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Authors: Jill Shalvis

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BOOK: Animal Attraction
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“Yeah, there you go,” he said quietly. “Lifting his head, he flashed a grin at Jade. “If only
species were as easy.”
“We both know that for you they are.” She shook her head. “And that should be illegal.”
“What?” he asked innocently. “Sweet-talking a p—”
“If you say pussy,” she warned. “I’ll make sure that tomorrow you’ll be up to your eyeballs in vaccines and wellpuppy checkups from sunup until sundown.”
“I like puppies.”
“Scratch the puppies. Did I say puppies? I meant analgland expressing. I’ll find every large animal in Sunshine who needs it done and book them, just for you.”
Dell laughed. She did that a lot, his stalwart, snarky, razor-tongued receptionist. Made him laugh.
As well as threaten him.
He was used to it. Hell, he even liked it, which made him all kinds of sick, he knew. Maybe it was the fact that she ran the front desk of his vet clinic in those runway clothes, never so much as blinking when she got covered in dog and kitten hair. Or worse.
Maybe it was her ability to handle his patients and their owners with equal aplomb or that she never took any of his shit. Or that she had a way of uncomplicating his life for him—a miracle considering that she’d come here with virtually no references whatsoever. Dell still no had no idea what had possessed him to hire her, but he had, putting her into a position that had supposedly been only temporary while he looked for someone more qualified.
And yet he’d never looked for anyone else.
It had been eighteen months, but that ship had sailed. She was going back to her old life, whatever that was—she’d been frustratingly stingy with details—and leaving them.
He had no idea what he’d do without her sitting at the helm of his world, running it with cool, distant efficiency. Not to mention, she was a nice view. She kept her silky strawberry blond hair perfectly twisted on top of her head, except for the few errant strands that had slipped out and were brushing across her shoulders. Her eyes were green, shot through with streaks of amber, and saw everything. She had a mouth, too. Smart, cynical, and made for a man’s fantasy.
And since he should absolutely not be going down that road, thinking about that mouth with the vanilla gloss that he always wanted to lick off, he shook his head to clear it. He usually had more sense, but there was something about Jade and her whole don’t-touch attitude that made him want to rise to the challenge.
And he meant rise.
Her fingers were clicking on her keyboard, her screen revealing her beloved spreadsheet program, which he knew held her notes on anything and everything from which patient he was going to see tomorrow to what color her fingernails would be next.
His favorite was the bright fuck-me red.
“Adam’s checked in from Boise,” she said, referring to his brother. “His class went late, he’s staying over.” She stood. She was average height and average build, but there was nothing else average about her.
She coaxed Peanut onto her arm, easily transferring the parrot from the printer to the bird’s night cage.
“Night-night?” Peanut asked her.
“Yes, Peanut go night-night,” Jade said with a sweetness that Dell never got directed at him. He watched her blow a kiss to the bird, receiving one in return, along with a soft mimicking “mew,” and with a low laugh, Jade covered the cage with a blanket.
Her black trousers had pleats, Dell noted, and were snug on the best ass he’d ever seen. All business in front, party in the back . . .
That eye-straining sweater that matched her eyes and name seemed to shimmer beneath the overhead lights. He’d once asked about her name and she’d told him it was for her grandmother, who’d ruled her family with the strength and elegance of the jade gemstone.
Clearly she took the name seriously. Dell had the feeling that when it came to the family she didn’t often talk about, she took everything seriously.
She wore tiny sparkling earrings up one earlobe, matching the myriad bracelets on her wrist, and heels that he wasn’t sure how she managed to balance on, though he enjoyed listening to them click, click, click across his floors all day. His patients enjoyed it, too, especially their owners. The male owners. How many times had he seen a guy come through here and attempt to pick her up? Exactly the same number of times he’d seen Jade politely and firmly shut them down.
There was a little part of him that enjoyed that very much. Okay, a big part, but he’d never made a move on her. Like the government, he preferred to keep his state and church separated; never the two shall meet. Not that
stopped him from wondering what secrets his sexy receptionist had that kept her celibate.
Or hell, maybe she merely left Sunshine and whooped it up on the weekends somewhere else, out of the limelight of their small Idaho ranching town.
She was moving around the room, shutting down for the night. Belle Haven was a full-service clinic. Behind this main building was also a large barn housing their horses and additional equipment, both his own and his brother’s. Adam was a local trainer, breeder and search-and-rescue specialist.
Their reception area was large and airy, with wideplanked wood floors lined with comfortable benches for waiting. At one end was a long counter—Jade’s—and behind it was the hub of the entire place.
Jade’s jurisdiction.
She ran this front room like a drill sergeant, and half the time Dell wanted to put his hands around her neck and squeeze.
The other half of the time he wanted to put his hands on her for something else entirely. Since he was fond of living, he kept both these urges to himself.
“What are we going to do with the poor thing?” Jade asked. “Take her home? Oh, wait. You never take any of your women home.”
This was true. He didn’t bring women home.
He went to their place. He gave the kitten a cursory look over. Other than being far too skinny, she seemed healthy enough. “She’ll need to be spayed and vaccinated.”
“Want me to call Lilah for tonight?” Jade asked.
Lilah ran the kennel next to Belle Haven, and she was also the Humane Society as well as one of Dell’s closest friends. Lilah would take the kitten and keep her until she could be placed in a good home. “That’d be best,” he said. “Because I have a—”
“Date,” she said, swiveling her chair to give him her back. “Shock.” She went back to closing up.
Everything had its place with her. Files were always meticulously filed; the copier, fax, and computer were carefully covered to protect from dust. Pencils, pens, and assorted other equipment placed into their spots in drawers. Dell never got tired of watching her, and never failed to smile when the last thing she did was consult her various to-do spreadsheets to make sure everything had been done, even though she knew damn well it had been.
She never forgot a thing.
“It’s not a date,” he said. Or not
. “I’m heading into Coeur d’Alene for a friend of a friend’s birthday party.”
“Yeah, I know. I get the messages on the machine, remember?” She clicked over to another of her spreadsheets on the computer. “Your friend of a friend left a message reminding you that he wants to introduce you to—and let me give a direct quote here”—she read from her screen—“
Mandy, a stacked blonde who’s hoping to play dirty doctor with a doctor
.” Jade swiveled back to arch a brow in his direction.
He shrugged. “You can’t believe all of what Kenny says.”
“What percentage?”
Her expression was classic
don’t mess with me
. “What percentage of what Kenny says can we believe?”
“Half.” He lifted a shoulder. “Maybe forty percent.”
“Okay, so by sheer odds, you’re either meeting a stacked blonde, or playing dirty doctor.”
Dell laughed and came around the counter. Good Christ, had she smelled that delicious all day long? He leaned over her chair and took another whiff.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Seeing what’s left on your spreadsheet.”
“Hey.” She pushed him with her shoulder. “Personal space intrusion.” She pushed him again as she dialed Lilah. She had to leave a message, which she did while keeping a narrowed eye on him at the same time. The same sort of narrowed eye the kitten still had on him.
Two females, both suspicious. Both wary.
Both having been hurt.
Dell would have laid money down that Jade had no idea how much of herself she gave away when she looked at him like that. And to be fair, she was good at hiding.
But he was better. The skill had been hard earned from his growing-up years, further honed by the nature of his job. There were no words when it came to animals, and out of necessity he’d become the master at reading anyone and anything. He could see past Jade’s dazzling clothes and tough-girl exterior, past the uptight perfectionist to the vulnerable woman beneath.
Yeah, the woman was definitely hiding.
What he didn’t know was why. He had a few ideas, none of which he liked, but whatever the reason, it made him a little heartsick for her, it the same way he felt for the kitten, sitting quiet but not compliant in the crook of his arm. Unfortunately, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that only the kitten was going to allow him to help her. He smiled down at her as he stroked her beneath the chin, which seemed to be the magic ticket because she let out a rumbling, rusty purr. “You’re sweet,” he murmured, rubbing his jaw along the top of her little head.
“Aw thanks,” Jade said. “I try.”
Dell smiled because that was a lie and they both knew it. Then she surprised him.
“I’ll take the kitten,” she said, and in her usual efficient way stepped back from her desk and critically eyed the clean surface as she slung her purse over her shoulder. Heels clicking, she moved to the wall of storage cabinets. Without hesitation, she opened one and pulled out a kitten carrier. Then she went to another cabinet, bending low to grab a bed liner, expertly lining the kitten carrier. “Grab me some food? And a litter box, too,” she said over her shoulder.
He didn’t move. “
going to take the kitten overnight,” he repeated dubiously.
“Yes.” Her hand and arm brushed his chest as she relieved him of the kitten. “Why do you look so flummoxed?”
“Well, maybe because you’ve never done such a thing before. Hell, Jade, you’ve never even let any of us come to your place.”
Ignoring that, Jade carefully slid the kitten into the carrier and turned her back on him, heading to the door.
They were the last two in the building. Keith, his animal tech, and Mike, his vet nurse, had both already left. Jade hit all the lights except one interior, casting them in a soft glow. “Look,” she said. “My job is running this front reception room like a well-oiled machine, right? That includes any loose ends.”
He stepped between her and the door. “And the stray is a loose end?”
“At this point, Doctor,
a loose end. Everything in the back handled?”
The “back” consisted of two exam rooms, a surgical suite, an x-ray and ultrasonic suite, and his and Adam’s offices. “Closed up tighter than a drum,” he assured her.
“Hmm.” She didn’t look impressed. She liked it better when she made the last walk through. And with good reason. He’d been known to be distracted enough to forget to turn something off or to even lock himself out. He opened the front door for her, then put a hand on her arm, waiting until she met his gaze. “I owe you. Lunch tomorrow?”
“We can never agree on a place.”
“Name it, then,” he said. “Name your price.”
This appeared to interest her given how she cocked her head. “That’s a lot of power.”
She had no idea how much power she already had. “Anything.”
She considered this so seriously he smiled. Then she flashed him a rare one of her own and his heart actually stuttered. “You’re not going to like it,” she warned.
Oh, how wrong she was. “There’s not much I don’t like, Jade.”
She poked a finger in his chest. “Okay, what did I tell you about flirting with me, about using my name in that sex-on-a-stick voice?”
Now this interested
“You think my voice is sex on a stick?”
She poked him again. He liked to think it was because she had a secret thing for touching him, but then again, he was a realist. If she’d wanted him that way, she’d have let him know by now.
“I want you to let me take care of the stack of bills on your desk,” she said. “The one that’s threatening to fall over and hit the floor.”
They both knew that the state of his desk, which looked like it had been napalmed, drove her organized, anal heart absolutely nuts. As did how he could be counted on to lose his keys, wallet, or hell, his own brain in the mess at least once a week. But though he hated paperwork with the same passion that he hated vegetables, he wasn’t going to hand over the reins of his admittedly sloppy accounting. He realized that meant that he trusted the animals in his care more than he did the humans, but hell, everyone had their faults. “If you took care of the mess on my desk,” he said, “that would be you doing
the favor.”
BOOK: Animal Attraction
13.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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