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

She went over to the wet bar on the far side of the room and poured him a glass of water. She carried it to his desk. “Are you feeling all right, Mr. Warner?”

“It’ll pass. I’ve been having these spells for a couple of weeks.” He smiled wanly at her. “I’m a tough old bird. I’m not about to go anywhere.”

She smiled back at him.

“What’s this about a shot dog?” he asked.

Likely he was just looking to distract himself from throwing up. She told him briefly about Brownie and his injuries and Finn coming over to perform surgery on him. She left out the part about Finn’s bitter anger toward her.

“You’ve got a good heart, Miss Grant.”

She smiled at her boss. It was a rare moment when anyone in this town said something nice to her. She savored it.

“As soon as you’re done with those last financial reports, why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go look after your four-legged houseguest?”

She nodded, touched by his kindness. “Thank you, sir.”

He waved her out of the office. She suspected he was losing the battle with his stomach and wanted a little privacy to get sick into his trash can. Poor man. She hoped he felt better soon.

Finn helped Damien string barbed wire all day. The hard labor felt good and helped him burn off a little bit of the residual stress from last night. He still wasn’t entirely recovered from that panicked call from Rachel Grant. The woman had about given him a heart attack. Good thing she’d agreed to stay the hell away from him forever. He couldn’t take much more of that from her.

“Anything on your mind?” Damien finally asked late in the afternoon.

Finn looked up surprised. “Why do you ask?”

“You’re working like a man with a chip on his shoulder.”

“What? I can’t come out here and help string a fence out of the goodness of my heart?”

Damien cracked a rare smile at that. “Not buying it.”

“When did you get so perceptive?” Finn grumbled.

Damien shrugged. “Prison’s a tough place. Gotta be good at reading people if you want to stay out of trouble.”

Finn was startled. To date, Damien hadn’t said more than a few words about his time in jail. “Does it feel strange to be out?” he ventured to ask.

Damien shrugged. He pounded in a metal stake and screwed the fasteners onto it before he finally answered. “It’s surreal being back home. Didn’t think I’d ever see big open spaces like this again. I missed the sky. It goes on forever out here.”

Finn looked up at the brilliant blue sky overhead. Yeah, he might go crazy if he never got to see that. “How’d you do it? How did you keep from losing your mind?”

“Who says I didn’t lose it?” Damien retorted.

Finn didn’t say anything. He just waited. And sure enough, after two more posts, Damien commented, “About a year in, I beat the shit out of guy who chose the wrong day to cross me. Growing up with all you punks for brothers served me well. I knew how to handle myself in a fight.”

Finn grinned and passed Damien another fastener while he started in on the next post.

Damien continued reflectively. “I got thirty days in solitary. A month in a box broke something in me. It was like I lost a piece of myself. The fight went out of me. It became about just surviving from one day to the next. I played a game with myself. How long could I live in there without losing it again? I made it 4,609 days. And that was when I got word that Walsh had been found dead for real this time and I was going to be released.”

Finn shuddered. “God, I’m sorry—”

Damien cut him off with a sharp gesture. “What’s done is done. If I learned nothing else in the joint, I learned to keep moving forward. Don’t look back. I live my life one day at a time. No apologies. No regrets. It’s over.”

Finn nodded. His brother was a better man than he. No way could he be so philosophical about a miscarriage of justice costing him fifteen of the best years of his life.

They knocked off when the sun started going down. It got cold fast, and by the time they got up to the main house, he was glad for the fleece-lined coat his brother had tossed him across the cab of the truck.

As beautiful as the log mansion their father had built was, Finn was restless tonight. The heavy walls felt confining and the massive, beamed ceilings felt like they were closing in on him. Hell, Honey Creek was closing in on him.

If his old football coach hadn’t extracted a promise out of him to stay for the big homecoming dance this coming Saturday night, he’d be on his way back to Bozeman already. But Coach Meyer was losing his battle with cancer, and he’d asked all his players to come back for one last reunion. It was damned hard to say no to a dying man’s last request.

He had to get out of the house. He grabbed his coat and a set of keys and stormed out. As he stomped through the mud room intent on escape, Maisie’s voice drifted out of the kitchen. “What’s his problem?”

Damien’s voice floated to him as he opened the back door. “Woman trouble.”

Finn slammed the door shut so hard it rattled in the frame. Woman trouble? Ha!

Rachel raced home from the office to check on Brownie. He seemed more alert and had a little more appetite. He even gave several thumps of his thick, long tail whenever she walked into the kitchen. After both of them had eaten, she signed onto the Internet to do some research about care of injured animals. She browsed various veterinary advice sites for an hour or so and then, following the recommendation of several of them, went into the kitchen to check the color of Brownie’s gums. Supposedly, pink was healthy and dark red or pale white was bad.

Gingerly, she took hold of his lip and raised it to take a peek. He pulled his head away weakly but not before she glimpsed pasty white gums. She laid her hands on his side and he definitely felt hot to the touch. Oh, no. Finn had warned her that infection and fever were a major risk to Brownie’s survival.

She headed for the phone and dialed the same veterinarian from the night before. “Hi, this is Rachel Grant. I called last night.”

“Ahh, yes. The injured dog. How’s he doing?”

“I think he’s developing a fever.”

“If you want to bring him up to Bozeman, I’ll meet you at my office.”

She winced. The dog had to weigh seventy pounds, even in his emaciated state, and even if she could lift him herself, she doubted Brownie would cooperate with getting into her compact car. At least not without doing even more damage to his injured leg. “I don’t think I can get him up to Bozemen by myself.”

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