New York Times Bestselling Author

She thought secrets would tear them apart; instead, they brought them together.

Khloe Moore has secrets. She came to Fallport, Virginia, under false pretenses, only intending to stay for a short while. Over a year later, she’s found the town has everything she’s ever wanted, including friends, a supportive community, and a boss she kinda wants to smack—sometimes with her lips, sometimes with her hand. But when Raiden’s beloved dog is in serious medical danger, all of Khloe’s secrets come spilling out when she risks her privacy to save him.

Since leaving the Coast Guard, Raiden Walker has lived a quiet life as the town librarian. But he has secrets of his own. Horrors from his last mission in the military. Torments he endured as a kid. What he does in his basement every Friday night… It’s easier to keep his head down and avoid tight connections, even with the men he spends time with on the Eagle Point Search and Rescue team. His four-legged search partner is his best friend. And when his bloodhound’s life is in peril, the last person he expects to save him is Raid’s equally standoffish library employee.

Khloe and Raiden never thought they’d find the one thing they’d always longed for in each other—a loving partner. They’d sniped at one other for so long, once they stopped trying to hide their true selves, they were blindsided by their connection.

Settling into their newfound relationship is exciting…but hardly smooth sailing. Both have skeletons in their closets that aren’t content to stay put. On top of that, a member of their community is doing his best to discredit them both. They’ll have to fight to build a life together in the small town they consider home. And it will take each and every one of their friends—people only too happy to accept them exactly as they are—to ensure they get their happy ending.
***Bad things happened to our hero in the past, and even worse, to his loyal canine coworker, so please be aware before reading. Justifiably, something equally horrible happens to his enemy. Which might technically require a warning, but...we think you'll agree that anyone who harms animals deserves to suffer. 

Searching for Khloe

May 7, 2024

Chapter One

Raiden Walker stared in disbelief at the woman who’d upended his life. This wasn’t the same woman he’d hired to work with him at the Fallport Public Library. She was a completely different person. If it wasn’t his dog, his beloved Duke, whose life was in danger, he probably would’ve pulled Khloe Moore aside right then and insisted she tell him who the hell she really was.

But as Duke’s life was in danger, and Khloe was currently doing everything in her power to save him, Raid stood back and observed.

Thirty minutes ago, she’d burst into his office at the library and told him to call Simon, Fallport’s police chief, and Doc Snow. Then she’d driven like a bat out of hell to the only vet clinic in town. Doctor Ziegler, the veterinarian, was out of town, but that hadn’t slowed Khloe down.

She’d wanted the police chief there so she didn’t get in trouble for breaking into the vet clinic, and apparently Doc Snow was there to assist her in surgery.

Duke had bloated. Gastric Dilation Volvulus, GDV, was when the stomach of a dog, usually a deep-chested breed like a bloodhound, twists either a hundred and eighty degrees, all the way around, or somewhere in between. Once twisted, the stomach fills with fluid and gas and expands. Because of the twist, the dog can’t vomit, as the entrance to the stomach is blocked, and nothing can leave the stomach via the intestines either. Blood vessels can rupture and lead to hemorrhage. The huge stomach pushes on the diaphragm, making it hard for the dog to breathe.

Raid also heard Khloe explaining to Doc Snow that the stomach can also put pressure on the caudal vena cava, a large vein that transports blood to the heart, which can throw the animal into shock.

Raiden knew the longer the stomach was twisted, the more damage was done. If it wasn’t repaired, the stomach tissue would die and rupture, leading to death. The thought of losing Duke was unimaginable.

Yes, Raid knew the time would come when his faithful companion would die, but he’d thought that would be years in the future. He wasn’t ready to lose another dog before his time.

Blocking out memories of another time, and another dog, Raiden forced himself to concentrate on the here and now.

“Raid! I need you over here,” Khloe barked out.

He’d been standing back, giving Khloe room to work. But at her order, he rushed over to where she was standing next to a tall table. Duke was lying on his side, panting, looking completely miserable.

“I need you to keep him calm while I perform a trocarization. He’ll relax more if you’re touching him and talking to him.”

Raid had no idea what a trocarization was, but he didn’t argue. He immediately went to Duke’s head and squatted down so he was eye-to-eye with the bloodhound. “Hey, buddy. You’re okay. I know it hurts, but Khloe’s gonna make it better. Hang in there.”

He continued to speak gently to Duke while watching Khloe work. She quickly shaved a patch of hair from Duke’s leg then inserted a catheter. She’d broken into Doctor Ziegler’s drug cabinet earlier—under Simon’s watchful eye—and now she administered fentanyl and fluids to help Duke’s pain and keep him from going into shock. She then took a large-gauge needle and inserted it into Duke’s stomach to try to relieve the buildup of air.

As Raiden watched, Duke’s belly visibly shrunk. Khloe breathed out a sigh of relief, then lifted her gaze to meet his.

“He’s not out of the woods. I need to do surgery.”

Raid nodded without hesitation. As he stared into Khloe’s hazel eyes, he saw nothing but confidence in her own abilities. She was stressed, and the concern for Duke was there too, but it was the assurance that she had this crisis handled that made Raid relax a fraction. “Okay,” he said simply.

Khloe stared at him for a beat before asking, “You aren’t going to ask me about my credentials?”

“Can you save him?” Raid asked.


“Then no, I’m not going to ask any useless questions that would take time away from you doing what needs to be done to save my dog’s life. You obviously know what you’re doing. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have a talk later.”

Khloe winced, but nodded.

Raid’s admiration for the woman went up several notches. He and Khloe had a complicated relationship. She was the most frustrating woman he’d ever met. Just when Raiden thought he was getting to know her, she’d do or say something that would have him questioning everything he thought he knew. He also regularly found himself sniping at her and being twice as hard on her than he would anyone else.

The truth was…she got under his skin more than any woman ever had. He wanted her to talk to him. Tell him what was bothering her, because it was obvious she had some serious weight on her shoulders. But from the moment they met, she’d refused to let him deepen their friendship. Insisted on keeping him at arm’s length.

This was his first glimpse of what he instinctively knew was the real Khloe…and Raid had to admit that he liked it. She was strong and confident here in this world. It was no wonder she’d never seemed fully comfortable working at the library. She was used to interacting with animals, not humans.

All the times he’d seen her with Duke, and the kittens she’d rescued, and every other animal she’d come across, made a lot more sense now.

Yeah, he and Khloe needed to sit down and have a heart to heart…but first she needed to save Duke’s life.

A commotion at the door made Raid stiffen, and he stood and took a step to the side, putting himself between Khloe and whoever was trying to get past Simon and enter the small operating room.

It was instinctive. Wanting to protect Khloe from anyone and anything that might want to hurt her. But typical of the woman he’d gotten to know over the last few months, she wasn’t having any of that. She brushed past him and went to the door.

“I’m sorry, Khloe, she insisted on speaking with you,” Simon said apologetically as he pushed open the door.

“My name’s Afton. I’m a vet tech here,” the woman explained. She was around five-eight or so, had her black hair up in a bun and off her face and was wearing a pair of light blue scrubs. “I help Doctor Ziegler with surgeries. I live across the street, so it’s my job to check on the animals who stay overnight after procedures. I knew he was supposed to be gone for another few days, so when I saw all the cars over here, I had to come see what was going on.” She paused when her eyes fell on the exam table. “Oh no—is that Duke? What’s wrong? Can I help?”

Khloe eyed the woman for a long moment. “Yes, he’s got a GDV.”

“Crap! Was it caught soon enough?” she asked.

“Yes, although I need to get this surgery started if I’m going to save him.”

The vet tech straightened. “Let me help.”

“Yeah, let her help,” Doc Snow echoed. “My specialty is humans, not dogs.”

Khloe glanced at him. “I’m sure you’ll be fine,” she told him, then faced Afton once again. “Ziegler’s gonna be pissed that I broke in. If you stay and help me, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found yourself without a job.”

Afton shrugged. “He’s a jerk,” she said firmly. “I’ve already been trying to find something else. He’s technically good at what he does, but he has absolutely no compassion for the animals he treats. He’s more interested in how much money he can make than actually caring for the pets. I mean, case in point—he closed down the office for two weeks to go on one of those canned hunts. You know, where a bear or moose or something is penned into an area and hunted down by tourists? It’s disgusting, yet he was so excited to go. He didn’t even try to get anyone in to cover his business either. When I asked what the residents were supposed do if there was an emergency with their pets while he was gone, he shrugged and said they’d have to go to the emergency vet in Christiansburg.”

Khloe scowled. “I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not. If you want to stay and help, I’d appreciate it. But I’ll also understand if you turn around and leave and we can both pretend you weren’t here and know nothing.”

“I’ll go get gowned up,” Afton said, turning and rushing down the hall.

Khloe returned to Duke. Raid saw the bloodhound’s eyes were partially closed. The painkillers had done their thing, and that, along with the release of pressure in his belly, clearly had him feeling drowsy.

“You can go out and hang with Simon now,” Khloe told him.

“I’m staying.”

“No, you aren’t,” Khloe countered. “Look, I know you’re worried, but I’ve got this. It’s better if you don’t see this part. I’ll call you back in when I’m done. You can be there while he’s recovering.”

Raid wanted to protest. But the steely determination in Khloe’s eyes made it clear he wasn’t going to get his way. Besides…he trusted her.

He was about to agree, but his hesitation must’ve made her assume he would protest.

“I know this is confusing for you, and I’m sorry. I have my reasons for why I haven’t said anything about being a vet. But I’m qualified. I’ve kept my license current and stayed up to date on new procedures and done my continuing education requirements. I’ve never lost a dog to bloat, and I’m not going to start now.”

“I trust you.” Raid might be confused about why Khloe was in Fallport, and why she was a librarian’s assistant instead of a veterinarian, but he had the utmost confidence that she’d do everything she could to help Duke. Hell, if it wasn’t for her, it probably would’ve been several hours before Raiden even noticed something was wrong. And then he would’ve had to drive to the closest emergency vet, which would’ve wasted more valuable time.

His words must’ve surprised Khloe, because he saw her visible reaction. She blinked rapidly and inhaled sharply. “Thanks,” she said.

“I’ll make sure no one disturbs you while you’re operating,” he told her. “If you need anything, anything at all, just let me know and I’ll get it for you.”

“I think I’ll be good. Now that Afton is here to help me find stuff when I need it, we should be fine. But I have to warn you, Raymond really isn’t going to like that I broke into his clinic.”

“No shit,” Raid said. “We can worry about that after Duke’s on the mend.”

She nodded. “Right. I need to go scrub up.”

Raiden couldn’t stop himself from stepping toward Khloe. She stood her ground and didn’t back away. He reached a hand out and wrapped it around the back of her neck. He was almost a foot and a half taller than the fascinating woman in front of him, her head coming only to his chest. He stared down at her for a beat…then did what he’d dreamed about for months.

He leaned down and kissed her.

It was a short kiss. Merely a brushing of his lips against hers. But even that small contact sent lightning bolts shooting down his extremities, making his toes and fingers tingle.

Khloe stared up at him with wide eyes. Her light brown hair was pulled back in a low bun at the base of her neck and he could feel the soft strands against his fingers. Her hand came up to grip his forearm as she blinked slowly. Probably wondering what the hell he thought he was doing, taking such liberties.

All his life, Raiden had felt like an outsider. He was too tall. His ears were too pointy. He was too nerdy. His red hair and pale skin stood out. Even when he was a member of the Coast Guard canine handler team, he didn’t fit in with his fellow handlers, despite being as skilled as anyone else.

It was extremely difficult to qualify to even be considered for the prestigious position, and Raid had worked his butt off to excel. The amount of trust a dog must have in his handler wasn’t something that could easily be achieved, and Raid found himself hating every second he had to put his dog in danger, even though it was what the dog was trained from birth to do.

There was only one teammate who’d seemed to connect with his own canine on the same level as Raid had with his…and they’d both paid a hefty price when those bonds were severed in the worst way possible.

Mentally shaking his head, not wanting to go down that road, Raiden dropped his hand from Khloe’s neck. There was no way a woman like her would want to be with him. He was too…weird. Too closed off. And they hadn’t exactly gotten along since he’d hired her. She’d made her own need for distance perfectly clear.

Taking a step back, Raiden forced himself to look away. He knew he was blushing. With his fair skin, there was no way to hide his embarrassment. He shouldn’t have kissed her. He wasn’t sorry for the kiss, and those few seconds his lips were against hers were already embedded deep in his brain. But he was sorry for doing anything that might change things between them.

Hell, who was he kidding. Khloe was an experienced veterinarian who now worked in a library and nearly always kept to herself. It seemed very obvious to Raid that she might’ve been hiding out in Fallport for some unknown reason. Now that her secret was out, she’d probably be leaving—which would definitely change things between them.

With all that in mind, Raid kind’ve hoped maybe in the chaos of what was happening, she’d forget about his ill-timed kiss.

He leaned over Duke and said, “Hang in there, buddy. I’ll see you when you wake up.” Then he nodded at Khloe and headed for the door.


* * *



Khloe stared at Raiden’s backside as he left the small operating room. She had things to do. A surgery to prep for. But all she could manage to do in that moment was try to control her heart rate and stare at the man she’d been doing her best to ignore for months.

Her life was complicated. Way too complicated to even think about starting any kind of relationship. Fallport had seemed like the perfect place to hide out when Alan Mather’s trial was pending. Except the longer she was there, the more she loved the small town…and the people in it.

She’d tried to keep her distance. Tried not to make friends. But that had been impossible around Lilly, Elsie, Bristol, Caryn, Finley, and now Heather. The women she’d met were all amazing in their own rights. Their personalities were so different, and yet when life had thrown them curve balls, they each stepped up to the plate and knocked that ball out of the park. They were strong, much stronger than Khloe.

When her life had gone to shit, she’d run. Hidden out.

Now that Alan’s trial was completed, and he was convicted, she could go anywhere. She had a storage facility full of stuff that she could unpack. But instead of getting on with her life, she’d hesitated. Being an assistant librarian at a small-town library wasn’t exactly what she’d spent all those years in school for, yet she hadn’t made even the smallest step toward getting her old life back.

Until now.

The cat was out of the bag, but Khloe wasn’t sorry. There was no way she could’ve let Duke die from the GDV, not knowing she could save him. But acting would have a high cost. Her friends would know she’d been lying to them all along. It was possible Alan would find out where she was…she knew he was waiting for the moment she started working as a vet again. Not to mention, Raymond Ziegler was going to be pissed that she’d broken into his clinic while he was gone.

Then there was Raiden. She had no idea how her actions would change their relationship. She’d expected him to be upset with her. Mad that she’d so obviously lied about who she was. But instead he seemed…curious. And he’d seemed to accept the fact that she’d been keeping secrets pretty damn easily. She had a feeling if Raid was truly angry with her, she’d have been able to sense it.

That kiss didn’t exactly say “I’m pissed at you.”

But still, nothing in life was easy. Khloe had learned that the hard way.

She’d have to pay the price for her lies after she saved Duke’s life. Raid had said they needed to talk, and she dreaded that prospect with everything in her. But if she had to make this decision again, she’d do the same thing. Duke didn’t deserve to die. Not when she could save him. Besides, Fallport needed the hound dog. He’d found more than his fair share of missing people over the years. Yes, Raiden could train a new dog, but in the meantime, how many people would suffer without Duke’s nose to find them?

Khloe stared through the small window through the door as Raiden spoke with Simon. She was glad for the police chief’s presence. It didn’t change the fact that she’d broken the law. Raymond would certainly want to press charges for breaking and entering, along with anything else he could think of, but having Simon there, and essentially getting his approval to do what she’d done, went a long way toward assuring her those charges probably wouldn’t stick.

The conversation she was observing seemed serious, if the scowl on Raid’s face was anything to go by. He wasn’t a classily good-looking man. His red hair and beard made him stand out among his friends, but she secretly liked it. He was taller than any man she’d ever considered dating before. At five-four, she was nearly a foot and a half shorter than Raid. He literally towered over her. She’d overheard one of the other women saying he was six-eight. He stood head and shoulders above everyone he met, but she could tell he didn’t like standing out and didn’t have much self-confidence…which was ridiculous to her.

Who cared that he was tall? Who cared that his ears stuck out a little bit? He was definitely in shape; tromping around the woods after Duke guaranteed that. She’d actually seen him with his shirt off once, and that glimpse of his perfect six-pack and those V-muscles that pointed down to his crotch were forever emblazoned on her brain.

But more important than his physical looks, Raid was gentle with kids and animals alike, would do anything for his friends…and Khloe melted a little inside when she caught him with his shoes off in his office, petting Duke with his sock-clad feet when he thought he was alone.

The more time Khloe spent around Raid, the more she liked him…and the more she tried to keep him at arm’s length.

Yes, she desperately wished she could confide in someone. But she’d never wanted to burden Raid, and all her friends had already been through enough. Alan Mather wouldn’t be in jail forever, and she had no doubt that when he got out, he’d come for her. There was no way he was just going to let her go on with her life peacefully.

It was better for everyone—her, her friends, Raiden—if she saved Duke’s life, then got the hell out of Fallport.

But that kiss…she had no idea why he’d kissed her or what it meant.

Now wasn’t the time to think about it. She had an animal to save.

Khloe turned her back on the door and walked over to the bloodhound. She checked his vitals and, once satisfied that he was stable, headed for the small scrub room off the operating room. Doc Snow and Afton were finishing up when she entered.

As she scrubbed her hands and arms, she went over in her head what the procedure would entail. She cared about all the animals she operated on, but Duke was different. He almost felt like hers, which was crazy since he most definitely wasn’t. It would hurt if she couldn’t save him. Not to mention, she knew how much it would devastate Raid if Duke passed away.

She hoped there wasn’t too much damage to the stomach, but was she fairly confident that she’d recognized the signs of bloat early enough that Duke would pull through. She needed to check on the spleen, and watch his heart rate, and if necessary, remove any dead parts of the stomach. Then she’d need to do a gastropexy—suture the stomach to the body wall to prevent it from rotating in the future.

Duke would have to be monitored carefully after surgery to watch for heart arrhythmias, stomach motility problems, pain, infection, aspiration pneumonia, and even multiple organ failure. Without vet techs, the monitoring of Duke would fall to her, but Khloe didn’t mind.

Taking a deep breath, she held her arms out in front of her as she turned to her assistants. “Ready?” she asked.

Afton came forward to help dry her hands with a sterile towel then put on a gown and gloves. Taking a deep breath, she led them back into the operating room. It was time to save a life.