Shy tomboy Kaylee Capshaw never thought she’d have a chance of winning the heart of her longtime friend Bennett Dodge. But when a chance with the cowboy presents itself, can she finally prove to him that the woman he’s been waiting for has been right here all along?
Read on for a sneak peek of
the latest in New York Times bestselling author Maisey Yates’s Gold Valley series!
KAYLEE CAPSHAW NEEDED a new life. Which was why she was steadfastly avoiding the sound of her phone vibrating in her purse while the man across from her at the beautifully appointed dinner table continued to talk, oblivious to the internal war raging inside of her.
Do not look at your phone.
The stern internal admonishment didn’t help. Everything in her was still seized up with adrenaline, and anxiety over the fact that she had texts she wasn’t looking at.
Not because of her job. Any and all veterinary emergencies were being covered by her new assistant at the clinic, Laura, so that she could have this date with Michael, the perfectly nice man she was now blanking while she warred within herself to not look down at her phone.
No. It wasn’t work texts she was itching to look at.
But what if it was Bennett?
Laura knew that she wasn’t supposed to interrupt Kaylee tonight, because Kaylee was on a date, but she had conveniently not told Bennett. Because she didn’t want to talk to Bennett about her dating anyone.
Mostly because she didn’t want to hear if Bennett was dating anyone. If the woman lasted, Kaylee would inevitably know all about her. So there was no reason—in her mind—to rush into all of that.
She wasn’t going to look at her phone.
“Going over the statistical data for the last quarter was really very interesting. It’s fascinating how the holidays inform consumers.”
Kaylee blinked. “What?”
“Sorry. I’m probably boring you. The corporate side of retail at Christmas is probably only interesting to people who work in the industry.”
“Not at all,” she said. Except, she wasn’t interested. But she was trying to be. “How exactly did you get involved in this job living here?”
“Well, I can do most of it online. Otherwise, I travel to Portland, which is where the corporate office is.” Michael worked for a world-famous brand of sports gear, and he did something with the sales. Or data.
Her immediate attraction to him had been his dachshund, Clarence, who she had seen for a tooth abscess a couple of weeks earlier. Then, on a follow-up visit he had asked if Kaylee would like to go out, and she had honestly not been able to think of one good reason she shouldn’t. Except for Bennett Dodge. Her best friend since junior high, and the obsessive focus of her hormones since she’d discovered what men and women did together in the dark.
Which meant she absolutely needed to go out with Michael.
Bennett couldn’t be the excuse. Not anymore.
She had fallen into a terrible rut over the last couple of years while she and Bennett had gotten their clinic up and running. Work and her social life revolved around him. Social gatherings were all linked to him and to his family.
She’d lived in Gold Valley since junior high, and the friendships she’d made here had mostly faded since then. She’d made friends when she’d gone to school for veterinary medicine, but she and Bennett had gone together, and those friends were mostly mutual friends.
If they ever came to town to visit, it included Bennett. If she took a trip to visit them, it often included Bennett.
The man was up in absolutely everything and the effects of it had been magnified recently as her world had narrowed thanks to their mutually demanding work schedule.
That amount of intense, focused time with him never failed to put her in a somewhat pathetic emotional space.
Hence the very necessary date.
Then, her phone started vibrating because it was ringing, and she couldn’t ignore that. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Excuse me.”
It was Bennett. Her heart slammed into her throat. She should not answer it. She really shouldn’t. She thought that even while she was pressing the green accept button.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“Calving drama. I have a breech one. I need some help.”
Bennett sounded clipped and stressed. And he didn’t stress easily. He delivered countless calves over the course of the season, but a breech birth was never good. If the rancher didn’t call him in time, there was rarely anything that could be done.
And if Bennett needed some assistance then the situation was probably extreme.
“Where are you?” she asked, darting a quick look over to Michael and feeling like a terrible human for being marginally relieved by this interruption.
“Out of town at Dave Miller’s place. Follow the driveway out back behind the house.”
“See you soon.” She hung up the phone and looked down at her half-finished dinner. “I am so sorry,” she said, forcing herself to look at Michael’s face. “There’s a veterinary emergency. I have to go.”
She stood up, collecting her purse and her jacket. “I really am sorry. I tried to cover everything. But my partner… It’s a barnyard thing. He needs help.”
Michael looked… Well, he looked understanding. And Kaylee almost wished that he wouldn’t. That he would be mad, so she would have an excuse to storm off and never have dinner with him again. That he would be unreasonable in some fashion so that she could call the date experiment a loss and go back to making no attempts at a romantic life whatsoever.
But he didn’t. “Of course,” he said. “You can’t let something happen to an animal just because you’re on a dinner date.”
“I really can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
She reached into her purse and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. She put it on the table and offered an apologetic smile before turning and leaving. Before he didn’t accept her contribution to the dinner.
She was not going to make him pay for the entire meal on top of everything.
“Have a good evening,” the hostess said as Kaylee walked toward the front door of the restaurant. “Please dine with us again soon.”
Kaylee muttered something and headed outside, stumbling a little bit when her kitten heel caught in a crack in the sidewalk. That was the highest heel she ever wore, since she was nearly six feet tall in flats, and towering over one’s date was not the best first impression.
But she was used to cowgirl boots, and not these spindly, fiddly things that hung up on every imperfection. They were impractical. And how any woman walked around in stilettos was beyond her.
The breeze kicked up, reminding her that March could not be counted on for warm spring weather, as the wind stung her bare legs. The cost of wearing a dress. Which also had her feeling pretty stupid right about now.
She always felt weird in dresses, owing that to her stick figure and excessive height. She’d had to be tough from an early age. With parents who ultimately ended up ignoring her existence, she’d had to be self-sufficient.
It had suited her to be a tomboy because spending time outdoors, running around barefoot and climbing trees, far away from the fight scenes her parents continually staged in their house, was better than sitting at home.
Better to pretend she didn’t like lace and frills, since her bedroom consisted of a twin mattress on the floor and a threadbare afghan.
She’d had a friend when she was little, way before they’d moved to Gold Valley, who’d had the prettiest princess room on earth. Lace bedding, a canopy. Pink walls with flower stencils. She’d been so envious of it. She’d felt nearly sick with it.
But she’d just said she hated girly things. And never invited that friend over ever.
And hey, she’d been built for it. Broad shoulders and stuff.
Sadly, she wasn’t built for pretty dresses.
But she needed strength more anyway.
She was thankful she had driven her own truck, which was parked not far down the street against the curb. First date rule for her. Drive your own vehicle. In case you had to make a hasty getaway.
And apparently she had needed to make a hasty getaway, just not because Michael was a weirdo or anything.
No, he had been distressingly nice.
She mused on that as she got into the driver’s seat and started up the engine. She pulled away from the curb and headed out of town. Yes, he had been perfectly nice. Really, there had been nothing wrong with him. And she was a professional at finding things wrong with the men she went on dates with. A professional at finding excuses for why a second date couldn’t possibly happen.
She was ashamed to realize now that she was hoping he would consider this an excuse not to make a second date with her.
That she had taken a phone call in the middle of dinner, and then had run off.
A lot of people had trouble dating. But often it was for deep reasons they had trouble identifying.
Kaylee knew exactly why she had trouble dating.
It was because she was in love with her best friend. Bennett Dodge. And he was not in love with her.
She gritted her teeth.
She wasn’t in love with Bennett. No. She wouldn’t allow that. She had lustful feelings for Bennett, and she cared deeply about him. But she wasn’t in love with him. She refused to let it be that. Not anymore.
That thought carried her over the gravel drive that led to the ranch, back behind the house, just as Bennett had instructed. The doors to the barn were flung open, the lights on inside, and she recognized Bennett’s truck parked right outside.
She killed the engine and got out, moving into the barn as quickly as possible.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Dave Miller was standing there, his arms crossed over his chest, standing back against the wall. Bennett had his hand on the cow’s back. He turned to look at her, the overhead light in the barn seeming to shine a halo around his cowboy hat. That chiseled face that she knew so well but never failed to make her stomach go tight. He stroked the cow, his large capable hands drawing her attention, as well as the muscles in his forearm. He was wearing a tight T-shirt that showed off the play of those muscles to perfection, his large biceps, and the scars on his skin from various on-the-job injuries, and he had a stethoscope draped over his shoulders. Something about that combination—rough-and-ready cowboy meshed with concerned veterinarian—was her very particular catnip.
“I need to get the calf out as quickly as possible, and I need to do it at the right moment. Too quickly and we’re likely to crush baby’s ribs.” She had a feeling he said that part for the benefit of the nervous-looking rancher standing off to the side.
Dave Miller was relatively new to town, moving up from California a couple of years ago with fantasies of rural living. A small ranch for his and his wife’s retirement had grown to a medium-sized one over the past year or so. And while the older man had a reputation for taking great care of his animals, he wasn’t experienced at this.
“Where do you want me?” she asked, moving over to where Bennett was standing.
“I’m going to need you to suction the hell out of this thing as soon as I get her out.” He appraised her. “Where were you?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“You’re wearing a dress.”
She shrugged. “I wasn’t at home.”
He frowned. “Were you out?”
This was not the time for Bennett to go overly concerned big brother on her. It wasn’t charming on a normal day, but it was even less charming when she’d just abandoned her date to help deliver a calf. “If I wasn’t at home I was out. Better put your hand up the cow, Bennett,” she said, feeling testy.
Bennett did just that, checking to see that the cow was dilated enough for him to extract the calf. Delivering a breech animal like this was tricky business. They were going to have to pull the baby out, likely with the aid of a chain or a winch, but not too soon, which would injure the mother. And not too quickly, which would injure them both.
But if they went too slow, the baby cow would end up completely cut off from its oxygen supply. If that happened it was likely to never recover.
“Ready,” he said. “I need chains.”
She spotted the chains laying on the ground, picked them up and handed them over. He grunted and pulled, producing the first hint of the calf’s hooves. Then he lashed the chain around them. He began to pull, his muscles straining against the fabric of his black T-shirt, flexing as he tugged hard.
She had been a vet long enough that she was inured to things like this, from a gross-out perspective. But still, checking a guy out in the midst of all of this was probably a little imbalanced. Of course, that was the nature of how things were with Bennett.
They’d met when she’d moved to Gold Valley at thirteen—all long limbs, anger and adolescent awkwardness. And somehow, they’d fit. He’d lost his mother when he was young, and his family was limping along. Her own home life was hard, and she’d been desperate for escape from her parents’ neglect and drunken rages at each other.
She never had him over. She didn’t want to be at her house. She never wanted him, or any other friend, to see the way her family lived.
To see her sad mattress on the floor and her peeling nightstand.
Instead they’d spent time at the Dodge ranch. His family had become hers, in many ways. They weren’t perfect, but there was more love in their broken pieces than Kaylee’s home had ever had.
He taught her to ride horses, let her play with the barn cats and the dogs that lived on the ranch. Together, the two of them saved a baby squirrel that had fallen out of his nest, nursing him back to health slowly in a little shoebox.
She’d blossomed because of him. Had discovered her love of animals. And had discovered she had the power to fix some of the broken things in the world.
The two of them had decided to become veterinarians together after they’d successfully saved the squirrel. And Bennett had never wavered.
He was a constant. A sure and steady port in the storm of life.
And when her feelings for him had started to shift and turn into more, she’d done her best to push them down because he was her whole world, and she didn’t want to risk that by introducing anything as volatile as romance.
She’d seen how that went. Her parents’ marriage was a reminder of just how badly all that could sour. It wasn’t enough to make her swear off men, but it was enough to make her want to keep her relationship with Bennett as it was.
But that didn’t stop the attraction.
If it were as simple as deciding not to want him, she would have done it a long time ago. And if it were as simple as being with another man, that would have worked back in high school when she had committed to finding herself a prom date and losing her virginity so she could get over Bennett Dodge already.
It had not worked. And the sex had been disappointing.
So here she was, fixating on his muscles while he helped an animal give birth.
Maybe there wasn’t a direct line between those two things, but sometimes it felt like it. If all other men could just…not be so disappointing in comparison to Bennett Dodge, things would be much easier.
She looked away from him, making herself useful. Gathering syringes, and anything she would need to clear the calf of mucus that might be blocking its airway. Bennett hadn’t said anything, likely for Dave’s benefit, but she had a feeling he was worried about the health of the heifer. That was why he needed her to see to the calf as quickly as possible, because he was afraid he would be giving treatment to its mother.
She spread a blanket out that was balled up and stuffed in the corner, unnecessary, but it was something to do. Bennett strained, and gave one final pull, and brought the calf down as gently as possible onto the barn floor.
“There he is,” Bennett said, breathing heavily. “There he is.”
His voice was filled with that rush of adrenaline that always came when they worked jobs like this.
She and Bennett ran the practice together, but she typically held down the fort at the clinic and saw smaller domestic animals like birds, dogs, cats and the occasional ferret.
Bennett did large animals, cows, horses, goats and sometimes llamas. They had a mobile unit for things like this.
But when push came to shove, they helped each other out.
And when push came to pulling a calf out of its mother they definitely helped.
Bennett took care of the cord and then turned his focus back to the mother.
Kaylee moved to the calf, who was glassy-eyed, and not looking very good. But she knew from her limited experience with this kind of delivery that just because they came out like this didn’t mean they wouldn’t pull through.
She checked his airway, brushing away any remaining mucus that was in the way. She put her hand back over his midsection and tried to get a feel on his heartbeat. “Bennett,” she said, “stethoscope?”
“Here,” he said, taking it from around his neck and flinging it her direction. She caught it and slipped the ear tips in, pressing the diaphragm against the calf, trying to get a sense for what was happening in there.
His heartbeat sounded strong, which gave her hope.
His breathing was still weak. She looked around at the various tools, trying to see something she might be able to use. “Dave,” she said to the man standing back against the wall. “I need a straw.”
“Yes. I’ve never tried this before, but I hear it works.”
She had read that sticking a straw up a calf’s nose irritated the system enough that it jolted them into breathing. And she hoped that was the case.
Dave returned quickly with the item that she had requested, and Kaylee moved the straw into position. Not gently, since that would defeat the purpose.
You had to love animals to be in her line of work. And unfortunately, loving them sometimes meant hurting them.
The calf startled, then heaved, its chest rising and falling deeply, before it started to breathe quickly.
Kaylee pulled the straw out and lifted her hands. “Thank God.”
Bennett turned around, shifting his focus to the calf for the first time and away from the mother. “Breathing?”
He nodded, wiping his forearm over his forehead. “Good.” His chest pitched upward sharply. “I think Mom is going to be okay too.”
They stood watching for a moment as the calf stood up on shaky limbs, taking its first few tentative steps. It was all a good sign, but they had both seen enough to know that there was no such thing as out of the woods.
“Give me a call,” Bennett said to Dave. “If you need anything, anytime of night, give me a call.”
“I will. I’m going to set up in here tonight.”
“Good. If he makes it through the night… Well, the odds will be pretty good from here.”
Dave shook his head. “I didn’t know how stressful all this was.”
“I know people don’t understand,” Bennett said. “How you can care so much about animals you raised for food. But I know. They’re your livelihood, and your whole life on top of it.”
Dave nodded. “They are.”
He shook Bennett’s hand, then turned and shook Kaylee’s too. As his hand close over hers she realized what a mess she was. She looked down and saw that her skin was streaked with the aftereffects of touching the recently birthed cow. A fine accessory to go with her flirty date dress.
They collected their gear and Kaylee followed Bennett outside.
They both looked…well, a little bit ragged.
“You’re wearing a dress,” he said again.
Yes, she supposed that bore paying attention to, considering her typical uniform was plaid button-up shirts and worn jeans. If she was feeling really fancy maybe a belt with some rhinestones on it.
“I was on a date, Bennett,” she said, articulating the Ts a bit more sharply than necessary.
“Were you?” he asked, crossing his arms over his broad chest and leaning against the truck.
She pushed her now-completely-tangled red hair off her face. “I was.”
“Anyone I know?” he asked, his tone overly casual.
He was asking so he could cast aspersions. It was what he did. And it rankled. He was never going to be her boyfriend. And yet he took great delight in judging every single one she’d ever had, and finding them unworthy.
“Depends,” she said, keeping her tone sweet. “Do you know Clarence the dachshund?”
He arched a brow. “I do not.”
“Well, I had a date with Clarence’s owner. And since you don’t know Clarence that doesn’t mean anything to you.”
“I didn’t think we dated the owners of patients,” he said frowning.
“Well, that’s much easier for you, Bennett. If I eliminated every man in town with a pet then I would never be able to date.” She pretty much didn’t. And actually, tonight was the first time she’d been on a date in over a year.
Bennett let out a very masculine-sounding sigh and she ignored the slight shock wave it sent through her. “Do you want to come over and have a beer?”
She really, really needed to say no. She was supposed to be on a date with another man, she was definitely not supposed to end the night platonically hanging out at Bennett’s house again. It was her default. She did it too often.
She had done it all throughout his dating Olivia Logan, feeling so pointlessly jealous of everything the cute, petite woman was. Certainly everything that Kaylee wasn’t. Refined. Fine-boned. Short. Definitely able to wear giant heels around any man without towering over them. Not that she would tower over Bennett in heels.
At six-four he was definitely tall enough to stand next to her in most shoes. Which had made his association with Olivia even more irritating, since the woman was barely five foot three. That was how that always worked. Tall men with tiny women. Irritating for women like her.
But he and Olivia had broken up a few months ago when Bennett had failed to propose quickly enough for Olivia’s liking, and then, much to everyone’s shock, Olivia had gone and fallen in love with Luke Hollister, who was her polar opposite.
She was from the town’s most prominent family. She was prim. Luke was…not.
She hadn’t really been able to gauge how Bennett felt about it, and selfishly, she hadn’t really wanted to either. She was just relieved. Relieved he hadn’t married her, because even though she didn’t harbor hopes of marrying him herself, if Bennett did get married, things would change.
She didn’t want that.
Bennett’s phone rang, and he fished it out of his pocket and answered it. “Hello?” He frowned.
Kaylee took a moment to take stock in her appearance. Her dress was rumpled now, and she was…well, she was a mess. And Bennett still wanted to have a beer with her. Well, because she was like a guy to him, really.
He would invite a guy over to have a beer even if he was dirty.
“Really?” Bennett sounded suddenly irritated. Or maybe, irritated wasn’t quite right. Intense. “Really,” he repeated. “We’ll talk about it later. I’m out dealing with a calf.”
He hung up the phone, and looked at Kaylee. “That was Wyatt.” Wyatt Dodge was Bennett’s oldest brother, and the boss at Get Out of Dodge Dude Ranch.
“Really?” She unconsciously parroted Bennett. “What did he say?”
“Luke called him. Apparently, he and Olivia are having a baby.”
Bennett’s about to face a lot of truths he’s been trying to avoid… will his feelings about Olivia be one of them?
Don’t miss how this plays out in
By NYT bestselling author Maisey Yates,
available June 2018 wherever
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Copyright ©2018 by Maisey Yates