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An excerpt from Good Guys Love Dogs

. . .The horrible noise coming from the driveway told Ian that as glad as she must have been to leave, Dr. Colby Williams wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. They’d heard her engine grind for the third time when he stood up from the table and said, “I’ll go see if I can give her a hand.”

Frank started to get up as well. “I’ll go with—”

“That’s all right, Frank,” Phoebe said. “Ian probably knows all about cars. You can help me with the dishes.”

Frank sat down, while Ian tried to appear oblivious to Phoebe’s not-so-subtle matchmaking tactics.

It had been apparent to him from the moment he arrived tonight what was going on. When the Walkers called a few days ago and invited him for dinner, he’d accepted, thinking he should make an effort to get to know his neighbors. If he’d known what they had in mind, he’d have saved both Dr. Williams and himself the discomfort of the attempted fix-up. Once he’d arrived, he hadn’t wanted to embarrass them or their friend by telling them that he was engaged. He knew Phoebe talked to Mabel earlier in the week about inviting him to dinner, and he had a feeling his not-so-innocent housekeeper conveniently neglected to mention that he had a fiancée.

He stepped out into the Indian summer night, the air warm and fresh smelling. He still hadn’t tired of the simple pleasure to be found in breathing it in.

From the driveway came the sound of the engine grinding again. He crossed the driveway, and at the truck door, bent down and tapped on the window.

Colby’s head shot up, sheer frustration etched on her face.

The window lowered with a slight squeak. “I know that was awkward, but was I that bad?” he said.

She sat back in her seat, failing in her attempt to look surprised by the question. “No. I just—” she began, then stopped, looking chagrined.

“Their intentions were good. They obviously think the world of you.”

She shook her head. “What’s that old saying? ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?”

He laughed then. She did, too, and he found he liked the sound of it. The awkwardness hanging between them eased, and he realized how good laughter felt. He didn’t laugh that often. “If you’ll pop the hood, I’ll take a look. I don’t know much about engines, but it sounds like your starter’s bad. Got a flashlight?”

She rummaged through the glove compartment, then handed him the light. She popped the latch, and he said, “Give it another try.”

She did, and he spotted the problem. “Yeah, that’s it. You’re going to need a new one,” he called out.

“Great,” he heard her say. She got out of the truck and came around to the front.

He straightened and lowered the hood, pressing it closed. He noticed then that a pair of blue coveralls had replaced her dress. “I’ll be glad to give you a ride.”

“I can’t ask that of you,” she said, not quite meeting his eyes.

“I don’t mind. Let me just go thank the Walkers. Be right back.”

Ian went inside and explained what happened to Phoebe and Frank. Phoebe was anything but disappointed by his departure. She looked so happy that he wondered if she’d ruined the starter herself. He said goodnight and headed back outside, where the other victim of Phoebe’s matchmaking stood unloading some things from her truck.

“Would you like to put that stuff in the trunk?”

“Yes, please.” He stuck the key in the lock and opened it. She dropped her bag inside. He started to close it just as she reached in again. He grabbed her arm and jerked it back, barely in time to prevent the lid from slamming on it.

They both stood in shock for a second or two while his hand still gripped her arm. She took a hasty step backwards. “Thanks. I forgot to put my keys in the bag.”

“No problem. But I’d hate to be the person responsible for putting the town’s only vet out of commission.”

She smiled, rubbing her skin where his fingers had just been.

He opened her door, and she slid inside the car. To his surprise, he found himself noticing that she had a very nice shape beneath the faded coveralls. Wondering if it had been a mistake to offer his taxi services, he went around and got in on his side. “You’ll have to tell me where to go.”

“Take a right out of the driveway. It’s about ten miles from here.”

Ian backed up and headed away from the house. They’d just reached the main road when she said, “I’m really sorry for Phoebe’s lack of tact.”

“It’s all right.” From the sound of it, Phoebe Walker was in a lot of trouble with her friend. Strangely enough, he hadn’t minded the evening, setup or not. The Walkers were nice people. “If it makes you feel any better, I won’t be pestering you. I knew as soon as I saw your face tonight that you had nothing to do with it.”

“I didn’t mean to be rude,” she said quickly. “Now I’m embarrassed.”

“There’s no reason to be,” he said, glancing at her with another unexpected jolt of appreciation. She was undeniably pretty. He started to tell her about his engagement. The moment felt right, but the words somehow wouldn’t come, and he couldn’t say why. Except that he didn’t remember ever meeting a woman quite like Colby Williams. And he was intrigued. “It was a nice dinner. And I’m glad to have the chance to get to know my neighbors better.”

Silence lingered between them for a few moments, and then she said, “What made you move here from New York?”

“My son needed a change of pace. We’ll just be here for his senior year,” he said, not wanting to elaborate further. The last thing he wanted to do was put a black mark on the boy in the eyes of the community before he’d had a chance to prove himself.

“Oh,” she said. “My daughter mentioned him. He’s made quite an impression on the girls at Jefferson High.”

Glad to hear that maybe things weren’t as awful as Luke wanted him to believe, Ian said, “How old is your daughter?”

“Fifteen going on thirty.”

Ian smiled.

“She’s a sophomore, but young for her class. It seems like yesterday that she just learned how to walk and—” She stopped, her expression troubled.

Wondering if her relationship with her daughter might have problems of its own, he said, “It’s a tough age. They grow up before we know it.”

“Yes, they do,” she said, sounding resigned. “I’m just not ready to admit it.”

He drove for a few minutes, then flipped on his signal light when she directed him to take the next left-hand turnoff. “Go on down to the barn. The lights should be on.”

He stopped just outside the open door. A man in overalls and a red-checkered flannel shirt trotted out to greet them. “Hurry, Doc. She’s having a lot of trouble.”

Colby got out of the car, grabbed her bag and ran after the man who had disappeared inside the barn. Ian sat there for a minute, thinking about her. He found her easy to talk to, intelligent. And apparently able to handle with grace and good humor what turned out to be an uncomfortable situation for both of them.

He’d nearly slammed her arm in the trunk. That would have topped the evening off nicely. He thought about those few moments when his fingers encircled her wrist. The contact shocked him every bit as much as it apparently had her. He recalled now that she had very small wrists and hands. She was petite, probably not more than five-three. But somehow he hadn’t noticed it initially. Something about her exuded strength and self-sufficiency.

He got out of the Mercedes and made his way toward the barn. A single light hung above the door, making it hard to see where he stepped. Farm smells permeated the air, a combination of hay and manure and a fresh country breeze. Cows mooed in the fields. A stretch of mud lay between the gravel-covered driveway and the entrance to the barn. With no way to go around it, he waded through, his leather shoes squishing in the mire. He knew then how the city mouse must have felt visiting the country mouse.

Inside, he stopped outside the stall. A black-and-white cow lay stretched out on the straw-covered floor, straining heavily. Her eyes looked wild and pained. Sympathy for her plight stabbed through him.

Colby looked up at him, pulling supplies from her bag. “Ian, this is Harry Pasley. Harry, Ian McKinley. He’s new in town. My truck broke down, so he gave me a ride out here.”

“Nice to meet you,” Harry said, his hands tucked inside bib overalls, his weathered face concerned.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Ian said.

“Would you like a pair of coveralls to put on over those clothes?”

Ian looked down at his pants, the bottoms of which were now rimmed in mud. “Oh, no, that’s all right. It’ll come out in the wash.”

Ian watched while Colby pulled on two plastic gloves that reached all the way to her shoulder.

The cow’s straining ceased, and she lay still. “Is she okay?” he asked.

“She’s taking a breather. Let’s see what we have here,” she said, reaching her right arm inside the cow. A few seconds passed before she said, “There’s the tail. Definitely a breech, Harry.”

Ian watched as a frown crossed her face. “Uh-oh. There’s a nose,” she said. “We’ve got a second one on board.”

Just then, the cow began straining again. Colby went still. She looked up at him and said, “When she’s working, I rest. When I’m working, she rests.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Have you ever seen a delivery?” she asked.

He’d never even been around a cow, and certainly not one in this condition. The closest he’d gotten was a city petting zoo, and that had been years ago, when Luke was five or six. “Ah, no, I haven’t. Is there something I can do?”

“If she tries to get up,” Harry said, “I might need your help getting her back down.”

“Sure,” Ian said, tempted to ask how they could possibly get what looked like an eight-hundred-pound cow to lie down if she decided to get up. But he didn’t, not wanting to sound like any more of a greenhorn than he felt.

When the cow stopped straining again, Colby said, “Okay, my turn.”

She wedged her left hand inside the cow and began to push forward. Without looking up, she said, “What I’ll try to do is push this little guy up enough that I can straighten his hind legs out. In a normal birth he would have come out front hooves first.”

Ian watched in amazement as she slowly pushed the calf forward. As the cow began to strain again, she stopped and held the position. It was a long, slow process. He couldn’t take his eyes off the scene. He’d never witnessed anything like it in his life. Colby, up to her shoulders in work a lot of men wouldn’t have the fortitude to do.

She approached the effort matter-of-factly, when she spoke, her voice low and soothing. He saw that she, too, sympathized with the cow’s pain.

Her coveralls had been splattered with blood, and a strand of her hair clung to the side of her face. He subdued an unexpected urge to smooth it back for her.

After what seemed like forever, she said, “Okay. I’ve got the back hooves out. We’re on the right track now.”

Ian stood to the side of the cow, his arms folded across his chest, the drama of the situation making him tense. The process went on for a good while longer, with the cow pushing and Colby helping to pull the calf forward until it finally slid onto the straw in a heap.

“There you go,” Colby said, smiling. “You were doing your best not to join us out here, weren’t you?”

Harry picked up the calf and moved it close to its mother, placing it back on the straw. Wonder assaulted Ian. He thought about his own son’s birth and how incredible it had been to hold the tiny body in his arms. He recalled the instantaneous love he’d felt for him, and his chest ached with the memory of it and a yearning for things to be right with Luke again.

“Let’s get the other one,” Colby said, reaching back inside the cow.

When the second calf emerged onto the straw with Colby’s help, the same sense of wonder washed over him. This one was noticeably smaller, its eyes round and startled. Ian’s heart contracted.

“Okay, girl. We’re almost there,” Colby said to the mother cow, looking up at Ian and adding, “I just need to make sure there’s not a third.”

“She could have another one?” he asked, incredulous.

“Oh, yes. I’ve had it happen.”

Amazed, Ian hoped for the cow’s sake that it didn’t happen now.

A minute or so later, Colby said, “Looks like that’s it.” She sat back on her heels and patted the cow’s side, her face alight with satisfaction and what looked like the same kind of relief he felt for the animal. “You’re all finished.”

Ian bent down and stroked the cow’s head. He’d never really thought about it, but he would have imagined this sort of thing became routine for a veterinarian. But the look on Colby’s face suggested it was just as gratifying to her now as it would have been the first time she’d helped with a delivery.

The second calf raised its head and let out a halfhearted bleat. Colby laughed. “Looks like she arrived with an appetite.”

Harry Pasley bent over to give the cow a pat on the side. “You did good, girl. You, too, Doc. But then you always do.”

The cow weakly reached around to swipe the closest calf with her tongue. If the birth of the first one amazed Ian, the second seemed like a miracle.

“These three have some bonding to do.” Colby wiped her damp forehead on her shoulder, then looked up at Ian and smiled. “Thanks for being so patient.”

Ian didn’t remember a smile ever affecting him quite the way hers did in that moment. He’d witnessed something incredibly special. He thought of the business he’d put his life into over the past seventeen years and couldn’t remember one incident during that time that made him feel this way.

Crazy but true.

And he had no idea what to make of that . . .

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Barefoot Outlook: Nashville, Pt. 1, 2, 3 and 4 (Novel Soundtrack)

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