“Vivid and charming.” —CHARLAINE HARRIS, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
He’s always been a haven:
For the lost. The sick. The injured.
But when a hunted woman takes shelter in his arms, this gentle giant swears he’ll do more than heal her battered spirit—he’ll defend her with his life.
K9 Officer Otto Gunnersen always had a soft spot for anyone in need. As Monroe’s very own Dr. Doolittle, he dedicates himself to rehabilitating the injured souls that cross his path—but for all his big heart, he’s never been in love.
Until he meets Sarah Clifton’s haunted eyes. Until he realizes he’ll do anything to save her.
All Sarah wants is to escape a life caught between ambitious crime families, but there’s no outrunning her past. Her power-mad brother would hunt her to the ends of the earth…but he’d never expect Sarah to fight back. With Otto and the whole of Monroe, Colorado by her side, Sarah’s finally ready to face whatever comes her way.
It’s time to take a stand.
As she walked through the aisles, Sarah knew she was beaming like an idiot. She couldn’t help it. This place was amazing. It was part farm-supply, part hardware store, part department store. According to Jules, it was one of the few businesses in Monroe that stayed open all year round. Most of the shops and services closed for the winter.
They cut through a car-part aisle. Rounding the corner, Sarah sucked in a sharp breath.
“What?” Jules grabbed her arm and yanked her back into the aisle they’d just left. Grace followed, her expression concerned. “Is it someone you know? Do we need to go out the back?”
“No,” Sarah said hastily, embarrassed by her overreaction. “Sorry. I just saw…” Otto. The name rang in her head, but she didn’t want to admit that she remembered it. She hadn’t shared the details of her eventful morning walk three days earlier. Since Grace and Jules weren’t aware of the garage-roof conversation, Sarah knowing Otto’s name after so brief an introduction seemed like evidence of her budding, illogical crush. Her cheeks got hot, but she tried very hard to ignore that she was blushing—and the reason for her red face. “I just saw that cop I met last week. It was dumb. I just overreacted.”
“Otto?” Grace asked, and Sarah nodded, feeling her face heat even more at the sound of his name. Seriously, something was wrong with her. “Oh, he’s harmless. Really. I mean, so are Hugh and Theo, but they just come off a little more…harshly?” Grace gave Jules a help me look before turning back to Sarah. “You don’t need to be afraid of any of the cops here. We just didn’t want to overwhelm you by introducing you to all of them. They can be…” She looked at Jules again.
“Intimidating,” Jules supplied helpfully, and Grace nodded. “Otto really is the easiest to get along with of all three of them. You’ll love him once you get to know him.” Sarah tried not to grimace at the phrasing. She couldn’t admit that was why she was so nervous around Otto. The big cop was already in her thoughts much too often, and they’d exchanged just a few words. If she got to know him, she had a feeling she’d be in serious trouble.
Linking arms with Sarah, Grace started to lead her out of the aisle. Even though she was freaking out at the thought of talking with Otto again, Sarah tried to hide it. Her feet wanted to drag, but she forced her body to cooperate. She’d only known Grace and Jules a week, and they’d been nicer to her than anyone she’d ever known before. She didn’t want to admit her weird issues to them…not yet, at least.
“Otto!” Jules forged ahead, waving as she hurried over to the cop. He gave her a small smile before looking past her. When his gaze locked on Sarah, his expression stilled.
What does that mean? Why is he looking at me like that? she asked herself frantically. Unfortunately, she didn’t have an answer. Her previous life had kept her isolated, her social interactions limited to employees and business associates of first her father and then her brother. Sarah wasn’t sure how to read the big, blond cop, but she guessed that the frozen look was not a good sign.
He didn’t look away as they approached. Sarah couldn’t hold his gaze and dropped her eyes to the floor. It was impossible not to look at him, though, and she kept darting furtive glances in his direction. His hair was nearly white blond, cut short in a no-nonsense style. He wasn’t just a Viking lumberjack; he was like a Viking and a lumberjack had a baby, and that baby grew up to serve in the army and then become a Monroe police officer.
“Milk replacer? What orphans are you feeding now?” Jules asked, breaking what was turning into another awkward silence.
He finally looked away from Sarah to focus on Jules. “Puppies. Curtis Trammel’s shepherd was hit by a car.”
“He brought them to you?” Before he answered, Grace spoke again. “Of course he did. You’re the Dr. Doolittle around here, after all.”
Otto gave an uncomfortable half shrug, but Sarah had stopped pretending not to stare at him. He was a Viking lumberjack cop who bottle-fed orphaned puppies? If he’d spent years trying to think of the most effective punch to the ovaries, he couldn’t have come up with a better plan.
“Juju!” Ty called from across the store. “We’re going to get these guns, okay?”
“What? What guns? No, not okay.” Jules immediately charged toward the sporting goods section.
Grace grinned. Following after a stressed-looking Jules, she said over her shoulder, “This should be good. They probably want to mount them on their homemade drone.”
The two women disappeared around the corner of an aisle, and the realization hit Sarah—she and Otto were alone. Together. Sure, they weren’t really alone, since it was a public place with several people, including children, nearby, but…still. Alone. Together. Again. Her scalp prickled with sweat.
She tried desperately to think of something to talk about, but her mind was blank. There wasn’t a nearby herd of elk to supply a handy topic of conversation. It had been the same every time they’d met. Otto seemed to be a huge walking magnet, wiping her brain’s hard drive whenever he got near. “Um…how many puppies?”
He just stared at her, and uncertainty started to set in. Her question had made sense, hadn’t it? Maybe she should’ve clarified. But Sarah was afraid that, if she spoke again, she’d rush into a waterfall of babbly explanation, and that would just make her seem even more unbalanced.
“Your mouth…” He trailed off, his eyes fixed on her lips.
“My mouth…?” she echoed, and then horror hit her. There had to be something on her mouth. They had all just eaten lunch at the VFW-turned-diner where Jules worked. Was there something green and slimy in her teeth? Did she have residual barbeque sauce on her face? If so, she was going to kill Jules, Grace, and every last one of the kids for not telling her before she came face-to-face with a lumberjack Viking puppy rescuer. Sarah wiped frantically at her lips, feeling her cheeks heat. “What about my mouth?”
“It’s pretty.” His tanned face flushed to the color of brick. Abruptly, he turned and walked away.
Sarah went still, her hand still over her lips. There was a strange feeling in her stomach. It wasn’t the anxious dread she was used to, though. This was more of a hopeful fluttering, a funny little squeeze of happiness. Dropping her hand to her side, she smiled at Otto’s broad, quickly departing back.
He thinks I’m pretty.