Chapter One excerpt four

(Start from the beginning here:)

Haylee gave Jewel a hug. “Good girl, you found him. What a smart girl you are.” The dog was wet, happy, and whole. She’d definitely earned her cookies tonight.

The guy rubbed his legs and got to his feet, keeping a hand on the rock. Yes, still tall. Still big. And all muscle, despite the unsteadiness.

Her pulse jumped another notch. The vibe coming off him was clangy, discordant, like an orchestra in warm-up, after the long summer break. The scattered light reflecting off waves and wet rock cast stark shadows across the rugged planes of his face. No laugh lines now.

“She was looking for me? Not to appear ungrateful, but I can’t imagine why. If she’s a sniffer dog, the cigarettes are oregano, I swear. I’m holding them for a friend. I’ve never even inhaled.”

She took a step back and put a hand on Jewel’s warm back.

There was no scent of tobacco, let alone weed, but he was speaking too quickly. Something definitely had him rattled and it was more than indignity.

“I’m joking. Badly, I see. Don’t worry, I’ll keep my distance. I bet you wish you’d taken a different path tonight.”

“What are you doing out here?” Someone needed to get this conversation on track.

He wiped his face with his forearm. A tattoo ran along the underside but she couldn’t make out details. His strong jaw was liberally covered in a two-day growth of dark whiskers.

You expected such a man to growl or roar or paw the ground, yet he talked like he had a beer in one hand and a pair of aces in the other.


“It went something like this. I was watching the sunset, minding my own business, when a large, sea lion-esque creature”—he indicated the dog nudging her pocket—“belly-flopped into the tide pool at my feet. She seemed to not want to be there, so I helped haul her out. That’s when she took our relationship to the next level. You arrived. The end.”

You hauled her out?”

“What can I say,” he answered. “I’m a helper.”

“In that case… thanks.” She hesitated, then thought what the hell. “I’m Haylee Hansen. I work at Sanctuary Ranch, about a mile inland. You’re the new doctor, aren’t you?”

He looked a little taken aback but then he caught himself and said, “Guilty as charged. Aiden McCall. Nice to meet you, Haylee. And Jewel, the friendly dog.”

“Why were you yelling?” Haylee asked. “I thought you were hurt.”

“Would you believe I was practicing for an audition?”


“Right. My stand-up routine sucks. Oh well, worth a try.”

He kept both hands on the rocky outcropping at his hip, as if he expected the earth to fall out from beneath his feet.

“You’re going to be trapped,” she said. “The tide’s coming in.”

He glanced down, as if only now noticing that his once-dry perch had an inch of water covering it.

“Huh. What do you know. I guess we’ll be trapped together, then.”

“Nah, that’s a rookie mistake.” She hesitated a moment, then sighed and held out her hand. “Come on. I’ll help you out.”

But just then, a chunk of mussel-shell broke under her boot. She stumbled forward and would have slipped into the water below, but he caught her, one hand on her arm, the other around her waist, and pulled her away from the edge.

His hands were cold from the water, his grip like icy steel but instead of a chill, heat rushed across her skin where he touched her. His scent enveloped her, a light, woodsy cologne overlaid with help and brine and wind and sweat.

She’d misinterpreted his body language, she realized. Tight, tense, alert, this man was on, the same way she remembered her father and brother being, as all firefighters, soldiers, and surgeons were, even on weekends. Life-and-death situations demanded and honed a kind of raw energy, a costly undercurrent that didn’t disappear at the end of a shift.

“God, I’m so sorry,” she said with a gasp. Daphne would love this story, if she ever got wind of it.

“Don’t be.” His breath was warm on her neck. “My male ego is vastly improved.”

He stepped away the second she found her feet, then slapped wet sand from his thighs and butt.

Lean. Muscled. Nice.

Oh dear.

“Follow me,” she told him, hoping it was too dark for him to see the blush she felt on her cheeks.

“What about your sea lion?”

“Jewel?” Haylee gave a little laugh. The dog had given up on extra treats and was now trotting down the rocks back to the sandy beach above the waterline. “She’s way ahead of us. You okay to get back to . . . to get back?”

He lifted his chin and looked at the horizon, his eyes narrow, his full lips set tight with thin lines slicing deep on both sides, as if in pain.

“You bet,” he said. “I’m great.”

Sunset colors splashed over the stark planes of his face, warmth meeting chill, light and shadow flickering and dancing. Haylee shivered.

He looked, she thought, like a man walking through fire.

Read the final excerpt here.

Copyright © 2017 by Roxanne Snopek, All Rights Reserved

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© 2018 Roxanne Snopek. All rights reserved.