They have nothing in common. Except how much they want each other...
Long winters, hard work, and gorgeous scenery. Joy Bennett is prepared for anything and everything when she moves from her comfortable home in the city to the middle of nowhere Maine.
Everything except Raymond Reddington. A real, honest-to-goodness mountain man.
She wasn't prepared for his gruff voice or his short temper. Or for the way her heart beats faster and her core tightens with need whenever he's around.
And she certainly wasn't prepared to enjoy going over his knee so he could redden her bottom the second she steps out of line.
Nothing about falling for Ray is what she expected to find in her new hometown. But it just might be exactly what they both need.
That is, if she can convince her stubborn mountain man she's not going anywhere, and that their love is worth risking the heart he's tried so hard to keep hidden from the rest of the world.
Letting out a tired and frustrated sigh, Joy Bennett tossed her soiled scrubs into the laundry basket. Leaning against the wall of her small private bathroom in the vet clinic, she stared at the ceiling, but the florescent lights burned her eyes too much to keep them open. With a dull thud, she banged her head back against the tiles next to the door. The pain from the impact barely registered because her heart hurt more. Jewel just died. Four bloody hours of operating and the fluffy, fun loving, tennis ball chasing miniature poodle perished right under Joy’s hands.
This afternoon, the energetic fluff ball had been chasing a squirrel when she was hit by a speeding car. Her devastated owners brought Jewel into the Washington vet clinic covered in blood and dirt. Her soft brown eyes, eyes that usually sparkled with mischief and happiness, had been glossy with pain and fear. The other two working vets had handed the case to her, but Joy had been able to do not a damn thing for the miniature poodle — too much internal damage.
She wanted to cry. But she had no right.
It was her job to operate and cure injured pets. It was her job to stay detached. And it was her job to tell the owners she’d failed.
Joy loved her work, she really did. She liked the pets and the owners. Well, most of them. She liked the challenge of discovering what bothered a small creature that couldn’t speak. But these days, it seemed she did nothing more than try to repair the damage done to animals by modern life. Had Washingtonians no respect for other living beings anymore? Had city life dulled the humanity in them? Who the hell drove over forty on a residential street? Of course, the driver hadn’t even stopped to take responsibility and help. Moron!
Her cell phone rang and she opened her eyes. Some of her spirit lifted when she read the caller ID. “Hey mom.”
“Hi, honey. I just wanted to check on you and ask what you’re doing this Sunday.”
“Sunday? I don’t know.”
“Well, your dad and I are going on a road trip to Niagara Falls, and we return to D.C. Sunday afternoon. How about an early dinner? The weather is surprisingly nice, we might even make use of the barbecue one more time this year.”
“Sounds great. Can I bring something?”
“Can you pick up desserts?”
A car honked. “Okay, sweetheart, I got to go. Your dad is getting impatient.”
“All right, mom. Safe travels and give dad a kiss for me.”
Even as Joy lowered her phone, she heard her mother muttering about impatient men. Her mother’s exasperation made Joy smile despite her grief for Jewel. Her parents had a loving relationship, and they loved their only daughter as fiercely as they loved each other.
Joy pushed herself off the wall. Time to stop procrastinating. And there was no way around it. The other two vets had already left. The difficult task of informing the doting pet owners their fur baby didn’t pull through – that Joy hadn’t been able to save their Jewel – had fallen on her.
More than an hour later, her eyes burning with grief and fatigue, Joy entered the apartment she shared with her fiancé. After leaving her coat, shoes, and purse at the door, she stumbled into the living room.
“Hey babe.” Richard didn’t take his eyes from the game on the television or his feet from the coffee table. He knew she didn’t like it; he just didn’t care. “What are we eating?”
Joy’s eyes roamed the room, from the three opened beer cans on the table, the half-emptied bag of chips next to them, his coat over the back of the recliner, to the clock next to the kitchen door. Eight forty-five.
After a ten-hour workday he expected her to cook him dinner? She stroked her forehead with her fingertips, trying to fight off the headache and simultaneously battling her temper.
When she met him, he’d been a veterinary pharmaceutical sales representative for Animal Health International and he’d charmed her pants off – almost literally. They had a whirlwind love affair; he moved in with her within a few weeks of meeting and proposed a month later. Richard was good looking, lavished her with compliments and presents, and took her to a different restaurant each weekend. She had been over the moon, until he gradually changed into a couch-hanging, beer-drinking dipshit. Joy had no clue what brought on that change.
“How late did you get home?” She winced. I sound just like a disapproving housewife.
“Huh?” He tossed back some beer. His throat worked as he swallowed. Richard was handsome and even this act of drinking looked sexy on him. Before the sight could soften her, she straightened her spine and reminded herself that he was also getting exceedingly lazy, and was being a dick.
“What. Time. Did. You. Get. Home.” She pronounced each word with care like she was talking to someone hearing impaired.
“I dunno. Two or three hours ago, maybe.”
“And it didn’t occur to you to, well–” She paused and mentally counted to ten. It did nothing for her foul mood, and the counting didn’t help to control her temper. “Maybe make some dinner, do some cleaning or at least—” She pointed to the mess surrounding him. “—clean up your own stuff?”
“Hell, babe,” he said, tearing his gaze from the screen to give her the lopsided grin she fell hard for each time. “You know I’m not good at that household shit. And for damn sure I can’t cook.”
“You could learn.”
“Why don’t you hire a housekeeper? You make good money. We can afford hired help.”
Joy sighed. They’d had this discussion several times before. And it always resulted in a fight, followed by make-up sex. He was good with his body, Richard, and his mouth, both for talking and…
Her phone rang before she could finish the thought. Without checking the caller’s ID, she answered, “Hello?”
“Joy, sweetheart. It’s aunt Louise.”
“Louise?” Alarm chilled her body. Her mother’s youngest sister almost never called and there were tears in her voice. Joy gripped her phone tighter. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s—” Louise swallowed hard. “T-Thea and Archie.”
“My parents?” Joy’s heart started to slam in her chest as if her limbs needed oxygen to start running. “What about them?”
“I’m so sorry, honey.” A sniffle. “They—They’ve been in an accident – drunk driver ignored a red light. It’s, it’s not good. I’m so sorry. Your dad. He… He was killed on impact. The drunk’s truck plowed straight into his side.” As a cold numbness invaded Joy’s chest, making it painful to breathe, Louise went on. “Your mom… I’m at Harborview Medical Center.” Her aunt started sobbing. “Your mom… oh, sweetheart… I… They… They think she isn’t going to make it either. Please, can you come?”
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