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Tension crawled across Dolan Crane's shoulders. Not only were his tendons tight, they burned like a sonofabitch. Even his fingers felt stiff as he reached for the key and switched off the truck's engine. For a moment he didn't move. Instead he dragged in a weighted breath.
"What a fucked-up day," he grumbled on an exhale. A set of headlights flashed through the windshield, blinding him. He squinted against their brilliance and the starry night.
The thought of restarting his vehicle and heading home surfaced but didn't linger. Maybe a night out on the town was what he needed to unwind. He rolled his shoulders listening to the crackle and pop as he leaned his head from side to side. With a little luck, he'd find a sweet thing to cuddle up to and ease his body and mind.
Of course that might be impossible because he was on call this weekend. Doc Zimmerman was off again for a weekend of R and R. The seasoned veterinarian was nearing retirement and Dolan was setting himself up to swoop in and take over. Yet the events of today could throw a wrench into his plans. He watched a shooting star blaze across the sky, burning out in a blink of an eye. For a second he wondered if there was anything significant between the star and his career.
Pulling a weary breath, he held it before releasing it in one gush. "Dammit." He slammed a palm on the steering wheel.
This afternoon he'd lost a million-dollar colt. By the time Victor Tate had called him it had been too late to save the animal. However, his client didn't see it quite that way.
The man was furious.
It wasn't that Dolan took Tate's ranting to heart; the proof was in the evidence. Lady Libertyhad dropped the foal before his arrival, which had been only ten minutes after he'd received the call. Yet the sonofabitch thought money could buy anything, even life. The umbilical cord had been wrapped around the colt's neck. He had saved the mare from bleeding to death, but even that hadn't been enough. Not to Tate or Dolan.
Down on his knees, he had tried to breathe life back into the foal, knowing it was futile. A sense of helplessness had almost overwhelmed him. He hated that feeling almost as much as he regretted losing the colt.
"Not your fault." He tried once again to convince himself that there had been nothing he could have done.
Would others see it that way? He sure as hell hoped so.
Trying to establish a career in Santa Ysabel, California, the home of some of finest racehorses, he didn't need setbacks like this. Losing a potential racer was like slitting one's throat. His hand went to his neck as if guarding it from the invisible knife he felt pressed against his skin.
"Let it go." He lowered his hand and blinked hard trying to clear his mind and focus on the muffled cry of a steel guitar coming from the home before him. He finger combed his ebony hair and grabbed his hat off the passenger seat.
Loud music flooded the cab as he opened the truck door and stepped out. A warm summer breeze whipped around him, carrying with it the sweet scent of magnolias. Low vibrating bass echoed in his head as he secured his vehicle before slipping his keys deep into the pocket of his jeans. With both hands he squared his Stetson on his head and tugged the rim forward before heading for the front door.
Jester Norton was known for his house parties. Everyone was invited for a weekend of poker, billiards, dancing, plenty of liquor and several unoccupied bedrooms for those seeking a little extracurricular activity. The last thought put a bounce in Dolan's step. He needed to get laid. Wrap his arms around something other than his problems.
As was customary on a Friday night, the place was packed. The noise level bordered on offensive; then again it could be his rotten mood. He tried to brush away his edginess, but it stuck to him like glue. Maybe he should just go home. Even as the thought entered his mind he continued to stroll into the great room. A kitchen, living and dining room all meshed into one big adult playroom.
His home away from home.
What could he say? He liked the ladies. Always had--always would.
Yet most daddies around here guarded their daughters from him. His reputation preceded him. Bachelor. Carouser. The fact he dabbled a little in mï¿½nage a trois probably didn't help his cause with the fathers, but the ladies seemed to find his soiled reputation exciting. He pushed through the crowd, his boots clicking against the polished wood floor as he scoped out the pickings for tonight.
Several couples were on the makeshift dance floor swaying to the gentle beat of a ballad that just started, while a group of cowboys surrounded a table laden with snacks from chips and salsa to hot wings and other appetizers. Even more people were lingering around the bar and overflowing into other areas of the house, including the basement where the real fun usually began.
Amy Waters, a short little blonde he had shared a night or two with, gave him a come-hither smile. Tight jeans and a halter top said she was ready for a night of fun.
Stroking the tip of his mustache, he murmured, "First things first."
Without delay he made a beeline straight for the bar, eyes narrowing on his immediate goal--a drink. Not a smart thing to do since he was on call. Yet one drink wouldn't hurt him.
He leaned in, placing his forearms on the marble surface. "Hit me with a double, Jester."
Okay. Make it two drinks. With a little luck there wouldn't be an emergency tonight.
The barrel-chested man reached for a half-full bottle of whiskey, his other hand going towards a glass. He tipped the bottle, golden liquor splashing over the ice. A look of concern tugged at his friend's brows. "Bad day?"
Dolan breathed in the heady scent of whiskey with a thirst that surprised him. No sipping and savoring the taste tonight. He curled his fingers around the drink and brought it to his lips. "Seen better," he mumbled against the cool crystal.
Mouth watering, he was about to down the drink when he heard, "Move over, cowboy," from someone down the bar.