Nervous sweat rolled down his neck and back. Changing to yet another western shirt wouldn’t alter the outcome. Cián reminded himself he knew how to do this. A little bluff, bravado, and humility combined with the confidence he had learned from his family and the knowledge that he was pursuing his life’s dream went a long way. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was in the top five of his class. It all helped him push open the clinic door. That and Molly Rasher.
The angel had bewitched him the moment she’d introduced herself in a class almost two years earlier. He had been overrun with veterinarian classwork ever since, but he kept a surreptitious eye on her safety, when he could. She had thrown him crumbs of her sweet, open smile whenever their eyes met. When she’d stopped coming to the campus, he’d learned she had taken her certificates and gone to work at her father’s veterinary clinic. He couldn’t believe the opportunity that had offered itself to him when he looked for an internship. He would do his best to avail himself of this providence.
A comforting combination of fur, dander, and gas expelled from trepidatious animals relaxed him. His older brother Quinn said he was just downright odd for enjoying those scents. Ciarán, another sibling, understood. He ran an equestrian and canine search and rescue training center. He’d also recently gone into specialized dog breeding on an exclusive level. Ciarán’s love of mustangs and dogs grew to create his current business, which was now gaining some renown amongst experts in those fields. Cián’s passion would grow as well. That is if he could get through this interview.
“May I help you?” asked the harried woman. Smiling at Cián, she curled gray-streaked hair behind her ear.
He doffed his Stetson and held it in his hands as he spoke to the woman at the counter while riffling his fingers through his own hair. “Yes, ma’am. I have an appointment with Dr. Rasher.”
“Oh, good,” her smile reappeared. “You’re the intern, See-an O’Connor.”
“Yes, ma’am, it’s actually pronounced Key-an, but the Irish spelling throws people.”
“Interesting spelling. I’ll remember that. If you get the internship, I mean.”
“Unfortunately, he’s swamped today. He has only a few appointments but more than normal walk-ins for some reason. Let me go talk to him. I’m Marcy Rasher, by the way. Be right back.”
- Cián into an empty exam room. She held out a white coat she’d snagged off the wall hook. A middle-aged gentleman dressed in his own white coat entered with a distracted smile.
He recognized Dr. Warren Rasher from online photos. Cián extended his hand automatically in greeting.
“Cián?” asked Dr. Rasher.
“Yes, sir.” Cián immediately felt more at ease.
“Good. Now you’re most of the way through school, is that right?”
“What an accomplishment for one so young. You want to intern until graduation, is that correct?”
“Yes, sir,” Cián answered as he slid his arms through the familiar feel of a white coat.
“I read your resume a couple of minutes ago, so no points for my accuracy.” Dr. Rasher laughed before he was serious again. “I presume you realize you don’t have to do a residency for a license.”
“Yes, sir, I do. The thing is, several communities will rely on me and I won’t have the luxury of another veterinarian in the area, so I need to be confident and understand my limits.”
“Okay, and why apply here?”
“Your clinical work here closely replicates the type of practice I’ll be doing. The majority of my in house appointments will be pets, but that won’t amount to much. My brothers have a ranch and my brother-in-law does too. There is also a specialized canine kennel, and plenty of bovine and equine. The Montana and Wyoming area, where my family lives, is ranching and farming country.”
“Excellent. I like to hear that. It shows you’ve given this career some careful consideration and you’re responsible enough to trust.” Dr. Rasher looked up. “Don’t think that is a small thing in this field. It could be the difference between having a practice of your own and doing grooming for a living.”
“The school tells me you came to them summa cum laude and are in the top one percent of your class. I don’t have to tell you how impressive that is.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now I understand why you’re so young and this far in your schooling. Right, well, this is your interview, son. I’ve just gotten a call that some brainless fool who thought he could herd cattle with his truck while he was rustling them, has caused a big uproar at the Mason place. He’s lucky there was anything left of him to end up in jail. Unfortunately, the brothers didn’t get there before a number of the herd were injured. They stampeded enough to encourage the driver to hightail it out of there, but he made a mistake when he decided to leave the cut barbed wire everywhere. You can guess what happened after that. Old time crime with new criminal stupidity. You up for it?”
“You bet! I mean, yes sir. I can imagine what would happen at any of my family’s ranches should that have occurred there.”
“You understand, then. Not a good outcome for anyone.” Dr. Rasher turned to his wife. “Marcy, you go settle the waiting room and get Molly over here to do what she can to treat them. I know there are a few she won’t be able to handle. Young Cián and I will do house calls late tonight or early tomorrow.” The veterinarian looked at his new intern in dark blue, new by the looks of them, jeans. “I’ll grab you a pair of my coveralls from the back. Might as well save the nice jeans and learn to wear those instead.”
“I’ve spent plenty of days in them, sir, but thank you. I didn’t think to bring any to the interview.” Cián grinned and so did Warren.
“We’ll get to it, then. And Cián, drop the ‘sir’. We’re working together. Now if you date my only daughter, the ‘sir’ will have to return.”
The fifty something man laughed at his own joke as he guided Cián to the back room. After a short orientation to the facilities, there was no more time to dawdle. They assembled a makeshift triage kit for Cián and off they went. Six hours and too many cattle to count later, Cián finished his interview and the first day of his internship with Warren Rasher, DVM.
Cián had been at the clinic for a week and was just beginning to settle into his new schedule when he saw Molly Rasher again. He had thought her striking when he first met her several years ago, but now, she was an angel.
Molly nodded and smiled broadly.
“Hey, O’Connor, right?”
“I saw the name on our paperwork this morning. I thought it couldn’t be you. But my luck is coming in because it is. I wanted to get to know you when I was at school, but you were always so busy, and serious. Your name is unique, but I’m sorry, I don’t recall how to say it.”
“Yes, that’s it.” Her cheeks blossomed. “I mean… Of course, you’d know your own name. I mean… Sorry, blonde moment. I have more than my share.”
She was cute when she was flustered.
“Hey, no self-denigration allowed. We don’t have blondes in my family. Your blonde hair is nice. It’s kind of golden like honey and your brown eyes have flecks of the same gold in them. My sisters would give you extra points for coordinating that so well. We have dark brown hair and hazel eyes all around. My eyes are the darkest. My mom says it makes them mysterious.” Cián chuckled. “As far as the odd pronunciation, all it really means is you haven’t met the rest of my clan. I have an easy name next to some. I’ll show you sometime.”
Molly laughed. “I’d like that. Oh, Dad’s calling you. You’d better go back before the afternoon puddlers arrive.”
“Puddlers.” She laughed again when his eyebrow quirked in doubt.
“It’s true. You can’t imagine how many of the little darlings pee on whatever, and their owners pretend they don’t notice. And they do it more in the afternoon than morning. Odd I know. Well, more pathetic really. They should have the decency to clean up after their pets. That’s why we have rubber matting covering the waiting room floor. You can hose it off.”
“I see it differently. I think that owners aren’t always at fault. Plenty of sick or elderly animals have incontinence problems. Or the animal is nervous. No one’s fault.” He smiled. “Be thankful it isn’t a sick bull sitting in your waiting room.”
“You’re definitely veterinarian material. You sound like Dad.”
“Why thank you, especially since I enjoy working with your dad. I’m going to learn a lot from him. I’d better go. I’ll talk to you later, I hope.”
As Cián walked to the exam rooms, he heard Molly say, “Count on it.”
He coughed to hide his grin as he began his second week of internship.
Warren Rasher looked over at his daughter watching his exiting intern more intently than the recovering dog in front of her. Over the last few weeks, it had become a habit of hers. “Molly, I wonder if that oxygen would be more effective in front of Shadow’s nose.”
“What? Oh, sorry. I was distracted.”
“I can see that. Try to stay focused dear. Cián will be back after his class.”
“For both of us, I imagine,” replied her dad.
A few weeks later, Warren discussed things with Marcy. “Molly seems to have eyes only for Cián O’Connor. I tell you, the moment she saw he was the new intern for the clinic, that girl was suddenly working more hours than she ever had. She’s done all she can to attract Cián. He’s engaging her in conversation easily, but he’s not even asked her on a date.”
“I know, and you are worried it is a one-sided infatuation.” Marcy laughed. “I’m so glad Molly doesn’t come to you for advice.”
“I have wisdom she could use.”
“Well, not for a relationship.”
“Molly isn’t in a relationship, is she?”
“No, but she wants to be.”
“With young O’Connor. But what about him?”
“Cián isn’t that young, he’s twenty-five, only three years older than Molly. And yes, she’s crazy about him. She’s carried a torch, at least a glowing ember, since she met him in school. I think he is at least interested in her. And it’s worse for Molly because he has been careful not to become involved with her. Did you scare him off?”
“No, but I do think he’s cautious for a few reasons. He works with me, he’s about to start his last year of school, and the prep for exams has started. All of which makes it not the best time to date.”
“When will it be a good time?”
“After he tests, the rest is gravy. He’ll skate to graduation. I imagine he’ll breeze through testing. Dating will suddenly become a viable pastime.”
“And how long will that be?”
“Soon. Class work is over in a few months. Then on to his practical year, working here and doing rotations, studying, and taking his final vet exam. I’m not offering my daughter as a prize, Marcy.”
Marcy leaned over and kissed her husband of thirty years. “I’m not suggesting you do. But we don’t want her to pine away. I hope he doesn’t wait too long. You know how she is when she is trying to be subtle about wanting something. She finally loses control and goes after what she wants however she can get it.”
“Are you sure about all this?”
“She doesn’t even look at any of the men coming in with their pets. She used to chat them up but now she smiles, is friendly, but that’s it.”
“We’ll just let them handle this themselves.”
She patted her husband’s hand. “Of course, dear.”
It was Friday evening. Molly and Cián were closing for the weekend. It was the Rashers’ anniversary weekend, so the clinic would be closed except for emergencies. Warren and several other community vets did weekend emergency rotations, which had worked well for a few years. Cián and Molly would handle anything that came up.
“Hey, Molly, do you want to go out somewhere?”
Molly smiled mischievously. “I don’t know. You mean like a date?”
“Yes, exactly like a date.”
Cián’s eyes looked at her confidently but more than that, as though he were the only one who could ask her. Proprietorship. Molly’s core pinged.
“But a few weeks ago, you told my dad you dated only those who you would consider as a wife.”
“Do you listen at many keyholes?”
Molly felt the heat rise up her neck and onto her cheeks with intense embarrassment. “No. It was an accident.”
He nodded with a little twitch of his lips. “Yes, I remember. That hasn’t changed.”
“Then why ask me to go out?”
“Well, going on the premise we just discussed, I’d make the obvious conclusion that I think you might be marriage material.”
“Might?” she squealed.
He didn’t seem at all flustered, which intrigued Molly. Everything about him attracted her. She loved his intensity when working with pets, the natural empathy he had for animals and people alike was heartwarming. Sometimes life with Cián was just plain entertaining.
Cián, while noticeably more educated, did dumb guy things—like assuming the owner of a Chihuahua was a woman. When the six-foot linebacker-built man came to pick up the wiggling dog, she had to hide the grin that overcame her at the expression on Cián’s face. He was nonplused, and Molly loved it.
“I’m sorry,” he said after the man left. “There is no way a man is going to be seen with a yappy dog. That’s his girl’s or wife’s dog, not his. I’d lay money on it.”
Molly just laughed. “You are so stereotypically male.”
Cián was a man’s man with a kind, gentle side that didn’t detract from his confident, cowboy persona. It enhanced it. Her girly bits were zinging to know that he thought she was possible marriage material. Her independent female side was indignant that her body reacted that way. Her libido, however, made an appearance often. She’d craved a piece of this man since she met him in class over two years ago, overruling any indignation. He was scrumptious. She couldn’t help teasing him.
“Yeah? Well, what if I’m not sure you’re marriage material?”
He reached over and dropped a light possessive kiss on her lips. “Nope.” His grin was broad and cocky. “To know me is to love me. Besides, I’ve learned from my sisters, the way to a woman’s heart is through action. Things like licking, kissing, worshiping, listening, oh, and when the time is right, clit action is never a bad choice.”
“Cián O’Connor, did you just say that to me?”
“Did you just question my motives for asking you out tonight?”
“I was teasing.”
Seriousness spread across his face again, causing her some concern. “I wasn’t.”
Molly waited to see if he would ask again. He didn’t. “Are you sure you want to date the boss’s daughter?”
“I’m sure I want to date you.”
“I’ll have to see if I’m free.”
There was a knock at the clinic’s locked door. Cián turned to see who was there. He leaned in close as he passed. His hot moist breath flowed over her cheek and bathed her neck.
“I spank for naughty. Remember that.”
Her stomach jumped. Did he just say that to her? Her insides melted from the embers he just blew into flames. This guy was hot with a capital H. Did he know how his confidence and seriousness affected women? Affected her? Molly’s friends had mentioned how he’d turned their heads during her last year of school. She wondered. Molly had no idea why his threat excited her, but her first order of business when she got home would be to change her panties and maybe have a date with ‘Bob’.
Putting the last of the cleaning supplies away, Molly could hear Cián’s dark murmur as he spoke firmly to someone. She couldn’t imagine who it was but if anyone could handle it Cián could. There was a shuffling noise behind her. Turning and seeing nothing, she closed and locked the cabinet when there was another sound from the same area.
Her father had repeatedly told her how to deal with intruders at home and there was a standard protocol in the clinic. She didn’t have her purse close. It was in her father’s office. So that meant no pepper spray. She looked around the exam room for a weapon should she need one. Her chest hurt from the wild thumping of her heart and the rising panic. Her stomach was doing cartwheels but not the same ones it did when Cián was in the room. Where was he anyway? She couldn’t hear him talking any more but the pounding in her ears was muting most other sounds.
Something fell on the floor. Glass broke.
The wooden medicine cabinet was in the corner. You would have to know that was where the heavy medication was kept to check in there. Ketamine wasn’t the only drug people wanted, so as a diversion, the clinic locked all the non-popular drugs in the office behind a reinforced glass door in plain view. The keys to that daily cabinet were in the desk. She slid her hand into her back pocket to pull out her cell phone, quickly typing 9-1-1.
“Nine one one, what is your emergency?”
Speaking into the phone as low as she could while still being heard, Molly gave the minimum information she could. “Intruder. Rasher Vet clinic. One fourteen Mountain Ashe Road. I’m Molly Rasher. Hurry.” She hung up. The operator would likely be irritated, but Molly couldn’t stay on the line any longer without giving herself away.
There was more breakage. Doing deliberately what she knew was against protocol, she walked into the room with no more than a medical instrument tray for protection. Glass crunched under her shoes as she entered the office. The drug closet door was still closed and presumably locked but as she had expected, the daily use cabinet had been broken into, the front decimated.
As she stood in the doorway, looking for the intruder, she spied a thin, unkempt man whose hands, housed in rough leatherwork gloves, shook hard. She watched as he reached through the jagged glass for yet another handful of bottles to throw in the bag. The sound behind her took her by surprise, too late to stop the next thing from happening. Horrible pain burst at the base of her head. Then nausea, blackness.
She woke to an almost blinding pain in her head and more queasiness. She tried to roll over but couldn’t without vomiting first.
“She’s awake, Jed.” Molly didn’t recognize the voice. It was a giddy kind of whine. It grated on her nerves.
“Well, well, the princess is awake. What’s your name, sweetie?” The words were kind enough, but the familiarity of the voice delivering them, and the sarcasm with which they were spoken screamed ‘danger.’ It confused her. She recognized the voice. It wasn’t only similar to a familiar person’s voice, it was a voice from her recent past. It was there, the actual connection, but she couldn’t grasp it. Her head pounded.
“Where am I?” Molly cringed as she heard her raspy words. She could barely think for the pounding pain in her head and the sound of her own voice, grating on her nerves.
“Well, that depends. You’re in my van. I thought you’d never wake up, bitch.” His tone had changed to a guttural sound that made her draw back in fright. “Now, you’re going to tell me where those meds are before your boyfriend wakes up and decides to do something that I have to kill him for.” An even greater fear for Cián streaked through her confused brain as she tried to concentrate on the robber’s words.
Molly responded through her muddled state, but she didn’t have a clue why. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”
A hand shoved her. “Focus, woman. Listen to me. I’m what’s important here not whether you have a man or not. Where are the drugs?”
“In the cabinet,” she croaked. Her throat hurt, making talking difficult.
“The one we busted? Try again.”
She screamed as he yanked her hair hard, sending blinding shards of pain through her scalp and into her nerve centers. White spots appeared before her eyes, tears streamed down her cheeks. The black edges of her sight closed in as she struggled to stay awake. It wouldn’t do if Cián woke up first. She’d seen a guy verbally attack a woman in the mall parking lot and Cián had taken the man down in seconds. She knew, without a doubt, that Cián wouldn’t let anyone hurt her if he could stop it. Today, he would die trying if she didn’t somehow distract these men.
Taking a shallow breath, because anything more hurt too much, she spoke past the pain and fogginess in her head. “We lock it in a vault off site when the vet is out of town. He’s on a trip.”
“Bullshit. Vets need meds for emergencies.”
“Yes, but when he is gone, he takes the drugs off site. It is the standard for many animal clinics now because they have been broken into enough to make the change necessary.”
She prayed it sounded feasible. Her head hurt too much to come up with a better excuse. The pain forced her to close her eyes tighter and concentrate, putting all of her focus on breathing slowly through the next wave of nausea.
“Shit. Did you hear that?” The angry man yelled at the nervous one.
“Yeah. We gotta get outta here. The cops are here. We won’t be able to go back inside even if the drugs are there. Let’s dump and run.”
“No, wait. How did they know to show up?”
“The guy you left probably woke up.”
“Nah, I wrapped him like a steer at the rodeo.”
Molly had refocused on the conversation after her nausea had subsided. If she didn’t move or open her eyes, she might be able to avoid another wave.
Angry man backhanded her, throwing her against the van’s sliding door. She vomited, and the blinding pain nearly sent her into unconsciousness again. “Did you call? Did you do it, bitch?” He must have said it several times while she was gaining control of her roiling stomach. Finally, she was able to whisper out an answer.
“No. The glass case has an alarm connected to the cops.”
She tried to open her eyes just as his hand raised. She noticed him within her peripheral vision. She raised her hands over her head for protection, but the man punched at her face instead, hitting her on the jaw. Her head and now her ears were ringing. She lost feeling on the right side of her face momentarily then an almost unbearable rush of heat replaced the numbness.
“Now! We have to go now, man. I’m not taking the girl,” said the nervous one. “We have our faces covered. She won’t be able to identify us.”
Molly had a passing thought that they had cameras. Nothing she would tell. She worried about Cián. These men didn’t seem to think he was dead, but how badly was he hurt?
“The van. She’ll see us drive away,” said the angry one.
“Then handle it, but I’m not going to add kidnapping to this and bring in the Feds.”
The quieter one was getting more agitated. He sounded more worried. Molly made no sound, but keeping silent came with great effort. From behind her squinting eyes, she saw the angry man’s wrist with a tattoo of a dragon’s snout peeking out of his sleeve. She tried to memorize what it looked like, but the final sentence from the quiet man seeped into her foggy brain just as the door slid open.