Vet stories are always fun for me. I love my animals. Over the course of my life I have been blessed to have many furry friends and all of them make an appearance in my newest medical romance Redeeming her Hot-Shot Vet. Enjoy this excerpt from the book – on sale now!
“I HEARD THE new vet is stopping by this morning.”
Sage Pool didn’t roll her eyes at Blaire’s comment. Well, at least she tried not to. “You heard right.” Nothing ever stayed quiet in small towns. Though Dr. Jacobs had told no one who the new vet was.
Sage doubted it was personal. Dr. Jacobs probably hadn’t even thought it mattered. She’d never really fit in. Spring River was insular, but in the eight months Dr. Jacobs was the town vet she had kept herself apart. Whether intentionally or not…she’d cemented her role as an outsider in the community’s eyes.
“They’re supposed to be here before we open.”
“Not even going to feign excitement? Maybe this is the vet that stays.” Blaire raised her eyebrows, the playful speech a routine between Sage and the graphic designer that helped her run her small dog rescue.
Usually she laughed at this point in the script they repeated far too often. Maybe if this wasn’t their last chance, she could manage it. But too much weighed on the unknown vet showing up this morning.
If this vet didn’t stay at least a year, the clinic was done. At least according to the email she wasn’t supposed to have seen. The corporate office had recalled it, but not before Sage read the curt note.
Spring River Vet Clinic was on the list for downsizing. It was supposed to happen when Dr. Jacobs left. The new vet stepping in had delayed it…but what were the odds they actually stayed? Based on history?
Blaire could work anywhere—the joys of graphic design and remote work. But most people didn’t settle in Spring River, California. The tiny upstate town had one doctor, a grocery store, a bus stop to take the kids to the next town over for school and a vet clinic whose veterinarian rotated so much the office should have a revolving door.
The rest of the town catered to rock climbers and hikers spring through fall and skiers in the winter. All passing through on their way to Mt. Shasta. A city with hundreds of people roaming Main Street on any day, but few full-time residents.
Lately investors were buying vacation cabins and apartment complexes. Turning them into short-term rentals. All that did was make it more difficult for the full-time residents to find affordable housing.
“There’s no reason to get excited.” She lifted one of the tiny brown puppies from the box Blaire had set down. “A new vet will come in. I will get them spun up on our clients, a few locals, the ones who always get their hopes up, who will actually believe this one will stay. Join the community potlucks and raise a family. Ever the optimists.”
“It might happen.”
Sage knew her friend didn’t really believe that. “Might. But more likely, they’ll give a few months’ notice, if we’re lucky.”
“And the process starts over again.” Blaire repeated the oft said line…not aware that Sage had intentionally left it off.
Sage couldn’t utter the falsehood. She tried to put on a cheery voice as she completed their well-worn script. “Same routine, new vet. It’s the role I’ve played since I became a veterinarian technician.”
Except the stakes are so much higher this time around.
Blaire lifted the other puppy from the box and ran her hand over its silky fur. “I keep thinking the corporate shop that set this place up will close it down one of these days.”
Ice slipped down her spine as her friend guessed the truth. The email was technically internal communications, but, oh, how she wished she could tell someone! Vet Med Corp had looked at the number of clients, the rotating staff, and decided this place was more trouble than it was worth. There was a small vet in Spring Farm, thirty miles up the road, but Sage knew that their vet techs had worked there for years. She had no hope of a job there, or at the clinic in Jasper, which was an hour commute away.
“Let’s keep that idea out of the universe. You can work anywhere…telework isn’t much of an option for me.”
Anytime she wasn’t at the clinic, she spent working with the rescue. It was a tiny network of foster homes right now, though Sage had plans for a standalone facility.
Assuming she ever saved enough money.
“You can always move,” Blaire whispered against the puppy she was holding, careful not to meet Sage’s eyes.
“Why don’t we get these little guys to the back and get them checked out before the paying customers show up?” Sage kissed the brown puppy’s nose.
Dogs never judged. Never insinuated that her choices were wrong. They hadn’t watched her grow up. Watched her become the parent of her family when her mother lost herself after her dad abandoned them. Or watched her life implode when her brother, Forest, chose the wrong life path.
No. Dogs just gave unconditional love without asking for anything more than a place in your heart and a bowl of food.
“Your mother would understand. Eventually.” Blaire didn’t meet Sage’s eyes as she set her puppy on the scale. “Six pounds. These guys can’t be much more than six weeks old. Barely finished nursing.”
She appreciated her friend shifting the discussion. Though not before getting one final thought out on her position.
She was wrong, though. Rose Pool would never understand. She’d cry and stay in her room for weeks. Lose the job she’d finally settled into following Forest’s sentencing. Her mother wasn’t strong. That was Sage’s job. It wasn’t fair. But life wasn’t fair. Complaining about it didn’t change it.
Once Sage had dreamed of getting out of Spring River. Dreamed of earning a degree in marine biology and saving the oceans! Big dreams she’d set aside when the small college fund her mother set up went to her brother’s defense lawyer.
Not that the man had accomplished much with the funds they’d given him. A pittance compared to his other retainers, but all the money the Pool family had. And her mother had sunk back into the depression that had enclosed her for over a year when Sage was not quite fourteen.
Sage took care of everything…otherwise it didn’t get done. And she’d learned never to get her hopes up. Easier to deal with disappointment if you just expected it.
“These look like golden Lab mixes. I bet someone dumped them because they have brown wavy hair and most people want the golden short hair version.” Sage knew most dog breeders were responsible, but those that weren’t filled already bursting rescues with the dogs they didn’t think would fetch a high enough price.
Assuming someone found the puppies.
“Technically, they are called Goldadors. Or even more technically…mutts!”
“All breeds were mutts once,” Blaire laughed. “Do you think the new vet will let the rescue use the clinic before it opens?”
Her friend looked at the clock and back at the door. Dr. Jacobs was a creature of habit. She’d walk through the door with the new vet in exactly ten minutes. She hadn’t pushed back on Sage checking the dogs for the tiny rescue. However, if they needed actual treatment, she charged the rescue full price, unlike Dr. Andrews, who’d cut them a deal.
Vet bills were the biggest expenses for a rescue. Even one that couldn’t take more than about twenty dogs at any one time. That was going to change when she finally purchased the Rainbow Ranch. She had plans to turn it into the perfect pet rescue location.
Luckily, these puppies were in good condition. Rambunctious, but that was what one got when you crossed a golden and a Lab.
“I’m glad you were on time. The vet before me did not have good time management skills.” Dr. Jacobs’s sharp tone carried through the small clinic.
And so the clock was ticking.
Somehow, Sage had to convince this vet to stay at least a year.
“New guy is here.” Blaire reached for the puppy Sage was holding and put her in the box with his brother. “That is my cue to head out.”
Sage kissed the top of each of the puppies’ heads. “These little ones are in excellent condition. Call Myka. She should be able to place them with a foster, though once you have their picture on the website, I suspect they will have forever homes soon.”
Puppies always went fast.
Blaire held the box in one hand as she dug her keys out of her back pocket. She offered a short wave before darting out the back door.
Sage didn’t blame her friend. Dr. Jacobs was efficient…but she lacked the warm fuzzy feeling most veterinarians seemed to naturally exude. She was short with staff and patients. It wasn’t personal, but it felt like it.
“Our vet tech is already here. That was her truck out front. Not sure how the thing still runs.”
Sometimes it doesn’t.
Sage crossed her arms, then uncrossed them. She didn’t want to meet the new vet in a defensive posture.
Sure, her truck had seen better days. But she’d used the savings for her home down payment to help her mom get a car three months ago. It was that or deal with her mother losing her job and sinking into despair. Rose was slowly paying her back, but there was no money for a new car. So she kept the truck running on her own.
One could learn most things through internet videos. She’d taught herself mechanics, dry walling, basic plumbing…all things to help her prepare to run the rescue out of the ranch. This was one dream she was going to get. Something of her own.
As soon as Mom pays me back.
“I know you’re used to something grander, but we make do.” The door to the back opened and Dr. Jacobs stepped through. “Sage, good you’re here—”
Sage knew Dr. Jacobs was speaking. Knew words were leaving her mouth, but her ears didn’t capture a single one. Her eyes locked with the new vet. He was still so tall she had to look up to meet his gaze.
Of course he is, Sage!
One didn’t lose inches, at least not until old age. Holt Cove’s lean face had filled out and the last bits of youth had vanished into a well-formed man who probably made many stare.
How? What? I… Words raced across her mind in no meaningful order as she tried to process Holt Cove standing less than five feet from her.
Heat rippled across her skin, just like it had the last time she’d seen him. Two days before his high school graduation. They’d shared a kiss after their final school play.
It was everything she’d dreamed a first kiss would be. Fun, exciting…charged. He’d promised to call the day after graduation. Then Forest was arrested.
And all she’d gotten was his voicemail and unanswered texts.
Pain should wrap around her right now. That was the normal emotional reaction to holding the gaze of someone who’d ghosted you at such an important time. And the pain was there. But it wasn’t the only feeling coating her body.
“Sage?” Dr. Jacobs’s tone was sharp. She was used to walking in and having Sage immediately discuss the upcoming clients. Not the schedule, that was Lucy, their receptionist’s job, but the little things that were expected in a tiny community.
The things that made it seem like Dr. Jacobs knew more about the community than she did. Sage always rattled off the day’s internal notes first thing. Before they exchanged any pleasantries. She knew what she was supposed to say.
Mrs. Lowed’s daughter was having a baby, a little girl, and she was going to spend the appointment discussing it. Mr. Kipe’s wife left him last week—do not ask him how things are—he will break down. And Leonard Owen’s dog ate another sock…
That one wasn’t on the schedule yet, but Leonard had texted her this morning.
Toe ate more socks than any dog she’d ever met. Leonard had taken to keeping them on the top shelf of his closet. He wasn’t sure where Toe found the sock, but he’d refused his breakfast. Something the dog never did.
Dr. Jacobs was waiting, but none of the words escaped as she held Holt’s deep gaze.
Had he missed her, even a little?
Nope. Not traveling that thought path.
She blinked, finally breaking the connection. The only saving grace was that he’d seemed as stunned to see her as she was to see him.
“Sorry.” She reached for the tablet chart she’d loaded up when she’d arrived. “I—I…” She cleared her throat. Maybe that would jolt her brain into action.
It didn’t matter that she’d never expected to see Holt Cove again. Most people who left Spring River didn’t return. She needed to focus, but her brain’s synapses refused to fire.
What was he doing here?
He could be anywhere. She’d known they worked for the same corporate vet. Holt had appeared in a few of the company’s print ads. He was on the fast track, and she hated that she’d looked for him. He was in the big clinics. Boston, Dallas, LA and even the flagship clinic in New York. He shouldn’t be here.
And her mind should not be even partially happy to see her brother’s onetime best friend.
“I…” She looked at the tablet chart, the words still not coming. She could see the frustration in Dr. Jacobs’s eyes. If only she could get the words out.
Then she could flee and take a few minutes to gather herself before again being in the presence of the man who’d spent hours learning lines with her in theater class. The connection they’d formed as kids had morphed until she wasn’t the tagalong little sister. She was a friend and almost something more.
Yet in the days after Forest’s arrest for armed robbery, Holt had vanished from her life. He’d reached out to Forest while he was out on bail. Her brother was angry at the world and the blowup had been epic. But for Sage…all she’d gotten was silence. It had hurt.
Still did, if she was honest. And she was terribly aware that jealousy was mixing in with all the feelings racing through her.
Holt got out of this town, followed his dream. He hadn’t had to parent his parent. He’d gone to college and then veterinarian school.
And she was still here. The walls felt like they were closing in around her, and she wanted to be anywhere else. But she had a job to do and, based on Dr. Jacobs’s tapping foot, she was about to lose her temper.
Get it together, Sage.
“Mrs. Lowed’s daughter is having a baby, a little girl.” Her voice shook, and she forced herself to slow down. She was not making a scene. Well…not more of one.
“The baby is all she’s going to talk about when you are doing her cat’s checkup…” She finished her recitation of the morning appointments without looking up; her mind on auto mode as her emotions locked down.
“Sage is always ready with the local news. The patients’ parents like to talk…small-town things.”
“Yes. I grew up in Spring River. My dad used to run one of the mountain climbing shops. He retired to Dallas a few years before he passed. Are you referring to April Lowed?”
His voice still made her feel warm. It was calming and resonated easily in the room. The deep baritone was the main reason he’d gotten the part of Prince Charming his senior year. Her insides turning gooey was not helpful.
Holt Cove was hot. Attractive in high school, the lanky boyishness was now a rugged handsomeness. Her body’s reaction was surprising, but it was probably just the shock.
More than a decade of quiet, and her body was focusing on such an inconsequential thing. A glutton for punishment. The perfect description for Sage Pool—unfortunately.
“Yes, but she took her husband’s name, something with a B… Brantley or Breams. Left town not long after graduation.” Sage waved a hand, the words inconsequential.
“Of course you know each other. Anyone from Spring River knows the other permanent residents.” Dr. Jacobs took the tablet Sage was offering. “So you were in school together?”
The question was directed at Holt, and her chest tightened as she waited for his answer. Waited to see if he would acknowledge a childhood spent jumping into ponds, riding bikes, and then delinquency. He’d righted his path; Forest had barreled forward with poor decisions and paid a big price for it.
And Sage… Sage got left behind.
His blue eyes met hers, then he looked away, but not before she saw a look she feared was pity on his features.
“As you said, all the permanent residents knew each other.”
Her fists clenched. Dr. Jacobs didn’t need to know their history, but such a cold statement. No. She was not having it.
“Sure. But no other permanent resident spent nearly every waking hour at my house. Being my brother’s best friend and all. And my friend too…once. Guess time zapped those memories. All the big-city clinics and…”
She slammed her mouth shut. It didn’t matter what Holt thought. But the way he’d thrown away their relationship made her see red. Worse, it meant that while he’d forgotten her, she’d acknowledged that she kept track of him.
Barking echoed in the front room.
“Toe ate a sock again. And he and Duchess don’t get on well.” She turned to Holt, hoping her face was blank. “Duchess is Mrs. Lowed’s beagle mix.”
The dog let out a howl; Holt chuckled. “Beagle…you don’t say?”
“Toe wants to play, and Duchess doesn’t, so let me go help get them into separate rooms.” She hurried away before Dr. Jacobs could point out that Lucy would make sure the animals were where they needed to be.
She needed to be somewhere else. Needed a moment to gather herself. Dr. Holt Cove was home. And would probably stay at least a year. After all, he knew what Spring River was like. That was good for the clinic. Good for the patients and their pet parents who’d come so close to losing their clinic, even if they didn’t know it.
This was the best possible scenario, and she hated how much she wished that anyone else had walked through the door.