“Dr. Briony, you have a call on line two.” Amy gave an impish smile. “It’s Ranger Rick from the Wildlife Rescue.” She waggled a pale blonde brow.
“It’s Rico, not Rick.”
“Well, he’s a ranger and looks just fine in that uniform.”
That he did. Briony’s belly tightened at the mention of his name. Butterflies danced alongside the slight chocolate euphoria she was experiencing. “I’ll take it in my office.”
“Sure you will. Are you guys having phone sex yet?”
God, why did she keep that girl around? It was bad enough that Amy was a smart-mouthed kid, but at the age of nineteen, she was the poster child for the perfect California beach blonde. She was tall and slender with blue eyes and golden hair.
Briony was brown. She didn’t even have the satisfaction of saying she was African American or Latino or Asian. She lived as a chocolate woman in a vanilla community. Sometimes Bree felt like the ultimate outsider, an eclectic mix of races that left her with brown skin, brown eyes, and even brown hair. Her mother was clearly African American, but Briony was adopted, so she didn’t know her true pedigree. While she and Kendall were biological siblings, his face bore the strong influence of an Asian relative, giving him delicate features and lighter skin. His hair waved, while hers frizzed. But to be objective, there was an aura of mystery to Briony’s appearance that could be attractive if you got past the general cuteness she’d never outgrown. Her brown eyes were large and uptilted; her cheekbones were high and elegant. Her pouty china-doll lips and upturned nose managed to wrestle her back into the realm of adorable, if that happened to be one’s taste.
Briony certainly didn’t have a bikini body, but she didn’t let that keep her away from the water. Part of the reason she’d settled in California’s Gold Country was the abundant outdoor life.
In the summer she spent every spare moment at the crystalline lakes and rivers, kayaking and swimming. In the winter she explored the backcountry on her cross-country skis. She’d grown up with little time or money for adventure. She, her mother, and younger brother had moved frequently, searching for doctors who might help with Kendall’s unique problems. In spite of it all, she’d managed to attend UC Davis Veterinary School and graduate with honors. When Briony decided she wanted something, she gathered up her courage and went after it.
Well, except for the man waiting for her to answer his call. She’d never found the nerve to pursue him.
Rico Montgomery. The first time she’d seen the ranger, she’d nearly had a spontaneous orgasm. Her body wanted to have his children. She’d contemplated tripping him and beating him to the floor.
He was six feet two inches of dark-haired, gray-eyed, chiseled beefcake, and this beefcake had brains. He wore his tan uniform shirt to perfection, and his Smokey the Bear hat threw her into the most delicious fantasies of her life. But face-to-face with the man, she was a wreck.
She stared down at the blinking light on the phone. “I am woman, hear me roar.” She took a deep breath. Her fingers trembled as she lifted the handset. “This is Dr. Theale.”
“Hi, Dr. Briony. It’s Rico at Rescue.”
“Unhh… Hello, Rico.” Oh, that was brilliant. Just brilliant. “What can I do for you today?” Maybe a full-body massage? Or hell, let’s just go for broke—a blowjob?
She shivered, imagining wrapping her mouth around his cock. Just for fun, she’d dribble chocolate sauce over it first. In fact, she’d like to cast that phallus of his in chocolate. That way she could have the best of both worlds: a lollycock.
Briony dropped her head to the desk, her face hot with embarrassment. This was how she acted around the man over the phone! The idea of seeing him in person just blew her dignity straight out the window.
“Well, I wanted to see if you could make a house call today. I’ve got an injured falcon that’s just come in.”
She could almost hear the smile in his voice. Rico Montgomery was a walking wet dream of a man. There was no doubt in her mind he knew exactly what she was thinking. He had to be accustomed to women losing their cool around him.
She cleared her throat. “Let me see. I’m shorthanded today.” She booted up her scheduling calendar for the day. “I’m booked solid for the next couple of hours, but I can come out right after my last appointment. Say, five thirty?”
“That’d be awesome. And since it’s on your own time, dinner’s on me tonight.”
Dinner on Rico. She imagined licking gravy from his navel and stifled a giggle.
“Oh, really… That’s okay…” Her chocolate-filled stomach lurched, and she wasn’t sure if it was nausea, nerves, or arousal.
“No problem, I’m on baby birds till later tonight. Gotta grab dinner sometime.”
Briony stood and paced a bit, dragging the phone cord across her cluttered desk. A pile of books crashed to the floor. “Damn! Uh, sorry. Just dropped something.”
His laugh was as rich in her ear as melted chocolate. “Is pizza okay? I usually do an all-meat combo. I’m a carnivore, you know.”
Damn, even pizza talk sounded sexy coming from Rico’s mouth.
“Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll see you in a couple of hours, then.”
They said their good-byes, and Briony put the phone back into its base on her desk. The long cord coiled up into a messy pile. She really needed to update her office equipment.
“Hot date with the ranger?” Amy was leaning against the doorjamb, hip cocked and arms folded.
“No, an injured falcon. He’s working late too, so we’re just—”
“Having dinner together.”
“Eavesdropping again?” Amy grinned at her shamelessly. “It’s not a date.” Briony pushed away from her desk, grinding her teeth in irritation. It wasn’t a date; Rico wouldn’t be interested in her. And besides, they probably weren’t compatible anyway, because Briony didn’t like vanilla at all—not the flavor and not the lifestyle.
But that was a secret she’d shared with very few others. Oddly enough, she was pretty sure her mother knew. But then, Dionne Theale wasn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill housewife.
Amy followed her back to the exam room and hovered as Briony checked on her patients. “Debbie called while you were on the phone. She can’t stay more than a couple of hours tonight. Both her kids are sick, and she doesn’t want to leave them with her sitter.”
“What? Oh damn!” She couldn’t leave the clinic without an attendant. Even now the schnauzer was pacing his kennel in distress. “How long can she stay?”
“She said till nine or so.” Amy hopped up onto the exam table and sat swinging her legs casually. “I’ll hang around till she gets here if you want. Give the two of you a little time together.”
“Yes, that’d be good. Don’t forget to sterilize that table when you get off.”
Amy rolled her eyes. “Anyhow, you’ve got a golden retriever that needs shots and a follow-up on a cat with stitches.”
Amy nodded and hopped off the table. She deftly sprayed the metal surface and wiped it down.
“All right, vaccines first, then the cat. Don’t let the dog leave for fifteen minutes, just in case of a reaction.”
“Yuppers. Will do, Doc.” Amy breezed out of the room, and in spite of herself, Briony grinned, glad the girl worked for her.
* * * *
Rico smelled chocolate before she walked in the door.
Briony Theale always had his mouth watering; if he wasn’t drooling over her ripe curves, he was fantasizing about licking her rich brown skin, of pulling the essence of chocolate from her very body.
Every human had a scent that was uniquely theirs, and Briony’s was dark, sweet chocolate. Her fragrance made his skin ripple with delight, and it made his cock go hard and deliciously painful. One of these days he’d have her on her back, his head buried between her breasts, kissing a line straight to her warm, liquid core…
“Hey, Doctor Bree.” He didn’t stand, because if he stood, she’d see just how happy he was to see her. He stayed safely hidden behind the desk, just until his hard-on let up a bit. “Thanks for coming. I think you’re going to like this little lady. Some hikers found her and brought her in.”
She looked around expectantly, and Rico realized she was waiting for him to lead her to the bird. With an inner groan, he stood, praying she wouldn’t look down.
He turned quickly and led Briony to the aviary. It was always a little warm and pungent in the bird rooms. They passed a few nursery boxes, and then he stood before the falcon’s cage.
“She’s pretty young still and probably was just learning to fly.”
Together they gloved up, and Rico carefully removed the peregrine falcon from the cage. She panted with fear but showed no aggression.
“What a pretty little girl,” Briony murmured, running her hand down the bird’s dark back. She worked her way down the falcon’s body, carefully probing her long, elegant wings.
Rico observed as Briony worked quietly with the bird. The falcon watched her almost as though mesmerized; Rico had never seen her hood a bird. From the moment they’d met, he’d noticed that even the most skittish wildlife calmed in her presence. They just seemed to be fascinated by her.
Rico felt the same way. From his vantage point, he was able to see glossy brown curls, the curve of her cheek, and the rounded swell of her breasts under the pristine white lab coat she still wore. Damn. He wanted to lick her skin and see if she was as sweet as she smelled. He shoved his hands in his pockets, trying to disguise his erection. He felt like a sixteen-year-old, infatuated and out of control of his body.
He sensed the rapid heartbeat through the bird’s satiny feathers; his own heart beat a similar tattoo.
“Well, I don’t think she’ll need surgery.” Briony deftly braced the wing against the bird’s body. “What’ll happen to her when she recovers?”
“Depends. If she’s in good enough shape, she’ll go back to the mountains. If she’s weak or maybe loses her fear of people, there’s a falconer who might be interested in her. She’ll have a cushy career chasing birds out of vineyards in Napa.”
“Really? I didn’t realize falconers were doing that. I know they use them at airports sometimes.”
She handed the falcon to Rico, who set the bird back into her cage. “Yup. It’s an age-old use for these falcons. Growers lose a huge amount of their crops to starlings and other birds. One falcon can keep hundreds of acres clear.”
Briony followed Rico to the heated boxes where tiny rescued hatchlings squalled for food. They moved from bird to bird, dribbling tiny amounts of gruel into their gaping beaks. It was a process that had to be repeated almost continuously during the day.
The rescue center was manned by one full-time staff member and dozens of volunteers who came in to feed the ravenous baby birds. Originally they’d kept Briony on retainer, but as state funding dried up, she’d remained on staff as a volunteer. When Rico had transferred to the center, he’d quickly fallen for the vet. He just didn’t know why. At first it was the oddest, most obsessive fascination with her, and that fascination quickly moved to intense attraction.
She was cute; there was no doubt about that, with her curves and those mysterious dark eyes. But she didn’t encourage him, and she never flirted, though he could clearly scent her interest. Every time she came around, the fragrance of sex and chocolate filled his nostrils, always leaving him aroused and in the care of his own hand. He couldn’t bring himself to look at another woman, much less ask one out.
“Well, unless you have any other animals for me to look at… How’s that baby fox that came in last week?”
“He’s good. He’s learned to feed from a bottle and has his eyes open.” Rico headed for the other room and led Briony to the small basket that held the tiny fox.
“Oh, he’s so cute!”
He stood back and watched as Briony gently lifted the pup and gave it a quick exam. She set the fox down and was still smiling as she glanced up at Rico. When their gazes locked, he couldn’t look away.
He couldn’t move either. Well, except his cock, which was moving a bit too much inside his tight jeans. The scent of chocolate rose around him, and it was all Rico could do to hold back, to not push her to the wall and take her right then and there. Her mouth was full and luscious and tinted with gloss; he saw a slight shimmer over her lips. He’d have liked to lick it off and see how it tasted. He froze, his hand extended…
She fluttered her eyelashes and then glanced over his shoulder. “I think your pizza’s here.” She sounded slightly strangled.
pizza. I ordered plenty.” The spell was broken, and Rico could move again, though it was a bit painful, not only to his groin but to his pride.
Who was this woman that she could charm him in his tracks? Rico had spent his life with humans, but he’d never met one like Dr. Briony Theale.