Authors: Virginia Nelson
Will she get her wish when she blows out Forty Candles?
Chloe Walker did everything right. She went to college, got a good job, dated the right men—everything. Peering at forty from a bit too close, she realizes she can be miserable that she didn’t end up happily married to the handsome prince…or she can count her lucky stars. She tries to go with stars, but the universe seems to have other plans.
Jack Leonard has loved Chloe since they were kids. He’s stood by her through all life’s little messes, been her shoulder to cry on, and figured one day they’d wind up together. He figures he’s just waiting her out. When her life goes swirly, he’s got to convince her that some men are worth risking it all for.
Can Jack make Chloe rethink her birthday wish or will she get just what she asked for when she blows out Forty Candles?
eBooks are not transferable. They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement of the copyright of this work.
Copyright © 2015 VIRGINIA NELSON
All Romance eBooks, LLC Palm Harbor, Florida 34684
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or business establishments, events, or locales is coincidental.
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever with out written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First All Romance eBooks publication: November 2015
No matter how much she’d planned to look at the birthday as a triumph—fit, fabulous at forty and all that tripe—it wasn’t a win. Staring at thirty-nine candles proved she couldn’t bullshit herself. Her life slipped through her fingertips, full of things she’d planned to do one day and adventures she’d meant to have, and no actual accomplishments in her own estimation. By forty, she’d expected to have the house, the two-point-five kids, the white picket fence and the rest of the supposed
. Always a planner, she’d laid it all out in a neat and well-thought out order intended to protect herself from any severe emotional injury and instead, she had what?
She had great big handfuls of unfulfilled hopes and dreams and sprouting gray hairs. Her life wasn’t supposed to be like that. She really thought she’d accomplish more.
“Are you going to blow out the candles, dork, or stare at them all day?” Her best friend, Harper, gave her a nudge after asking the question, snapping her out of her reverie.
Chloe obeyed, blowing out the conflagration of thirty-nine candles decorating the decadent looking chocolate cake.
Yet another area where she’d gone about things entirely wrong. She always liked cake, dammit. Instead of enjoying it, when the occasion arose which involved cake, she’d always watched her weight, keeping her figure trim and athletic with the intention of living longer, stronger, healthier. In retrospect, it just ended up being another regret. How many pieces of cake had she turned down? How many times did she have the salad when she wanted a damned French fry?
And for what?
Snagging the knife, she whacked into the cake enthusiastically, cutting a giant piece. When Jack, her best male friend, leaned close to help her balance the piece onto a plate, she acknowledged his assistance with a half nod. Good guy, Jack, always there for her...
While she risked exactly nothing and accomplished even less.
“Are you okay, Chloe?” he asked near her ear.
She rammed the fork into the cake and then shoveled a too-big hunk into her mouth. Chewing like a chipmunk, she reveled in the bliss of chocolate and creamy sugar exploding on her tongue. Dear God, it was like a chocolate orgasm. A face-gasm, even. “I’m great,” she lied before scooping up another mouthful.
“I think you’re lying.” But she decided to ignore his knowing look.
She turned thirty-nine years old, which meant she still had a year left until she hit the dreaded four-oh. If she were the kind of woman who believed in wishes, would she wish for some magical spell to give her the time back so she could redo all the bits she’d gotten wrong? Would she want another shot at the house, two-point-five kids and the picket fence, or would she be happier throwing what society said she should want out the window to pursue her actual dreams?
Besides, she’d tried marriage once…and proved she just wasn’t good at that sort of thing.
“Jack.” Touching his arm, she snared his attention. “Did you ever wonder if you’d be happier doing something else with your life? Or if you should just settle for what is and be happy with it?”
He shrugged. “I’m a simple man, Chloe.” One wave of his arm encompassed all of their friends, scattered throughout the kitchen of Harper’s perfect little house, before his gaze landed back on Chloe. “I’ve always been happy with what is.”
Biting her lip, she closed her eyes. “I am going to change my life, Jack. I’m going to live a life worth remembering. No more regrets. I’ve been lucky all these years and never even realized it.”
Silently, she wished as hard as she could.
I wish I could be more impulsive. I wish I had no regrets. I wish that when my next birthday rolls around, I can look at my life and be content with what I have and am.
Opening her eyes back up, nothing had changed. Not really. Same world, same life, same friends. That was okay, though.
She didn’t want to change the world, just how she looked at it. And to start with? She’d eat cake until she made herself sick with it.
She wasn’t sure if it was a sugar hangover from all the cake or just a run of the mill headache, but she woke up the next morning pretty sure that the universe hated her. Getting to work didn’t improve her day. If anything, it simply got worse. In another life, she must have karmically screwed herself over. A dog stared at her with eyes stuck in a permanent droop, seeming to empathize with her situation. Rubbing his floppy, but very soft head, she confessed, “I’m not sure I can do this.”
Chuckling, Meredith—the DVM at Harvest Home Pets and Chloe’s boss—snapped on rubber gloves. “It’s your internship, Chloe. If you can’t do it, well…”
Chloe stuck her tongue out at the vet. “You’re enjoying this. It is inhumane of you to be enjoying it so much. You should feel guilty for making me do this and on the day after my birthday, no less.”
“I gotta confess, it isn’t my favorite part of being a vet so making you do it isn’t a real hardship for me. Still, you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Chloe’s childhood dream of taking care of animals didn’t include jerking off bulldogs. It just didn’t. Maybe if she hadn’t watched
so many times as a kid, she wouldn’t find herself kneeling before a bulldog and holding a little plastic cup. Really, it was all Black Beauty’s fault. “How much do you charge for this? I mean, seriously, this should be a few thousand dollars or something.”
“You’re stalling, Chloe. And seventy-five dollars, if you really wanted to know. Bulldogs have a very hard time breeding and a hard time delivering. So helping them along isn’t that uncommon.” Meredith recited the information, all of which Chloe knew. The knowledge didn’t make touching the wheezing dog’s junk any easier. Supposedly, this particular part of the job got easier with practice. Chloe was pretty sure whoever wrote that in the book she’d read had to have been laughing their asses off while they typed it.
Who practiced this? Especially enough times to do it well?
“Okay, Bruno, we can do this.”
And now I’m lying to bulldogs.
Picture all the animals you are going to save. Remember, you want to be a vet. This is your dream, and this year is all about making the dreams into realities.
The bulldog looked at her with his pensive eyes as if he knew what was coming, which kind of reinforced Chloe’s fear this would land on the list of experiences she regretted. The female dog in heat stood before him. Supposedly she would tempt him. He didn’t look tempted. Then again, the snorting bulldog seemed to have a perpetual sad face, so he could be completely turned on for all Chloe knew. Grasping the dog’s bits, Chloe worked to get the plastic piece into position as the book directed. She concentrated on not thinking about what she was doing…
“Hey, Meredith.” Bursting into the room, Jack carried a large ball of black fur. A chorus of yips and barks greeted his entrance from various kennels and from the female bulldog. The male didn’t bother, simply staring balefully toward Chloe. The sight of Jack, there, at her low point—or another low point, anyway—had Chloe almost dropping the plastic device intended to collect the dog’s semen.
“Jack. Always a pleasure.”
“Uh, bad time?” His bright blue eyes seemed to take in Chloe and the bulldog and her position near his hips before his lips tilted up in obvious amusement.
“Chloe has this under control. What do you need?”
They thought they were going to carry on a conversation while she hung out, collecting canine semen? Heat flooded her face. If she could have sunk into the floor right then, she would have done it with a huge smile. Then again, it wasn’t like Meredith knew about Jack and Chloe’s history, since they’d endeavored for years to keep their private lives private. Besides, everyone was friends with Jack—he was that sort of guy in general. No way for Meredith to realize the true horror of the situation, right?
“I was out on routine patrol, and I found this guy. I’m hoping you will look him over, maybe stick him in a kennel ‘til I find out who is missing him.” Jack settled the large black dog he carried onto the metal exam table and the vet began to look him over. Chloe couldn’t resist looking the man over—all six-foot-four, lean, cowboy bow-legged, uniform-wearing, badge-bearing bit of him, just as handsome as ever, even though they were getting old.
Then again, women got old; men got distinguished. Just another fine fuck-you from the universe, in Chloe’s opinion. She tried to focus on her work and tune the conversation behind her out, but she couldn’t miss the hint of flirtation in the vet’s voice as she explained things to Jack.
“Gorgeous Australian Shepherd. See the brindling in his fur? This is a full breed dog, and you’re a good boy, aren’t you?” Ruffling the dog’s ears, Meredith began to inspect him. The dog’s fur was matted and he looked muddy, but he seemed uninjured from Chloe’s perspective.
“C’mon, Bruno. Faster we get this done with, the faster I can die of mortification,” Chloe whispered to the bulldog. He cooperated by giving her a wet slurp on the chin, which Chloe resisted wiping away due to where her hands were being far more disgusting than a little doggy slobber.
The tempting low rumble of Jack’s voice made her gaze wander his way again. “I found him over in Little Hollywood. Just roaming around and garbage surfing. Friendly enough dog. Came right over to me.” Jack also petted the big black dog on the procedure table, his hand crossing Meredith’s almost accidentally in a casual caress. Chloe bit back a twinge of unreasonable jealousy.
Jealous? Because of Jack?
Looking him over from her position on the floor, he
one helluva piece of man candy. He’d lost his hat before coming in, so his shaved head gleamed in the fluorescent lights. He had shoulders so big, he could have carried the dog on them, and the Aussie was no little animal. His eyes, glinting in this light, were a clear blue that seemed almost icy if you didn’t know he was one of the warmest hearted men this side of the Mason Dixon line. And his hands…
Chloe remembered those hands. The man had very nice hands. It had been too long since they were on her.
The bulldog grunted, gaining her wandering attention as he finished his job and she collected the sample with a sigh.
Worst. Day. Ever.
Sealing the bag so they could refrigerate it until his doggy girlfriend became ready for it, Chloe tried to ignore the man who seemed to fill up the whole room with his presence.
Meredith spoke, her voice low and soothing as she continued to look over the lost dog. “If we don’t find its owner in a couple days, Jack, he is going to have to go over to the Animal Protective League. I just don’t have the extra kennel space here to keep him, not to mention that the expenses will start piling up pretty fast.”
“I’ll cover whatever bill he accrues while he vacations here, Mer. And I can’t see him staying over at the APL. Dog like him, stuck in a kennel, with all those other dogs barking…he’d be a nervous wreck in a day. Dogs like him get nippy when they’re nervous and I would hate to see a pretty dog like him put down because of something like that. I’ll take him home with me if we don’t find his people and he has to leave here. I wouldn’t mind the company.”
Meredith sighed in a dreamy way, looking up at him, and Chloe figured the vet would be more than happy to provide company for Jack, if he wanted it. Women tended to get like that around Jack, not that Chloe could blame them, really. He was built like Vin Diesel. What woman could resist that, especially when he started talking all sweet about a dog?