oey headed down the hall to the front door, determined that her next editorial would be in favor of legalizing the murder of people who knocked at ungodly hours. True, she was usually awake at those hours but still . . .
The building had better be on fire.
She flung open the door, expecting anyone but Connor Macleod. At least, she assumed that's who was nearly filling her doorframe. She didn't remember him being quite that tall, or so wide of shoulder. Didn't recall the dark, glossy hair that fell forward into his face and tumbled over the collar of his denim jacket. Or the strong angles of his jaw line, now accented with dark beard stubble. But those pale gray eyes . . . Those she remembered very well.
“Hello, ma'am. I'm conducting a survey to see how many people will answer the door this early in the morning. I'll just put you down as a
on a Saturday.” She stared up at him warily for a long moment. “What are you doing here?”
“I'm a desperate man. The Finer Diner doesn't open 'til six-thirty and I might die if I don't find coffee soon.”
Her mouth curved but she kept a hand on the door. Yesterday she'd been too nervous to phone him and here he was today in the flesh. Damn sexy flesh too. Did she really want him to come inside? “So I'd be saving your life if I let you in?”
What could it hurt? “Well, I couldn't possibly refuse an emergency like that. I'd be violating some sort of Good Samaritan law.” She waved him inside and led the way to the kitchen.
He squeezed into a chair behind her little bistro table, then his eyes widened and he gave a low, appreciative whistle. “That's a hell of a setup you've got here. I may never go to the Finer Diner again.”
“I take my coffee seriously.” She did too. The kitchen was small but one half of the counter space was devoted to espresso and latte machines in addition to a regular coffeemaker, two different grinders, and an assortment of glass canisters containing dark beans. Huge bright coffee mugs marched along a shelf, while colorful paintings of steaming cups were hung on the wall. “But you can't discount the Finer Diner entirely. The food is incredible there.” She knew it for a fact. She'd made a habit of eating there frequently and was already on a first name basis with Bill and Jessie Watson, the couple that ran the place.
“True, Bill's an artist when it comes to food. He'd rather cook than breathe.”
“You know them? Oh wait, I guess you've been here a lot longer than I have.” She kept forgetting that people in a small town knew each other. In Vancouver, she'd lived in an apartment building for years without knowing the names of the people who lived on the same floor.
“Well, it's true that we've been friends for a long time. But it was inevitableâwhere else could a single hardworking vet go to eat around here with the kind of hours I keep?”
She didn't miss the fact that he was telling her outright he was available, and the news sent a pleasant tingle through her. “So does this hardworking vet prefer his coffee plain or would he like a mocha grande with double espresso?”
Connor hesitated for a moment and she realized that he looked tired. Very tired. “I'll tell you what,” she decided. “I'll get some strong coffee going because it'll brew fast. After you've had a cup, I'll make you that mocha.”
“Thanks. That sounds great.”
Long practice had the coffee brewing within moments. Zoey found the biggest mug she had and placed it in front of him, scooping her pile of papers off the table before she sat down. The table looked a lot smaller than usual with a good-looking man looming over it. Suddenly she remembered her appearance and ran her hands hurriedly through her hair. God, here she was entertaining in her bathrobe! Worse, beneath it were turquoise flannel pajamas with little green frogs on them. She tugged the collar of the bathrobe higher in a useless bid to hide themâthe pant legs were plainly visible below the robe. So were the furry slippers. . . .
“Your hair. It's nice. The color, the waves.”
“Thanks.” Maybe the pajamas were okay after all. “So were you out delivering a calf?”
“You don't know?”
He scrubbed a hand over his face and grinned. “This morning I wouldn't swear to anything without checking with the dispatcher first. I'm pretty much running on automatic pilot.”
“I've done that myself a few times. Sounds like veterinary practice can be a lot like the newspaper business.”
“Not here, surely.”
“No, thank God. It's a lot quieter here.”
“Is that why you came to Dunvegan? For the quiet?”
Zoey thought, but if she told him about that little ability she'd inherited, the one she was trying to leave behind, he'd surely think she was weird. She didn't want to take a chance on chasing him off, not yet. He looked just too good in her kitchen. . . . So she gave him the same standard answer she'd given her former boss and co-workers, her new publisher, everyone in fact. “Big city journalism is not your career, it's your life. I wanted a slower pace and a chance to write more human interest stories, instead of just pieces about murders and robberies.”
“Instead, you got wolves.”
“Beats the heck out of human wolves,” she countered. The coffeemaker beeped and Zoey took off the pot, poured Connor's cup.
“Thanks.” He brought it to his face and inhaled deeply. “Smells like heaven.” Sipped. “Tastes like it too. I'm saved!”
“The miracle of freshly ground beans.” She poured herself a cup as well.
“Really? I didn't see you grinding any.” His eyes were full of humor as they looked at her over his coffee mug.
She paused with the pot in her hand and sighed. “Okay, I'll come clean. I was already awake, been up for over an hour. I'm one of those annoying morning people and I get my best writing done around five. Go ahead”âshe waved a hand at himâ“recoil in horror.”
He laughed. “My mother always said there was something magic about mornings. Must be true, since I'm sitting with a pretty woman and drinking good coffee. But I'll confess too. I saw your lights on when I was driving by and knew you were up. And what I really came here for is to make sure you're okay.”
okay, thanks to you. As much as I love wrestling wolves, I admit I was getting a little tired when you came along the other night.”
“Did you get that bite checked at the clinic?”
“I called a couple of times yesterday, but neither of the doctors was in. By the time I called again, the clinic was closed.”
He frowned. “The message machine has an emergency number. The doctors aren't that hard to reach.”
“Well, it didn't feel like an emergency. I checked my legâit looked clean and it wasn't bleeding. I washed it and doused it with peroxide just in case.” That had stung like crazy at first but at least the peroxide hadn't foamed up around the punctures, as it would have if they'd been dirty or infected. “So I thought it could wait until today.” She smiled but for some reason he was still frowning. Excuses suddenly came tumbling out of her mouth as if she was in grade school facing a glowering teacher. “I've been pretty busy. In case you didn't notice, I have a newspaper to run and deadlines to make. I had to assign someone to take photos of the damage from the ice stormâthere was a fallen tree blocking Main Street. And there were other calls to make, stories to be written. I just lost track of the time and well,
.” Crap. That sounded completely lame even to her. And why was she trying to explain herself to this man?
“Pretty tough to forget that a wolf used your leg for a chew toy.”
“Well, of course I didn't forget
. My leg feels like it was caught in a bear trap, okay?” She couldn't keep the defensive tone out of her voice, and that pissed her off. She glared at him, wondering how the hell this man had managed to knock her off-balance so easily with less than three sentences.
There was a pause. Then his mouth twitched so slightly that she wasn't sure she'd seen it. “I see I've left my manners in the truck. Can I have a do-over if I apologize and promise to stop grilling you?” He held out his cup and grinned. “I really don't want to risk losing out on more of your great coffee.”
She rolled her eyes but topped off his cup, her anger deflating like a balloon. “I'm sorry too. I'm just stressed, I guess. I can put a lot of things to the sideâlike making repeated calls to doctors' officesâwhen I have other priorities, and my main priority has been to try to convince people that there's a dangerous animal out there. I've been on the phone a lot.”
“Yeah? Who did you call?”
“The usual. The cops and the mayor's office and the Fish and Wildlife guys for starters. Most wouldn't even listen. Well, the RCMP listened enough to send an officer over. He was nice about it but it was obvious he thought it was a dog attack. Said they'll definitely keep their eyes open. If an animal is found and its owner is determined, they'll lay charges. He's going to refer my case to the local bylaw official, but I don't know what good that will do. I'd already called
“You told all those people and no one believed you?”
“Heyâcity girl, media type, new in townâwhat do
“No credibility at all, eh?”
“Not a shred. So I figure I'll write up the story as if it was a big nasty dog, say it was acting strangelyâno exaggeration thereâand maybe people will think it could be rabid, maybe they'll be a little bit worried.” She stopped and thought then. “What am I saying,
should be the one that's worried. What if it did have rabies?” Her hand went to her head.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
She should have crawled to the damn clinic if she had to and gotten herself checked out.
“I doubt that you have to worry. There's very little incidence of rabies in this part of the country. I haven't seen a case in ten years.”
“Really? That's a huge relief. Well, I can still write the story so at least people will be on the lookout for a weird dog, and maybe no one else will get bitten.”
“Sounds like a plan. Are you sure you're going to be okay with that, with letting people think it was a dog? You know what it was.”
“I know what it was.” She looked at him sharply then. “Hey, so do you!” Why hadn't she thought of it before? “I don't have any proof that the wolf was a wolf but maybe you could back me up. The village officials would listen to you. Or maybe you could give me a couple of quotes I can use in my article.” She couldn't keep the hopeful note out of her voice. A hope that faded as Connor shook his head slowly.
“It's true that it was a wolf, but the truth can be misused. The local farmers and ranchers are likely to get gun-happy and wipe out every wolf they can find. Wolves aren't a protected species here,” he explained. “I'm not happy that one attacked you but it's out of character for wolves in general. It may have been sick, or too old to hunt regular game.”
Like some lions that become man-eaters in Africa, she thought with a shiver. “I guess humans are very easy prey.”
“Unless they have windshield wipers.”
She snorted at that. Still, she couldn't help agreeing with what he'd said. “Look, I don't want to start a wolf extermination either. I just want people to be safe, and a dog attack story will probably do the job. But it bothers me that no one will be looking for this animal. Old or sick or just plain crazy, it should be stopped.”
“That much I can promise you.”
“But the authoritiesâ”
“Are not the only people capable of tracking down a rogue wolf,” he finished. “Trust me, my family and friends are on it as we speak. The wolf will be dealt with.” Connor placed his hand over hers.
She hoped her hand wasn't shaking. It was completely swallowed by his. She could feel the heat of it, and the rough palm that was the signature of a working man. It was sexy as hell and she caught herself wondering what that hand would feel like sliding slowly under the bathrobe, stroking her bare skin. . . . Her cheeks heated suddenly and she pulled her hand away.
“I promised you a double-shot mocha,” she said as she got up and began pulling out canisters. She risked a quick glance at his face as she worked. There was humor in his eyes, as if he was laughing at her for pulling her hand away. Thank God he didn't know what she had been thinking. Yesterday she'd felt nervous at the thought of seeing him again. And here she was in her pajamas and bathrobe, making him coffee in her own kitchen while thinking bedroom thoughts. And hoping like crazy she wasn't blushing.