Heartbreak Cove (Sanctuary Island) (RE8) (3 page)

BOOK: Heartbreak Cove (Sanctuary Island) (RE8)
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“That would be highly unusual,” Andie said soothingly.

Ivy hmphed. “I notice you didn’t flat out deny the possibility.”

“Maybe you haven’t been here long enough to notice, but big cities have nothing on small towns when it comes to the variety of creative ways people can find to get into trouble.”

“You know that’s right,” Ivy agreed. “How many big city cops spend their morning tracking down a runaway bulldog dressed like the villain from a James Bond movie?”

“No monocle today,” Andie replied, laughing. “It was the sailor outfit.”

“That poor animal! Can’t we arrest Mr. Leeds for pet abuse or something?”

Resolutely not thinking about how many problems that would solve, Andie sighed. “I don’t think it’s actually against the law to spend thousands of dollars on toys, treats, and fancy costumes for your dog.”

“Well, it should be. It’s a fashion crime, at the very least.” Ivy paused. “You sure you’re okay to check out the harbor call? I know dealing with Mr. Leeds is pretty stressful.”

“I’m fine,” Andie insisted. “And I’m almost there anyway. I’ll keep you posted.”

“Don’t get trampled by a stampeding stallion,” Ivy advised. “Over and out.”

Grinning and thankful, once again, that she’d ignored Ivy’s lack of experience and followed her gut about hiring someone who could make her laugh, Andie replaced the handheld radio on her dash as she crested the sandy hill above the harbor. The Atlantic Ocean rolled out in front of her like a deep blue carpet, the mainland an indistinct smudge of gray along the horizon.

The sight sank into her bones and lifted her up, the way it had ever since she first stepped foot on this tiny, undeveloped gem of an island. Without even a causeway to connect it to the mainland, the only link between Sanctuary Island and the closest town of Winter Harbor, Virginia, was a two-hour ferry ride.

At least they’d finally retired that rusted-out old hulk of a ferry after it sprang a leak during a storm last spring. The town council had taken up a collection to help defray the cost of upgrading, and it had been worth Andie’s time approving the permits for every pancake breakfast and spaghetti social to see the brand-new, shiny red of the five-car, high-speed ferry pulling away from the dock for the return trip to Winter Harbor.

An inhuman scream of fury ripped through the air and raised every hair on Andie’s body. Shading her eyes against the sharp glint of the sun off the ferry’s polished chrome railings, Andie blinked down at the scene below on the pier.

The angriest horse she’d ever seen stood at the foot of the ferry ramp, swinging a great black head and pawing at the ground. A tall, broad-shouldered man had hold of the taut lead rope attached to the horse’s halter, and as Andie watched, he took a slow step closer to the horse.

Are you insane?
Andie wanted to yell at the man who’d been crazy enough to try to put a halter on a wild beast. But even as she grabbed for the tranquilizer dart gun stowed under the passenger seat and tumbled out of her SUV, the horse reared up on its hind legs, front legs flashing out in a lethal kick that had Andie sucking in a breath. Without hesitating, she brought the dart gun up to her shoulder and sighted down the barrel.

But instead of taking a forceful hoof to the chest, the man sidestepped calmly, as smoothly as if he and the horse had choreographed the move ahead of time. The step put the big man’s wide back between Andie and the horse, and before she could warn him out of the way, he did something she could hardly believe.

He dropped the lead rope, his only hope of controlling the black horse, and lifted his arms slowly. Holding his arms out from his sides as if to prove he was unarmed, the tall man sidled up to the nervous, trembling animal.

Cursing under her breath, Andie moved as smoothly as she could down the hill, trying to get into a better position to be able to tranq the dangerous animal. She circled around to the right and as she got closer, a thrill of recognition stiffened her limbs and nearly had her dropping the dart gun.

The tall man whose intense attention was all for the horse—deep brown human gaze locked with fathomless black equine—was Sam Brennan.


Chapter Two

Andie’s heart swam up into her throat then dived down to the pit of her stomach. Sam was back on Sanctuary.

He’d been back on the island for all of ten minutes, she guessed from the ferry schedule—and Andie was already getting called in. No doubt about it, Sam Brennan was a trouble magnet.

Sam didn’t look especially troubled, she noted as she crept closer, careful to stay downwind of the horse’s powerful sense of smell. He certainly didn’t look like a man facing down messy death in the form of a thousand-pound wild animal that felt threatened and trapped.

No, the line of Sam’s muscular shoulders was relaxed, his stance as easy as if he were ordering a strawberry cone at Miss Ruth’s ice cream stand. His chiseled lips moved behind his close-cropped beard. She couldn’t hear what he was saying at first, but as she drew nearer, she started to make it out.

“You’re safe, I’m here, no one’s gonna hurt you, sweetheart, you’re safe…”

The endless litany rolled off of Sam’s tongue like honey over gravel, rumbly and reassuring. Andie felt her own jumping pulse begin to calm. And as she stared in disbelief, the horse stopped pawing the ground and dropped its big head to stand still with legs splayed and sides heaving.

Sam took a final step that brought him to the horse’s side. Andie clenched her finger on the dart gun’s trigger, but when Sam brought one thickly muscled arm up over the mare’s black neck, the horse only heaved out a shuddering snort and submitted quietly to the touch.

Andie’s attention snagged on the gentle confidence of Sam’s hands running over the horse’s quivering coat as though checking for unseen injuries. And now that the situation seemed more under control, Andie’s brain went off high alert and finally took in the details of the horse.

The sleek muscle and short-trimmed mane told Andie this wasn’t one of Sanctuary’s wild horses. And if that weren’t enough, the tight navy blue bandages that wrapped the horse’s forelegs from above the knee to the top of the hoof would’ve made it clear this horse belonged to someone.

Owned or not, this horse was still pretty wild.

As she stepped up behind Sam, the horse jerked its head, prompting Sam to tighten his grip on the halter and lean in to whisper more soothing words into the horse’s long, twitching ear.

Andie lowered the dart gun, carefully pointing it at the ground while Sam talked that crazed animal into a calm so deep, it almost seemed drugged.

“Whoever you are,” Sam continued in that same reassuring tone, “stay the hell back. I’ve just about gotten her unwound, and I don’t need any more so-called help.”

Stiffening, Andie held her ground. She wasn’t stupid enough to go barging into a situation that was already on its way to being handled, but she’d been called in for a reason.

“I’m not here to get in your way,” she told him quietly, making sure to keep her tone smooth and free of threat. The mare swiveled an ear toward her, eyes rolling until the white showed, but she stood still beneath Sam’s palms. “I’m here to make sure no one gets hurt, including that horse.”

That got him to look at her, finally. In a single swift glance over his shoulder, Sam took her in from head to toe. Andie felt the heat of his gaze passing over her skin, and she felt the moment his gaze caught on the dart gun in her hand because the dawning light in his eyes snuffed out.

Sam’s lip curled into a silent snarl, but his voice never rose above a husky whisper that sent shivers down Andie’s spine. “You shoot this horse, you and me are gonna have a big problem, Sheriff.”

“We already have a big problem, Mr. Brennan.” Andie didn’t lift the gun, but she didn’t relax her battle-ready stance either. “That animal is clearly dangerous, not just to others but to itself. And if I have to tranq your horse to stop it from breaking its own leg in a fury or lashing out at someone, you can bet I will.”

A glimmer of respect shone from the bitter chocolate depths of Sam’s eyes, but the tense line of his mouth never softened. “This mare has a heart murmur. Too large a dose from that tranq gun could kill her.”

Andie sucked in a breath and sent up a prayer of thanksgiving that she hadn’t had to shoot. “I’m sorry.”

“What for? Almost putting my horse down without so much as a by your leave?” A low growl rumbled through Sam’s words, making the horse dance nervously in place.

“No,” Andie said, gritting her teeth to keep things civil. “If you’re unable to control that animal, you have to take the consequences. I won’t have her breaking loose and rampaging around my island, injuring innocent people. What I’m sorry for is the heart murmur—I don’t know much about horses, but I understand that condition can make it hard to sell them.”

With another soothing stroke, Sam gentled the animal down and deliberately neutralized his tone. “I’m not trying to sell Queenie. I only recently acquired her, myself.”

“You bought a horse with a heart condition? I thought most horse owners got vet checks before buying, to avoid doing that.”

“I’m not most horse owners.” A half smile twisted Sam’s lips but never reached as far as his eyes. “I don’t buy horses for my own personal use, or to put out to stud or race—I take problem horses, ones who’ve been abused or neglected, and I rehabilitate them. Give them a chance at a new life.”

Andie felt a surge of admiration tighten her stomach and swallowed hard. A Sam Brennan who flouted the rules and bucked authority was dangerous enough to her sanity … but a Sam Brennan who’d dedicated his life to rescuing mistreated horses? She was in serious trouble if he planned to stick around Sanctuary for long.

“And Queenie is one of your rescues?” Andie asked softly.

Sam ducked his head in a slow nod. “She’s got spirit, and a long life ahead of her doing something useful, if I can get her to trust people again.”

“Well, Sanctuary Island is a good place for that.” Andie glanced across the water churning into white froth in the wake of the retreating ferry. “I bet you were the first person to use the stall on the new ferry.”

“Yeah, I was going to ask,” Sam said. “Not a lot of ferries sport a state-of-the-art way to transport horses.”

Andie smiled, pride in her adopted home filling her belly with warmth like sunshine. “Not a lot of tiny islands are home to one of the world’s few bands of free-roaming wild horses. That stall was a big plus when the town council managed to pass the ballot measure to get a new ferry. Our local veterinarian made the argument that if he ever needed to get one of the wild horses some serious medical help, he’d need a way to transport them to the mainland. The people of Sanctuary are pretty protective of the wild horses, so that was all it took.”

“I know Ben Fairfax, I’ve brought horses to him before.” Sam glanced up. A dangerous gleam flickered in his eyes. “In fact, as I recall, you and I almost danced at Ben’s wedding the last time I was here.”

Cursing herself for the hot flush she felt creeping up her neck, Andie shrugged as nonchalantly as she could. “You have a very different recollection of that night than I do. What I mainly remember is hauling drunk party guests home in the middle of the night.”

“Believe me, Sheriff Shepard,” Sam murmured, “I remember everything about that night.”

The earth shifted slightly, as if Andie were standing at the edge of the ocean with the tide rushing out to steal the sand from beneath her feet. If she hadn’t locked her knees, she would have swayed toward Sam, drawn by the intensity of his focused attention and heavy-lidded eyes.

Pulling in a breath that smelled like clean sweat, sweet hay, and the complicated leather-and-sandalwood scent of Sam, Andie clumsily changed the subject. “Is that why you brought Queenie here now? To see Dr. Fairfax? I would have thought there’d be plenty of qualified veterinarians back where you live, in … where was it?”

Sam arched one brow to let her know he hadn’t missed her tactical retreat, but he let her get away with it. “Ben’s a great vet, really good with the skittish ones. I’ll be glad to have him examine Queenie.”

“So this will probably be a quick visit, then,” Andie surmised, unwilling to examine the bolt of disappointment that shot through her. She should be relieved Sam wouldn’t be sticking around to unbalance her and make her question her life choices! She had enough on her plate already without this inconvenient attraction to an unrepentant bad boy … who appeared to have a heart of gold under that air of danger and mystery.

“That depends,” Sam said, his gaze sliding away to land on Queenie. Quiet now, the horse stood with her head lowered miserably, as if she’d given up. “As much as I admire Ben’s medical opinion, I actually brought Queenie here hoping to rehabilitate her for work as a therapy horse. No telling how long it’ll take me to retrain her and get her safe enough to be around kids, but that’s what I’m aiming for.”

No telling how long
. A wave of anticipation shivered across Andie’s skin, undeniable and unwelcome. She dredged up a professional smile from somewhere. “Well, sounds like you’ve got it under control! Is someone coming with a trailer?”

“Jo Ellen,” Sam supplied. “She texted me she’s running behind, but she should be here any minute.”

That made sense. Jo Ellen Hollister owned Windy Corner Stables, the only commercial horse barn on the island, and Dr. Fairfax was married to Jo Ellen’s younger daughter, Merry. Convenient. So what was bugging her?

Andie went over the conversation in her head. Being suspicious—some might say paranoid—was an occupational hazard. Most of the time, nothing came of it. But every now and then, Andie’s gut knew better than her brain, and she’d learned the hard way to listen to it … especially when it came to damnably attractive men.

Something told her she’d better keep an eye on Sam Brennan. “Okay then, I’ll leave you to it. Good luck with your rehab efforts.”

“Thanks, Sheriff. I’m sure we’ll see you around.”

Andie shrugged, trying to ignore the slow smile Sam gave her, hot enough to leave scorch marks. “Not necessarily. Unless you’re planning to get on the wrong side of the law while you’re here.”

“Aw, I’m not much of a planner.” Sam turned up the heat on that grin to eleven, and Andie felt her breath catch in her throat. “I hope you and I will always be on the same side, Sheriff.”

Andie felt her instincts kick into high gear. What was it about this man that roused her suspicions as quickly as he aroused the rest of her?

*   *   *

Sam held his breath as Sheriff Andie Shepard’s ocean blue eyes sharpened. Why the hell couldn’t he stop himself from taunting her? The last thing he needed was the law poking around, asking questions and giving him—and his mare—suspicious glances.

Even if the law on Sanctuary Island came in a tall, slim, lightly freckled, redheaded package. And even if the universe saw fit to test Sam’s resolve to keep to himself by outlining every subtle line and curve of the sheriff’s body in mud-streaked khaki.

It wasn’t his fault. There was no way he could stop himself from reaching out and pulling a piece of straw from the chestnut braid lying over her shoulder. The satiny rub of her dark red hair across his callused fingertips made everything low in Sam’s body tighten in a rush. “Why, Sheriff. You took a roll in the hay and didn’t invite me? I’m crushed. Who’s the special guy?”

He loved how fierce she looked when she frowned. “A roll in the … oh. His name is Pippin, actually.”

But somehow, she was even sexier when she smiled. The dimple that winked to life in her right cheek was almost enough to distract Sam from how much he suddenly wanted to hunt down this Pippin and knock out his front teeth.

“What the hell kind of name is that? Sounds like an orphan kid in a Dickens novel.”

Andie smothered a laugh. “I’d be careful talking like that, if I were you!”

“I think I can take some loser named Pippin,” Sam huffed, flexing his shoulders.

“I don’t know,” Andie said, eyeing Sam’s arms and chest doubtfully. “Pippin is a pretty hefty guy with a lot of pent-up rage.”

It didn’t matter how competent he knew Andie was, or that she could likely take care of herself. Sam’s protective instincts rushed to the fore. “Has he threatened you?”

The low, dangerous tone of his voice set poor Queenie on edge. Andie’s eyes widened as the horse spooked sideways and Sam cursed himself silently. Turning all his focus back to the mare, he let all traces of aggression flow out of him and into the weathered boards of the pier.

“I’m sorry,” Andie said quietly. “That’s really not something to joke about. No one has threatened me. Pippin is a bulldog, his owner is one of my most frequent callers.”

Sam stared straight ahead at his own hands gentling the skittish horse. “Okay, now I feel like an idiot.”

“Don’t, please. I shouldn’t have teased you. I just didn’t realize your rescue service extended to humans.”

When he chanced a glance over his shoulder, the small, guilty smile that quirked her lips went a long way toward making Sam feel better.

His heart squeezed strangely when he and Andie locked stares. All he wanted to do was stretch out his fingers and skim the warm silk of her skin, to trace the outline of her ribcage down to the lean curve of her waist. But he couldn’t, even if the breathless moment of crackling electricity arcing between them said she might not mind.

He didn’t need to draw any more attention to himself and Queenie than he already had. If Sam were smart, he’d be pushing her away, not reaching out to pull her closer.

On the other hand, no one had ever accused Sam Brennan of being smart.

“I’m glad to see you again,” he said, hearing the rasp of hunger in his own voice.

Drifting closer, almost as if against her will, Andie looked up at him. “Me, too.”

It sounded like a confession dragged out of her after hours of interrogation. Sam couldn’t blame her for not wanting to be attracted to him. He knew it was a bad idea for both of them—but as he lifted his hand from Queenie’s neck to take Andie’s chilled fingers in his, he couldn’t care.

Tugging her gently closer, Sam raised their joined hands until the backs of Andie’s knuckles skimmed along Queenie’s glossy coat. The mare quivered but held still, her head low and her sides heaving as she calmed under their combined touch.

BOOK: Heartbreak Cove (Sanctuary Island) (RE8)
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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