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Dr. Colton's High-Stakes Fiancée
Cindy Dees


“Finn.”

“What?”

“I’m not hurt.”

“Are you kidding? With all this blood? Shock can mask pain. It’s not uncommon for gunshot victims not to be aware that they’ve been shot for a while. Where did the bullet hit you?”

“I wasn’t shot. He was.”

She pulled back the largest towel to reveal the dog lying semiconscious in her lap.

“What the—”

“I’m not hurt. The dog was. Please, you’ve got to help him. He’s dying.”

Finn pulled back sharply. “I don’t do animals.”

“But you do bullet wounds, right?”

“On humans.”

“Well, he’s a mammal. Blood, bone. Hole in leg. Pretty much the same thing, if you ask me.”

Finn rose to his feet, his face thunderous. “You scared ten years off my life and had me driving a hundred miles an hour down mountain roads in the middle of the night, sure you were dying, to come here and treat some mutt?“ His voice rose until he was shouting.

Oh, dear. It hadn’t occurred to her that he’d think she was shot. And he’d driven a hundred miles an hour to get to her? Something warm tickled the back side of her stomach.

“Finn, I’m sorry if I scared you. I was pretty freaked out when I saw all the blood. I called a vet in Bozeman. But he’s out on a call that’s supposed to take all night and his wife said no small-animal vet would make a house call to Honey Creek anyway. And it’s not like I could take the dog to the Honey Creek hospital. You’re the only person I know of in town who can take care of a serious gunshot wound and make a house call.”

“I’m going home.” He picked up his bag and turned to go.

“Wait! Finn, please. I—” she took the plunge and bared her soul “—I’ve got no one else.”

He turned around. Stared down at her, his jaw rigid. Heck, his entire body was rigid with fury.

“I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done in the past to treat you badly. I’m sorry I did whatever I did that broke us up. If it makes you feel better, I’ll take full responsibility for all of it. But please, please, don’t take out your anger at me on a poor, defenseless animal who’s never done anything to you.”

Finn stopped. He didn’t turn around, though.

“Please, Finn, I’m begging you. If you ever had any feelings for me, do this one thing.”

He pivoted on his heel and glared down at her. “If I do this you have to promise me one thing.”

“Anything.”

“That you’ll never call me again. Ever. I don’t want to see you or speak to you for the rest of my life.”

She reeled back from the venom in his voice. Did he truly hate her so much? “But you’ll take care of Brown Dog?”

His gaze softened as he looked down at the injured animal. “I’ll do what I can.”

She nodded. “Done.”

“We’ve got to get him inside. Although the cold has probably slowed his metabolism enough to keep him alive for now, he’ll need to warm up soon.”

Working together, they hoisted the big dog and carried him inside, laying him on her kitchen table. It made her heart ache to feel how little the animal weighed given his size and to feel the ribs slabbing his sides. He was skin and bones.

Finn gave the dog a critical once-over. “This dog’s so emaciated that treating his gunshot wound is only going to delay the inevitable. I’ve got a powerful tranquilizer in my bag. It should be enough to put him down.”

“Put him down as in kill him?” she squawked.

“Yes. Euthanasia. It’s the humane thing to do for him.”

“Since when did you turn into such a quitter?” she snapped. “Our deal was that you’d do your best to save him, not kill him.”

Finn glared at her across the table. “Fine. But for the record, you’re making this dog suffer needlessly. I can’t condone it.”

“Just shut up and fix his leg.”

“Make sure he doesn’t move while I wash up,” Finn ordered. He moved to the sink and proceeded to meticulously scrub his hands. He hissed as the soap hit his palms and Rachel craned to see a series of raw blisters on his palms. Where had he gotten those?

Finally, he came back and laid out a bunch of stainless steel tools on the table beside Brown Dog. “You’ll assist,” he ordered.

Great. She never had been all that good with blood. A person might even say she was downright squeamish. And surely he remembered that. A suspicion that he was doing this to torture her took root in her mind. But if it meant he took care of the dog, so be it. “As long as I don’t have to look,” she retorted.

“Hand me both pairs of big tweezers.” He held out one hand expectantly.

She gasped as she got a better look at his bloody blisters. “What happened to your hands?”

“I helped Damien string fence today. Wasn’t expecting to have to scrub for surgery tonight. Had to take the skin off the blisters while I scrubbed up so no bacteria would hide underneath.”

She stared. He’d torn up his hands like that for the dog? Awe at his dedication to his work flowed through her.

For the next hour, the kitchen was quiet. Finn occasionally asked for something or passed her a bloody gauze pad. His concentration was total. And she had to admit he was giving it his best shot at saving this dog. He murmured soothingly to the animal, even though it was clear the dog was out cold from the injection Finn had given him.

She couldn’t help glancing at the surgical site now and then. It appeared Finn was reconstructing the dog’s leg. He set the broken femur and then began a lengthy and meticulous job of suturing tendons and muscles and whatever else was in there that she couldn’t name and didn’t want to.

Finally, when her head was growing light and she thought she might just faint on him in spite of her best efforts not to, Finn started to close up the wound. He stitched it shut in three different layers. Deep tissue, shallow tissue, and then, at long last, the ragged flesh.

Her stove clock read nearly 2:00 a.m. before Finn straightened up and stretched out the kinks in his back. He rubbed the unconscious dog’s head absently. “All right. That’s got it. Now we just have to worry about blood loss and infection and the patient’s generally poor state of health. I’ll leave you some antibiotic tablets to get down him by whatever means you can. If he wakes up, you can start feeding him if he’s not too far gone to eat.”

Although he continued to stroke the dog gently, Finn never once broke his doctor persona with her. He was cold and efficient and entirely impersonal. If she weren’t so relieved that he’d helped her, she’d have been bleeding directly from her heart to see him act like this. Again.

She would never forget the last time he’d been this angry and cold and distant. It had been the night of his senior prom. She’d been waiting for him in the beautiful lemon-yellow chiffon dress her mother had slaved over for weeks making. She’d had a garland of daisies in her hair, the flowers from their garden woven with her father’s own hands. Finn had been acting strangely when he came to the door but was polite enough to her parents. Then he’d taken her to the dance, waited until they were standing in front of the entire senior class of Honey Creek High and told her in no uncertain terms how she was worthless trash and vowed he never wanted to see her again.

He’d kept that promise until today. Well, and tonight, of course. Strange how he’d renewed his vow never to see her again within twenty-four hours of seeing her for the first time. She’d never known what had caused him to turn on her then, and she darned well didn’t know why he was so mad at her now. He was like Jekyll and Hyde. But mostly the monstrous one. Were it not so late, and she so tired and stressed out and blood covered, she might have asked him. But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. They were so over.

He plunked a brown plastic pill bottle on the counter. “Based on his weight, I’d say half a tablet every six hours for the next week or until he dies, whichever comes first.”
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