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Dr. Colton's High-Stakes Fiancée
Cindy Dees

She frowned at him. “That was uncalled for.”

“I said I’d treat the damned dog. Not that I’d be nice about it.”

“Well, you got that right. You’re being a giant jerk,” she snapped.

Finn scooped the rest of his surgical instruments into his bag and swept toward the door. “Goodbye, Rachel. Have a nice life.”

All of a sudden everything hit her. The shock and terror of the past few hours, the stress of the surgery and its gory sights, but most of all, the strain of having to be in the same room with Finn Colton. All that tension and unresolved anger hanging thick and suffocating between them. Watching him walk out of her life again. She replied tiredly, “Go to hell.”

She thought she heard Finn mutter, “I’m already there.”

But then he was gone. All his energy and male charisma. His command of the situation and his competence. And she was left with an unconscious dog lying in the corner of her kitchen, a bottle of pills, and a bloody mess to clean up.

So exhausted she could barely stand, she mopped the kitchen and the porch with bleach and water. How Brown Dog had any blood left inside his body, she had no clue. She was pretty sure she’d cleaned up an entire dog’s worth of blood.

Just as she was finishing, he whimpered. Now that his surgery was over, Finn had said it was safe for him to eat. Maybe she’d better start him off with something liquid, though. She pulled out a can of beef consommé that had been in the back of her cupboard for who knew how long and poured it into one of her mixing bowls. She thinned it with a little water and warmed it in the microwave before carrying it over to the groggy animal.

“It’s just you and me now, Brownie boy.”

She sat down on the floor beside him and used her mother’s turkey baster to dribble some of the broth into his mouth. At first he swallowed listlessly, but gradually he grew more enthusiastic about licking his chops and swallowing. By the time she finished the soup, he was actually sucking at the tip of the baster.

“We’ll show Finn, won’t we, boy? We’re survivors, you and me.”

Chapter 4

Rachel came home at lunch to change the newspapers under Brownie, give him his antibiotics and use the turkey baster to squirt canned dog food puréed with water down his throat. He was still too weak to do much but thump his tail a time or two, but gratitude shone in his eyes as she tenderly cared for him.

“What’s your story, boy? Where’d you get so beat up? Life sure can be tough, can’t it?”

She settled him more comfortably in the corner of her kitchen in his nest of blankets and headed back to work. The afternoon passed with her finding more and more discrepancies in the Walsh Oil Drilling Corporation records. She’d be worried about it if she weren’t so tired from last night and so concerned about the wounded animal in her kitchen. So when Lester Atkins called her and asked her to come to Mr. Warner’s office, she merely grabbed her latest evidence of the embezzlement and headed upstairs.

But when she stepped into the office, she pulled up short. Wes Colton, in full sheriff garb, was standing beside Craig Warner’s desk. Wes’s arms were crossed. And he was glaring at her. Good lord. What had Finn told him when he’d gone back to the ranch last night? Had Finn sicced Wes on her to get her fired?

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” she managed to choke past her panic.

“Have a seat, Miss Grant,” Craig started.

Oh, God. This was an exit interview. Wes was here to escort her out of the building. The sheriff parked one hip on the corner of Warner’s massive desk, but he still loomed over her. The guy was even bigger and broader than Finn.

“How are you feeling today, Miss Grant?” Wes rumbled.

“Tired, actually. I’m sure Finn told you about my rather adventurous evening last night.”

“He did. Any idea who shot your dog?”

She shook her head. “I’ve got no idea. He just wandered up to my porch already shot. I never saw the dog before last night.”

“Kind of you to go to all that trouble to help him,” Wes murmured.

Was that skepticism in his voice, or was she just being paranoid? She shrugged and waited in resignation for this travesty to proceed.

On cue, Craig spoke quietly. “Miss Grant, I’d like you to tell Sheriff Colton what you told me on Friday.”

She blinked, startled. “You mean about the Walsh Oil Drilling accounts?”

He nodded.

Okay. She didn’t see what that had to do with her getting fired, but she’d play along. She turned to Wes. “Mr. Warner asked me to do an internal audit of the financial records of Walsh Oil Drilling Corporation for the past several years. Walsh Oil Drilling is a wholly owned subsidiary of Walsh Enterprises so we have legal purview over—”

Wes waved a hand to cut her off. “I’m not interested in the legal ins and outs of corporate structure. I’m confident that Craig is operating within the law to do the audit.”

She adjusted her line of thought and continued. “Yes, well, I looked at last year’s records first. I compared the original receipts, billing documents and logged work hours against the financial reports. And I found several major discrepancies. Based on that, I started going back further and looking at previous years.”

“And what did you find, Miss Grant?” Wes asked.

“More of the same. Somebody’s been skimming funds from this company over at least a fifteen-year period. Maybe since the founding of the company itself seventeen years ago.”

Wes definitely looked interested now. “How much money are we talking?”

“Millions. As much as two million dollars the year the company made a major oil strike and had a windfall income spike.”

Wes whistled low between his teeth. “Any way to tell who was taking the cash and cooking the books?”

She shrugged. “Mark Walsh himself signed off on the earliest financial reports. If he wasn’t taking the initial money himself, he was certainly aware of who was and how much he was taking. After his first death …” The phrase was weird enough to say that it hung her up for a moment. But then she pressed on: “… somebody kept taking it. I can’t read the handwriting of whoever was signing off on the financial documents, but it appears to have been the same signature for the past fifteen years.”

Wes glanced over at Warner. “You weren’t kidding when you said I’d want to hear this.” To Rachel he said, “Who else knows about this?”

“Nobody. Just me and Mr. Warner.”

Wes nodded, thinking. “I’d like to keep it that way for a while. This may be just the break we’re looking for.”

She frowned. “Huh?”

“In the Walsh murder investigation.”

“You think whoever killed Mark was helping him skim money from his companies and killed him over it?” she asked in surprise.

Wes shrugged. “I wouldn’t want to speculate. I just know that Mark Walsh was damned secretive, and it’s been nearly impossible to learn much about his life over the past fifteen years. If nothing else, you may have just answered how he was able to pay for his ongoing existence without his family knowing anything about it. Can you give me a complete rundown of how much money went missing and when, Rachel?”

He was using her first name now? Was that a good sign? “Uhh, sure. I can have it for you in a day or so. I’ve got a few more years’ worth of records to review and then I’ll be able to compile a report.”

“That would be great. And, Craig, thanks for calling me.”

The two men shook hands and Wes turned and left. Craig sat down quickly, mopped his forehead with a tissue and then tossed the tissue in the trash. He didn’t look good. His skin was pale and pasty and he had that uncomfortable look of someone who was contemplating upchucking.

“Can I get you a glass of water, sir?” she asked in concern.

“Yes, thank you.”
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