Authors: Elizabeth Sinclair
Hunter kissed her again. “It’s time you told me what you’ve been hiding from me, or at least give me some hints. I’ve run out of guesses.”
Rose took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant. With twins.”
A tragedy transformed Rose Hamilton from a surrogate mother for her beloved foster sister into a single mom expecting twins. But when she walks into Dr. Hunter Mackenzie’s West Virginia wildlife rehab clinic—with her pregnancy still a secret—all he sees is a gorgeous, likable woman applying for a job.
Rose doesn’t want a romance with a handsome veterinarian who doesn’t suspect that she’s expecting and who’s already got plenty of trouble, thanks to a mayor who wants to rid his town of Hunter’s lion cubs and injured wolves.
Why would a man who obviously loves the wild life want to fall in love with a ready-made family?
The Hawks Mountain Series
Book 2 of the Hawks Mountain Series
Bell Bridge Books
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead,) events or locations is entirely coincidental.
Bell Bridge Books
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Memphis, TN 38130
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-104-3
Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-089-3
Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.
Copyright © 2012 by Marguerite E. Smith
Printed and bound in the United States of America.
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Cover design: Debra Dixon
Interior design: Hank Smith
Cat (manipulated) © William Lee O’dell | Dreamstime.com
Landscape (manipulated) © Melkor | Renderosity.com
Yellow rose (manipulated) © Jaguarwoman Designs
This book is dedicated to the people in my life who love animals as much as I do: my son, Bobby; his girlfriend, Jennie Koch; my friend Kellie Sharpe; my editor, Deb Smith and my husband, Bob. There’s a special place in heaven for all of you.
So you took my advice and came back to our little town for another visit. But even if it’s your first visit to Carson, you’re not gonna be disappointed. Now that the temperatures have heated up, it seems things around town are doing likewise.
George Collins, Carson’s windbag mayor, is harassing Doc Mackenzie about all the wild animals he has out at the Paws and Claws Animal Clinic and Wildlife Sanctuary. George says they’re a danger to the community. Doc says George has bees in his bonnet, and there’s nothing dangerous about any of his animals. Can’t convince the darn fool mayor that they’re just babies, and they’re not gonna hurt a soul. Doc’s holding his ground, but if George has his way, Doc will have to get rid of them. Personally, I think it has a lot to do with Davy, George’s boy, working at the sanctuary.
Rumor has it that Doc’s new assistant and Davy have something up their sleeves, but no one knows what it is, not even Laureene Talbot, which is a minor miracle considering there’s nothing in this town that old busybody doesn’t get wind of. Guess we’ll all have to wait and see.
Becky and Nick’s wedding plans are in full swing and should be ready to go right on time for their late summer wedding. Last I heard Becky’s ordered daisies for the entire wedding: church, bouquets and all. She says there’s something special about them little white flowers that means something to her and Nick. Won’t say what. Her and Nick just smile and kiss whenever I ask.
There’s a new gal working at the social services office with Becky. Name’s Amantha James. Goes by Mandy. My Becky says she’s a real go-getter and has a plan for the school that’s gonna turn a few heads. But that’s a tale for another day.
The house that Jonathan Prince fella is building outside town is really coming along. It’s gonna be a big one, too. A mansion, some say. One of the young men Nick’s training to be an EMT works for the construction company building it, and he says, outside of the big hotels in Charleston, he’s never seen anything this size before.
Well, I have to go now. It’s time for Lydia Collins’ radio show, and I never miss it. After that, I’m off to Charleston with Becky to have lunch at one of those big, fancy restaurants, and then we’re gonna pick out her wedding gown. But don’t you go away. I have a feeling things around Carson are going to get real interesting, real fast, and you won’t want to miss a minute of it.
She took one look at him and gagged.
The reaction of the stunning, auburn-haired woman, who’d just entered the Paws & Claws Animal Clinic and Wildlife Sanctuary, surprised Dr. Hunter Mackenzie. He’d never thought of himself as particularly handsome, but he wasn’t
As he stared at her, she clamped one hand over her mouth and pressed the other one to her flat stomach. She closed her startlingly blue eyes and swallowed repeatedly.
Deciding her reaction had been physical and no fault of his, he pressed the telephone’s mouthpiece, into which he’d been talking when she’d entered the clinic, against his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Swallowing one last time, she coughed lightly, and then removed her hand from her mouth. “I’m fine. I think I may have eaten something for lunch that didn’t agree with me.”
He studied her for a moment. “Are you sure?” Though her face remained pale and drawn, she smiled wanly and nodded. To be certain, he waited a moment before going back to his phone call. He motioned toward the waiting area at the side of the room. “Why don’t you have a seat while I finish my phone call?”
She nodded and walked to the grouping of plastic chairs lining the clinic’s waiting room.
Hunter’s alert and decidedly appreciative gaze followed her shapely form across the waiting room, noting almost absently that she had no animals with her. Once she’d safely seated herself, he removed the phone’s receiver from his shoulder. With a sigh of resignation, he went back to his conversation with the mayor of Carson, West Virginia, George Collins.
“George, none of the sanctuary’s animals have ever escaped or attacked any of the townspeople. What keeps making the council think they’re a safety risk?” Stupid question. Hunter knew who kept the belief alive. Since he’d become mayor of Carson, Collins had launched a ridiculous crusade to shut down the sanctuary. Hunter would make book on it that George had browbeaten the council members into agreeing with him. The odd part was that Hunter had no idea why George was so hell-bent to shut it down.
“Listen, Mackenzie, we know you took in an African lion the other day. We can’t have that kind of threat living on the edge of a populated community.” Collins’ voice boomed from the phone into Hunter’s ear.
The frustration building inside Hunter threatened to overwhelm him. He took a deep breath, and then leaned forward, planting his forearms solidly on the desk. “Good grief, George, why don’t you people call me before you get yourselves all in a lather? The lion is a cub, orphaned when its mother died. He’s just a few weeks old. It’ll be quite a while before he poses a risk to the town or anyone in it. By then, I’ll have found a zoo that will take him.”
“The cub will soon be gone, but that doesn’t solve the problem of the other animals you keep out there and the ones that will inevitably replace the cub.” The mayor’s voice gained volume again. “They’re wild, too, and dangerous. They . . .”
While Mayor Collins again listed all the reasons for closing the sanctuary, arguments Hunter had heard every time he obtained a new animal, he assessed his female visitor.
She busied herself by leafing through a magazine she’d found on the side table. Unfortunately, because of her bent head, a thick curtain of auburn hair obscured her face from his view. As if she’d heard his thoughts, she swept back her shoulder-length hair and tucked it behind her ear. The color had begun to return to her cheeks, and he noted that her skin had a peaches and cream quality that he’d only read about in books.
“Mackenzie, do you hear me?”
George’s irate voice blasting into Hunter’s ear pulled him abruptly from the pleasurable view. He sighed and dragged his attention back to his tormentor. “Yes, I hear you. What I’m not hearing are any new arguments to convince me to close down the sanctuary. I don’t know how many ways I can say this, but those animals are not dangerous. Most of them are babies who’ve lost their mothers, either naturally or with the help of some fool with a gun. The others are sick or injured and in no shape to hurt anyone.” Hunter took a deep breath and repeated the words he’d been saying to George for six months now. “I will not shut down the sanctuary because a few people think a bunch of baby animals are going to sneak out in the middle of the night and eat them.”
“You’re a pigheaded man, Hunter Mackenzie, but this is not the end of this.”
The line went dead. Hunter stared down at the humming phone. “I’m sure it’s not.” He shook his head, and then placed the receiver in the cradle.
Her soft voice drew his attention. “Nothing I haven’t heard before.” He relaxed and folded his hands on the desk. “Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m afraid my assistant picked this week to elope, and I’m trying to be vet, receptionist and assistant.”
She stood, and then came to stand before him. Straightening her back, she reached in her large, black tote bag, pulled out a folded newspaper and then laid it on the desk in front of him.
“I want to apply for the job you advertised in the want ads.”
The ad he’d placed two days ago in the
Hawks Mountain Herald
glared back at him from inside a thick circle of red ink.
She stuck out her hand. “Rose Hamilton.”
He grasped it and had to pause before speaking. The odd sensation of warm water swamping him from head to toe then sucking him beneath its surface came over him. The tension fostered by the mayor’s phone call ebbed away as if it had never existed. Hunter hung onto her hand overlong, enjoying the total peace her touch had brought to him.
From beyond the wall behind him, a dog barked and soon a cacophonous chorus of
could be heard.
Hunter shook himself free of the residual effects of her touch, released her hand, and then stood.
“Hunter Mackenzie,” he said loud enough to be heard above the racket. He smiled apologetically. “Excuse me.” Stepping back, and with a balled fist, he hit the wall once. The dogs quieted, except for a few stray
that quickly died away. “Normally, that doesn’t bother me, but I’m not up to that noise right now. That phone call managed to produce the start of a headache.” He rubbed a forefinger on the side of his temple.
“Stress.” She flashed a radiant smile at him. Suddenly, the sunshine illuminating the room seemed to brighten considerably. “I’m a nurse. A licensed practical nurse.”
He continued to stare, mostly at her full lips. He tore his gaze away. Reaching into her voluminous tote bag, she extracted her wallet. Taking a small white card from her billfold, she handed it to him.
Finally able to rouse himself from his uncharacteristic fascination with the shape and color of her eyes, he coughed and scanned the card that verified her nursing credentials. “So, you want the job as my assistant? And you think nursing sick humans qualifies you to nurse sick animals?”
“Hunter.” He motioned for her to take the seat facing the desk, and then passed the card back to her.
“Hunter,” Rose went on, her heart beating a wild tattoo against her chest. She took the seat, grateful to get off her shaking legs, and prayed silently to find the right words to convince him to give her the job. “Nursing is nursing, be it with animals or humans. They all need the same care, the same attention and the same compassion.”
He smiled again, and she felt something inside her drop to the bottom of her stomach.
She couldn’t be sick again.
. When he looked away for a second, she realized the sensation she’d just felt had nothing to do with her stomach upset, and everything to do with the man smiling at her.
“I can’t argue that point, Ms. Hamilton.”
“Rose,” he repeated, then licked his lips as if tasting the sound of her name. Her stomach flipped. “Did you bring a résumé.”
Once more she delved into her tote. This time, she pulled out the folder she’d tucked in there that morning before leaving the motel. Handing it to him, she said, “I think you’ll find everything you need in here.”
While he scanned her work record, Rose assessed the doctor. Age? About thirty-four or thirty-five. Laugh lines around his hazel eyes and mouth. A good sense of humor? His immaculate lab coat told her he believed in a clean, antiseptic working environment. The open-necked, white-and-blue-striped shirt beneath the lab coat could mean a casual, relaxed personality. His brown hair showed attempts at waving despite the smooth comb he’d given it.
Then, to her surprise, her perusal shifted, became less impersonal. Shoulders wide enough to support another man, or a woman with some heavy burdens to carry. Full lips and an expressive mouth. Good kisser?
Acutely aware that she had just trespassed into dangerous territory, Rose stopped the inventory abruptly.
“Your resume is quite impressive.” He handed the folder back to her. “Why aren’t you looking for a job in a hospital?”
She had anticipated this question. Replacing the folder in her tote, Rose stalled for time while she silently rehearsed her carefully prepared answer.
Finally confident, she looked him in the eye. “Because, when I came to Carson, I found it to be exactly the type of town I’d love to settle down in. Unfortunately, you don’t have a hospital, and I don’t want to commute. Besides, my car is far from reliable, and I can’t afford a new one right now. I’m afraid I’m not trained to do anything else, so working as your assistant is the closest I could come in Carson to finding a job in my field of work.”
She said a silent prayer that her explanation sounded as convincing now as it had when she’d composed it before the motel’s bathroom mirror that morning.
The vet stared at her for a long moment. Was that skepticism she saw in his expression or just her imagination? She really hated subterfuge, but if he knew the truth, he might not hire her, and she
Rose had been about to add that she’d grown up in a small town, when the door opened. A young boy of about ten careened into the room. His freckled face glowed with a heated flush, and his midnight-black hair shot out in all directions. Through the open door behind him, Rose could see a dusty, red bike lying on its side, the front wheel still spinning.
“Whose car is that?” The boy pointed toward the parking lot.
“Mine,” Rose said.
“Boy, it’s sure a wreck.”
She certainly didn’t need that to be pointed out. The car had been on the verge of dying for weeks now, and she’d prayed it would hold out for just a bit longer. Just until she got a job and could get it fixed. Rather than explaining all this to the boy, she just smiled.
He turned to Hunter. “My mom said you have a lion cub. Can I see him?”
“And hello to you, too.” Hunter smiled at the young boy. “Rose, this is Davy Collins, the mayor’s son, who normally has very good manners.”
“Sorry.” The boy dipped his head, and then looked at Rose from beneath his long, black lashes. “Hello, ma’am. Nice to meet ya.”
Social obligations seen to, Davy swept past Rose. She got a whiff of fresh air, sunshine, and something chocolate flavored that she assumed came from the candy bar protruding from his back pocket.
“Can I see the cub now, Doc? Huh?” His young face transmitted the urgency of his request.
“I don’t know, Davy. Your dad would skin me alive if he knew I let you near that animal.”