Authors: Jill Shalvis
In Wyatt's case, all he'd ever dreamed about was putting down roots and staying somewhere long enough to be on a sports team, and maybe get a pet while he was at it.
The bright side to his early years had been his grandparents. Born and raised in Sunshine, they'd never left. He and his sisters had often been sent here for summers. Though both grandparents were gone now, they'd left their legacyâthe deed to the money pit.
The deed was worth squat.
The house was worth squat.
But the memories of the time spent here was deeply rooted, and as the commercial wentâpriceless. After all the years of forced upheaval, Wyatt was here in Sunshine to stay.
He pulled into the driveway just as the sun was setting behind the Bitterroot mountains. There was nothing like fall in the mountains. A brilliant cornucopia of colors in every hue flashed beneath the last of the sun's rays. He parked his truck and noted that there were no fire trucks. A bonusâthe house was still standingâ Well, somewhat. All good signs, he figured.
Zoe opened the door as he hit the top step. “'Bout time,” she said.
“Fire?” he asked.
“There was no fire. I just was getting tired of waiting on you.”
He glared at her, but she was unaffected. It was hard to intimidate someone who'd seen him wear a Superman cape to bed until he was eight.
“Dammit,” she said. “You look exhausted.”
“I'm fine.” If
was half a minute from falling asleep on his feet.
She narrowed her eyes and studied him, her fingers clutching a pad of paper that he knew held the dreaded “to-do” list.
The list had to be tackled, was being tackled, one item at a time. Nightly. By the person least done in by their life that day. He and Zoe had a little who-was-busier competition going. She was a pilot at the small, local airport, and worked long hours. Wyatt worked long hours. So usually, it was a toss-up.
“How was your day?” she asked casually. Too casually.
But this wasn't his first rodeo. He knew how to stay on the bull. “Delivered two baby sheep, expressed anal glands, cast a leg, cut the nuts off a sheperd,” he said. “You?”
“Crop dusted, and dropped the mayor at Yellowstone for an interview.”
They stared at each other, waiting to see who would crack first.
“Jesus,” came a disgusted voice from the couch. “Whose penis is bigger?”
Zoe hugged the list to her chest. “Mine is.”
Wyatt snatched the list from her for pride's sake, for his entire male race.
Darcy, prone on the couch, cackled.
Wyatt pushed his way in and stood in the center of the living room, hands on hips as he studied his baby sister, still recovering from her accident nine months earlier, and the five surgeries she'd required in the time since. “Thought we agreed, you're using your powers for
these days,” he said.
“But evil is so much more fun.”
mily was hanging upside down from the pull-up bar across the foyer doorjamb when her sister walked in the front door, stifling a little scream.
“Jesus,” Sara said, hand to her chest. “You look like a vampire.”
“Vampires don't sleep in the open daylight,” Emily said. “How do you use this thing every night? I've only managed one stomach crunch.”
“That's because your idea of exercise is reading in bed until your arms hurt from holding up your Kindle,” Sara said.
Unfortunately true. She righted herself and jumped down. “But I want a stomach as flat as yours.”
“Then you need to do more than hang upside down,” Sara said. “Burn some calories.”
“Calories,” Emily said on a sigh. “The evil tiny creatures that live in my closet and sew my clothes a little tighter every night.”
Sara laughed and pulled off her sweatshirt, shedding a layer of sawdust as she did.
“Hey,” Emily said. “Did you hear anything funny when you drove up?”
“Like the sounds of my sister vampire snacking on the mailman?”
“Ha-ha,” Emily said. “No, I mean I keep hearing some odd howling. I don't know if it's a dog or coyotesâ”
Sara dropped her sweatshirt to the couch. She wore cargo shorts, heavy-duty work boots, and a men's wife-beater tank that showed off her tats. Her short, spiky hair was still dusted in sawdustâas was most of the rest of her. She'd come to Idaho with Emily as a show of support, the both of them putting on a show of being psyched for the wild, wild west that they'd imagined Idaho to be.
Emily was still missing Los Angeles.
Sara, not so much. She'd recently had her heart run overâand backed up on and run over again. She was open to the idea of staying if it turned out that Sunshine, Idaho had a place for a rock chick, broken-hearted lesbian who'd collected degrees like some women collected shoes and yet chose to be a carpenter instead of using any of those degrees.
Sara kicked off her badass boots and more sawdust flew everywhere, drifting slowly to the floor of their rental house.
“Meow.” This came from Q-Tip, the ancient fuzzy gray cat who'd come with the rental. She'd appeared out of the shadows on move-in day, looking deceptively sweetâuntil she'd bitten both Sara and Emily within the first half hour for having the audacity to try to pet her.
No one wanted to claim the old cat, and the landlord had suggested they take her to the shelter. Sara, who wasn't crazy about cats, and bleeding from the bite, had been on board.
But Emily had looked into Q-Tip's eyes and known the truth. Q-Tip was old, grumpy, and set in her ways. No way was anyone going to adopt her, which left only an incomprehensible future ahead of her.
Emily had refused to do it, and so they now owned a cat. Correction, they were now
by a cat.
Sara, a forgiving soul, reached down now to pet Q-Tip hello. The cat accepted this like it was her dueÂ .Â .Â . for about three seconds. Then she bit Sara's handânot too hard, more like a warningâand then, head high, the feline moved a few feet off and began to clean herself.
“Queen to peasant,” Sara said, shaking off the bite as she looked at Emily. “We feed her again why?”
“Because when we don't, she yells at us.”
“Ah, that's right,” Sara said. “SoÂ .Â .Â . how was your first day on the job?”
“Terrific,” Emily said.
“No. Guess who my supervisor is?”
“UhÂ .Â .Â . a werewolf?” Sara asked. “A zombie?”
Sara blinked, looking confused. “Who?”
“My one-night stand.”
Sara stared at her then thrust both hands high in the air. “Score!” she yelled.
Q-Tip jumped about a foot, glared at Sara, and stalked off down the hall.
“No,” Emily said to her sister. “Not score. How'd you like it if your one-night stand was suddenly your supervisor?”
“My supervisor is a six foot three, three hundred and fifty pound, hairy, chunky, twice married, serial hetero male,” Sara said.
“You know what I mean.”
Sara moved to the kitchen, pulled open the fridge, and stared at the contents.
Q-Tip came running in, belly swinging to and fro. She could hear food coming from five miles away.
“Chicken or spaghetti?” Sara asked Emily. “And what did you do when you saw him?”
“Spaghetti,” Emily said. “And I made a fool of myself.” She paused and mentally groaned. “I accused him of stalking me.”
Sara gave a bark of laughter, grabbed salad makings, set them on the counter, and then went to the sink to wash her hands. She was an amazing cook, which was a good thing because Emily could burn water.
“And how did
take this turn of events?” Sara asked.
“He thinks it's funny.”
“No, it's not.” Emily sighed.
“You gonna sleep with him again?”
“No!” Emily said. “And would you focus on the real problem here? I now have to work with someone I got naked with.”
“So, it's unprofessional!”
Sara out and out laughed at this. “Only if you accuse him of stalking you again.”
Emily opened her mouth, but realized Sara was grinning. And it had been a long time since her sister had been happy. Since she'd dumped her model girlfriend Rayna in fact. Six long months. There'd been times Emily had despaired of ever seeing Sara happy again. “Well I guess it's nice to see you smiling, even if it's at my expense.”
Sara shrugged. “Like you always say, life sucks and then you move on.”
Did she say that? Had she really taught her sister that? “No,” she said slowly. “Life doesn't suck.”
“Uh-huh,” Sara said. “Let me see your calendar.”
Emily strode to her purse and pulled out her phone. “Here. Why?”
Sara accessed The Plan.
“Hey,” Emily said. “That's just for meâ”
“Right here.” Sara had gone back to the day Emily had found out where her internship was going to be. All that was typed in the square was “life sucks.”
“Okay,” Emily said. “But that was a really bad day. Sara, life doesn't suck.”
“Then why does today's page say: three hundred sixty-four days left untilâ”
Emily made a grab for the phone, but Sara was quicker. And taller. Sara held it out of reach. “âuntil I'm back in L.A.,” she continued reading, “at a great job and can reconnect with John.” She frowned. “John?”
.” She didn't talk about John Number One, the cheating, lying, rat-fink bastard. At Sara's blank look, she added, “My college study partner.”
“Yeah, but that was for what, two minutes?”
“A whole semester,” Emily said defensively. John had taken her out for pizza in exchange for help in their psych class. He'd been handsome and smart, and he'd seemed genuinely interested in her. Plus he'd always paid for her meals, a huge bonus since she'd been on a budget so tight anything other than ramen had been a treat.
After he'd gone to law school and she'd gone to vet school, they'd lost contact. But it could still happen.
Okay it was highly unlikely, even she knew that she used the abstract idea of getting together with John as a way to give herself security, and something to look forward to on her plan.
After a very complicated, not to mention emotionally draining, last few years, she wasn't up for the complication.
In any case, Sara didn't look impressed. “Wasn't he the guy who had his life all compartmentalized out? In a planner?”
“Hey, there's nothing wrong with that.”
“Uh-huh,” Sara said.
She could do worse. John was driven, smart, kind, and yeah, he liked a good plan as much as she did. “He's a good guy,” she said.
“Does he know that you tell people you're planning on putting a ball and chain on him?”
Emily bit her lip. “I don't tell people that.”
Sara rolled her eyes and handed back the phone. “And some say
the oddball sister.”
Whatever. It was a good, solid plan, and that was important to Emily. It gave her security, which she'd lacked for some time now. It gave her a road map to follow, and she wasn't going to take any detours. She'd had enough detours to last a lifetime. The plan was in motion, period. And it did
include having a hot affair with a hot vet. She shoved her phone back in her purse. “I don't mock your dreams.”
“My dreams are to get laid by the weekend,” she said. “What's to mock?” She paused. “Em, maybe you should just keep things simple, you know? Simple works. No expectations, no worries. No plan. Just wing it for a change.”
just “winged it.” It was the motto of her entire family, just so accepting of whatever came their way. Emily sighed. “I can't operate like that, I can't be like you and Dad.”
“There's nothing wrong with how we operate,” Sara said. “And Dad's doing good, Em. He's never going to stop grieving but he knows Mom had the exact life she wanted. She died content.”
Emily didn't buy this. Refused to buy this. When their mom had gotten sicker, Sara had been away gathering one of her three degrees. She'd been spared seeing the illness grip their mom. She hadn't had to help her out of bed, get her dressed, fedÂ .Â .Â . Emily knew her sister meant well, her heart was in the right place, but like their dad, she had no clue.
None at all.
yatt got up before dawn. Normally this wasn't a problem, but he'd stayed up late the night before working on the roof over the back patio, number three on Zoe's to-do list.
Number one was supposed to be the leaky kitchen sink, and number two a misfiring smoke alarm, but the patio roof had been relegated to numero uno when it had collapsed after dinner.
Using a halogen light he'd worked late into the night. He still wasn't finished, but he'd gotten the framing fixed, so at the very least no one was going to die if they walked through the patio. He considered that a success.
Ass dragging even before his day got started, he showeredâwhich involved trying to fit into a bathroom filled with his sisters' lingerie hanging on every surface to dryâdressed, put on coffee for Zoeâa necessity as it turned her from evil witch to somewhat humanâstarted the water for Darcy's oatmeal, and then made his way back down the hallway. He knocked on Zoe's door, shoved it open, and flipped on her light.
“You are such an asshole!” she yelled at him.
Yep. “Coffee's on,” he said, ducking out of the way of the pillow she sent sailing in his direction. He moved to the next bedroom. Wash and repeat with the knock, opening the door, and flipping on the light.
But Darcy's bed was empty.
“Shit,” he said, knowing this meant that once again, she'd been unable to sleep.
“What?” Zoe called from her bedroom, still sounding morning rough. “What's wrong?”
“Wild Girl's gone,” he said. “Again.”
Zoe's sigh said it all. She appeared in the hallway in her pj's with crazy bed hair. “It's my turn to track her down,” she said. “You get to work.”
“Text me when you've got a status,” he said, feeling more than a little grim as headed to work. Darcy was a lifelong problem that neither he nor Zoe had yet figured out how to handle. She was smart, and ever since her car accident, lost. So damn lost.
Maybe if either of their parents had given her the time of day instead of being baffled by their own offspring, but they'd beenâand still wereâtoo busy saving the world. What he did know was that he and Zoe were all Darcy had, and they were stuck with one another, for better or worse. And hell if Darcy was going to go off the deep end on his watch.
He stopped in town for a donut and coffee, breakfast of champions, and to his utter shock, found Darcy's beat-up Toyota in the lot.
But when he didn't find her in the bakery, he stepped outside again. To the right of the bakery was a preschool. No way in hell was Darcy in there, though at the moment she had the right mental capacity for the age level.
To his left was the old general store. That had been turned into a bookstore, and then, most recently, a marijuana dispensary. Fuck. He strode inside and there she was at the counter, talking to a guy in a medical lab coat over a Hawaiian print shirt and board shorts slipping off his scrawny ass. His hair was in a do-rag and he wore round, wire-rimmed sunglasses with pale purple lens.
“All you need is a card, man,” he was saying to Darcy. “And then I can get youâ”
no,” Wyatt said.
Darcy turned, eyed her brother, and sighed.
He grabbed her walker in one hand and lifted her in the other, carrying her out of the store.
“Seriously?” she asked when he'd set her down on the sidewalk and shoved her walker at her. She glared up at him, steam coming out of the top of her head.
“Seriously,” he said at a much lower decibel than she. “You're on the mend, Zoe. Don't fuck it up now.”
She blew out a sigh and stared down the sidewalk. “You're a pain in my ass.”
“Ditto, Wild Girl.” He paused, softened his voice. “You're getting so much stronger,” he said. “You got out of the wheelchair when they said you wouldn't. You're off the pain medsâ”
“But I still have pain.”
He knew it, he hated it. “Your PT says you're doing better every day.”
“My PT's evil.”
Her physical therapist happened to be AJ Colten, one of Wyatt's oldest friends. AJ owned and operated Sunshine Wellness Center, both a gym and a physical therapy facility. He was a big bear of a guy who'd been through his own hell, and one of the best men Wyatt knew. “That's bullshit, Darcy. And so's this.” He gestured to the dispensary behind them. “I know it sucks, butâ”
“Do you?” she challenged. “Do you know what it's like?” She rolled her eyes again and lifted a hand when he would've spoken. “Forget it,” she said, and blew out a sigh. “How about donuts? You going to object to donuts for breakfast?”
“No,” he said, aware that he'd won the sprint but not the race. “I'll even buy.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Belle Haven was still quiet when Wyatt arrived for work. The sun's sleepy rays were just peeking over the rugged, majestic mountains at the other end of the valley as he strode around the back of the building to the barn.
As a kid, he'd never owned more than could fit into a backpack. He'd been ten the year he'd attempted to stow away a lizard. It had died on a train in Africa, and he'd learned a valuable but painful lesson.
He'd spent years aching for that to change, rescuing injured animals, begging to keep them.
It had never happened.
He walked up to the first pen and greeted the horses. Reno and Kiki, who belonged to Adam and Dell. And Blue.
. He and Adam had rescued her from a shitty hellhole of a horse ranch about two hundred miles south of here, and after doctoring her up, he'd fallen in love.
Blue nickered at him and pressed against the fence to get closer, blowing in his face, fogging his glasses. Wyatt wasn't sure if the show of affection was because she loved him back, or because he carried treats.
“Miss me?” he asked, stroking her.
She snorted, and he couldn't help but smile. The thrill of owning something that didn't fit into a backpack hadn't faded one little bit. Like the land he'd bought himself, Blue represented another tie to Sunshine. He was growing roots, and he wasn't done.
He saddled up Blue while she frisked him for the treats, prancing in place with anticipation.
She loved to run.
So did he.
They took the hills, and only when they were both satisfied with themselves did Wyatt turn them back to Belle Haven.
By the time he'd cooled her down, put away the riding gear and entered the animal center, it was nearly seven. They didn't open the doors until eight, but the place was showing signs of life. Dell was there, prepping for the morning's surgeries. Mike hadn't arrived yet, but he would soon.
Same with Jade. And, presumably, the new fiercely determined intern that he was going to do his damnedest to ignore, as dictated by the fiercely determined intern herself. It made good sense, for both of them. Problem was, he'd never been all that down with being good.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Emily parked in Belle Haven's lot and gave herself day two's pep talk. “You can do this.” Yesterday she'd been thrown off her game by one sexy Dr. Wyatt Stone, but not today. Today she was prepared. No matter how hot he looked with his rumpled hair, glasses, and cargo pants filled with goodiesânot all of which were in his pocketsâshe was sticking to The Plan.
Totally doable. Of course, it would be a heck of a lot easier if she hadn't dreamed about him last night and how he looked
the cargoes. Tall. Broad. BuiltÂ .Â .Â .
“Oh boy,” she whispered and banged her head on the steering wheel a few times. She lifted her head and stared at herself in the rearview mirror. “You can do this.”
Her reflection didn't look as sure as she'd like.
Blowing out a breath, she got out of the car and headed inside. Jade was at the controls, and smiled at her. “I've got coffee on in the staff room,” she said. “And your day's schedule in your inbox. We had a surprise patient show up early, so Wyatt's already at it in exam room one. Dell's in surgery, the poor guy had to get up extra early to handle today's insanity.”
Emily smiled. “It's nice that you two get to work together.”
Jade laughed. “Nicer for me than him.”
“Dell doesn't enjoy having you run his world?”
“WellÂ .Â .Â . you'd have to ask him. But maybe don't ask him today.” She grinned. “I had to transfer some funds, and let's just say that sometimes I like to get creative with the label I put on the transfers. Today's was âgrocery money for the Guatemalan hookers.'”
Emily burst out laughing. “Because they don't feed themselves?”
“Exactly!” Jade grinned. “You should've heard him when he saw it.” She lowered her voice and affected a Dell-like tone. “âYou know this appears on our formal bank statements, right? Our accountant sees this, Jade.'”
Emily was still smiling when she entered exam room one, momentarily forgetting her nerves about seeing Wyatt again.
Until her eyes landed on him.
He was sitting on the floor, long legs stretched out in front of him. Between them was an opened crate, and he was sweet-talking a terrified, pissed-off tabby at the back of the crate, who, given her long, howls of protest, absolutely did
want to be sweet-talked.
“Where's her owner?” Emily asked.
He pushed up his glasses and glanced up at her. “Missy can't handle this.”
“I can see that.”
“No, Missy's the owner. Sweetie's the cat.” He was wearing another pair of cargo pants, battered steel-toed work boots, at least a size twelve, and today's shirt under his open lab coat read:
Vets Do It With a Lot of Heavy Petting
He should've looked ridiculous sitting on the floor, leaning into the crate making kissy-kiss noises at the cat, but he didn't. He lookedÂ .Â .Â . mouthwatering.
“Hey, sweet thing,” he said in a low cajoling voice. “Come on out. I'm gonna love you up, I promise. You know you want some of that.”
“Oh, please,” Emily said on a laugh to cover up the fact that her bones melted at the sound of him. “That's never going to workâ”
But hell if the cat didn't shift ever so slightly closer to Wyatt and sniff at him.
Wyatt flashed both Sweetie and Emily a smile. “Aw, that's it,” he crooned to the suspicious, wary cat. “Come on, baby girl, all the way. I'll be good to you, I promise.”
Emily laughed again, even as she felt her nipples tighten. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Honestly, Wyatt, no self-respecting femaleâcat or womanâis going toâ”
But Sweetie walked out of the crate and into Wyatt's lap. He cuddled the cat in close and eyed Emily over its head. “
females react to that.”
“Not all,” Emily said. “
He just smiled at her.
“I don't,” she repeated.
Liar, liarÂ .Â .Â .
“I'mÂ .Â .Â . seeing someone.” Holy crap.
Where had that come from?
Wyatt raised a brow at her.
“It's true,” she said.
He totally didn't believe her, she could tell. “We met in college. John,” she said, clarifying. Good Lord,
But her brain receptors refused to carry the message to her mouth. “He's concentrating on his career right now, butÂ .Â .Â . yeah.” She bit her tongue, hard, to keep from saying anything else. She'd bite it off if she had to.
Wyatt had gone back to checking out the cat in his lap, feeling her lymph nodes, looking in her ears and eyes. Somehow he got Sweetie to open her mouth for him. Emily would've sworn Sweetie was actually purring.
“SoÂ .Â .Â .” Wyatt said, continuing the conversation from hell. “You and your boyfriend are on a break. So he can concentrate on his career.”
“UmÂ .Â .Â .” Emily wasn't sure how John Number Two had gone from boyfriend fantasy to fake boyfriend but she wanted off this subject. “Yeah.” The. End.
“In the meantime, who's concentrating on you?” Wyatt asked.
Not the end. “Me?” she asked, trying to sound bored.
Wyatt looked up from his exam of Sweetie. “Yes. You.”
“IÂ .Â .Â . don't know what you mean.”
“Say you need something,” he said. “A spider removal, someone to hold you after a bad dream, help with your car. Or maybe just some company, seeing as you're new to town.”
She stared at him. “I handle my own spiders. And I don't have very many bad dreams, but when I do, I turn on all the lights and watch
Say Yes to the Dress
on Netflix. My car's in okay shape but if I need help, I'll call a mechanic. And I don't get lonely.”
Again with the liar, liar thing. Because the truth was, sometimes, she
But hell if she was going to admit to it.
Wyatt's gaze said he knew she was full of shit, but he didn't call her on it. Instead, he shocked the hell out of her by responding seriously.