include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Time for Terri by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.




Time for Terri

Smoky Mountain Romance Book 1


by Roslyn Bane


© 2015, © 2019 Roslyn Bane


ISBN-(trade) 9781948327107

ISBN-(epub) 9781948327114

ISBN (pdf) 9781948327121


This is a work of fiction - names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business, events or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.


Desert Palm Press

1961 Main Street, Suite 220

Watsonville, California 95076



Editor: Mary Hettel

Cover Design: Michelle Brodeur (eebooWORX)



Other Books by Roslyn Bane

The Long Way Home




Blurb

Terri Greene is a professional photographer who travels the world but calls the small town of Bryson City, NC home. She has made a nice life for herself and kept her painful past deeply buried. She has a reputation for being friendly but aloof. She hammered her heart shut years ago and has long since given up hope for a loving relationship.

Sheila McDevitt, a new arrival to town, has opened a veterinary practice and is determined to succeed in this close-knit community. Viewed as an outsider, she struggles to grow her practice. Unfinished business from her past causes difficulties with her current plans.

When these two women’s lives intersect the changes are unforeseeable. As trust grows and inner demons are tamed, can they see past their own busy professional lives and find success in the part of life that matters most?




Acknowledgements

First edition acknowledgments

Special thanks to Anson Barber for all the encouragement and advice you provided, and for taking time out of your own busy writing schedule to beta read for me.

Thank you to Andrew Grey for the excellent advice on writing about same-sex couples.

To the folks at Patton Veterinary Hospital, thanks for your assistance and encouragement.

To the highly-skilled instructors at the Nantahala Outdoor Center who made learning to kayak a great experience and loads of fun, I can’t thank you enough.

I have tweaked the geography of Bryson City and the other towns mentioned to fit my demands.


Second edition acknowledgments

Thank you to Danielle Z. and AJ Adaire for your advice on the story, and to Mary Hettel for editing.

Special thanks to Lee for accepting the book for a second publication run so the series could continue.









Dedication

With Love to Family





"Do you believe in something that you've never seen before?

Oh there is Love. There is Love."

Peter, Paul & Mary




Chapter One

“MORNING MS. GREENE, HOW was your trip? Where’d you go this time? Let me help you with that.” The chubby young teenager rattled off his questions without seeming to take a breath, picked up one of the boxes, grunted a little with the weight of it, before settling it into his arms.

“Thanks, Jimmy. That’s a little heavy.” Terri almost grabbed for the box as it tilted but stopped as he regained balance. She easily hefted another box of similar size. “My trip was great, I went to Australia. I was in Melbourne, Sydney, and spent a few days up in North Queensland.”

“Did you see any kangaroos?”

Terri opened the passenger side door of her dark green jeep, set the box on the floor, and stepped aside as Jimmy loaded the other box onto the seat. “As a matter of fact, I did. I’ll show you the pictures sometime. Do you still work in the library after school? I’ll come down later this week.”

“I do. Thanks.” Jimmy smiled as she handed him a folded bill. He turned to walk away, and then looked back. “Welcome home, Ms. Greene.”

Terri finished her errands and headed back home, driving leisurely and with a smile on her face as she passed the familiar sites. Her head snapped to the right as a blur appeared, she hit the brakes hard and grimaced when there was a sickening thump followed by a sharp yelp.

“Shit!” She pulled over and ran back to the animal.

“Oh damn.” She pressed a hand to her stomach as it roiled. A wave of nausea rushed through her at the sight of the mangled leg and blood. The yellow Labrador retriever lay whimpering, its eyes glazed. “Oh, poor baby.”

Terri ignored the gravel biting into her knees as she knelt and placed a hand on the dog’s chest. The fur was coarse and matted with dirt and briars. Its ribs were prominent, and the dog’s heart was racing. Looking around for help, and seeing no one, she ran to the car, grabbed her jacket and an old towel. She raced back to the dog, stroking its head, keeping her voice soft she whispered, “Come on, let me help you.” She wrapped the coat over the dog’s head and it started to fight. “It’s all right, hold on.” She lifted it quickly, then set it back down on the towel, wrapping it tightly. She carried the dog to her Jeep, placed it inside, and sped back toward the veterinarian’s office. “Please be open.”

Spraying gravel as she turned into the parking lot, she beeped her horn and was relieved to see a woman come out. “Is Doc James here?”

“No. I’m the new vet, Sheila McDevitt. What happened?” She glanced into the back of the jeep and saw the dog. “Let me get a cart, we’ll bring her inside.”

Terri stroked the dog’s head again and looked into its brownish yellow eyes, remembering her long-gone childhood dog. She whispered to it, her voice calm and soothing, “You’ll be okay.” She wondered when the tall blonde vet had started at the clinic.

Lifting together they placed the dog on a cart. “It ran out in front of me. I couldn’t stop in time. I tried to miss it.”

“Let’s get her inside. We can talk more in there.” The vet wheeled the cart back across the parking lot while Terri hurried ahead to open the door. As they moved through the corridor to an exam room the dog whimpered and tried to rise but was easily held down. Together they positioned the dog on the exam table. The dog yelped and started to shake. Terri stood by quietly as the doctor listened to the dog’s chest and abdomen with her stethoscope. “Her heart and lungs sound fine. The belly is rumbling like it should. This is good.” Using a penlight, she checked the dog’s eyes and then looked in its ears. “Good, the pupils are reacting to light and there is no blood or fluid in her ears.”

“What does that mean?” Terri asked.

“It means there is probably no head injury.”

The vet looked up. “So far everything else looks pretty good. I’ll do a more detailed exam later, but I want to give her something for pain before I exam the leg thoroughly. Will you stay with her? Keep her on the table while I go get the medicine? My staff is not here right now.”

“Of course.” Terri petted the dog’s head gently and stroked between its eyes until the vet returned. She watched as the doctor cleansed the leg and injected the medicine. After a minute the dog’s eyes began to droop. Terri stood by watching as the vet continued to examine the Lab. The woman’s voice was subdued, calm and soothing. The dog visibly relaxed as her hands moved over it. Terri watched as the vet carefully examined the leg. With great care she moved it, causing the dog to whimper and try to pull away. Terri noticed the woman’s brow furrow as she continued the exam.

The vet turned to Terri. “I’m afraid I can’t save the leg. I can remove it, or I can put her down.”

“What? No! Is she okay otherwise? You would kill her because she’s hurt?” Terri heard the anger in her own voice and tried to calm herself.

“No. Sorry, let me explain. Other than the leg injury and some bruising the dog will be fine. But a lame dog can have a very hard life. The dog appears to be a stray, certainly it’s not well cared for. It can’t be left on its own.”

“No. She ran out. I’ve never seen it around town. Does it have one of those chip things?”

“I’ll check.” The vet ran a wand over the dog, scanning. “No, it doesn’t.”

“I guess I have a dog then.”

Sheila paused. “That’s very nice, but Ms…”

“Terri, Terri Greene.”

“Well, Terri, I don’t want to dissuade you, or seem cold, but the cost of care and the difficulties of a lame—”

“I want the dog. Do what you can.”

Sheila nodded. “This could be quite expensive.”

Terri hesitated, for a few seconds. “What’s expensive?”

“Offhand, it’s going to be close to twelve hundred dollars, maybe more.”

Terri swallowed. “Whew. That is steep.” Her heart dropped as she looked down at the dog and saw its pain-filled eyes staring at her. Her breath stuttered as she decided. “That’s okay, go ahead.”

“Let me make some phone calls and get one of my assistants back to help me.”

After several minutes the vet returned, her eyebrows wrinkled “I’m unable to reach my staff. They both had plans to go away this weekend. I can sedate her more. Make some other calls.”

“What do you need? I’ll help.”

“I don’t think that would be appropriate.”

Terri set her jaw “I don’t care. I can hold things, reach for things. Tell me what you need.”

“It’s not only that, it can be quite disturbing if you’re inexperienced.”

“So is watching something suffer. Please.” Terri watched the vet, saw her frown and her mouth tighten as she considered what to do.

“Okay. Stay here with her and try to keep her calm, I’ll get things set up.”


***


Ninety minutes later, Sheila sat dictating her examination of the dog, and then the operative notes. She glanced occasionally at Terri, watching as she sipped the cold water Sheila had given her. The woman had done remarkably well and had only needed some gentle reassurance a few times to help steady her. Her brown eyes were very expressive and had revealed her emotions and distress during the surgery.

“Hey, Doc?”

Sheila looked over and smiled. “Yes?”

“I think in the excitement I forgot your name.”

“Sheila McDevitt. How are you feeling?” She saw a faint blush rise on Terri’s cheeks. It stood out in sharp contrast on her still pale face. Slender, with a smoky voice, her high cheekbones and narrow face were fascinating. Despite her obvious discomfort, the woman was stunning.

“I’m okay. Sorry I got a little queasy in there.” Terri rubbed at the scar on the back of her hand. “You were right, I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“You did fine. That’s why I put a chair in there, so you could sit down if you needed to. You were a tremendous help. I couldn’t have done it without you.” She glanced toward the sleeping dog. “You’re giving her a chance. Most people would have left her lying in the road.”

“I couldn’t do that. I had a dog that looked like her a long time ago.” Sheila noticed the darkening of Terri’s eyes, heard the tightening of her voice.

“You must have cared for it very much.”

Terri looked up, nodded. “So, when did you take over here?”

“About six weeks ago. Dr. James was retiring. Instead of him having to close the practice, I bought it from him. How long have you been coming here?”

“Actually, today’s the first time. I only know him from around town.

“Seems like everyone knows everyone.”

“Bryson City is pretty small. Where are you from? I’m guessing the Mid Atlantic area?”

Sheila answered, “Northern Virginia, born and raised.”

“What brought you here?”

Sheila tapped her pen against the table and hesitated, trying to decide what to reveal to a client. She nodded her head slightly, “Starting over. Divorced.”

“Sorry about that. What brought you here, though? Small towns can be tough for outsiders.”

“Tell me about it,” she muttered. “I wanted to go out on my own. Work with both large and small animals. Go someplace my services were needed.”

Terri glanced over to the sleeping dog, the only animal in the place. “Well, she’s a large breed anyway. Business will get better as they get to know you. Did you keep the staff?”

“Yes. But if business doesn’t pick up—”

“It was a good idea. They’re your best advertising right now. They’ll keep the regulars up to date. From what I’ve seen, folks will come around soon enough.”

“Thanks. So, are you in advertising?”

Terri laughed, a rich, deep, throaty laugh that Sheila found surprisingly sexy. “Oh, hell no! I could never sit around all day making gimmicks and jingles. I’m a photographer.” She looked over to the kennel when the dog started to whimper.

“She’s becoming more alert, and is confused and scared, but she’s not in pain.” Sheila went over, spoke softly to the dog, checked how the IV fluid was running, and made some adjustments.

“How soon until she’s fully awake?”

“I’ll keep her lightly sedated until tomorrow. Then we’ll see how she does. She’ll need to stay here for a few days. I would like to see her weight start to come up. Plus, I’ll need to do more vaccines, check for disease, parasites.”

“Do what you have to.”




Chapter Two

TERRI SAT IN THE nylon camping chair, her boot-clad feet now noiseless in the gravel parking lot of the overlook. A million stars were bright in the moonless sky and the smell of the damp woods enveloped her. She breathed in the earthy smell of wet leaves, soil and water, and smiled. She listened as the sounds of the woods returned now that she had stopped moving around to set up her photography equipment. The skitter of small animals along the ground, the call of owls seeking their mate, a coyote yipping—the sounds that once scared her—now they were as welcoming as a lover’s embrace at the end of a long day.

She shivered and reached down to open her thermos, the scratch of the metal as the lid turned was barely above a whisper. Breathing deeply, she enjoyed the heady aroma of the dark, rich coffee, and the puff of warmth across her chin as she blew on it. She sat and sipped, patient as light started to appear in the east. About twenty minutes, she thought, and she could start shooting the sunrise. Until then she would watch and listen, enjoying this moment of solitude.

The outline of the surrounding mountains started to appear in more detail as the sky lightened. She rose, stretched, and moved to her camera, the animals of the woods instantly quieting. The gentlest of breezes rustled the leaves, and carried the now familiar scent of dogwood, flame azalea, and rhododendron.

The smells and sounds of the mountains disappeared as she viewed the world through her lens, the sound of the camera shutter not registering. The sky brightened with red-orange as the sun came closer to the horizon, until at last it erupted above the mountains. A ball of fiery red painted the sky with color and cast a surreal pink glow over the clouds snaking their way through the valleys and over the mountain tops that gave the Smoky Mountains their name. God, I love this place.


***


“Sheila, there’s a dog in the back. It wasn’t here yesterday morning. What happened?” asked Jamie, Sheila’s veterinary assistant.

“Yes, the poor thing was brought in yesterday afternoon. She got hit by a car. Unfortunately, I couldn’t save her leg. She’ll be here a while until she gets stronger.”

Jamie looked at the log for the billing information. “This says Terri Greene.”

“Yes, she brought the dog in.”

Becky, the clinic receptionist interrupted. “The mysterious Terri Greene brought in the dog?”

“Why do you say mysterious?” Sheila questioned.

“She’s lived here for over five years and doesn’t get out much.”

Jamie replied, “Oh, stop it. She does, too. True, she doesn’t come to every town function, but she travels a lot and probably wants to chill out in her own space before she hits the road again. I’ve talked to her many times at the store, at the library. She’s very friendly. I went to her show here last year and to another over in Charlotte.”

“Her show?” Sheila stopped ruffling through a chart and looked at Jamie.

“The library does monthly shows, displays of local artists’ work. Terri had some of her photos on display. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s amazing. And they’re not necessarily pictures of exotic places, but normal stuff around here. I recognized most of the places, but I’ve never seen them like that. She answered questions, talked to kids. She even showed people how to use their cameras.” Jamie’s fingers flew over the keyboard, and then she angled the computer screen. “Here, come take a look.”

Sheila looked at the images on the web page. “Oh my, they’re beautiful. Wow. She didn’t say much about what she did. I asked while she was here. She said she took photos. I figured she took portraits at the mall.”

The women laughed. “The mall? You’re in Bryson City. The closest mall is almost an hour away. You’re in the country now, Doc. There is no mall, but there’s a big shopping center over in Waynesville. That’s about forty minutes away.”

Before they could continue, a client came in. Becky checked them in while Sheila went into the back to review the file on her patient.


***


Terri arrived at the clinic at nine-thirty and stood by watching as Sheila and Jamie brought the dog out of the kennel and into an exam room. The dog whimpered, and Terri pressed her hand against her chest and squinted. “Is she in pain?”

“We gave her some medicine for pain earlier, but she’ll be a little sore. And she’s afraid. See how her tail is pulled down, and her ears are lowered. So, we’ll take our time and let her get used to us.”

Sheila spoke to the dog softly. “It’s all right, girl. Things are going to get better for you.” She placed a small piece of kibble in her open palm and brought it over to the dog who sniffed and gobbled it down. “Good girl.”

“She’s hungry,” Terri said.

“Probably. She is underweight. Who knows when the last time she ate was. Last night she only had fluids.” Sheila repeated feeding the dog several times until the dog was lying with its head erect. “Here, Ms. Greene, you can give her a few while I examine her.”

Terri stepped forward, placing a nugget of food in her hand and offering it to the dog. She took it fast but with surprising gentleness. Terri watched as Sheila used her stethoscope to listen to the dog’s chest and abdomen. “Is everything okay?” she asked as soon as the vet was done.

“Yes, her heart and lungs sound good. Her abdomen is soft and noisy like it should be. Give her a few more of those and then why don’t you go stand by the door.”

“Okay.” Terri did as instructed and watched as the dog tried to stand and follow her. Sheila reached under its belly and helped steady the dog when it swayed. Terri watched as Sheila pressed softly on its abdomen, before stroking along the bandaged leg stump. “She’s licking her mouth a lot.”

“That’s okay. That’s what some dogs do when they’re hurting. Call her.”

Terri looked at the vet. “But she’ll fall.”

“She will. But not today. I’m going to help her.”

Terri stooped down. “Come here, girl. Come on.” She held out a piece of dog food. She jumped forward as the dog tried to step and started to fall. She gave a quick sharp exhale when Sheila caught the dog and lifted its hips, bringing the good leg back under its body. She looked at Sheila. “You're making me tease her, she’s going to fall.”

“No, you’re not teasing her. I am going to help lift and steady her, so she starts to learn what to do and gets stronger. You’re helping me and developing a relationship with her at the same time. She wants to come to you. That’s what we want. We’ll do it a few more times and then I must check the wound. You don’t have to stay for that.”

“I’d like to.”

“You did well yesterday, you’ll do well today.” They worked with the dog for five more minutes until it lay down and refused to budge. “Stay here with her. Give her some loving. I’ll be right back.”

Sitting on the floor Terri ran her finger on the soft fur between the dog’s eyes, smiling slightly as the dog sighed and stared at her. “What’s your name girl? Where are you from?” The corners of her mouth curled up when the dog rolled onto its side and showed her belly. Terri started to scratch it and the dog thrashed side to side on its back. “Does that feel good? You like that, don’t you?”

Terri and the dog were startled when the door opened, and Sheila and Jamie entered. “We’re going to lift her up on the table to look at her leg.” Terri stepped back out of the way and watched as Sheila lifted the dog from the side and Jamie held its head. They positioned her on her side. Sheila nodded at Terri, “Come talk to her.”

Terri stepped forward and spoke softly to the dog, stroking her head while Sheila and Jamie removed the bandages. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, it is. Do you want to see?”

Terri scraped her teeth on her bottom lip, “I think so. It can’t be worse than last night, right?” She looked into Sheila’s eyes for reassurance and saw kindness and compassion.

“That’s right. Remember we shaved it down so there’s not too much fur by the end. The sutures are holding so it’s not bloody. It is a little swollen, but it has a nice healthy pink color.”

Terri swallowed hard, and bit down on her lip lightly before looking at the leg. The air rushed out of her lungs as she looked at the stump “It doesn’t look bad. I mean, I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like, but it’s not…um…too gross.”

Terri’s stomach flipped when Sheila smiled. “It looks exactly like it’s supposed to. Now we’ll show you how to clean it, and the next time the bandage needs to be changed, if you’re here, you can help. You’ll need to inspect it daily for several weeks to make sure it’s healing well. If it starts to ooze, smell funny, or she starts to lick at it a lot, we need to see her.”

“Okay.” Terri watched as Jamie wiped the wound with a gentle soap, applied an ointment, and then re-wrapped the stump with gauze and vet tape. Jamie explained the steps as she was performing them, and when she was finished, rewarded the dog with another piece of kibble.

Sheila lifted the dog down and held onto it with firm hands as the dog struggled to find her balance. She looked at Terri. “If you have time, I want you to help get her outside. Stay behind her and if she starts to fall, support her under the belly so she can balance herself. She needs to build up her strength in the other leg and as that develops her balance will get better.”

Ten minutes later, Terri was outside, sitting in the grass while the dog lay next to her panting. “Oh my God, that was tiring. I can’t imagine how exhausted she must be.”

Sheila handed Terri a bottle of water. “You were bent over a long time. That gets hard on your legs and back.”

“That’s for sure.” Terri sat up and took a long drink. “How long do you think it will be before she figures out how to walk?”

“She knows what she has to do now. She just needs to get stronger. It will be a few days before she will be able to come out here without stopping to rest on the way. It’s likely she will forget a few times and fall. It’s important to make sure she doesn’t reinjure the leg when it does happen. I’ll keep her here until she’s stronger and healthy. We’re going to feed her a special diet for the next few days. It will be higher in protein, since she is underweight. It will help her build muscle.”

“Okay. Do you mind if I come down again later today?”

“Not at all. She needs to get to know you. Come over whenever you want. We open at eight and close at five or five-thirty most days. I will come by in the evening and check on her again before it gets too late.”

“Thanks. I’ll be by later this afternoon.” She stood up, offered her hand to Sheila. “Thanks so much, Doc.” She looked at their joined hands when she thought she felt a tingle.

“My pleasure.” The doctor smiled again, and Terri felt a flutter in her abdomen.

Terri stopped by the clinic twice daily spending time with the dog in the yard. The yellow lab was doing better at attempting to walk, albeit with a slow, awkward, hopping-style gait and would tire easily. Terri would help her get up from a lopsided sitting position to standing, and when the dog grew tired, she sat on the ground with her, petting her. She brushed her coat daily and checked the dog’s leg, cleaning and dressing the wound herself. Slowly they began to bond.


***


Sheila watched the two of them through the window whenever she had a chance. Terri was very patient as she reviewed basic commands with the dog and praised her when she responded as well as the injury allowed. It was obvious that the dog had some basic training, but Terri was improving on it. She saw that Terri’s hands were always gentle, her voice reassuring.

Sheila began to wait to examine the dog until Terri was there because she asked many questions about the dog’s health. Sheila felt a growing fondness for the intriguing owner. She’d looked at Terri’s website several times, going through the galleries. Her outdoor photos were breathtaking and conveyed a variety of moods. She marveled at the photos of ordinary things that somehow became alive and vibrant. In her mind she tried to reconcile the Terri she saw in the clinic with the skilled photographer who appeared to travel the world. Becky was right; Terri Greene was somewhat of a mystery. She always spoke to Jamie and Becky, asking them questions about their families, and neighbors. But Sheila noticed she never shared much information about herself other than answering their questions concerning her work.

The office had no clients scheduled so Sheila sent the workers home with an apology that there was no work. She stayed, reviewing invoices, looking at food and medication supplies, trying to find better prices. One afternoon, a week after the surgery Terri arrived for a visit and the dog whined excitedly as she approached. Sheila smiled. “She is becoming quite attached to you.”

“I hope so.” Terri turned and looked at Sheila.

“Let’s go outside. It’s too nice to stay in here. I want to see how she’s doing with walking, and I have a few questions for you.”

They went outside, walking slowly as the dog hobbled in a slow, jumping gait. They watched as the dog moved around the fenced area. “She’s doing quite well, and her strength is coming back. I think you may be able to take her home soon. She is eating plenty, and her weight is coming up. You’ll want to be careful not to overfeed her. With her not being able to run it will be easy for her to get too heavy, and that will make it even more difficult for her to get around. Do you have a fenced yard?”

“No, I don’t. Do you think she’ll wander?”

“I don’t know. Some dogs who have been on their own do keep that wanderlust in them and will always roam if given a chance. I don’t think you’ll have that problem though. She realizes she is vulnerable. She also realizes she can trust you. I’ve been watching you.” Terri looked over, her eyebrows raised in surprise. “You are very good with her. Very patient. I feel good about you leaving with her. I know you will take good care of her.”

“I plan to.”

“Have you decided what to name her?”

“I’ve been thinking about that but haven’t decided yet. I want something that fits her.”

Sheila smiled. “I understand that. I did want to talk to you about having her spayed. Even though she may not wander, males will come for a visit. A pregnancy would be very difficult for her as she picks up weight.”

“I imagine so. Well, it needs to be done. I certainly can’t handle a house full of puppies, and I think this one has enough challenges already. When can you do it?”

“I’d like to give her another day or two to recover. She still has difficulty pushing up to stand sometimes. After the surgery she will be a little sore and I wouldn’t want her falling over and ripping open the sutures.”

“Okay.”

“I have some more work to do, I’ll leave you two to your training session. Come inside and let me know when you want to leave.”

“Sure thing.” Sheila watched as Terri walked back over to the dog, noticing the gentle sway of her hips, and the view of her very shapely ass. She shook her head to clear the surprising thought.


***


An hour later Sheila was immersed in a spreadsheet when Terri came back in. “Sheila, do you have a minute? I need to ask you something.”

Sheila looked up, met Terri’s gaze and found herself mesmerized. She had never thought brown eyes interesting, but Terri’s brown had specks of green in them, and her gaze was unusually direct but not unsettling. Sheila had seen such compassion in her eyes when Terri had initially worked with her to help the dog. She had the feeling that Terri Greene could look at someone and know immediately what was in their soul.

“I have a business proposition for you. I frequently travel for my business. Sometimes I’m gone overnight, a couple times a year for several weeks. I would like you to consider if I could leave the dog here while I am away. But not in a cage. I don’t want her locked up all day. I would pay you, of course. The normal kenneling fee, plus the cost of any lost business because she would stay here overnight. I would also pay an additional fee that we could negotiate for your time and effort.”

“How much time are you talking about?”

“Over the past twelve months I’ve been out of the country eight weeks and had another ten trips that lasted up to a week which were out of commuting distance.” When Sheila hesitated, Terri continued, “I couldn’t leave her to die, but I can’t give her the home she deserves. At least not without help.”

“This is very unusual. Do you want her roaming free here?”

“I would prefer that, and the fenced area outside is ideal, weather permitting. If there are problems with other animals, then she could be caged…”

“Kenneled.”

Terri smiled. “Kenneled, while she is here.”

“Let me think about this. I need to check the regulations too.”

“I understand. So how are you adjusting to town?”

“Ah, well, I am definitely an outsider.”

“Give them a little time. Get out and socialize a little.”

“Everyone seems friendly enough but somewhat wary.”

Terri laughed. “They’ll get used to you and vice versa. Where have you been?”

“The usual. The grocery store, post office, and hardware store. Some young boy keeps trying to help with my packages.”

Terri smiled. “That’s Jimmy. Nice kid.” Her expression sobered. “They’re going through some hard times. His father is a disabled vet. He got injured in Iraq, lost his legs. He works from home doing computer consulting. His mother left, she couldn’t handle the changes. Financially, they’re struggling. Jimmy helps by doing odd jobs. He’s not old enough for a lot of hours. People usually give him a tip when he helps them. It’s something we started doing. They won’t take handouts.”

“That’s good to know.”

“So, have you been anywhere else?”

“I’ve been out to some of the riding stables.”

“Oh, that’s called getting settled and drumming up business. How about a night out?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“You need a night out. Would you like to go to Natasha’s Bistro tonight?”

“There’s a bistro here?”

“It’s a little place down by the river. The business drops off in the winter, but it’s spring now and the tourists will start coming in. It does quite a business.”

“A real bistro?”

“Natasha grew up in France and came over to spend a year in the States, but never went back. She married one of the local farmers. Their produce is organic. In the winter their greenhouse supplies most of the vegetables they use. She is quite the cook. It’s very nice.”

Sheila hesitated. “I need to—”

“Do your errands tomorrow. You need something other than business.”

“All right.”

“How about seven? We can meet down there. I’ll jot down directions for you.”

As Terri wrote down the directions, Sheila ran her hands through her hair, “Ah, I feel ridiculous asking this but, what’s the dress attire?”

“Definitely not Northern Virginia fancy, this is casual. A couple times a year they do dinners where it’s coat and tie. Dresses. You need a reservation well in advance for those. They do it so people can have a nice night out for special celebrations. A couple of the churches have gotten in on it and have overnight kids’ nights with pancake breakfasts the next day.” Terri laughed and met Sheila’s gaze. “There is nothing like a kid-free night and sex to make everyone happy.”

Sheila felt her cheeks start to burn and mumbled, “I imagine so.”




Chapter Three

TERRI STOOD IN FRONT of her closet, suddenly unsure of what to wear. She’d been to Natasha’s several times with friends and neighbors. But this seemed different. Terri was surprised at the sense of relief she had felt when Sheila agreed to dinner. For God’s sake, just pick something, it’s not a date.

She finally chose a crisp, white cotton shirt, leaving the top buttons open; a gray pair of trousers, and a lighter gray vest. She replaced her simple gold studs with small gold hoops, put on her normal barely-there makeup, and added a touch of light pink gloss.

Arriving at the bistro early, Natasha and Terri spoke in French to each other. Terri fumbled occasionally, and Natasha corrected her, as was their agreement. Terri noticed that the pictures on the wall had been rearranged to fill in some gaps. “It looks like you could use some more photos. Anything in particular you would like?”

“The pictures of the waterfalls are always good sellers. Do you have any of vineyards though? I’ve seen some you have in black and white of the countryside. Those remind me of my childhood village.”

“I know I do. I’ll stop by next week and bring the files. You can show me the ones you want, and I’ll have them framed as soon as possible. You still get ten percent of the sale.”

“Terri, that’s too much. You help me decorate the place and pay me to do so.”

“No, really, it works for me. You display my work year-round. I don’t have that kind of time to show people the pictures and wait for them to decide. Here people can look unrushed and think about whether they want to purchase something. It’s fair.”

“Fine, but the wine tonight is on us.” Natasha led Terri to a table. “Who will be joining you, so I can bring them over?” Before Terri could answer, Sheila arrived, smiling broadly.

“Hello. I’m Natasha, welcome.” Natasha pulled Sheila’s chair out for her. “Terri, I will bring your favorite wine.” She handed them both menus and walked away.

“This looks nice. I took a moment out front to look at some of the paintings and pictures she has up. They’re stunning. And the plants are so lush. She’s used them effectively to give everyone privacy.”

“She does. Did you have any problem finding it?” Terri’s eyes flickered over Sheila’s body. “Nice outfit.” The black pants were well tailored and were paired with a sleek-fitted black camisole that revealed a modest curve of breast. It was topped with a yellow, short-waist summer blazer.

“Thank you. I wasn’t sure if I was on the right road. It went on a long way before opening into the parking lot. We’re close to the river?”

“It’s about twenty-five feet below us. There’s a good view from outside, and Natasha has a gazebo right next to it. Those tables are already taken though, so we’ll be inside. There’s a walkway along this stretch of the river, that connects the businesses with a nice cobblestone path.”

“This is fine.”

Natasha came back and opened the wine. After offering a sample to both and having it approved, she filled their glasses and returned to the kitchen.

They looked at the menus and after a minute Sheila spoke. “Everything looks so good. Why don’t you order, since you know the place?”

“Do you eat seafood or red meat?”

“I do. I’m not a big tofu fan.”

Terri laughed. “Well, that’s good to know.”

When the waitress returned, Terri ordered their entrees, and then topped off their wine. “How are you adjusting to life in a small town?” Terri asked.

“It takes some getting used to. I mentioned a shopping mall the other day at work and the ladies almost fell off their chairs laughing.”

“I imagine so. I tend to shop online, or when I travel, I hit the shops I prefer then.”

“You mentioned before that you travel. Where have you been?”

“All fifty states, most of the Canadian provinces, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand several times. I had just returned from Australia the day before I hit the dog.”

“I didn’t know that. Do you have a favorite place?”

“Right here.”

Sheila’s eyebrows arched, and her lips parted.

Terri laughed. “Don’t look so surprised. I fell in love with the area the first time I saw it. I was out camping and kayaking for a week. I knew I would be back, but I didn’t intend to move here. It just worked out that way. What’s your favorite place?”

“I would have to say the beaches along the Mediterranean coast. I don’t know that I have a favorite one. My parents loved to travel, and they made sure when we went on vacation we learned something about the culture and to appreciate the local cuisine. I’ve been to Europe several times. A couple of whirlwind tours to get a taste, then dedicated trips to explore more.”

The waitress returned with their Soupe au Pistou. “Tell me about your family.” Terri spooned up some soup and smiled as the rich aroma wafted up.

“My father is a retired family practice physician, and my mother still works part-time in real estate. She says she’ll never give it up completely because Dad would drive her nuts being around all day. I have a sister who is finishing law school and a brother in the Marines.” She tasted the soup. “Oh, this is good.”

“Where do you fit in there?” Terri asked.

“Oldest. My sister is twenty-eight, two years younger, and my brother is twenty-six.”

“Where is he stationed?”

“He’s recently returned from Iraq. Two tours. He’s getting out in a few months. Thank God. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of him. I’m glad he’s home safe. He wants to go back to school and become a psychologist.”

Their entrees arrived: Parmesan crusted organic chicken with risotto, artichoke, and basil lemon butter for herself, and Trout a la Meuniere with asparagus and morels for Sheila. They ate several bites, enjoying the flavors.

“Do you have any pets?”

Sheila wiped her mouth with a napkin. “My ex was adamant about not having pets. It wasn’t that way at first but after my cats died, there was too much arguing about it when I wanted new pets. As soon as I get settled a bit more, I will adopt one or two of the strays. Right now, things are a bit too unsettled.”

“When did you decide you wanted to be a veterinarian?”

“I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. I was always bringing home strays and taking care of them. I have always loved animals. My dad finally called a halt to bringing home animals when I was thirteen and we had four dogs, three cats, and a cockatiel. I was hiding them in an old carriage house on the grounds.”

“It sounds like a big place.” Terri liked the way Sheila’s eyes brightened as she spoke of the animals and her family.

“It is. It wasn’t in great shape when they bought it, but they fixed it up. I don’t recall a time there wasn’t some repair or remodel occurring. I remember sometimes when I was young the workers would let me pound a few nails in. It was so exciting at the time that I was ‘helping’ do the work. But enough about me. What about you? You don’t have quite the accent of a local.”

“I moved down from Virginia about seven years ago, I’ve been here for five years.”

“So, you’re from Virginia? What part?”

“I was in Roanoke for a couple years.” Terri shifted in her seat, pushing back ever so slightly from the table, tugging gently at her earring.

“Is your family still there?”

Terri glanced down at her plate and tried not to fidget. Her muscles tensed, and a wave of heat washed through her body. She took a long sip of wine and when she looked up she saw a puzzled look on Sheila’s face.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

Terri shrugged. “You’re not prying. I believe they still live in New York. I left at eighteen and never looked back. I started by heading south to where it was warmer. Eventually I ended up here. Where did you go to veterinary school?”

“Texas A&M. I met Peter, my ex, down there. When he finished his residency, we moved back up to Virginia. The rest is history. When did you get into photography?”

“I always liked taking photos and drawing. I was able to take a photography class in high school, a few more when I was in Virginia, and finally a couple of professional level courses once I got down here.”

Sheila sipped her wine. “What did you do in Virginia?”

“Restaurants, house cleaning, dog walking, drawing caricatures…you name it, I probably did it. I got a lucky break and landed a pretty good job at a brickyard. I was able to make enough money there that I could stop doing some of the other stuff. That gave me the time to take a few college courses. My boss at one of the restaurants wanted pictures of the food and drinks so I took some. They were good enough for him, so he paid me. A few other places wanted photos done, so I studied, and got better. Looking at those photos now I cringe.” Terri gave Sheila a quick smile and motioned for the waitress. “Would you like dessert? They always have something chocolate-y delicious.”

When the waitress arrived, Terri looked at Sheila “Do you mind if I order again?”

“No, I don’t mind.”

“We’ll have the fruit tart and chocolate sampler, along with the demi sec Riesling.”

They finished the meal with Terri filling Sheila in on some of the local attractions and more colorful locals. After splitting the tab, they walked down to the river and listened to the folk musicians that were entertaining the outdoor guests.

Over the next two hours they strolled along the riverfront. The elevated boardwalk ran along several blocks of waterfront. Local restaurants had tables set up for outdoor dining and a few shops that were still open and had their doors open hoping to entice passersby inside. Music emerged from within several taverns as bands played for the customers crowded inside. They browsed through the local art museum and Terri introduced Sheila to people she recognized from around town. Finally, they returned to the parking lot. “You know how to get back to your place all right?”

“Yes. Thank you, Terri. It was good to get out.”

“I hope this didn’t throw you behind too much with your unpacking.”

“I needed the break. I’ll be in the office early tomorrow to check on the dog by eight o’clock. Come by if you’d like to see her.”

“I’ll be there, I want her to start hearing her name.”

“Which is?”

“Tripod.”

Sheila laughed, a soft sensual laugh, which sent shivers along Terri’s spine. “Of course, the photographer’s three-legged dog. Perfect.”

Terri watched as Sheila drove away. She stood lost in thought for several moments. Sheila McDevitt was quite an interesting woman. And sexy as hell. She’d caught herself more than once looking at her mouth, wondering what her lips would feel like, how she would respond to a kiss. She had to consciously refrain from looking at her cleavage. Her gorgeous breasts were tastefully on display, the curve enticing. Were those large breasts sensitive or could they take rough handling? Damn! She had to stop. The woman was divorced, straight. She would not be interested in Terri in that way. Trying to have a friendship with this woman would be challenging.


***


Sheila sat sipping herbal tea, trying to settle in for the night. Terri Greene was a fascinating woman. She’d enjoyed the evening with her but found it hard to pay attention sometimes during the evening. Terri’s eyes captivated her. Her brown eyes with the green specks were so direct, so observant. At times, the green in them seemed to flare and become more intense. She had noticed Terri’s gaze flick over her body appreciatively and remembering it now, she felt herself start to get aroused.

Even if she admitted it only to herself, she was attracted to the woman. She had imagined herself kissing Terri more than once that evening. She had become distracted several times by her laugh and found herself focused on Terri’s mouth. Her lips with the faintest shimmer of pale gloss looked soft and enticing. She had to deliberately stop herself from leaning in and kissing her when they were down at the river, and again in the parking lot.

It had been years since she found herself sexually attracted to a woman. She had women friends, but she had not had a female lover since before she met Peter. She had known she was bisexual since she was a teen. Comfortable enough with the label that when she started going out with Peter, she had told him, believing honesty was the best policy. Other than a few poor jokes about having a threesome—which they never had—it was never an issue.

Now here was an undeniable attraction for Terri. And if she wasn’t mistaken, there was some interest on Terri’s part, too. But she didn’t need the distraction of an intimate relationship right now. She had to get the business on a better footing. She’d already moved past keeping strictly to a client-patient relationship with Terri. After all, she needed friends in the area and Terri was certainly friendly and interesting to be around. Yes, she would encourage a friendship, but she would have to be careful to keep the friendship strictly platonic.




Chapter Four

TERRI JOLTED AWAKE, HER own cry echoing in her head. Damn. Get out of my head, you bastard. This is my dog. Her room was starting to brighten with the approaching dawn, and she rolled over glancing at the clock. Five-thirty? The clinic doesn’t open for almost three hours.

She tried to will herself back to sleep for a little longer and finally gave up. With a sigh and a long stretch, she got up and slipped on some running gear. She spent a few minutes warming up and went outside for a run. An hour later she arrived back home and showered quickly.

Feeling butterflies in her stomach, she picked at her breakfast and laughed out loud at herself. Calm down, you’re like a kid in a candy store. Restless, she paced the room and moved to the closet. She pulled out the new dog bed and placed it in the corner by the fireplace. She pulled new dog bowls out of a bag, washed them, filled them, and then placed them on a small waterproof mat on the floor. With that done, Terri went upstairs to her office and started to work with constant glances at her watch. No surprise that at exactly eight-thirty she arrived at the vet clinic to bring Tripod home.

Becky greeted her with a friendly smile. “Good morning, Terri. Today’s the big day.”

“It sure is. I’m looking forward to getting her home. I’ve wanted a dog for a long time.”

“Well, she sure is a sweetie. You’ve done a lot of work with her. She’s more than ready to get out of here. You can go ahead into Room One. Jamie will bring in Tripod in a moment. She was getting a bath and nail trim this morning and should be finished soon.”

“Okay, thanks.”

A few minutes later Jamie brought Tripod into the room. The dog hobbled over to Terri and greeted her enthusiastically. After several ear shattering barks, the dog quieted and sat leaning against Terri’s legs. Sheila came into the room and the dog barked again and wagged its tail energetically.

“Well, she’s very excited today. How are you doing?”

“If I had a tail, I think it would be wagging just as fiercely.”

Sheila laughed. “Well good. Are you set up at home for her?”

“Yes, I have a bed out for her. I have a few toys and the bowls are filled waiting for her.”

“Good, let’s go over her medication. Here are some pills. This is an antibiotic and she needs to continue taking it for another two weeks, twice a day. It’s for the Lyme disease she has. I’ll check her in a couple weeks to make sure the infection has cleared up.” She picked up a rectangular box and showed it to Terri. “This is a heartworm preventative. It’s once a month. She should have her next dose in two weeks. There are little stickers inside to put on your calendar if you need a reminder, and the directions are on the box.”

“What’s in the other green bottle?”

“That’s a steroid. The dosing is on the bottle. That’s to help the swelling go down in the leg stump and it’s also helping with the inflammation from the Lyme’s. There is enough for one more week. After she finishes it you may find that she doesn’t eat or drink as much. That’s normal. She doesn’t need more than three cups of kibble a day. Give her half in the morning and half in the evening. If there’s food left in the bowl when she walks away you’re giving her too much.”

“Okay. How long do I have to keep checking her leg?”

“Every day for the next few weeks. It doesn’t have to be covered anymore but if you see her licking at it you better take a good look. If she falls onto it, of course you need to look.”

“That makes sense.”

“So, are you ready to take her home?”

“I am.”

“I want to say, I’ve been very impressed with what you have done for her and the time you’ve already spent with her. If you have any questions or concerns don’t hesitate to call. Oh, and let me know when you need boarding. We’ll be able to take care of her when you travel.”

“I will.”

“Well, let’s get you two out of here.”

Together, the three of them walked out to the jeep. Terri pulled a travel kennel out of the back, and after some gentle persuasion and a dog treat, Tripod climbed inside. Sheila and Terri then lifted her into the back of the jeep. Terri closed the tailgate and accepted the bag of medication from Sheila. Their hands touched for a moment and a quick zip of electricity passed between them, their eyes holding for several seconds.

They reluctantly pulled away from each other when Jamie and Becky came out and said goodbye to Tripod and to give her some new chew toys. After a few more minutes they headed home.


***


Over the next several days Terri and the dog adjusted well to each other. Both awakened periodically in the night with bad dreams, and the other would provide solace and comfort. Tripod was persistent in her efforts to come sleep in the bedroom with Terri, but she was resolute in not letting the dog sleep in her room or come in her office. Tripod would sit or lay patiently waiting for Terri, and on more than one occasion she let out a groan of canine frustration with her restrictions.

After one such loud groan, they went outside and walked slowly around the wood line. Suddenly Tripod stood alert and very still, her head cocked to the side listening.

“What do you hear, girl?” Terri listened for several seconds before she heard the slow steady crunching of a car working its way up the final rise of the gravel road. She stood and waited, wondering who would be coming up. From the sound of the car she knew it wasn’t any of her neighbors.

After several more seconds, a dark blue BMW appeared, Sheila’s car, and the realization brought a quick jump to her pulse. Tripod barked several times, but stood steady next to Terri, not leaving her owner’s side.

Sheila pulled into the short driveway, parked next to Terri’s jeep and emerged. Tripod stood whimpering with excitement but remained with Terri. Looking down at the dog, Terri spoke. “It’s Sheila. Go say hi. It’s okay.” The dog moved at a steady pace to greet her other friend.

“Hi. I hope you don’t mind me dropping by. I looked up the address from the file. I wanted to see how you both were doing.”

“We’re doing great. Out for a little exercise.” Terri looked over at the beautiful car. “You didn’t bottom out coming up the road, did you?”

“No, but I think it was close a few times, so I kept it slow. I was hoping no one would come down at the same time.”

Terri laughed. “It gets a little close, and sometimes the pickups have to fold their mirrors in. It can be a real son-of-a-bitch if it’s been raining or after a snow.”

“I think I know why they call it Broken Rock Road. Some of those exposed rocks look like they were split in two by a giant axe. They’re beautiful.”

“They are interesting. Would you like to come in, or are you in a rush?”

“That would be great.” Sheila stopped petting Tripod’s head and followed Terri and the dog toward the house.


***


“Terri, this is beautiful.” The Cape Cod-style home was made with high gloss logs and had a large covered porch. The green metal roof and matching shutters accented the brown log home. The lawn was well maintained, with a few bird feeders on the margin where the lawn met the surrounding woods. A large shed blended into the landscape.

“Does the porch go all the way around?’

“It does. I always wanted a house with a big porch. This place has such an amazing view on all sides, the porch had to wrap around too.”

Terri opened the door for Sheila and Tripod to enter. She stood back and watched nervously as Sheila looked around her small home. To give it a larger feel, the home had an open floor plan, with a large living room that was set apart from the kitchen by a built-in butcher-block table. The kitchen was small, but had modern appliances, and she kept it spotless. Like she was taught. The walls held brightly colored paintings, and several pottery items sat on the end tables with mosaic tile inlays that she had purchased from local artisans. A picture of a sunrise hung above the mantel. Her sofa and recliner were in good shape but not new, the leather soft and smooth.

“Where did you find the floor boards?”

“I saved them from the original cabin. They don’t shine very well.”

“They’re a nice touch, it adds a solid feel to the house.” Sheila moved over to the fireplace. “I love the fireplace. The stone work is unique.”

“I drew what I wanted. I thought the curves were more soothing than traditional straight lines. A local stonemason did the work.”

“It’s beautiful.” Sheila looked at the picture hanging above the mantel. It was a photograph of the sunrise over mountains. The clouds in the valley were a surreal pink as the deep red sun peaked along the ridge. “Is this one of yours?”

“It is. I took that the day after I hurt Tripod.”

“The colors are so interesting.”

“It was a beautiful morning, worth getting up for. Would you like something to drink? I have wine or tea.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-37 show above.)