Man's Best Friend (The Dogmothers #5) - Roxanne St. Claire Page 0,1

who can spell but can’t drive in reverse, and the man…” I am dying to kiss. “Who can now legally purchase this stuff so we won’t have to steal your Gramma Finnie’s stash.” She tapped her Dixie cup to his. “Happy twenty-first, Dec.”

He pinned those chocolate eyes on her and never looked away while they knocked back their shots, which made her choke on the whiskey burn.

“There’s my little lightweight.”

She managed to get the liquor down her throat. “Shut up. You were raised on this juice.”

He poured two more shots, but hers barely covered the bottom of the cup. Of course he didn’t want her to get hammered up here on their annual birthday camp-out. Declan was always looking after her. “My turn, birthday girl?”

She shuddered as the whiskey hit her belly. “Your turn.” She lifted her cup. “Hit me with your best toast, baby.”

He cleared his throat and looked into her eyes again and, once more, she was gooey right down to her toes. How did this happen? When did every thought about Declan go from whether they’d play a game of pickup basketball to whether they’d…make out?

“Okay…” He made a face. “I’m trying to think of a worthy pun.”

“I know it’s a challenge for you.” She winked at him. “But you try, and I love that.”

“Here’s to Evie…as intoxicating as this whiskey.”

“Not bad.” She dipped closer. “A for effort and the nicely buried compliment.”

“Right?” He lifted the drink. “Okay, let’s go with, here’s to the girl who proved to Bitter Bark High that you can be hot and make an endless stream of bad jokes.”

“You think I’m hot?” Nothing buried about that compliment.

He just snorted as if the question was too dumb to answer. “I raise my glass to the future Doctor—”

“If you say Dolittle, I’m gonna pour this over your head.”

“Doctor Evangeline Hewitt, destined to become a world-class veterinary neurologist.”

“Oh.” The seriousness of the toast surprised her, but not the pride in his voice. He always sounded like that when he talked about her dream career. “As soon as I finish ten more years of vet school, specialty training, rotations and residencies, and certification.”

“Which you have mapped out like the ambitious creature you are. Anyway, it’ll be worth it, Evie. I’ll just be a small-town firefighter—”

“Pffft. By the time I finish school and training, you’ll be captain, like your dad is.” She lifted her brows. “And then on to the pinnacle, Chief Mahoney.”

“And you’ll be a literal brain surgeon.”

“Animal brain surgeon.”

“No less amazing.” He lowered his cup a bit. “You, Evie, are amazing.”

“Aww. Is that your toast? To my amazingness?”

“Yes. To your unparalleled amazingness.” He touched his cup to hers. “And the hope that this is the year…” She saw him swallow and then inhale slowly. “That we’re not friends anymore.”

Her hand froze on the way to her lips. “Oh. That’s not a joke.”

“No, it is not.”

So this was it. Tonight. “I’ll drink to that.”

He smoked her with a look that was somehow sexy and suggestive without having to say a word before tossing back his shot.

She took a tiny sip that did little more than wet her lips. She didn’t need it. She was drunk on possibilities. “It’s been different this summer,” she said on a whisper.

“Yeah, it has.”

Ever since she’d returned to Bitter Bark at the end of her junior year at NC State, their friendship had intensified to something new and physical and humming with tension.

Casual touches had been more frequent. Hugs goodbye had lasted longer. Their conversations, always honest, had gotten deep and thoughtful and adult, especially when they talked about why neither of them was in a relationship. And this afternoon while they were swimming in the lake? All that unnecessary and electrifying body contact had only made this freakishly hot August day even hotter.

In fact, it seemed like the whole summer had been leading up to this, their annual birthday camping trip when they’d be alone all night, with no friends, families, or parents expecting them home before sunrise. Tonight, no one even knew where they were.

Her head buzzed with a mix of anticipation and desire and maybe a little of Gramma Finnie’s Jameson’s, making her fall back on the rough blanket, still warm after the sweltering day.

“How many times do you think we’ve come up to this lake on our birthday?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. First time, we were really young. Maybe when I turned twelve and you were eleven? You came with my family when my brothers and