Fall In Love?
Veterinary technician Jillian Everett has met plenty of caninesand some men who deserve "dog" tags. But when millionaire hotelier Nic Caruso strides into Paradise Animal Clinic, a scruffy border collie muddying his designer suit, Jillian has to sit up and take notice. Nic might be gorgeous, but she's had more than enough heartbreak for one lifetime in dog years.
Nic doesn't expect to fall for a dog in needor his beautiful caretaker! The big-city bachelor is on Paradise Isle to wreak havoc on the town Jillian loves so much. For the first time in forever, Nic realizes there's more to life than work and love might be worth a shot. But can Jillian tame this stray for good? Or will Nic remain a lone wolf forever?
About the Author
Katie Meyer is a Florida native with a firm belief in happy endings. She studied English and Religion before getting a degree in Veterinary Technology. A former Veterinary Technician and dog trainer, she now spends her days homeschooling her children, writing, and snuggling with her many pets. Her guilty pleasures include chocolate, Downton Abbey, and cheap champagne. Credit for her romance writing goes to her parents and her husband, who taught her what true love really is.
Read an Excerpt
He'd almost missed it. Had the setting sun been just a bit lower, the light a bit dimmer, he would have missed it, it being the most pathetic-looking animal he had ever seen. The dogif that was the right word for the wet, filthencrusted beast limping along the side of the roadwas obviously in trouble. There wasn't much traffic right now on this stretch of highway, but the Paradise Isle Bridge was just ahead, or so said the tinny voice of his rental car's GPS. Crossing a highway bridge on foot, or paw for that matter, seemed a dangerous proposition. Besides, it was limping.
But limping or not, it wasn't his dog. Wasn't his problem. He was in a suit. In a rental car. On vacationwell, sort of a vacation. A working vacation. So this grimy creature was definitely not his problem.
Surely it knew the way home or would be picked up by someone that actually lived around here. Not that he was exactly sure where here was, GPS or no. He hadn't passed a single town in over an hour, and the only brief glimpse of humanity had been a roadside stand selling gator jerky and boiled peanuts twenty miles back.
Nic Caruso tightened his grip on the steering wheel as he approached and then passed, telling himself the dog would be fine. But his gaze kept returning to the rearview mirror, where he watched the muddy stray as it slowly hobbled east. Then saw it flinch as a wave of dirty water thrown by a speeding car drenched it yet again.
Nic swung the small SUV to the shoulder, slammed to a stop and quickly located the emergency flashers on the unfamiliar dash. It might not be his problem or his responsibility, but he couldn't bring himself to just leave the dog there. Resigned, he undid his already loosened tie, carefully laying it on the suit jacket occupying the passenger's seat.
"Here, boy! Come here now." He used his most authoritative voice, the one that he relied on in boardrooms across the globe.
The darned dog just kept going. So much for doing this the easy way. Nic opened the passenger's door again and retrieved his tie. A quick slipknot and he had an impromptu leash. Great. Somehow, he didn't think Hermès would approve.
"Easy, boy. That's it. Eaaasy " Nic inched his way across the muddy roadside toward the now cowering dog, careful not to spook him any closer to the highway.
A furry ear cocked in interest. The softer approach seemed to be working.
"Good boy. Come on, that's a good boy. How about I give you a ride wherever you're going, okay?"
A small tail wag was quickly followed by a cautious step forward. Hoping to appear less threatening, Nic crouched down, putting himself at eye level with the cautious canine. Brown eyes watched him warily, but the dog did keep moving in the right direction.
Only a foot away, cars sped by, but Nic kept his focus on the muddy beast in front of him, willing him to cooperate. Only a little bit farther and
Nic slid the improvised leash over the dog and held tight, just in case he bolted, but the bedraggled beast seemed to have lost his earlier apprehension. A happy, wriggling bundle, he licked and yipped in gratitude. The frenetic thank-you dance gave Nic an up-close study of what appeared to be a border collieadmittedly just a best guess with all the grime matting down his fur. He was a good size, maybe fifty pounds, but from the look of the large paws, he wasn't done growing yet.
"So what do we do now? Any ideas?"
An enthusiastic face-licking was hardly an appropriate answer.
Nic stood and stretched while he thought of what to do. A week in the heart of Orlando on business, nightmare traffic on I-4, miles of desolate highway and now a muddy dog. When exactly had he completely lost control of his life? The only thing he could think to do was to keep heading for the island, and hope there was a shelter or veterinary hospital still open. Resolved, he started walking the dog along the shoulder of the road, only to be stopped by a soft whimper. Crap. Crouching again, he gathered the grubby canine to his chest and lifted him up. Carrying him to the car, Nic tried to ignore the ooze seeping through his shirt.
"Up you go." Nic held the door open with one hand, and the makeshift leash with the other. No more encouragement was needed; the dog bounded into the rear seat easily. Hopefully, that meant he wasn't badly injured.
Rounding the car, Nic brushed the worst of the dirt and fur off his clothes before sitting behind the wheel. He checked his mirrors and pulled carefully back onto the highway, then rolled down his windows as soon as he was up to speed, hoping to keep the wet-dog smell from permeating the upholstery. He doubted rental insurance covered that particular contingency.
That was a mistake.
Tempted by the open window, the dog nimbly hopped into the front seat and shoved his muzzle into the rushing air. Nic cast a grin at the happy animal's expressionthen cursed when he saw the now ruined suit jacket under his muddy paws.
Nic mumbled uncharitable remarks about the pup's parentage until the top of the Paradise Isle Bridge, where he was seduced into silence. From the apex of its span, he could see fishing boats bobbing among the diamond topped crests of the Intracoastal, then the lush green of the island, and beyond that the Atlantic Ocean, where pink-and-purple clouds flamed on the horizon, caught in the last rays of the setting sun. In his rearview mirror the atmospheric show continued, a kaleidoscope of colors, constantly shifting as the orange orb of the sun slipped further toward the horizon. The sight of all that sea and sky managed to melt the last of his workday tension, leaving him feeling, for the first time in a long time, almost free. Or he would be, once he figured out what to do with the dog.
* * *
"Yes, Mrs. Ellington, I can see how that would be upsetting." Veterinary technician Jillian Everett rubbed her temples with one hand while cradling the oversize phone receiver in the other. "But remember, Tinker Bell is only nine weeks old. It's perfectly normal for her to not be housebroken yet Oh. Well, no, I'm afraid I don't know of any products that will get that kind of stain out of a leather handbag."
A loud snort of laughter betrayed Dr. Cassie Marshall's presence behind her.
"Yes, I agree, replacing it probably is the best idea. But, I really think you should consider waiting until Tinker Bell is older before carrying her in your purse for so long. When she's a bit bigger, she'll be better able to control where she, uh, leaves her presents. In the meantime, just stick to the feeding and training guidelines we sent home and I think she'll be fine. If you have any other questions, I'm sure Dr. Marshall would be happy to answer them at your appointment next week." Jillian mouthed a "gotcha" at Cassie, who was holding up her hands in a "not me" gesture.
"Okay, Mrs. Ellington, we'll see you next week. Have a good night and kiss little Tinker Bell for us. Bye." Jil-lian hung up and glared at Cassie. "You set me up! You knew what that call was about, didn't you? Why is she calling the veterinary hospital for a poopy purse, anyway? Don't those fancy dog purse things have liners for this sort of situation? Or an emergency number to call?" Shaking her head at the absurdity of the situation, she made a notation in the file and stood to put it in the appropriate place.
"I didn't set you up exactly. After all, helping with the call tonight was your idea. But yes, Mollie may have hinted at the situation before she left, and I may have made sure that particular chart ended up with the ones you so generously took off my hands." She smiled. "Perk of being the boss, sorry."
Jillian didn't think Cassie's wide grin looked the least bit contrite. But she was a great boss, and Jillian had volunteered. Cassie had a young daughter to get home to, so when Jillian saw the big stack of files requiring follow-up phone calls, she had offered to take the majority of them. She planned to give Mollie, the receptionist at Paradise Animal Clinic, a piece of her mind tomorrow for that final absurd call, but really, it wasn't as if she had anywhere else to be. No one was waiting at home for her tonight. Or any night. Most of the time, the animal clinic was more of a home to her than her tiny apartment was.
She didn't have any family. Both of her parents had been killed in a car accident, and she'd been too young to really remember them. The last in a long line of her foster families had lived on Paradise Isle, and she had found a sense of belonging here that had kept her on the island long after she'd aged out of the system. She had never been adopted, but the people of Paradise Isle had become a kind of surrogate family. Most of the time, that was enough. But on nights like tonight, when she had nothing better to do than stay late and file charts, she couldn't help but daydream about someday having a real family to go home to.
"I'll lock up on my way out. See you in the morning," Cassie called from halfway out the door, juggling her keys, briefcase and a stack of veterinary trade magazines. She might be leaving the office, but Jillian knew she'd spend a few more hours working after her daughter, Emma, was asleep. Cassie was a single mom, and had taken over the clinic from her father, after he was permanently injured in a car accident a few years ago. Now her parents watched Emma during the day, doting on their only granddaughter, freeing Cassie to focus on the veterinary hospital. It was an arrangement born of necessity, but it worked because of their strong love for each other, something Jillian couldn't help but envy.
As she filed, the only sounds were the bubbling of the fish tank and the hiss of an overworked air conditioner fighting the Florida heat. A full day of barking dogs, hissing cats and chatty clients had her appreciating the temporary quiet, only for it to be broken minutes later by a banging at the front door. For a second she considered staying out of sight, behind the tall wall of files. People often stopped by after hours to try to pick up last-minute items, and she really didn't want to deal with that tonight. But, as always, her sense of duty won out.
Pulling her unruly black curls into a mostly serviceable ponytail, she forced a smile on her face, ready to serve whatever tardy client was making such a ruckus. Approaching the heavily tinted glass front door, she could make out, dimly, a very large man holding what appeared to be a squirming dog. Medical instincts kicked in at the sight of the would-be patient, spurring her to run the last few steps to unlock and open the door. Standing behind it was a seemingly solid wall of muscular man. Ignoring him, and her suddenly rapid heartbeat, she focused instead on the very familiar-looking dog.
"Oh, no, is that Murphy? What happened? Is he hurt?" Her voice came out more forcefully than she'd intended, but the shock of seeing her favorite patient being carried in by a stranger had her protective instincts kicking into high gear. She tried to assess the dog, but the man holding him was so tall it was hard to get a good look.
"I have no idea who or what a Murphy is, but I found this mongrel on the side of the highway as I was driving into town." He shifted the dog, holding him away from what had once been a white dress shirt. "I don't think he's hurt too badly, but he definitely needs a bath."
Jillian relaxed a bit, her mouth twitching up despite her worry. The guy, whoever he was, made quite a picture holding the pathetic dog in his arms. He was tall, over six feet, dark hair and eyes, with broad shoulders that filled out his business clothes well. The bristly stubble starting to show only added to his masculine aura. That he was carrying the nearly fully grown dog without visible signs of strain impressed her. That he had stopped to rescue the dog at all impressed her even more.
"So are you going to help him?" the man asked, eyebrows raised. He probably wondered why she was just standing there, staring up at him like a fool.
"Oh, um, yes. Let me take a look, see if I need to call the vet back in. Just bring him in here." Jillian snapped back into work mode, chiding herself for ogling when there was an animal that needed help. Motioning him into an exam room, she told herself she was a professional. And professionals were not supposed to check out the client's rear end, no matter how nice it was.
Chapter Two carried the dog into the small, spotlessly clean room, gently lowering him onto the slick exam table. Immediately the troublemaker tried to jump off into Jil-lian's arms. "Oh, no you don't. Stay," he said, grabbing the squirming dog before he could take flight.
"Good reflexes," she commented, smiling that pretty smile again.
"Years of wrestling with my younger brother," he answered. "You said you might need to call the vet. I thought you were the vet." Confused, he pointedly looked at her scrubs. Scrubs that did nothing to hide her feminine curves.
"Me? No, I'm the veterinary technician, Jillian Everett," she corrected. "CassieI mean, Dr. Marshallalready left. But let me take a look, and then I'll give her a call if there's anything wrong." She opened a drawer below the gleaming examining table and removed a small scanning device. "But first, let's see who this furry guy is. I'm pretty positive it's Murphy, Mrs. Rosenberg's border collie, but a microchip would tell us for sure. Hopefully we'll luck out, and the scanner will be able to find one."
Upon hearing his name, the dog whimpered, wriggling in delight.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Is it still going???????
What a brilliant first in series novel. Meyer invites readers into the island town of Paradise with a flair for detail and a very friendly vibe. She brings the town to life in a manner that makes you want to be there. You really get the small town, hopeful vibe throughout. Not only does she set the town up for future novels in the series, but she also tells a wildly romantic, yet completely believable story of star-crossed lovers. Jillian & Nic were a fantastic pair of main characters. They were such contradictions to one another, coming from completely different worlds yet able to connect with one another. I like how the nitty-gritty parts of relationships came into play here. It wasn’t simply chemistry, then ‘bam, married.’ Trist, compatibility, and a host of other things came into play. The rest of the cast was fun to get to know as well. I loved the personalities that we run into in Paradise. This was a fun, funny, & romantic debut novel from an author that I’ll definitely be following avidly. I can’t wait to see where her pen takes her next. Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
When the author translates her real life experience as a vet technician into a story about one, the results are a sweet, heart warming, funny story worth reading. Add into the mix a dog with a nose for mischief and running away, an unexpected rescue, a stray fork, a crazy pelican, and best friends who won't leave any stone unturned to help our protagonist, and you have an unforgettable experience. This is a cozy down-home lazy type of read, chock full of feel good moments. I hope you like this as much as I did. Jillian Everett, orphaned so young she had no real memories of her parents, had been part of the foster home system most of her life. Now on her own as a vet tech at the Paradise Animal Clinic, she had found the town in which she wanted to set down roots. Paradise was located on Paradise Isle, a small community, passed by most of the modern world. When Nic Caruso showed up one night at the animal clinic with a dog he had rescued on the highway, she couldn't help be attracted to him. But eventually she realized he was there to buy out the lone historic hotel in the town, she didn't want to have anything to do with him. If he was successful with bringing about the changes his family was famous for, her town would undergo a drastic change. But she'd already fallen in love with him. She felt her world beginning to tip upside down. Nic Caruso, growing up in a traditional and loving Italian family, was Vice President of Acquisitions in his family business. He was in Paradise, Florida to scout out a potential hotel his business may want to buy. Once he'd met Jillian, he realized he was involved in a conflict of interest. He was falling for her so hard he could think of no one else, and she wanted to preserve the ages old hotel. He was being forced to re-examine his life's priorities. There are many things I love about this book. First, it is a good character-driven book. Both Jillian and Nic had many assumptions on which they based their life's purposes. But when their encounter challenged those presuppositions, both stubbornly clung to their familiar lifestyles until they realized they had some re-evaluation to do about themselves. The process of change is what makes this book a treat to read. Second, animals play an important role in the story line. If you are an animal lover as I am, this is a delightful addition to the storyline. Third, I love how the author includes bits of humor here and there. The funny things that happen flesh out the characters well, add to the attraction between Nic and Jillian, and are a fun way to help develop the conflict and resolution. Finally the short book is a great light-hearted treat to read. I read the book through twice before writing this review. I think it can easily be read in a couple of sittings. There are more reasons, but you get the idea. I highly recommend this book for a light weekend read. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author, Katie Meyer. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”