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The Road Home

Jill Shalvis

  A classic novella from New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis about a big-hearted vet, an irresistible guy and the adorable animals that bring them together. Originally published in 2004 as part of the anthology Mother, Please!

  Tall, dark and charming Jason Lawrence keeps visiting Mel Anders’s veterinary clinic—with everything from a drooling St. Bernard to a potbelly pig. Jason is sweet and fun, and Mel starts to look forward to his visits. Still, she’s suspicious—the man can’t have that many animals. But she never suspects that the whole thing just might be a set up….

  The Road Home

  Jill Shalvis

  Dear Reader,

  Thank you SO MUCH for buying a Shalvis classic romance! These books might predate the digital age, but they’re still fun and sexy! We hope you enjoy this peek at my earlier work!

  Best wishes and happy reading!

  Jill Shalvis


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten


  IF ASKED, Melissa Anders would say her life was perfect. But when no one was looking, she sometimes took a deep breath, let it all out in a baffled sigh, and wondered how the hell she’d ended up here.

  Here being out in the middle of California, in the small, quaint Martis Hills, treating various farm-animal ailments instead of the upscale, spoiled, snobby, pedigreed cats and dogs as she’d planned.

  Sure, she loved being a veterinarian. But somehow during those long, exhausting college years, when she’d worked so hard to keep up her grades and scrape together enough cash to live at the same time, she’d never imagined living amongst rolling hills and farmland, where there were more cattle than people, running one of only two vet clinics for miles and miles.

  The people in town—and having grown up in Los Angeles she used the word town loosely—were all a bit…too friendly. They popped in on her uninvited, asked nosy questions and basically talked her ear off. Some even brought cookies, or amazingly delicious casseroles.

  She’d waited to see what their angle was, but having been here for a few months now, no angle had materialized. Maybe she’d moved to Mayberry.

  It wasn’t that she didn’t like people, but that she preferred animals. Animals accepted. Animals loved unconditionally. Animals never, ever, gave up their young because they wanted a career in the ballet and couldn’t be bothered to raise a baby.

  Oops, a self-pity slip, she thought, as she got out of her car, smoothing down her plain black trousers and white blouse. She headed up the path to the large farmhouse that years ago had been converted into an animal clinic by Dr. Myers. He’d just retired to Phoenix to be with his elderly sister, and Melissa had leased it with an option to buy—not that she ever intended to do any such insane thing. But the place was cheap, at least to her LA standard, and with her college loan debt still hanging over her, she needed cheap.

  That was what had brought her here, she told herself, curiosity about small-town living. The low cost of the lease. It had nothing, nothing at all, to do with the fact she’d been born here twenty-eight years ago.

  And that her mother lived here.

  She grimaced and shook her head. No. The truth was, she’d come here because in some deep recess of her heart she’d wanted to be close to the only family she had. Which really pissed her off when she thought about it too hard, so she tried not to think about it at all.

  She unlocked the front door to the clinic, flipped on the lights and took a deep breath, which never failed to make her smile. Nothing like the smell of disinfectant to get her going in the morning.

  The converted living room made a nice waiting room. She had chairs lined up beneath the windows, a shelving unit on the opposite wall filled with retail supplies such as bovine toothbrushes and doggy breath mints. The reception desk was tiny, not really a problem since she couldn’t afford a receptionist anyway.

  She’d just stepped behind the counter and slipped on her white overcoat when the front door opened, the bell above it chiming loud enough to awaken the dead. On her first day, she’d taken it down, only to have everyone tell her that Dr. Myers had brought that bell all the way from Europe forty-five years ago, so she’d put it back up. Tradition in Mayberry—er, Martis Hills apparently ran bone deep.

  The man coming inside had his back to her while he shut the door. He was tall, lanky, and wore the town’s usual uniform of soft, faded Levi’s and a white T-shirt. She repressed the sigh for days of old, when on any given day in Los Angeles she could feed her love for fashion by just looking around.

  Then he turned and faced her, and oddly enough, every fond thought of the days of old fell right out of her head.

  He looked to be thirtyish. His hair was light brown, almost blond. Probably sun-kissed by the hot summer sun, and given the sinewy, rangy look to his body, he probably worked hard farming his land like so many in the county did. He was slightly hunched over a towel-covered bundle that was me-owing loudly in protest.

  “I’ve got something for you to fix up, Dr. Anders.” He let out a startlingly contagious smile.

  That he knew her name didn’t surprise her. Just another product of living in a small place. Gossip ran wild here, and no one was safe from that. Especially a single city woman running a vet clinic. Often in the dark of the night, she’d lie awake and stress about money or a variety of other things including why she always managed to stick out like a sore thumb no matter where she was. But that was for the dark of the night.

  Right now she had a patient, and she loved her patients, every one of them. When he handed the cat over to her, their arms brushed together, hers covered by her long white coat, his bared and tanned and warm, and also sporting four long nasty scratches down one forearm. It’d been a tough morning, she’d guess.

  With obvious relief, he slapped his hands together, ridding himself of the feline hair that was sticking to him. His own longish hair, brushing his collar, fell over his forehead as he lifted his head and smiled at her. “So, can you fix him up?”

  His eyes were green, and full of an easy warmth and friendliness that she’d never mastered. Not with people, that is. Odd then, how her mouth actually quirked in a smile back. “Let’s see. Follow me.” She entered the first of three patient rooms and set the poor, shaking cat on the table, keeping firm but gentle hands on his body. “Shh,” she murmured, bending close. “I’ve got you. Name?” she asked.

  “Oh.” Another quick flashing grin. “Terror.”


  He laughed. “That’s what he invokes in me, so I call him Terror. His real name is Bob.”

  “Bob,” she said softly, and rubbed her cheek to the cat’s, saying the name again, just as quietly.

  The caterwauling stopped at the sound of her crooning voice.

  “Ah, blessed silence.” The man sighed with relief. He lifted his attention from the cat on the table and smiled at Melissa, another slow, easy one that she was quite certain had set more than a few hearts pounding. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Now I’ll just wait way over here.” He backed to the wall, propped it up with his shoulder. “You go ahead and work your magic.”

  Mel stroked the cat’s chin, and a loud rumble filled the room.

  The man straightened. “What in the hell?”

  “Haven’t you ever heard a cat purr before?”

  “Well, sure, but that sounds more like an engine gone bad than a purr.” He appeared to be one-hundred-percent rough-and-tumble country guy, and yet he stared at the cat
with mistrust, from all the way back at the wall.

  Given the nasty scratches on his arm, she supposed she couldn’t blame him. In the waiting room, she hadn’t been able to see him in a good light, but now, under the harsh fluorescent glare of the bulbs above, she could see that on his extremely handsome face ran a jagged scar, starting at his forehead, along his temple, and then down his jaw to his chin. It was still red and shiny, indicating it wasn’t very old. “Symptoms?” she asked.

  He put his hand to where her gaze had remained, his long fingers managing to cover only part of the scar. “What?”

  She nodded to the cat, who’d sprawled out on the table, belly up to be rubbed. “What’s the matter with Bob?”

  “Oh…” Clearly feeling a little foolish, he dropped his hand from his face and returned to propping up the wall with his shoulder. “He’s doubled his food intake, for starters. And also he seems to have to go to the bathroom a lot.”

  Mel felt the eight swollen nipples and the bulging tummy of the blissfully purring cat. “Well, for starters, he’s a she.”

  He blinked once, then again, before slowly scratching his jaw. “Hmm. That would explain the PMS-y mood then. Bob’s been trying to bite a piece out of me ever since I first picked him… I mean, her up.”

  What was the point of explaining that if a female got cranky around him, maybe it had something to do with his attitude rather than her gender? The man had probably been born and bred here in this place that apparently liked its women barefoot and pregnant.

  And speaking of pregnant. “You should also know, she’s going to have kittens. In about two more weeks, I’d guess. Is this cat new to you? A stray perhaps?”

  “Pregnant?” He stared at her for a moment, then shot her another of those slow, melting grins. In spite of herself, her pulse quickened.

  “Isn’t that something,” he murmured. “Little kittens to play with.”

  He was afraid of the cat but thrilled to know it was having kittens? Daft, she decided, and continued her examination of the perfectly healthy, perfectly happy cat. “You know, cats can tell when you don’t like them.”

  He’d pushed away from the wall and now stood directly in front of her. So close, in fact, that she could see that his eyes weren’t just solid green, but had speckles of gold dancing in them. “If they sense you don’t like them, it’s all over for you.”

  “Not so different from females of another species entirely.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Hold out your arm.”

  He thrust it out. When she ran cotton-soaked disinfectant along the four deep scratches on his forearm, he hissed out a breath. “Ouch.”

  “Baby,” she said, but bent over him to blow on the admittedly nasty scratches.

  “Mmm.” This rumbled from his chest, and when she looked up at him, he smiled hopefully. “Are you going to kiss it, too?”

  She straightened, a hand on her hip. “Are you flirting with me?”

  His grin spread. “Well, now, that all depends. Did you like it?”

  “I don’t flirt with clients,” she heard herself say coolly, and wanted to wince because she sounded just as distant as her friends back in Los Angeles had always accused her of being.

  “See, now there’s our loophole.” He lifted his hands in a surrendering gesture. “I’ve never been in here before, so I’m not really a client.”

  The cat butted her head against Mel’s hand for more petting. Mel stroked her for another moment, then scooped her up against her chest. The cat rubbed the top of her furry head against Mel’s chin and kept purring. “Bob is going to be fine,” she said, cuddling for another moment. “But she should be checked again after the birth.” She plopped the purring mom-to-be back into his arms.

  Because she needed some space, she headed out into the reception area and toward the desk. “I’ll just need you to fill out a form for billing. You can leave it when you’re finished.”


  She stopped and glanced back at him. He was trying without much success to juggle both the annoyed cat and the clipboard with the form attached to it. “Yes?”

  Unhappy at being jostled, Bob dug her claws into his chest. The man yelped.

  With a sigh, she bent behind the receptionist’s desk and brought out a cardboard kitty transport box. “Here. Use this.” She helped him get Bob into it, again within extremely close proximity. She couldn’t help but notice how his T-shirt stretched across the muscles of his back when he moved, and how he smelled of citrus soap and wood, and man.

  Not interested, she reminded herself. She was absolutely not going to be interested in a man who was nervous around cats and had a sinful smile. So she stepped back, laughing at herself. “Goodbye.”

  He eyed the box with Bob in it as if it were a bomb ready to detonate. “Do you want to put disinfectant on my new scratch?” he asked, and rubbed his chest.

  His T-shirt rose just a bit, revealing a strip of tanned, flat belly. She pictured herself lifting that shirt to treat his scratches and her mouth went dry. “I think you’ll live.”

  He grinned a little knowingly.

  “Goodbye.” Then, as she always did when someone got too close, Melissa walked away.


  MELISSA SPENT the rest of the day busy at the clinic. Busy being relative, of course. She had only a few appointments, but coupled with her walk-ins for the afternoon, she figured she just might be able to pay the bills for the day.

  That night she ate dinner alone in front of her television. She’d wanted Thai take-out, but there wasn’t any to be had. Sometimes she really missed Los Angeles, missed all the choices, the culture. Here, culture meant adding blue-cheese dressing onto a burger at the Serendipity Café, and even then, the waitress always gave her an odd look, as if she was massacring a perfectly good meal.

  After making herself a quesadilla, she fed her reality-TV fix by watching The Stud. Watching twenty gorgeous women all competing in various humiliating “trials” for the attention of one man was both repelling and fascinating.

  Who wanted a man that badly?

  During the commercial breaks, she dug into her mail, most of which were bills, and more bills, except for the scented envelope. Staring at it, her heart kicked into gear.

  Rose was trying again. She opened the pink envelope and spread out the flowered stationery covered in her mother’s writing. At forty-six, Rose had decided she wanted to be a part of her daughter’s life, the daughter she’d given up at birth for the ballet.

  To be fair, Rose hadn’t suddenly decided—she’d been trying on and off for years. Melissa had deep misgivings about relationships in general; she had difficult with intimacy. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that was a product of being abandoned by Rose at age one, into the foster-care system. Moving from one foster-care family to another made it too painful to keep opening to people who would soon disappear from her life. So Melissa had closed up for self-protection, and had done too good a job of it.

  She hadn’t seen Rose more than a handful of times her entire life—again, her own fault because in the past years Rose had sincerely made an effort—the last time being when Melissa had first moved here. Rose had shown up on her doorstep with a basket full of homemade brownies and a nervous offer to go to lunch. Startled, Mel had declined.

  She wasn’t ready. What if Rose expected something from her that she couldn’t give? Mel had gone too long without a mother to want a doting one now. And yet… Mel had moved here. No one had asked or coerced her; she’d come on her own to Martis Hills.

  The why of that would have to be faced sometime, she supposed, but not now. She picked up the letter again.

  Dear Melissa,

  I want you to know, I’m not giving up. Out of all the towns in the world, you moved here, near me. I’m taking that as a good sign.

  Call me when you’re ready. I hope that’s soon.

  Love, Rose Anders (still your mom)

  A good sign? Ha! After all those
years of wishing she’d had a mother to braid her hair before school, hold her hand at the dentist, or simply hug her after the end of a long day, it was too late. Way too late.

  Wasn’t it? Yes, Mel decided, refolding the letter. Long ago she’d outgrown the need for a mom. All the hard work of growing up was over, and she was quite content on her own.

  Setting aside the letter, she got into bed. The light from the stars shone through her wide window in a way it could never have in Los Angeles. There the city lights had always blocked them out. She lay there, blinking up at the constellations that were so incredibly beautiful. Unmoved, she figured she’d trade in this view in a heartbeat for a Starbucks run.


  No, he wasn’t ready to leave blessed slumber land. Jason Lawrence turned over.


  Damn it, he closed his eyes tighter and yanked the covers over his head.

  “Jason, please. Please can you try again?”

  It wasn’t the soft feminine plea that got him, but the squawk of a parrot.

  He cracked open an eye. His bedroom was lit with the early-summer morning sun that slanted in through the windows, one of which held the face of…Dr. Melissa Anders?

  Now he knew he was still dreaming. Dr. Melissa Anders was petite, with a dark cap of hair that accented her expressive jade eyes and a kissable mouth.

  And a serious back-off attitude.

  Eyes closed again, he grinned, because she probably had no idea how much he loved a feisty woman, and how her go-to-hell expression had only egged him on.


  He blinked. Nope. It wasn’t Melissa Anders standing outside his bedroom window, but Rose Anders.

  Rose Anders holding a parrot. “Ah, hell,” he said.

  Smiling sweetly, her short dark hair falling into her green eyes, she knocked on the window again and lifted the arm on which the parrot sat.