USA TODAY calls Ryan and Manis the “ideal romance-writing duo.”
He was on top of the world. She’s at the bottom of the pile.
Heart surgeon, Aaron Sumner reigned as king in his field, but when a tremor takes away his ability to operate, his dream career disintegrates. After more than a decade away, he’s coming home to Canyon Creek to figure out who he is without a scalpel in his hand. He didn’t expect the woman who put him in his place at his brother’s wedding to be the one to show him there’s more to life than an operating table and sleepless nights.
If Dr. Kayleigh Montgomery’s upbringing among Boston’s elite taught her anything, it’s that accepting help from others means letting them control you. She walked away from the family money and moved across the country. With her vet business failing, holding it together seems impossible. Even more impossible? Ignoring the way her heart races when Aaron Sumner offers his helping hands.
They didn’t plan to be lovers, and they sure don’t want to be friends, but in a small town like Canyon Creek, there’s no avoiding the inevitable: falling in love.
His Best Friend is book four in The Sumner Brothers Series but it can be read as a stand-alone book. Or start with the first book, His Frenemy!
Kayleigh Montgomery fell into her office chair with a groan as her eyes surveyed the cluttered surface of her desk. A monstrous stack of patient files sat on one side and a growing pile of bills on the other. Closing her eyes, she willed them away. She might have stayed that way longer, but she knew if she kept her lids closed too long, she might fall asleep at her desk.
When had she ever thought life as a small-town veterinarian would be easy? It was the hardest job she’d ever had. If she had known all the physical work, long hours, and high costs involved in running a small-town clinic, Kayleigh might not have signed the three-year contract to forgive a portion of her student loans.
Who was she kidding? She loved the challenge. And she loved Canyon Creek, Colorado, the small town where she practiced veterinary medicine. The people were friendly, and her home was nestled in the shadows of Canyon Creek Mountain with a stunning view of the landscape.READ MORE
Kayleigh rubbed her eyes then stretched, trying to wake up. An ear-piercing ringer woke her at 5:00 a.m. this morning from a steamy dream involving herself and Zac Efron.
The caller had been George Lucado, manager at the Rutherford Ranch, one of the most lucrative cattle ranches in Colorado, and one of her biggest clients. There was no way she’d been able to ignore the call.
Another calf was stuck in the barbed wire fence, a fence Kayleigh had told George to fix at least three times over the last month. After she’d helped the ranch staff wrangle the calf free and tended to his wounds—in the pouring rain—it had been nearly 7:00 a.m. She’d rushed to the office, preparing for surgery on a dog that had ingested half a spool of dental floss. Two hours later she’d successfully removed the floss that had twisted around his small intestines and placed him in post-op observation. And after that, her day had officially begun.
Her first scheduled patient had been Smokey, a British shorthair cat that belonged to Paula Sloane, the owner of the local bookstore, Once Upon a Book. Smokey had a bladder infection. During the examination, the cat had peed in Kayleigh’s face.
Kayleigh lived next door to the clinic, but two showers and a half gallon of Chanel No. 5 hadn’t defeated the lingering smell. Paula was lucky she owned the book store and discreetly ordered Kayleigh’s steamy romance novels. Otherwise she might have booted the cat, and Paula, out the window.
Now, hours later, Kayleigh was finally able to sit. She leaned back in her chair, the rocking motion lulling her to sleep.
“Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty,” her veterinary technician, Shelly, called as she entered the room.
Kayleigh jumped. It was possible she might have fallen asleep a little. Or all the way. “Shelly? What is it?”
“Nothing, honey.” Shelly Penagrove was the one person who could keep Kayleigh on task.
“Did I fall asleep?” Kayleigh asked.
“Only for a second, but it’s okay. I brought you some lunch from Antonio’s. I know you haven’t eaten all day.”
As if on cue, Kayleigh’s stomach growled.
Antonio’s Italian Restaurant made the best manicotti she’d ever tasted, and that was saying something since she’d grown up in Boston. Unfortunately, she didn’t taste Italian food often. The calories tended to cling to her thighs.
“And I snuck you a snickerdoodle cookie from Sally’s.”
Sally Sumner owned The Sweet Spot Bakery and made the best desserts in all of Colorado, perhaps the world. Kayleigh limited her visits to Sally’s as well. Her hips were already wide enough.
“Are you trying to push me into bigger sized jeans?” Kayleigh laughed.
“Girl, please.” Shelly swatted her hand in the air. “You look amazing. I swear half the men only bring their pets in because they want to get a glimpse of that ass of yours. Some of the ladies too,” Shelly grumbled.
Kayleigh shook her head. Some people called her body voluptuous. Her mother said it was just another word for fat. Curves are one thing, Kayleigh Marie, but honestly, who’s going to want to marry a woman whose hips barely fit through the front door?
Shelly was oblivious to the lecture going on in Kayleigh’s head. “Of course, they could come because of my dazzling smile,” her tech said.
“I think most come because of the discounted prices,” Kayleigh smirked. She’d had two clients that morning who asked if they could get a discount or barter for services.
“That’s definitely true,” Shelly said. “You need to learn to say no more, Kayleigh.”
Kayleigh’s head fell back. “I know.” And she did. Her practice wouldn’t make it much longer if she kept trading for goods, or worse yet, nothing at all. There were times when she’d waived off someone’s fee altogether because she knew they were facing hard times.
“Eat,” Shelly said, nodding toward the container.
Kayleigh didn’t wait to be told again. The aroma coming from the container was too hard to resist, even if she’d wanted to.
“You’ve got ten minutes before J.D. gets here with Pebbles.” J.D. Ferguson’s cat was a frequent flier in Kayleigh’s clinic.
“Again?” It was hard to ask the question around a mouthful of four-cheese manicotti, but Kayleigh managed it.
“Apparently Pebbles has been throwing up. She ransacked her treat box.”
“I told J.D. to put those treats in a sealed container.”
“He did.” Shelly shrugged. “Pebbles is one smart cat, though. J.D. said she got into the top cabinet, knocked down the container and popped open the lid herself.”
“Sure she did.” Kayleigh rolled her eyes. More likely J.D. gave in to his cat’s mewls and opened the container for her, then let her eat her fill.
She understood though. For many people, their pets were their children, and they couldn’t say no.
Kayleigh had never been allowed to have pets growing up. Her mother had said she was allergic, but Kayleigh had a feeling her socialite mother simply thought pets were beneath people of their station.
It wasn’t until she visited her grandmother’s farm in Texas as a young girl that she finally understood the connection a human being could have with an animal. And because of that understanding, Kayleigh never questioned the quirky actions of her patients. People loved their pets, so she would do anything she could to save them. Especially in J.D.’s case.
His wife of forty-two years had passed away from cancer six months ago. Pebbles had been integral in keeping J.D.’s spirits up. Animals had the ability to save people from loneliness and despair and Kayleigh never underestimated their power to heal humans, emotionally and physically.
Kayleigh pushed back her chair and stood, taking another bite of her food.
She’d only managed a few bites of the gooey goodness. Sometimes manicotti from Antonio’s was better than sex. Not that she’d know. Life in a small town didn’t lend itself to a lot of sexual partners. Especially when the median age was fifty-seven.
Shelly turned to leave. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She dug into her pocket and pulled out a wad of envelopes. “The mail came earlier.” She tossed the stack on the desk.
Kayleigh barely registered her words as she forked in one more mouthful of manicotti. She moaned. Antonio’s manicotti really was better than sex.
“I know it’s the best, right?” Shelly said. “There are a few bills in there.” She nodded toward the stack of envelopes.
Kayleigh rolled her eyes. “What else is new?”
“Oh, and there’s a letter in there from the AVMA. It says it has dated material inside. Probably your license renewal or something.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association.
Kayleigh swallowed the bite of manicotti that threatened to choke her. The letter wasn’t about her renewal but Kayleigh didn’t want to think about that right now. Nor did she want to talk about the final notice the association was sending.
“Thanks,” she said, wiping her mouth. “I’ll be right out.”
Kayleigh thumbed through the pile of mail. A thick envelope made of heavy stationary stuck out among the others. It clearly contained more than just a card and was easily identifiable as the kind that contained a wedding invitation. The return address said Mr. and Mrs. Charles D. Van Wyck.
Kayleigh stiffened and fell down into her chair.
“Fancy,” Shelly commented, reading over Kayleigh’s shoulder.
Kayleigh nodded once.
“I didn’t know you know people on the East Coast. Is that where you’re from?”
Kayleigh’s response was a noncommittal murmur. It wasn’t a detail she shared.
“You all right?” Shelly stepped toward her.
“I’m fine.” Kayleigh pushed the envelopes aside with a wave of her hand. “I’ll finish this later.” She picked up the rest of her food and closed the lid, rising and sticking it into the small fridge against the wall.
A buzzing sound in the hallway alerted them that someone had entered the waiting room.
“Oh, no,” Shelly said, checking her watch. “J.D. is early. I’ll go check him in while you wash up.”
Kayleigh nodded. She needed to open that invitation, but not in front of anyone else.
“Let’s hope he doesn’t try to pay with a jar of pickled beets again.” Shelly laughed.
“I hate beets.” Kayleigh made a face.
“And yet, you keep accepting them as payment.”
“Thanks again for the food.” Kayleigh half smiled. “And the mail.”
“Sure thing.” Shelly quietly shut the door behind her.
Kayleigh picked up the ivory linen envelope addressed to "Miss Kayleigh Montgomery.” Of course her family wouldn’t acknowledge that she was a doctor. A veterinarian didn’t count as a doctor in the Montgomery family, or so her mother had said.
She broke the seal and pulled out the invitation.
A small note fell to the ground. Kayleigh bent to pick it up, the food in her stomach turning to stone as she did.
Would love to see you, Lee Lee.
He didn’t need to sign it. Her father was the only one she allowed to use the nickname. He must have asked Mrs. Van Wyck to slip the note into her invitation.
Kayleigh stared down at the writing on the weighty card.
Mr. and Mrs. Charles D. Van Wyck request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their daughter, Brittany DeeAnn to Dr. Hunter Baines Montgomery, son of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Edward Montgomery.
Her brother was getting married, in less than a month. A tight band of regret pinched her chest.
She couldn’t go home. Not now. Not even for Hunter.
Aaron Sumner stared blankly at the familiar face across the table from him. She sat just a few feet away but to Aaron, it could have been a million miles.
Dr. Bonnie Ewing was Aaron’s attending physician in the surgical residency at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Today, he wasn’t here as her student though, he was her patient.
Aaron could see her lips moving, but her words sounded muffled, like she was talking underwater.
He shook his head to clear the noise buzzing in his head. “So, what are you saying, Bonnie?”
Bonnie normally looked at Aaron with admiration, and a small bit of pride. Her expression was different today, darker, sadder. The permanent frown line between her brows deepened as her expression washed over with a look of sympathy mixed with regret.
Aaron’s stomach tightened. He could tell Dr. Ewing’s news would be devastating, not just for Aaron but for the entire surgical team.
“We’re out of medications, Aaron. I’m sorry.”
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