Getting kicked in the stomach by a gazelle was never pleasant, but at one thirty in the morning, it was especially hard to take. Carol Lund glared at Bronwen and the gazelle glared right back.
"You don't get to have attitude, young lady," Carol told her. "I'm not the one who insisted on going out by the rocks. I'm not the one who got scraped up, yet here I am, in the middle of the night, checking on your leg to make sure you don't have an infection."
Bronwen was notably unimpressed by Carol's presence and dedication. She stomped her front hooves and turned away.
"You say that now," Carol grumbled. "But just wait until feeding time. Suddenly I'm your best friend. You're incredibly fickle."
Carol packed up her supplies. Bronwen's leg seemed to be healing nicely. With luck she wouldn't require a second night's visit tomorrow and Carol could catch up on the sleep she was missing.
She left the gazelle barn and started for her Jeep. The night was clear and cool and there were a million stars in the sky. While Carol would have preferred that Bronwen hadn't been injured and that they'd both been able to sleep through the night, she had to admit that staring at the perfect sky was a very cool compensation. If she didn't look at the horizon, or try to pick out individual constellations, she could be anywhere in the world—literally. Because the night sky was a constant.
Oh, sure, there were differences between the hemispheres and at certain times of the year, but still...stars!
She climbed into her Jeep and drove toward her small bungalow, then pulled onto the shoulder before she got there and cut the engine and lights. She got out of the Jeep, sank down onto the ground and gave herself over to the nighttime view.
It was October in the desert which meant warm days and pleasant nights. Rain was an unlikely possibility—that was more a spring-summer thing. The closest town was Happily Inc and it wasn't all that huge, so it wasn't hard to get away from the streetlights and into true darkness. Here, on the road, she was flanked by the mountains and the golf course, with the rolling hills of the Happily Inc Animal Preserve just behind her. And the stars.
She draped her jacket on the ground so she could lie down and get the best view of the wonder overhead. She had no idea how long she'd been lying there when a pair of headlights cut through the darkness and briefly illuminated her.
Carol sat up as a swoopy midnight blue Mercedes sedan pulled in behind her Jeep.
Of all the gin joints in all the world, she thought. She watched a tall, dark-haired man step out of his car and walk toward her. It had to be after two in the morning, yet Mathias Mitchell looked more alert than sleepy. No doubt the lingering effects of the hunt, takedown and getting laid.
He stopped a few feet from her. It was too dark for her to read his expression, but if she had to guess, she would say he was amused. Mathias seemed to find the world a delightful place. She supposed given who he was, with his combination of good looks, easy charm and career success, there was no reason he should think otherwise. To mix metaphors and clichés, the world was his oyster and Mathias dined well.
She, on the other hand, was simply a woman with looks and a personality as ordinary as her name.
"Lose a contact lens?" he asked drily.
"Bronwen hurt herself, so I had to go check on her. On my way back, I stopped to look at the stars."
He sank down next to her and raised his gaze to the sky. "Why not wait until you got home?"
"This is the best view in the area."
"Because you've tried them all?" He sighed. "You're an odd woman, Carol Lund. Who's Bronwen? One of the zebras?"
"Fancy name for a cow."
Carol felt her lips twitch and was grateful he couldn't see her trying not to smile. The conversation was familiar. Unlike most of the citizens of Happily Inc, Mathias had no romantic notions about the animals grazing just outside of town. "Gazelles aren't cows."