Then Came You
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“Well,” Emily said after Wyatt nodded at her. “It appears Gracie swallowed a Kong toy whole.” She turned Gracie’s head to face her worried human mama so that she could see down the dog’s throat. The length of the Kong lined up along Gracie’s throat, the larger end nearest her nose.
“Oh my goodness,” Mrs. Coleburn said. “I suppose that’s why she whistles.”
Emily slid a look at Wyatt.
His eyes were flashing good humor. “Yep, that’s why she whistles.”
“But why the runny nose?”
“Because she can’t swallow,” he said.
“Oh my—Is she going to die?”
Had the Kong gone down sideways, Gracie most certainly could have, but Wyatt gently patted Martha’s hand. “No, we can get the Kong out. Emily here will take real good care of her, I promise.”
“But . . .” Martha glanced at Emily, gave her a nervous smile, then turned back to Wyatt. “She’s new,” she whispered, like Emily didn’t have ears.
“She’s also good,” Wyatt whispered back, and patted her again.
Martha melted for him the way Gracie had.
Dr. Wyatt Stone, animal whisperer, woman whisperer.
An hour later, Gracie had been sedated and the toy removed from her throat. Emily was washing up when both Dell and Wyatt walked into the staff room.
“Nice job,” Wyatt told her. “Really nice job.” He turned to Dell. “She’s got a good touch.”
“Glad to hear it,” Dell said.
“Because it means your money was well spent?” Emily asked.
Dell laughed. “Well, that, too. But it’s nice to have you on board. I’m hearing great things from the staff.”
Emily slid a look at Wyatt, who was watching her with that easy, calm confidence he exuded in spades.
“She handled herself with Blackie earlier,” he said. “Without getting nipped.”
Dell laughed, and at Emily’s confusion, he said, “Everyone gets nipped by Blackie the first time.”
“And some of us, the second time as well,” Wyatt said wryly, rubbing his thigh as if in memory.
Dell just grinned. “Man, that last time she just about ate your pants right off of you.”
“Which was the last time I kept a carrot in my front pocket, I can tell you that,” Wyatt said. “But Emily had her eating out of the palm of her hand in five seconds.”
Emily felt her face heat with embarrassment as she soaked up the praise she hadn’t realized she’d been desperate to hear.
Dell reached up into a cabinet and pulled out a box of cookies. Jade walked into the room and without missing a beat, took the cookies from his hand and replaced them with an apple.
“How the hell do you know?” Dell asked, baffled.
Jade smiled, kissed his jaw, and left.
Dell sighed and bit into the apple.
That must be love, Emily thought.
“We need a welcome to Belle Haven dinner,” Dell said to Emily. “How about tomorrow after work, Wyatt?”
“No go,” Wyatt said. “Adam’s running an S&R class, and we’re both working with him. You promised.”
“Yeah. And then Jade’s got me signed up for a couple’s cooking class for the next three nights after that.” His face was carefully neutral as he said this, and Emily loved that, though he was clearly not thrilled about this, he kept it to himself, not discrediting his wife in any way.
“Friday then,” he said.
“Sounds good to me,” Wyatt said, and both men looked at Emily.
No socializing, she’d told herself. Just ignoring. Wyatt, his back to Dell, smirked at her clear internal battle. It was the smirk, she decided, that disconnected her mouth from her brain. “Dinner would be great.”
Dell left and she stared at Wyatt. “Does he know about us?”
She felt herself flush again. “You know.”
He laughed, low in his throat.
“You think this is funny?” she asked in shock.
“What’s funny is that you can’t say ‘sex’ but you could put your mouth on my—”
“We can’t have dinner!”
“Hey,” he said, lifting his hands. “Not my idea.”
“No, but you could’ve told him you were busy.”
“And you never lie?” she asked in disbelief.
“Only when it suits me.”
She absorbed that for a moment, thought about their night together, specifically their good-bye, and then sucked in a breath. “Did you—”
“Like when I told you as you left my hotel room that it’d been the best night I’d had in a long time?” he asked.
Actually, he’d pressed her against the hotel room door, cupped her face, given her a wow good-bye kiss, and then whispered in her ear. You’re going to be hard to get over, sweetness. That was a night I won’t forget. She cleared her throat. “Yeah,” she said. “That.”
He was still smiling, but there was more to his gaze, a sudden intensity. “No,” he said. “That was one hundred percent honesty.” He met her gaze. “You’re not the only one thrown off their axis here, Emily. We never intended to see each other again. Hell we didn’t even know each other’s last names. And that worked for me.”
She absorbed the unexpected jab, and then shook it off. If she was being honest it worked for her, too. After her internship, she was going to leave Sunshine and go back to her real life. She had a whole lot of plans, none of which included a sexy but laid-back vet who apparently had his own secrets. “Which is why we need to really work at ignoring our sordid past.”
His lips quirked. “Especially since you have an almost sort of boyfriend. The . . . silent kind.”
She refused to let him bait her. “And how about your reason for not wanting to be with someone. Let’s hear about that.”
He didn’t answer. Just flat out said nothing.
If she hadn’t been so flipping curious about him in spite of herself, she’d have taken the time to admire his ability to do that so effectively. Only a man, she thought. “I suppose this is your charming way of saying none of my business?”
“Got to tell you,” she finally said. “It’s a little annoying, not being able to read you, and you not speaking in full sentences. Or in any sentences.”
He smiled at that. “When you first started here. I wondered how a cute little thing like yourself had ever been pushy enough to make it through the world of animal medicine, but you’ve got grit, sweetness. You were born for this job.”
“And you should’ve become a politician for your ability to dodge a question.”
He tipped back his head and laughed. It was a good laugh, and did something to her belly. Not good.
“I’m not opposed to being with a woman,” he said. “As you very well know.” He met her gaze, and she felt yet another blush rise up her cheeks.
“As for settling down with one woman,” he went on. “I work morning to night, I live the job, and on top of that, I’ve got two bossy, nosy sisters, and we share a large ancestral home that’s falling apart. It all requires a lot of my time and attention. A woman would be crazy to want me right now.”
Emily thought maybe that was unfair to the woman who fell for him—which absolutely would not be her. But surely, whoever did could see through his schedule to the man beneath, and just as surely get that he was worth working around his busy life.
“Now you,” he said.
“Me what?” she asked warily.
“When I complimented you in front of Dell, you just about fell over in shock and embarrassment. Why?”
“I didn’t.” But she had, and they both knew it.
Wyatt waited her out with the same calm patience he’d shown every animal they’d seen together.
“I guess I didn’t expect you to notice how hard I was working, because you were working just as hard,” she finally said.
He looked at her for an eternal beat, during which time it felt like he was seeing all her inner thoughts. And as some of these inner thoughts involved him na**d on a platter, this wasn’t a comfortable feeling. But she also had a lot of insecurities and self-doubts, and wasn’t used to the kudos.
“Why did you become a vet?” he finally asked, voice quiet.
And just like his patients, she fell right into his eyes and tried to please him. “I’m a third generation,” she said. “My grandpa was an army sergeant turned vet.” She smiled at the memories of him. “There wasn’t an ounce of gentleness to him for people, but he had endless vats of it for an injured or sick animal. He inspired me.”
Wyatt smiled. “Was it your mom or dad to follow the tradition?”
“My dad. He’s not army,” she said. “But he’s just as pragmatic and stoic as my grandpa was. He’s a rescuer, always was. He spent most of his career working for the local shelters, doing whatever needed to be done without much thought or care to anything else.” Like his personal life.
Including his family.
“Makes sense,” Wyatt said. “He was raised by a military man.” He paused. “It’s not easy to make a living working just the shelters.”
“No.” Though they’d always had the bare necessities, there’d definitely been a lack of comfort. “He doesn’t practice much anymore,” she said. “Hasn’t since my mom died.”
Wyatt was quiet a moment, and she was extremely aware of his gaze on her face, and the fact that she’d given him a lot more than he’d given her.
“Broken heart?” he asked.
“More like a lack of interest,” she said. “She was his drive. He still rescues animals though.”
“I meant what I told Dell, you know,” Wyatt said. “You’re good. And it’s nice that you’re following your father’s footsteps. Nicer still that you’re taking the less obvious route by coming to Idaho instead of the Beverly Hills gig.”
She could have just not said anything, but unlike him, she didn’t have a tier for acceptable lies. “I wanted the Beverly Hills gig.”
Something changed in his eyes, but he didn’t say a word about her choices or the reasons for them. He merely gave her another smile. “Maybe things work out for a reason. Maybe you’ll like it out here.”
“Maybe,” she said.
And look at that. Apparently she had a tier for lies, after all.
One week after Wyatt’s and Emily’s first real conversation in the staff room, he got up even earlier than usual and ran to the store for everything he needed. Then he dragged Darcy out of bed. Too tired to deal with her walker, he carried her down the hall to the kitchen.
“What the—” she started grumpily, stopping when she saw the balloons, flowers, and blueberry muffins he’d just gotten.
“Oh, good catch,” she said yawning. “It’s Zoe’s birthday.”
“Yeah, and you’re going to help make a stupid big deal out of it.” Wyatt had long ago learned that the way to a woman’s heart was through gestures he didn’t always understand, so he knew enough not to question the power of celebrating a birthday in a huge way.
This, through some trial and error over the years, had come to mean decorations no matter how “Hallmark,” and something delicious that wasn’t allowed on a normal day. Zoe had been claiming to be fighting five pounds all year, and had banned muffins from the house.
But he knew she’d want one today, because according to her, calories didn’t exist on birthdays. Just like they didn’t exist for any dessert that had fruit in it.
He shoved Darcy’s walker at her and gathered up all the decorations. Then he got them both down the hall and to Zoe’s room.
There, they flipped on her light and sang “Happy Birthday” to her while she fought her tangled sheets to sit up, swearing at them the whole time.
When that didn’t stop them from singing as loudly and off-key as they could—a sibling tradition—she threw her pillows at them.
And then the book on her nightstand.
Wyatt ducked in time, but the book knocked a lamp over. Of course it broke, and then Darcy cut her finger on the glass. They yelled at each other over the lamp, the glass, Darcy’s cut finger, and then Wyatt shoved Zoe’s present beneath her nose.
A gift certificate to an entire day’s pampering at the spa.
She went still, and then, oh Christ, her eyes filled. She chucked her last pillow at him. “How did you know I needed this more than my next breath?” she demanded.
Wyatt smiled and tossed her a box of tissues.
Darcy punched him on the arm. “Don’t you dare take credit for knowing,” she said, and then turned to Zoe. “He knew because you left us a very specific list, as you damn well know. You e-mailed, texted, and put it on Facebook.”
Zoe laughed. “Oh, yeah.” She held out her arms.
Wyatt and Darcy both took a mistrustful step back. Well, Wyatt did. Darcy, gripping her walker, ducked reflexively.
“No, I mean it,” Zoe said, and waggled her fingers in a “come here” gesture. “I want a damn hug.”
“You need a Midol to go with it?” Darcy asked warily.
Hoping to avoid yet another physical altercation, losing any more furniture—or his head—Wyatt shoved Darcy ahead of him. Naturally, the “hug” included some noogies and lots of bone crunching, but hey, there was no more bloodshed.