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“I don’t need to call her, I live with her,” he said.

“You’re still in Sunshine then, at Nana’s?” she asked with a whisper of disbelief.

Wyatt understood her confusion. His parents thrived on constantly being in motion, moving on to the next great place. They’d given their kids the world, all of it, every single corner, and they couldn’t comprehend them not loving that lifestyle.

“In Nana’s house,” she said. “In that crazy old place. I can’t even believe it’s still standing. How in the world are you managing? And Darcy, with all those stairs?”

None of these were real questions, they were purely rhetorical. His mom cared about the general well-being of her children, she really did. She just never needed the details. “We’re managing fine,” he said.

“But you all fought so much as children,” she said.

Still did, Wyatt thought, remembering the lamp.

“I just figured you’d sell that monstrosity and move on,” she said.

Yeah, definitely, an eye twitch. He put a finger to it. “Mom, I told you and Dad both when I first got here last year, I’m staying in Sunshine.”

“In Idaho,” she said, adding bafflement to her disbelief. “Idaho.”

“Idaho’s beautiful,” he said.

“Yes, but how many people can say they’ve seen the seven wonders of the world before the age of eighteen? And out of all those places, you end up in Idaho.”

“I’m happy here,” he said, very aware of Emily’s gaze on him. Guess she was going to get to know more about him than he’d counted on. “I’m staying.”

“The three of you, together. It’s so . . . domesticated,” she said, still confused.

The truth was, just about everything Wyatt had ever done had confused her. Trying to collect animals wherever they went, wanting to stay in the same school for more than a month, insisting on attending college and vet school in the States. Vet school! That had really baffled her, and now here he was, living in Sunshine, which barely showed up on a map. “I realize your offspring living in nana’s house, fixing it up together, boggles your mind, Mom. But Zoe’s still flying the friendly skies and seeing the world, and I can assure you, Darcy’s as wild and untamable as ever. You did good there, real good.”

“I’m sensing sarcasm, Wyatt James Stone,” his mom said. “You know I don’t like sarcasm.”

He bit his tongue, which went against the grain for him. But talking to her never failed to remind him of why he led the life he did. Growing up, he’d had zero choices. But he had choices now, and no one could take them away.

“I’ve got to run,” his mom said.

The story of his life. But at least he no longer had to pack up and run with her.

“Send my wishes to the girls,” she said.

“Will do—” But she’d disconnected.


Emily found herself fascinated by the inadvertent peek into Wyatt’s personal life. Fascinated, and full of a surprising empathy. “Your parents live in Rome?” she asked.

Wyatt kept his eyes on the highway as he drove. “This month.”

Interesting that while at first glance he appeared to be relaxed and in his driving zone, his mouth was a little grim, his hands tight on the wheel.

He drove to the next town over from Sunshine, where there were more restaurant options. He parked, and they walked the short distance to the heart of downtown.

“Thai, Mexican, Sushi, or American cuisine,” he asked, gesturing to her choices.

Thai was good, but it always gave her a stomachache. Mexican was even better, but then she’d have pico de gallo breath. Sushi could go either way.

No, wait. A stomachache or bad breath didn’t matter.

Because they weren’t going to sleep together again.

Nope, that ship had sailed. Completely. Gone, over the horizon never to be seen again.

Even if for some crazy reason she wanted to hug him— which was a little like wanting to hug a polar bear—cuddly but rather dangerous.


Her gaze went to his mouth. Did he know he had a great mouth? “American cuisine,” she heard herself say.

His lips curved. “Emily.”

She lifted her gaze to his and winced at his knowing smirk. Busted. Had she thought he needed a hug?

“Better,” he said.

“Hey, maybe you have something on your mouth,” she said. “Like a crumb or something.”

“Do I?”

She bit her lower lip. Save face and lie? Or come clean and admit she was lusting after him. Lie, she decided. “Yes,” she said.

“Where?” He swiped his forearm over his mouth. “Better?”

She couldn’t explain herself in a million years, but she shook her head and went up on tiptoes, touching his lips with her fingertips. “Here,” she whispered, and then, clearly in the throes of a psychotic break, she pressed her mouth to the spot.

Wyatt’s hands went to her hips, tightening their grip when she pulled back.

“You get it?” he asked, voice low but tinged with amusement as well as heat.

Not trusting her voice, she nodded, and telling herself that was absolutely the last time she touched—or kissed— him, they went inside the restaurant. They ordered bacon blue burgers and seasoned sweet potato fries, and some locally brewed beer.

The food was fantastic.

So was the company.

In Emily’s world, there were pretty much three levels of existence; bad, okay, and good. Bad was having her mom slowly die over a five year period from complications of MS. Okay was attending vet school after earning her undergraduate degree, but nearly killing herself to do it, because she had to keep a job on the side to pay for such luxuries as eating and helping her dad with medical bills. Good was pretty much the same, but school was finally over and she was actually working at her dream job—albeit about a thousand miles away from where she’d planned. In one year though, she could have her dream job, in her dream location. Life might achieve great status.

She didn’t see room for a distraction named Wyatt. She understood the attraction—she’d have to be dead and buried not to be attracted to him, but he was a damn big deviance from her Plan.

Too big.

One beer loosened her tongue, two beers separated it from her brain. So naturally she had two. “Your mom’s interesting.”

“She’s something,” he said.

“What does she do?”

“She and my dad are foreign diplomats.”

“Wow. Impressive.” From what she’d heard, it sounded like he and his sisters had been on their own for a long time. And on top of that, his mom had seemed downright disinterested in his life.

Her own mom had been the opposite. She’d been snoopy, nosy, bossy, and . . . amazingly wonderful.

It had been several years since her death but Emily still got a lump in her throat just thinking about her. “You must’ve had a very interesting childhood,” she said.

“Sure,” he said. “If you call moving twenty something times between the ages of five and seventeen interesting.”

“So I guess you’re good on a plane,” she said.

“Planes. Trains. Mules . . .” He smiled at her laugh. “Ah. You’ve never been to Morocco.”

“No. I’m a shaky traveler,” she said. “I can’t even sleep through a flight, I have to be awake for the crash.”

Now it was his turn to laugh.

He had a great laugh. And did he know that when he laughed, his eyes laughed, too? Or that his hair curled over his ears in a really sexy way? She forced herself to stop noticing and blamed beer number two. She pushed it away from her.

“Travel enough and it gets easier,” he said.

“We used to vote on our family vacations. Land or sea.” She smiled at the memory. “Land meant driving to the desert and camping out. Sea meant driving twenty minutes to the Los Angeles reservoir. We’d sit on the concrete shore in our drug store beach chairs and pretend we were on a deserted South Pacific island.”

“Hey, at least you got a vote,” he said.

“You didn’t, I take it.”

He shook his head. “I’d come home from school and say, ‘Hey, Mom, just joined the Bolivia soccer team,’ and she’d say, ‘Sorry, Son, we’re going to be in Greenland by this time next week.’”

She couldn’t even imagine. “Did it screw you up?” she asked.

“Nah.” He let out a low rueful laugh and scrubbed a hand over his stubbled jaw. “Well, maybe a little.”

“Don’t worry, you hide it well,” she teased, trying very hard not to notice that the sound of his hand on his stubbled jaw made her ni**les hard.

This wasn’t good. This was the opposite of good. He was open and fun and charming, but he was also being very professional—as she’d requested—and she needed to be, too. Which meant absolutely no more noticing that he smelled good. Or that she wanted to hug him again . . . and climb into his lap. Dammit. “We’re all screwed up by our parents. What are your sisters like? Are they like you?”

“Like me how?”

She bit her lower lip, and he gave her that sexy laugh again. “Oh, don’t hold back now,” he said. “Here’s your chance to tell me what you think of me.”

She thought he was sexy as hell, but she wasn’t about to share that. The truth was, he was wonderful. He came off as laid-back, deceptively carefree, even playful.

But he was much more. At work, he was intuitive, sharp, and also incredibly demanding, expecting the best for his patients, expecting the best out of the staff.

He’d been all those things in bed, too, and at the memory, her body quivered. If she closed her eyes, she could still remember what his hands had felt like on her, guiding her where he wanted, his mouth at her ear, his words turning her on every bit as much as the rest of him.

“No words?” he asked. “Nothing?”

“Maybe a little annoying,” she said primly, and he flashed that knowing smile again.

He knew her way better than was comfortable.

“Your sisters,” she said. “You were going to tell me about your sisters.”

“They’re crazy,” he said. But his tone was affectionate, and there was laughter in his voice. “Zoe’s only eleven months older than me, but she’s been playing mom since she could walk. Darcy’s the baby, and managed to party her way across the planet. They’re both colossal pains in my ass, but for the most part we make it work.”

“You live with them.”

“For now. They needed me.” He shrugged. “Family.”

At the simple statement, and the deep loyalty in it, she nodded. She got that. Learning about his family, how he’d grown up, how he took care of his sisters, it was yet another layer to him that she hadn’t expected.

As for their little experiment of getting to know each other in order to derail their attraction . . . if the low-level hum of arousal buzzing through her system accounted for anything, they hadn’t derailed a single thing. And now, instead of liking him less, she liked him more.

Epic fail.

“I really wanted you to be a jerk,” she admitted softly.

“You wanted to work with a jerk?”

“No, I wanted to not be attracted to you anymore.” She reached for her beer, needing the liquid courage. “Is it just me?” she asked softly into his silence, knowing she shouldn’t. “I’m the only one struggling here?”

He looked at her for a long moment, but didn’t respond to that, either. Instead, he dropped some cash on the table, stood up, and pulled her with him.

Mr. Professional.

She should appreciate the effort. She should replicate his effort. “Where are we going now?”

“Home,” he said, taking her back to his truck, opening the passenger’s door for her. “To bed.”

She went still and assessed her feelings. Her girlie parts were on board. Standing so close to him between the truck and his big, warm, strong body, she gave in. “Okay, good. Maybe just one more time—”

“In our own beds,” he said.

“Oh.” She blew out a breath. Nodded. “I knew that.”


They didn’t speak much on the drive back to Belle Haven. The lot was dark and empty when they pulled in. Emily grabbed her purse and slid from the truck almost before Wyatt even stopped, needing to get out of his sexy air space ASAP.

But as chill as he was, the guy could move like lightning when he wanted. And apparently he wanted, because he caught up with her in the blink of an eye.

“You don’t have to—”

“Yes,” he said firmly, setting a big hand on the small of her back, vigilantly taking in their surroundings as they moved. “I do. There’s been some break-ins this year. Not here, but at other animal centers, addicts looking for drugs. I’m not taking chances with you.”

“Oh. Well, thanks.” At her car door, she hesitated. If this had been a real date, she’d be wondering if there was going to be a good-night kiss. But this wasn’t a real date. “And thanks for dinner,” she said.

He dipped down a little to see into her eyes. “We good?”

Oh, great, and now he felt sorry for her. “Yep.” She added a super enthusiastic nod. “We’re good. We’re great. We’re super-duper.” She bit her tongue to shut herself up, but he was already frowning.

“You’re toasted,” he said.