“I know,” I said. “Which is funny, since both Hester’s kids are adopted.” I looked up at him. “Do you have kids, Ian?”
He shook his head. “No. No, my ex-wife…no. We didn’t.”
There was more to that story, I could tell, but whatever discussion might have ensued was swallowed as the latest batch of mothers came to fetch their Brownies. One of them was Taylor Kinell, Keira the Cruel’s mother. She was clad in expensive, skintight and age-inappropriate clothing…anemic T-shirt with fabric so thin it was basically gauze, low-slung dark jeans, hand-torn by the designer, no doubt. She bent down and opened her arms to Keira, giving us a flash of her tramp stamp and thong. “Hello, baby girl!” she cooed in the general direction of her child, though she was looking at Ian. Ah. Mother of the year parades wares in front of hottie vet. Sure enough, she whipped off her Prada sunglasses and blasted a huge smile at Ian.
“I have paperwork to do,” Ian muttered. With that, he fled down the hall to his office. I couldn’t blame him.
Walking over to Taylor Kinell, I slapped on a fake smile. “Taylor, we had a little problem today with Keira,” I began.
“Mommy! Mommy? Mommy!” Keira began, tugging her mother’s hand. “You said we could go out for dinner! I want to go out for dinner! I hate eating at home! Can we go? Mommy! Mommy? I’m bored! This was so boring! Mommy! You said we could eat out!”
“Yes, honey, I said we could. Where do you want to go, huh?” Taylor said. Keira kept yanking her mother’s anemic arm so hard I was surprised she didn’t rip it off and, being Keira, start gnawing on it.
“Keira, I’m talking to your mother right now,” I said patiently. She was only a kid, after all. Being evil was probably more nurture than nature.
“So? I’m hungry! Let’s go, Mommy!”
“Taylor, Keira made fun of another child today, twice, and as you know, bullying isn’t allowed in Brownies. Or really, anywhere else, right? Keira, saying mean things hurts people’s feelings, honey.”
“I don’t care,” Keira said.
Ooh. I turned to look at Taylor once more. “She won’t be able to stay in Brownies if she doesn’t learn some basic manners. Keira, would you like it if someone called you a dummy?”
“Which no one would, because you’re so smart, angel-love,” Taylor said immediately, shooting me a death glare. “As for Brownies, we were planning on leaving anyway. It’s a little bourgeois. Come on, baby. You can have two desserts tonight. Let’s go.”
My blood pressure bubbled dangerously. Did Taylor think she was doing her child a favor, raising her that way? I almost felt sorry for Keira. In ten years, she’d be the despised popular girl in high school, no true friends, everyone gossiping about her behind her back as she wielded her parents’ money like a weapon.
“Thanks for chaperoning, Callie,” said Sarah, Caroline Biddle’s mother. She held her daughter by the hand, her face bright with the joy of seeing her child again. Now here was a mother.
“Oh, my pleasure,” I said, then paused. “Did Michaela speak to you?”
“Mmm-hmm,” she answered, her eyes speaking volumes. “Please tell Dr. McFarland he’s CNN’s hero of the year, as far as I’m concerned.”
I smiled. “Will do. Sorry I couldn’t…do more.” Once again, the thought of Caroline’s dejected little face made my throat grow tight.
Sarah smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Caroline, thank Callie for the special day, honey.”
“Thank you, Callie!” the little girl said, locking her arms around my thighs and hugging tight. “Bye! I love you!”
“Bye, sweetness,” I said, smiling down at her. “I love you, too.” I watched as they left, Caroline chattering away, beaming, still holding her mommy’s hand, and I couldn’t help feeling a pang of envy at the sight of them, mother and child, so adoring of each other that nothing and no one else mattered. Caroline’s dad was a prince, a builder who thought the sun rose and set on his wife and child. Annie, Jack and Seamus were like that, too. The three of them together—the essence of happiness. Everything else was gravy.
The last of the Brownies left, and the office was abruptly quiet. “Callie?” I jumped. Ian had reemerged from his office, now that the coast was clear. “Can I see you for a minute?”
“Sure! Sure, of course.”
“Ian, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Carmella said. “Great seeing you, Callie. Nice job with the ankle biters.”
“Thanks.” I grinned.
I followed Ian to his office, where Angie was sleeping, curled in her dog bed. The room was orderly—that was putting it mildly—but it wasn’t sterile, not like Muriel’s black-and-white blank space. My own office was cheerfully cluttered, occasionally bordering on chaotic, sticky notes and photos scattered hither and yon, coffee mugs and the like. Ian’s, on the other hand, was very tidy. There were his diplomas, NYU undergrad, Tufts for his DVM. Shelves with heavy textbooks, a small sculpture of a dog. On the wall was a rather nice painting of a sailboat, lots of juicy oil and texture.
But most interesting of all was the framed photo on the cabinet behind his desk. It showed a younger Ian and a very, very beautiful woman. Long blond hair, creamy skin, bone structure to rival Natalie Portman’s. They were both smiling, and an unexpected twinge hit my heart. Ian looked very happy in that picture.
“Your wife?” I asked.
He glanced at it. “Ex-wife.”
Not quite ex in your heart, pal, if you keep her picture here to torture yourself every day. “She’s gorgeous.”
“Yes.” He said nothing else.
“Ian?” I said after a minute had passed.
“You wanted to speak to me, remember? Though this is quite fun, too.”
He closed his eyes briefly. “Right.” He sighed. “I think I might need to hire you. If you think you can really do something, that is.”
“The warm and fuzzy campaign!” I clapped my hands, startling him. “Good for you, Ian. This will be great!”
“Will it?” he asked.
“Oh, come on. I’m not the dentist, for heaven’s sake.” At that moment, my stomach growled.
“Not again,” Ian said.
“Hush. I’m just hungry. I had a hard day. First I taught old women to hip-hop, then I had to herd the Brownies. Want to grab some dinner? We can talk about things while we eat.”
Ian looked wary. “All right,” he said after much deliberation.
“We can go to Elements,” I suggested. “It’s near where I live, and I can swing by and grab my laptop.”
“Fine,” Ian said. He looked at me steadily for a minute. Man, those eyes were so…blue. Betty Boop folded her hands under her chin and sighed deeply.
“Okay,” I said, remembering that I was a professional person and this was not prom night. “Um…do you know where it is? It’s a little bit hard to find, because it’s down this little one-way street, then you have to sort of turn into a parking lot, but it doesn’t look like a parking lot, it’s more of an alley, but it leads—”
“Why don’t I just follow you?” he suggested drily.
I smiled. “That, Dr. McFarland, is a great idea.”
TWENTY MINUTES LATER, we arrived at Noah’s Arks. Ian pulled in next to me, then got out of his car, looked at the sign and gave me a questioning look. “This is my grandfather’s place,” I explained as I fumbled for my purse. “I live with him. Come on in. You can meet him.”
Bowie greeted me with the type of joy usually reserved for parents and children separated by war, singing in joy, yipping, head butting me so that my jeans turned into a sea of fur.
“Hello, Bowie!” I said in my special dog voice. “Hello, my boy! Did you miss Mommy? You did? Do you remember Dr. Ian? You do?” Bowie demonstrated that he did indeed remember, mounting Ian’s leg, his yipping growing more soulful.
“Off, Bowie,” Ian said. “Off.” My dog took this as a sign that yes, Ian would rub his stomach for the next year or so and quite possibly give him a Quarter Pounder, so he collapsed on his back, revealing his…gladness. His tail waved furiously, swishing across the floor as clumps of his undercoat drifted on the breeze he created.
“Huskies need to be brushed at least once a day,” Ian said.
“I do brush him every day! Do you know Eva Potts?” Ian shook his head. “She’s a knitter. She spins his fur into yarn.”
“Ah,” Ian murmured.
“I have a sweater made from my own dog. I don’t wear it, granted, because that’s a little incestuous, even for me, but still. Neat idea, I guess.” The memory of Mr. Human Hair flitted through my mind, and I suppressed a shudder. “All that shedding is the price you pay for the best dog in the world? Right, Bowie? You’re the best, aren’t you? Miss Angie’s out in the car, did you know that, Bowie? Can you smell her?” I bent to rub his exposed tummy, earning two yips and some crooning, as well as a wink from Bowie’s brown eye. I winked back. “Mommy loves you!”
“Do you always talk to him in that voice?” Ian asked, a trace of amusement in his own.
I straightened up. “Yes, I do,” I said, narrowing my eyes. “That way he knows I’m talking to him. Why? Do you speak French to Four D Angel’s Mayonnaise out there? Mandarin Chinese?”
Oh. Oh, yes… That was nice. My girl parts suddenly felt tight and…lively. One smile, and I was fluttery. But it was some smile. Ian looked a little…I don’t know…goofy when he smiled. A nice goofy. He had these unexpected laugh lines, and his cold Russian assassin looks suddenly morphed into utter likability, and he went from…I don’t know, my brain was getting mushy here, but suddenly, the image of waking up with Ian and seeing that smile…waking up naked with Ian, oh, yeah, now there was a visual I could spend some time examining, a smiling, unclothed, warm, strong, manly—”
“Callie, thank the Christ you’re home, because this fuckin’ leg just won’t fit and I’ll be goddamned before I… Who are you?”
My dear, cuddly grampy hopped into the great room, wielding a prosthesis in one hand like a club. “Noah, this is Ian McFarland,” I said. “Ian, meet my grandfather, the legendary boat builder Noah Grey.”
“It’s an honor, sir,” Ian said. Aw.
“What’s an honor?” Noah spat. “And what are you doing with my granddaughter here? You’re not sleeping with her, are you?”
“Gosh, you’re adorable, Noah,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“No, sir,” Ian answered.
“Think you can win me over with nice manners, young man?” Noah asked, ignoring me and glaring at Ian.
“No, sir,” Ian said again. He looked over at me, his eyes smiling.
“Ian’s the new vet, Noah. I’m doing some work for him,” I said, “so get your panties out of a twist and give me your leg.” He handed it over, still glaring at Ian. “Okay, Noah, where’s the sleeve?” I asked, referring to the silicone sock that helped hold the prosthetic in place.
“Fuck if I know,” he grumbled. “I knew I forgot something.”
“It’s a lot more comfortable if you use it,” I said.
“How do you know? Did you cut off your leg to test it out?”
“No, but I may cut off your other one if you don’t stop growling, Grampy dear,” I said. “Ian, come upstairs with me, or Noah will eat you alive.”
Ian followed me up the stairs. A mistake. Ladies, never have a man follow you upstairs, as there’s just no way to hide the junk in the trunk, if you will. I raced up so as to minimize Ian’s view. “My grandfather is only that irritable if he’s in pain,” I said. “Sorry about that.”
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