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Dr. Colton&apos;s High-Stakes Fiancée
Cindy Dees


“Ahh.” Comprehension lit Craig’s face. She thought she heard him mutter something under his breath to the effect of, “The old bastard,” but she couldn’t be sure.

The intercom on his desk blared with Lester announcing, “Mr. Warner, your eleven o’clock is here.”

Rachel leaped to her feet with alacrity. Her need to escape was almost more than she could contain. She had to get away from Warner before he fired her.

He stood up. “I’ve got to take this meeting. We’ll talk later.”

She nodded, thrilled to be getting out of here with her job intact.

“And Miss Grant?”

She gulped. “Yes, sir?”

“Keep digging.”

He was going to support her if she found more problems. Abject gratitude flooded her. God bless Craig Warner. Weak with relief, she stepped into Lester’s office. And pulled up short in shock. The last person she’d ever expect to see was standing there. And it was not a nice surprise. “Finn!” she exclaimed. “What on earth are you doing here?”

He arched one arrogant eyebrow. “Since when is what I do any of your business?”

Good point. But had she not been standing well within earshot of her boss, she might have told him to take his attitude and shove it. As it was, she threw him a withering glare and said sweetly, “Have a nice day.” And go to hell, she added silently.

“Finn. Thanks so much for coming,” Craig Warner said from behind her. “I know it’s strange in this day and age to ask a doctor to make a house call—”

Lester pulled the door discreetly closed and Rachel heard no more. Was Craig Warner sick? He looked okay. Maybe he was a little pale and had been perspiring a bit, but the guy had a stressful job. And why call a specialist like Finn? Last she heard, he was an emergency internist—not a family practitioner.

She started back to her desk, her thoughts whirling. Keep digging. What exactly did Warner expect her to find? And why had Finn agreed to see Craig in his office? Why not tell the guy to call his own doctor? Maybe Finn had come over here to wreck her new job. After all, he’d successfully wrecked just about every other part of her life. Without a doubt, the worst part of living in a small town was the insanely long memory of the collective populace. You made one mistake and it was never forgotten, never forgiven.

She worked feverishly through the afternoon and found more and more places where money had been skimmed off of the profits of the oil-drilling company and disappeared. She’d have stayed late and continued working if tonight she hadn’t volunteered down at the senior citizens’ center. It was bingo night, and the retirees didn’t take kindly to any delays in their gambling.

Finn rubbed his eyes and pushed back from the computer. He’d been searching various medical databases for symptoms that matched Craig Warner’s but so far had come up with nothing. The guy was definitely sick. But with what? His symptoms didn’t conform to any common disease or to any uncommon diseases that he could find, either. He’d begged Craig to go to Bozeman and let him run tests there, but Craig had blown off the suggestion. He’d said he just needed some pills to calm his acid stomach and wasn’t about to make a mountain out of a molehill.

But in Finn’s experience, when a non-hypochondriac patient thinks he’s sick enough to seek medical advice, it usually isn’t a molehill at all.

He dreaded going home to face more of Maisie’s grilling over his latest encounter with his ex-girlfriend. For she’d no doubt heard all about it. She had a network of informants the FBI would envy.

It had been a nasty shock running into Rachel like that today at Walsh Enterprises. The woman was sandpaper on his nerves. As if he fell for a second for that syrupy-sweet act of hers. He knew her too well to miss the sarcasm behind her tone of voice. Once it would’ve made him laugh. But now it set his teeth on edge. He’d been prepared to act civilized toward her when he’d come back to Honey Creek, but if she was determined to make it a war between them, he could live with that.

Muttering under his breath, he pushed to his feet and headed out of Honey Creek’s small hospital.

“What’re you doing here, bro?”

Finn pulled up short at the sight of his brother, Wes. It still looked funny to see him in his sheriff’s uniform and toting a pistol. Wes had been as big of a hell-raiser as the rest of the Colton boys. Finn supposed there was a certain poetic justice in Wes being the guy now who had to track down wild kids and drag them home to their parents.

Belatedly, Finn replied, “I was just using the hospital’s computer to look up some medical information on their database.”

“Trying to figure out how to poison certain of the town’s females, maybe?”

Finn snorted. “Yeah. Maisie. That woman gets nosier every time I see her.”

Wes shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder if they switched her at birth and Mom and Dad brought home the wrong baby. I stopped by to see if you’d want to get a bite to eat?”

“Yeah, sure. Lily working late tonight?”

“Mother-daughter Girl Scout thing. I’m baching it for supper. I saw your truck in the parking lot.”

Finn walked out onto the sidewalk with Wes. It was strange enough thinking of his older brother as sheriff. But a family man, too? That was downright weird. It made Finn a little jealous, though. He’d been so sure he and Rachel would have a passel of towheaded ankle-biters by now. Funny how things turned out.

The sun was setting, outlining the mountains in blood red and throwing a kaleidoscope of pinks and oranges and purples up into the twilight sky. His thoughts circled back to Wes’s comment about Maisie not belonging to the family. He commented reflectively, “I dunno. Sometimes I see a bit of Dad in Maisie. The two of them get an idea stuck in their craw and they won’t let it go.”

Wes laughed. “Right. Like the rest of us Coltons aren’t that same way? Stubborn lot, we are.”

Finn grinned. “Speak for yourself, Sheriff. I’m the soul of patience and reason.”

Guffawing, Wes held the door to his cruiser open for him. “Then you won’t mind paying for supper, will you, Mr. Patience and Reason?”

Finn cursed his brother good-naturedly. He didn’t mind, though. He made decent money as a physician, and public servants didn’t rake in big bucks. He did roll his eyes, though, when Wes drove them to Kelley’s Steakhouse, which was without question the most expensive restaurant in town. They ordered steaks with all the trimmings, and then Finn picked up the conversation. “How’s the murder investigation coming?”

Wes shrugged. “Frustrating. There are damned few clues, and everywhere I look I find another suspect with a motive for killing Walsh.”

“No surprise there,” Finn commented. “He wasn’t exactly cut out for sainthood.”

“No kidding. It just stinks that Damien had to pay for something he didn’t do.”

They fell silent, both reflecting on the bum deal life had dealt their brother. Finn had visited Damien regularly in jail and tried to be supportive, but a little worm of guilt squirmed in his gut. Damien had always sworn he didn’t kill Walsh. Turned out he’d been telling the truth all along. They all should’ve tried harder to get him exonerated.

Fifteen years was a hell of big chunk of a person’s life to throw away. It hardly seemed like that long to him, but he imagined it had felt like twice that long to Damien.

It seemed like only yesterday Finn had been in high school, excited to play in the district football championship, dating the prettiest girl in the whole school, and counting the days until he was going to blow this popsicle stand for good. Of course, Rachel had a couple more years of high school to go before she could join him, but then … then they were going to run away together and see the world.

And it had all changed with a single phone call. He’d never forget his sister Maisie’s voice, delivering the news that had shattered his world—

“Earth to Finn, come in.”

He blinked and looked up at his brother. “Sorry. Was just remembering stuff.”

“Yeah, Honey Creek has that effect on a soul, doesn’t it? Want go down to the Timber Bar and get a beer? I’m off duty.”

“Sounds great. But you’re paying, cheapskate.”

Chapter 3

It was nearly midnight when Rachel pulled into her driveway. The bingo had ended at ten, but the usual volunteers who cleaned up hadn’t shown up tonight. Folks knew she was single and had no life of her own, so they didn’t hesitate to recruit her for the crap jobs that required sticking around late. And of course, she was too much of a softie to say no.

She got out of her car and locked it. The weather had turned cold and it felt like snow. Soon, winter would lock Honey Creek in its grip and not let go until next spring. She made a mental note to get out the chains for her tires and throw them in the trunk of her car.

She headed across the backyard under a starry sky so gorgeous she just had to stop and look at it. But then a movement caught her attention out of the corner of her eye and she lurched, startled. That was something or someone on her back porch!

She fumbled in her purse for the can of mace that swam around in the jumble at the bottom of it. Where was that can, darn it? Whoever it was could rob her and be long gone before she found it at this rate! She ought to keep the thing on her keychain, but it was bulky, and this was Honey Creek. Nothing bad ever happened here. Not until Mark Walsh’s murder. Why hadn’t it occurred to her before now that she ought to be more careful?
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