Authors: Jordan Summers
He might be willing to walk away, but it wasn’t.
“I’m going into town to grab some lunch.” Nic headed for the door. “I’ll pick up the cables we need while I’m there.”
“The chef’s putting on a big spread at the house. We don’t need—”
Bernie hit Josh and glared at him. “See you in a few.”
Nic nodded and strode outside. He climbed into his truck and started the engine. As he roared down the long drive toward the security gate, some of the tension in his chest eased.
* * * * *
Josh turned to Bernie after Nic left. “You want to tell me what’s going on? I’ve never seen Nic so distracted. He didn’t notice that Jenna was here.”
“I know.” Bernie grinned. “It’s only going to get worse.”
“What is?” Josh asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Bernie replied.
Josh scratched his head. “Maybe to you.” He grabbed the pastry and handed it to Bernie.
Bernie looked at it, sniffed, then wrinkled his nose. He tossed the confection into the trash.
“You better not let the cook see you do that,” Josh said. “He went to a lot of trouble to make those fresh. I thought you wanted a pastry.”
“No, I just needed to talk to Nic,” Bernie said. “I wanted to confirm my suspicions.”
“What suspicions are those?” Josh asked.
“Our friend Nic has found his bondmate,” Bernie said.
Josh’s eyes widened and he glanced at the door Nic had walked out of. “Why didn’t he say anything? It’s such a big deal. Definitely cause for celebration.”
Bernie cocked his head and his smile widened. “Because I don’t think he knows. At least not for certain.”
Josh grabbed his stomach and hooted with laughter. “Oh man,” he said. “Can’t wait to see Nic’s face when he finally figures it out.”
Bernie chuckled. “Should be something, all right. In the meantime, cut him some slack. His wolf will really be riding him hard until he closes the deal.”
* * * * *
Celina cornered Mindy the second she walked into the animal clinic. “Did anything odd happen last night?”
The humiliation over what she’d done came rushing back. Mindy couldn’t meet Celina’s penetrating gaze. “W-what do mean?” She rushed past the cheery light blue walls with the doggy and kitty pictures on them, and slipped into the office.
Celina followed. “Slade’s a catch. I get it,” she said. “I know if I find him irresistible, it’s a safe bet that other women do, too.”
Mindy had no idea how Slade figured into last night. “What?”
“If he dropped by your house, you can tell me. I won’t be mad.” Pain filled her eyes and she squared her shoulders.
“Celina, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mindy said. “I haven’t seen Slade since the last time he came by to pick you up after work.”
“I swear,” Mindy said.
Celina deflated. “Oh, good.” Her eyes narrowed. “Then why did you look so guilty when I asked about last night?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Mindy said, then ducked around her.
“Mindy Catherine MacDougal, you just lied,” Celina said.
“No, I didn’t,” Mindy squawked.
Thankfully, Dr. Fields walked in and interrupted her friend’s interrogation. “Ready to begin?”
“Yes.” Mindy glanced at Celina and smiled, then rushed off to scrub up.
Two spayings, one neutering, and a paw surgery later, Mindy came out of the back room. Dr. Fields had been kind not to say anything when she dropped three scalpels and handed him the wrong instrument—twice.
Despite vowing to never think about last night again, Mindy couldn’t keep her mind off her mystery man. Her thoughts reveled in replaying each moment in vivid color. She could still feel his lips pressed against her neck, and the swirl of his tongue, as he tasted her skin.
Mindy fanned her face and pulled at the collar of her shirt, then walked to the thermostat to check the temperature. It was a balmy seventy-two.
Celina’s gaze burned into her. She hadn’t said anything more, but it was only a matter of time. Mindy sighed.
“The reason I look so guilty is because I went to Sticks last night,” she murmured. “I just wanted to have fun. Feel free for once.”
Celina’s eyes widened and she came to her feet. “You what!”
“I know you told me that it wasn’t my kind of place,” she said. “But I had to see for myself.” The temp in the room climbed higher.
“What happened?” Celina asked. “Are you hurt? Are you okay?”
More or less.
Mindy glanced at her, then looked away. “You were right. It wasn’t my kind of place.”
“Mindy, what happened?” Celina asked. “What did you see?”
“I didn’t see anything other than a lot of good-looking men.”
What is Celina talking about?
“Just tell me what happened,” she said.
“There was a fight. It was a mess,” Mindy said. “Honestly, I’m embarrassed by the whole situation.”
“You got into a fight?” Celina’s gaze scanned her from head to toe.
“I can’t catch a ball and you think I got into a fight? Seriously?”
“Sorry, I forgot who I was talking to,” Celina said.
She’d confused Mindy with her sister. Celina did that a lot. It was a common mistake and only served to remind her how close this woman and her sister really were.
“Some of the men I met last night got into a fight.” Mindy rubbed her hands over her arms. “I’m fine. Really. A man stepped in and saved me from a bad situation, then I went home.”
“They were fighting over you?” Celina asked.
Mindy’s brow furrowed. “You don’t have to sound so surprised.”
“Sorry. You sure you’re okay?” Celina asked.
She wasn’t, but not for the reason Celina was suggesting. “Positive.”
“Who was he?” Celina asked. “The guy who saved you, I mean.”
Mindy shook her head and sweat trickled down the side of her face. “Don’t know. Didn’t ask.”
Celina frowned in confusion. “What do you mean you didn’t ask?”
Mindy ran a hand through her hair, loosening her ponytail. “It all happened so fast that there wasn’t time,” she said.
Celina’s frown deepened.
Before she could ask another uncomfortable question, the bell on the front door clanged. Mindy’s heart jumped.
It’s not the man from last night,
she mentally scolded.
It’s just a customer.
But that didn’t stop her excitement or diminish the swell of hope.
They both walked into the waiting area to see who’d arrived. Celina’s boyfriend Slade stood inside the door.
His light gold eyes drifted over Celina and settled on Mindy. He smiled when he saw her, a vibrant, welcoming grin that lit up the room. Mindy smiled back, but couldn’t help feeling disappointed.
* * * * *
“Afternoon, ladies.” Slade moved deeper into the lobby.
Celina’s heart fluttered, but her elation faded when she saw who held his attention. “What are you doing here?”
“I thought I’d see if you want to go to lunch. I have a quick errand to run, but I’ll be back in a few,” Slade said.
Celina smiled. “Sounds good.”
“Mindy,” he said. “Have you done something different with your hair?”
Mindy touched the side of her head. “No, it’s the same as it’s always been.”
He studied her appearance. “Hmm, you look different somehow,” he said.
Her cheeks flamed.
Celina watched her closely, startled by her friend’s response to such an innocent statement. Had she lied about him coming over? Celina shook her head. Mindy had always been a terrible liar. It was how Celina knew her friend had left something out of the story about Sticks. The question was, did it involve her boyfriend?
Slade moved closer.
Celina intercepted him before he could reach Mindy. She slipped her arms around his waist and snuggled next to him.
“You care to join us?” he asked.
Mindy glanced between Celina and Slade. “No, I have to study, but thanks.”
Celina’s relief was palpable. “You know Mindy, her nose is always buried in a book. She doesn’t have time for socializing. Do you, Mind?”
“Nope,” she said, and sounded suddenly sad. “No time.”
Slade’s amber gaze slid to Celina. “You should try following her example sometime.” He kissed her before she could call him out on the insult.
Mindy glared at him, but didn’t say anything. “I’ll leave you guys to it.”
Slade broke the embrace. “Don’t bother. I have to run that errand. I’ll be back in a few. Be ready,” he said to Celina.
“I will.” She preened.
Slade walked out of the clinic and headed down the sidewalk. The second he was out of sight, Mindy said, “You shouldn’t let him talk to you like that. It’s not nice.”
Celina glanced at her, but couldn’t hold her gaze. “He was kidding.”
Mindy stared at her with pity in her eyes. “No, he wasn’t,” she said. “You deserve better.”
Did she? There was a time Celina thought she did, but that was long ago. “I’d worry about your own boyfriend if I were you. Oh, that’s right, you don’t have one.”
Mindy reared back like Celina had slapped her. Hurt followed her initial shock.
Celina rushed forward. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” She hugged her.
“It’s okay,” Mindy said, then pulled out of her embrace. “We’re both a little stressed right now.”
The phone rang as they walked back into the office. Celina picked it up.
“Breakbend Animal Clinic, may I help you?” she asked. Celina sat as she listened to the person on the other end of the line and took notes.
* * * * *
Mindy was about to check on their patients recovering in the back room when the bell on the front door rang again.
“I’ll get it,” she said to Celina, and walked back to the lobby.
Mindy stumbled when she caught sight of Marco Faretti. He stood in the doorway with a funny expression on his face. Was he sniffing the air?
“W-what are you doing here?” she asked.
He instantly stopped what he was doing and stepped forward. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“Slade, you’re back fast.” Celina came out the door behind Mindy. Her mouth dropped open and her expression changed three times before she managed to pull herself together. “Is this the man who saved you last night?”
Mindy slowly shook her head. What was he doing here? How had he found her? She hadn’t told him anything about herself other than she was a student.
“How did you know where I worked?” Mindy asked him.
Marco smiled. The act transformed his handsome face into something truly stunning, but the beautiful mask no longer fooled her. He gave Celina a secretive smile, then said, “I asked around.”
“Asked who?” Mindy wanted to know who he’d been questioning. Was it the man from last night? No, it couldn’t be him. He didn’t know her name.
“Do you want me to get rid of him?” Celina asked. There was hatred in her eyes. Hatred, and...
Mindy shook her head. “No, I’ll handle it.”
“Almost didn’t recognize you, Celina,” he said. “You look different with your clothes on.”
“Where’s your girlfriend, Marco?” Celina asked.
He reddened. “I don’t have one. Never did.”
“I just told you that.” He gave her a snide smile. “You smell...
.” Marco leaned forward and inhaled deeply. His nose wrinkled and something that looked strangely like fear flashed in his eyes. His smile vanished and he glared at Celina. “What have you gotten yourself into now?”
Celina stammered back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have work to do.” She walked toward the office. Celina hesitated in the doorway. “Leave Mindy alone. She’s not like you—or me.”
Marco’s grin returned. “Run along, Celina. This doesn’t concern you.”
“I’m standing right here.” Mindy scowled at them both.
“If you want, I can phone Slade,” Celina said. “He’d have no problem getting rid of him.” She glared at Marco.
“Who’s Slade?” Marco asked.
Celina lost her bravado. “He’s none of your business.”
“It’s okay,” Mindy said. “I got this.” She didn’t want to make a bad situation worse.
Celina nodded and slipped out of the room.
Mindy turned to Marco. “What are you doing here?”
He glanced at the floor and looked sheepish. “I came to apologize for last night,” he said. “My behavior was inexcusable. I’d like to take you to lunch to make up for it.”
Mindy wasn’t about to go anywhere with him. Not after last night. His sudden appearance only added to her anxiety. She wasn’t entirely convinced that he wasn’t stalking her.
“I appreciate the apology, but lunch isn’t necessary.” Mindy recalled the moment Marco punched her mystery man in the face.
Ignoring the hint, Marco grabbed her hand. He ran his fingers gently over her knuckles. “Come on, Mindy. Give a guy a break.”
“Like you gave me when you tried to pull me into the woods? Is that the kind of break you’re looking for?” Mindy tugged her hand away. His touch didn’t feel right, didn’t feel like the man who’d held her in his arms last night.
“I said I was sorry. What more do you want me to do?” Marco asked, then moved in closer, invading her personal space.
“Leave,” she said.
“I don’t know what Celina has told you about me, but I can guarantee that it was a lie,” Marco said. “She and I have a history. We hooked up one time about a month ago. I found out afterwards that she hooks up with a lot of guys, so I cut her loose. It didn’t mean anything, I swear.”
Mindy bristled. “Didn’t mean anything to you? Or to her?” She hoped the shock didn’t show on her face. How could he be so callous? After his behavior last night, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Marco shifted his feet and shoved his hands into his pockets. He glanced past her shoulder toward the door Celina had exited through. “It didn’t mean anything to either of us. You can ask her. She’ll back me up.”
“So that’s why you’re here,” Mindy said. “You think apologizing and asking me to lunch will get you laid.”
His amber eyes widened. “No! You have it all wrong. I know you’re nothing like her.”