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Authors: Emily March

Angel's Rest (6 page)

BOOK: Angel's Rest
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“All right. What’s a little more humiliation?” She folded her arms and sighed. “Here’s the deal, Gabe. I know I’m being pushy. It’s an unfortunate tendency of mine. But the fact is that I really, really don’t want to be alone tonight. See, today is … was … my wedding anniversary. Would have been six years today if the man I married wasn’t a lying, cheating snake. Last year on this date I swore I wouldn’t spend this year wallowing in another self-indulgent pity party. If you leave me now, I’m liable to do just that. Besides, the way I figure it, you owe me. I saved your life, remember? You said yourself that I was a lifesaver. All I’m asking for in return is for you to sit down and make small talk with me while we share a gourmet meal and a really fine bottle of wine.”

Amusement lit his eyes and she could see the subtle lessening of tension in his stance. “Small talk, huh? You don’t know how much I hate small talk.”

“Deal with it, Callahan. The meat needs to sit another …” She checked the mantel clock. “Five minutes. The powder room is beneath the stairs if you want to wash up, and if you’d like a drink before dinner, the piece of furniture against the wall behind you is a bar. I filled the ice bucket earlier, so you’re good to go.”

In the kitchen, Nic gave her hips a happy little wiggle
as she stirred the sauce. Okay, so this wasn’t a date. No doubt about that. Nevertheless, she’d managed to upgrade her dinner companion for tonight in a substantial way, and for that she was grateful. Excited, even. She couldn’t have asked for a better distraction on this unhappy anniversary. Gabe Callahan was downright hot. The scruffy, need-a-haircut-and-a-shave look suited him, and a girl could get drunk on those warm whiskey eyes of his.

Distracted by her thoughts and the man in her library, Nic neglected to use her hot pads as she went to pick up her roasting pan. “Yee-ouch!” she cried as the pan clattered back onto the stovetop.

She was shaking her left hand and staring at the venison, grateful she hadn’t dropped their dinner on the floor, when Callahan appeared in the doorway to her kitchen. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m an idiot. I almost dropped the roast.”

“You burned yourself,” he surmised as his gaze shifted from her to the pot on the stove. Crossing to the kitchen sink, he twisted the cold water faucet. “C’mere.”

When she moved close, he took her arm by the wrist and studied her hand as he guided it beneath the running water. “You grabbed your pan without a pad? You don’t strike me as the careless sort.”

“I have my moments of ditziness,” she replied.

Ditziness fast becoming dizziness. He’d yet to release her hand, so he stood close enough for her to smell the sandalwood fragrance of his soap. It was all she could do not to sway against him.

Nic had always been a sucker for ruggedly handsome men with well-defined abs, but with the wounded-soul thing he had going on … whoa.
My oh my, he trips my trigger
.

“It doesn’t appear to be too bad a burn,” he observed.

You’d be surprised
. With a husky note to her voice, she murmured, “It’s fine.”

Gabe glanced up and caught her staring at the strong line of his jaw. His gaze locked onto hers, and for a long, smoldering moment time hung suspended. Nic thought he might lower his head and kiss her.

Instead he abruptly released her wrist as if it were the hot roasting-pan handle and quickly backed away.

In that moment he reminded her of a cornered animal desperately searching for escape, and the healer in her responded. This man was hurt, damaged in some fundamental way. She saw it not in those scars upon his body but in the haunted expression in his eyes.

She wanted to make him well again. If he had four legs instead of two, she’d know exactly what to do, but humans weren’t her specialty, and despite his appeal, she felt out of her league where Gabe Callahan was concerned.

Gruffly he asked, “Can I, um, carry something to the table?”

“Sure. Thank you. The breadbasket is there by the coffee maker. I’ll join you in just a few minutes.”

He grabbed the basket in full retreat and kept his distance until Nic invited him to pour the wine as she served the meal. Once they were both seated, she attempted to dispel the lingering tension by lifting her glass in a toast. “To scintillating small talk, Mr. Callahan.”

After a brief pause, Gabe gave a half smile, touched his glass to hers, and said in a droll tone of voice, “Lovely weather we’re having, Dr. Sullivan.”

The exchange set the tone for the meal. His interest in her library led to a discussion about reading preferences and she learned they shared an affinity for popular fiction. They both enjoyed thrillers, though he expressed disdain for spy novels and she didn’t care for graphic violence.
They debated favorite authors for a time, then conversation moved to the meal. He paid flattering homage to her cooking skills, both verbally and by taking second helpings. She considered it a minor victory when he asked her a question that she felt went beyond “small talk.”

Nic lifted her wineglass and swirled the ruby liquid as she contemplated her answer. “I chose to return to Eternity Springs because I have a thing for ruby slippers.”

He made the Wizard of Oz connection easily. “There’s no place like home, Dorothy?”

“Exactly. I can live other places, be happy other places. I certainly would be better off financially if I worked somewhere else. But I don’t think I’d thrive anywhere but here. It sounds corny, I know, but I believe that this is where I am meant to be.” She sipped her wine and took a risk. “How about you, Gabe Callahan? Where is home for you?”

Slowly, he set down his fork. He lifted his napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth. “The meal was excellent, Nic. I’ve never tasted venison as delicious as this.”

Okay. Great big No Trespassing sign in that window. She considered calling him on it but decided she didn’t want to spoil what had ended up being a lovely evening. “Thank you. Would you care for dessert?”

He glanced at the mantel clock and set his napkin on the table. “I should be heading back.”

“I have a plate of the Bristlecone Café’s famous brownies.”

He returned his napkin to his lap. “I guess there’s no need to hurry.”

Nic grinned as she rose to clear the dinner plates, but the smile died when she glanced out the window and spied an unusual light. “Wait. Look, Gabe. What is that?”

He responded at the moment a bell began to clang. “Fire. I think it’s across the creek.”

Nic stared, realized what she was looking at, then gasped. “That’s Cavanaugh House.”

Celeste Blessing’s home was on fire.

Gabe started his Jeep and cursed the dog. If not for that dopey, crooked-tailed mange magnet, he’d be holed up on the mountain safely by himself.

He didn’t belong down here in the valley having dinner with an attractive woman. He had no business rushing off to the rescue of little old ladies. Interacting with others. Joining in their efforts. He had no business doing any of this. That wasn’t why he’d come to Eternity Springs.

It was all that stupid dog’s fault.

Yet the moment Nic slipped into the passenger seat beside him, a medical bag in hand, he shifted into gear and headed for the fire.

She tossed a pair of work gloves into his lap. “We’re a volunteer fire department here. They’ll have some extra gear on the truck, but it never hurts to have your own.”

He muttered a few more curses beneath his breath. He had much more experience with firefights than he did with fighting fires.

When they arrived at the scene, it quickly became obvious to Gabe that the first responders knew what they were doing. They worked efficiently and effectively beneath the direction of the man he recognized as the owner of the local lumber yard.

“There’s Celeste. Thank God.” Nic grabbed her medical bag and hopped out of the Jeep before Gabe switched off the ignition. As she rushed toward the elderly woman seated on the tailgate of a pickup truck, Gabe braced himself, then went to offer his assistance to
the lumberyard owner, who was barking orders into a radio. “What can I do to help?”

“You ever done this before?”

“No.”

“Then stay back. Help move the hose.” He pointed to a man who had the fire hose slung over his shoulder and who moved in coordination with the two men in front at the nozzle. Over the roar and crackle of the fire, the leader shouted, “Cyrus, go spell Frank for a bit. This fella will take your place.”

Heat hit Gabe like a body blow as he moved closer to the fire. From the top floor of the grand old mansion, fingers of flame stabbed into the night sky. Gingerbread decorating the eaves flamed, blackened, and disappeared. An attic window popped and men scurried backward as glass rained down onto the yard.

Once the glass settled, firefighters moved forward with their hoses again, water roaring from the nozzles. Gabe hauled and hoisted and hefted. Sweat cascaded down his face and reminded him of a hot Texas summers of his youth. He turned his face away as a cloud of smoke rolled over him and stole his breath. He started to cough, so hard that he bent over double.

It was as he straightened that he recognized the potential for disaster. With the wind blowing the heat and flames away from them, a pair of knuckleheaded boys had kept inching forward, and they now stood too close to the burning house for Gabe’s peace of mind. He yelled to catch their attention and tell them to move back, but between his smoke-filled lungs and the chaos of the moment, no one paid him any attention.
Who are the idiots who allow their kids to run loose this way?

He heaved a grim sigh and set down the hose, indicating his intentions by gesture to the man in front of him. He hurried toward the boys, and he’d just captured the boys’ notice when the boom of an explosion ripped
through the night. Burning debris launched like missiles into the air above the boys’ heads, and Gabe launched himself at the pair.

The boys cried out as they all went down in a heap. Flaming rubble rained down around them. Something hard and hot struck Gabe’s back just as a scream alerted him to the fact that one boy’s fleece jacket had caught fire. Gabe frantically went to work smothering the flames, and soon other arms reached out to help. As panicked voices rose all around him, he climbed slowly to his feet, breathing heavily.

Someone shuffled the kids off for Nic to check over, but Gabe ignored the instruction that he should do the same. Instead he went back to the fire hose, back to work. The minor burns on his hands didn’t rate a break, and he could tell that they were gaining ground on the fire.

All in all, the incident with the boys didn’t last a minute. The fire itself hadn’t burned for more than twenty. The volunteer fire department had it whipped in half an hour. When the lumberyard owner ordered the hoses shut off, a huge cheer went up from the crowd. Everyone in town must be here.

Gabe stepped away from the fire hose. The townspeople surged forward to inspect damage to a home now lit only by moonlight. Gabe remained stationary, and as a result, he soon stood at the periphery of the crowd. Scraps of conversation drifted over him.

“How did it start?”

“Who was the fella who knocked the boys to safety?”

“She bought the place lock, stock, and barrel. I heard it’s still packed full of Cavanaugh stuff. Hope it wasn’t all destroyed.”

“Well, Celeste can’t stay here. Wonder who will take her home?”

“Looks like the damage is confined to the north addition. Lucky break there.”

“Who’s that man who came with Dr. Nic? I’ve never seen him before.”

“You know, Hank, we dodged a disaster by the skin of our teeth. We have to get the pump truck fixed. Got it running tonight on a lick and a prayer. Hell, the fire could have jumped the creek and burned down the whole damn town!”

Gabe took another step back. Then another. When he saw a trio of matrons eyeing him with questions in their eyes, he pivoted on his heel and headed for the Jeep. Halfway there he stopped abruptly. He’d brought Nic here. He couldn’t up and leave without her. His mother—God rest her soul—had branded that into his bones.

Reluctantly he went to find her. A triage of sorts had been set up along the bank of Angel Creek with lanterns and flashlights and car headlights illuminating the space. Nic and a handful of other women were there tending to a variety of minor injuries.

As he approached, an older woman eyed him with interest. “You must be Gabe Callahan,” she said. “I’m Celeste Blessing. Nicole tells me that Archibald has decided you are his owner.”

Who? Oh. The dog. Oh, no. No. No. No
. “I’m just visiting the area, Ms. Blessing. I’m a guest in someone else’s home. I can’t have a dog.”

“Hmm …” She offered him a beatific smile before turning to Nic. “Now that things have calmed down a bit, I need to tell you why the accident happened. I’m afraid I knocked over the candle because I was trying to run after the puppy that a fox chased into my root cellar. He was hurt, Nic, and I’m sure he’s still down there. We need to go get him.”

A pretty brunette about Nic’s age shook her head. “You can’t go down there tonight.”

“It’s a puppy,” Celeste repeated. “I hope he doesn’t die.”

The brunette hit her forehead with her palm and groaned. “Now you’ve done it. Nic won’t hesitate to risk life and limb for a puppy.”

Celeste added, “They told me the basement wasn’t affected by the fire, so the root cellar should be fine, too.”

Nic stared toward the house. “I can make a quick—”

“I’ll do it,” Gabe announced. “Somebody give me a flashlight.”

“Thanks, Gabe.” She darted a smile. “Two sets of hands are better than one when working with wild animals, and I suspect she saw a coyote rather than a puppy. Let me grab my bag.”

He nodded, accepted the offered flashlight, and headed for the root cellar entrance he’d noticed while fighting the fire. She caught up with him halfway to the house. “I’ll go in first. If the animal needs sedation, you’ll need to stay out of my way.”

Gabe respected her professional abilities, but no way he’d let a woman take point position. At the root cellar door he met her gaze and said, “Dr. Sullivan? Sit. Stay.”

BOOK: Angel's Rest
9.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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