Excerpt: Heal Me
Book 2: Coopers Creek Series
“Hang on! I’m coming!”
Ric added a curse under his breath. He hated these bloody crutches. As slow as a hobbled horse, Ric swung his way to the front door as fast as his mastery of the crutches would allow. Reaching it, he yanked it open and stared into a gorgeous pair of chocolate-brown eyes, the painful path to the door forgotten.
“Dr. Donoghue?” Well, hell yes! Sexy vet. He almost wanted to buy a dog himself.
“Yes. You must be Ric Stanford, Emily’s brother.”
The woman’s beauty rendered him mute for a moment. Then he mentally shook himself and smiled. “Yeah. Sorry it took me so long to get to the door. I had to dodge around Coco’s, uh, accidents.”
He moved back to allow her entry into the house.
“That’s okay. You can just call me Kate,” she said. “Where is she?”
“I penned her in the laundry room so that she didn’t keep puking all over the place. It’s this way. Just watch out for landmines.”
As he led her through the living room and dining room, Ric was careful not to catch one of his crutches on anything. Clumsy and crutches went hand in hand, not the image he wanted in front of this beauty.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m used to dealing with that sort of stuff. Occupational hazard and all that,” Kate said.
Ric smiled. “I just didn’t want you to slip and fall on dog crap. One of us on crutches is enough. I really appreciate you making a house call like this. I still can’t reach Emily. Her phone must’ve died and I can’t drive since I’m on pain meds.”
“You did the right thing calling me. A first puppy is special and your niece, Hayley loves Coco so much.”
As they reached the kitchen, Ric stopped and grimaced at the small pile of dog poop on the hardwood floor. “Damn, that reeks.”
Having grown up riding and taking care of horses, Ric could handle the smell of shit, but Coco’s stank worse than anything he’d ever encountered before.
Kate sat her bag on the kitchen table and took out some Latex gloves. “Believe it or not, I’ve smelled worse.”
“Kate’s shook her head a little and smiled. Ric noted that her pink, Cupid’s bow lips were devoid of lipstick or gloss. It didn’t look like she wore makeup at all. However, Kate wasn’t in need of cosmetics to enhance her natural beauty.
Rich, chestnut-brown hair hung down past her shoulders and thick, black lashes framed her dark eyes. High cheekbones, a straight, pretty nose, and a lightly tanned complexion combined to create one of the most arresting female faces that Ric had ever seen.
“I’m going to collect a sample so I can do a culture back at the clinic.”
Ric watched her take out a collection kit. She crouched down in front of him and Ric took advantage of the opportunity to check her out. Her light blue jeans were faded and there was a ragged tear in the right knee. She wore beat-up tan cowboy boots and a red-and-black heavy men’s flannel jacket. The jeans fit her like a glove, showing off her shapely legs and heart-shaped ass. A tomboy. A very sexy tomboy.
I wouldn’t mind climbing into the hayloft with her. “He snapped his gaze away from her as she stood up, instead looking at the clock on the wall.”
“Where’s the laundry room?” Kate asked as she deposited her specimen in a Ziploc bag and shut it.
“Right through here.” He hobbled through a doorway and down a short hallway. Putting a hand on the doorknob, he said, “I don’t know what we’re going to find.”
Kate laughed. “You make it sound like a murder scene.”
The slightly throaty sound and her sparkling eyes sent a jolt of awareness through Ric and he smiled back as he opened the door. Coco, a chocolate Spoodle puppy, bounded out of the laundry room, catching him off-guard when she jumped up at him.
Four months old now, Coco was growing rapidly and she was strong. One of Ric’s crutches slid out from under him and he fell back against the wall. It jarred his broken ankle, sending pain lancing through the offended joint.
Kate grabbed his left arm to help steady him.
Coco was oblivious to Ric’s plight and wagged her tail furiously as she sniffed Kate’s legs.
“Are you okay?” Kate asked, meeting his eyes.”
Ric stood six-two and he judged Kate to be around five-eight or five-nine; tall for a woman. Her grip on his bicep was firm and her hands were strong, yet feminine. She smelled like hay, horse, and lilac. Hunger stole through him as he glanced at her full lips. It had been a few weeks without a woman and Kate was causing his libido to dance in delighted want and need.
Realizing that she was expecting an answer, Ric pulled it together. “Yeah. I’ll live.”
She didn’t move and their eyes locked for a few moments. Then she seemed to come back to herself with a start. “I’ll get your crutch.”
Before she bent to retrieve it, Ric saw that she was blushing and smiled to himself. Either his pain meds were making him loopy or they’d shared a moment of mutual attraction. He hoped it was the latter.
“Are you sure that you’re all right?” she asked as she handed him the crutch.
“Yeah. I’m just glad there was a wall there. It’s the strangest thing.” He smiled self-deprecatingly. “You’d think a champion roper would have more coordination on these things. I guess I need more practice.”
Kate’s mouth curved upwards in response to his smile. A dimple in her right cheek winked at him and he was fascinated by it. “Take your time. You don’t need to break anything else. I’ll examine Coco in the kitchen. Why don’t you go sit down? There’s really nothing you can do to help me.”
Kate nodded. “Positive. I’ll hold Coco until you get settled.”
Ric’s ankle throbbed as he carefully made his way to the living room. He felt bad for leaving Kate to deal with Coco, but she was a veterinarian, so she was used to subduing excited animals. He went over to the recliner he’d been set up in and sat down in it. Some of the pain in his ankle was alleviated when he raised the footrest.
“A bottle of hydrocodone sat on the stand by the chair. Ric hated taking the pain meds, but the two fractures hurt like a bitch at times and the drug at least took the edge off and helped him sleep. Sighing, he took two out of the bottle and took them with the homemade lemonade Emily had left him early that afternoon.
He heard Kate talking to Coco out in the kitchen. The slightly smoky timber of her voice was pleasant to the ear and she had a great laugh. Did she have a boyfriend? Was she married? He hadn’t noticed if she wore a ring. Although he might be a womanizer, Ric was no homewrecker.
Secretly a romantic, he firmly believed in fidelity and wouldn’t even think of getting involved with someone who was in a committed relationship. After seeing how happy his sister and her husband Tyler were, Ric had been thinking more about settling down himself. He loved his niece, Hayley, to death and he wanted a whole passel of kids of his own. Trouble was, finding the right women. He knew the pain that came of bad choices. He’d loved a woman once who’d led “him a merry dance. When he finally gave up on her, she got herself killed and he still wondered if he could have done more…If somehow he might have saved her.
Kate was definitely not a ‘wildcat,’ the type of women his sister accused him of dating to protect himself from hurt. She’d pointed out that he’d never fall in love with that sort of woman.
While he definitely found the sexy vet attractive, he instinctively knew she was not the type of woman who indulged in one-night stands, and he definitely wasn’t sure he was ready for more just yet. He was enjoying New York. Enjoying the fast pace of the investment world and the respected place his firm, Horizon Enterprises, held in it.
Kate was the type of woman Emily would try to fix him up with. If Emily didn’t love this puppy so much he’d almost imagine her setting this scenario up.
His morose musings were interrupted by Kate’s reappearance. “Well, the good news is that Coco will be fine.”
“What about the blood in her poop?”
Kate cocked her head. “Are there any trashcans around that Coco can get into?”
Ric gave her a startled look. “Yeah. All over the house. Uh oh. Are you saying she’s eaten something she shouldn’t? What did she eat?”
“I’m not sure, but it caused some inflammation. Most likely, the worst is over. I palpated her abdomen, but it wasn’t tender. Her temperature was normal, too. I’ll let Emily know the culture results, but I think she just got into something she shouldn’t have. “Just try to keep her out of the waste cans,” Kate replied.
“You can see I’m on crutches. Keeping Coco from doing anything at the moment is a bit tricky.”
Kate laughed and the sound went straight to his groin. He wished he could cross his legs. “Perhaps until you’re healed, keep the bins out of her reach.”
Ric’s vision was starting to get fuzzy. The damn pills were kicking in already. “All right. I’ll make sure to tell Emily and Tyler. I guess we’ll have to make sure that our bedroom doors are shut. I appreciate you coming over like this.”
“She smiled and Ric’s stomach did a funny little flip. “I don’t mind. I was at the Jones’s farm. Jack wanted me to be there “while he was breeding someone’s mare to Prince Phillip.”
Ric smiled. “He still has him, huh? We always busted Jack’s ass about that name. No Quarter horse stallion should be named Prince Phillip.” His eyes were growing heavier by the second and he shook his head to clear it. “I’m sorry. I don’t usually fall asleep when a beautiful woman is talking to me. It’s the meds.”
She laughed, her cheeks turning pink. “Thank you. Well, I should go and let you get some rest. Do you want me to put Coco in her crate?”
Ric nodded. “That would be great. Thanks.”
Her smile was the last thing he remembered as he lost the battle to stay awake.
When his eyes drifted shut, Kate couldn’t help watching him for a few moments. His slightly unruly hair and relaxed expression were adorable. She took a lap afghan from the back of the couch and covered him with it.
Even in sleep, the man exuded a potent masculinity and Kate fought the urge to kiss him. Her heart suddenly knocked against her ribs and she hurriedly moved away from him before she did something stupid.
Get a grip, Kate admonished herself. When she’d steadied him in the laundry, grabbing his rock-hard bicep shouldn’t have affected her so much, but she hadn’t touched muscles like that in almost two years. Not since her fiancé died. She had to admit that Ric was one fine piece of man-candy. The first man, since arriving in Coopers Creek almost eighteen months ago, who “made her feel—anything. With cobalt blue eyes, sandy blond hair, and a sculpted body built for sin, he was temptation personified.
Kate’s insides clenched. She hadn’t been attracted to a man in a long time, but there was no denying the spark she’d shared with Ric. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to act on it.
Although she’d tried not to notice Ric’s scrumptious body as he’d left the kitchen, it proved impossible. His wide shoulders worked under his T-shirt, his muscles bunching and flexing as he moved. Kate had a vivid image of all that sexiness naked and in her bed.
She took a step back. Where the hell had that thought come from?
Kate sucked in a breath and tore her thoughts away from that topic. She was supposed to be tending to a sick puppy, not fantasizing about a man, no matter how hot he was. Focusing on her job, she called Coco to her and put her in her crate in the laundry room.
Back in the kitchen, she found cleaning supplies under the sink and took care of Coco’s four messes. Then she checked on Ric, who was sound asleep. Again, she had the crazy impulse to kiss his sensual mouth.
Getting a hold of herself, Kate left the living room, gathered her bag, and left. As she drove down the road, she couldn’t get Ric out of her head. It had been a long time since a man had affected her like that and it scared the hell out of her. The pain of loss had finally been easing, but now it reemerged with a vengeance. She forced herself to think about all the work waiting for her back at the clinic, determined to erase the memory of Mr. Tall, Blond and Hot from her brain.
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