Because I'm getting antsy to share, I'm letting you see the first chapter of book 2 in the Love Unexpected Series, NEVER EXPECTED YOU. I'm excited for you guys to meet Stella and Zach. It might not be a holiday where you are, but it is here, so Happy B.C. Day!
With all the things she’d been through in the last year, Stella Lane had no intention of letting a bird get the best of her. She stared up at the pain-in-the-ass-albeit-kinda-cute parakeet
trying to poke holes in her good intentions. It was just after ten a.m. and she was ready to call it a day. She wasn’t even supposed to be working today, and she’d already helped a Great Dane through a tricky delivery, given shots to a very sweet kitty, and had her purple Converse puked on by a nervous labradoodle.
Just another day at the office. She grinned, thinking it could be worse. Right now, the bird was just flying around. At least he wasn’t dive bombing her or leaving messes everywhere. The bird chirped, mocking her as it flew a little higher in the reception area.
“Come down here and say that,” Stella sang out in a syrupy voice. She crooked her finger, like somehow that was a magic spell. She snorted out a laugh. Didn’t work on men, it wasn’t likely to work on a damn bird.
As she inched toward the other side of her waiting room counter, she kept her sight glued to Pedro, certain those marble-sized eyes were sparkling with mischief. Stifling a yawn, Stella reached up and held out a hand, willing the bird to perch on her fingers.
When the door behind her swung open, she whirled. She was not the bird’s biggest fan at the moment, but she was pretty sure her owner wanted her back. Seeing as this particular owner actually paid in cold hard cash rather than most of Brockton Point’s preferred currency of casseroles and favors, Stella needed to keep the animal safe.
“Close the door. Quick,” Stella called, looking up into a gorgeous set of eyes that were somewhere between gray and blue.
Wow. When she’d signed up for another veterinarian practicum student, she hadn’t considered he might be smoking hot. Truthfully, she hadn’t thought much about it at all, since it
was routine. But this guy was enough to make her forget she was on a mission to catch a bird. Business and pleasure do not mix. The lesson might as well have been tattooed on her skin. Plus, Hot Guy was late, and that was as irritating as Pedro’s taunting. Okay, squawking, but it feels like taunting.
The heat of summer and the scent of cologne wafted through the door before he could get it closed. It was a powerful combination, but Stella regrouped and turned back to the bird.
“Bird trouble?” the man asked, his voice low and amused.
She sent another quick glance his way. He was easily a foot taller than her, but that was nothing new. At five feet, most people towered over her. Those smoky blue-gray eyes stared
back, crinkling around the corners. His dark hair was cut short on the sides and perfectly styled on the top—like the thirteen minutes he was running behind had been used to sculpt it into
“You could say that. You’re a bit late,” she answered. Cut him some slack. It’s not Dexter’s fault Pedro’s owner thought he could walk right in and drop off his pesky pet.
The student’s brows rose. “I’m sorry?”
Stella noted the light gray T-shirt and jeans, thinking that while they looked damn good on him, it wasn’t the typical student attire for the first day. Most practicum students—especially
those in their final leg—were eager to impress the veterinarian they worked with in hopes of securing a position. Not that she was hiring. Unfortunately, free labor was all she could afford.
She had a solid relationship with the University of Maine and didn’t want to wreck that by snapping at her newest recruit. Or hitting on him. It was hard to ignore the fact that he looked
more like he’d walked off a movie set than a college campus.
Focus. The last thing she needed was to cut off the supply of free, educated help. Pedro eyed the new guy, who took small, soft steps and made a clicking noise with his
tongue. Stella appreciated the initiative.
“She startles easily. Have you worked with many birds?” Stella asked, moving with a stealthy slowness to shut one of the open exam room doors.
“I’ve worked with a few different breeds. Mostly tropical.”
Interesting. She wondered if he’d done any of his earlier schooling overseas. She would have loved an opportunity like that, but her goal had been to come back and work with her dad.
That had trumped any other job offers. The bird fluttered her wings. Oh no you don’t. With the doors all shut, Stella knew it was just a matter of time. She hadn’t been able to give Pedro an
injection, but the bird was older and likely to tire soon.
Pedro cooed at Stella’s new student. Actually cooed. Traitor. “She likes you,” Stella said, trying not to scowl.
Maybe Pedro could sense Dexter Braun’s—which was the name on the files she’d received earlier that week—patience. Animals sensed emotions and Stella’s were riding high.
Running on too little sleep and knowing she had to ask a big favor of a petty person later today had stretched her nerves thin. When Dexter shot her a lopsided smile, her belly rolled over like an easy-to-please puppy. You’re as bad as Pedro. You might as well coo. Nope. No. No. Not only would she be his boss, but she didn’t do relationships. Ever. Not anymore. Flings, sure. Though even those had become a thing of the past. For the last several months, all she did was work. A work fling would be convenient, except for the multitude of gray areas. Gray was an off-limits color in Stella’s world. Black and white suited her just fine. She thought about his eyes again but didn’t let herself look. She needed more caffeine.
Her brain didn’t usually travel so many tangents at once.
“Did you hear me?” Dexter asked.
Stella widened her eyes and realized she’d completely zoned out—and it wasn’t even about work.
“No. Sorry. What did you say?”
“If you sit in one of the chairs, she might feel less threatened. Both of us shuffling her into a corner probably makes her nervous,” he cautioned. Holding a muscled, tanned arm out in a
way that showed a hint of dark ink near the cuff of his short sleeve, he placed his palm upward.
Stella sat and watched. “She’s not nervous. She doesn’t want a shot.”
Dexter smiled. “Parakeets are quite intelligent. Perhaps she senses your underlying disdain for her.”
Stella arched a brow, unsure if she was amused or annoyed. Mr. University of Maine Veterinarian School certainly wasn’t shy. “Well, Dexter, if she’s that smart, she’ll realize drawing blood is immediate grounds for disdain. If you’re smart, which I’m guessing you are, you’ll realize the combination of being bitten by our clever pal, not having enough coffee, and
having a practicum student arrive late are grounds for irritable outbursts.”
Dexter’s eyes widened. “Actually, I’m not—”
Stella held up her hand. “Shh!” Did Pedro just move closer? The parakeet seemed to have shifted down the wall. Dexter grabbed a dog treat from a bowl on the counter and crumbled some
of it into his palm, once again holding it face up.
“Come here, girl. You’ve caused enough havoc for one day. Come on down and say sorry to the pretty doctor before she gives in to one of those outburst urges.”
Despite herself, Stella grinned. “Right. She’s so not coming down for me.”
Stella had a feeling females of all species listened when the sexy-doctor to be spoke in that low, gravelly voice he’d just used.
Pedro inched along the wall at a diagonal, coming closer without a lot of wing movement. Dexter patiently held his hand aloft and leaned against the reception counter.
“Is it always this quiet in here?”
Stella laughed. “No. Honestly, it hasn’t been this quiet in months. But I was supposed to be closed today.” So I could meet you and then go grovel to the bank.
Dexter crossed his ankles over each other and turned his gaze to her instead of the bird. “Is Pedro an overnight visitor?”
“No. I was coming in to check on some of the animals and Mr. Sutter caught me outside before I could tell him I was closed. I rarely am.”
Since they were waiting on the whims of the bird, Stella decided to use the time to her benefit. She had a standard routine with new students, starting with getting to know them. “Why vet school?”
He glanced at her, seemingly weighing his words.
“I kind of fell into it actually. I always wanted to work with animals, but I joined the army and realized the number of animals impacted by combat is disgustingly high. It didn’t seem
right, so it became my focus.”
Admiration and warmth filled her chest. He’d done a lot in a short period of time. She’d had lots of late bloomer students, but she’d thought his paperwork said early twenties. That was a
lot of experience for someone so young. The idea that he’d put his heart and talent into animals in such conditions was more swoon worthy than the flex of his biceps when he stretched out his arm and rubbed two fingers together, calling to the bird again.
“Have any of your rotations included surgery?” Stella asked, afraid to move when Pedro lowered her position about a foot.
Before he could answer, Pedro swooped down toward Dexter’s outstretched palm and actually settled on his arm.
“Son of a bitch,” Stella muttered under her breath.
“Hi, sweetie. Hungry?” The bird pecked at his hand.
Stella rose slowly as her show-off student stroked the bird’s feathers. The stupid bird actually preened. Dexter’s hands were large, with long fingers that easily wrapped around the
Pedro’s body, preventing the bird from spreading her wings.
When he looked at Stella, his smile made her stomach somersault again.
With a cocky nod of his head, he asked, “What now?”
Stella laughed quietly. Gesturing for him to follow her into the exam room Pedro had escaped from, she glanced over her shoulder. “Let’s see how docile she is for you while I give
her a shot.”
Dexter’s chuckle vibrated in the small, sterile room and sent shivers over Stella’s skin. Or maybe it’s just cold in here. Right. It was cold.
They made it through the shot a lot easier with four hands, and when Pedro was back in her cage, dozing off, Stella breathed a sigh of relief. Dexter was making himself comfortable, looking around the open reception room while
Stella wrote up her notes. She’d never had a student with such…sex appeal? A sculpted body? Mesmerizing eyes?
“Confidence!” Stella closed her eyes when she realized she’d blurted the word out loud.
“Pardon me?” Dexter moved closer, but she refused to look at him.
“Uh, nothing. I’m just making notes.”
“You’re putting something in your notes about Pedro’s confidence?”
Stella looked up, and sure enough, Dexter had crowded way too close, his eyes locked on hers doing strange things to Stella’s sorely deprived libido. “I am. Yes.”
Right. Stick to your story. The look on his face proved he didn’t believe her.
Straightening, she closed the file and walked to the cabinet to put it away. She needed to reattach her walls of professionalism. This guy had definitely caught her at a weak moment, and she prided herself on not having many.
“There are no other patients in clinic today, so I’ll show you around, but I do have some errands I need to run in a bit. Plus, I have farm visits. You can fill out some paperwork and then
we’ll head down to the stables. I need to check on my horse.” Just the thought of spending a few minutes with Chocolate Chip made the tension slip from her shoulders. Too bad she didn’t have time for a ride today.
Grabbing her boots from under the counter, she switched her Converse for them, then grabbed the clipboard with the paperwork.
“So, listen,” Dexter said, taking the clipboard from her after looking at it like it might bite him.
Now he was nervous? Stella headed for the door with him on her heels. It would be easier to rebuild those sex-starved barriers if she wasn’t breathing in the delicious smell of him. Six weeks. She could handle six weeks with a sexy, smirky student if he was as competent as he appeared. They’d barely stepped off the porch of the clinic her father had built before she was born when a tow truck came rumbling up the drive.
Stella shielded her eyes to block the already hot sun. Dexter shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels.
“You fix cars as well as animals?”
“Not so much,” she replied, not recognizing the tow truck driver or the passenger.
The big truck pulled a small, beat up two-door vehicle behind it. Her own dogs, Nacho and Soda, howled from the wraparound porch of the farmhouse she’d grown up in. It sat a short walk away on a small incline.
The tow truck driver parked, and the guy in the passenger side rushed out, almost bailing on the gravel drive.
“Slow down, guy,” Dexter mumbled.
Stella winced, amused at Dexter’s commentary but worried the person rushing them would face-plant in her clinic parking lot. He reminded her of one of her labs as puppies, all feet and ears.
“Something I can do for you?” Stella called as he continued to rush over to her.
Dressed in light chinos and a button up shirt, he straightened his shoulders like he was just now thinking of making a good impression.
“Hi. I’m so sorry for being late. Are you Doctor Lane?”
Stella’s brows scrunched together. Dexter mumbled something under his breath that sounded a lot like “uh-oh.”
“I am. And you are?”
He stopped in front of her, his breath choppy and his smile crooked. He had curly dark hair and the slightest hint of stubble on his young-looking face.
“I’m Dexter Braun, ma’am. From the University of Maine Veterinarian Program. My faculty associate arranged my practicum with you. I truly apologize for being late. My car broke down about fifteen miles from here. I tried to call but it went to voicemail.”
Stella’s heart hammered uncomfortably. Turning slowly, she saw who she thought was Dexter staring at her with an abashed forgive-me grin.
This ought to be good. This is exactly what happens when you get sucked in by sexy eyes and a killer smile.
She covered her chagrin with a glare. “Who the hell are you?”