Gunnar Hansen cursed silently as the phone in his rear pocket vibrated furiously. He’d lost count of how many times it had gone off in the last thirty minutes. Too many damn times. Shaking his head, he turned back to the new mare he’d spent the afternoon training.
As far as he was concerned, this day could go to hell.
The phone rang again. “What?” he barked, not bothering to check the ID. It didn’t matter who it was, anyone bothering to call was bound to be pissed.
The mare tensed, flicking her ears, and he patted her neck absently as Dottie Grace’s voice crackled through the speaker. “Calm down, calm down. Take a big ole breath and untwist your britches, for a second, will you?”
Gunnar took a steadying breath. It wouldn’t do to piss her off more than he already had. She’d covered for him more than enough over the last few months. “I know, I know. I’m sorry. Day got shot to hell when the farrier’s truck broke down outside of Ottawa. I swear I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Dottie chuckled. “It’s always something with you lately, Gunnar. Makes me think you’re not interested in being head of the clinic board.”
“No, no.” Gunnar shook his head. “That’s not it at all.” Okay, maybe it was a little bit, but he wasn’t about to shirk his family responsibility. After all, he was the oldest Hansen, and resigning from the board would break his cousin Maddie’s heart. With no family and no wife, he was the logical choice, the only choice. Everyone else was caught up in Prairie’s mini baby boom. Maddie and his sister, Hope, were both pregnant, and his little brother was happily settled in Oklahoma, also with a new baby. He grimaced inwardly. Being alone at thirty-two hadn’t been his choice, but after what happened last time, he wasn’t about to go down the marriage and baby road again. No, sirree. He’d grow old running Hansen Stables and the Warren G. Hansen Memorial Clinic Board, and that would be that. Let him play the fun uncle to his nieces and nephews.
Gunnar ran a hand through his sweat-slicked hair, fighting exhaustion. His plate might be overfull, but he’d manage. “I’m happy to run the board, Dottie. I wouldn’t let you down like that. I’m sorry it’s been crazy lately.”
Dottie harrumphed. “And don’t you dare come runnin’ in, stinking to high heaven like you did at the last board meeting. We know you’re busy, but for God’s sake, we don’t want to scare off Dr. Winslow. She only just got here. She’s a pretty thing, too,” Dottie said after a pause.
“Oh no,” Gunnar protested, clenching his jaw. “You and your posse of granny wannabes need to let up. Not interested. Especially when Dr. Winslow reports to the head of the board.”
Dottie clucked. “We both know small towns work differently. Besides you have an entire board to keep you in check.”
“And you know there are plenty of babies in this town on the way already. Without me.” He emphasized the last two words in case Dottie misunderstood. Not that she would. The woman didn’t miss a thing.
“Can you be here in an hour? I’m not waiting any longer to put out the pies.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
It took the better part of an hour to get Sugar groomed and settled, adding to Gunnar’s already sour mood. He couldn’t help that the mare was naturally high-strung, and still skittish of her new surroundings. All he could do was stay calm and give her as much time as she needed to settle. If the board couldn’t understand that, then f**k ’em. He wasn’t going to traumatize a good animal for a party. If he had to make his apologies to the good doctor after the fact, then he’d do that. She was going to have to learn how country time worked anyway.
As he cleaned up, Gunnar’s thoughts turned to Dottie’s remarks. So the new Dr. Winslow was a looker? She’d have no shortage of would-be boyfriends, then. In fact, he grinned tightly, if she fell in love with a local and got married, then she’d certainly stay beyond her five-year commitment. All the better for the town’s investment. Let someone pursue her, so long as it wasn’t him. Until Hansen Stables financial picture was more secure, he had his hands full at home.
On the dresser, Gunnar’s phone vibrated. He grabbed it, glancing down.
Ma: Are you coming?!? Dessert is almost over.
G: Tell Dottie I’m on my way… I swear.
Ma: The new Dr. is very nice :)
Great. Not her too. She wanted grandbabies so desperately. Especially now that his father was slowing down. It didn’t matter that one granddaughter was only a few hours away, or that Hope was expecting. It was like some kind of a contest with the older women in town. “She who has the most grandchildren wins,” he muttered, jamming the phone in his back pocket and slamming the door behind him.
The tires squealed as they made contact with the pavement. If he pushed his speed, he could get to the diner in under fifteen minutes. As long as he didn’t get stuck behind a tractor. This time of year, anything was possible. He sped along the main road leading to Prairie’s Main Street, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and rehearsing his apology speech to the new doctor. Now that he was on his way, guilt settled in his belly. He’d dodged Dottie’s questions for months about why he’d blown off the search process for a town doctor. Why he’d been uninterested from the get-go, and willing to let the board do whatever they saw fit. He trusted them implicitly – at least that had been his line with Dottie, who gave him the stink-eye every time he waved her off, saying it was more important for the board to have ownership of the process.
What a load of horse s**t.
Dottie knew it too, but she’d never figured out why. He’d played those cards too close to the vest. The only one in town who knew the truth was his cousin, Parker, who’d kindly kept his mouth shut about the real reason Gunnar had taken a hands-off approach to the whole thing.