Some say superheroes wore capes. For me, I didn’t get to quick change in a phone booth. Oh no. Instead, I was trotting through a torrential downpour from my car to The Fancy Paws Society & Rescue in nude Molono Blahniks. Sure, I informed my two co-founders that I would be at Texas A&M giving a lecture on small animal anesthesia all day, but apparently, this emergency just couldn’t wait.
The water sloshing inside of my new babies made me whimper, but I didn’t stop. Our on-call vet tech, Stacie Greene, opened the back door for me with a mixed expression on her normally cheerful face. My concern immediately turned off from my annoyance at my potentially ruined heels to focus on the possible furry life in danger.
“I thought I told Ivy I wasn’t available and to send any emergencies to the clinic?” I asked, bustling past her toward my office. Inside, I would find my lab coat along with a secondary pair of low heels made for being on my feet all day. They would also be dry.
“She’s aware of that but told me you’d want to take this case.” Stacie followed me, holding the iPad we used for client charts to her chest. “It’s a possible obstruction from how the owner describes his symptoms over the past two days.”
My heart dropped, and my stomach clenched. Obstruction of anything coupled with a time-lapse of more than twenty-four hours didn’t sit well with me. I kicked off my heels, slipping into the more veterinarian-appropriate ones waiting inside of my office door. After quickly gathering my stethoscope from the top drawer and grabbing the white lab coat with my name embroidered across the left breast pocket, I nodded to Stacie.
“Let’s go see what we are dealing with.”
“Oh, one more thing.” Her freckled cheeks flushed a bright scarlet. “The owner is super-hot.”
I rolled my eyes. It now made perfect sense why Ivy allowed him to come here instead of the clinic, but now wasn’t the time to send her a scolding text. I had a cat with a possible obstruction to save.
“So sorry for the wait,” I announced after giving three quick knocks on the door to the examination room. “I was giving a lecture at A&M and had to fight the traffic to get over here. What seems to be the …?” My voice trailed off while my gaze took him in from head to toe.
Stacie hadn’t been lying. The man before me was drop-dead gorgeous. He was tall, broad, well-muscled underneath his black V-neck T-shirt with slightly disheveled blond hair. His sea-blue gaze widened on mine, making me feel exposed.
Houston, we have a problem.
Not only is Mr. Hot and Sexy eyeing me up the way I’d just ogled him, but we both knew what the other looked like. Naked. Because we’d been together before. And not just together-together, but engaged.
“Elias.” I broke the awkward barrier first, swallowing hard. With one glance at the gorgeous Ragdoll sitting patiently on the steel examination table that looked suspiciously like my own cat at home, I knew I wasn’t dreaming.
“Hey.” He cleared his throat, wiping his palms on his jean-clad thighs. “Ivy told me this would be okay since it’s an emergency.”
Well, Ivy and I would be having a long discussion later about why she should’ve sent my ex-fiancé to the clinic.
Seeing his cat, though, one I’d lived with and loved on, melted my heart. “What seems to be the issue with Obi?” I walked over and let the male cat sniff my hand. He rewarded me with a gentle rub, giving me the okay to scratch his neck.
“His favorite toy has gone missing.” His low baritone sent goose bumps over my flesh. I had to force my body to behave. “And he hasn’t eaten or really drank anything in two days.”
“What about the litter box?” Instinct moved my hands to Obi’s—short for Obi Meown Kenobi—stomach area, where I felt around gently.
“He’s used it but only to pee.” Elias rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. This side of the usual cool, confident human doctor wasn’t one I’d been privy to much. “I haven’t seen any number twos in twenty-four hours.”
My gut tightened, but I nodded, keeping my face neutral. “What kind of toy is missing?” Stacie moved to Obi’s opposite side to hold him in place while I adjusted the stethoscope in my ears to try to search for any gut sounds.
“It’s a Nerf ball.”
Both Stacie and I exchange a look across the stainless steel table. Nerf guns—and more specifically, their bullets—were notorious for creating bowel or stomach obstructions in cats. Sometimes, they threw them up. Other times, the family would make a sad and startling discovery a few days later. If an owner made it to the vet on time, we could perform surgery to hopefully remove and repair any damage.
“How big?” I ask.
He made a ping-pong-sized shape with his thumb and forefinger. “He’s had it forever, and never once has he tried to eat it.”
“Well, I’m going to suggest we do an ultrasound to find out exactly where this ball, or what remains of it, is located.” I gave the cat another scratch. He purred like nothing dramatic was happening around him. “Once I find whether it’s still in the stomach or has passed through to the bowel, I’ll know if we need to operate or not.”
Elias nodded. “Whatever you have to do, let’s do it.” He stepped closer to me, reaching out to take his cat’s head in his large hands. The smell of sandalwood and lemon wafted over to me, bringing with it a flood of memories. “He’s my little buddy.”
“I know, and we’ll do everything we can for him.”
Instead of letting Stacie go and grab the ultrasound machine, I practically flew out of the room to get it myself. My heart raced, not just because of my attachment to the cat behind the door but also because of the man who’d stolen and subsequently stomped on my heart. Four years hadn’t been enough time to get over him, obviously. Out of sight and out of mind only worked if I couldn’t see him. And now that I had, mixed emotions I’d fought so damn hard to tuck away wanted to come spilling to the surface.
No. You have a patient who needs your entire brain, Piper, I scolded myself, grabbing the machine to wheel it over to the examination room. Focus and you can break down later over a nice glass of merlot. Too bad Elias wouldn’t be joining me for that much-needed glass.
“All right.” I re-entered the room and noticed Stacie already had the fluffy boy turned over on his back. She was laughing as she shaved some of his hair.
“He thinks this is just the greatest.” She chuckled, shutting off the clippers. “What a laid-back cat.”
“He’s the best,” Elias agreed. The pensive, worried expression he wore stabbed at my soul. My gaze moved down to his left hand, noticing the absence of a ring. But he was a doctor, so he may not wear a ring at times due to his line of work.
“Let’s see if he’ll tolerate this without sedation.” I flipped on the ultrasound, and Stacie took her position as the technician while I wielded the wand. “Okay, little Obi, let’s see what kind of mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”
Starting in the stomach, I waited for the organ to come into view on the black and white screen. Almost instantly, my fears dampened. Just to be on the extra-cautious side, I moved onto the bowels, taking my time to double and then triple check. Obi sat calmly, purring up a storm as Elias rubbed his nose.
“Best patient I’ve ever had.” I smiled, pulling the wand away with a flourish. “Bad news, his favorite toy is no longer, but the good news is it’s still in his stomach.” My gaze met his. “I can give him some medication to induce vomiting, and he should be able to bring it up. However, I will want to keep him overnight to monitor him and make sure he doesn’t have any complications. Since he hasn’t gone to the bathroom in a few days, we need to make sure his back end is working properly.”
Elias breathed out a sigh of relief, and his signature, sexy-as-hell smile lit up his face. “Fantastic.”
Stacie cleared her throat behind me, and I noticed my left hand was clutching the ultrasound cart. She arched one brow at me, pulling the only object away from me that kept my knees from buckling. I hated how he still managed to crawl under my skin. Even as I glowered at her back, she left us alone in the room.
He opened his mouth to speak, but I moved around the exam table and pulled a bottle from the medications cupboard. “You won’t want to put him back in his carrier until we’ve got the pieces up.”
“I think since the tech is now gone, you can drop the professional act, Piper.” He spoke my name like a prayer, and my hands froze. “How’ve you been?”
“Oh, you know.” With trembling fingers, I continued to fill the syringe with the right dosage of medication. “Made partner at a clinic and founded this rescue. Living the dream. How about you?”
“I’ve also made partner in my office and doing much of the same.” Without looking at him, I knew he was running his fingers through his soft hair like he always did when frustrated. “I didn’t mean to make this awkward. I just didn’t trust anyone else with Obi, and Ivy said it wouldn’t be an issue.”
Spinning on my heel, I gently ran a hand over Obi’s back to distract him. “It’s not an issue at all.” My hand carefully rested on Obi’s head, giving him a scratch before scooting closer to aim the needle at his shoulder. “Just a pinch.” Before he could think about bolting away, I rubbed over his opposite shoulder and hugged him to my chest. Glancing down, I smiled. Obi’s bright blue eyes stared up at me in betrayal.
“Sorry, buddy.” I smirked, stroking over his shoulders. “You’ll thank me in a few minutes.”
Sure of my aim, I clicked the timer on my phone to wait for the fruits of my labor. I glanced up to meet Elias’s intense gaze. “No, it’s no trouble at all. After all these years, I’m glad you still trust me with your cat at least.” I didn’t mean for the comment to come out sounding as bitter as it did. The pinching of his brows and tightening of his jaw gave me the impression he hadn’t expected it either.
“It’s been four years, Elias,” I stated with a sigh, crossing my arms over my chest. “What happened between us is done and over with. Ancient history. You’ve gotten your partnership and so have I. We’re both doing exactly what we wanted to do.”
He didn’t speak for a moment as he studied my gaze to try to find the lies buried deep beneath the surface. I silently prayed he didn’t find them because they were there, taunting me. For a moment, I believed our conversation was over. And then he did something so totally and completely him that I almost gasped.
He crossed the few feet between us, stalking me with intentions I couldn’t be sure of. Heat flooded my core, and my palms grew sweaty. Four years apart or not, I knew this man like the back of my hand.
“Elias,” I warned.
“Don’t tell me what to do, Piper,” he retorted, barely raising his voice above a graveled whisper.
One of his hands reached out toward me. My heart jumped, lodging itself in my throat and stealing my speech. If he made a move, I’d be helpless against him. No matter how high the walls I put in place, he knew the exact footholds to take in order to tear me down. He’d always been my kryptonite. Always. He was the one who got away.
The heat radiating off his body warmed me even more. He made me forget about being nearly soaked and irritated in the driveway. And I sure as shit didn’t care about my shoes right now.
Before he opened his mouth to say the words I knew would penetrate through my steel armor, the familiar hurk, hurk, hurk sound of a cat drew both of our attention. There, on the exam table, Obi threw up a strange colored pile of yellow and tan. Multiple pieces of the Nerf ball made its star appearance. The cat licked his lips, swallowing hard, and stared at both of us like he was expecting some kind of applause. Not a few seconds later, he was heaving again. Leave it to a cat to completely and totally ruin the moment.