Publish Date: December 2012
Part of the ‘Puppies at Christmas’ anthology
GABRIEL MARQUE and INGRID ROSE would never have chosen to work this closely together.
The gorgeous French zookeeper arrived on a short-term professional exchange two years ago and promptly snaffled the job vacancy and career change that vet-nurse Ingrid had been edging her way towards. Now they’re thrust together as the zoo’s first litter of endangered wild dogs is due to emerge from the privacy of the den.
The past one-time-only-lovers both sign on for the intensive seven day watch over the holiday season for very different reasons. Wounded Gabe’s far from home and has nowhere better to be on December 25th, and Ingrid’s desperate to avoid having to choose between her divorced parents and their respective new families–neither of which she fits neatly into anymore.
But looking out for the world’s most caring carnivore over the world’s toughest holiday for loners has an effect on both of them and they realise they could learn a thing or two from the way the dogs work together for the good of the pack and look out for each other at all times. Holed up in a dark monitoring station for days on end gives them plenty of time to renew their acquaintance, work through their issues and realised that the only person making them lonely … is them.
Copyright © 2012 by Nikki Logan. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
The Patter of Paws at Christmas
STARING at a hole in the ground was as good a way as any to spend Christmas. Not the merriest of holiday spirit, but December 25th hadn’t been Ingrid’s favourite time for several years. Although she did rather enjoy the double-time-and-a-half Christmas penalties. Plus overnight allowance.
She stretched her spine, resettled in the sling-back chair and let her eyes scan the four CCTV feeds showing the exhibit, the still-vacant den interior, and a close-up on the entrances of two dens: the one the zookeepers had specially built for pregnant wild dog, Mjawi—and then disguised an access hatch in—and the one the first-time mother dug for herself, right next door.
No man-made elements. No sneaky human access.
There was still nothing on her observation report except the alpha pair coming and going for the past twelve hours. With long nap-times in between.
Not a sign of the elusive pups.
She wouldn’t have heard it normally—half-whispered as it was—but the bare concrete walls of the converted night-den did too good a job of amplifying the accented oath.
And the growl of disbelief that followed it.
She turned and glared at the tall shape silhouetted against the early morning glow. ‘Good to see you, too, Gabe.’
He didn’t move from the doorway. But his head did drop, just slightly. ‘Sorry, I was expecting…’
Someone else? Anyone else?
I’ll bet. ‘Cara wanted to be with her kids over the holidays. We swapped shifts.’
Was he seriously not going to enter the room if she was in it? Wasn’t that taking things a bit too far? ‘All of them. Right through to New Year.’
He let his breath out slowly. ‘Okay.’
But an “okay” from Gabriel Marque usually meant he was anything but. Which pretty much matched her feelings exactly.
‘How about you?’ she asked.
‘Day shift. Through to New Year.’
Oh…joy. A whole week working parallel roster.
She pushed to her feet. ‘Well, if you’re here that means night-shift is officially over. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘What about handover?’ he said, stepping in from the daylight into the low light of the monitoring room.
She didn’t need full light to see him clearly. Hazel eyes, long straight nose, tanned skin. The tiny mole to the left of his amazing top lip. Perpetually mussed brown hair. The tattoo that reached up from his shoulder blade to rest its inky fingers on the pulse-point just below his jaw. Her brain was perfectly accustomed to conjuring the tiniest details of his appearance with or without his presence. Usually at the most inconvenient times.
‘Everything’s on the observation report. Nothing, to be specific.’
‘Still no sign?’
Amazing how civil things were between them in work-mode. ‘Nope. She’s still in the B-den. No sign of the pups.’
‘And no change to the den?’
‘Not so far, though it’s not the best looking entrance I’ve ever seen.’
Gabe shook his head and Ingrid flushed. Like she’d seen more than one wild dog den, ever. He’d been working this round for sixteen months, and he’d worked with dogs in Zimbabwe three years before that. There was no-one in the zoo who knew more about the captive husbandry of African wild dogs. Although that might have been different if she’d been successful in transferring from vet nurse to zookeeper a year ago.
If Gabe hadn’t snaffled the vacancy of wild dog keeper out from under her.
If he and his hot accent and good looks hadn’t swanned in and won more people over in three months than she’d been able to in six years. He’d taken one look at their zoo and the professional opportunities available and done everything he could to turn his short-term exchange into something more permanent.
Including undermining her.
She shot to her feet. ‘Well, I’m going to get cleaned up before the staff Christmas lunch in the mess room.’
‘That’s not for four hours.’
Um… Nothing clever came to her. Her mind was its usual blank grey when Gabe was around.
Did he have to say it like that—more like a purr than a word? She took a deep breath and looked up at him.
‘Are you going to be able to do this? For a week?’
See him every day? Up close and personal and in the dark? Listening to that accent? The man who betrayed her?
She smiled her most vacuous. ‘I’m used to nightshift, Gabe. Who do you think does the nocturnal watches up at the hospital when we’re hand-rearing something?’
His lips flattened in that way they always did when he was annoyed and he stared at her. ‘That’s not what I’m asking.’
Because he was on-watch and not formally on-duty he only had half his official zoo uniform on. A distinctly non-uniform black t-shirt tucked into the work cargos that hung off his hips. It moulded to every curve of his defined torso and suddenly loomed hard and male in her vision.
She swallowed. ‘Then what are you asking?’
His hazel eyes narrowed.
‘Are you going to be able to get past the fact we slept together?’