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Doctor Blake Granger, known to the locals as Doc Blake, the town's one and only pediatric dentist, took a monster bite out of a cake doughnut covered in sprinkles, then he closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the complete bliss of early-morning sugar.
His sweet blitz had begun when he ordered a large coffee, black, and dumped in two packets of real sugar. He knew better than to mess around with refined sugar after having spent years warning his patients, "sugar rots your teeth." The statement rattled around the heads of most good dentists, but Blake was in an ornery mood this fine September morning and the mere idea of sugarwhite, tooth-toxic sugarseemed more important than his next breath.
He had snuck out of the main house at daybreak hoping to enjoy the crisp fall air, the fine dusting of snow that capped the Teton mountain range to the east of the ranch, and to slip off to Holey Rollers, the new doughnut shop, before anyone noticed he was gone.
So far, his plan seemed to be working.
Some of the pastel sprinkles clung to his mustache, while others trickled down his chin and settled on his flannel shirt. Earlier he'd knocked off two jelly doughnuts, a chocolate glazed twist and a mini cinnamon roll for good measure.
While he wiped away the evidence of his sugar fix with a paper napkin, he tried to remember the last time he'd indulged like this. Nothing came to mind. This kind of feather-headed behavior usually wasn't part of his makeup. His teeth were in grave peril, and if any of his patients saw him toying with the dark side of tooth decay they'd be throwing his own lectures back at him.
Fortunately, most of his patients preferred a Happy Meal to a cup of coffee and a doughnut.
Now he was sitting outside at one of the small ornate metal tables in front of the doughnut shop, enjoying his doughnut, a strong cup of coffee and the Briggs Daily Journal, another indulgence he rarely had time for, when an unfamiliar voice interrupted his revelry.
"Yes, ma'am. That's me," he said, looking up at the face of a smiling woman standing next to his table.
Blake put his paper down and stood. The woman, dressed in a snug black business suit, was drop-dead gorgeous: long raven hair, crystal-blue eyes and a smile that could give a dying man reason to live.
She held out a hand, all businesslike, and for a moment Blake didn't know what to do. It was as if spring mud had flowed into his brain and covered all the working parts.
He hesitated, then came to his senses and took her hand in his. Just touching her sent a spark through his body. He wanted to pull back, but she had one of those professional tight-gripped handshakes, giving him no choice but to surrender to her touch.
"I'm Maggie Daniels, Kitty's sister."
She said it as if he already knew this, which he did not, and would never have guessed in a hundred years as he searched for a family resemblance.
Kitty was his pixie-cute office manager; she was getting ready to go out on early maternity leave due to twins. Of course, first she would be training her replacement, which she had already suggested could very well be her sister, Maggie, an idea that now made Blake uneasy. From a purely selfish point of view, he truly hoped his life wouldn't get any more complicated with the temporary changeover.
Between his willful father, the ranch, their looming potato harvest, his five-year-old daughter, his two brothers and almost-certain dental emergencies, Kitty's leave of absence could prove to be his undoing. She was his rock, and replacing her for even a few months seemed impossible.
"Great" was all he could manage to say.
Maggie finally let go of his hand, and Blake felt the mud clearing from his brain. "I mean, your sister's told me a lot about you."
She chuckled, then offered a flirty smile. "That could be dangerous."
He liked her sense of humor. "Only to your enemies."
"I already have enemies?"
"None so far."
"Give it time. It's a small town."
She had an edge to her that Blake wasn't quite sure how to take. No matter what he eventually decided to do about Kitty's replacement, he felt certain this woman would be a handful. "So, you're that kind of woman."
"What kind is that?"
"The kind that makes enemies."
"Only with other women. Men seem to like me."
He figured that was the case. "I come from a family of all boys."
"Then we shouldn't have a problem."
Reason told him Maggie was hell-bent for trouble. He was way over-the-moon attracted to her and he knew from experience what it meant to be attracted to a beautiful woman. His ex-wife was a beautiful woman and she had brought him nothing but grief. Maggie was even more of a threat with her haughty, big-city attitude, but damn it all, he was going to have a hard time saying no to her smile.
Not to mention that she had perfect teeth.
He gestured for Maggie to sit, and she pulled out the green metal chair across from him. The lady was all slicked up with a cream-colored blouse under her jacket that showed just the right amount of skin to make his mind wander to places it shouldn't be going. As she moved, he caught a glimpse of soft pink lace peeking out from under her blouse. It made him go all warm inside just knowing she wore girly pink under the tailored business suit that hugged her curves in all the right places.
Her face was flawless and her eyes reminded him of the early-morning sky on a cloudless day.
He picked up his coffee mug in an attempt to distract his wicked bedroom thoughts.
"I think you should know," she began, "that although I'm all for helping my sister, I have applications out to several other companies, and if one of them comes through, I might not be able to continue my employment with you for the duration of my sister's leave."
Blake took a long swig of his sweet coffee, thinking that he appreciated her honesty. "Not exactly what an employer wants to hear." He took another drink then carefully placed the white mug back on the table. "But who said I was going to hire you?"
She sat back and took up space, stretching out her long legs under the table and resting her arms on the chair. She seemed perfectly calm, totally cool and self-assured. "No one."
Blake eased down in his chair, sliding his Stetson low on his forehead, and pushing his legs out straight, crossing them at his ankles, only inches from her legs. He swore he could feel the heat of her, his legs getting all twitchy. What was it about this woman, that close proximity gave him an immediate physical reaction?
"How do I know you're qualified to run my office? It takes a special kind of person to work for me. What makes you think you're that person?"
"Impressive, but can you tell me who Buzz Light-year's sidekick is in Toy Story?"
Maggie grinned at him, her amazing eyes sparkling with a bit of wickedness. He couldn't tell if she was trying to think of the answer or tickled that he'd asked such a childish question. Either way, Blake had her full attention.
Her smile revealed a slight dimple in her left cheek. He was a sucker for dimples, which made this little game they were playing even more perilous. He wanted to get to know her bettermuch betterbut getting to know this kind of woman wasn't a tangle he needed to get caught up in ever again.
Still, there was something Country about her, something easy she kept hidden under all that city slicker show.
"Sheriff Woody. My favorite character, by the way."
He leaned in with the defining question, even though anyone listening would probably just laugh. Everything depended on her answer. "Do you own a pair of cowboy boots?"
She looked hesitant.
Darn it all, he couldn't hire a woman who didn't own a pair of cowboy boots. They were a necessity in these parts, like a Leatherman tool or a trophy buckle. That fact alone proved she was just like his ex, and he didn't want or need a woman like her anywhere around him. Way too many bad memories of her disgust of every thing Country.
"But my sister does, in an array of colors for some odd reason. We wear the same size, so in that sense, I'd have to amend my answer and say yes. I have access to cowboy boots. Why? Are they part of the job description?"
"I'd have to say they are."
She scooted up straight in her chair, crossing her fine legs under the table. "My sister never mentioned it."
He felt certain this was the stickler. "Huh. Can't figure why not. It's what we wear."
"Your office has a dress code?"
"Strictly enforced." Not exactly true, but now he was desperate.
"Anything else I should know about?"
His mind raced to think of something, anything, that this temptation in heels might not like, but mud had once again settled in parts of his head and he couldn't seem to come up with a thing.
He knew he could save himself a whole lotta grief if he simply hired Mrs. Abernathy, the seventy-year-old ex-nurse who had offered to take the job. Unfortunately, Kitty had already warned him not to do it. Mrs. Abernathy was inflexible in her ways and tone deaf. No way could she sing to his patients or run the office the way Kitty had set it up.
He wondered if Maggie could hold a tune. "We sometimes have to sing to the patients."
"I don't sing. Completely tone deaf."
Her answer was his out. His escape hatch. His adios, amigo. Even Kitty would agree on this one.
Maggie stared at him, looking all pretty in the morning sun, and Blake had to admit a part of him wanted nothing more than to have her around for the next fifty years. But the danger of falling for someone so like his ex-wife meant grabbing the branding iron by the hot end, and he was not in the mood for another round of hurt.
Blake stalled for a time, pretending he was chewing on her answer, while he screwed up his flailing courage.
He had thought moving back to the family ranch in eastern Idaho with his dad and brothers would have slowed his life down, especially after living in L.A. for several years, but it had been nothing like that. When Blake had arrived in Briggs, he'd hit the ground running, and he'd been going nonstop ever since. Maggie Daniels was the kind of woman who would only tangle up his spurs, and at this point, he wasn't sure he was up for the challenge.
Just then his phone chimed. "Excuse me," he said. The phone's screen illuminated the name Lindsey Luntz. Her thirteen-year-old son, Chad, was a patient of Blake's. Chad was having difficulty adjusting to his new braces and he probably needed a "cheer up, buckaroo" talk, which would take some time, knowing Chad. Blake took the call, but asked Mrs. Luntz to hold.
"I have to take this," he told Maggie. Then, as though he didn't have anything under his hat but hair, he said, "See you in the morning. Eight-thirty?"
"Kitty can tell you the rest."
"Thanks," she said.
Feeling muddy-headed again, he tried to get his wits honed back to concentrate on the waiting Mrs. Luntz.
Blake watched as Maggie pushed herself up from the chair, gave him a little smile, turned and walked away.
He stared after her as she sashayed into the doughnut shop. The woman had one of those walks that made a man starehips gently swaying, elegant legs careful of each step in her fancy high heels, straight back and hair that glistened in the sunlight. Desire swept through him.
His breath caught in his throat and he found it difficult to wrest his gaze from Maggie until he heard Mrs. Luntz calling his name. "Doc Blake? Are you there? Doctor? Darn these phones."
Maggie walked into Holey Rollers and ordered a double cappuccino, dry, and a blueberry muffin. She wanted something decadent with sprinkles to celebrate the occasion, but her hips didn't need it. Once she'd turned thirty, everything she ate seemed to stick to her hips.
Despite that misfortune, Maggie knew she still had it, could still turn a man's head when she wanted to. The good doctor had proven that. She had seen the attraction in his eyes. Heard it in his voice.
Sure, she had other job applications out, but the likelihood of any of them coming through was remote. Still, she felt she had to tell him the truth and rely on her looks to get him to hire her anyway.
Maggie couldn't hide the fact that the overly judgmental world labeled her as beautiful. She didn't dwell on it, rather, it was a truth she had come to accept. Still, more than anything, she had always wanted to be treated like a normal girla buddy other women could confide in, or a girlfriend to some sweet guy who loved to cuddle on the sofa, eat popcorn drenched in real butter and watch old movies.
Regrettably, she had little experience with any of those things.
Ever since she could remember, she had been the outcast in any group of girls, the cufflink on the man with power and the catch for the guy who wanted to elevate his social status.
Her only friendher only confidant and allyduring all of the insanity of her life was her sister, Kitty.
Maggie thought Kitty was amazingly beautiful, more beautiful than Maggie could ever be. Apparently, the world hadn't caught on to that fact. And because of the oversight, Kitty had led a relatively ordinary life. A life Maggie hungered to call her own, especially after her latest breakup with Brad Allen, the lying, cheating dog of a man who'd had the nerve to propose to her while he was sleeping with his secretary.
Once Maggie caught them, she was out of the relationship and out of the job she loved. She had worked hard to become vice president of marketing for Silicon Systems, but there was no way she could stay after she'd learned the truth. Brad was executive V.P. of the entire company. No getting around the scandal.
So, after nearly four months of unanswered resumes, she finally had a job, albeit a temp job in a town so small it had taken three drive-bys just to find the right exit. It was a paycheck nonetheless.
The girl behind the counter turned to Maggie. "That'll be three dollars and sixty-five cents." Her name tag read Amanda. She wore her mahogany hair extra-short, which accentuated her bright red lipstick and dangly earrings. Maggie guessed that Amanda was closing in on eighteen.
Maggie leaned in across the counter, certain that Amanda must have forgotten to ring up one of her items. "That was a double cappuccino and a muffin."
Amanda rolled her eyes and leaned in closer, as if she didn't want anyone else to hear. "I know. Like, my boss raised the price on some of the pastries last week, thinking nobody would notice. I told her people were going to complain, but, like, did she listen? Noo. Nobody ever listens to me. I bet you never get that, especially wearing that suit, huh?"
Maggie smiled, noticed everyone clad in casual clothing and felt completely out of place. The tiny shop was crowded with customers hovering in front of the glass doughnut counter, desperately trying to make up their minds while three other employees in light brown aprons with the Holey Rollers logo emblazoned across their chests, eagerly waited to fill their sugar fix. An assortment of doughnuts, muffins and other pastries, all of which looked incredible, filled every inch of the glass display, with the extras stacked on metal baking shelves along the walls. The shop smelled sweet, with just the right amount of freshly brewed coffee scent wafting through the air. "I had a job interview."