“Today or tomorrow maybe. Depends on what he says.”
She nodded. “I see.”
Yeah, except she couldn’t. She couldn’t possibly see, not when he couldn’t. And he honestly couldn’t see how the hell he was supposed to go. He answered his phone with a terse “Miller” and watched as Lilah grabbed one of the coffees and walked out of the cabin.
Lilah entered the kennels, made her way through the rooms to her office and stopped before sitting at her desk.
No.Not where she wanted to be. She swiveled and walked out the door again and alongside the back of the building, where no one could see her. Slowly she slid down the wall, giving in to her weak knees.
Brady was leaving.
She could still see him coming out of her bedroom wearing only a pair of jeans that molded his sculpted legs to perfection and cradled her favorite part of his anatomy, a part that had never failed to deliver on its promise. His feet had been bare, his chest, too, and just looking at him laid her heart bare as well. He’d looked as if he’d belonged there in her place. Just as he’d made himself at home in her heart.
And he was leaving.
His month was up and now work was calling him. She’d known he’d already turned a few jobs down over the past few weeks, but she’d also known that he wouldn’t do that forever.
Maybe he was even packing at this very moment.
She heard a car drive up and, realizing she had tears on her face, rose. Dammit. Swiping at them, she headed back inside, where she got busy fast with the usual drop-offs, feedings, walking, and general care of the animals, not to mention the dreaded paperwork.
At lunchtime Cruz showed up, tanned and rested from a week on Maui with friends. They caught up with each other, and Lilah showed off her new scar from being shot. Cruz was suitably horrified and impressed.
Later, when she was off shift, Lilah made her way to Belle Haven for a late lunch with Jade, walking in the back door before remembering that Jade had taken today off to visit an old friend. Redirecting, she turned around to leave and passed Dell’s office.
He was behind his desk on the phone, looking his usual easygoing self, even though his other phone was ringing off the hook and the sounds from the waiting room and patient rooms related more to a mob scene than a veterinarian’s office.
That’s when she remembered that Adam was gone, too. He’d left last night for a trip back east to an SR conference. “Need help?” she asked.
Dell nodded in relief and pointed to the waiting room.
She walked into chaos. There were dogs and cats, several birds, and a lamb. None were particularly calm, and neither were the humans that went with the pets.
Brady stood behind the reception desk, scowling darkly at the computer as if he were considering tossing it out the window. Which was undoubtedly why everyone waiting was giving the front desk—and him—a wide berth.
It didn’t surprise Lilah that he’d obviously stepped in to help. Or that he’d worked as hard as he had from the moment he’d arrived in Sunshine doing whatever was needed or asked of him. Because for as big and tough as he was, he’d pretty much dedicated his entire life to others’ safety and/or well-being.
What did surprise her was how well he fit in. With the town, with Adam and Dell. With her. For all that he wanted to be the lone wolf, he’d made sure to have their backs, all of them. He had a real bond here, one that she knew startled him.
And made him uncomfortable.
Well, it startled her, too. But it didn’t make her uncomfortable. It made her feel good, feel connected. It made her feel happy.
That would change, very soon, when he left. And yes, she’d known this day would come, but she wasn’t ready. And worse, she didn’t think she ever would be.
How scary was that? The room was so noisy she had to come up very close to him to be heard. “Problem?” she asked in his ear.
He barely looked at her. “What makes you think that? The fact that my head is spinning around and around, or that there’s twelve people in the waiting room here for the same appointment block and only one doctor?”
“Ah. A scheduling snafu.”
“That, or someone’s messing with me.” He gave her a second, longer look, eyes narrowed and dark. Very dark. “It’s not you, is it?”
With a low laugh, she lifted her hands and shook her head.
“Don’t even try that look of innocence. I know better.”
“Hey. I’ve never messed with you.”
“I have one word for you.” He gestured with his chin beneath his desk. “Twinkles.”
Lilah bent low and saw Twinkles sprawled out and fast asleep on Brady’s boots. “Aw. And clearly, you’re both hating the situation.”
The phones were still ringing.
People were still glaring at him.
That’s when Brady did something Lilah knew he rarely, if ever, did. He sank to a chair, put his hands on her hips, dropped his head to her belly, and said, “Please help me.”
“Sure.” She’d have even done it without the please, but he didn’t need to know that. Because she couldn’t help herself, she stroked a hand over his hair. “Move over.”
He stood and gave her the chair. She tapped her fingers on the keyboard and pulled up the schedule. “Well, damn. You’re double-, triple-, and quadruple-booked.”
He came up behind her, a hand on either side of her, braced on the desk as he looked over her head at the computer screen. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
If she turned her head, her mouth could brush the inside of either of his biceps. His skin would be warm, and just beneath, the muscles would be taut with strength. She could smell his deodorant and, beneath that, the soap he’d used.
Unable to stop herself, she did it, she turned her head in the pretense of trying to see his face and let her mouth brush his biceps.
And maybe the very tip of her tongue.
“Lilah,” he said warningly, his voice barely audible, rumbling from his chest through her back.
“It’s your turn to smell like a piña colada,” she whispered softly.
Bending his head, he put his mouth to her ear. “And does it make you as hungry for me as I always am for you?”
Yes. Yes, as a matter of fact, it did. “It’s the soap.”
“I love the scent of you,” he whispered. “I love the taste of you. And it has nothing to do with the soap.”
“The scheduling problem,” she said unsteadily as one of his hands dropped down to squeeze her hips.
“Uh-huh.” He made sure to brush his lips lightly against that spot just beneath her ear. The one he knew that melted her bones away. “I’ll start pulling files,” he said. “And taking the animals to an examining room. You man the desk.”
“No, we should switch that,” she said. “I can do the preliminaries in the exam room and speed things along for Dell.”
His eyes never left hers. “Yes, but that would leave me behind this desk.”
Which he was clearly hoping to avoid at all costs. “It would,” she agreed, and smiled.
He arched a brow. “You’d throw me to the wolves?”
She turned and eyed the waiting room. Mostly women, looking Brady over in various degrees of interest, from hunger to outright lust. “Poor baby. Must be tough, having all these women want you.”
“And how about you?” he murmured in her ear, taking a quick nip out of it. “You want me?”
Always . . .
If anyone happened to look over at them it would appear as if they were both intently studying the computer screen—which had gone into save energy mode and was running through a slide show of Belle Haven’s animal patients.
Brady’s pictures, actually, from the past month. They were great shots, but Lilah wasn’t absorbing a single one because Brady was whispering a lurid suggestion in her ear, which made her both gasp and weak at the knees.
Forcing herself out of the chair, she avoided Brady’s hot, knowing eyes. She grabbed the sign-in sheet and called the first name. “Toby?”
Shelly and Toby stood up.
Lilah turned to Brady, who wasn’t saying a word, just watching her. The lion keeping its eyes on the prize. “Pull the file and bring it into me?” she asked.
Looking both hungry and amused, he turned to the files. Her last view of him was of his fine ass when he bent to the bottom drawer.
In the exam room, Shelly fanned herself. “Damn, Dr. Death is hot.”
“That’s the general consensus,” Lilah murmured, resisting the urge to fan herself as well.
“And your consensus?” Shelly asked slyly.
Lilah sighed. “Same as yours,” she admitted, and turned to go get Dell but instead came face-to-face with Brady, who stood in the doorway, holding the file, eyes unreadable. She bit her lower lip and flashed him a quick smile.
He didn’t return it, but the very corners of his mouth quirked slightly and his eyes promised retribution. Which worked for her, because she’d learned she really liked his forms of retribution.
It was two very busy hours later before there was any sort of breather. Lilah finally dropped into a chair beside Brady at the front desk. “And I thought my life was crazy.”
“Your life is crazy.” He got to his feet.“Where are you going?”
He gestured to the waiting room, which was blessedly empty. “Things are under control again.”
“Yes, but I have to get back to the kennels.”
“No you don’t. Cruz is there.” He let out a breath. “I have to go.”
“I mean I have to go, Lilah.”
Oh. Oh, damn. She’d managed to work her denial up good, almost forgetting this fact. Slowly she rose to her feet, unable to sit while facing this. “You’re leaving right now?”
His eyes said it all.
“But how can they expect you to just up and go at a phone call?”
“That’s my job, Lilah. Pilot for hire. I go when the call comes.”
Legs wobbly, she plopped back into the chair and put a hand to her aching heart. This isn’t about you, Lilah. “Tell me.”
“I’m needed in Africa by the end of the week. And I have to go to L.A. first.”
She let out a purposeful breath and tried to shake her head, but her body felt locked up tight. “Don’t be. You were up front and honest with me. You weren’t meant for a home base or growing roots. I’ve always known that.” Listen to her, how mature. Even as she thought it, her eyes filled.
“Lilah,” he whispered softly. “Don’t.”
“I’m not.” She shook her head and was proud of her smile. She stood and went up on tiptoe to set her hand on his chest, brushing a kiss over his mouth.
His lips were set to grim, but she knew they could soften in a smile when he chose or drive her straight to heaven without passing Go!
What they couldn’t do, however, was tell her everything was going to be okay.
Because it wasn’t.
She didn’t feel like she’d ever be okay again.
Since packing wasn’t an issue—Brady had never really unpacked—he went to Smitty’s and tuned up the Bell 47 even though it was running perfectly and didn’t need to be tuned up. He didn’t want whomever Dell and Adam hired to have any problems. He was still sitting in the pilot’s seat tinkering with the Bell’s instrument panel when he heard footsteps. Something in his chest kicked hard, but as much as he’d hoped otherwise, it wasn’t Lilah coming his way.
“We’re not replacing you.”He turned to face Dell and Adam, who boarded looking unusually serious. Well, Adam always looked serious, but there wasn’t so much as a glimmer of a smile on Dell’s usually good-humored, affable face.
Brady shook his head. “You spent a lot of money for me to fix up the Bell. You’ve had an average of three calls a week where it’s beneficial to take it up. Any of the pilots housed out of here or Coeur d’ Alene would be happy to hire on and fly for you.”
“Sure,” Adam said. “And we’ll use them as needed. But we’re not hiring anyone on full-time.”
“You guys want and need a third partner. You’re overworked, you need—”
“You,” Dell said.
Brady shoved his fingers through his hair and stared at them, frustrated at all the unexpected things he was feeling at leaving. “This was always going to be temporary.” How many times had he said that in the last day?
“It could stay temporary,” Dell said, “if that’s what your pansy ass needs. A word. A f**king word to make it okay for you to use this place as a home base. Let’s call it temporary, then.”
“He’s going to do what he has to do, Dell,” Adam said quietly. “He’s—”
Running footsteps sounded, and again Brady’s heart kicked. Because this time it was Lilah.
She came rushing up to the opened door of the Bell, her cheeks flushed, out of breath. When she saw Brady, she put her hand to her chest and sagged, out of breath. “I thought—I heard the engine start—I was afraid you’d left.”
“Not yet,” Adam said and turned to her, brushing a kiss to her jaw, giving her a quick squeeze. With one last long look at Brady, he left.
Dell came forward and hugged Brady, slapping him on the back. “I’ll miss you, you chickenshit bastard. Be safe up there.” Dell looked at Lilah, and then he was gone, too, leaving the two of them alone.