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Authors: Jill Shalvis

Animal Attraction (4 page)

BOOK: Animal Attraction
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“Not really. I
need
to organize that desk, Dell. And you hate handling the bills, I heard you swearing at them just this morning.”
“I was swearing at the news. Another vet clinic was robbed last night.” There’d been a series of vet robberies between here and Spokane in the past week. The threat of it happening here, at his place, the one he’d built with his own sweat and blood, pissed him off. “Just after closing time. This time a tech was still in the building, working late, and was knocked out.”
“Oh my God,” she said, covering her mouth. “What did they take?”
“Ketamine.”
“Ketamine.” She frowned. “Horse tranq?”
“Turns out it’s a good human narcotic as well.” Not to mention an effective date rape drug but she’d gone very still, very pale. “Hey. You okay?”
“That’s why you stayed tonight,” she said. “You wanted to walk me out to make sure I was safe.”
“And the kitten. I wanted the kitten to be safe, too.” He smiled, but Jade didn’t. Instead, she looked out the window into the dark parking lot with obvious unease, making him doubly glad he’d stayed.
Belle Haven was just outside of their small town of Sunshine, five miles down a narrow, winding road. Their closest neighbor—Lilah’s kennels—was a quarter mile away. They were surrounded by the rugged, majestic Idaho Bitterroot mountain range, the peaks looming high. To say that they were isolated out here was an understatement.
Since Jade was still just standing there looking out the window, Dell took the kitten carrier and litter from her and nudged her out the door.
It was early autumn and the chill on the night air cut to the bone, reminding him that winter would be here before they knew it.
At her car, Jade took the kitten back and set the carrier on the backseat, making him smile when she carefully pulled the seat belt across it. Straightening, she faced him again. “See you and your disastrous desk tomorrow.”
The cell phone in his back pocket was vibrating. He was late and knew it, so he ignored the call. “Forget about my desk. It’s a mess, it’ll take you days.”
“My greatest fantasy,” she said.
“That’s just sad, Jade.”
Don’t distract me with your perverted mind. I was made for this.”
“What, were you born with the need to organize?”
“No, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. The need to organize is just a freak of nature, one of life’s mysteries.”
Infamously private, Jade didn’t talk about herself often. She’d been born and raised in Chicago, he knew that much. And that she had family there, family she’d promised that she’d come back to.
Fairly private himself, Dell had never pushed her for more, but every time she doled out a little tidbit about her past and gave him a tiny glimpse inside, he found himself all the more fascinated by her.
A silver spoon . . . If that was true, they’d grown up just about as different as two people could get.
“So, what do you say?” she asked. “You going to let me in or what?”
Actually, the question was—would she ever let
him
in . . . “You’re a nut,” he said. “You know that, right?”
“When I clean your office, you’ll be calling me a goddess.”
“I’ll call you whatever you’d like, but forget about the—”
His phone was going off again. Reaching around him, Jade slid her hand into his scrubs back pocket. Through the thin cotton, her fingers stroked his ass cheek, and his brain clicked off. Just completely clicked off. This condition was not improved when her breast brushed his arm as she lifted his phone.
“Dr. Connelly’s phone,” she answered professionally, her face so close to his he could have turned his face and captured her lips with his.
It was her scent, he decided; it drugged him. Made him stupid. Maybe it was her skin, too, so pale compared to his, so soft and deceptively fragile-looking.
Hell. It was her. Everything about her.
The night around them was so quiet he had no problem hearing the feminine voice coming out of his phone, inquiring of his whereabouts.
“Let me check for you,” Jade said, eyes back on his. “Please hold.” She muted the phone and looked at him, affecting a sex kitten voice to match the one on the phone. “Are you . . .
available
?”
Having some problems accessing working brain cells, it took him a minute to answer. “Last I checked.”
She pushed a button on his phone, working it better than he did. “Yes, Dr. Connelly is still here. Who’s calling?” Jade listened with careful politeness, contrasted by the long look she slid his way just before she rolled her eyes.
Not at the woman.
At him.
She slapped the phone against his chest. “She says you’re late.” She slid behind the wheel and drove off into the night, leaving him in her dust.
Literally.
Still he watched until her taillights vanished before he lifted his phone to his ear.
Two
 
 
A
t her place, Jade deactivated her alarm and flipped a switch. As they’d been programmed to do, four different lights came on, one in each corner of the living area, kitchen nook, bedroom area, and entry to the bathroom.
Instant visual access.
Expensive, and worth every penny. Everything was neat as a pin and just the way she’d left it. In order.
Order meant safety, and Jade depended on both. She set the kitten carrier on the foyer floor and opened the little door. The kitten tentatively poked her nose out, definitely not quite as sure of herself without Dell’s warm arms.
Jade supposed she couldn’t blame her. Dell had a way of making a woman feel safe. “Get comfortable,” she said as her cell rang.
Dr. Doolittle himself.
“Don’t tell me,” she said. “You lost your wallet and/or your car keys.”
“Okay, now that hurts,” Dell said, sounding anything but wounded.
“Uh-huh. Why else would you be calling after hours when you’re supposed to be playing doctor?”
“If you think you know me so well, why don’t you guess?”
“You’ve forgotten the code for the alarm,” she said. “Again.”
“Hey,” he said. “Once.”
“Yeah, once. Once a week.”
“I’m calling to make sure you got home okay.”
His words were a direct hit to her carefully built defenses. She’d gotten used to being on her own. But Dell was a true pack leader and took care of his own. Whether she liked it or not.
She didn’t. It gave her a false sense of security. She’d been working on that, on letting people in. On trying to loosen up. She’d even put it on her to-do spreadsheets to remind herself.
Live
.
Open up
.
Have fun
.
Wasn’t she driving into Coeur d’Alene every Wednesday night to take a line-dancing class? Skiing here and there on the weekends?
So she needed to not be charmed by him. She was leaving, and now was not the time to get involved, not when her time here was nearly up. “I’m home safe and sound, thanks,” she said, then paused. “Good night, Dell.”
“Night, Goddess Jade.”
She hit the End button and looked down in surprise at the soft “Mew.” She’d almost forgotten about her house guest. “That was our boss,” she said, and shook her head. “Making sure we’re okay.”
“Mew,” the kitten said, sounding . . . lonely.
Common ground, Jade thought. Loneliness. And something she could understand that Dell could not. He wouldn’t know lonely if it bit him on his very fine ass.
The kitten had stepped outside of the carrier but not a foot farther.
“It’s okay,” Jade told her. “It’s all about baby steps.”
The kitten sniffed the floor.
“Really.
Mi casa es su casa
,” Jade assured her. “Well, for the night, anyway.” She walked through her living room area. She’d rented this place the day she’d come to town eighteen months ago now. It was an older building, built in the 1950s, and beautifully renovated. Jade was on the top of three floors. The loft was large, the ceilings high, lined with intricately carved crown molding. It had come furnished and cost an arm and a leg.
But far more important to Jade, she could see everything in one sweeping glance.
She flipped through her mail, separating it into three piles: junk, bills, letters. The junk mail she dropped directly into the shredder under her small desk in the corner. The bills she set next to her laptop to be promptly paid. The letter she set on the mantel and then stared at for a few minutes.
It was from her mother. Everyone else in her life called, texted, or e-mailed, but her mother had never gotten the hang of modern technology.
Jade had a pretty pothos plant whose abundant leaves had worked their way in front of the few pictures she had on the mantle. Nudging them aside, she looked into the eyes of her family. Her well-meaning retired physician parents were arm in arm in front of their large successful medical center, which until eighteen months ago, Jade had overseen for them. The job had been her life, which was no wonder given that the center had five major departments to oversee; urgent care, ob-gyn, family practice, pediatrics, and orthopedics.
Then there was the picture of Jade and her cousin, Sam Bennett, a doctor as well, the two of them on skies and mugging for the camera.
Both pictures had been taken two years ago now and represented a time when Jade had known exactly who and what she was, and the path of her future.
They’d been a happy, loving, successful family.
She ran a finger over her father’s face and heard his voice in her head, shaking slightly with the Parkinson’s disease that was slowly killing him.
Nothing can scare you, princess. You’re a natural, you were born to be strong and do anything you want
.
How often had he told her that?
Every day.
Her mother, too.
Sam had been fond of the mantra as well, and it had meant even more coming from him. Only two years older than Jade, Sam was far more a brother than a cousin. He called weekly and texted daily, checking on her, bugging her to come home.
Something she’d promised to do the day she’d left Chicago. She’d told them she’d be back within the year. But that year had come and gone and she’d had to ask for an extension because she hadn’t been ready.
Now it had been eighteen months and her grace period was gone. But as it turned out, she could get her pencils and her lists and her clothes just the way she wanted, she could expect her world to fall into place just the way she wanted, but healing . . . healing couldn’t be ordered.
Healing had to come from the inside.
It had to come from the “strength” her family had constantly told her she had, strength she’d blindly accepted as fact.
That had been the fatal flaw.
Because she’d never had to actually
be
strong. And as it turned out, being told you’re strong and actually
being
strong were two very different things.
Which she discovered the night she’d been tested beyond endurance.
After the attack, she realized the truth—that everyone had been wrong,
very
wrong. She hadn’t been strong at all. Once that had sunk in, her foundation had cracked and fallen away from beneath her feet.
And she’d run. She’d run hard and fast, from family, from well-meaning friends, from work, from everything. She’d come here to Sunshine and ordered herself to feel safe. But the attack had showed her that even ordering something to happen couldn’t stop the unexpected. So even as she worked hard at creating structure to Dell’s life, she wasn’t facing her own weakness—dealing with the unexpected.
Her cell phone rang again, and still staring at the unopened letter, she answered without looking at the ID. “Dell, I’m going to start to think you’d rather be playing doctor with me.”
BOOK: Animal Attraction
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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