I pulled up to the new wrought iron gates that read SERENITY FARMS and entered the gate code. Someone was pouring money into this enterprise lately. I could count on one hand how many ranch calls I’d made to this property before the current owners had taken over, and now there was a new name, a renovated and expanded main house, and a new entry gate.
I parked on the north side of the barn. Today was going to kick my ass. This was the first of five calls on my schedule, and I had four artificial inseminations to perform at this stop before I even started for Bar S on the other side of the valley. I’d been overscheduling myself lately, welcoming exhaustion at the end of the day. It gave me less time to think.
“Hey, Cole.” Jorge, the barn manager, came around the corner as I lifted the cover on the back of my truck.
The screech of the cover’s hydraulics tormented my heightened werewolf senses. At least I wouldn’t have to deal with the squeaks much longer. Last week I’d started shopping for a new utility truck. I’d been a veterinarian for ten years now, and I always measured time by my trucks. This was year five on my second truck; it was time for a change.
“Hi, Jorge.” I took out my stainless steel bucket and set it on the ground before retrieving the sterilized tools I’d need for the cattle. “Kelly told you I was coming, right?”
“Not exactly. Kelly’s not here anymore.”
I frowned, looking over my shoulder at him. “Did she quit?”
Jorge was in his fifties, with more salt than pepper in his hair and lines around his dark eyes that were a testament to many years of wide smiles. I’d worked with him on this ranch since I’d first opened the large-animal clinic at my vet hospital.
“I don’t know.” He lowered his voice. “They hired a new office manager. Some kind of marketing lady.”
I raised a brow and leaned against the bumper of the truck. “Wow. I hadn’t heard.” I glanced at the barn. “Should I come back another day?”
“No.” Jorge shook his head, a smile brightening his face. “I can tell Madison you’re here. Who are you here to see?”
I took out my phone checking the notes for the ranch visit. “I have Hazel, Gloria, Betty, and Georgia on the ovulation list.”
Artificial insemination was more expensive than traditional husbandry, but it was also safer for the bulls and the cows, and using the frozen semen meant more cows could be inseminated in one day. For a working ranch looking to expand their heard, it was worth the extra cost.
I prepared the syringes and tubing as footsteps approached from the main building. The breeze carried a human scent. Definitely female. There was a trace of soap and shampoo, but it blended into something bright, like sunshine in the morning.
Peering back over my shoulder, a blond woman headed my way. Her hair was in a ponytail, and while her jeans weren’t tight, they were form-fitting enough to reveal her curves. She had on a black T-shirt, and her smile told me she had no idea why I was there.
She shielded her eyes from the sun and peered from my truck, back to me. “You must be the vet.”
I nodded, straightening up with my hands full of gear. “I’m Dr. Vega. And you are?”
“I’m Madison. I’m the new ranch-slash-marketing manager.”
I cocked a brow at her title. “Do cattle need a marketing manager?”
“The ranch does.” She chuckled. “They’re expanding their business. That’s where I come in.”
Her bright-blue eyes sparkled. She probably thought she was keeping it light, but for a werewolf like me, emotions carried a scent all their own, and judging by the spicy musk of determination coming off her, this was a driven woman who had mastered the ability to project a carefree smile all while plotting new ways to expand her reach. Interesting.
I tipped my head toward the barn. “I’ve got to get ready while Jorge is collecting the cows. You’re welcome to come with me.”
She didn’t hesitate to follow me. “I wanted to check with you about your usual farm visits. I’ve got a new scheduling system set up on the cloud so I’ll get you a login and then we can all access the calendar and see your appointments and itinerary for the visits.”
I laid everything on the concrete slab beside the squeeze chute, which protected both me and the cows during the insemination process. When I turned around, she was close enough for me to see the light dusting of freckles across her nose. A strand of her hair had fallen loose of the ponytail, draping down her neck and resting on her chest.
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