Bounced from one foster home to another, Sarah Churchill learned early that love is conditional and nothing is free. Not even the homeless dog she accidentally runs over.
Veterinarian Grant Morrison is a sucker for strays, both the four-legged kind and the two-legged kind. So when a redhead walks into his office with an injured dog, he does the only thing he knows how to do and stitches up the dog for free.
But Sarah has her pride. Determined never to be a charity case again, she won’t accept the service and insists on working at the clinic to pay for the bill.
Can one man and one big, furry dog break down the wall of hurt and distrust and show Sarah the true meaning of happiness and unconditional love?
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“Can you help him, doctor?”
Sarah Churchill cradled the bedraggled mutt’s head. The animal lay shaking on the examining table. Tenderly, she pushed the dirty black hair from the dog’s eyes, then stroked the matted fur behind his ears. “I didn’t mean to hit him--I--he just darted out from behind a parked car and...”
“And into your path,” the doctor, a Grant M. Morrison according to the tag on the clinic door, finished for her.
“But it was an accident.” Unable to read the man’s eyes, Sarah stepped back. “It was. Do you actually think I’d harm the dog on purpose?”
Silence stretched between them. It reminded her of the time she took the blame for her foster sister’s car accident. Sarah was ready to grab the dog and find another veterinarian who could help her. But in a central California town the size of Greer, which boasted a population of 8,531, she doubted there were many other options.
As he thrust his hand through his hair, his expression softened. “No. I don’t think you would.”
“Is he hurt?”
“I don’t know. Let’s take a look, little fella.” Dr. Morrison spoke in a low, soothing voice as he returned his attention to the dog. “I’m just going to check you out and see where you hurt, that’s all.” With kind, probing fingers, he examined the entire length of the small black body.
As the dog thumped his tail against the metal table, a slight smile played at the veterinarian’s lips--quite a change from a few moments earlier. Sarah released the breath she’d been holding, and relaxed her fists which had been balled up at her sides. This man had nothing to do with her past--he probably had no clue how defensive his actions made her. She should give him some slack. He was only trying to help.
With his focus on the dog, Sarah took the opportunity to study him. Tall and lean, he exuded a no-nonsense attitude, but the dark, curly hair brushing past the collar of his lab coat contradicted his otherwise professional appearance.
Her curiosity aroused, she looked around the rest of the room, wondering if anything else was out of place. Not that she’d know or anything. Her trips to doctors’ offices had been limited. Unless it was an absolute necessity, the people who’d taken her in for foster care hadn’t given a hoot about her. They just wanted that monthly check from the government. Most of the time she’d been told to tough it out and not to be an inconvenience.
And she hadn’t. She’d almost died rather than complain that her side had hurt. It wasn’t until she was in the emergency room that they discovered her appendix had burst. That was home number two. Three wasn’t much better. But that was all in the past. When she’d turned 18, she’d hit the road and hadn’t looked back.
After a few minutes, the vet’s smile disappeared, replaced by a perplexed look as he lifted the dog into a standing position and ran his hands across his body again. “You say you hit him?”
“Where? I don’t feel any broken bones.”
His gaze captured hers. The intensity of his eyes caught her off guard. She’d never seen such a color before--a cross between the evening sky and the dark, forbidden waters of the lake at her fourth foster home.
She inched her way back to the examining table and looked at the bundle of fur which, now that she had a good chance to look at him, resembled a mop, more than a dog.
“I--I--my tire hit him here....I think.” She caressed the dogs hip. “He squeaked when he hit the ground and didn’t move right away. Not until I got turned around. And when he stood up, he started to limp right away.”
“Really?” Dr. Morrison looked at her inquisitively.
Sarah squirmed. She stared over his shoulder at the poster of a family and their big, yellow lab selling some brand of dog food. A made-up family--paid to look happy--but they still resembled a family. Sarah imagined the vet’s upbringing. He probably had a big, happy family, a permanent bed, and a house full of love and understanding.
Which was great--for him. She knew those places existed, had often dreamed of living in one of them when she was a kid, until the reality had set in. But she wasn’t jealous of what other people had; it just made her more determined to succeed.
“If you don’t mind my asking, how fast were you going?”
“Not very fast. I wasn’t pedaling that hard.”
Grant wasn’t sure he’d heard the young woman right. “Excuse me? Did you say pedaling?” His hands stilled on the puppy’s back as he absorbed the information.
You were on a bike?”