A new contemporary romance by Blair Leigh
One thing I hate about moving is trying to find new physicians for the family. I’m extremely picky. Primary care physicians, pediatricians, grief counselors I’ll blow off for as long as I can before Simone jumps down my throat—you know, the necessities. Including a new veterinarian for Chief.
Our new hometown is incredibly tiny, but there is a surprising number of vet clinics in the area. Katrina recommended Dr. Peters—the, in her words: “hot vet on Cherry Ridge.”
Hot vet, it is.
What a glowing recommendation.
“Chief Davis.” The vet tech’s voice echoes in the small but cozy waiting room. Chief’s leash is in my hand, and his head is hiding behind my legs.
“Come on, big boy,” I coax, standing up and tugging the leash gently to get him to follow. Which he does, reluctantly. We walk down a hallway covered in painted portraits of different animals, all by the same artist. It makes for a calming aesthetic. I usher Chief into the exam room, and he tries to hide under me when I sit on the bench against the wall. “Stop it,” I hiss, scratching his ear to try to ease his anxiety.
The door opens, and I look up, my stomach flipping in surprise. When the veterinarian’s eyes fall on me and recognition crosses his features, he exhales an easy laugh. “Hi, I’m Dr. Peters.”
“This town is freakin’ small,” I blurt, in disbelief. Jack Peters? Are you kidding me? I shake my head and let out a laugh much different from his, looking down at Chief to break this awkward encounter. “I promise I’m not following you.” Though, honestly, it would seem that way.
“I don’t know if I believe you.” Is he teasing me? The flash of white teeth as he kneels beside the exam table confirms that. Oh, okay. Teasing Jack is kind of adorable. “Hey, buddy.” He tilts his head to catch the eyes of my hiding companion. He then clicks his tongue a few times to call Chief over, with no luck. With a small smile in my direction, Jack takes a treat out of his pocket, holding it out to bribe him.
“Come on,” he urges, but with a treat, it doesn’t take long for Chief to come out from behind me and slink over to him. “Attaboy.” Jack rubs his ears before standing and nodding to me. “We’ll be back. I’m going to do some tests on him before we give him his shots.”
“No problem.” I watch them as they leave, shoving my hands into my pockets. This is unbelievable. I feel like I’ve seen more of this random man in the past couple of months than I have my regular clients. And, of course, he’s the hot veterinarian. I pull out my phone and shoot a quick text to Simone as I wait on him and Chief to return.
I text: Jilted groom = hot veterinarian
Not even a second passes before my phone lights up.
Simone: Mystery Jack? I am starting to believe he’s a figment of your imagination.
I laugh out loud at her reply and send an eye-roll emoji before shoving my phone back into my pocket.
When Jack comes back in and helps Chief on the exam table, he’s quiet. He starts his inspection—ears, eyes, teeth, reflexes. I’m oddly uncomfortable in the silence and find myself watching the muscles in his arm twitch with every small movement.
Cool, Eliza, you’re sexualizing your dog’s doctor, now. I snap out of my daze when another man walks in and places a clipboard on the counter behind Jack, who stands up and looks over his shoulder at it. He nods before looking back at Chief. I try to think of something to say to him—make him talk to me. We need a better impression of each other than the few we’ve had already.
“I donate to ASPCA,” I exclaim, almost too loudly. Am I trying to start a conversation or impress him? Both?
He smiles—damn, that’s a pretty smile—but his eyes stay trained on Chief as he presses a stethoscope to his abdomen. “Hey, that’s great.” He actually sounds charmed. I’ve charmed him.
He doesn’t need to know those donations only occur when I’m intoxicated. Drunk-spending is a thing. It just usually happens on bras or sex toys. Not me. Nope. I wake up to: Thank you for your generous donation! Because of your contribution, blah blah blah. Drunk me is such a humanitarian.
Jack looks up at me as his hands move to stroke Chief’s head, attempting to soothe him since his whole body is a scared, trembling ball of fur. He keeps turning his head to me, giving me the most pathetic pleading eyes he can muster. It guts me. “How long have you had Chief?”
“Oh, probably six years now?” I guess, trying to conjure up the memory of me sobbing at the shelter as I pressed my nose against his through the gate. Instant soulmates. “He’s seven years old, though.”
“Well, he’s in great shape. He’s heartworm negative, his blood work seems fine; he’ll just need his yearly vaccinations, and you’re good to go. I saw on his chart that he’s been using the shot for his heartworm vaccination. Are you still okay with that?” Jack stands up now, running his hand over Chief’s nose and stopping on top of his head, repeating the action several times.
I watch as Chief leans forward with sleepy eyes, pressing his face to Jack’s stomach as he continues to shower him with affection. I can’t help but smile, because he has been successfully calmed. Dog whisperer.
“Yes, please. It’s much easier for me that way.” I take Chief’s leash from Jack once he’s done and help him off the examination table. He steps out and we’re alone in the room, so Chief is in a much better mood.
He’s wagging his tail, excited for the treat he knows comes right after he gets poked and prodded. Like the master beggar he is, he sits in front of me, deep golden-brown eyes locked with mine, ears perked, body swaying with the vigorous tail wag. I snort as I dig in my purse and pull out a dog biscuit. When I toss it to him, he catches it midair. Greedy sucker. He has no idea he’s about to get at least five more pokes before we leave.
“I’m going to take him back for his vaccines. You’re welcome to come back there. It’ll take all of five minutes.” Jack’s words sound practiced as he walks back in.
I’m a horrible dog-mom. “No, thank you. Needles wig me out. He should be fine.” My face turns a shade of pink at how awful I must sound to him.
But he shows no sign of distaste and nods with a shrug of his shoulders. “I don’t blame you. We’ll be back.”
I’m fidgeting while they’re gone, unable to keep still. I check my emails, scroll through social media—honestly, anything to keep busy. The door opens, and Chief runs over to me, his tail tucked as he hides behind my legs once more. He’s panting, probably from working himself into a tizzy.
“I think it’s safe to say he shares your fear of needles,” Jack comments with a chuckle as he jots down a few notes on the clipboard in his hands. “All right, we’ll send you a notice in six months for his heartworm preventative and for another round of vaccinations this time next year. Hopefully, I won’t be seeing you until then.”
I’m taken aback by his words, my face flushing. Jeez, he really doesn’t like seeing me around. “Oh, uh.” I’m flustered as I stand up and grab Chief’s leash. “Look, I really didn’t search you out. It’s a small town, and you were recommended to me. I can find another vet for Chief, though.”
“What?” He shakes his head, his brow furrowed before realization flashes over his features. “No, no, no. Eliza, that’s not what I meant.” His words are hurried with a lighthearted grin. “I just meant, hopefully, Chief won’t need to see me until then. As in, I don’t want him to get sick.”
Duh, Eliza. I close my eyes and hang my head with an amused huff. “Yeah, of course that’s what you meant.” I force a laugh. How ridiculous do I sound? I look back up at him and take a deep breath. “I feel like we need to start over.”
“The day we met?”
He laughs now, his hand running over his mouth before crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the counter. “I don’t think that can easily be erased.”