“I know, I know,” Norah Walden said soothingly to the large and very angry cat currently bemoaning its fate from inside the carrier in the seat beside her. “We’ll be there soon, I promise.” Maeve’s protestations never faltered. Clearly, she didn’t put much stock in her human’s promises. Norah couldn’t say she blamed her, considering she had made that same promise several times in the last few days. This time, however, they weren’t merely shuffling from one stopping point to the next – an airplane, her parents’ house, another airplane, a hotel room, and finally a car trip. This time, they were actually nearly to their final destination, their new home in Corbin’s Bend, Colorado.
The thought had barely crossed Norah’s mind when the sign announcing the entrance to Corbin’s Bend suddenly appeared up ahead. Norah’s heart immediately sped up at the sight of it. She was finally here. All the months of planning, preparation, hoping, praying, packing, and filling out mound after mound of paperwork had finally come to fruition. She could hardly believe it was real.
She turned into the entrance and made her way down the main street, Spanking Loop. Seeing that name on the sign never failed to amaze her. It seemed unreal that the word that had been Norah’s dirty little secret for most of her life should be right out there in the open as if it were perfectly normal. Except it was perfectly normal here. That was the point of the community and the reason Norah had decided to move. An interest in some form of a spanking relationship was the one thing every member of this housing community had in common, Norah included. The community was specifically designed to be a place where they could live the lifestyle as they chose without fear of condemnation and judgment. As soon as Norah had seen that on the community website during one of her numerous secret late-night forays on the Internet where she lurked anonymously in spanking groups and devoured spanking books and stories by the dozen, she had known she needed to be here. It was time to start over, and Corbin’s Bend was the perfect place to do it.
Not that anyone she knew had understood that, Norah reflected, turning onto the ironically named Main Street, which wasn’t actually the main street in the community – Spanking Loop held that honor – but was where many of the community’s businesses, including her bookstore and its upstairs apartment were located. To hear her mother and her neighbors back East tell it, she might as well have been moving to outer Mongolia. They were scandalized at the idea of her moving out to the wilds of Colorado, as if she were still trying to get there by covered wagon and steam train like the pioneers had done a couple of centuries ago. The fact that Denver was a major city and Corbin’s Bend was only an hour away from it didn’t seem to matter in the slightest. Nor did it matter that she had never really fit in among the university community where her late husband had taught.
John had absolutely thrived among the academic community there. It had been his home in a way it had never really been hers. He had been an academic to the bone, craving the intellectual stimulation the way an athlete needed to compete. Norah might have been the same had she not given up her own studies to go to work and put John through school. She had done it without hesitation, a fully consensual choice, and she didn’t regret it. It was just that spending her days shelving books, scraping old bubblegum from beneath the chairs in the children’s section where some child inevitably deposited it, and selling the very books that John and his colleagues dismissed out of hand simply because they were popular and current as opposed to great literature made it hard for her to relate to their discussions of deep imagery and language in texts hundreds of years old. Norah read and loved books of all kinds and had hated being judged for loving classics and grocery store paperbacks with equal fervor.
That didn’t matter now, she reminded herself. No one was going to judge her here, not for her interest in spanking and not for her books. For once in her life, she was finally free to be herself, without judgments or expectations. Sticking that thought firmly in her mind, she pulled into the small parking lot in front of her store and apartment. She felt a small glow of pleasure at the knowledge that she had managed to make her way unerringly back to her own house. She had always been rather good with remembering landmarks and routes, but it was still no small feat considering she had only been here on short visits months ago. She’d come once for her interview with the housing board and a second time later on after she had been accepted to fill out the paperwork regarding her business. Of course, as much as she had dreamed about this ordinary rather nondescript building, it was no wonder she had practically ingrained the directions into her brain. After all, it might not look like much yet, but it was hers.
“See? I told you we would be here soon,” Norah said to the cat, who had ceased her furious protests when Norah killed the engine. “Just let me get the doors unlocked, and I’ll come back and get you.” After digging around in her purse for her house keys, she pushed open the door and headed rapidly across the parking lot, nearly giddy with anticipation. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Norah opened the front door leading into the lower floor that would become her bookstore.
And stopped dead at the sight of a blond man in jeans and a battered denim jacket standing in the middle of the bare concrete floor. A medium-sized black and white dog immediately jumped up from its place by his side and let out a sharp and surprisingly loud bark. The man turned on his heel, a faint flicker of surprise crossing his eyes at the sight of her.
“What are you doing here?” Norah blurted, too shocked to be worried about being polite.
“I work here,” he replied. “And you?”
“I live here,” Norah told him. Who was he to be questioning whether or not she had the right to be here? He was the interloper. How could he work here anyway? She hadn’t hired any staff yet. Besides, she’d never seen anyone who looked like him working in any bookstore. He was far too muscular to have been doing that kind of work. Why the hell was she noticing what he looked like anyway? Who cared what he looked like? The important thing was finding out what the hell he was doing here.
At her reply, confusion cleared from his face and understanding dawned in his eyes. “Of course you do.” He crossed the room, holding out his hand for her to shake. “Sorry about that. I didn’t know you were coming in today. I’m Caine Landry. I’ll be doing most of your interior finish work.”
His accent surprised her. Though it wasn’t particularly strong, it was faintly southern with a hint of something else running through it. French maybe. Whatever it was, it didn’t sound like it belonged in Colorado. “Norah Waldon,” she answered automatically, shaking his hand and valiantly pretending she didn’t notice how warm and strong it was. “I thought Jim O’Brien handled the construction for the community.” It had been Jim with whom she had discussed the construction details, for both the living area upstairs and the store. Jim had never mentioned anyone else.
“He is,” Caine explained. “Jim and his crew do the majority of the work, but he often contracts out with local people for specific jobs. I subcontract with him fairly regularly for specific interior jobs. He knows me and can vouch for me, if that’s what you’re worried about. So could Jerry Douglas or Benjamin Steppings. I’d be glad to give them a call if that would make you more comfortable.”
“No, no, that’s not necessary,” Norah assured him. “I apologize. I’m afraid we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. I’m sure you’re perfectly professional. You just surprised me, that’s all.”
“Yeah,” Caine agreed. “I knew that Jim said you would be in Monday, but I had no idea you were moving in this weekend. I’m not technically working. I just wanted to get in here and get a look around while there was no one here so I could get an idea of what needed to be done.” At this point, the dog, who had clearly had quite enough of being ignored, wedged its way between them, demanding to be petted. Norah smiled, kneeling down and sliding her hands over its head and the soft silky ears.
“Who is this?” she asked, grinning as the dog responded to her petting by going into spasms of energetic wiggles, tail wagging frantically.
“That’s Maverick,” Caine replied, smiling fondly at the dog’s antics. “He’s my best assistant.”
“I’ll bet he is,” Norah said, laughing as the dog clambered all over her, licking enthusiastically.
“Hey, Mav, back off,” Caine commanded, grabbing the dog by the collar and hauling him off of Norah. “Sorry,” he told her. “Mav loves people, but he can get a little overly enthusiastic sometimes.”
“It’s fine,” Norah replied. “He doesn’t bother me a bit. I love animals.” She got to her feet and wiped her now rather slobbery hands on the sides of her jeans.
“I can see that,” Caine said, smiling. “Do you have any of your own?”
“Oh crap,” Norah blurted, frantic. “Maeve!” Some kind of responsible pet owner she was. One look at a new guy, albeit a very cute new guy, and his equally adorable dog, and she’d forgotten all about her own pet. Maeve was probably furious by now and rightly so. She spun on her heel, heading for the door, but Caine caught her arm and stopped her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I forgot my cat in the car,” she explained, instinctively pulling away. “I was only coming in to unlock the door so that I wouldn’t have to fumble with the keys and her carrier then I was going to go back and bring her in, but you were in here, and I started talking to you…” And she had completely forgotten her cat. Her closest companion, who had been with her during those awful days after John’s death. Remembering her late husband, her heart sank even lower. What was she doing? She’d been married to the love of her life for ten years and now she was acting like a teenager because the carpenter working on her store happened to be good-looking. What the heck was she thinking?
“Okay,” Caine said calmly. “It’s a warm day, but not unbearably so. I’m sure your cat is fine. Why don’t you let me go up and unlock the door upstairs while you go get the cat? Will the cat be okay with Mav? He’s fine with cats, but if he will bother her, I can put him in the storeroom while we get you settled.
“I’m not sure,” Norah replied. “Maeve hasn’t been around dogs that much.” She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, considering. “As long as he stays down here, it won’t be a problem,” she said finally. “I’m really only going to be walking through this room. I’m not planning on letting Maeve out until we are upstairs.”
Caine nodded. He held out a hand to her, palm up, and for a moment, she just stared at it, confused. “If you’ll let me use your key, I’ll unlock the doors for you so you can go straight in.”
Of course, he needed a key. Was that really a good idea? Should she really be giving a strange man the key to her house? It would be quicker that way, and he clearly already had access to her shop for work purposes. Besides, it wasn’t as if there was anything up there he could damage or steal. The movers wouldn’t be here for a couple hours yet. Not to mention he had clearly already been vetted by the community. He wouldn’t have been allowed to come and go unsupervised otherwise, and she knew from her own experience that this community took the safety and security of the community seriously. She’d practically had to swear her name in blood to be accepted.
Putting a hand into her pocket, she fished out her house keys and dropped them into his waiting hand. He headed in the direction of the staircase near the back of the store. She watched him go for one lingering moment before heading in the opposite direction to rescue Maeve.
As she had predicted, Maeve was furious, yowling, hissing and spitting in a fierce display of temper. “I know, I’m sorry,” Norah said, trying desperately to placate her. The cat was having none of it, continuing to complain loudly about the injustice of her situation as Norah carried her through the empty expanse that would soon be her bookstore. There wasn’t much to it now, just an empty shell with a bare concrete floor dotted here and there with heavy wood support beams and columns.
Maverick was lying next to the iron staircase that led up to her apartment. His ears pricked up with interest as she came by with Maeve, but he stayed put. She thanked her lucky stars that Caine at least had a cooperative pet, unlike her ornery feline. As promised, Caine had the door open and waiting when she brought Norah up the stairs. To her surprise, however, he had not gone inside. Instead, he was waiting in the small foyer at the top of the stairs, leaning against the wall outside the door. She pushed her way inside and set Maeve’s carrier on the floor with a relieved sigh. The queen might not know it yet, but she was going on a diet at the first opportunity. The cat weighed entirely too much for Norah to be trying to schlep her around.
She looked around, expecting Caine to have followed her inside, but he hadn’t. In fact, he didn’t make a move to join her until he was specifically invited to come in. That puzzled her. She hadn’t exactly planned to be taking her first look at her new home with a strange man standing over her, but she wasn’t about to leave him standing there alone either, as though he were a piece of furniture or a discarded umbrella. That was just rude.
The entry door they’d come through opened into an open plan living room and kitchen area. The living room area was off to her left and the kitchen to her right. A closed door at the end of the kitchen turned out to be a large pantry. A door in the living room led off to her bedroom, and a door directly across from the kitchen revealed the bathroom, which was joined to the bedroom by a large closet. A good-sized laundry room shared a wall with the closet. It wasn’t an overly large living space, but there was plenty of room for just one person. For now, the walls were a simple neutral off-white, plain and rather boring, but that was nothing a few cans of paint wouldn’t fix. She and Maeve would be perfectly comfortable here.
“What do you think?” Caine asked quietly from behind her.
Norah spun around. She had been so absorbed in taking in her new surroundings that she had forgotten he was there. “It’s great,” she told him. “It will do just right for us.” She knelt in front of Maeve’s carrier and opened the door. Maeve didn’t move, but Norah had not particularly expected her to. It would take her a few minutes to get acclimated. In the meantime, Norah removed Maeve’s food and water dishes from the tote bag she had slung over her shoulder. Going to the sink, she filled one of the dishes with water. Setting up both dishes in a corner of the kitchen, she pulled the plastic bag that contained Maeve’s food out of the tote bag and filled up the empty food dish.
“Did you do any of the work in here?” she asked curiously, dropping the tote bag on an empty kitchen counter.
Caine shook his head. “Jim and his crew do all the residential work unless a resident has a particular special request that requires more intricate carpentry than normal. Mostly, he brings me in to work on some of the commercial buildings that need particular requests. I did some small tables for the library in the dome. I did some of the work on Ange’s bakery, special display cases and such. I’ve done some counters and tables for a few of the restaurants, that kind of thing.”
“So you’re more like a specialist then?” Norah commented. Though she was very deliberately not watching, from the corner of her eye Norah could see Maeve beginning to take her first tentative steps out of her carrier. The temptation of food was obviously stronger than her uncertainty of a new and unfamiliar space. Norah didn’t mention this progress, having learned some time ago that Maeve was just contrary enough that if she thought you were watching her she would promptly retreat back to wherever it was you were trying to get her out of.
“I guess you could say that,” Caine agreed. “That kind of specialty work is primarily what I do these days, but I can and have done just about any kind of construction and carpentry. Do you have an idea of what you want as far as shelves and tables for the bookstore?”
“Do I?” Norah replied. “That’s all I’ve got is ideas. I have more ideas than I know what to do with.”
Caine chuckled. “We can work with that. It’s actually easier to help someone narrow down and specify what they want than it is to try to work with someone who has no idea what they want. Believe me, I speak from experience.”
“Oh believe me, I know what I want,” Norah blurted.
A corner of Caine’s mouth quirked up, so briefly it could not have legitimately been called a smile, though it was distinctly amused. “Oh, I just bet you do,” he replied mildly. His eyes—they were deep green, Norah realized abruptly—lit up with equal parts amusement and smugness.
Belatedly, she realized exactly how that must’ve sounded. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she spluttered, feeling the back of her neck and the tips of her ears start to burn.
“If you say so,” Caine said agreeably, though she still had the distinct feeling he was teasing her.
“I do,” Norah said firmly. “I was only talking about what I want to do with the store.” Too late, she realized her stubborn insistence was probably only making things worse, but she plunged on. “I have plenty of ideas there.”
“Good,” Caine said. “Then we probably need to sit down and talk about those ideas sometime really soon. Could you meet with me Monday morning, say around eight?”
“That would be fine,” Norah agreed. “Would you rather meet up here or in the store? I promise I will actually have some furniture up here by then.”
“It’s probably better to meet in the store,” Caine told her, “so that we can actually look around and get a better idea spatially of what we are talking about.”
Norah nodded. That made sense. “That’s fine then. I’ll meet you downstairs Monday morning at eight.”
Caine pulled a small memo pad and pencil out of his shirt pocket, presumably to make a notation of their meeting. When he finished, he tucked both neatly back into his pocket. For a moment it seemed as though he was going to say something else, but he didn’t. He shifted his weight on the balls of his feet, seeming suddenly awkward and unsure of himself now that the formal business conversation was over. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, “You said something about furniture? Do you have anything that needs bringing up? I don’t mind sticking around to help if you do.”
Norah smiled. “Thank you. That’s very kind, and I appreciate the offer, but I only have a few bags and personal things in the car.” She’d been forewarned by the locals to stock up on groceries in Denver. Those supplies filled most of the bags in her car. The rest of it was clothes and books she’d kept with her in the hotel along with Maeve’s essential supplies. Though she appreciated his offer, it was nothing she couldn’t handle herself. “The movers should be here with the rest of it sometime this morning.”
“You sure you’ll be okay here until then?” Caine asked.
Norah bit back a very unkind urge to laugh. “I’ll be fine. I live here after all.”
The look Caine gave her was slightly abashed, but not the least apologetic or cowed. “That’s true. I suppose you do. I’ll get Mav and get out of your way then.”
“You’re not in the way,” Norah replied. Somehow, it had slipped out before she even consciously registered the thought.
“It’s okay,” Caine said, turning to go. “It’s probably best Mav and I get moving before he gets restless.” When Norah followed him out the door and down the stairs, he shot her a quizzical look. “Where are you going? I can find my way out. You don’t need to come back down on my account.”
“I’m not,” Norah told him. “I’m coming down to say goodbye to Maverick before you go. Will he be with you on Monday?”
“As long as it’s not a problem for you,” Caine said. “I take him with me everywhere I can. Sometimes, depending on the job, it’s best he stay home, but we both greatly prefer it when he can come with me.”
“Of course it’s fine,” Norah assured him. They had reached the bottom of the staircase now, and the dog leapt up eagerly at the sight of them. Norah knelt in front of him, taking his head in her hands and scratching his ears. “Bye, Maverick, I’ll see you Monday.” Maverick licked her chin, making her laugh. Then, Caine gave a short sharp whistle and clicked his fingers, and Maverick bounded immediately to his side.
Norah got to her feet. “I’ll see you Monday, too,” she told Caine.
“Monday,” Caine said with a brief nod. Then, he disappeared into the dark depths of the store and a moment later she heard the heavy back door close behind him. If she watched out the window as he drove around the building and turned into the street, well, it was natural enough that she watch out for the moving trucks, wasn’t it?
* * *
“There you are,” Jerry Douglas said good-naturedly when Caine slid into a chair at the table across from him. “I was beginning to think you had stood me up.”
The two men had been meeting regularly for lunch for nearly two years now, ever since Mav had stepped on a nail while Caine had been installing a custom railing on the balcony of one of the larger homes in the community. He had taken the dog to Jerry for treatment. Jerry had offered to keep Maverick when Caine was working in the community during the times when his work made it unsafe or inconvenient for him to keep Mav with him, and they’d been friends since.
“I got held up at the bookstore,” Caine replied.
Jerry raised a quizzical eyebrow. “I didn’t think you were working today.”
“I’m not,” Caine said. “I’m not on the clock until Monday, but since I was here, I wanted to run by and get a look at it while it’s unoccupied so that I could have some idea of the kind of work it’s going to take to finish it up.”
“So how did you get held up?” Jerry questioned. “It’s going to be that bad of a job?”
Caine shook his head. “I don’t think so—bookshelves, flooring, checkout counter, probably some tables, probably some crown molding accents on the walls. Nothing I haven’t handled before.” A hundred times over, he added silently. “I won’t know for sure until I sit down with the owner on Monday, but it doesn’t look all that complicated. It’s a lot of work, to be sure, but I don’t anticipate it being one of those nightmares.”
“Let’s hope not,” Jerry said. He trailed off long enough to order his usual from the waitress that came round. Caine did the same. Sometimes, he felt adventurous enough to order one of their specialty dishes, but today he was sticking to simple and familiar, a pulled pork sandwich with fries and iced tea. This was one of the few places in the area where he could get true southern iced tea. He didn’t miss a lot from his childhood in Louisiana. Frankly, for the most part, he couldn’t get the hell out of the Bayou fast enough, but sometimes he missed good tea. Here, with both the chefs and the owner being originally from Mississippi, they understood tea and grits in a way that few people this side of the Mississippi River did.
“So what was the hold up?” Jerry asked when the waitress walked away.
“I met the owner,” Caine replied. “She’s moving in today.”
“Seems like I remember someone mentioning something about that,” Jerry said. “What’s she like?”
That was a loaded question if Caine had ever heard one. She was beautiful—fair skinned, long hair the rich brown color of a dark wood, cherry or maybe mahogany, and green eyes, several shades lighter than his own. They were reminiscent of antique glass, the light semi translucent color he remembered from Coke bottles in his childhood. Not that he was about to tell Jerry any of that.
He shrugged. “She seems nice enough. You’ll probably meet her soon. She has a cat.”
“Does she?” Jerry said. “Good. I’ll probably see her sometime next week then, or if I don’t, I’ll make a note to check in with her. What did Mav think of the cat?”
“He’s fine with cats,” Caine said. “I’m not sure the cat would’ve thought too much of Mav so Mav stayed downstairs while we put the cat upstairs.”
“We?” Jerry asked, one eyebrow raised. Caine was saved from answering when the waitress arrived with their food. Jerry let it go long enough for them to settle down and start eating, but as soon as they had, he asked again, “What’s this we business?”
“Nothing,” Caine said, digging into his food with gusto. “We both took the cat upstairs to her apartment while Maverick stayed downstairs. That’s all, nothing more than that, and don’t you go plotting either.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jerry said. “I haven’t said a word. You’re the one telling me some woman you just met had you upstairs in her apartment.” He picked up a rib from his plate and smirked at Caine over the top of it.
“Don’t go make it something out of nothing, Douglas,” Caine said, exasperated. “It wasn’t like that at all. I offered to go up and open the door while she got the cat out of the car so that she could get the cat settled as soon as possible. That’s all. I was just being polite. You would’ve done the same.”
“Probably,” Jerry agreed, “but I’m married. I’m clearly no threat. Besides, she’s my neighbor. It would’ve been the neighborly thing to do.”
“You don’t live anywhere near her,” Caine scoffed.
Jerry shrugged. “It’s Corbin’s Bend. We’re all neighbors here. Not to mention it sounds like she’s very likely going to be a patient, or at least her cat will.”
“She’s going to be my boss, of a sort anyway, for the next several weeks,” Caine countered. “How is that any different?”
“Not really,” Jerry disagreed. “After all, she’s not paying you, at least not directly. You’re working for the community.”
“She’s still my supervisor,” Caine insisted. “Where’s all this coming from anyway? What does it matter? I’ve done work for any number of people in the community.”
“You know,” Jerry said. “She’s single. You’re single. I just thought maybe…”
Caine set down his glass with a distinct thunk. “I can’t believe you just said that,” he told Jerry, flabbergasted. “Who are you and what have you done with my friend? You sound like a matchmaking old woman.”
“You’ve been alone as long as I’ve known you,” Jerry said. “I just keep thinking maybe one of these days you’ll find someone who will catch your attention.”
“If I do, it won’t be here,” Caine said firmly. “No offense, Jer, but I’m not like you.”
“You wouldn’t be the first to change your mind about that,” Jerry said. “Kieran O’Brien seems to have managed well enough. He didn’t understand it when he first came here either. Heck, he clocked Jim because he walked in on them and thought Jim was abusing Ange. Jim walked around here for days with a black eye.”
Caine snorted, bubbling with laughter. “Really?” While he certainly understood Kieran’s actions and would have very likely done the same himself, he couldn’t imagine the burly Irish footballer turned contractor letting anyone get the better of him, much less his computer geek little brother.
“Really,” Jerry confirmed. “Of course, that was before he met Carla and got into the lifestyle himself.”
“That’s all fine and good for him,” Caine said, “but it’s not for me. What y’all do in the privacy of your own homes and relationships is none of my business, but it’s not something I could ever do myself.” The very thought made him shudder inwardly. He knew a lot of the local surrounding communities thought the people of Corbin’s Bend were rather strange, but he had never had the slightest problem. He’d been hesitant the first time Jim O’Brien had called him, needing some specialized cabinetry for one of the restaurants. He’d heard of Corbin’s Bend, of course. You couldn’t live in this area and not hear something about it, but he had never really given it much thought. As far as he was concerned, what other people did was their business, not his. He’d had far too much of his so-called concerned neighbors making his own life fodder for the gossip mills when he was growing up to ever put much stock in such nonsense himself, but it had given him pause when he was confronted with the idea of working here for days at a time. Could he really handle it? After all, there were nights he still woke in a cold sweat from decades old memories of Ruben’s so-called discipline. Could he really handle being around a community where such a practice was the norm? He had taken the first job purely as an experiment. Their money spent as well as any other, and there was no way he could know if he could handle it without trying it.
To his complete surprise, he’d found the people of Corbin’s Bend to be warm, friendly, and extremely discreet. In point of fact, Corbin’s Bend became one of his favorite places to work. Jim was easy to work with, and the raving and tantrums that often went along with building projects where clients had completely unreasonable expectations were almost nonexistent here. As long as he didn’t think too hard about why that was the case, everything was fine. However, working alongside them was one thing; living the lifestyle himself was another thing entirely. That would never happen.
“All I’m saying is you never know,” Jerry went on. “It could happen.”
“No,” Caine said flatly. “It couldn’t. Not for me.” Please, Jer, just let it go. There were too many things he couldn’t explain. Memories he should of buried years ago. Scars on his body and his mind. Just drop it, please.
Thankfully, Jerry seemed to take the hint. “So what did you do with Mav, anyway?”
“What I always do,” Caine told him, breathing a sigh of relief now that the conversation was headed onto more neutral ground. “I dropped him at your place with Elly. The weather is still too hot for me to leave him in the truck.”
“Oh good,” Jerry said, “I’m sure Jack will be thrilled.”
“Jack maybe,” Caine agreed, “Muffy, not so much.”
While Jerry’s black lab relished the opportunity to play with another dog his own size, Jerry’s wife’s little poodle had a grudging relationship with Maverick, meaning she just barely tolerated his presence and maintained the peace by studiously ignoring him. Maverick was simply too big and too energetic for her to be bothered with. This, in turn, drove Maverick absolutely crazy. The medium-size mutt, who was at best guess some kind of border collie/cattle dog mix, loved to play, and couldn’t understand why anyone, animal or human would ever not want to play with him.
Jerry laughed. “You may have a point there,” he conceded, “but she should at least be used to it by now.”
From there, the meal progressed with companionable ease. Jerry shared funny stories of his most recent adventures with his patients. Caine told him about a custom bathroom vanity he was building for one of his regular customers back in Denver. By unspoken agreement, they left the subject of the new bookstore owner severely alone.
For that, Caine was grateful. He could admit, at least in the privacy of his own mind, that he found her attractive, but that was irrelevant. He’d worked for attractive women before. He’d even had a few try blatantly to come on to him. He knew better than to even contemplate it. He was better off to avoid it like the plague, and this woman was no exception.
If she happened to come to his mind several more times over the course of the rest of the week, that was to be expected. After all, her bookstore would be the focus of his work for the next two months or so. It was only natural that the store, and by extension the owner, would be on his mind. Wasn’t it?