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Freckles

Cover of Freckles

Freckles

by Amy Lane
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Carter Embree has always hoped to be rescued from his productive, tragically boring, and (slightly) ethically compromised life. But when an urchin at a grocery store shoves a bundle of fluff into his hands, Carter goes from rescuee to rescuer — and he needs a little help.

Sandy Corrigan, the vet tech who helps ease Carter into the world of dog ownership, first assumes that Carter is a crazy-pants client who just needs to relax. But as Sandy gets a glimpse into the funny, kind, sexy man under Carter's mild-mannered exterior, he sees that with a little care and feeding, Carter might be Super-Pet Owner — and decent boyfriend material to boot.

But Carter needs to see himself as a hero first. As he says good-bye to his pristine house and hello to carpet treatments and dog walkers, he finds that there really is more to himself than a researching drudge without a backbone. A Carter Embree can rate a Sandy Corrigan. He can be supportive, he can be a hero, he can be a man who stands up for his principles!

He can be the owner of a small dog.

Carter Embree has always hoped to be rescued from his productive, tragically boring, and (slightly) ethically compromised life. But when an urchin at a grocery store shoves a bundle of fluff into his hands, Carter goes from rescuee to rescuer — and he needs a little help.

Sandy Corrigan, the vet tech who helps ease Carter into the world of dog ownership, first assumes that Carter is a crazy-pants client who just needs to relax. But as Sandy gets a glimpse into the funny, kind, sexy man under Carter's mild-mannered exterior, he sees that with a little care and feeding, Carter might be Super-Pet Owner — and decent boyfriend material to boot.

But Carter needs to see himself as a hero first. As he says good-bye to his pristine house and hello to carpet treatments and dog walkers, he finds that there really is more to himself than a researching drudge without a backbone. A Carter Embree can rate a Sandy Corrigan. He can be supportive, he can be a hero, he can be a man who stands up for his principles!

He can be the owner of a small dog.

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    Chapter One

    Free Gerbils

    Yeah. Greg was gone.

    Carter Embree gazed around the house and tried hard to find a trace of the man he'd brought home three months before.

    Greg's DVDs and CDs had been surgically removed from the wooden shelves by the entertainment center, and his clothes had been taken from the top of the dresser. His phone charger was no longer plugged into the strip on the meticulously clean gray marble counter in the kitchen.

    It's been fun, Carter, but I should have left the morning after. Trying to be a couple was an exercise in futility — good luck, though.

    G —

    The incriminating note sat in the middle of the kitchen table, and Carter just stared at it, dumbly.

    He barely felt the ache in his chest — but the silence was driving him mad.

    Body on autopilot, he hung his suit jacket over the kitchen chair and set his briefcase down on the glass-topped table. He'd already left his shoes on the shoe tree in the hallway, and now....

    Well, it was after nine o'clock. He hadn't done takeout, because he hated it for one and he'd been planning to cook for another. He was starving. Okay. There you go. Refried beans, some cheese, a tortilla — burrito. A trip to the bedroom to put on black pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt, and to hang up the suit, which had at least two more wears before it needed a trip to the dry cleaners.

    Which was how he came to fall asleep sitting in front of the TV, eating a minimalist burrito, while the Lifetime channel rebroadcast Two Weeks Notice and he dreamed that Hugh Grant would suddenly become dependent on his opinion and want to take him away from it all. He'd neglected to even remove his glasses.

    His phone alarm pinged in the charger at six in the morning, and while he was flailing for the thing to make the noise stop, he forgot.

    "Greg?" he mumbled. "Greg? I've got to go. This case, man.... I'm sorry...when it's over, we'll take a vacation...."

    He rolled from the black leather couch and onto the floor, sliding on the tan-chenille throw and ending up sprawled between the couch and the coffee table, for a moment too disoriented to even get up on all fours.

    And that's when he remembered Greg, with the sunny smile and the careless blond hair, and that unspoken promise to take Carter away from his job, away from his ambition, and to make him a better person, a happier person, a person who would put his boyfriend first and not let him slip away.

    All that was left of Greg was a slip of paper and the horrible sense of failure in the pit of Carter's stomach.

    Carter ignored the shrieking alarm for once, took off his glasses, buried his face in the carpet, and cried.

    He still arrived on time for work.

    Brenda, his paralegal, updated him on his to-do list that day and finished with, "You don't look so good, Mr. Embree. You gotta step up your game, or Jacobsen is going to eat you for lunch!"

    Carter looked at the brief on his desk and grimaced. "Jacobsen needs to be careful," he muttered. "What he's having me do on this case — it's barely skirting misconduct."

    "Why?" Brenda asked, concerned. Well, she fed a family on this job. "I mean...this is the settlement for the woman whose dog escaped the fence, right?"

    Carter nodded, hating this case. Civil law could be nastier than criminal law. The fence had been shoddily made and shoddily installed by Hausen/Hufsen, and Carlene Clayburgh and her husband, Jed, had been trying to get the fence company to pony up and fix their work. Unfortunately, while Hausen/Hufsen had been dithering about their own...

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