Veterinarian's Vixen (Culpepper Cowboys Book 8), page 1
Culpepper Cowboys Book 8
About the Author
Copyright ©2016 by Merry Farmer
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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When reporter Nancy Tilson visited Culpepper, Wyoming to do a story on the Quinlan Quads the real scoop was her instant connection with hunky veterinarian, “Doc” O’Donnell. But months have passed, without a single call from Doc. Now Nancy is back in Culpepper to cover the Culpepper Stakes, a Fourth of July horse race, and to seek out answers to why the spark between her and Doc fizzled out…
Doc is shocked to see Nancy back in town, especially after she brushed him off by giving him a fake phone number, ruining a promising start to a budding romance. He is determined to fight the feelings he still has for her, especially when Nancy’s slimy boss, Stu, hints that he and Nancy have something going on…
But all is not as it seems. As one set of misunderstandings untangles, a whole other batch of problems springs up. Problems that lead to Doc not just treating the horses for the Culpepper Stakes, but entering the race himself. Stu is not the sort to take defeat lying down, though, and for a second time, Nancy and Doc’s relationship is in danger of fizzling before it gets off the ground…
On paper, Doc O’Donnell’s world was just about perfect. His large animal veterinary business in Culpepper, Wyoming was booming. Led by his good friends, the Culpepper brothers and top-notch trainer, Ryan Bassett, he was gaining a stellar reputation as the region’s foremost expert in equine medicine and rehabilitation. His services were in demand through Wyoming and all the way down to Colorado and out to Utah, even Idaho. Better still, his big brother, Sly O’Donnell, had recently moved into town—for reasons Doc didn’t entirely understand. The two of them drove out to the Culpepper ranch together, catching up on old times. It was great to have his big bro by his side once more, and there were hints that their younger brother, Arch, might come out for the Fourth of July in a couple of weeks.
But as happy as that made him, there was still a gaping hole in Doc’s life…right about where his heart was. A hole that a certain spunky reporter had left him with a few months ago when she left town and disappeared from his life.
“So my plan is for the Culpepper Stakes to become the area’s most prestigious horse race,” Sly rambled, looking out the passenger-side window as vast stretches of sunbaked ranchland rolled by. It was only mid-June, but already things were heating up. “The Fourth of July is a perfect time to have it each year, and we can coordinate the race with other events in town. Imagine the potential for tourists that could be created.”
“Tourists?” Doc asked, knowing it was what Sly wanted him to say so that he could talk more. In reality, his thoughts were elsewhere, imagining a pretty pair of brown eyes. Was it this hot where she was? Did she miss him as much as he missed her?
“Absolutely. Culpepper is lagging way behind economically.” Sly continued his speech, in his element. “Ranching and wind farming can only take a place so far. I would love to do for Culpepper what I did for Ulrich, California.”
Doc sent him a wary sidelong glance, then went back to watching the road as he drove. “What did you do for Ulrich?”
The grin Sly gave him was half the reason he’d been given his nickname. “I took a backwards, sleepy mountain town, brought in a few boutique businesses, invested in camping facilities, and made it one of the finest family outdoor adventure resorts in Northern California.”
“So you want to make Culpepper into a resort destination?” Doc doubted the residents would go for that. He wondered what a certain Miss Nancy Tilson would think.
Sly shrugged. “Not necessarily, but we can do something with the town.”
“Sure. Why not? The O’Donnell family has always gotten more done when we work together.”
“I’ll be sure to tell Arch and Elvie you said that,” Doc laughed. He slowed down to make the turn onto the Culpepper ranch.
Sly sat up, staring at Culpepper Confectionary Creations, the bakery that had recently been started by Grace Wells, Patience Bassett, and Felicity Quinlan, the sister and cousins of the Culpepper wives. “That’s an awful lot of cars parked in front of a bakery that’s all the way out here and not in the center of town,” he said.
Doc snuck a peek, then kept driving. “That’s nothing. You should see them around morning coffee time.”
“Really?” Sly turned to him and Doc nodded. Sly whistled. “See, this is exactly the kind of enterprise I intend to build up. Culpepper needs more small businesses like that, businesses that can be destinations in themselves. We can make something of this town.”
Doc thought about arguing that Culpepper already was something to the people who lived there, but he wasn’t in the mood to get into that debate. Sly always won debates. Always. Besides, thinking about the Culpepper family only made that hole in his chest yawn wider. They all seemed to be getting married, lickety-split. In fact, the Culpepper boys had started a trend. Nobody seemed to want to wait to get married anymore. On-the-spot weddings were becoming a fad that was spreading. In fact, if Nancy was here right now, he suspected he’d drop to one knee without a second thought.
“You should start a wedding chapel, like Vegas,” Doc suggested bumping along the drive that led out to the stable. “I’m sure Brother Anthony would love dressing up as Elvis to marry people.”
Sly laughed. “I can see it now.”
That was the other thing that had surprised Doc since Sly showed up in town. His big brother had started attending church. Although as often as not, Brother Anthony’s services were more like going to the circus than a solemn worship ceremony. Still, it didn’t fit with everything Doc knew about his brother.
Doc pulled his truck into a parking spot beside the stable.
Sly rubbed his chin. “You know, I don’t think there’s any waiting period in Wyoming. We actually could build a wedding chapel in Culpepper. Or mayb
Doc cut the engine and shook his head. “Talk to Karlan Culpepper about passing ordinances so you can build you wedding wonderland.”
He opened the door and slipped out. Sly got out on his side, and as he walked around the front of the truck, his expression was lit up with ideas. He spread his arms wide and said, “Wedding Wonderland! I can see it now.”
Doc snorted and walked on to the stable. “Mom dropped you on your head when you were a baby, didn’t she?”
Sly caught up and thumped him on the back. “Yeah. Right into a pile of money.”
They crossed through the open doorway of the stable and into the slightly cooler, dimmer rows of stalls. The Culpeppers had the best stock of horses of anyone in the county. The family took care of them, but even though she’d only been there a couple of months, Honor Quinlan McFarlane had declared herself in charge of all things equine on the ranch. She didn’t have a huge amount of experience with horses, but her deep love for them made her a fast learner.
“Doc, there you are.” She leapt up from where she’d been kneeling on the straw-covered floor, staring intently at her horse, Strawberry’s hind leg. “Come here and take a look at this.”
She pulled at Doc’s sleeve and tugged him along to where Strawberry stood, patiently eyeing everyone.
“Give the man a chance to say hello.” Angus MacFarlane, Honor’s Scottish husband and long-time employee and friend of the Culpepper family came out of the office at the far end of the stable. “Greetings, Doc.” He marched over to shake Doc’s hand. “And who’s this?”
“Hey, Angus.” Doc shook Angus’s hand firmly, then gestured to Sly. “Have you met my brother yet? He just moved to Culpepper.”
“He’s the one organizing the race,” Honor added, moving to stand by her husband’s side with an approving smile. “Thanks for that, by the way. I’ve been dying to race Strawby,”
“You’re welcome.” Sly chuckled and took Angus’s hand. “Sly O’Donnell. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Sly?” Angus glanced to Doc for an explanation.
“It’s a nickname,” Sly answered, more serious than Angus probably expected him to be. “We all go by nicknames in our family.”
“Doc is a nickname?” Honor asked.
“Uh, yeah.” Doc prayed she wouldn’t ask what his given name was.
“Our parents named us all after older relatives,” Sly explained. He paused, then added, “Previous generations of the O’Donnell family were pretty stupid about naming their kids.”
Angus smirked. “So what do ‘Sly’ and ‘Doc’ really stand for?”
Doc cleared his throat, send Sly a withering glare, then crossed back to Strawberry. “So what seems to be the problem?”
Honor’s face pinched as if she were debating which she wanted to do more, find out his and Sly’s real names or talk about horses. Horses won.
“I’m not exactly sure.” She moved to crouch beside Doc, smoothing her hand along Strawberry’s leg. “She’s favoring it a little. I want her to be in the best shape possible for this race.”
Doc focused on business, examining Strawberry and running a hand along her legs and flanks. Sly, of course, kept talking.
“Doc’s just given me the idea of building a massive wedding chapel complex here in Culpepper.”
Angus’s brow flew up. “A wedding chapel?” He laughed. “Who are you planning to have get married? There’s hardly enough single women in town for the guys to date, let alone marry.”
“Yeah, I hear they’ve even had to start importing women,” Honor joked. According to what Doc had heard, not only had the Quinlan Quads come to Culpepper after being set up by a matchmaker, Honor and her sister had been set up themselves, specifically because there were no single women in town.
Sly, however, didn’t get the joke. “Let me tell you, I intend to do something about that.”
Doc glanced up from where he was feeling Strawberry’s legs. “About there not being single women in town?”
“No.” Sly narrowed his eyes. “I’m considering bringing a lawsuit against Korpanty Enterprises.”
“What?” Angus laughed at the same time as Honor asked, “Who?”
“Don’t listen to him.” Doc shook his head. “He’s lost his mind.”
“Korpanty Enterprises,” Sly went on. “The underwear company that held the photo shoot out here.”
“The one where all the Culpepper ladies ended up getting snapped up?” Angus asked.
Sly nodded. “I intend to sue for negligence and improper business practices.”
“Good luck with that,” Doc muttered. He straightened and turned to Honor. “How often have you been riding Strawberry here?”
“Every day,” Honor answered. All talk of frivolous lawsuits was dropped. “Several times a day. I want to win that race, so I’ve been keen to practice.”
“Well, there’s your problem.” Doc patted Strawberry’s rump. “She’s tired. She might have pulled a muscle. Mostly, I think she just needs rest.”
“That’s what I was saying,” Angus agreed.
Honor sent him a sharp frown before forcing herself to take a deep breath. She took another breath then told Angus, “I appreciate your looking out for me. I know it was well-meant.” The way she said it felt to Doc like rehearsed words, like Honor was trying to learn how to deal with something he didn’t know about.
“I love you, and I would never do anything to second-guess you,” Angus answered as if he too were learning how to talk to his wife.
Doc pretended he hadn’t noticed. What went on between a husband and wife was their business. He also figured that when you got married super-quick—like everyone had been lately—you needed to figure out how to deal with each other.
Which left him wondering how he could learn to deal with a certain Miss Nancy Tilson.
Of course, that was a moot point. She’d made it pretty clear that she hadn’t felt the same spark that he had after their encounters several months ago. If only he could just forget her instead of feeling a horrible…absence every time he thought about her.
There was nothing he could do about that, though. He drew in a breath and gave Strawberry one last pat on her backside. “Well, since Strawberry here is doing just fine, we’ve got to move on. Plenty of people in the area are entering horses in the race, so I’ve been making a lot of house calls.”
“Where are you headed next?” Angus asked.
“Jesse and Valerie Savoy want me to give their little lady, Roxie, a check-up to make sure she’s ready to run.”
“Wait, Jesse and Valerie Savoy?” Sly asked as they headed for the stable door. “The TV stars from that show Lazy Love?”
“They moved here for peace and quiet,” Doc warned his brother. “Not to be dragged into any developmental or publicity schemes.”
Like newspapers. His thoughts went there without warning. Newspapers and their reporters. Reporters like Nancy. They headed out of the stable and back to the truck. What had gone wrong all those months ago? He’d helped Nancy change a flat on her tire, and he thought they’d gotten along great. They’d even gone out on a date while she was here. An impromptu date, but still a date. Then he’d asked for her phone number so they could keep in touch and, well, the number she gave him was for a plumbing supply store in Louisville. She’d given him a fake number.
“What’s eating you?” Sly asked as they neared the truck.
“Nothing,” Doc lied. He thought he and Nancy had really hit it off. Chemistry everywhere. So why had she—
He looked up in the middle of his thought and froze. Of all things, there she was. Nancy Tilson, reporter and heartbreaker, was right there, walking across the field on the Culpepper ranch, Faith Culpepper by her s
“I don’t know why I’m so tired.” Nancy suppressed a yawn as she and Faith stepped out the back door of Faith’s house and started across the field to the stable. She stretched her neck and smiled up at the hot, Wyoming sun.
“You just flew in from Louisville,” Faith answered for her with a reassuring smile. “And from what you just told me, driving out here from the Salt Lake City airport with your boss must have been exhausting.”
“Ugh.” Nancy made a face and shivered. “When he asked me to make this trip out here with him to cover the Culpepper Stakes, I jumped at the opportunity. I was so excited that I would get to visit you again.” And that she might get to see a certain hunky vet, but there was no way she was going to embarrass herself by admitting that. No, Doc O’Donnell had gotten the message across to her loud and clear that he wasn’t interested.
“Why would your boss bring you on a two-week trip to Culpepper, Wyoming just to cover a horse race?” Faith shrugged. “It isn’t even a big deal race.”
“Every race is a big deal race to Stu, especially when he’s riding in it.” She rolled her eyes.
“Stu?” Faith snickered.
“I know.” Nancy made a face of disgust. “Believe me, I wish I could just call him Mr. Studebaker, but he’s trying to be one of those hip, cool bosses. He wants everyone to call him Stu.”
“He does realize that sounds worse than being formal, right?” Faith grabbed Nancy’s arm to stop her from stepping into a relatively fresh cow pie.
Nancy wished someone had steered her around Stu. There was definitely a resemblance between her boss and the pie in question. “Stu doesn’t realize a lot of things,” she sighed. “Like that journalism should be about more than following celebrity Twitter feeds and writing stories based on those.”
“Yeah, what’s with newspapers these days forgetting what actual journalism is?” Faith asked her question then squinted at the horizon and the barn. “Huh. I wonder whose truck that is.”
Other author's books:
- Drifter's Darling (Culpepper Cowboys Book 12)Hairdresser's Honey (Culpepper Cowboys Book 14)Tycoon's Tryst (Culpepper Cowboys Book 10)
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