One of the things I love most about this column is being able to share a snippet from from an author you might not have heard of. Heather Ashby is a new to me author and I can’t wait to read this book after reading this scene.
The yowling outside his window the night before had Sky wanting to take the freaking cat down to the ocean and drown it. He’d been attempting to entertain his chick-du-jour, but the ruckus on the porch distracted him from making that little baby purr.
Distractibility had earned Brian Crawford the nickname “Skylark” at the Naval Academy after one too many demerits for skylarking: daydreaming, “not keeping his eyes in the boat,” and pretty much having his head up his ass at the wrong time. Suffering from ADHD, he’d always had problems with focus—except at the controls of his Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter.
Last night’s honey first conned him into feeding the cat, then she made him promise to take it to a vet and find it a home. If the woman was such a bleeding heart animal lover why hadn’t she taken the damn thing. Never mind. It wouldn’t go with her anyway. The cat growled and hissed at her, and Sky would eventually learn it feared all women.
Fortunately, he was able to snag this appointment at Oceanside Veterinary Clinic. He’d even make a sizeable donation if the vet would take the animal off his hands that afternoon. Regardless, Sky knew he’d do whatever it took to keep last night’s sweet young thing rubbing up against him with affection.
The vet tech finished taking vital signs and informed him Dr. Schneider would be with him shortly. Sky looked forward to chatting with the doctor, not only to unload the stray, but also to discuss kayaking. He’d noticed an SUV in the parking lot that sported a Thule Hullavator, the top-of-the-line kayak rack. Apparently it belonged to Dr. Schneider. This guy already rocked in Sky’s book.
But when the door opened, the woman who entered rocked Sky’s world instead.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m Dr. Schneider.”
Attention on deck. All hands man your battle stations. Hot. Chick. Alert.
Sky’s brain flipped over to autopilot. Left eye did the ring finger check. No rings. Good sign. Right eye—hey, something was wrong here. His right eye knew it was assigned breast patrol, but it couldn’t seem to move past her blond hair swept up into some kind of barrette thingy. Hair that screamed for him to pull out the clip so he could watch the flaxen mass come tumbling down, like the walls of Jericho. Then both eyes got too lost in her pale blue ones—or were they green?—to even consider glancing lower.
Mayday. Mayday. Losing focus fast. Send reinforcements.
Peripheral vision was called in as backup and the situation report said any woman that looked this good in a pair of scrubs must be some mighty fine booty.
Sky scrambled to formulate an appropriate introductory comment. However, his brain was still locked and loaded on kayaks, prompting the following to shoot from his mouth:
He jerked his thumb toward the door. “Isn’t that your Jeep in the parking lot?”
“What does . . .? How do you know my car?”
“I asked at the desk. Aren’t you the kayaker? I mean, that is, like, the best rack on the planet.”
“My . . . car.”
Dr. Schneider looked like she was trying to keep from—wait, was she laughing at him? What was so funny about a—?
Sky Crawford had learned long ago whenever he tried to dig himself out of a hole that he usually only dug himself deeper, so he feigned ignorance and soldiered on. Possessing an excellent poker face had come in handy many times in his life. Smiling his signature grin, which revealed a space between his two front teeth—God knew why chicks dug it, but they did—he jumped in with both feet.
“And according to your bumper stickers, you support the troops. So how about supporting this troop and going kayaking with me this weekend?”
The vet’s eyes drilled his as she opened the box containing the cat. “Are you hitting on me?”
“Too strong, huh?” He scrubbed a hand through his blond crew cut and appeared deep in thought for only a second. “Would you like to meet for coffee sometime?”
“I don’t date clients.”
“Oh, I’m not a client. This cat showed up last night and I’m getting it up to speed so I can find it a home. How about I find him a home this week and then I definitely won’t be a client. So, you want to go kayaking next weekend?”
She indicated his green flight suit. “And I don’t date military men. Especially pilots.”
“Aw, honey, is that any way to support the troops? What’s the matter? Crashed and burned?”
“You could say that. And I’m not your honey.”
Had the room taken on a chill? Or was it coming from the Ice Queen who continued to stare at him, chin raised in defiance. Sky retreated. Figured he’d regroup his forces before he came in for another assault.
The cat wanted no part of Dr. Schneider. It repeatedly crawled across the exam table and into Sky’s arms. “There might be something wrong with it, because he cried, like, all night. About drove us crazy,” Sky explained.
The vet handled the cat with expertise and managed to examine it. “Well, first of all, he is a she and she is in heat. She made all that noise because she’s looking for a mate.”
Blessedly, Sky’s brain overloaded its circuit board and blew a fuse, rendering him powerless to speak. It was his body’s way of protecting him from saying something beyond stupid. So many good lines were vying for attention he needed a mental heat-seeking device to lock onto just one of them.
“If she’s a stray, the best thing would be to spay her,” Dr. Schneider continued. “If she’s been out for awhile, she may have bred several times over. Cats cancarry kittens from different fathers, you know.”
Another salvo of witty comebacks whizzed through Sky’s head. His mouth tried to latch onto one of them, but failed. Good thing his mouth was paralyzed because this was no ordinary chick. Wait. This was no chick at all. This was Dr. Untouchableand apparently she was not attracted to his bullshit, which made the challenge of winning her over that much sweeter. Oh, how he loved it when desirable women played the hard-to-get card.
There was no way he was getting rid of the cat now.
The kitty was his ticket to veterinary paradise.
Suddenly his mouth began to function again and nobody was more surprised than Sky when something civilized shuttled down from his overloaded brain to his tongue.
“You mean, kill the babies?”
Innocence. Pure and simple. Blue eyes opened wide, he radiated concern, like a frightened little boy. Sky pulled the cat into his arms and rested his chin on her head. Where the hell had concern for the welfare of unborn kittens come from when a minute ago all he could think about was sleeping with the good doctor?
She glanced at his name tag, “Yes, Lieutenant Crawford. Before you make a decision, I’m obligated to tell you she may already be carrying a litter.”
“What would you do if this was your cat, Doc?”
“I’d spay her.”
“And take those little lives?”
“Those little lives would be added to the millions of cats who need homes, causing hundreds to be euthanized every day. As it is, you don’t even want this cat, let alone kittens.”
“Oh, wait a second there. You must have misunderstood me. This cat and I are joined at the hip. I’ve fallen hard for it—I mean, her—in the past five minutes. Nobody’s taking her away from me.”
“The feeling must be mutual. I see her bonding with you right now. In my experience, feral cats go to no one, but look at her. She trusts you. Her head burrowed in the crook of your arm like that is a cat’s way of saying, ‘If they can’t see my face, then I’m not really here.’” Her mouth relaxed into a smile.
Sky bent down and spoke into the kitty’s ear. “Did you see that, little girl? We actually made the lady smile.”
Dr. Schneider huffed out a breath. “She’s obviously part Siamese and they behave very much like dogs. Communicative, devoted to their owners, that kind of thing. She’s probably not purebred, but the dark points and blue eyes are a giveaway to her pedigree.”
And what color are your eyes, Doc? Are they blue? Or are they green?
She looked down and seemed flustered as she fiddled with the paperwork. “So what about the spaying, Lieutenant?”
“Affirmative. Book it.”
“Why don’t we keep her for a day or so? We’ll spay her and take care of her shots. Check with Lillian at the desk. She’ll give you all the paperwork. Leave a phone number so we can reach you when she’s ready to be picked up.” The doctor started for the door.
“Um, Doc, she’s got a lot of problems. Just so you know.”
She stopped and turned to him. “She seems fine to me, except for being in heat and possibly pregnant. What do you think is wrong with her?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet, but trust me, she has so many ailments, she’ll probably need to see you every day for, oh, say . . .” He paused for effect, a smile threatening his lips. “As long as it takes.”
* * *
Daisy slammed the front door behind Lieutenant Crawford. “The nerve of him.”
“Oh, I thought he was kind of cute,” said Lillian. “And he’s obviously interested in you, Doctor. What happened back in the exam room?”
“Nothing happened in the exam room. He was abrasive and—”
“He asked you out, didn’t he?” Lillian smiled knowingly as she shuffled the records on her desk.
Daisy stared at the door, clenched her fists, and uttered unintelligible sentiments. “He is so full of it, his eyes should be brown.”
“You know, Daze, maybe you should consider dating again.”
“Dating him? Comeon. My BS radar was working overtime and it wasn’t even turned on. He was annoying and rude.”
“And hot. Don’t forget hot.”
“Then he’s all yours, Lillian, because I am not interested in a con artist. Look, I’m heading home.” She called to the two Labrador Retrievers behind the counter. “Come on, girls. Let’s call it a day.”
As Daisy ushered her dogs into the Jeep, she glanced up at the “nice rack” on top and laughed to herself. Brian Crawford had looked mighty funny trying to wiggle out of that one. He honestly hadn’t been talking about her breasts and yet he somehow still came off looking guilty. She’d practically seen the wheels turning in his head when he figured out his faux pas. But he’d made her laugh.Was that such a bad thing? To laugh again?
Once she arrived home, Daisy let the dogs out through the sliding glass door, cranked down the air conditioner to counter the sticky Florida heat, poured herself a glass of wine, and collapsed into her favorite overstuffed chair. How would she fill another empty evening? Watch a movie? No. They made her think too much. A chick flick would remind her she was alone. A guy movie would remind her there was no guy in her life. A war movie? Not in this lifetime.
Glancingat the altar on her mantelpiece, Daisy teared upas she viewed the handsome Marine in the photos: the formal portrait in dress uniform, the combat mug shot with his buddies and their aircraft in the desert, and the wedding picture where the happy couple held his sword, poised to cut the cake.
Daisy sighed. “Dammit, Jack. Why did you have to go and die?”
Suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome and survivor guilt, Navy Seahawk pilot and renowned playboy, Brian “Skylark” Crawford, swears he’ll never settle down, unsure he deserves the happiness promised by marriage—besides, there’s too many hot chicks out there to choose from.
War widow and veterinarian, Daisy Schneider, swears to love only animals after her Marine pilot husband is killed in Afghanistan. Although she fills her life with work and volunteer activities, it fails to put a dent in her loneliness—or the guilt that she might have saved her husband.
Between one stray, matchmaking cat and fiery battles with drug runners at sea, the fur flies as Sky and Daisy learn valuable lessons about life, love, and second chances.