For the Birds:Rose Gardner Investigations #2(10)

By: Denise Grover Swank

“It was nothing important. Just that you were trying to finish up and pack up before a storm hit.”

He gave me a warm smile. “Thanks for the heads-up.”

With that, he went back to his crew and didn’t waste any time before getting back to work. His crew respected him, partially because he was a level-headed boss, but also because he never asked them to do anything he wasn’t willing to jump in and do himself. I was lucky to have him as a business partner, and I knew it.

I hopped into my truck to head back to the office, but it was just past eleven, so I decided to stop by Homer’s Diner and pick up some lunch for Neely Kate and the kids. As I headed inside to order, it occurred to me that I was just half a mile from the Henryetta Animal Clinic.

I’d been on three dates with Levi Romano, the new veterinarian, in the past three weeks. Up until now, Levi had done all the pursuing, but maybe that should change. He was totally into me—and not afraid to let me know it—and better yet, he was about as far removed from the criminal element in Fenton County as I could get. Considering that my last two (and only ever) boyfriends had been a sheriff deputy and the county assistant D.A., and that James was the acting crime boss, a vet was a welcome change. Besides, I was looking good today. No need to let it go to waste.

I placed two separate orders—one for Levi and one for the rest of us—then headed to the animal clinic, my stomach a ball of nerves. Levi’s receptionist, Mary, hadn’t liked me from the start, but in fairness, she’d had to wade through a crush of women who were eager to get a date with the most eligible bachelor in Fenton County. I’d hoped Mary would become nicer once she realized that Levi and I had been on a few dates, but if anything, she’d gotten meaner.

I walked into the clinic, and while the waiting room was empty of both patients and their owners, I was greeted by the commingled smells of wet dog and perfume. Mary, who looked to be in her forties, was dousing the space around her desk with a spray bottle from Bath and Body Works. She took one look at me, and her resting bitch face turned into a full-blown scowl.

“You don’t have an appointment.”

“I know. I’m just here to bring Levi lunch.”

“Dr. Romano,” she corrected with a glint in her eye that suggested she’d fight me over it.

“Okay . . . Could you tell Dr. Romano I’m here to see him?”

“Noooo . . . You don’t have an appointment.”

I dug my phone out of my pocket and sent Levi a short text.

Look in your waiting room.

Seconds later, one of the exam room doors opened and Levi appeared in the doorway holding a kitten in his hand. His face lit up. “Rose!”

I smiled, feeling a little giddy at the sight of him. Levi Romano had earned his Most Eligible Bachelor status with little effort. He was very good-looking. His brown hair was just long enough to run your hands through—if I were tempted to do such a thing—and his warm brown eyes and dazzling smile made me feel like I was the center of the universe. It helped that he was tall and his shoulders filled out his lab coat quite nicely. It was no wonder every woman in Fenton County was interested in him.

Well, almost every woman in the county.

While I could appreciate the view and Levi was a very attentive, charming man, I didn’t feel that spark . . . and I really, really wanted to. This moment of giddiness was the first time I’d had a physical reaction to him, which made me feel hopeful that it would come in time. Bringing him lunch had been the right decision.

“Hey, Levi. I hope I’m not interruptin’ anything.”

“Not at all. Ms. Jergins just dropped by so little Oscar could get his shots.”

“I won’t keep you,” I said, lifting the bag with the Homer’s Diner logo in my hand. “I was in the area, so I thought I’d bring you lunch.”

His eyes lit up with happiness, but it faded slightly as he walked out into the waiting room, the kitten still in his hands. Goodness, the man belonged on a calendar. “You have no idea how thrilled I am to see you, but I can’t get away for another hour.”

“Oh, that’s okay.” I waved a hand in dismissal. “I can’t stay. I’m just the delivery person.”

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