Animal Magnetism Read online

  To Frat Boy, Ashes, and Sadie

  for the animal inspiration and unconditional love.


  Brady Miller’s ideal Saturday was pretty simple—sleep in, be woken by a hot, naked woman for sex, followed by a breakfast that he didn’t have to cook.

  On this particularly early June Saturday, he consoled himself with one out of the three, stopping at 7-Eleven for coffee, two egg and sausage breakfast wraps, and a Snickers bar.

  Breakfast of champions.

  Heading to the counter to check out, he nodded to the convenience store clerk.

  She had her Bluetooth in her ear, presumably connected to the cell phone glowing in her pocket as she rang him up. “He can’t help it, Kim,” she was saying. “He’s a guy.” At this, she sent Brady a half-apologetic, half-commiserating smile. She was twentysomething, wearing spray-painted-on skinny jeans, a white wife-beater tank top revealing black lacy bra straps, and so much mascara that Brady had no idea how she kept her eyes open.

  “You know what they say,” she went on as she scanned his items. “A guy thinks about sex once every eight seconds. No, it’s true, I read it in Cosmo. Uh-huh, hang on.” She glanced at Brady, pursing her glossy lips. “Hey, cutie, you’re a guy.”

  “Last I checked.”

  She popped her gum and grinned at him. “Would you say you think about sex every eight seconds?”

  “Nah.” Every ten, tops. He fished through his pocket for cash.

  “My customer says no,” she said into her phone, sounding disappointed. “But Cosmo said a man might deny it out of self-preservation. And in any case, how can you trust a guy who has sex on the brain 24/7?”

  Brady nodded to the truth of that statement and accepted his change. Gathering his breakfast, he stepped outside where he was hit by the morning fresh air of the rugged, majestic Idaho Bitterroot mountain range. Quite a change from the stifling airlessness of the Middle East or the bitter desolation and frigid temps of Afghanistan. But being back on friendly soil was new enough that his eyes still automatically swept his immediate surroundings.

  Always a soldier, his last girlfriend had complained.

  And that was probably true. It was who he was, the discipline and carefulness deeply engrained, and he didn’t see that changing anytime soon. Noting nothing that required his immediate attention, he went back to mainlining his caffeine. Sighing in sheer pleasure, he took a big bite of the first breakfast wrap, then hissed out a sharp breath because damn. Hot. This didn’t slow him down much. He was so hungry his legs felt hollow. In spite of the threat of scalding his tongue to the roof of his mouth, he sucked down nearly the entire thing before he began to relax.

  Traffic was nonexistent, but Sunshine, Idaho, wasn’t exactly hopping. It’d been a damn long time since he’d been here, years in fact. And longer still since he’d wanted to be here. He took another drag of fresh air. Hard to believe, but he’d actually missed the good old US of A. He’d missed the sports. He’d missed the women. He’d missed the price of gas. He’d missed free will.

  But mostly he’d missed the food. He tossed the wrapper from the first breakfast wrap into a trash bin and started in on his second, feeling almost . . . content. Yeah, damn it was good to be back, even if he was only here temporarily, as a favor. Hell, anything without third-world starvation, terrorists, or snipers and bombs would be a five-star vacation.

  “Look out, incoming!”

  At the warning, Brady deftly stepped out of the path of the bike barreling down at him.

  “Sorry!” the kid yelled back.

  Up until yesterday, a shout like that would have meant dropping to the ground, covering his head, and hoping for the best. Since there were no enemy insurgents, Brady merely raised the hand still gripping his coffee in a friendly salute. “No problem.”

  But the kid was already long gone, and Brady shook his head. The quiet was amazing, and he took in the oak tree- lined sidewalks, the clean and neat little shops, galleries and cafés—all designed to bring in some tourist money to subsidize the mining and ranching community. For someone who’d spent so much time in places where grime and suffering trumped hope and joy, it felt a little bit like landing in the Twilight Zone.

  “Easy now, Duchess.”

  At the soft, feminine voice, Brady turned and looked into the eyes of a woman walking a . . . hell, he had no idea. The thing pranced around like it had a stick up its ass.

  Okay, a dog. He was pretty sure.

  The woman smiled at Brady. “Hello, how are you?”

  “Fine, thanks,” he responded automatically, but she hadn’t slowed her pace.

  Just being polite, he thought, and tried to remember the concept. Culture shock, he decided. He was suffering from a hell of a culture shock. Probably he should have given himself some time to adjust before doing this, before coming here of all places, but it was too late now.

  Besides, he’d put it off long enough. He’d been asked to come, multiple times over the years. He’d employed every tactic at his disposal: avoiding, evading, ignoring, but nothing worked with the two people on the planet more stubborn than him.

  His brothers.

  Not blood brothers, but that didn’t appear to matter to Dell or Adam. The three of them had been in the same foster home for two years about a million years ago. Twenty-four months. A blink of an eye really. But to Dell and Adam, it’d been enough to bond the three of them for life.

  Brady stuffed in another bite of his second breakfast wrap, added coffee, and squinted in the bright June sunshine. Jerking his chin down, the sunglasses on top of his head obligingly slipped to his nose.


  He headed to his truck parked at the corner but stopped short just in time to watch a woman in an old Jeep rear-end it.

  “Crap. Crap.” Lilah Young stared at the truck she’d Just rear-ended and gave herself exactly two seconds to have a pity party. This is what her life had come to. She had to work in increments of seconds.

  A wet, warm tongue laved her hand and she looked over at the three wriggling little bodies in the box on the passenger’s seat of her Jeep.

  Two puppies and a potbellied pig.

  As the co-owner of the sole kennel in town, she was babysitting Mrs. Swanson’s “babies” again today, which included pickup and drop-off services. This was in part because Mrs. Swanson was married to the doctor who’d delivered Lilah twenty-eight years ago, but also because Mrs. Swanson was the mother of Lilah’s favorite ex-boyfriend.

  Not that Lilah had a lot of exes. Only two.

  Okay, three. But one of them didn’t count, the one who after four years she still hoped all of his good parts shriveled up and fell off. And he’d had good parts, too, damn him. She’d read somewhere that every woman got a freebie stupid mistake when it came to men. She liked that. She only wished it applied to everything in life.

  Because driving with Mrs. Swanson’s babies and—

  “Quack-quack!” said the mallard duck loose in the backseat.

  —A mallard duck loose in the backseat had been a doozey of a mistake.

  Resisting the urge to thunk her head against the steering wheel, Lilah hopped out of the Jeep to check the damage she’d caused to the truck, eyes squinted because everyone knew that helped.

  The truck’s bumper sported a sizable dent and crack, but thanks to the tow hitch, there was no real obvious frame damage. The realization brought a rush of relief so great her knees wobbled.

  That is until she caught sight of the front of her Jeep. It was so ancient that it was hard to tell if it had ever really been red once upon a time or if it was just one big friggin’ rust bucket, but that no longer seemed important given that her front end was mashed up.

  “Quack-quack.” In the backseat, Abigail was flapping her wings,