SETH DAVIES stared up at the front of the clinic in front of him, a satisfied smile lighting up his soft features. It’d taken six weeks to finalize everything for the sale, and he could barely wait to get started. Senaka, Wyoming, was exactly the kind of place he needed to be able to heal.
His mind automatically slammed the door shut on those memories, and he sighed as he entered the front of the clinic. The receptionist, Chessie Fox, stood behind the counter, talking on the phone. She smiled welcomingly at him, and he gave her an equally warm grin in return.
“Good morning, Chessie,” he said as he walked toward her desk.
Chessie dropped the phone back into its cradle after bidding the person on the other end good-bye. “Good morning, Doc. Your first appointment is already waiting for you in Exam Room One.”
“Do you have—?” he started to ask when she handed it to him. Seth liked her. She was efficient, friendly, and very outgoing. He also thought her to be very pretty, with her dark olive-toned skin, dark-brown eyes, and long dark-brown hair. Chessie was Cheyenne and looked every bit of it. If he had found women attractive, he definitely would have taken an interest in her. “Thanks, Chessie, for deciding to stay on with me.”
“Oh, it’s no problem, Doc. I like working here, and I’m glad that you wanted me to stay!” Chessie exclaimed. Her heart beat hard against her chest at the gorgeous man in front of her desk. He was absolutely beautiful: a slender face with a slightly pointed chin, dimples deep as oceans, his eyes just as blue, and thick hair so black it looked almost unnatural. Seth kept it in a neat cut, slight tendrils brushing the nape of his neck. The top of her head just reached his chin. What really fed her lust for her boss was the single earring that dangled from one ear. A sterling silver feather no longer than the width of a penny twinkled at every move of Seth’s head.
“Well, I’m still grateful you decided to stay. I wouldn’t even begin to know where to look for the files or know who Dr. Redfern’s clients were.” Seth glanced down at the name on the folder, opened it, skimmed over the contents of the animal’s history, and then looked back at her. “Is my day full, Chessie?”
“Mostly, Doc. You have a gap between appointments around one and three, though. But you never know around these parts. Folks have animal emergencies quite often.” The phone rang, interrupting anything else Chessie would have said.
Seth wandered into the examining room, smiling at the older woman and noting the small poodle on the table. “Hello, Mrs. Whitedove. I’m Seth Davies, and I guess this would be Samantha?”
The woman smiled back at him, her eyes studying him intently and almost causing him to squirm. He felt certain Mrs. Whitedove would also be able to claim Cheyenne as her background. Most of the residents of Senaka were Cheyenne, so it was a pretty safe bet for him to make. Her face looked weathered but wise. Deep lines traced her heart-shaped face, and gray had started to streak through her black hair. He had a mere few inches on her in height. “Heard Doc sold his practice. You’re a bit young, aren’t you, Doc?”
“Oh, please call me Seth, and I may look young, but I am quite experienced at taking care of these little guys,” Seth said with confidence, moving closer to the table the dog sat on. A pretty, shockingly white poodle, she whined at him and licked his hand. “What seems to be the problem with Samantha, Mrs. Whitedove?”
“Well, she’s been off her food lately. She won’t eat and doesn’t even play with her toys,” Mrs. Whitedove explained, her eyes clouding over in worry and concern.
Seth scratched the poodle behind her ears before putting the earpieces of his stethoscope in and placing the chest piece against the poodle’s chest. His eyes slipped closed as he listened to her heart. The sound of a minor irregularity caused him to frown. His free hand smoothed over the poodle’s side slowly, gently. The poodle whined again, pressing closer to him.
Mrs. Whitedove watched in fascination at the emotions that flitted over the doctor’s features. Concern had been evident at first, but it slowly dissipated to a peaceful, almost serene countenance. “Is everything all right with Sam, Doc?” Fear weighed heavily in her voice.
He didn’t respond right away. A tiny drop of sweat broke out over his forehead, but then his eyes opened. He gave her a strained smile. “She’ll be fine, Mrs. Whitedove. She just has a bit of upset stomach. I’ll give you some Pepcid AC for her, and you may want to adjust her diet for the next couple of days to help with the nausea and the discomfort she’s feeling. Just some plain rice and a bit of chicken without the skin. Why don’t you take Sam into the waiting room, and I’ll get that for you right away.”
Mrs. Whitedove gave a sigh of relief and smiled enthusiastically at him. “I’m so glad, Doc. I was frightened something was really wrong with her. My son, Kasey, bought her for me as a gift after my mother passed away.”
“She’s going to be just fine,” Seth murmured, stroking the dog along her nose briefly. His fingers gripped at the edge of the exam table until his knuckles turned white as he waited for the woman to leave the room.
The instant the door closed behind her, he raced into the back toward the bathroom, where he promptly vomited into the toilet. A dark substance stained the white porcelain as he slumped down onto the floor. He rested his forehead on his folded arms across the seat, waiting for the shakiness and dizziness to fade. When he finally felt he could stand without falling over, Seth pushed up from the floor to go fill the prescription for the poodle.
Chessie stood talking to Mrs. Whitedove when he exited the back. He handed the small bottle to Chessie. “Just give her a half in the morning for the next five days, and she’ll be just fine, Mrs. Whitedove. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call me. My cell number is on my card. I’m available anytime you need me.”
“Thanks, Doc,” she said, smiling, paying Chessie before walking out of the clinic with a very happy bounce to her step. Seth smiled weakly after her.
Chessie gave him a worried look, coming around to place her hand on his shoulder. “You all right, Doc? You look a little pale.”
Seth nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine, just a little tired. It’s been a long six weeks.”
“If you’re sure,” she replied uncertainly. “Your next appointment should be here in just a few minutes.” Her gaze was troubled as she watched him go into his office at the back of the building. She could sense that he hadn’t been completely honest with her.
Seth sank down into his desk chair, leaning his head on the desk in front of him. His eyes closed as he struggled to gain control of his body. It wasn’t but a few moments before the intercom buzzed and Chessie let him know his next appointment had arrived. Taking a deep breath, he stood, walking into the front to grab the file he needed.
By the end of the day, he felt exhausted and wobbly on his feet. Chessie left an hour before he did, and he was just about to lock up for the night when he heard the bell above the door tinkle. Sighing, he stepped into the hallway from his office, stopping short when he saw the most gorgeous man he’d ever laid eyes on standing there.
The man was the walking epitome of sex. Black hair, held back from his face, shone brightly in the overhead lights. Strong, high cheekbones and a firm, rounded chin gave him a rugged appearance. The olive-toned skin clearly showed his relation to the other locals. He stood at least six feet, with big, wide shoulders that could surely hold a mountain of weight on them. A sheriff’s uniform hugged his muscular body in all the right places.
Swallowing hard, Seth walked toward him, a slight smile on his face. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Instantly, a hostile look came into the dark gaze staring at him. “You’re white,” the man snapped.
Seth lifted an eyebrow at the man. He decided right then he didn’t really like him. He peered at the tag on the uniform, eyes widening slightly at the name. “Gee, I’m glad that’s been sorted out. Now my confusion has cleared. What can I help you with, Sheriff Whitedove?”
A scowl settled between the elegant arched eyebrows. “Doc never said he was selling to a white man.”
The small smile that had been on Seth’s face had died long ago. He could tell the man was a prejudiced bigot. “Look, you’re obviously not happy about the fact that I’m not Cheyenne, but you’ll have to deal with it, because I can’t change who I am,” he ground out, very angry suddenly. “Now, is there something you needed, or are you just going to stand there all night telling me I’m white? I’m exhausted and would like to go home.”
Sheriff Whitedove pulled himself up to his full height, towering over Seth, but Seth didn’t back down. He merely glared at the man. “One of my horses is having a difficult labor, but I don’t need a white man touching my horses. Your kind knows nothing about animals.”
“So you’d rather your horse suffer and possibly die because I’m white?” Seth demanded harshly, his heart aching at the obvious hatred coming from the other man. He’d never admit it, but it hurt. “And I know more about animals than you think, Sheriff, but if you’d rather your horse died instead of having a white man helping, then I suggest you remove yourself from my clinic.” His breathing had grown ragged from the anger surging through him. Bastard. Who the hell did this guy think he was?
The skin around the sheriff’s mouth grew white with how tight he had his lips pulled together. “Fine, let’s go, but know this, Doc, if my horse dies, I’m holding you responsible.”
Seth didn’t respond to the threat, but he whirled around to go back into his office to grab his emergency medical bag. The sheriff still waited impatiently by the front door of the clinic. Seth felt more concern for the horse than he did for how the man seemed to dislike him for being white. “I’m ready,” he said in a serious tone.
The sheriff didn’t say a word, just slammed out of the office to the sheriff’s department pickup in front of the clinic. Seth shut and locked the door behind him before sliding into the vehicle. The sheriff barely gave him the chance to fasten his seat belt before tearing out of the parking lot. Tense and quiet, the ride seemed longer than the ten minutes it actually took. Seth couldn’t stop himself from giving a small sigh of relief when they pulled up in front of a large ranch-style home just outside of town.
“This way,” the sheriff practically growled at him.
A horse lay in the straw in one of the stalls. Seth rushed forward, dropping to his knees beside the horse. Everything else disappeared. Not even the sheriff mattered at that moment. His hands slid down the broad side of the dark chestnut horse. The foal was in trouble and fading fast. He knew if he didn’t get the foal turned quickly, both the mother and the baby would die.
Moving quickly, he shoved the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his elbows. He didn’t take the time to slip on the gloves like he normally would have. He could feel the fear and pain radiating from the horses, adding to his own worry for them.
Reaching into the horse, he carefully grasped the front legs of the foal and tugged slowly, gently. Inch by excruciating inch, the foal began to turn. Seth made a small grunt of triumph as the baby fell into place and began to slide forward. The horse let out a neigh of excitement as she felt the foal moving.
Kasey Whitedove hovered but didn’t say anything, instead merely studying the man who had taken over the animal clinic in his town. He could see it was as if nothing but the animal existed for the dark-haired vet. The play of emotions, from worry to relief, across his features fascinated him. He felt a twinge of regret for how he’d spoken to the man at first but viciously shoved it away. Either way, the man wasn’t Cheyenne. White men knew nothing about animals. They used them and destroyed them for their own personal gain. His lips flattened even further in anger at the previous doctor. What had Redfern been thinking?
Seth pulled his hands free of the horse’s body and let her finish the work. The baby slid out in a rush of fluids to land in the soft hay. A wide smile split Seth’s face at the sight of the beautiful black foal that was already struggling to stand. He carefully moved backward to watch as the mother started cleaning the baby. “Very nice,” he said almost under his breath.
When he knew they would both be okay, he looked toward the large Cheyenne, but he didn’t expect praise. He merely asked, “Is there somewhere I can clean up?”
“There’s a small room at the back of the barn,” Kasey replied roughly.
Seth stood, brushing past the sheriff, not noticing the way the man stiffened. He located the room, turned on the faucet, and grabbed the bar of soap resting on the edge. It was a good thing he hadn’t needed to worry about another episode, because he couldn’t trust someone who obviously didn’t trust in his ability. If only the man knew. His mouth turned down at the corners at how much he actually seemed to care what the sheriff thought. It didn’t matter, he told himself sharply. The man was a bigot.
Suddenly, he felt more exhausted than he had in months. It had been a long day, and the tense emotion between him and the sheriff was heavy, weighing him down like lead. When he exited the small washroom, the sheriff wasn’t inside the barn. Seth gathered his things, exiting the barn. He didn’t see the man anywhere out front, either. Sighing, he was wondering if he would have to walk back to town when the front door opened. The sheriff stepped out onto the front porch, his boots scraping the wood floor. “You ready?” the man demanded.
Seth’s jaw clenched, but he merely gave a short nod. Not a word breached the silence between them during the ride back, and Seth was so happy to see his clinic. Even more so than he had been that morning. “Good night, Sheriff.”
“Night,” the man bit out.
Seth watched the truck roar out of the parking lot, shaking his head. Stubborn, foolish man.
Seth slid into the front seat of his car, heaving a tired sigh. His body hurt, ached with a fierceness that always came after he expended energy healing. Since he’d been a child, he’d had the unnatural ability to see inside animals to find whatever illness they suffered, and he was able to remove that illness, but not without paying a price. His body absorbed the bad energy causing the disease or sickness and had to eliminate it once he’d finished. Most of the time it was a simple matter of dispelling the energy by vomiting, but sometimes, if the sickness were severe enough, his body would need to find another outlet. Usually through bloodletting. Either way, it left him exhausted and fragile.
A yawn broke free as he started the car, and he knew if he didn’t get home soon, he would be in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. The little house he’d rented, perfect for just himself, rested on the edge of the forest: two bedrooms with one and a half bathrooms, a small living room but a wide open kitchen, was more than enough for one. He loved to cook, so the kitchen was one of the features that had drawn him to the little house.
When he pulled into the driveway, he smiled when he heard his golden retriever, Bullet, barking at the door. He’d found Bullet as a puppy bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. Even his ability wasn’t able to remove a bullet, but despite all odds saying that the puppy would die, he’d pulled through. Seth had kept him as a constant companion since. That had been three years ago.
Thinking of Bullet reminded him of the sheriff’s words about white men knowing nothing about animals. It was true. There were so many animals in the world that were on the verge of extinction because of how little respect humans had for the creatures. But it wasn’t just white men. Almost all humans destroyed animals every day, whether by the simple act of killing one by hitting it with their vehicle or the act of clearing a wooded area to make room for more houses or business complexes. It always left him sad when he heard of such things happening again and again. The sheriff couldn’t have been more wrong about him, though.
He ruthlessly shoved those thoughts from his mind. He would not allow the sheriff’s words to affect him. Blinded by hate, the sheriff couldn’t see that not everyone behaved the same way. Dragging his feet, Seth entered the house, greeting Bullet tiredly. “Hey, boy,” he murmured.
Bullet whined and shoved his head beneath Seth’s hand. Seth laughed quietly, stroking the big dog behind his ears. “I’m happy to see you too. It’s been a long day, though. I promise I will take you with me to the clinic tomorrow, okay, boy? There’s a big yard in the back that you can run in.”
The dog let out an excited bark, wagging his tail at him happily. Seth refilled the dog’s bowls with food and water before collapsing on the couch, which was as far as he got. He immediately fell into a dream-filled sleep.
At first, the sheriff starred in a big way, sending his body into overdrive. Naked bodies twisted together in passion with soft sighs and low moans. Seth shifted in his sleep as his cock pressed uncomfortably against the front of his slacks. But the dream slowly transitioned into the nightmare he’d lived and breathed for months. The one that had haunted him ever since. A whimper cut through the small house at the remembered fear and pain. The sweet scent of blood still stung his nose acridly. There was so much of it, and he couldn’t stop it.
Seth shot up with a loud gasp, shaky and terrified. Sweat soaked his clothing while shudders ravaged his body. He ran a hand over his face and glanced at the clock. Already four in the morning. He knew he’d never get back to sleep after the nightmare, so he wearily stood up from the couch to get ready to face the day. A shower revived him slightly, but only coffee would truly erase the shadows hiding behind his eyes.
He dressed swiftly, tugging on a pair of faded blue jeans and a gray T-shirt. Deciding to head to the clinic early, Seth called for Bullet, who immediately started leaping against the front door. Laughing, Seth opened the door, and the dog raced to the car, turning in circles in excitement. “I know it’s been a while since you came with me to work, boy. Now remember to behave yourself, okay?”
The dog let out a bark like he was actually answering him. Seth gave the dog a pleased smile before opening the driver’s side door and letting him into the vehicle. Seconds later, they were on the road into town.
Since the clinic didn’t open until eight, he stopped by the local diner to pick up a cup of coffee to go. He left the windows open for Bullet, commanding him to stay inside. The diner only had a handful of people at the moment, thankfully, because when he opened the door, every head in the place swiveled around to stare at him. He smiled, urging his heart to stop pounding. “Good morning,” he greeted the girl behind the counter, quickly eyeing her name tag, “Bridget.”
“Well, good morning to you, Doc,” Bridget replied, leaning against the counter. Fair skin with light-blonde hair, dark-green eyes, and a large chest made it obvious her lineage wasn’t Cheyenne. If he hadn’t been a gentleman, he might have laughed at how she pushed her breasts up to make them appear more impressive for him. As it was, he had to hide a smile behind a cough. “What can I get for you?”
“Just a large cup of coffee to go, if you don’t mind,” he requested, taking a seat at the counter.
“Sure thing, darlin’.” She winked at him before walking away.
Seth shook his head and ran a hand through his still-damp hair. He could feel the curious gaze of the others in the diner. Though he’d only taken a quick glance around, he’d been able to take in that there were two men at the table in the back nearest the restrooms. Another table held a small Caucasian woman with two children who were obviously still waking up this early in the morning, as they were actually seated at the table without screaming or throwing things. And a single Anglo male sat at the other end of the bar from him. Tension hung in the air around him, and he felt certain his arrival had caused the strain. They obviously didn’t trust him.
“Here ya go, Doc,” Bridget bubbled, placing a steaming Styrofoam cup in front of him. “That’ll be one dollar and twenty-five cents.”
Digging his wallet out of his pocket, he pulled out a five. “Don’t worry about the change,” he said as he grabbed up several packets of sugar and a small container of creamer.
The bell over the door behind him rang out clearly in the nearly empty diner. He stiffened when he became aware of the sudden hostility behind him. He’d been about to prepare his coffee there, but knowing that the sheriff was there made him change his mind. “Thanks, Bridget,” he said, turning to leave.
The sheriff stood there in civilian clothing. Tight jeans molded to his strong thighs, and a white T-shirt plastered itself to his chest like a second skin. Seth’s breath hitched in his throat, and he had to swallow twice to bid the man, “Good morning, Sheriff.”
The man glared at him but returned his greeting stiffly. “Morning,” he said as he brushed by Seth, heading toward the other end of the counter. Seth caught a glimpse of a tattoo on the Cheyenne’s upper arm. He couldn’t quite see its entirety, but he could just barely make out a tribal symbol.
Sighing internally, he shoved his way out of the diner. Bullet hung halfway out of the window eagerly. “Come on, Bullet, move over.” The dog barked loudly, drawing the gaze of the customers in the diner, including the dark eyes that seemed to bore right through him. He started mumbling under his breath, “I really hoped this would be a place that we could stay, Bullet, but now I’m not so sure.”
Chessie’s car was out in front of the clinic when he arrived, and she greeted him in her usual cheerful manner. “Good morning, Doc. Oh! What do we have here?” She came around the front of her desk and knelt down, laughing as she accepted the slobbery kisses that the golden retriever laid on her. “What’s his name?” She looked up at Seth.
“His name is Bullet. I usually bring him with me to work so he isn’t cooped up in the house all day long, but in wanting to get the residents comfortable with me, I didn’t have the chance. But he’ll be joining me every day from now on. Right, boy?”
Bullet barked and rubbed against Seth, who promptly smiled happily. Having the dog near him always boosted his spirits. Perhaps the reason had something to do with his ability, but he couldn’t be certain it wasn’t because the dog had saved his life on more than one occasion.
“Well, I think he’s just adorable,” Chessie gushed, hugging Bullet once again before standing up. “Your first appointment isn’t until nine, and it’s going to be a little slow today. There are only a handful of appointments.”
Seth frowned at her. “Is that usual?”
She tried to hide the flash of chagrin in her eyes, but she wasn’t fast enough. He gave her a look, and she sighed. “No. Usually Doc Redfern was booked most of the day. I’m sorry, Seth, but until you prove yourself to the town, you’ll find that most of them aren’t very trusting. Especially….” She trailed off, but he was pretty sure he knew what she’d been about to say.
“Especially because I’m white,” he said bitterly. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Don’t worry, Chessie. I’ve already had that hammered into my head by the sheriff. He came in with an emergency last night. One of his horses was having a difficult birth. The foal had turned. He almost walked out and didn’t want me to treat the horse because I’m white. Make sure you send him a bill for the emergency call.” He spun on his heel and stomped to his office. Just when he’d thought that maybe things might work out here, it turned out to be a town full of closed-minded bigots.
The rest of his day went by smoothly. Most of the appointments were for annual shots, and thankfully, none were serious enough to require him using his ability. The last appointment left at just after five, and Seth sank down in his desk chair with relief. Bullet immediately put his head in Seth’s lap, whining to be petted. Seth’s hand dropped down on the large silky head, and he idly stroked the dog behind his ears. The customers who had been in that day were, in fact, wary of him. It left him baffled at how they could all believe that he knew nothing about animals. He’d spent eight years learning about them. He might be young, but he knew his shit.
The intercom buzzed just then. “Doc, I’m going to be leaving for the day. Is there anything else you need?”
“No, but thanks, Chessie. Have a good night,” he bid her.
“You too, Doc.” He could clearly hear the concern in her voice, and maybe he should be worried as well. If all of the clients in the area refused to come into his clinic, he’d go bankrupt for sure. He’d put all of his money into this place. The thought left him more resigned than panicked. Bankruptcy would only add to the weight already on his shoulders.
Bullet whined again, bringing him from his thoughts, and then the hackles on the back of the dog’s neck stood up. He started growling, crowding close to Seth. Seth’s heart started to pound. The dog would never attack a human, and there had only been one other time that Bullet had reacted like that. Looking around wildly, he looked for a weapon, anything he could use, but there wasn’t really anything in his office. Standing, he peered out into the dim hallway while Bullet kept tugging on his pant leg to try and stop him. “Bullet,” he reprimanded quietly.
The dog let him go but stuck close to him as he walked toward the front of the clinic. Eerie silence met him in the front lobby. Chessie had locked the door behind her, but Bullet didn’t stop growling. He merely grew fiercer. Seth carefully turned the lock on the door and pulled it open, bracing himself. The parking lot sat empty except for his car. Eyes darting in every direction, he took hold of Bullet’s collar, locked the door, and started toward his vehicle. “It’s okay, Bullet,” he murmured, trying to reassure himself more than the dog.
His hand had just settled on the door handle of his car when he heard a sound behind him. A small scream lodged itself in his throat as he whirled around. Bullet let out a vicious bark, crouching low beside Seth. Blessed relief flooded Seth when he saw the sheriff. He slumped against his car, shushing Bullet. “Evenin’, Sheriff,” he said, cursing the quaver in his voice.
The man stopped, frowning. He could see fear lurking in Seth’s eyes. Was he afraid of him, or was something else going on? “Doc,” he replied stiffly. “Something wrong?”
Seth shook his head quickly, probably too quickly when he saw the dark gaze narrow at the edges. “No, it’s nothing.” Bullet’s hackles were still raised, and his eyes were trained on the sheriff. “You just scared me is all,” he hedged.
Kasey stared at the man in front of him. He’d long ago learned how to smell a lie, and the vet was lying. Kasey’s eyes scanned the area around them, but nothing stood out. Fear rolled off the other male, tangible and harsh. Kasey scowled mentally at the almost protective feeling that struck through him at the thought of someone hurting the dark-haired doctor. “You certain, Doc? You seem kinda jumpy.”
“I’m sure,” Seth stated quietly. Bullet was no longer growling, but the dog never once looked away from the sheriff. Seth started to turn but stopped, looking back at the man who’d dominated his thoughts the night before. “Good night, Sheriff.”
Bullet almost didn’t want to get in the car, and Seth had to force him. “What is wrong with you, Bullet?” he muttered as he started the car, very aware of the sheriff still watching him pull out of the parking lot. What was the sheriff doing there, anyway? It seemed strange for the man to just show up outside his clinic without a reason.