She laughed softly. “All animals have personalities, most of them more appealing than humans you meet.”
“Based on some of the characters I’ve run across in the ER, I can only imagine.”
“You must think I’m a silly, crazy pet-rescue lady, when what you do has life-or-death stakes. Most people do.”
As they watched the animals, he shifted closer to her, not so they were touching but enough that he felt the startling connection like a physical force between them. “I don’t think you’re silly, Meredith.” Her name on his lips felt right. “I’d considered crazy with the way you showed up on my doorstep, but now I get that it’s passion. You’re passionate.”
The moment the word slipped off his tongue, he regretted it. She glanced up at him, and he took a step away, not wanting to spook her. Her gaze had sharpened but held the tiniest speck of vulnerability, like she needed someone to tell her she wasn’t silly or crazy.
He wanted to say a lot of things in this moment that wouldn’t be smart for either of them. Ryan had come to Magnolia to recover on his own, not to make friends and definitely not to acknowledge an unexpected attraction to his gorgeous, spitfire neighbor.
“I should be getting home.” He made a show of yawning.
“Right,” she agreed, calling out good-night to each of the animals by name as they passed.
The damp air of the barn made Ryan’s lower leg stiffen, and he did his best not to be too obvious about how much he had to rely on his cane as they walked to her truck.
He noticed each time Meredith’s gaze tracked to his bum leg, but thankfully she didn’t ask any more questions. It was as if they’d both used
up their allotment of words for the day, and by mutual agreement they drove the short distance between the two properties in a companionable silence.
“Thank you again, Doc,” she said when she pulled to a stop in front of the cottage. “I owe you.”
“Just promise me you won’t trust any more idiot men who tell you they’re interested in your kittens,” he said, then opened the door.
She grinned. “Cross my heart,” she said as she traced the shape over her thick jacket.
Ryan’s heart thumped in his chest. Despite a job that must entail hours of manual labor, her fingers were slender and elegant. Noticing them made him wonder about the rest of her body, which was not a path he had any intention of letting his mind wander down.
“Good night,” he told her and closed the car door with more force than was probably necessary. Time to remind himself that their little adventure tonight had been an aberration, not the start of anything more.
He waited until her taillights disappeared around the curve in his driveway and then limped up the steps to his front door.
Excerpted from The Last Carolina Sister, by Michelle Major. Harlequin, 2021. Reprinted with permission.
In Magnolia, North Carolina, love might be waiting right next door…
Meredith Ventner knows a wounded creature when she sees one. Though her temporary new neighbor may be—on the surface at least—a successful, drop-dead gorgeous doctor, she recognizes the deep hurt Ryan Sorensen is carrying, and it’s catnip to her soul. But even though Meredith is the youngest, scrappiest and single-est of Magnolia’s most famous sisters, she’s committed to expanding the animal shelter on her newly inherited farm. She can’t waste her energy on a man who’s only passing through town.
Ryan is hoping that after a month of small-town living he’ll be healed enough to return to his busy ER. His injured leg isn’t half as painful as his guilt from the tragedy he’s trying to forget. Yet somehow, helping feisty, tenderhearted Meredith care for her menagerie is making him question his career-first priorities. Here in this quirky small town another future is coming into view, but can he change his life, and open his heart, to claim it?
The Magnolia Sisters
Book 1: The Magnolia Sisters
Book 2: The Merriest Magnolia