Read an Excerpt
"Will he live?" Nancy Mayfield asked.
John Maclntyre Thorn tightened the final suture closing the incision along the little brown-and-white corgi's flank. "No thanks to that idiot who brought him in," Mac snapped. "Another hour and that kidney would have burst. We'd have had to deal with peritonitis. He can live a full life on one kidney. If we can keep him from getting infected, and if his numskull owner doesn't kill him before he gets well."
Mac gently stroked the corgi's head. The anesthetized dog could feel nothing, but that didn't matter to Mac. "You're going to be fine, little guy," he whispered.
"We're going to keep him in ICU a day or two, aren't we?" Nancy asked.
"Yeah. At least a couple days, maybe longer. The longer we keep him, the less chance there is of anyone screwing up what we've done."
"I don't think she realized"
"It's her job to know when her dog's in pain! Hydronephritis hurts."
"But dogs don't always show they're in pain. You know that."
"A decent owner ought to recognize a sick dog the way she'd recognize a sick childshe may not know what's wrong, but she sure should realize something is." He stripped off his latex gloves and dropped them in the waste bin in the corner. "I suppose you want me to speak to her."
"Uh .that might not be the greatest idea right now. Why don't you have a cup of coffee? Calm down a little."
"Calm? I'm calm! Who says I'm not calm?"
"Sure you are."
He ignored her. "She in the waiting room? What's the fool woman's name, anyway?" He pushed through the swinging doors of the Creature Comfort veterinary Clinic's operating room and marched down the hall without waiting for an answer. Nancy raced to keep up with him as he barged into the waiting room.
There were only two people in the reception area. Alva Jean Huxtableusually the day receptionist at Creature Comfort, West Tennessee's largest state-of-the-art veterinary clinicwas working the Saturday-evening shift as a favor to the night receptionist, Mabel Halliburton. When she the impression she was ducking for cover without moving anything but her shoulders.
The other woman stood looking out over the parking lot. She wore cowboy boots with heels that added a couple of inches to her five-foot-ten or so frame. From her short haircut and broad shoulders, Mac might have taken her for a man until he saw her narrow waist.
She moved, and the fluorescent light flashed on her hair. Dark red. Not a color one saw every day.
Nancy grabbed at his sleeve, but he jerked away. "Your dog's probably going to live, no thanks to you."
The woman didn't react. She stared out the window without so much as turning her head. He was already mad as anything over the corgi he didn't plan to put up with bad manners from this woman who should be down on her knees thanking him for sticking around after hours on a weekend to save her dog's life. Few veterinary surgeons could have done the job as neatly and with as little trauma to the animal.
"Hey, Miz .urn"
"Her name's Kit Lockhart," Alva Jean said from behind the reception desk, "but I don't think"
"Miz Lockhart, you nearly killed your dog."
Still no reaction. Okay. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
"I said you nearly killed your dog. Don't you care?"
The instant he touched her shoulder, she jumped and swung around to face him.
She had green eyes. Not jade green or leaf green, not even gold green, but the clear green of emeralds. He'd seen maybe one or two sets of eyes that color in his entire thirty-seven years.
What was the matter with her? Nancy grabbed his arm again, and again he shook her off. "I saved your dog's life in there. What kind of blockhead ignores a distended stomach, gums that are practically white, and a dog that's almost in a coma from the pain?"
She stared at him for a moment, then raised a hand and cut him off in midsentence. "Please speak slowly and form your words more carefully."
"I said, please speak slowly and form your words carefully. I got 'blockhead' and 'coma' but that's about all. Since I can't imagine you think my dog is a blockhead, you must think I am."
"Well, yes, I think you're a blockhead "
Again the hand in front of the chest. "Call me anything you like, but please tell me that Kevlar is going to be all right."
"I already did."
"Please, repeat that?"
"I said, he's going .to .be okay. Do you understand?"
She nodded. She relaxed and closed those miraculous eyes for an instant. "Thank you. I was scared to death I'd waited too long to bring him in for treatment. I've only had him a couple of weeks. He really seemed fine this morning, just a little listless. I didn't realize there was anything wrong until this evening. I came as soon as I figured it out."
"I removed the distended kidney."
"You had to remove his kidney?"
"He can live forever on one healthy kidney."
"I hope so, the poor dog." She'd been watching him carefully and nodding throughout his speech. "Can I see him? Please?"
"He's still unconscious."
"I just need to see he's okay. Touch him."
So she did care. "Okay, you're not callous, you're just stupid. Wouldn't have mattered to the dog. He'd have been dead either way." He turned. "Yeah. I guess you can see him now."
He felt her fingers on his arm. "Say again?"
He looked over his shoulder at her. She stared hard at him.
Then it hit him. He was the idiot. And he called himself a doctor. If he hadn't been so mad at her
"The politically correct term is hearing impaired, but I prefer deaf. It's short and ugly."
"Nobody told me." He glared at Nancy.
"I tried, Mac, so did Alva Jean."
"Yeah, yeah." He ran his hand over his hair. Nancy told him again and again that he never listened. In this particular instance, obviously she was right.
"You're good at lipreading."
"I'm nearly perfect with people I know well. With strangers, it's tougher. If you keep looking at me and."
"Speak slowly and carefully."
She nodded. "Right."
"So, is this recent?"
"Not quite a year yet. I used to be a cop." This last was said with an offhandedness that didn't conceal the underlying bitterness.
"Total loss? No residual hearing at all?"
"Nearly total. Ninety percent. I can sometimes hear thuds. Kevlar is my hearing ear dog." She swallowed convulsively. Those emerald eyes filled with tears. "Maybe he whimpered in pain, but I couldn't hear him. I'd die if I let anything happen to him. I truly didn't know he was sick. I'm so sorry."
Now he felt like a toad. "Didn't they teach you anything about dogs when you got him?"
"Teach me anything?" He nodded.
"They taught me how to work with Kevlar, all the things he can do for me. But they didn't teach me about kidney infections. I brought him in when I first got him and let Dr. Hazard check him out and bring his shots up to date. He was fine. What could have caused this? Why didn't Dr. Hazard catch it then?"
Mac took a deep breath and spoke carefully. "He was born with a narrow ureter that finally kinked. everything backed up, and his kidney became like a water-filled balloon. Sooner or later it would have simply burst. He also had some built-up scar tissue and some stones. Only an ultrasound and X-rays would have caught the disease at the chronic stage. The other kidney is fine. He shouldn't have another occurrence."
She kept nodding. Her eyes flickered from his eyes to his mouth. Disconcerting.
"I got most of that. Will he need a special diet?"
"Small meals and dog food formulated to handle kidney problems. Nancy will talk to you about that before you leave with him."
Now she did look up at him. "How long will he have to stay here? I mean, I've only had him two weeks, but I already depend on him." She dropped her eyes. "And I like him."
He touched her arm. "Come on. They'll have moved him to ICU by now. You can see him."
She eyed him with suspicion. "Are you making some kind of exception for me?"
This time Nancy touched her arm. She said slowly and with a smile, "No special treatment. Dr. Mac is an equal-opportunity offender."
Back in the ICU, the little dog lay on his good side on an air mattress in the middle of the floor. Cages holding dogs and cats were stacked almost up to the ceiling, and despite the low light, several animals woke and began to bark or whine when Mac opened the door to let Kit in.
She went down to her knees on the mattress and began to stroke the dog and croon to him softly. After a moment Mac recognized the melodyan old Scottish folk song, some kind of lullaby. His Highland-born grandmother had sung him songs like that when he was a child.
"Kev's such a burly little dog," she said. "He seems like such a tough little character, and now this."
He reached down and squeezed her shoulder to reassure her.
She looked up at him. "Will there be somebody here with him tonight?"
"Dr. Liz Carlyle will be here all night. As soon as he starts to wake up, she'll move him to one of the cages."
"Doctor Something will put him in a cage? Is that what you said?"
"Close enough." He offered her his hand, but she stood up easily without assistance. She was as lithe as a dancer.
"Thank you for letting me see him. Can your receptionist call me a cab?" She walked out ahead of him, but turned her head to watch his reply.
"You need a cab?"
She stopped in the hall and faced him. "I can drive legally, but I try not to drive at night without Kevlar. During the day I keep a close eye out for ambulances or police cars bearing down on me, but after dark, I rely on Kev to alert me. My mother brought us over tonight."
"Won't she come back to get you?" He was beginning to learn the cadence of speaking to her.
"This lateit would be complicated. A cab will be fine. But unfortunately, I can't call one myself. I can give them the address, but if they ask directions, I won't be able to hear."
He'd never have thought of that. "In the rain and this far out, a cab could take a while. Where do you live?"
"I have a town house in Germantown."
He made a decision that ordinarily he wouldn't make in a hundred years. He never, ever, got involved with clients. Their animals, yes. But not the clients. "I live in Germantown, too. I'll drop you. We can go now before another emergency comes in."
She looked confused. "I got about a quarter of that. But you don't have to take me home."