Authors: Jill Shalvis
He was watching her, too, making her realize that she was Q-Tip's and Sammy's reality show.
“Okay,” she admitted to the room. “So I don't have any idea what I'm doing.” She thought of Wyatt, and how he'd reacted to Sara's tirade.
He'd given her a long, thoughtful gaze.
No obvious sympathy, which was good. But he hadn't given her anything.
reaction might've been nice.
You could have returned his text
, she told herself. She had a feeling she'd have learned his reaction by now if she had.
That's when she heard it. Through the sound of the steady rain hitting the roof and the wind beating at the windows, she heard the animal crying again.
The haunting sound went right through her. “Dammit.” She grabbed a flashlight, shoved her feet into sneakers, and went outside. Standing on the porch, she cocked an ear and listened.
The cry came again, filled with pain and fear, raising every hair on her body.
Not willing to be the stupid chick in the horror flick, she got into her car, driving slowly with the windows down, getting drenched as she followed the haunting noise.
She came to her neighbor's ranch. The house was dark. There were no other places around here, so she remained still, chewing on her lower lip.
Get out of the car and walk around?
No. That was
the stupid chick in the horror flick.
Then she heard the sound again, clearer now. Definitely a dog. A dog in trouble.
. She threw the car in park and got out into the rain, her sneakers making a squishy sound as she ran toward the sound until she found the dog huddled in a ball of misery just off the road, in a clearing between two trees.
She paused a few feet away and used her flashlight.
Definitely a dog, a young one, male, but hard to tell what breed in these conditions. “Oh you poor baby,” she breathed, crouching at his side.
He lifted his head andÂ .Â .Â . licked her hand.
Her heart stuttered in her chest. He was bleeding from multiple open wounds, attacked by a coyote? She let him sniff her hand a minute, during which she tried to see if he was in shock. Hard to tell in the dark without a stethoscope to check his heart rate, but the weakness wasn't a good sign. Cautiously she checked his limbs.
Nothing obviously broken. She ran back to her car, to the trunk, and yanked out her emergency kit. Returning, she wrapped the Mylar emergency blanket around the dog. Then scooping him into her arms, she brought him to her car, setting him carefully onto the passenger's seat.
By this time, she was shivering herself, and breathless. She slid behind the wheel. “You're okay,” she whispered to her patient. “Well, you're not really, but you're
to be okay.” Reaching out, she carefully crossed the seatbelt over him the best she could. “There,” she said and hit the gas.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Wyatt sat hunched over his desk at Belle Haven, typing up the patient files he'd put off all damn week.
He hated typing.
He hated the glow of the computer in the dark of the night.
He hated the stack at his elbow that indicated he wasn't anywhere close to done.
He was just getting into his bad mood, looking around for something else to hate on, when he heard someone at the front door.
Earlier he'd locked it behind Dell. Being the last one in the place required a locked door. They were out in the boondocks, but that didn't stop the crazies looking for drugs, or stupid teenagers looking for kicks, or any asshole looking for trouble.
Not only was the door locked, but he had the alarm on as well. Half braced for it to go off, he strode down the hall through the darkened receptionist area as a key turned in the lock.
The door opened before he got there and he stared in surprise at Emily. Her arms were full, she was struggling to hold onto an animal and pound in the alarm code at the same time.
He got to her and reached for theÂ .Â .Â . dog. A very bloody young dog who bared its teeth when he came close.
“Careful,” Emily said, sounding distressed and possibly in tears.
His stomach clenched as he brushed her hand away from the keys and entered the code. Then he turned back to the dog. Definitely young, possibly not even a year old. Male. Lab, with some pit bull in him, approximately fifty pounds. “Aw, buddy,” he said in a quiet, calm voice, “what happened to you, huh?”
The dog stopped showing his teeth.
“Someone hurt you,” he murmured. “Let's fix you up, okay?”
The dog stopped growling.
“That's a good boy,” Wyatt said, continuing to talk as he reached for him again.
This time the dog let him scoop him from Emily's arms. She straightened, visibly relieved at the loss of the weight. She ran ahead of him, turning on lights to the surgery room.
“What happened?” Wyatt asked, gently placing the dog on the table.
“I don't know,” Emily said. “I found him like this. I think maybe he was attacked by coyotes, I keep hearing them near my house.”
She came close with a stethoscope, and listened to the heart rate while Wyatt stroked the dog's head, silent until she looked up at him.
“One eighty,” she said.
Normal for a dog was sixty to one hundred and twenty. One eighty was too high, forcing the heart to pump too fast for it to fill adequately. Still, the dog wasn't behaving all that abnormally. He was clearly hurt, tired, and weak. He was panting, but that could be nerves from being on a table at a vet's office. He certainly wasn't disoriented or overly aggressive. Wyatt waited, watching Emily to see if she wanted him to take over for her. He could tell she was emotionally invested, and that was both a great thing and a curse.
He'd seen more than a few vets fresh out of medical school attempt this crazy life and then quit within a few months, unable to take the emotional strain. He hoped that wouldn't be her, she was far too good a doctor to walk away.
She moved around the table to check the dog's mouth. It was what he'd have done next as well, checking the color of the gums. Nodding to herself, she began to look over the injuries. “Pain meds, antibiotics, and a sedative,” she said. “To keep him calm while we scrub out the wounds and stitch.” She looked up, caught him watching her, and cocked her head. “What?”
He smiled. “You're going to be okay.”
okay,” she said. “It's the dog who isn't.”
“I mean you're going to do this. You're going to stick with being a vet.”
“You think I accrued a mountain of college debt not to stick?”
He grinned. “Just checking.”
“Well how about you just check his temperature and I'll clip, flush, and scrub?”
“Ah,” he said. “You gave me the fun job.”
She snorted, and at the sound, he felt better. He took the dog's temp, found it normal, and was further relieved. He cranked up the heater in the room and used a Bair Hugger, a blanket that blew warm air around an injured animal in danger of going in shock.
She had the clippers and was already working on trimming fur away from the worst of the cuts.
“We going to talk about it?” he asked.
She didn't play dumb. “Yeah. Sure.”
“It was serious stuff, the things Sara said.”
Her mouth went a little grim as she administered the meds with a steady hand. “True, but it wasn't her stuff to say.”
“Maybe not,” Wyatt murmured. “But her heart seems to be in the right place.” He hadn't liked knowing how hurt Emily had been in the past, but he'd needed to hear it. Something had begun to shift for him over the past few weeks when it came to his feelings for her.
They'd deepened. Far more than he'd ever expected them to.
She met his gaze, her own flashing a fierce independence and pride. “I'm fine,” she said firmly. “I want you to know that much. I have all my stupid pieces.” She rolled her eyes. “Okay, so maybe a few pieces are dented, but I'm not broken or anything. I really am fine.”
He gave a little smile. “You are that.”
“And we never talked about it before because we both know where we stand,” she said. “We started this thing out as a one-time thing, and I get that its since turned into a
times, but it's still justÂ .Â .Â .”
“Fun and games?” he asked wryly.
“You said it, too,” she reminded him. “That night in your truck. You said that when we parted in Reno, you hadn't planned on seeing me again. I wasn't on your plan either, Wyatt. So yeah, this is fun and games. Well, minus the games, because I'm not playing games with you. I wouldn't even know how.”
He took in her earnest expression and let out a long, slow breath. He knew that about her. He loved that about her. “Well,
know how,” he admitted. “But I wouldn't. Not with you. Never with you.”
“SoÂ .Â .Â .” She searched his face. “We're good?”
She wanted them to be okay. She needed them to be okay. And damn, but he did, too. He wanted a lot of things actually, most of which would have to wait. “Yeah. We're good.”
They worked in silence on the sedated dog, flushing the wounds with disinfectant, suturing a few of the deepest wounds, treating and bandaging everything else.
“He's going to need antibiotics, pain meds, and bandage management daily for a good solid week,” he said when they'd finished. “Are we releasing him into your care?”
She blew out a breath and picked up the still sleepy, sedated dog with a sweet gentleness that was more than doctor to patient.
Recognizing the signs well, Wyatt smiled. “Yeah, we're releasing him into your care.”
“Just until I find his owner,” she said. She looked exhausted, on edge, and deeply unnerved.
“He's going to need watching over tonight,” he said, “and I've got a lot more paperwork to do, anyway. Let me take him for you.”
“I can't ask you to do that.”
“You didn't ask.” Together, they looked down at the dog in Emily's arms. His eyes opened and locked on Emily, big and forlorn.
She sucked in a breath.
Already, the dog knew how to charm a woman.
“I'm taking him with me,” Emily said, and looked at Wyatt. She caught his grin. “Just until I find his owner,” she repeated.
“You can resist these warm, brown eyes?” she asked.
“Sweetness, I live with two sisters who are the
of male manipulation. I can resist anyone and anything.”
An empty, hollow untruth, because he'd never been able to resist the underdog, the injured, the weak. Ironically, he couldn't resist Emily either, though she was just about the least weak woman he'd ever met.
“So not true,” she said, calling him on his bullshit. “You live with your sisters because you can't resist taking care of them. And you spend way more time with each animal you see than is necessary. And I've seen you treat them for free when their owners don't have money. You can't resist a damn thing.”
No kidding, and especially not her.
ou think you have me all figured out?” Wyatt asked softly.
Did she think that? No. Not in a million years. “Maybe not completely,” Emily said.
He looked at her for a beat, then took the dog from her and gently set him inside a crate.
“Butâ” she started, stopping when he turned back and pulled her into him.
Her body instantly came alive. “Wyattâ”
“Shh,” he said, lowering his head to press his jaw to hers. “I need a hug.”
This wrung a laugh out of her because they both knew who needed a hug, and it wasn't him. But he was big and strong and warm, and damn.
He felt so good that her limbs acted of their own accord and snuggled in, burrowing, inhaling deep the very male, very delicious scent of him.
“Did you just smell me?” he asked.
He laughed quietly, not bothering to call her on the lie. Stroking a hand up her back, he let out a low sound of regret. “Ah, Em. You're one big knot.”
“It's my life,” she said, closing her eyes, holding on tight, hoping he wasn't planning on letting go anytime soon.
She shifted to plant her face into his throat, loving the scent of him, the texture of his skin, the heat of him. God, she loved it when he held her like this, like for a moment he'd shoulder all of her problems.
“You need to make time to relax once in a while,” he said, his big hand stroking up and down her back, making her want to stretch into him like a cat in heat.
“A drink might do it,” she said. “So would ice cream.”
“I've got something better.”
He laughed softly and squeezed her tight. Her heart rate ramped up, which had nothing to do with the adrenaline rush of the rescue and everything to do with the man holding her. He was in his usual cargoes and T-shirt, sans the doctor coat tonight. She'd been too discombobulated earlier to see what the shirt said, but she couldn't deny that he was sexy as hell in everything he wore. Now he was all the more after watching him work on a dog that wasn't even his patient, and in no way his responsibility.
And yet he'd given one hundred percent to the dog.
When she'd first met him in Reno, she'd convinced herself he was a shallow, one-night stand guy. But over the past weeks, she'd come to realize how wrong she'd been.
He was strong, inside as well as out. He was smart and funny and protective, and incredibly sexy. But more than just about everything else, he was rock solid steady and unflappable. A guy you wanted at your back.
And he wasn't in her plan. Still wasn't, though she hadn't updated her plan in a while. She didn't even know how many days were left in Sunshine. If she opened her calendar right now, John would still be in it as one of her goals. “Dammit.”
Wyatt went still, then pulled back just enough to meet her gaze. “Problem?”
“Sorry. You make me forget my plan.”
“The one with an almost boyfriend on it, the almost boyfriend who you never talk to or about?”
“Hey, you're one to judge. You never say one word about Cissy.”
He laughed. “You know her name isn't Cissy.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Why don't you ever talk about her, about Caitlin?” Her gut squeezed. “Did she break your heart, Wyatt?”
His mouth curved. “You worried about me?”
“I do like to worry.”
“Caitlin isn't a factor,” he said. “Not with us.”
Her heart fluttered, and she wasn't sure if that was because of the way he'd said Caitlin's name, with such aching familiarity, or that he'd said “us.” She drew a deep breath. “There is no us,” she said. “And how is Caitlin not a factor, when you can't even talk about her?”
“Do you talk about John?”
“You know damn well he's not really a factor.”
“And yet you still put him between us.”
There was that “us” again. “Look who's talking, the guy who's got a daily Casserole Brigade.”
“At least those women are real.”
She should have picked up the dog and headed out. It was late, she was tired. And her resistance was downâas evidenced by the urge to throw herself at him.
Wyatt looked at the dog who'd curled up in the crate and gone to sleep, the poor, exhausted babyâand then he grabbed Emily's hand and tugged her from the room and into his office. “I'm going to head out,” she said. “Iâ” She broke off when Wyatt yanked her into him.
“I don't care about a stupid name on your calendar, a name of some dumbass who's too much of a dumbass to make you his,” he said.
She stared up at him. His eyes were filled with heat, and a surprising temper, a really heady combination. Something wriggled deep inside her. It felt a little bit like a piece fitting into a puzzle. There were emotions, too. Affection, and hunger for this man who never seemed to care what a mess she was. “Crap,” she whispered, still staring at him. Not again. StillÂ .Â .Â .
“This,” she said, and tugged off his glasses. Then she tugged him down to her level, and kissed him.
He let her have her way for a minute, and then took control, hands in her hair, tongue in her mouth, hard body settling against hers. The heat of him seared into her as she tried to pull him in even closer. Hell she'd have climbed him like a tree if she could.
He pulled back a fraction, smiled a satisfied badass smile, and kissed her again until she forgot to breathe, forgot who she was, hell, she forgot
she was. All she could feel was Wyatt from the top of her head all the way to her toes, and
When he pulled away again, she didn't have the brain cells left to protest. Instead she moaned as his lips trailed down her face, her neck, to the pulse racing at the base of her throat.
She had to clear her throat twice to answer. “Yes?”
“Now's the time to look me in the eyes and say this is still just a fun time, that this isn't going to hurt you.”
She stared at him. His hair was more tousled than usualâfrom her fingers, she realized. His T-shirt was untucked. His gaze was heavy-lidded as he waited for her to process. “A
fun time,” she said.
So fierce. So careful with her. Her heart tightened. “And you'd never hurt me,” she whispered, knowing it as the utter truth. The only way he could hurt her was if she cared more for him than he cared for her, but she could see that wasn't the case.
“Never,” he agreed, voice low and utter steel. “But now is the time to say no if you're going to.”
One of her hands was still fisted in his shirt, one of his thighs between hers, and when he rubbed it against her at the same time that his hand swept up from a hip to stroke a thumb over her nipple, she got a rush so strong it might have been an orgasm. The sound she made was horrifyingly needy and she tried to suck it back in.
“I'm taking that as a yes,” he said, and swept a hand over his desk, knocking files and various piles of crap to the floor.
“So we're done talking?”
“For a few minutes.” He ran his tongue along the outer edge of her ear, nibbling on the lobe as he brought her palm to his erection.
She shuddered and stroked him. “You think we'll be done in a few minutes?”
“Keep that up and it'll be a lot less.”
She popped open his pants, tugged down his zipper, and slid her hand inside. He was hot velvet over steel, deliciously, heart-pounding hard, and every single inch of her trembled in desire and anticipation. “And if someone shows up?”
He backed up enough to hit the lock on his door.
“They might still hear.”
“You'll have to be very quiet,” he said, and stepped into her until she backed up into his desk. “Can you be very quiet, Emily?”
, she thought,
that smooth whiskey voice.
“I don't know.”
“Let's see.” Hands to her waist, he plunked her onto his desk. “Take off your sweater.”
She rushed to do just that but he lent his hands to the cause, stripping it off her himself.
She'd dressed for the day a very long eighteen hours ago, and couldn't remember what underwear she was wearing. She took a peek and groaned.
Wyatt ran a long, callused finger along the edge of her plain white cotton bra. “Problem?”
“I was hoping I was miraculously wearing black silk,” she said. “Or something good to catch your interest.”
He smiled and stroked her nipple through the cotton with a callused thumb. “Sweetness, you caught my interest a long time ago.” And then her bra was gone, tossed as carelessly over Wyatt's shoulder as her sweater had been.
“Lift up,” he said, fingers deftly unbuttoning and unzipping her pants.
“You want to see if my panties match?” she asked.
He smiled. “Among other things.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Yep, Wyatt discovered a minute later, her panties did indeed match the white cotton bra somewhere on the floor behind him. He wanted these there, too. Hooking his fingers in the soft material, he slowly pulled her panties down and took in the sight of Emily naked and sprawled out for his viewing pleasure. “I'm never going to look at my desk in the same way again.”
“WyattÂ .Â .Â .”
His name left her throat on a raspy whisper of longing. He liked that. He fucking
that. Stepping between her spread legs, he slid a hand into her hair at the nape of her neck to bring her face to his.
“You're still dressed,” she whispered.
He loved that, too, the way she could be so shy and yet climb all over him in his truck. Or in the yard by moonlight.
Or let him seduce her in his officeÂ .Â .Â .
He cupped her breasts and her nipples pebbled against his palms. “God,” she said on a rough exhale, her arms wrapping around his neck as she leaned into him. He smiled, knowing she'd already forgotten to even try to be quiet.
He didn't care. He loved the sounds she made.
“Mmm,” she murmured into his mouth, like he was the best thing she'd ever tasted. Her tongue fought with his for dominance, but he won the battle when he cupped her ass in one hand, the other sliding down her belly, between her opened thighs.
At the feel of her, his entire body tightened, and his hips thrust into her reflexively. She moaned when he pulled away, and tried to reach for him, but he dropped to his knees. With a hand on each trembling thigh, he leaned in and put his mouth on her.
Above him, she made an unintelligible sound. Her head fell back, and when he used his tongue, rubbing in slow circles as he sank a finger into her, she closed her legs on him, like she was afraid he'd stop.
Not a chance.
He stroked her thighs with his hand to reassure her that he was here, right here and not going anywhere, staying close enough to feel every tremor, every quiver.
She was rocking into his mouth, speeding up, and, given the desperation behind her movements, needing to come bad. When he teased her by slowing down, she merely tightened her grip in displeasure.
Laughing softly against her, he once again increased pressure, and she came for him, hard and fast. She was still shuddering when he rose to his feet, wrapped his arms around her and lifted. He took her the two steps to the couch against the wall, and turning, fell onto it backward, bringing her down on top of him.
She tugged up his shirt. He yanked it over his head and pulled a condom from his wallet. She tried to help him roll it down his length, but only succeeded in nearly making him come. Finally he grabbed her hands and tugged them behind her, squeezing gently.
Getting the message, she held stillâwell, except for her rocking hips, which was sexy as hell. She watched while he protected them both, eyes glossy, cheeks flushed to match her hardened nipples. He looked his fill, too, considering himself just about the luckiest bastard on earth when she lifted up on her knees. “In me. Please, Wyatt.”
Yeah. He'd please.
She cried out his name again as he thrust up into her, and for a single beat the both of them went stock-still in utter bliss.
Then she bucked against the hands he had tight on her hips, an entreaty for more. When she didn't get it, she wriggled, the impatient gesture making him both groan and laugh. He loosened his grip, letting her take the reins she wanted so badly.
She flashed him a sexy-as-hell smile and began to move, looking hot as hell riding him. Reaching up, he wrapped a hand around her neck to pull her down to his mouth, his other hand sliding low, his thumb stroking her wet center.
She went off like a bottle rocket, and the beauty of her coming so hard for him was too much. Faces inches apart, eyes locked on each other, he let himself go, pulsing inside her as she panted his name.