Read The Place I Belong Online

Authors: Nancy Herkness

The Place I Belong

Praise for the Whisper Horse Novels

 

“Like slipping into a warm bath, Herkness eases readers into her story. She’s spot on when it comes to tugging at the heartstrings, and the vibrant setting of the West Virginia mountains is perfect for characters who will haunt readers long after the last page is turned. Animal lovers will especially be delighted.” —
RT Book Reviews
, 4 stars for
Take Me Home

 

“Her extensive background in poetry lends a symmetrical, lyrical quality to her prose.” —
West Virginia South
on
Take Me Home

 

“The small-town vibe and endearing characters keep the pages turning as their struggles and strengths evolve throughout the book. Fans of horses will enjoy this sensitive take on horse whispering as well as the bonds that can form between horse and rider. The romance is compelling
,
with a couple whose realistic problems and vices keep it firmly grounded in the real world.” —
RT Book Reviews
, 4 stars for
Country Roads

 


A charming—and hot!—tale of falling in love for all the right reasons,
Country Roads
should be on your must-read list!” —
Mariah Stewart,
New York Times
bestselling author

Also by Nancy Herkness

 

A Bridge to Love

 

Shower of Stars

 

Music of the Night

 

 

Other Whisper Horse Novels

 

Take Me Home

 

Country Roads

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

Text copyright © 2014 Nancy Herkness

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

 

www.apub.com

 

ISBN-13: 9781477823002

ISBN-10: 147782300X

 

Cover design by Laura Klynstra

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014900303

To my brilliant critique partners: Miriam Allenson, Catherine Greenfeder, and Lisa Verge Higgins. You know when to praise and when to raise the bar.

Chapter 1

W
E HAVE AN
emergency patient. Gunshot wound,” the receptionist said, sticking her head into Hannah’s office.

Jumping up from her new desk, Hannah yanked her long, blond hair back into a tight ponytail. She grabbed her wrinkled lab coat from the chair where she’d tossed it ten minutes before, barely catching the stethoscope that slipped out of the pocket. “How bad?” she asked, starting for the door.

“The dog limped in under his own steam, but there’s a
lot of blood on the floor,” Estelle said. “A German Shepherd
n
amed Trac
e.”

Relief loosened the knot of concern in Hannah’s chest. If the dog was walking, the wound shouldn’t be too severe. “Ask Heidi to prep for surgery, just in case,” she said as she strode down the hallway, her sneakers silent on the blue tile floor.

“Got it. He’s in Room 4. His owner’s Adam Bosch.” Estelle continued on toward the back of the hospital where the veterinary technicians were working.

Hannah tried to remember where she’d heard that name before as she eased open the examining room door. For a moment she saw nothing but what seemed like a deep shadow in the center of the brightly lit room. Then the man raised his head and she fell into eyes so dark it was difficult to find the brown in them. She realized he was bent over a large, black dog lying on the examining table. Because his hair and the dog’s were nearly identical in color, and Adam Bosch wore a black shirt, the two had merged into one lightless shape. “Hello, Mr. Bosch. I’m
Dr. Linde
n.”

“Where’s Dr. Tim?” Adam asked, the slashes of his brows drawing down into a frown.

“Out of town,” Hannah said, moving to the dog. She’d been at the veterinary hospital for only two months, so people were still surprised not to find Dr. Tim Arbuckle there. He’d hired her because he wanted to travel the world with his art dealer wife, and Hannah had been grateful to get the job. “I understand Trace may have been shot.”

Adam gave a curt nod. “I found him lying on the back porch with blood on his fur and the floor. The only thing I could think of was a hunter mistook him for a bear and shot at him.” The tendons in Adam’s neck stood out. He was obviously struggling to keep his fear for his dog’s life under control. Hannah was a sucker for someone who genuinely cared about their animal, and she found herself warming to the man.

As she reached toward Trace, his owner straightened, although he kept his hands on the Shepherd’s head and flank. Hannah noticed several scars on his fingers. “Careful. He’s not friendly to strangers,” Adam said.

“I think I can handle him.” Hannah bent to examine the dog, stroking him soothingly as she probed for injuries under the blood-matted fur on his right side. “Hello, Trace. What a handsome fellow you are!”

Her compliment was not an idle one; the German Shepherd had to weigh over a hundred pounds, with a fit, muscular body and a healthy sheen to his coat. Mr. Bosch took good care of his pet, another point in his favor. She explored around the wound on Trace’s right shoulder, and the dog whimpered but offered no resistance. She watched his ears, felt the tension in his body, listened to his breathing, and checked his position on the table. Absorbing all the clues Trace was giving her, she relaxed. The dog was not communicating serious pain or injury.

“It looks like a bullet wound to me,” Adam said.

She studied the raw, bloody slash marring Trace’s beautiful coat and decided the man was probably right. “I hate hunting season,” she murmured.

“So do I.”

The vehemence in his voice made her glance up at him. Once she got past the hypnotic depths of his eyes, she saw the anguish etching lines around his mouth. “It’s just a graze,” she said, her sympathy fully engaged. “No internal organs were hit. It didn’t even reach the muscle.”

“I checked him over and couldn’t find anything else wrong,” he said, tension still holding his broad shoulders rigid.

“Let me clean and bandage this, and I’ll get a vet tech to help turn him over so I can check his left side,” she said, opening drawers to gather her supplies. “However, I don’t think we’ll find anything else. He’s not showing any signs of significant distress.”

“No need for a vet tech,” Adam said. “It’s better if I handle Trace.”

“He’s a big dog,” Hannah said, eyeing the bulk of the Shepherd as she shaved the hair away from the wound.

“He didn’t react well to the vet tech on his last visit. Only
Dr. Ti
m could handle him. And now you.”

“If I can’t manage to touch a patient, I’m not a very competent vet,” she said with a smile, hoping a little self-deprecation would relax him. Of course, the Chicago media had portrayed her as both heartless and inept. She shoved the thought away as
she finished trimming around the wound before swabbing it and
applying a sterile pad. Trace flinched but lay still. She scratched behind his ear. “What a good boy you are!”

She slid her hands under the dog and traced along ribs and bones to make sure turning him wouldn’t do any damage. He exhibited no symptoms of further tenderness or injury, even thumping his tail on the table when she gave him a little tickle along his tummy.

“Incredible,” his owner muttered.

Hannah believed in giving her patients a little pleasure to offset their pain. Evidently, the black-browed Mr. Bosch
disapproved
.

“Nothing seems broken, so let’s turn him,” she said briskly.

As the two of them gently rolled the dog over, their heads came within a few inches of each other and an intriguing aroma of spices filled her nostrils. She was nearly overcome by a desire to bury her nose in Adam’s thick, dark hair to inhale more. She jerked her head away, locking her attention on the dog.

A thorough examination of Trace’s left side showed no fresh trauma, but she could feel ridges of what seemed to be scar tissue beneath his fur. She frowned as she traced them with her fingertips.

“What is it?” Adam asked, his voice tight with worry.

“Has Trace been injured before?” Because he had come in as an emergency case, she hadn’t checked the dog’s history.

“He tangled with a bear a few years ago. Dr. Tim saved
h
is life
.”

“Ah, that explains the scars.” Hannah lifted her head to take her first real look at Adam, discovering he had an aquiline nose, a marked cleft in his chin, and a noticeable five o’clock shadow. Her experience with her ex-fiancé had taught her not to trust good-looking men, but she couldn’t repress a little shiver of appreciation. And he cared about his dog. “There’s nothing to worry about. The wound should heal fine. I’ll show you how
to clea
n and dress it, and I’ll want to see him again next week to make sure there’s no infection.”

She’d never before seen a person literally sag in relief, but Adam Bosch seemed to be held upright only by his palms braced on the examining table. “Thank you,” he breathed. “I’d never forgive myself if he’d been seriously injured again.”

“Let’s get him to sit up so I can put a bandage on him to hold the gauze in place.”

He pushed up from the table, the muscles in his forearms flexing under the shift in weight. “Sit.” The note of authority in Adam’s voice sent another zing of surprise through her. He sounded like a man accustomed to being obeyed. Trace came to a sitting position instantly. “Good dog,” Adam said, as the dog kept his gaze on his master, ears alert and upright.

“He’s well-trained,” Hannah said, winding a bright-green bandage around the dog’s chest and front legs.

“I claim no credit. As a former police dog, he’s used to taking orders,” Adam said.

Hannah made the mistake of glancing up from her task and was ensnared by the charm of his smile. It emphasized the full curve of his lower lip while giving the corners of his eyes appealing crinkles. He was a shockingly attractive man. She jerked her gaze back to her patient, who sat like a statue on the table as she wrapped him in fabric. “You are such a sweetheart,” she said, unable to resist rubbing her cheek against Trace’s gleaming head as she scratched under his chin. He gave her a wet doggy kiss.

“Unbelievable,” Adam said.

Annoyed at his repeated comments on her bedside manner, Hannah gave him a cool look. “Do you have a problem with my treatment of your dog?”

He leaned back in surprise. “Absolutely not. Why?”

“You keep muttering things under your breath.”

“Trace is generally a one-man dog but with you he acts like a marshmallow.”

“Mmm.” Hannah didn’t want to admit she took pleasure in his comment. “You really shouldn’t let him outside in the woods until hunting season is over.”

His finely sculpted nostrils flared with anger. “I didn’t.”

“Oh, sorry.” She felt a twinge of regret at accusing him unjustly. “He escaped?” A dog as well-trained as this one wouldn’t generally bolt, but every creature had its quirks.

“My son let him out.” Adam winced as though he hadn’t meant to say that. The rueful smile he gave her was forced. “He’s thirteen and not as well trained as Trace.”

“Oh, teenagers.” Hannah gave him an understanding grimace. She had cousins near that age so she was familiar with the challenges of dealing with them. “They’re tough.”

“You seem to know something about them,” he said, the
smile vanishing into a sharp focus on her face. “Do you have
children?”

“Good heavens, no. I have teenaged cousins. Their mother complains a lot.” She adjusted a fold of the bandage to lie flat.

“Do the cousins have pets?” he asked.

“A Labrador and a couple of guinea pigs,” she answered absently. Taking a final turn around Trace’s chest, she tucked the end of the bandage neatly under itself and tugged at it to check its security.

“Do you have any ideas on how to teach a teenager the responsibilities of dog ownership?”

“I’m no expert, but maybe if you show him Trace’s wound when you change the bandage, he’ll understand the consequences of being careless.” She went to the computer and began typing in notes on the dog’s condition.

“I think he did it deliberately.”

Shock made her spin around to face him. “Are you sure? Kids aren’t generally malicious that way. Most of them like dogs.”

Adam scraped his fingers through his hair. “His action was aimed at me.” He took two short steps away, his gaze on the floor, before he pivoted to look at her with those fathomless, dark eyes.
“I don’t want Trace injured because my son and I are having issues.”

Hannah hesitated, her sympathy reluctantly engaged. “He could join the 4-H Club and raise his own lamb or calf. That would impress on him the responsibilities of having an animal.”

Adam’s expression brightened. “Maybe Matt could volunteer here. Then he would see how much you care about the animals.”

Having a young, untrained observer at the clinic could be problematic
, Hannah thought,
but Estelle could probably handle the kid, since she was a former first-grade teacher.
As she opened her mouth to suggest it, Adam spoke again, a note of entreaty in his voice. “Would you talk to Matt?”


Me
?” Hannah was flabbergasted. “I’m a veterinarian, not a child psychologist.”

“That’s why you would be the best teacher.” His eyes bored into hers. “You can make him understand animals are living beings. That Trace isn’t a pawn to be used to strike at me.”

“But I don’t know how to talk to teenagers any more than you do.” The man must be at his wit’s end. Uncomfortable, Hannah turned back to the computer.

She heard footsteps and felt a light touch on her shoulder, making her look around. Adam stood close.

“Show him.” His tone combined pleading and persuasion. “Let him see you working with the animals people bring in. Let him see how the owners feel about their pets.”

Dragging a surly teenager through a day at the office sounded like her worst nightmare.

He must have seen refusal in her expression because he gave her a smile of such seductive power she nearly gasped. “Just for one day,” he said. “I’ll repay your kindness with dinner for you and a companion at my restaurant, The Aerie, anytime you want to come. As my guests. Please.”

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