Summer Magic Sampler

“We’ve got a problem, C.C.”

Cooper Carlyle, in the process of cooking breakfast, hung his head, appetite gone. “Please don’t tell me it’s that damned elephant.”

“Okay, I won’t.” Keaton swiped two bacon strips in passing.

Coop’s head came up. “Really? It’s not the Thorne beast?”

His brother laughed. “Oh, no. It is, but I won’t tell you he’s in our pool again if you don’t want to know.”

With a litany of curses, Coop threw down the spatula, turned off the burner, and stalked to the deck. What he saw triggered another long series of swear words. Eddie the Elephant was the most recent rescue of one Summer Thorne, his all-around pain-in-the-butt neighbor to the West. Since she’d petitioned and freed the elephant from a miserable life of performing on command, the ginormous beast had been nothing but a menace to the Carlyle estate. When he wasn’t leaving massive amounts of gag-worthy crap all over the lawn, he was making himself at home in the Olympic-sized swimming pool off the back deck.

Today, Eddie was already underwater and using his trunk as a snorkel. Periodically, he would peek over the edge of the pool toward the rear of the property where the Carlyles’ prized horses grazed.

The longer Eddie stared at the mares, the angrier and more creative Coop’s language became. The damned elephant thought he was going to make time with the mares. It didn’t matter that they were two different species.

“Get her on the phone,” Coop bit out.

“Sorry, man. No can do. Duty calls. There’s a permitting issue I need to address before ten. But hey, have fun with that.” Keaton gestured to the backyard with his thumb.

“Coward!” he hollered after Keaton’s retreating back.


Coop mentally ran through removal scenarios. Short of a crane, he didn’t know how to get the two-ton Tom out of the pool.

How had Summer done it in the past? The last time it happened, he’d received a call that Eddie was in his pool only to return home and find his nemesis trudging down the road with her elephant in tow.

A mental rundown of various techniques proved futile.

As he pondered options, he detected movement from the corner of his eye. His training kicked into gear, and he laid a hand on the firearm at his side. Or where the firearm should’ve been.


He hadn’t yet put on his service belt today. His lack of attention to his attire went to show how aggravated he was over finding Summer’s elephant in his pool.

Sunlight shimmered off bright golden-blonde hair. The glimpse of his intruder had him easing back into the shadows of the porch and ducking behind a stone pillar.

Summer Thorne.

Coop fought the instinct to run and hide. Hell, technically he was hiding. But he wasn’t ashamed.

Heck, no!

The woman was almost as much of a nuisance as the droves of animals she cared for. More so, if he thought back over all the years he’d known her. Her last name was certainly appropriate; she’d been a thorn in his side for as long as he could remember.

It all started fifteen years ago when Summer and her sisters had moved to Leiper’s Fork. From the first day she’d laid eyes on him, Coop had become Summer’s sole obsession. During high school, anywhere he turned, there she was. Her big blue eyes were as bright as the sky and stared at him as if he were a gift from the gods directly to her. The adoration and borderline stalking had unnerved him and made him the butt of his friends’ jokes. 

After six months of her shadowing his every step, Coop had had enough and arranged to crush her affections. He’d planned it down to the last detail.

Step one: Ask her to prom.

Step two: Show up late—without a corsage.

Step three: Continually leave her alone to go off with friends.

Step four: Get caught kissing the gorgeous Rosie McDonough. 

His plan had worked brilliantly.

What he hadn’t expected was to feel like the worst sort of asshole for what he’d done. He’d only wanted her to stop trailing around after him. But seeing her bent double, with tears pouring from her eyes, had made his stomach ache.

She hadn’t even confronted him that night. Just backed away and caught a ride home from the dance. Never again did she dog his footsteps or turn those overly brilliant eyes in his direction. If they ran into each other in the school hallways, she always took care to avert her face as if he didn’t exist.

To this day, eleven years after he’d tricked her, her large, tearful eyes still haunted him.

Now, whenever possible, they steered clear of one another.

He imagined her reasoning was some prolonged sense of embarrassment. But he’d been the one who was ashamed. They’d become frenemies of a sort whenever they were in public. And privately, they avoided each other like the plague.

Exhibit A: Currently, she crept through the shrubbery.

Exhibit B: Here he was, attempting to make himself skinnier than a column—which was nearly impossible. That’s what he got for all those hours of manual labor in his barn and regular workouts at the gym. 

“Dammit, Eddie!” she muttered. “How the hell am I supposed to get you out of that pool without help? Levitation?” She sneezed, shot a fist up into the air, and glanced up. “What do you think, Saul?”

Coop squinted, unsure if his eyes were deceiving him. Nope, they weren’t.

A scurry of squirrels lined a branch over Summer’s head. They chattered among themselves as if having a discussion about the removal of Eddie from the pool. One furry rodent got particularly aggressive. If Coop didn’t know better, he’d say it was enthusiasm for its plan. In its fervor for the subject, the head squirrel misstepped and plunged to the ground.

Summer’s reflexes bordered on the supernatural as she caught the animal mid-air. With a stroke of one finger over its furry head, she whispered words known only to the animal and tossed the creature back up to the branch where four other squirrels were leaned over, watching their companion plummet towards certain death.

“You’re welcome, Saul,” Summer said to the ringleader. “Think nothing of it.” Distracted, she faced the pool and appeared to contemplate the bigger problem at hand.

Who the hell was this woman? Dr. Doolittle?

“Whatcha doin’?”

The deep voice behind him nearly had Coop coming out of his skin.

“Jesus, Knox! That’s a great way to get shot,” he scolded in little more than a whisper.

“Except you aren’t wearing a gun,” his cousin stated the obvious. “And I happen to live here.”

“Is that my bacon?”

Knox grinned around a bite of the perfectly cooked meat. “Don’t know. It was sitting on the counter, waiting to be devoured.”

“Shhh! Lower your voice, or she’ll hear you.”

She?” asked the voice of an outraged female.

He closed his eyes and sighed. Fighting to keep the sickly look off his face, he spun around. “Oh hey, Summer.”

The spitting-mad female in question narrowed her eyes and refused to speak.

In an effort to change the subject and not allow himself to think about how much this one female terrified him, Coop pointed to Eddie. “Your damned elephant is in my pool—again! Want to tell me what plan you and the Squirrel Mafia came up with to get him out?”

She sucked in air so sharply, she choked. Face an alarming shade of crimson, she attempted to hack up a lung.

If he took delight as he pounded a little too hard on her back, well, he had to take his pleasure where he could get it.

Knox handed her his bottle of water, and the grateful look she shot his cousin’s way had Coop bristling.

At six-two and a hundred ninety-five pounds, Knox had a lean, muscular build designed to turn a woman’s head. Added to the superb physique, the man’s sun-bleached blond hair and laughing sapphire eyes cemented his status as town heart-throb. He had only to show that uber-white smile, and panties dropped left and right.

Summer didn’t appear immune to his cousin’s charms either.

Why the idea of her drooling over Knox bothered him, Coop couldn’t say. After being the recipient of her blatant crush, he should be happy someone else was now the focus of her attention.

Except he wasn’t.

“You all right, gorgeous?” Knox asked, the picture of concern.

Coop’s gag reflex triggered. “Laying it on thick, aren’t you, man?”

Both Knox and Summer ignored him.

She ran a shaky hand under her teary eyes and thanked Knox ever-so-sweetly for his assistance.

“What about my assistance?” Coop asked.

And why the hell was he getting offended? He had absolutely no interest in her. If he never saw her or a member of her personal zoo again, he’d be ecstatic. 

She rolled her eyes and scoffed, “I’ll send you the bill for the chiropractor.”

A bark of laughter escaped Knox.

“C.C.! Help!” Keaton’s shout spurred him into a dead run around the side of the house, with Knox and Summer fast on his heels.

The sight of a bat-wielding chimpanzee halted them all dead in their tracks. The primate stood on the hood of Coop’s police cruiser, swinging like an MVP for the New York Yankees.

“What the fu—!”

“Morty, no!”

Summer’s and Coop’s yells canceled each other out.

“Shoot him!” Keaton screamed as the ape wound up to take another swing.

“Don’t you dare!” she screeched.

As Summer moved to intercede, Coop grabbed her arm and yanked her out of harm’s way.

“Are you crazy?” he barked. “Do you know the strength of that animal? He can crack your head like a walnut.”

“Morty wouldn’t hurt me.”

“Says every victim of a chimpanzee attack,” muttered Knox.

“He wouldn’t,” she stressed. “He has post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve been counseling him.”

And with that comment, Summer cemented why everyone in the county thought she was certifiable. Coop included.

“Knox,” he said quietly. “Get my gun.”

“No!” She fought like a woman possessed.

Morty picked up on her distress and became more agitated by the second. The tip of the aluminum bat made a sharp clank as it dented the hood of the cruiser.

“Summer, I need you to calm down. The chimp is—”

Keaton’s scream rent the air.

If it came to a choice between his brother or Summer’s monster pet, it was no contest. Coop would shoot the animal like a rabid dog. “Knox, hustle your ass!”

Knox cast a regretful glance at Summer and ran for the house.

“Cooper, if you shoot him, I will never forgive you.” Her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. If anything, they looked larger, more heart-wrenching than ever. 

His gut clenched. He’d only ever seen her cry the one other time, and the remembered sight of her silent sobs still made him sick.

“He’s dangerous, Summer. Normally, I would try a tranquilizer, but the tranq gun is in the Ford. What do you suggest I do?” he asked impatiently.

“Give me a chance to talk to him. I can make him see reason.”

Incredulous, he blurted, “You’re insane!”


Summer winced. She had no illusions as to how this town viewed her. It didn’t matter that she’d gone to college and earned her degree as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine; she’d always be the strange woman who kept to herself and collected exotic animals.

Had she held out any hope that Cooper Carlyle might have viewed her in a different light, it was now gone. Later, when she returned home, she would examine why, after all this time, his words still had the power to hurt.

Shoving back her shoulders, she cleared her throat. “I’m perfectly sane, Sheriff. Morty was used for animal testing and was abused by one of the lab techs. Some days, he has flashbacks. But he’s never hurt a single living being.”

“Then why is he swinging a freaking bat at my head?” Keaton hollered from where he was trapped between the two vehicles.

“Because he doesn’t know you, Keaton,” she replied. What was obvious to her wasn’t necessarily obvious to others, but she didn’t have the time to explain. “Now everyone just calm the fuck down!”

Her hand flew up to cover her mouth and nose. Abruptly, she sneezed.


A squeak sounded off to her right, but she refused to look in that direction. She didn’t dare draw attention to the rodents lining up along the sidewalk. Because consequences like the town’s soon-to-be-increased mouse population tended to be more than she cared to think about, she kept her swearing to a minimum. 

With any luck, Coop and Keaton wouldn’t notice their new mice infestation.

The sound of the bat smashing against the Ford’s windshield caused Summer to close her eyes in mental pain. As if she didn’t have enough expenses with the feeding of one perverted elephant, one chimp with PTSD, a blind owl, three flatulent dogs, about ten too many kleptomaniac cats, five mischievous squirrels, and seventeen pigmy goats—not to mention her mobile clinic. Bribing a few officials to get permits for the lame lion she had slotted to come home this week was going to have to wait until she talked to her finance manager.

“Morty. Come to Mama, sweet boy. Come on,” she urged. She’d have gone to him, but Coop still had a death grip on her arm.

Her beloved chimp narrowed his eyes on Coop and curled back his lips to bare his teeth. In a gesture of intimidation, he rose up to his full height. Once again, he raised the bat and brought it down on what remained of the windshield. The crackle and subsequent sound of shattering glass filled the air.


Morty tended to be possessive of her attention. She had her reservations about his tolerance should she bring a man home. But in a small town of less than one thousand people, her chances of a relationship were nil anyway. No one wanted to date the crazy chick.

“Morty, no! That’s not the way we deal with our anger. Remember?” she said softly, careful to keep her tone soothing.

“Oh. My. God!” Coop bit out.

She could definitely hear the grinding of his teeth, but she ignored him, keeping her focus on the ape.

“Are you serious right now, Summer?”

His aggression triggered Morty’s, and the ape slammed his bat on the hood of the vehicle and screamed his rage.

“Morty, baby, you have to behave or no lemon Tastykakes!” It was a last-ditch effort, but Summer was desperate.

The string of curses emitting from Coop made her cringe.

The lure of lemon Tastykakes did the trick. Morty lowered the bat, cocked his head to the side, and let out a questioning meep.

“Yep, lemon. Your favorite. But only if you come to Mama right now.” Summer jerked free of Coop and squatted with her arms wide.

Morty was halfway to her when she heard the cock of a gun. Horror resulted in the speed of her heart ratcheting into high gear.

That damned trigger-happy bastard intended to shoot her chimp!

“No!” She stood, whirled around, and placed herself between the barrel of the gun and Morty. Tempering her voice due to the upset shriek behind her, she said, “No, Coop. You’ll have to shoot me first.”

He looked tempted, as if he contemplated doing just that.

Maybe she shouldn’t have put the idea in his head.

Summer swallowed hard and closed her eyes. The long-term ramifications of him shooting her chimp didn’t bear thinking about. She’d never be able to look at Coop in the same way again. While she needed a way to squash her unrequited feelings for him, this was not it.

The love she’d harbored for him would never be reciprocated in her lifetime. She was convinced that somewhere in the universe a cosmic bookkeeper kept a tally of all the times she’d made cow eyes at him or secretly wrote Mrs. Summer Carlyle like a flighty teen girl. That bookkeeper had to be laughing their butt off right about now.

The bat clattered to the pavement, and a warm hand reached up to clasp hers. She sighed her relief and pivoted toward her pet. “Good boy, Morty.”

He leaped at the same time she tugged. Secure within her embrace, he nuzzled into her hair. With an arch look in Coop’s direction, she said, “See? He’s really sweet.”

“He’s psychotic. Permit or not, Summer, that animal isn’t safe for you to have around. I’m going to petition that he be sent to a zoo.”

“And I’ll see you in hell first, Sheriff,” she snarled, any attempt at friendliness gone. She sneezed. The handful of mice in her periphery doubled. Summer couldn’t worry about that now. She had to take care of her chimp.

Morty was her baby. She’d had him from a year old, and they’d spent every day for the last ten months together. Protecting him was second nature, like a mother bear with a cub. Now, sensing her fear and anger, he pulled back to sign, “Are you okay, Mama?”

“Yes, sweet boy. Mama’s fine. Let’s get you home.”

“What about the damned elephant in my pool?” Coop shouted.

“One crisis at a time. I need to bring Spring back with me. She has a way with Eddie.”

As she strolled away, Summer could feel the eyes of all three men watching her back. She almost added an extra sway to her hips, but she didn’t want to be accused of trying to entice Coop. Over the years, she’d taken enough flack for her behavior during her Sophomore and Junior years.


She glanced over her shoulder to see three sets of similar eyes watching her with varying degrees of disbelief.

Coop was the one she focused on.

With a nod toward the smashed windshield, he said, “Bring your checkbook with you when you come back.”