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Hope Flames: Hope Book 1

Jaci Burton

  Copyright © 2014 Jaci Burton

  Excerpt from Hope Ignites copyright © 2014 by Jaci Burton

  The right of Jaci Burton to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  First published in this Ebook edition in 2014



  Published by arrangement with Berkley,

  a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

  A Penguin Random House Company.

  Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library

  eISBN 978 1 4722 1536 9


  An Hachette UK Company

  338 Euston Road

  London NW1 3BH

  Cover photograph © Claudio Marinesco

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  About the Author

  Praise for Jaci Burton

  By Jaci Burton

  About the Book



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Excerpt from HOPE IGNITES

  Have you followed Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play?

  Find out more about Headline Eternal

  About the Author

  Jaci Burton is a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author who lives in Oklahoma with her husband and dogs. She has three grown children, who are all scattered around the country having lives of their own. A lover of sports, Jaci can often tell what season it is by what sport is being played. She watches entirely too much television, including an unhealthy amount of reality TV. When she isn’t on deadline, Jaci can be found at her local casino, trying to become a millionaire (so far, no luck). She’s a total romantic and loves a story with a happily ever after, which you’ll find in all her books.

  Praise for Jaci Burton:

  ‘It’s the perfect combination of heat and romance that makes this series a must-read’ Heroes and Heartbreakers

  ‘Plenty of emotion and conflict in a memorable relationship-driven story’ USA Today

  ‘Strong characters, an exhilarating plot, and scorching sex . . . You’ll be drawn so fully into her characters’ world that you won’t want to return to your own’ Romantic Times

  ‘A beautiful romance that is smooth as silk . . . leaves us begging for more’ Joyfully Reviewed

  ‘A strong plot, complex characters, sexy athletes, and nonstop passion make this book a must read’ Fresh Fiction

  ‘Hot, hot, hot! . . . Romance at its best! Highly recommended!’ Coffee Table Reviews

  ‘[She] has a way of writing intense scenes that are both sensual and raw . . . Plenty of romance, sexy men, hot steamy loving, and humor’ Smexy Books Romance Reviews

  ‘A wonderful contemporary erotic romance that I recommend!’ The Romance Dish

  ‘Spy the name Jaci Burton on the spine of a novel, and you’re guaranteed not just a sexy, get-the-body-humming read, but also one that melds the sensual with the all-important building of intimacy and relational dynamics between partners’ Romance: B(u)y the Book

  ‘A compulsively readable sexy story’ Book Lovers Inc.

  By Jaci Burton

  Hope Series

  Hope Flames

  Hope Smoulders (e-novella)

  Hope Ignites

  Play-by-Play Series

  The Perfect Play

  Changing the Game

  Taking a Shot

  Playing to Win

  Thrown by a Curve

  One Sweet Ride

  Holiday Games (e-novella)

  Melting the Ice

  When it comes to love, they already know the rules . . . by heart.

  Thirty-two and finally setting up her veterinary practice in the town she once called home, Emma Burnett is on her own and loving it. Independent and driven, she’s not letting any man get in the way of her dreams. Not again.

  That’s fine with Luke McCormack. Divorced and hardly lacking in female company when he needs it, he’s devoted to the only faithful companion in his life – his police dog. Still, there’s something about Emma he can’t shake.

  When a series of local break-ins leaves Emma vulnerable, she seeks help from the first man to spark her desire in years. And now they’re giving each other something they thought they’d lost forever . . . hope.

  For Ashley. I’ve seen you grow into a beautiful young woman of fierce dedication and determination. No matter what roads you’ve chosen to travel, I’m so very proud of where you’ve ended up. Love you!


  To Maya Banks and Shannon Stacey, who held my hand and acted as cheerleaders when I needed it most. You’re the best friends I could have ever asked for.

  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 spark
ling 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 a
ll 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—”