The Vet's Christmas Pet - J.L. Campbell
The last thing Toni wants for Christmas is more responsibility, but her daughter has other ideas. A near accident not only brings them a dog in need of a home, but Matthias Laing, who Toni would prefer to keep in the past.
I watched Matthias’ hands, fascinated by his gentle handling of the dog’s paw. Then his words pierced the cloud surrounding my brain. "His leg is bruised, but not broken."
"But, it’s not my—"
"When you get home, apply some ice to the area for twenty minutes." He smiled, showing an even row of teeth I remembered well. His gesture also reminded me of the small space we'd been crammed into for the last ten minutes. He rubbed the dog’s forehead, bringing my attention back to the size of his hands.
"I hope this little guy is smart enough to stay off that leg," he said, "but if not, ensure he doesn’t run or jump on it."
"Talk to Melanie about the bill," Matthias said, handing me the dog, which I wasn’t too enthusiastic about touching, since I didn’t know where he’d been. At least he seemed clean and didn't smell.
"It’s great seeing you again," Matthias added, oblivious to the panic he’d unleashed in my brain.
Bill? I could only hope his fee wouldn’t amount to more than I could afford. Doctor’s fees on the island were out of the reach of some people and vet bills were even more expensive.
I wasn’t even sure I’d hit the damn dog, but Jade insisted that we bring the dog in because she thought I’d run over it. We should have been home by now, but here we were having a stray dog examined by the last man I expected to meet again in life.
"Can I hold him, Mommy?" Jade said, shifting from one foot to the other.
I looked at Matthias, to be sure it would be okay. When he nodded, I answered Jade. "Sure."
I put the dog in her arms, sighing. What was I going to do with a dog when I could barely take care of the two of us?
I sighed again and that’s when Matthias frowned. "Is something wrong?"
"I was trying to tell you this isn’t my dog."
His forehead crinkled and one of his eyebrows arched into a questioning expression. "Really? Then how did you end up with him?"
"We were coming down from Jade’s school and the dog ran across the road. Jade thought I hit him." I shrugged. "That’s why we’re here."
Matthias peeled off the gloves he’d been wearing and then scratched the back of his head. The motion of his arm parted his coat and revealed a pale-green shirt and a tie several shades deeper. Spiffy dressing for a dog-doctor, I thought. When our eyes met, he smiled as if he'd guessed what I was thinking.
He scratched his scalp again and frowned. "So, would you like me to keep him overnight while you try and find the owner?"
My eyes widened and I knew I was looking at him as if he’d suggested something illegal. I had no intention of searching for the dog’s owner or getting involved with an animal I didn’t own, but that left the question of what to do with him.
As if the dog understood what was happening, he tipped his dark head to one side and put on a sad expression, which didn't fool me. He was probably an impostor, because if I was right about his breed, there was some Pit Bull in there somewhere and I’d heard horror stories on the news about them ravaging children. I shook my head, wondering under what unlucky star I’d been born.
Jade clutched the puppy to her chest and whined, interrupting my pity party. "Why can’t we keep him, Mommy?"
"Because he’s not our dog and his family is missing him."
"No they’re not."
"How do you know that?"
"Well, if they cared about him, he wouldn’t be on the street."
"He probably got out by accident."
"If you care about your dog, you don’t leave the gate open so he can escape."
Matthias folded both arms across his chest and leaned against the doorway of the examination room as if settling in for the evening’s entertainment.
I flung him a glare, but that only expanded his smile.
"This isn’t funny," I said through my teeth.
I threw him another desperate glance or two before he cleared his throat and dialed down his smile. "Tell you what, Jade. Maybe I can try and help your Mommy find his owners."
Ever the realist, Jade frowned. "How are you going to do that?"
Speaking as if he was conversing with an adult, Matthias said, "Well, we can put a community service announcement on the radio and see if anybody comes forward."
Jade considered that for a minute before her brows cleared. "Okay, but won’t Ridley be lonely here tonight?"
"Ridley?" I held on to Jade’s shoulder to get her to look at me. "Hon, you can’t name the dog. He doesn’t belong to us."
She squeezed her lips together and put on her stubborn face, which always reminded me of her father. "Every dog needs a name."
"And his family knows what it is."
Jade looked at Matthias as if to invite him to back up her argument. After meeting my gaze for long seconds, Matthias dipped his head.
"What your Mom says is true, but anyway … " Here, Matthias slipped me a glance. "Ridley won’t be lonely tonight because we have a few other patients that are staying over."
Jade’s eyes went wide. "You mean this is a dog hospital too?"
"Not exactly, but … would you like to look around?"
"Yeah!" Jade shot a fist into the air and came close to dropping the dog, who scrabbled at her uniform with his paws.
A sigh worked its way up from my belly and I glared at Matthias. "We do have to be on our way home."
"I’m sure your husband will understand if you're running a bit late."
Jade now stood between Matthias and me. "She doesn’t have one anymore," she said.
Matthias’ curiosity was clear when our eyes met, but he was speaking to Jade when he asked, "What doesn’t she have anymore?"
"A husband. Mommy said she and Daddy were no longer compati—"
"Never mind that," I said, prodding her toward the doorway.
Amusement brightened Matthias’ eyes and curved his lips. It was clear he saw through my evasive action. "Tell you what," he said, "I’ll talk to Melanie about the bill and you can wait while I give Jade the tour."
Great, now I’d be wasting more time in Matthias’ space when I needed to get home to the one hundred and one things that filled my evenings.
Jade walked ahead of us with the dog still pressed to her clothes, which would be crawling with dog hairs. Good thing she wasn’t allergic, but I'd be the one who had to de-hair her clothes before getting them into the washing machine.
In the waiting room, I sat and pulled out my smartphone while Matthias spoke with the woman at the desk. I stopped listening after he pointed to me and said, "Mrs. Barnett's dog … "
As if I hadn't told him I didn't own the stumpy thing, with the brownish-black coat, that had captivated Jade.
Despite trying to focus on my own business, I couldn’t help looking up when Matthias left the office with Jade. A little over eighteen years had passed since I last had contact with him, so seeing him earlier had been a shock.
Our conversation had been stilted at first, and Jade's eyes were like shiny marbles as she looked back and forth at us. I could only hope she'd forgotten about that by now, otherwise she'd ask a ton of questions and I wasn't prepared to say much, if anything, about my history with Matthias.About the Author
J.L. Campbell is an award-winning, Jamaican author who writes romantic suspense, women's fiction, new and young adult novels. She has written thirteen books, three novellas and two short story collections.
Her novels include the Island Adventure Romance series, which currently has four exciting, stand-alone stories and features feisty women and determined men. Campbell is a certified editor, who also writes non-fiction.
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