nd would the Sexiest Man in the World care for a Danish with his coffee?”
“Knock it off, Ted.”
“But it suits you so. I was thinking of having it embroidered on your towels for Christmas.”
Alex Bradley grunted as he took the cheese Danish from the tray. “Go to hell, Ted. And don’t forget to write.”
“You have absolutely no sense of humor.”
“I hired you, didn’t I?”
“Can we get back to business now? I’ve got to leave in less than an hour.”
Ted Chesterton, Alex’s right-hand man, sat down across from his boss in his home office. All frivolity was gone now, and he had that worried frown that Alex enjoyed so much. It was one of the simple pleasures in his life to make Ted fret and stew. He was the best assistant Alex had ever had, but he was also alarmingly like a mother hen.
“Are you certain about this?” Ted asked.
“Yes. Next question.”
“It’s not too late to back out. People actually walk in New York. For blocks. Long blocks.”
Ted threw his hands up. “All right. I think you’re crazy, but all right. I’ve put Pete’s things in the car, including all his papers. They’re in the glove box. So are your registration, and your maps.”
“Okay. Now, about that Toronto mess...”
For the next twenty minutes, the conversation was strictly business as Alex made sure that every aspect of his company would be taken care of while he was on vacation. Of course, he would have the phone, the fax and the portable computer with him, and Ted would call constantly, but at least he wanted the illusion that he was leaving business behind for two weeks.
“I think that does it,” Alex said finally. “Is there anything else?”
Ted scanned his notes quickly. “No. I think we’ll muddle through somehow without you.”
“I knew I could count on you. Now, I’m going to finish packing.” Alex stood, and went over to pat Ted’s shoulder. “You’re a good man, Ted. No matter what everyone says.”
“What?” He turned to follow Alex’s progress out the door. “What who says? What are they saying?”
Alex waved goodbye and headed for his bedroom. Once there, he looked at the suitcase on the bed and saw that Ted or Patsy had refolded all his clothes so that they took up about half the space they once had. This seemed a bit much. He liked his personal staff, but did they have to treat him as if he were a ten-year-old just because he wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary?
The suitcase was one more reason he wanted to get the hell out of here and get on the road. Damn. A road trip. His first, he realized. He’d been across the country more times than he could count, but always by plane. This time, he was actually going to see some of this land of his. Stop at all the tourist traps and local diners and go to little country stores and hell, he might even see purple mountains’ majesty and amber waves of grain.
He smiled as he went to gather his toiletries. He’d ordered a whole slew of books on cassette—unabridged, of course—for the trip. Books he’d meant to read, but never had. This was going to be a real vacation, a hiatus from all he knew. By the time he reached New York, Ted would have readied the new penthouse, and his regularly scheduled life would begin again. Only this time, on the East Coast.
Maybe, just maybe, this trip and the move would do the trick. Wake him up. Shake him out of this lethargy that had been weighing him down for so long. He sure as hell hoped so.
He studied his face in the mirror. It didn’t hurt that he was leaving town just after that damned magazine had come out, either. He was the same old Alex. Good genes had given him the looks that had helped him so much in his life, but sexiest man in the world? If that were true, then the women of planet earth were in deep trouble. He might believe sexiest man on his block, but then he didn’t know everyone who lived there.
He tucked his razor and his comb into his case and scanned the room briefly for anything he might have missed. Nope. He was ready. Once Pete was in the car, it was adios L.A., hello America. Alex Bradley was hitting the road.
Five days later
DAM JACOBSON tried hard to keep a cool, professional expression on her face. It would not do to laugh. Not now. This was a serious business. She lifted her stethoscope and placed it on the bunny’s chest.
“Will he be okay?”
Dani listened intently, but heard nothing. Not that she’d expected to. But she went through the motions anyway. Finally she removed her stethoscope earpieces and looked at her patient’s owner. “I think he’s going to pull through.”
Tiffany Cox sniffled once. “Thank you, Dr. Jacobson. Does he have to have a shot?”
Dani struggled once more to keep the smile from her lips and her voice. She nodded sagely at Tiffany, knowing the eight-year-old was legitimately concerned about Boppy, her stuffed bunny.
She went to the cabinet where she kept her syringes and took one down. “You don’t have to watch if you don’t want to, Tiffany.”
“It’s okay. I don’t want Boppy to be scared.”
“I’m glad you’re here for him,” Dani said as she took the empty syringe and placed it near the bunny’s butt. “Are you two ready?”
Tiffany nodded. Boppy was elegantly blasé. She pushed the plunger. Tiffany winced.
In a second, it was over. “There. I think that’s going to do the trick. But you take special care with Boppy now, you hear? No leaving him outside overnight.”
The little blond girl scooped up the bunny and held him as if he were a baby. “No, ma’am. He’ll get to sleep with me until he’s all better.”
“Excellent,” Dani said, walking the girl to the examination room door. “I know he’s in good hands.” She heard Tiffany sniff once more as she went down the hallway toward the waiting room, where Dani knew five patients waited with real live animals that needed her attention. Oh well, it had only taken a moment. Surely no one would begrudge her that.
She went to the reception desk and picked up the case file on top of the stack. “Who’s up next, Connie?” Dani read over the new patient form. An older dog having trouble breathing, but she didn’t recognize the name. She turned over the page and saw that the owner was from out of town. Then she realized Connie hadn’t answered her. Dani looked up. “Connie?”
Connie, her pineteen-year-old niece and receptionist, wasn’t even looking her way. She was staring out into the waiting room. Not just staring, but slack-jawed staring. What kind of a dog was it?
Dani leaned forward and followed Connie’s gaze. The dog was just a mutt. Nothing terribly special. Then she saw exactly what had caused Connie’s stupefaction. It wasn’t the dog. It was the owner. Holy cow. The man looked as if he’d just stepped off the cover of
It wasn’t only his dark good looks that had Connie drooling. Power radiated from this guy in almost visible waves. Power that was decidedly male, filled with testosterone and clearly designed to bring any female within a five-block radius to her knees.
Just the kind of man that Dani Jacobson couldn’t stand.
She pulled back and looked once more at her niece’s face. Only nineteen, and already besotted by good looks. “Connie,” Dani said.
Connie didn’t move.
The young woman finally snapped out of her spell and turned. “Oh, be still my heart,” she said. “You think he’s single?”
Dani felt an old, terribly familiar anger blossom in the pit of her stomach. “It doesn’t matter. When you see a man like him, you run. You don’t stop to think. You don’t entertain any notions. You leave and you don’t look back.”
Connie’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”
“Because any man who looks like that knows he looks like that.”
“Honey, in the sea of life, men like him are great white sharks. They don’t think much, because they don’t have to. They just feed, and mate with any available female. Trust me on this one.”
Connie shook her head. “Sometimes you scare me, Dani,” she said.
“Be that as it may, I don’t want you speaking to that man, you hear? Just tell him to bring his dog to room three and that’s it. When he leaves, ask for cash. Or a credit card. No checks. And whatever you do, don’t look him in the eyes.”
Her niece blinked a couple of times, then turned back to the shark. “Mr. Bradley,” she said, her voice all quivery. “You can take Pete to room three.”
Dani tucked the file under her arm and hurried back to her office. Mr. Bradley and Pete could wait a few minutes. As hard as it was to admit, her own heart was beating as fast as Connie’s. It had to be because he looked so much like Randy. Or what Randy would look like in a few years. In that one brief glimpse out there, she’d felt as if she knew Mr. Bradley, which was impossible. But he sure did look familiar.
Her breathing and pulse rates were both back to normal, and she felt sure she could face the man without a problem. In the vernacular, she’d gotten a grip. And there was a dog out there who needed a doctor.
Absently running her hand over her short blond hair, Dani left the office and went right to room three. She stepped inside, and was caught off guard once more.
Mr. Bradley wasn’t sitting in the chair where she expected him. He had gotten up on the metal examination table and was holding his big yellow dog in his lap.
“He’s a little scared,” he said. “He’s not too crazy about doctors.”
“I see,” she said, wanting to tell him to leave the room, but knowing she couldn’t. Not after looking into Pete’s worried eyes.
“I’m Dr. Jacobson. I see in the chart that Pete has had some trouble breathing.”
The man rubbed the dog’s head with a tenderness that really surprised her. “He’s an old guy,” he said. “I’m not sure how old. He was at least two when I found him, and that was over ten years ago. Normally he likes to travel. But this time...” He looked at Dani. “I’m worried about him.”
She should have shielded her eyes. Held her hands up to block his gaze. Anything would have been better than seeing that overwhelming compassion. Sharks don’t feel compassion, right? Dani had always judged people by how they dealt with children and animals. She’d been surprised to see this guy with a dog in the first place. Now, as he sat in his slightly worn jeans and his pressed silk shirt, not worrying a bit that his old mutt was drooling—not on the jeans, but on the expensive material—she felt as though she wasn’t on firm ground anymore.
The dog sneezed, which brought Dani out of her confusion. She made sure to look only at Pete as she walked up to the table. Holding out her hand to give the dog a chance to smell her, she took in the condition of his coat, his eyes, his tongue. “How you doing there, Pete? Hmm?” She petted the big yellow head, and Pete gave her a friendly nudge.
“I think he’s okay for now, Mr. Bradley. I don’t think he’ll mind too much if you leave him to me. You can stay in the room if you like, but Pete and I have some things we need to do together. Isn’t that right, Pete?”
“It’s Alex, Dr. Jacobson,” he said, then he lifted Pete’s head so he could look the dog in the eyes. “You be good. I’ll be right here, so don’t worry.” He petted the dog once more, then extricated himself from beneath him.
Dani kept her eyes on the dog until she heard the examination room door open. Her gaze moved there, surprised at the interruption. Normally, if there was something that needed her immediate attention, Connie buzzed her on the intercom. This time, Connie stood back so that she wasn’t visible to Mr. Bradley. And she was holding a magazine in her hand.
Confused, Dani started to say something, but Connie waved furiously to abort that, and pointed to the picture on the cover of the magazine. Dani stared. Then she slowly turned her head to look at Alex Bradley, sitting calmly not two feet away. Holy mother of pearl, that’s why he looked so familiar. She had the Sexiest Man in the World in examination room three!
Of course. Alex Bradley. Rich as sin and twice as handsome. The man who’d dated Cindy Craw-ford
Miss America. The media darling. The guy who was born with the silver spoon in his mouth. Who just happened to be terribly worried about an aging old mutt.
Dani looked once more at Connie. The young woman was holding the picture to her chest, practically swooning. Dani walked over to the door and closed it. Just because it was Alex Bradley, she couldn’t forget her job or her position. Pete needed attention, and she would give it to him. Her pounding pulse was something she’d think about later. Right now, she had to keep her mind on Pete. Just Pete.
Alex watched the doctor’s examination carefully. He was concerned about how good she could be. After all, this town was barely a flyspeck on the map. Carlson’s Gap, New Mexico. The sign had said Population 18,000, but somehow, as he’d driven down the main street, he’d doubted the accuracy of that census. Maybe eighteen hundred. It didn’t really matter. The vet had been in the phone book, and now Pete was being looked after. From what Alex could tell, the examination was pretty thorough, too.