Authors: Alice Clayton
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #General
When he looked up at me and I caught the full force of those ice-blue eyes, the impact was a thousand times more lethal than the reflection in the bar mirror.
Gingers are my kryptonite. Always have been, always will be. Show me a hot redheaded guy and my pulse will start a’racing. And
guy? At least six feet three, sun-kissed skin, freckles scattered across his nose, his hair swept back from his chiseled features. Cheekbones that could cut glass. And those eyes, currently giving me the three-second inventory. I drew myself up to my full seated height and took another two seconds to
catalog the strong forearms, also splashed with a few freckles, the long and tapered fingers holding the charts. Oh yes, a very good-looking man. And did I mention the scrubs? Oh my yes, he was all wrapped up in dark navy blue surgical scrubs, which accented the eyes magnificently. I finished my perusal, and met those eyes on the return trip.
“You’re not Mrs. Winkle,” he said, one corner of his mouth turning up, then looking behind him to make sure he came into the right room. That’s when I noticed the name tag. Dr. Lucas Campbell.
“I’m definitely not Mrs. Winkle,” I said, jumping off my stool and crossing to him.
“Obviously,” he answered with a twinkle in his eyes. Fudge, the kryptonite had a twinkle.
“Dr. Campbell, right?” I asked, and he nodded his head. “I’m Chloe, Chloe Patterson?”
“Nice to meet you Chloe, Chloe Patterson,” he replied, tilting his head at me, looking a little confused as he took the hand I offered.
“From the email? Lou told me I should stop by and introduce myself.”
“Thanks, Lou,” he murmured, shaking my hand.
“He thought you might have some advice for me about setting up here in town.”
“Setting up here in town?” he repeated, still shaking my hand.
“Our Gang. He wants to set up an operation somewhere up north, and he was considering Santa Cruz or Salinas until I suggested Monterey. I just got into town last night and—”
“—had dinner at Spencer’s Grill,” he interrupted. Still shaking the hand.
“Yes, yes that’s right,” I replied, going a little starry-eyed. But
I quickly rallied. “Were you there?” I asked, not so much fluttering my eyelashes as just blinking once or twice. Rapidly.
Still shaking hands—just a reminder.
there. In fact, I could have sworn you saw me too. In the mirror?” he pressed, a knowing grin on his face.
I blinked my wide eyes, but my blush gave me away.
“I may have seen you,” I allowed, and his eyes danced. Dancing and twinkling. I was in trouble here. “I was exhausted; I’d just driven all the way from San Diego.”
“To set up your operation. Not in Salinas or Santa Cruz.”
“Exactly. So, think I could pick your brain a bit sometime?”
“Absolutely,” he answered, squeezing my hand firmly. Because we were
still shaking the hands
“Chloe?” I heard from the door. Another tall man, with silver hair and welcoming smile, dressed in a suit and tie, white lab coat, and a name tag that said Dr. Campbell.
I nodded my confused head.
“Hi, Chloe, I’m Dr. Campbell. Lou said you might be stopping by, but I didn’t expect you so soon. I see you’ve already met my son, Lucas.”
“Nice to meet you, Chloe,” Lucas said, finally letting go of my hand. “Well, I’ve got to see a poodle about some quarters,” he said, meeting my eyes one more time.
“I think the Winkles are in exam seven,” the elder Dr. Campbell said.
“Could have sworn Marge told me I needed to go to six,” Lucas said, which was confirmed a second later by Marge herself as she breezed down the hallway in a cloud of Jean Naté.
“I did tell you exam six. I needed someone to keep Chloe company until your dad was ready for her,” she called over her shoulder.
“Could’ve clued me in, Marge,” Lucas shot back.
To which Marge responded, “Now where’s the fun in that?”
“She’s got me there.” Lucas looked back at me and I shot him a knowing glance, which made him unleash that killer grin once more.
“Um, son? The Winkles in seven?” Dr. Campbell nudged.
“On it. Nice to meet you, Chloe. You’ll have to tell me all about this operation you’re setting up; sounds fascinating.”
Then he was gone and I was ushered into Dr. Richard Campbell’s office, where we did indeed discuss the possibilities of opening up another Our Gang in Monterey. And while we talked, I didn’t think about how great Lucas’ butt looked in his scrubs. And by didn’t, I mean only for a little while.
r. Campbell had a wealth of knowledge. He worked with pit bull rescue all over California, and was instrumental in helping towns get rid of the laws that made it illegal to own dogs like pit bulls. He also donated his services to provide free medical care to some of the dogs pulled out of the fighting rings that were a popular pastime for very sick and cruel people.
He thought it was a great idea to open up an Our Gang here, and with some of his close friends being county supervisors, he was confident that the approval wouldn’t be a problem.
I left his office feeling like a plan was literally taking shape before my eyes. On my way out, I stopped at the front desk to say good-bye to Marge.
“Thanks for making the meeting with Dr. Campbell happen this morning,” I told her as she sorted folders at a dizzying pace.
“Which Dr. Campbell are you referring to?” she asked with a coy smile.
I raised an eyebrow. “The father, of course.”
“And the son?” she asked, raising her own eyebrow. Oh boy.
“You’re a little bit wicked, aren’t you, Marge?”
“Only a little bit?” she asked, and I laughed out loud. This woman was a trip. “So Lou mentioned that you just moved into town from San Diego, is that right?”
Whoa. Subject change. “Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve
into town. Visiting would be the right word.”
“Visiting . . . all by yourself?” she asked, nonchalantly. I noticed that she slowed down the pace of her filing, however . . .
“Yep. All by myself.” I widened my smile. I knew where this was going, and I knew I had no business going along with it. But I was glad I’d removed the engagement ring last night. What a strange thought for someone who should be sunning on a beach on Tahiti with her new husband at this very moment.
“What perfect timing. Lucas just got back after being away for a while. If you need someone to show you around town, I’m sure he’d be more than happy to—”
“No no no, Marge, I’m going to stop you right there.” I leaned over the counter toward her excited face. “I’m not interested in dating anyone right now. I just got here, and I’m dealing with some stuff—”
dealing with some stuff, darlin’. Sometimes it’s just nice to deal with it while looking at a gorgeous hunk of a man.” She reached below her chair and plopped a giant yellow purse in the shape of a sunflower on the desktop, then pulled out her phone. “Now, take a look here. Here’s Lucas at the clinic picnic last spring—isn’t he so handsome? And here he is in his kayak—did you know he loves to kayak?”
“How would I know that? I just met him.” I shook my head, letting this play out since she seemed to be having such a good time showing me pictures of Lucas. And I’ll admit, the shirtless picture of him on the beach was worth listening to this kooky old bird for a few more minutes. I also learned some interesting
things. He’d gone into practice at his family’s animal hospital right after finishing up veterinarian school, third generation, don’t you know. And he indeed loved to kayak, he loved the ocean in general, don’t you know. He’d spent the last twelve weeks in Guatemala working for Vets Without Borders. That explained the tan.
Finally, with a cheery good-bye and a promise to stop by any ole time, I scooted away. And on my way out, I saw Lucas come walking down the hallway with a very relieved looking poodle. I waved, he waved, and I found myself strutting a bit as I headed out the front door.
Back in my car, I found the address to the grocery store I’d started out for an entire morning ago, stocked up on food, and headed for home. And as I went up my driveway and parked around back, I looked out at the old pastures, the trees, the open space almost as far as I could see . . . and I suddenly had a very good idea of where Our Gang Monterey could set up shop.
I just had to convince my father.
I spent three days lying by the pool, listening to sad songs, taking long, hot baths, drinking wine, and eating chocolate. I tried to will myself into mourning the relationship that I’d walked away from, thinking that I should be suffering for the emotional turmoil I’d caused Charles. That I should be crying and sobbing for the love that was no longer, for the good times and the bad, for the laughs and for the tears . . . But it wasn’t happening.
I knew what I truly wanted to do; the idea had been percolating from the moment my dad offered me the house in Monterey. So after three days of self-imposed sad sack I called my father and broached the idea of using some of the land to set up Our Gang. He was familiar with Lou’s name, since I’d told him about the organization when I first found out about it. And about how angry I was at Mother for not letting me participate. So when I mentioned Our Gang, he knew instantly what was involved. He supported the idea of me going to work with Lou, and I was pretty sure that’s what I wanted to do. But when it came to using the land, he wasn’t 100 percent sold.
“Okay, tell me again what this would entail,” he said on the
phone the night I brought it up. I didn’t have a ton of information, as I didn’t want to suggest the idea to Lou until I knew whether my father would even entertain the idea. He was cautious. “You’re going to be living with forty pit bulls?”
I grinned, knowing he was intrigued now. I tossed a handful of mushrooms into the wok I was cooking my dinner in. “I thought we’d use the field behind the barn, the one where Grandpa used to have his vegetable garden. We could house the dogs in the barn—there’s plenty of room for individual pens, an exercise yard—we could make it really comfortable.”
comfortable with all those dogs?”
“Well, sure. You know I love working with animals.”
“And you’re great with them, there’s no question about that. But, honey, working with golden retrievers in a nursing home is totally different than rehabilitating dogs that have come from some very violent places. Are you ready for that? Do you even have the training to deal with that?”
“I don’t yet. I’d work with Lou; learn more about obedience training and how to handle more powerful breeds. And someone he’s worked with at his place in Long Beach will be coming on board in the new location, so I’ll literally be surrounded by people who know more than I do. Didn’t you always tell me to make sure you always work with people who are smarter than you, because then you become a smarter person as well?”
“Well played, kiddo,” he said with a chuckle. “Sounds like you’re staying in Monterey, huh?”
The million-dollar question. I took a deep breath, turned off the burner under the wok, and walked out onto the patio, sitting down in one of the giant lawn chairs upholstered in daisy-covered plastic. “I realize I’m probably having a knee-jerk reaction to what I just did to everyone down there, including you, who spent so much money on that perfect wedding.” I winced,
remembering seeing one of the bills Charles let my father pick up. Zeroes upon zeroes.
“But I also realize I need to do something totally different from what I’m used to, to try living a life that’s a one-eighty from what I’ve been doing. And boy, this would be different.” And hard. I wasn’t fooling myself thinking this was going to be, “Hey, let’s open up a pet store!” This was going to be very hard work, physically and emotionally. Seeing how damaged some of these animals were would be tough to take. But I also knew I needed this. I needed a challenge. I needed to get my hands dirty.
“Tell you what, Dad. If you can get some time off, why don’t you come up here? I’ll have Lou come too, and we can all talk, see if this is something you’d be interested in doing. Because this is your place, and you’d need to be totally on board with it. And if this is going to work, I’d insist on paying rent. It might not be a lot at first, but I’d pay you something.”
“Hell, Chloe, you said it yourself—I’m never up there; the place just sits empty fifty-one weeks of the year. It
be nice to have some activity around there again. I hate to think of all that land going to waste,” he mused. In my mind’s eye he was sitting at his desk in his office, rubbing his jaw and looking off into space.
“So you’ll think about it?” I asked, and I could see him nodding.
“Call your friend Lou. If he can come up some weekend, I can make that happen too. And then we’ll just see,” he said.
I kicked my legs into the air.
And I went back to my stir-fry and to my glass of perfectly chilled rosé, and enjoyed them with a side of wonderful options.
hose options turned into reality a week later, when my father and Lou shook hands and agreed that this would be the place that Our Gang North would be putting down roots. I’d thought it would take several meetings and several rounds of convincing, but when my dad saw the photos and videos Lou brought, not only of the dogs when they came in, but when they were adopted into loving forever-homes, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
And that was it. Lou offered me the position of director of operations, I accepted, and I was suddenly in business. I had a salary, I had a title, I’d even have business cards! And the money that was allocated for leasing land would be paid to my father as a monthly stipend for using his property. I had brought some income in for my dad; I wasn’t a freeloader. And I had business cards!
Not exactly how I was going to sell it to my mother, but that was a conversation that could be put off for a few days. Since I’d been in Monterey, my communication with my mother had been limited to a few very short, curt phone calls, and one more round of exhausting texts.