Page 14 of Tripping on a Halo

I don’t think he’s going to die. Not the most reassuring guy on the planet.

“If you can afford it, I’d like to keep him here overnight, possibly until Monday.”

“I can afford it.” I straightened. “Just…” I waved my hands in the air. “Stomach transplant, whatever. I just need him to be okay.”

He laughed. “An overnight stay or two, and he should be good as new.” He eyed me. “Just no more rhubarb.”

I nodded, crossing myself. “None. Ever. I swear.”

“And once we’re through this, I’d like to sit down with you and discuss a better diet for him, assuming that you’re interested in prolonging his life as long as possible.”

“Yes!” I crouched beside the table and looked into Mr. Oinks eyes. They drooped slightly and I leaned forward, kissing him on the forehead. “I’ll take notes and everything. Organic diet, low-carb, keto-happy, whatever.”

Dr. Diablo smiled, stepping back and opening the door to the lobby. “Just make sure that Emily up front has all of your information. We’ll give you a call in a few hours and let you know how he’s doing.”

“Okay.” I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around Mr. Oinks, pulling him carefully into my chest. “I love you,” I whispered. “Be good.”

He didn’t respond. Not that I expected a “Sure, Mom, see you later!” or anything, but his lack of movement, that heart still pounding in his chubby chest… I felt sick myself.

“I’ll take good care of him.” The vet smiled at me, and it was a nice one. His grin was a little crooked on one side, like that cocky kind where the guy knew that he was hot, and knew that you realized he was hot, and maybe, if you played your cards right, then he’d kiss you? That kind of smile. It’d been a while since I’d gotten that kind of smile.

I nodded, thanking him again, and headed for the door. As I passed him, my shoulder brushed against his coat and I felt, through the rhubarb fear and the guilt, what just might have been a spark.

9

“Get up.” Declan reached down and poked at Nate’s chest. He didn’t react, and Declan straightened, moving through the living room and collecting empty beer bottles. “NATE,” he repeated. Moving to the kitchen, he dumped the bottles in the recycle bin, grimacing at the reminder of Autumn Jones’s trash theft. Picking up the can, he carried it into the living room, tossing more empty bottles in, each hitting the others with a loud crack of glass.

A loud curse came from the couch. “Could you be any louder?” Nate rolled over, pulling the cracked leather couch cushion across his face.

“It’s noon.” Declan tossed the final bottle in. “Get your lazy ass up.”

“Shit.” Nate moved the cushion off his head and squinted up at him. “How long have you been up?”

“A couple of hours.” Long enough to hit the hardware store and grab a set of outdoor cameras. He’d pulled his ladder from the garage and mounted them at the corners of the house, both aimed at his trash cans. He’d also picked up a few window sensors and armed each ground-level window. If and when Autumn Jones came back, she’d have to fly in on a hoverboard through the chimney, or else he’d know it.

Nate slowly sat up and pressed on his forehead with the palm of one hand. “Shit, my head is killing me.”

“Yeah.” Declan looked down at the trash. “Best I can tell, you finished off another four beers after I went to bed.”

“One of those fucking housewives shows came on. I needed the alcohol to cope.”

Declan grinned. “Sure.” Nate had likely binged on episodes until dawn then passed out. “You know, you can just change the channel. Or turn off the TV.”

“Yeah, but then I would miss all the catfights.” He stood up slowly, then carefully made his way to the kitchen. He opened the cabinet above the microwave and grabbed the bottle of Tylenol, popping it open and shaking out a handful of pills. “You already eat?”

“I was going to head over to MoMo’s now. Figured you’d be hungry.”

He grunted in agreement, grabbing a glass and filling it with water from the tap. “Hell yes.”

Declan returned the Tylenol to the cabinet. “Let’s take your Jeep. I want to keep a car in the drive, just in case.” In case she came back. What a stupid thing to have to think about. Cameras. Keeping his blinds closed. Protecting his house. It was all probably overkill. But last night … the more he’d thought about his missing trash, the more his feelings about her had changed. She went from being a harmless, almost entertaining annoyance, to something more ominous. Creepy.

He mused over the feeling as they drove, Nate’s attention focused on checking out college girls and finding a parking spot near the popular pizza spot. Once they ordered at the counter and found a table, Declan broached the subject.

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