “We’re in big trouble, aren’t we?”

He was saved from having to answer that when his phone rang. He answered on Bluetooth and was shocked as hell when his mother’s voice filled the cab of his truck.

“Wyatt, darling,” she said. “So glad I caught you before I head into the Rome embassy.”

To hear from her was rare enough that his first question was the obvious. “You okay? Is Dad okay?”

“Of course,” she said. “We just wanted to wish you a happy birthday.”

He felt Emily look at him in surprise. “Mom,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It’s Zoe’s birthday, not mine.”

There was a long pause. “Are you sure?”

Wyatt choked out a laugh. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Huh,” his mom said. “Okay, well, tell her I said happy birthday.”

His eye twitched. “Mom, you should tell her yourself.”

“No time now, darling. Call her for me, okay?”