“Doctor Holt? Can you come up front please?”
My receptionist, Rosie, sounds oddly alarmed making me look up from the files I’m finishing up tonight. My brain isn’t focusing on the paperwork I need to complete, instead it’s thinking about all the ways I want to celebrate my anniversary with Mila tonight. One year ago we said I Do in front of our friends and family. And life couldn’t be better. I had big plans for tonight, naked plans. But something in Rosie’s voice has me worried plans might have to change.
I stand up from my desk and follow her out front where a large box is sitting on the floor. The flap covering the box moves, and a small white and brown head pokes out.
“Someone must have dropped it off while I was cleaning the exam rooms,” Rosie hurries over to the box and lifts it up. “I came out front and saw it sitting outside the door.”
I take the box from her and open it up to see an obviously young and malnourished puppy inside. It starts to whimper, and I lift it out, checking quickly to determine it’s gender.
“Hey sweet girl,” I murmur under my breath as I carry the puppy to one of the exam rooms. “Thanks Rosie, I’ll take a quick look at our new friend and get her settled for the night. We can try to figure out where she came from tomorrow.”
Rosie hovers in the doorway, fidgeting with her hands. “Are you sure, Doctor Holt? I know you’ve got plans with Mila tonight.”
I smile up at the older woman. She’s a fantastic receptionist, but not a trained vet tech. “Yeah, you head on home. We’ll be fine.” With a nod, Rosie heads out and I turn back to the small puppy shivering on the table in front of me. A cursory exam doesn’t reveal any issues except for the fact that she obviously hasn’t been eating well. If she was separated from her mother too early, that would account for it. From what I can see, she’s probably only about eight weeks old, but it’s hard to tell with how small she is. I can feel all of her ribs poking out, telling me this little girl needs some nourishment and fast. I grab a bottle of puppy formula from the cabinet and as soon as the nipple crosses her lips, she guzzles it down.
My phone vibrates in my pocket, and it isn’t hard to guess it’s Mila wondering where I am. I glance at the clock. Shit, I’m late. Briefly I debate pulling out my phone to explain to her why I’m late, but texting with a squirmy puppy in my arms isn’t such an easy task and as soon as I set her down on the table she starts to cry, tugging at my animal-loving heartstrings.
“Okay little miss, you win. You’re coming home with me.” With the puppy in hand, I head to our supply room. She’s not going back in a cold cardboard box, that’s for sure. I quickly gather a crate, some clean towels, and a case of puppy formula. Then, leaving all of my paperwork behind for tomorrow, I lock up and head home to my hopefully forgiving wife.
It’s not like Jackson to be late, and not text me to let me know. Especially on a night where we’ve got plans. Okay, so those plans tonight involve take-out and a bubble bath for two, but still. I refill my wine glass, and lift it to take a sip. Happy Anniversary to me. Dinner, our favourite dishes from the new Greek restaurant that opened in Dogwood Cove a few months back, sits untouched on our plates. The candles I had lit are burning down, and I’ve finished off half of the bottle of wine I had chilled.
Harley, our cat, winds between my legs and gives a plaintive meow. I pick him up and stroke his fur for a few minutes, listening to his loud purr with a small smile, before he twists in my arms and hops down, walking quickly to the front door. Milo, the gentle giant of a dog that I rescued, follows with a low woof, both sure signs that Jackson is home.
The sound of a puppy crying loudly accompany a harried looking Jackson as he walks into the house. His eyes are filled with apology as he looks up at me, one hand carrying a small crate and the other holding a bag. Milo and Harley are crowding him, and he’s trying to hold the crate high enough and get through the doorway, and he just looks so overwhelmed I feel my heart melt. This man never ceases to make me swoon. I step forward, grab Milo’s collar and pull him back so that Jackson can move to put the crate down on the dining room table. He turns to me and finally kisses me deeply.
“I’m so sorry I’m late babe. But Rosie found this puppy abandoned outside the clinic and I had to give her a quick exam and figure out what to do. When I tried to settle her in a cage at the clinic she wouldn’t stop crying, and she’s so young and underfed and I-”
I interrupt him with another kiss. “It’s fine, Jackson.”
The look of relief that sweeps over his face makes me smile and together we crouch down to open the crate. When he lifts out the adorable little puppy, my heart melts even more.
“Oh my god, look at her.” I take her from him and cuddle her into my arms. Her cries stop, and her head drops down as if she’s just so relieved to not be in a crate. “Someone just left her at the clinic?” I ask him, and his answering frown tells me everything.
“Yeah. I’m guessing she was taken from her mother too young. No idea why she was abandoned, but at least they were smart enough to leaver her at a vet’s clinic.”
I sit down on the couch with the small puppy in my arms, and Jackson comes to sit beside me. “We need to bottle feed her for a while, then transition her onto some soft puppy food until she builds up some strength.”
I look over at him with my eyebrows raised. “We need to?”
He visibly winces, then looks up at me with those beautiful eyes that are filled with so much love, I know I’ll never be able to say no.
“Happy anniversary?” The playful grin on his face lights him up and I just shake my head, a small smile on my face as well. “Come on, Mila, we could call her Annie!”
Milo chooses that moment to stick his head on my lap, sniffing the puppy and then giving her a lick of his large tongue.
“See? Even Milo loves her.”
That makes me roll my eyes. “Of course we’re keeping her, Jackson. How can we not? Just don’t get in the habit of bringing home every stray animal that comes into the clinic, okay? This house isn’t big enough.”
His low chuckle warms me. “I know, babe. But come on, how could I say no to that face.” His hand strokes across the puppy’s back. She’s fallen asleep and is now a soft weight in my arms. I look up at my husband, the light of my life, the man I never saw coming and now can’t live without.
“I love you, Jackson Holt.”
Jackson leans in and kisses me softly, then takes it deeper, his hand cupping the back of my head. “I love you, Mila Holt.”
Annie let’s out a small sigh in her sleep, and I glance down to see Milo curled up at my feet, Annie in my arms, and Harley on the arm of the couch beside Jackson. This moment right here, with my husband and our animals, is better than anything I could have ever imagined.
We might have started with a fake relationship, but we turned it into one hell of a real romance.
Sharing a rental house with a hot guy? Check
Finding out that hot guy is my new boss? Check.
My new boss clearly not wanting me there? You guessed it, check.
Landing an interior design job at Finn McNeil’s new winery in Dogwood Cove is supposed to be my fresh start. Let’s just say things aren’t going as planned: It’s clear he doesn’t want my help.
Not to mention he’s grumpy, stubborn, and annoyingly sexy.
But I’m determined to win him over with my charm and professionalism. Not only do I need this job, but this town has become more than a place to earn a living, it’s become home.
When we start to blur the lines between work and play, things start to get complicated. Are we headed for disaster, or is this the perfect blend for love?