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Hope Flames

Jaci Burton

Page 1


  Author: Jaci Burton Chapter 1

  EMMA BURNETT COULD have never imagined that going hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt would be so exhilarating.

  She could barely contain her excitement as she looked over every aspect of her just-about-to-open new veterinary practice with a heavy dose of pride and more than a little trepidation.

  It was six-fifteen in the morning. Her staff would be arriving soon. She grinned at the thought. She had a staff now.

  “We’re here, Daisy. We made it. ”

  Daisy, her yellow Labrador retriever, thumped her tail and looked up at her, dark eyes filled with adoration. You had to love a dog because no matter what happened, they’d always love you back. You could have an awful day, be grouchy and in the worst mood, and your dog would still sit at your feet and be there for you.

  Emma rubbed Daisy’s head and locked up her bag in her office, then closed the door, moving into the lobby. Daisy followed along, sniffing every square inch of gleaming tile Emma had spent the weekend polishing to perfection.

  Sure, she could have had a cleaning service do that, but this place was hers and she wanted to do it herself. Then, after she’d cleaned, she’d inventoried, going over every scalpel, pair of forceps, IV pole, and thermometer. She’d inventoried all the drugs—twice—from antibiotics to pain medications, making sure everything was in order.

  This place was hers. She still couldn’t quite believe it.

  She swept her hand over the pristine reception desk, tapped her finger on the desktop computer she hoped was filled with appointments for the day, then moved on through the double doors leading to the back room where the sparkling instruments awaited her first touch.

  Cages were ready, and so were the exam rooms. The OR was prepped. Everything was spotless and sterilized.

  She was in debt up to her eyeballs, but, come hell or rising water from the creek down the road, this place was all hers now. It had taken years and more than a few major detours, but Hope Small Animal Hospital was now owned and operated by Dr. Emma Burnett, DVM.

  She inhaled and exhaled, letting the dual feelings of satisfaction and utter terror wash over her. At least this time it was a healthy dose of terror. Not like before.

  It would never be like before again. She’d lost five years of her life on that mistake, and now, at thirty-two, she was making a late start. But after going back to school and working with a veterinary group in South Carolina, she was finally home and on her own with a practice that was all hers.

  A knock on the front door made her startle. She curled her fingers into her palms.

  “Calm, Emma. This is your big day. ” She hurried to the door, grabbing her keys out of her lab-coat pocket.

  It was Rachel, her receptionist, along with Leanne, her tech. Her two assistants were the gas in the engine that drove this clinic. She smiled and unlocked the door. “Good morning. ”

  “Mornin’, Dr. Emma,” Rachel said with a grin, her arms laden with donuts and coffee. “Thought you could use these. ”

  “It’s so good to be back here again,” Leanne said, her long blond hair braided into two pigtails, her purple scrubs decorated with tiny paw prints.

  Totally adorable.

  “You’re my lifesavers. Both of you. Thank you. ”

  They sat in the tiny break room together and ate donuts, drank coffee, and went over the appointments for the day.

  “You have a full day, Dr. Emma,” Rachel said.

  “Really? That’s great. ” She wanted to leap up and pump her fist in the air, but that would be so unprofessional.

  “Doc Weston always had a full waiting room. ” Leanne licked donut icing off her fingers. “Everyone was disappointed when he had to close so suddenly. So were we. ”

  “No kidding,” Rachel said. “Leanne and I were lucky to hook up with the Barkley clinic on the north side of town after Doc Weston closed, but Barkley sucks. ”

  “Understatement,” Leanne said. “The doctors there are dicks. ”

  Emma would not smile about that. Really, she wouldn’t.

  Leanne nodded. “I’ve been spreading the word about the reopening. It’s like Field of Dreams, Doc. People will come. ”

  Emma let out a hopeful sigh. “That’s so good to hear. ” She wanted to be busy. She needed to fill this place up with clients.

  Since Dr. Weston had retired six months ago, the clinic had been closed and Hope residents had to go to the other clinic for animal care. Bruce Weston had been a wonderful veterinarian. He’d taken care of Emma’s terrier, Soupy, and her collie, Max, when she’d been a kid, and she’d loved him. She’d always been eager to come here and look at all the pictures of animal breeds on the wall of the exam rooms, check out the charts and the models of the insides of dogs and cats. She’d been curious and he’d always been more than happy to answer all her questions. Besides her utter love of animals, Dr. Weston had been one of the primary reasons she wanted to become a veterinarian. He was kind and patient, and had taken just as much care of the owners as he had of the animals.

  She’d been sad to hear about his heart surgery and subsequent retirement, but happy for him now that he and his wife, Denise, were moving closer to their grandchildren in Colorado. She’d been ecstatic that he’d been amenable to her buying out his practice. It had taken a whirlwind trip from South Carolina back to Oklahoma so she could meet face-to-face with him to iron out the particulars once she’d learned his practice was for sale. He’d been generous in his price and had helped her work out the loan details so she could get it done.

  Maybe her luck was finally changing.

  At six forty-five they cleared out the remnants of donut nirvana and Rachel, ever efficient, booted up the computer, while Emma and Leanne set up the rooms and instruments, ready for the first patients to start rolling in.

  And did they ever. The first clients started coming in as soon as they opened the doors at seven. The clinic offered drop-off service for people on their way to work in Tulsa. Since they were on the main road leading to the highway, it was convenient. People could drop off their animals, Emma would diagnose and treat them throughout the course of the day, and their owners could pick them up on their way home from work. She charged a minimum boarding fee to house them for the day.

  By eight o’clock, the appointment customers started piling in, and Emma reacquainted herself with the people in her town. She’d been so busy renovating the clinic, updating inventory, and working with her staff since she’d come home that she’d had no time to visit with anyone. She wished she’d had a chance to see her sister, but Molly didn’t come home. Ever. Period. If she wanted to see her little sister, she had to first track her down because Molly was as mobile as they came. And then she had to fly or drive to whatever location Molly called home that particular month.

  They talked on the phone at least once a week, and that would have to be good enough for now.

  At the moment she had her hands full with a hundred and forty pounds of very exuberant Newfoundland, who was happily slobbering on her neck as she performed an exam.

  “He’s very healthy, Mrs. Lang,” she said, as she and Leanne wrangled King, who was determined to play with them. He stuck out his tongue and slurped her face.

  Good thing she appreciated dog drool.

  “He’s eating my pear tree. Bits of bark at a time. ” Mrs. Lang did not look happy.

  “Do you take him out for walks? How big is your backyard? Do you have other dogs for him to play with?”

  “King is our only dog, and the yard is small. And well . . . he’s kind of a lot to handle. It was my husband Roger’s idea to get him. ” Mrs. Lang looked mournfully at King. “He was such a
cute little puppy. ”

  Many people thought puppies were so cute. The problem was, cute puppies often grew into giant dogs. Like King. She glanced over at King’s chart to check out the Lang’s address. “He needs exercise and stimulation. There’s a great park over on Fifth near your house. Does he walk on a leash?”

  “Yes. Very well. I made Roger take him to those classes. ”

  “Excellent. If you walk him twice a day and take him to the park, it will help work off all this energy he has. Also, I highly recommend neutering him. You don’t want him to get out and father a bunch of unwanted pups, do you? And it will help settle him. ”

  “Oh, of course. Let’s do that. ” She smirked. “Roger won’t like that. Men and their . . . equipment, you know. They take it so personally. I’ll tell him it was your suggestion and he’ll do it. And I’ll make sure we walk him. ” She patted her stomach. “We could all use the exercise. ”

  The morning flew by in a blur of shots, exams, worming, and one tiny and filthy pit bull puppy someone had found in a ditch. She was a mass of flea-bitten adorable, a brown-and-white baby who’d either been abandoned or lost. The person dropping her off said she couldn’t keep her because she had two rottweilers at home and couldn’t possibly handle one more dog, but she couldn’t leave her shivering in the morning cold, either. Though it was late spring and the days were warming, the nights were still cool.

  Emma assured the woman they’d clean her up and find her a good home. She examined the pup, and other than needing a serious flea bath and a good meal, she was healthy, thankfully. She gave the pup to Leanne, who took her away to give her the flea bath and her first round of puppy shots.

  She only had time for a quick bite of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich she’d packed for lunch when the second round of afternoon clients came in. Daisy wound her way around the clinic, checking in on Rachel and Leanne as they did their work, too. Emma was so thankful to be this busy, she had no complaints. They were jammed all afternoon until the last pickup at closing, when her staff finally left.

  It was quiet. She swiped her hair out of her eyes and breathed a sigh of utter contentment as she walked around the clinic.

  It had been a good first day. This is what she’d wanted, what she’d worked so hard for. She’d lost sight of it for a while and thought she’d never have it.

  “Hello? Is anyone here?”

  Daisy’s ears perked up, and she bounded out of the office at the sound of the deep, booming voice in the lobby.

  Emma thought she’d locked the door.

  She hurried out to see a man holding a German shepherd by the leash who sat regally while Daisy tried to play with it.

  “Daisy, come here. ”

  Daisy came over and sat dutifully next to her, tail whipping against Emma’s lab coat.

  “Can I help you?”

  “Yeah. I saw your lights were on and was hoping you’d still be open. My dog hurt his leg. ”

  He came toward her, and she took a wary step back, until he walked under the overhead lights and she saw he was wearing a cop uniform. She breathed a sigh of relief.

  “You scared me there for a second. ”

  “I’m really sorry. Luke McCormack. I’m local police here. This is my dog, Boomer. ”

  McCormack. Last name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. She would definitely remember a guy who looked like him. Tall, broad-shouldered, wearing a uniform that fit him—very well. Dark brown pants, lighter brown shirt. Gun strapped to his hip. Very dark hair, cut short, full lips. Serious expression, which only made him look . . .

  Hot. Sexy. Though she didn’t think about men being sexy these days. She didn’t think about men at all, and hadn’t for a very long time.

  As he approached, she noticed the dog was limping. “Oh. What happened?”

  “We were chasing a perp—uh, a suspect. Boomer must have twisted his leg in a hole or something because he yelped and came up limping. I was headed toward the Barkley’s vet clinic and saw Doc Weston’s office was open again, so figured I’d stop here first. If you’re closed, I can—”

  “No. Of course, I’ll look at him. Bring him on back. ” He walked side by side with her, and she noticed how very tall and broad he was. Daisy wound between them, licking the officer’s hand and staring adoringly up at him.