“Yeah, you always have favors to ask,” he said, his voice almost a growl. “Yet I still answer the damned phone when you call. Tryin’ to figure out why.”

“Are you working this afternoon?”



“Any chance you could duck out long enough to pick up Noah at school? They keep moving back my job interview. If I have to leave, I’m probably going to lose my shot here.”

He sighed.

“Yeah, I can move things around here,” he said. “How late do you think you’ll be?”

I paused, hating every second of this.

“I don’t know,” I finally said. “At this rate, it might be toward the end of the day. I need to meet with the doctor. He had some sort of emergency earlier and now they’re running behind. He’s just trying to fit me in between patients at this point.”

“Okay, I’ll take the rest of the day off, bring him back to my place.”

“Thanks, Ruger.”

“It’s what I do,” he said, hanging up. I looked down at the phone, wondering how such a great guy could be such an ass**le slut at the same time.

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Then I pasted my “Hire me, I’m friendly and competent!” smile back on and returned to the waiting room.

By four thirty I still hadn’t done my interview. I’d pretty much given up on it, because there’d been a second emergency. A high school girl knocked out half her front teeth during soccer practice. She’d been hysterical when her coach rushed her in, bloody towels pressed to her face. The other patients watched in fascinated horror as Dr. Blake himself came out to fetch her, bustling her back into the treatment room.

Forty-five minutes later he reappeared.

“We’re going to have to reschedule everyone,” he announced to the room, looking exhausted. “I’m so sorry. I don’t have anyone here to help you right now. We’ll need to call you tomorrow.”

There were several frustrated sighs, but it wasn’t like people could complain, given the circumstances. Dr. Blake’s eyes caught on me. He was a handsome man, although older than me. Probably in his late thirties or early forties?

“Are you one of my patients?” he asked. “I don’t recognize you.”

“I’m Sophie Williams,” I answered, straightening the scarf I’d tied around my neck. “I’m applying for the job as your receptionist. I’m guessing that interview isn’t going to happen today?”

The phone started ringing. Again. Then the door opened and a UPS deliveryman came in, followed by a woman with three children.

“Hey, Dr. Blake!” she said. “We’re all ready for our checkups. How are you doing?”

“Great,” the doctor replied, offering her a pained look. “But we’ve had a little complication in the scheduling today. This is our new receptionist, Sophie. She’ll take care of you.”

Just like that, I had a job.

I felt proud of myself when I turned the car down Ruger’s drive that night. I’d jumped right in at work, and while I didn’t know how to use the scheduling program, I still managed to look up the last two patients for the afternoon and call them to cancel. I’d also handled the phone and even talked to a potential new patient. I still needed to fill out paperwork, but Dr. Blake had been thrilled.

Just having an income source changed everything … The fact that it came with benefits, sick leave, and vacation? Amazing.

I’d never had a job with paid vacation before.

Of course, that good feeling ebbed as I pulled up to the house. I hadn’t seen Ruger since I’d snuck out of his room three days ago. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected from him. But I’d expected something. This silent acceptance of what I’d done, after what a huge deal he’d made about “owning” me? That made me very nervous.

Making matters worse, he’d saved my ass this afternoon. Again. That meant I owed him even more than before—just one more complication to our already twisted relationship.

I knocked on the door but nobody answered. I’d texted him around four thirty to give him an update and he’d replied that they’d gone fishing, so I walked around the side of the house to his deck and made myself comfortable at the table to wait. Well, as comfortable as I could, given our recent interactions. I still had my key, but using it felt wrong under the circumstances. It was a little after six already. I hoped he’d be back soon. Noah needed dinner and a bath before bed.

Ten minutes later I saw them walking up toward the house across the meadow from the pond, the big man and little boy looking like something out of a country-living postcard. Ruger carried the fishing gear and Noah bobbed along next to him like a puppy, holding a string of three tiny little fish.

“Mom!” he yelled, spotting me. He took off running toward the house and I met him at the bottom of the steps. He jumped at me and then I was holding him as the fish slapped against my side in all their slimy glory.

Ewww …

“Mom, I got three fish,” he told me, eyes wide with excitement. “Unce Ruger and I went to the pond and we even got to dig up some worms and they were really, really squirmy!”

“Wow, that sounds like fun,” I told him, wondering if I’d be able to get the fish smell out of my interview outfit. I couldn’t get upset about it, though—not with him so happy. Sometimes I forgot just how much I loved my little boy, because seeing him again after a long day apart nearly made my heart explode.

“I have good news, too,” I told him, smiling big.


“Mama got a job!” I said. “I’m going to be working at a dentist’s office right by your school. I’ll be able to drop you off every day, and then I’ll pick you up from the after-school program. No more working at night! What do you think of that?”

“That’s f**kin’ great, Mom!” he said, eyes bright.

“Noah! Do we use that word?”

His face fell and he shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Uncle Ruger told me not to say it in front of you.”

Ruger set the fishing gear down under the deck and I turned to him.

“Noah says you told him not to curse in front of me?” I asked, raising a brow.

“Long story,” he replied. “And I’m not gonna get into it with you, so you can either let it go and enjoy some grilled fish with us for dinner or get all worked up. Result will be the same.”

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