A Christmas Bride - By Susan Mallery


“POLISH OR NO polish?” Carina Fiore held up two bottles of pet-friendly OPI nail polish. “I think the traditional choices would be best. Fire-Hydrant Red or Bow-Wow Green.”

Eight-year-old Kaitlyn McKenzie laughed. “Rina, she’s a cat.”

“You’re saying cats aren’t into fashion? I’m not sure I agree. Just last week I caught this one flipping through In Style magazine.” Rina studied the petite calico sitting on her grooming table. The calico stared back, her expression slightly defiant, as if daring Rina to try polish.

Rina held in a grin. Her plan was to put festive collars on the cats but she loved making Kaitlyn laugh.

The girl chuckled. “Cats can’t read.”

“You don’t actually know that.”

“Dad says they can’t.”

“Oh, well. Sure. Take the word of a veterinarian over me.” Rina gave a heavy sigh.

Kaitlyn stepped around the grooming table and hugged Carina tightly. “We’ll do all the dogs’ nails. I promise. I’ll even help. We want them to look their best.”

“Me too.”

As much as Rina hated to admit it, cute pets got adopted faster. And as the person in charge of the Fool’s Gold Holiday Pet Adoption, she intended to make sure every single animal looking for a home put his or her best foot forward. Or paw or claw or fin. Not that she would be doing anything to groom the fish. Although she was putting little fish-friendly Christmas trees in the tanks.

Her normally tidy grooming space was currently overflowing with cat collars and doggie bandanas in holiday prints. Over the next two weeks, she would be bathing, brushing and clipping until all the pets up for adoption gleamed.

She glanced at the clock on the wall. “We’d better get you home, munchkin.”

Kaitlyn looked up at her, her green eyes as dark and beautiful as her father’s. “It’s Friday.”

“I heard that this morning on the news.”

The girl’s mouth turned up at the corner. “You know what that means.”

“That tomorrow’s Saturday?”


“Oh, right. I was thinking of something different for dinner.”


“Maybe liver.”

Kaitlyn made a gagging sound.


Kaitlyn clutched her stomach. “I’m going to throw up.”

“Swamp soup?”

Giggling, Kaitlyn ran out of the room.

Rina picked up the cat and stroked her. “What do you think about swamp soup?”

The cat purred.

Fifteen minutes later Rina had finished cleaning off her table and washing her brushes. She collected her backpack and walked toward the break room. One of the veterinary assistants stopped her.

“You have to say something,” Jesse told her.



“Did I just say no? I’m sure I heard myself say no.”

Jesse, a pretty blonde whom Rina had known since they were both zygotes, raised her eyebrows.

Rina glanced around to make sure they were alone. Even so, she lowered her voice. “I can’t.”

“You have to. It’s been a year, Rina. This is insane. It’s the holidays.”

“I’m not sure what the time of year has to do with anything.”

Jesse sighed. “It’s when you want to be with the people you love. You love Cameron. Tell him.”

Rina winced. “Don’t say that,” she whispered as forcefully as she could. “Not here. Someone might hear you.”

“It’s Friday afternoon. Everyone is gone but us. Cameron’s out at the Castle Ranch, checking on one of the goats there.” Her friend moved closer and, Carina noticed thankfully, lowered her voice. “You’re my best friend and I totally support whatever you decide, but I also know it’s time to tell you that you’re acting like an idiot.”

“You’ve told me that every day for six months. It’s hardly a news flash.”

“Then do something. If not now, when? Are you going to waste another year being in love with a man who has no idea how you feel?”

Rina opened her mouth, then closed it. She wanted nothing more than to confess her feelings to the man she loved.

She could still remember the first time she’d seen Cameron McKenzie, DVM. He’d bought the practice from the retiring veterinarian with a promise that all the staff would stay. That included her, the practice’s resident groomer. He’d requested everyone meet with him on a Saturday afternoon. She’d walked into the building, not sure what to expect. He’d turned, smiled, and she’d been lost.

Seriously, there’d practically been a swell of music and cartoon animals putting ribbons and flowers in her hair.

She wasn’t sure what it was about Cameron that got to her. The wavy dark hair and deep green eyes were only the beginnings of his good looks. Still, her feelings weren’t all about how handsome he was. It was the way he cared about his work and how he treated his staff. But if she