For readers of Karly Lane and Rachael Johns comes a compelling romance that proves forgiveness is possible and fighting for love is worth the heartache.
Country vet Ross Harrington would rather throw himself into his work than face the memories of a tragic childhood accident. But the protective animal-lover cannot forgive himself, tied by the belief he is unworthy of love. So, when the adorable Flick Parker bounds into his clinic with her unruly dog and a smile that threatens to dissolve his protective walls, he’s torn between his fascination with her zest for life and the overwhelming desire to turn-tail for the hills.
Meanwhile, Flick is falling for the handsome vet but doesn’t know if her heartfelt desire to care for terminally ill children can be in her future or if it’s the very thing that will keep her and Ross apart. Finding the balance between offering too much heart or guarding it like an open wound feels like an impossible task, but can Flick show Ross it’s worth taking the risk of opening up to find love?
Ross Harrington swallowed against the sharp lump in his throat. He ran a slow hand over his clean-shaven face, the deep breath he’d been clasping within his lungs steadily seeping from his lips. His eyes opened and closed with weariness as he stared at an old photo on his phone, catapulting him back to a day that refused to leave him alone.
And as he sat alone on his suede couch, he broke his one golden rule, allowing himself to remember how things used to be, how his life had been.
His sucked in a deep breath as the day’s date circled around in his mind. For three hundred and sixty-four days of the year he could forget, push the memories aside and, to the best of his ability, work hard to prove he was a worthwhile human being. But on that one day of the year … today, there wasn’t a chance. It was the one day he knew he didn’t deserve the love of anyone.
Pain stabbed him in the chest as he glanced over to the TV cabinet, staring at it as though he were using X-ray vision on a forbidden door. He pressed his lips together, shoving himself from the couch and striding away from the crushing memories prickling the forefront of his mind.
He had to get to work.
Barking echoed throughout the clinic walls. Pitches of varying nuances yelled for morning attention as furry felines clambered to the back of their cages, cringing from the canine calls. The odour of urine hung in the air as Ross breezed past the patients; it was a smell he rarely noticed these days.
The brisk morning outside snuck its way inside as the glass sliding door scooted open. Ross heard his favourite vet nurse’s cheerful voice as he started up his computer in a back room of the clinic.
‘Good morning everyone,’ he heard Sandra holler. He briefly poked his head around the corner, offering her a welcoming smile, only to see her lips vibrating as she hugged her scarf closer to her neck.
Ross ducked back into the surgery room, grateful to know the woman who kept his tight ship afloat—and could handle any situation he threw at her with a wave of her hand and a ‘sure thing, boss’ attitude—had arrived.
Ross loved his job. It gave him permission to make a difference. It meant he could give an animal a second chance or at the very least a fighting chance. Treating animals gave him the ability, and the privilege, to care for patients unable to rescue themselves. To save just one … that mattered more than anything.
‘Anyone here yet?’ Sandra called out.
A young kitten began climbing its cage, whining at Ross to be set free as he listened to the light ‘humph’ that slipped from Sandra’s lips. He opened the cage door and gave the kitten a gentle pat, its soft fur comforting beneath his capable hand.
Ross poked his head around the corner of the door again, his head tipping to the side.
‘Morning Sandra.’ His voice carried down the hallway, and his chest warmed like butter in the winter sun.
‘Oh, there you are. I was beginning to think I’d left the door unlocked last night,’ Sandra chuckled, tossing her eyes to the ceiling like she believed she must’ve been going mad.
‘Who you? Not a chance.’ Ross gave her a teasing look.
The large waiting room was pristinely clean, thanks to Sandra’s enthusiastic efforts the night before to scrub the floor after a precious cat hurled a large deposit of puke just on closing time. It had to be done each night—Ross’s direct instructions—but second-hand sardines fermenting with a serious hairball still tainted the air of the Southern Vet clinic.
‘Nothing gets dry in this miserable Ballarat weather,’ Sandra muttered from beneath her scarf as she ducked behind the counter. A rueful grin lifted Ross’s lips as he shook his head and disappeared out the back again.
The resident clinic cat whined a mournful meow, batting his eyelids towards Ross as he sauntered past from another room of the clinic. It had been a rescue mission for Ross, saving the cat from certain death two years earlier. But there had been no microchip, which suggested the feline was a backyard variety. After a lot of advertising and Facebook callouts, Ross was no closer to finding a willing owner.
So, he’d called him Rajah.
Ross peered around the corner once more, noticing his cat glimpsing Sandra as she busied herself behind the bench of the desk, starting up the computers and organising a run sheet for the expected patients arriving that day. The number of unexpected patients equalled the booked-in ones at times, with all manner of emergencies plus non-urgent cases belonging to uptight owners. As Sandra worked, Ross heard her take a sharp breath. A familiar sound.
Rajah now sat with his back to her on the tall bench, intolerance oozing from his swishing tail as it swept back and forth across her computer screen.
‘Will you move your butt? Seriously Rajah, get over yourself. You ain’t no prince!’
Ross let out a sombre chuckle as he continued searching the database, an image now fresh in his mind of his cat with its nose in the air at the injustice of such a human involved in his life.
Only when Ross stepped behind the front counter did the conceited feline look up, blink, and assess the mood of the man he might, on a good day, call his saviour.
The cat side-glanced Sandra with feline scorn before turning his attention to the rattle of the sliding door. Showing only mild interest at the flurry of wild strawberry-red hair that burst in, Rajah lifted his furred paw with casual ease, licking it with his bristled tongue.
Ross’s body tensed as he watched his first customer, an unruly dog, drag its owner into his clinic, her body tumbling towards the floor as she lost her balance with a thud.
And for a day he’d hoped would be over quicker than it had begun, right now, he sensed his chances were Buckley’s and none.
On Sale: 01/06/2022