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Authors: Avery Beck

Full Circle

BOOK: Full Circle
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Dedication

To my wonderful editor, Sue-Ellen Gower, for your tireless efforts to meet deadlines and polish my vision of this story to a shine. It is a privilege to work with you.

 

To Ann, for moving the book of my heart off the computer and into the hands of readers.

 

For my husband, one of the good guys, who broke a bout of writer’s block when he told me to forget the publishing industry, stop worrying about the market and write what matters to me.

 

Pixie gals and so many writer friends—I hope you know who you are!—thank you for the encouragement and advice to keep on keeping on through seemingly endless frustration, because there are many ways to realize the dream. You were right.

Chapter One

No matter how many times she had seen it, Elisa Haley still marveled that a woman would wear dancing clothes to bring an animal to an appointment. She eyed the spectacle entering the office and added a line to the employment ad she was writing up:
Must entertain clients who hit on the boss.

She hid a smile and deleted the sentence. Maybe it was a bit much. She left her desk and pushed open the door that separated the waiting area from the rest of the clinic, containing her amusement until she was safely out of sight. Her brother would be crowned the hottest veterinarian in Texas if certain customers had their way.

She found Justin on his knees in an examining room, scrubbing what remained of a foul-smelling mess left by the last nervous patient. “You’ve got another one.”

“Another what?” he grunted, not looking up.

“Secret admirer. Or should I say, blatant admirer. The head-to-toe spandex is a little conspicuous. That and the fact that her dog comes down with a mysterious illness every other day.”

He straightened with a groan. “Mrs. Dale, huh?”

“You got it.”

“Brilliant. This is exactly the reason I’m bringing on another doctor. I don’t have time for this stuff.”

Elisa picked up the instruments lying on the exam table, prepping the room while he washed his hands in the sink. “Oh yeah, Dr. What’s-His-Name. I hope he knows a good receptionist, because I’m getting out of here at the end of the summer. At the latest.”

Justin rolled his eyes and she didn’t need to ask why. He hated that she was leaving town and he blew off her plans at every opportunity. It hurt, but she wasn’t about to back down. She was two months away from a degree she should have earned six years ago. An ice storm in hell wouldn’t take her eyes off that diploma.

Her brother grabbed a paper towel from the wall dispenser. “You have several weeks left before you finish your summer classes. Can you stop rubbing in the fact that you’re leaving until we get a little closer to the date?”

“I just want you and Mom and Dad to know that you’re not changing my mind. I’ve worked too hard for this.”

“I understand that, but right now, you have responsibilities here. Did you finish the ad so I can start interviewing for your replacement?”

“Working on it right now.”

“Wonderful,” he replied, but his tone said quite the opposite.

She decided not to argue with him. As her graduation date approached, he grew more and more frustrated with her decision to move, and by now she was used to his snappiness. It was all part of the maddening barricade her family had built around her and refused to take down. If they could surround her with bubble-wrap, they would.

She rubbed her temple and tried to erase the image of her younger self sobbing in her bed after she’d made it home from surgery. She could still feel the crumpled sheets against her wet cheek, the nauseating emptiness in her stomach. She hadn’t come out for days, had barely moved except to stare at the meals her mother brought to her room. Back then she had needed unconditional support, and her parents and brother had provided it.

For that, she was grateful. But the drama had ended a long time ago. Her family didn’t understand that every time they tried to cloak her in their overprotective shell, her urge to leave grew stronger. She wasn’t nineteen anymore, and she’d long ago gotten tired of being the guest of honor at their pity party—not to mention the subject of citywide disapproval. The best thing she could do for herself—the
only
thing she wanted to do—was reclaim the bright future her surprise pregnancy and despicable ex-boyfriend had forced her to give up.

In a couple of months she would be sitting in a corporate office in a position of importance, not answering phone calls from amorous pet owners in a sleepy town.

Until then, she was stuck. “Justin, I’m sorry. You know I’ll be here whenever you need me until I graduate.”

“Thank you. Now please help me find a harmless way to treat that innocent dog.”

Elisa stifled a laugh and accompanied him to the waiting room. She returned to her chair, nearly shielding her eyes from Mrs. Dale’s neon miniskirt and matching stilettos. Wow. That was a lot of pink, even for a woman whose…well,
quirky
fashion sense was known around town.

Justin pasted on a smile. “Hello, Heidi. How can we help you this morning?”

The stilettos clicked closer to the reception desk. “Dr. Haley, I’m sorry to bother you, but could you give Rainbow another look? She seems to have lost some of her spunk.”

Elisa peered around her computer monitor. It was definitely one of
those
visits. The Chihuahua in Heidi’s arms seemed to be pursuing freedom with plenty of spunk.

“The roundworm pills we prescribed last week aren’t working?” Justin asked.

Heidi struggled to keep her grip on Rainbow. “Oh yes, they’re working. I’m just afraid there might be something else wrong with her. Something we missed at the last appointment.”

A flush crept along her unnaturally blonde hairline. Heidi didn’t mean any harm. She knew Justin was married, and so was she—to the high school football coach, a man who cared more for the game than his wife. Elisa didn’t blame her for needing attention now and then, but being a witness to women’s fantasies about her brother was something she could do without.

She shook her head and tried to look interested in the document in front of her. She wanted to do more online research about the company where she’d recently had an interview, but she couldn’t do it on the clock while Justin looked over her shoulder.

At last, he led Heidi to the back of the clinic to poke and prod poor Rainbow. But instead of finishing the ad or resuming her job search, Elisa worried about their earlier conversation. Would he have enough help when she was gone? The local teenagers were available for hire during summer vacation only, and since Justin and his wife were expecting another baby, he would be juggling three kids on top of his steadily increasing patient load.

Not for the first time, guilt crept into her chest. As usual, she pushed it away and gazed out the front window instead, hoping the clear, blue sky would reassure her or at least provide a distraction. Sustaining the clinic wasn’t her problem. That’s why Justin had hired—

Liam.

She blinked. Where had that name come from? Justin had hired the guy outside, the handsome man in a tie who had just parked and gotten out of his car in the clinic’s small lot.

The man looked an awful lot like the long-lost friend she planned never to see again. Pretty much like his identical twin, in fact. Except Liam didn’t have a twin.

Oh no.

Elisa leapt from her seat. Five seconds later, she burst into the room where Rainbow panted happily on the exam table.

Justin turned, startled. “What’s wrong?”

“I need to talk to you. Now.”

He apologized to Heidi and joined Elisa in the brightly painted hallway. Blue—it was supposed to be a calming color. Funny. In half a minute, the-Man-Who-Could-Be-Liam would enter the building. Fear consumed her.

“Who is that guy about to come in here?” she demanded, her voice a panicked stage-whisper.

Justin glanced into the lobby and out the glass door then faced her with an irritated expression. “That’s the big emergency? He’s the new doctor, Liam Barton. He’s starting today, remember?”

Elisa couldn’t breathe. She’d heard Justin mention a new doctor. She
hadn’t
heard his name. She had assumed—even hoped—it would be an older man with thick glasses and a bad toupee. Someone safe, who couldn’t possibly interfere with her plans.

It would be easy to work with that kind of man. Facing a guy she hadn’t seen in a decade, one who could destroy her life all over again if he uncovered the truth, would be a challenge of Olympic proportions.

“Liam—Liam Barton?” She hadn’t spoken or heard that name in so long. It sounded foreign, though her memories were far too familiar. “Are you sure?”

“Unless he lied on his résumé, that’s his name. Do you ever listen when I talk to you?”

Not really, because she had tuned out his list of all the reasons she should stay in Windy Flats, none of which she agreed with. But she sure would have listened if she’d known he was talking about Liam.

“I need you to show him around this place while I finish up with Rainbow. He’s your age and has spectacular credentials. You should get along great. I’ll be out soon.” Justin returned to the exam room.

Elisa’s stomach formed knots that would make a Boy Scout jealous. They
had
gotten along great…and later, not so great.

Interesting that a man who had done nothing but try to protect her could make her feel so sick.

 

 

Liam closed the door of his Explorer and inhaled the breezy rural air. Though June in central Texas sent temperatures soaring above ninety, the sparsely populated roads and rich green trees of Windy Flats offered a welcome respite from Dallas’s endless traffic jams and multiple high-rises. The silence alone made him feel he was on vacation instead of beginning his first day at a new job.

He shouldn’t have any problem building a life here.

He dropped his sunglasses into his pocket and headed for the single-story building in front of him. Modest in size, it appeared to have once been a house, which gave it a warm atmosphere a sterile office building couldn’t compete with. No wonder the town’s residents brought their beloved pets here for treatment and, occasionally, boarding. He’d done his research—Dr. Haley’s place was popular. To earn the partnership he eventually hoped to gain at the clinic, Liam suspected he might work harder to earn the respect of the clients than he would to treat their animals.

The sun blazed down and he sweated as he made his way up the sidewalk, but the chill that greeted him when he stepped through the door didn’t come from the central air-conditioning. An attractive woman sat behind the desk, and though her fingers stopped typing when he entered, she continued to stare intently at her screen as though willing him to turn around and walk back out.

He cleared his throat. “Excuse me, I’m—”

“The new doctor.” Coming out of her trance, she rolled her chair away from the computer and faced him with crossed arms.

His mouth fell open, his heart sinking to his knees. This woman didn’t look exactly like her, but at the same time, he knew those eyes. He knew that face, that voice.

Elisa Haley, his most painful loss until his mother’s unexpected death a few months ago. She was in the same room with him for the first time in nine years.

“That’s right,” he managed to say through his shock. “Looks like you succeeded in your field of choice too.”

He was referring to the way they’d met, in a first-year biology class back in college, where they had discovered their mutual pursuit of medicine and become friends. If they focused on the good memories, maybe he wouldn’t have to think about what had happened later.

But she winced at his words. “I didn’t think you’d recognize me. I’ve changed a little.”

A little
was hardly accurate. The girl he remembered had long blonde hair and wore her makeup too heavy, her skirts too short. Not that she hadn’t looked good, but she had dressed that way for Brett. She had done entirely too many things for that loser.

With any luck, that was part of the change. This woman had Elisa’s expressive eyes, and that same mouth he’d stopped himself from kissing so many times before he finally couldn’t take it anymore, but her hair was dark and barely touched her shoulders. Pastel scrubs draped her petite frame, and the absence of her old signature red lipstick brought more attention to flashing brown eyes that had
back off
written all over them.

That was different. She’d never been much for telling anyone to back off. That kind of grit would have saved her a lot of trouble.

He wanted to say a thousand things, ask a million questions. But his future in Windy Flats depended on everything going well today, and he couldn’t risk his position at the clinic by letting old hurts distract him.

He opted for the casual greeting. “How have you been?”

The strain on her face told him she didn’t welcome his presence. She stood and handed him a clipboard stuffed with paperwork.

“Justin’s with a patient, and he wants me to show you around until he’s finished. So let’s see. The first thing you should know is that we have a long list of female clients. With the addition of you, it will likely grow.”

BOOK: Full Circle
7.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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