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The small town of Severton doesn’t have many secrets. One of the few is exactly why Scott Maynard, bar owner and search and rescue hero, refuses to speak, acknowledge or even breathe the same air as Keren Leigh.
Keren has been Severton’s dentist for far too long and now she’s ready to move to the city, escaping the war with Scott and broadening her dating circle in the hope of a future that doesn’t just consist of evenings at home alone with a book, ancient pyjamas and a glass of wine.
All it takes is a one-night ceasefire for all of her plans and their decade-long feud to be stirred up. But they’re not the only ones to be shaken: Severton has acquired its own arsonist and other secrets are being exposed, leaving a completely different battle to be fought.
Warning: contains alpacas, retired ladies who make their own gin and have an eye for younger gentlemen plus an alternate use for a bath.
This steamy small town enemies to lovers romance is part of the Severton Search & Rescue series but can be read as a stand-alone.
- Enemies to lovers
- Surprise pregnancy
- Grumpy sunshine
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
“I know you wanted to finish on time, but there’s a patient who needed an emergency appointment.”
Bee Patel was Keren’s receptionist, a slender woman who had a great manner with patients, especially those who were nervous at seeing a dentist. However, she had a huge issue with saying no to anyone who said it was an emergency, which meant that Keren’s days were often extended. Not that she had much to rush home to.
“Just the one emergency tonight?” Keren raised a brow. On one occasion there had been three, so one wasn’t too bad.
“Just one. Broken tooth. I think he’s in some pain though,” Bee gave her a big smile, one with perfect teeth. “You want me to hang around to sort payment after you’ve done?”
Keren shook her head. There was no point both of them being late home. Between her and Kiefer - her dental nurse - they could manage. “You shoot. Isn’t it your son’s football match tonight?”
Bee nodded. “It is. And he’ll be wanting his lucky meal.” She rolled her eyes. “Ten-year-old boys. Who’d have them?”
I would, thought Keren. But now was not the time to dwell on what she didn’t have. Instead, she needed to think about what she did have, which was a patient in some discomfort in the waiting room. “Send him through. And wish Rak good luck from me.”
Sixty seconds later a familiar and unwelcome figure wandered through the door into her room.
Six foot three of obnoxious, brooding muscle. His expression was pained and his eyes told her that he most definitely did not want to be here, for more than one reason.
He hated her.
To the point of where he couldn’t actually manage to be civil in public and would argue with her over anything, Scott Maynard hated her and had done since she was eighteen and he was twenty-one. And she hadn’t a fucking clue why.
“Take a seat and tell me what the problem is,” she said, pulling every ounce of professional resolve into her demeanour. She would not be sarcastic; she would not be rude. She would be his dentist and ease whatever pain he was in. And she really wouldn’t try to cause him more discomfort even if it killed her.
He sat down, looking tense and uncomfortable. “I’ve broken a tooth. A molar.”
That was all she needed. No other communication would be necessary and as soon as she got his mouth open and her instruments in there, she wouldn’t have to listen to him speak.
“Open up and I’ll see what I can do.”
He did exactly what she’d asked, which she was pretty sure was a first for fourteen years. Keren leaned into him, inhaling the musky scent that she’d always associated with him. God help a man she had a relationship with who wore the same: he’d have to change it.
She shone the small torch into his mouth and saw the problem straight away. Broken molar. Split straight down the middle and it needed extracting and he needed pain relief because right now, it would be hurting like a fucker.
“How brave are you?” she said, removing her instruments.
“Are you fucking joking?” he growled.
She shook her head. “Scott, you do not need to fuck with me right now. You’re my patient and not the person I go to war with at least two nights a week. My job is to stop the pain and treat what’s happened. Got that?”
He glared at her, total dislike oozing from his eyeballs in her direction. “Got it.”
“Okay. You know your tooth’s broken. Looking at the state of it, I’d guess you’ve been having toothache for a while.”
“I thought it would get better on its own,” he said. “I hate dentists.” His words were loaded. He didn’t just hate dentists, she knew. He hated this particular one. Her.
She took a cleansing breath. “Pain in your mouth doesn’t get better on its own. And I get you probably didn’t want to see me, but then you need to change dentists. Oral health is really important.”
“Save the lecture, princess. How can you fix it?” His words tore through the otherwise quiet air.
Her patience began to wear. She’d had a long day. She had another long day tomorrow - and the day after that. And what was worse, was that the only thing she had to look forward to was a night out in Severton, probably at Scott’s bar, and her book. Maybe with a bath bomb and a soak beforehand.
“I can’t. That tooth is beyond repair. It’s going to need to come out. It’s infected. I’ll prescribe you antibiotics and when the infection’s gone, we’ll discuss whether you’re having a bridge or a dental implant.” She was totally beyond speaking to him kindly.
“What’s the difference and how do you know I have an infection?” he said.
She noticed that he did look apprehensive and she hadn’t told him the worst. He was going to hurt like a bitch for the next few days. “I’ll give you some information on the differences. And I can pretty much see the infection. I need to get the tooth out and clean it up.”
He gave her a brief nod. She wasn’t sure whether the pain was making it difficult for him to speak or whether he wasn’t speaking because it was her. And right now, she didn’t care.
“I’ll get you prepped.” She threw her gloves in the bin and left him in the room to find Kiefer and give him the good news that they had the world’s grumpiest patient in for at least the next forty minutes.
Stone was the best way she could describe how Scott handled himself while she extracted the two halves of the broken tooth. He’d winced slightly when she’d injected the anaesthetic, clutching onto the chair like it was a lifeline keeping him afloat and then he’d closed his eyes and let her get on with it without a single flinch.
Keren knew she was good at her job. She was gentle with her hands and confident; she would reassure her patients but would also be firm in terms of what needed to be done. And she was good with the kids. If she followed her dream, she would move to the city and specialise as a children’s dentist, even better, children with special needs. And it was a dream she was seriously considering because it looked like having her own children would be off the agenda.
Severton had a serious shortage of single, attractive men who were long-term prospects.
“We’ve done,” she said, hitting a pedal on the chair so it came upright. Scott was pale, his usual swarthy skin whiter than usual with the pain and anxiety. The procedure wasn’t nice; she appreciated that. “I want you to pop back in tomorrow morning so I can check how everything is. It doesn’t matter what time because I can see you between patients. It’s a two-minute check.”
He nodded, moving his jaw up and down, trying to get some relief after it had been in the same position for half an hour. “Tomorrow,” he reiterated. “Anything else?”
She stared at the floor. There was plenty else. Like why do you hate me? What did I do? Why can’t we be civil?
“You need a check-up and a scale and polish as maintenance. If I am the problem because you don’t want to see me, then there is another dentist starting here three days a week, so you can book in with him,” she said. “And if you have pain like I know you have been doing, you need to get it seen to. A week ago, I could’ve saved the tooth. Lecture over. There will be antibiotics waiting at the front desk.” She turned her back and listened to him leave her room, Kiefer explaining payment options although she knew Scott Maynard could afford to pay for everyone’s dental treatment this week and not blink an eye.
He was just another patient. And she needed to keep him tightly in that box.
An hour later Keren was slobbing out on her sofa, pyjamas on, dressing gown on and an almighty portion of special chow mein. She surfed between channels showing reality TV programs, although none grabbed her for more than a couple of minutes, and then she perused social media, catching up on other people’s lives because she clearly didn’t have one of her own.
She’d just finished the takeout when the doorbell rang, it’s twee chime enough to make her debate whether she could hide round the back of the sofa and her visitor would fuck off.
Then it rang again, this time accompanied with a not so gentle tap on the door. If she ignored it, she knew damn well that the tap would get louder, followed by shouting and then her neighbour would start to complain about that Maynard girl again. The same Maynard girl who had been tormenting Severton for thirty years, because Keren was pretty sure that Rayah Maynard had been born a tormentor.
“What?” Keren snapped as she answered the door, not caring that her dressing gown was open and the bunny print pyjamas were on full show. “Why are you here?”
Rayah was wearing what looked like a trench coat and holding a bottle of prosecco.
“Are you wearing slippers?” Keren said, staring down at her best friend’s feet.
“I might be,” Rayah said. “But at least I’m not wearing rabbit pyjamas. Jesus, how long have you had those? I swear I remember them at a sleepover when you were sixteen.”
Keren looked down at her PJ’s. “Yeah, same ones.”
“And they still fit?”
Keren looked down again. Her boobs were bigger and so was her butt. She had always been a curvy girl and she had no issue with that. It gave her an excuse to maintain those curves, like tonight.
“They still fit,” she said. “What’s on under the trench, Pervy?” She used the long standing nickname she had for Rayah as it summed her up completely.
“’Jamas,” Rayah said. “And I need to come in. They’re not winter ones.”
“Holy mother,” Keren’s eyes bugged at the trench coat. “Have you been flashing Severton again? The neighbours really will start to complain.”
“Not yet, but if you don’t let me in, my nipples are likely to become classified as illegal weapons.” Rayah raised the bottle and poked it towards Keren a couple of times. “And I want to drink.”
Rayah rolled her eyes. “Hard doesn’t quite sum it up. If teaching really was just teaching, then it’d be a damn sight easier. Nowhere on the job description does it say social worker or parental coach. How about you? I smell Chinese.” Rayah sniffed the air as she entered in a similar manner as Keren had seen dogs sniff another canine’s backside.
“My last patient was your cousin.” She headed straight through to the narrow galley kitchen to get glasses. She hadn’t intended drinking tonight, thinking she’d leave it till nearer the weekend, but a couple of glasses to numb the pain of having spent time with Scott sounded like a good idea.
Rayah sat on the kitchen worktops, because even though she was thirty, she hadn’t grown up. “I saw him briefly when I went to steal that bottle from his bar. His face looked swollen, so I figured something was up. Not that I asked.”
“Why didn’t you ask?” Keren said, popping the bottle.
“Because he looked extra grumpy and I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was stealing his stock.” Rayah reached out a hand for the glass. “What was up with him?”
“Broken tooth caused by an abscess. I had to extract the tooth and clean out the infection. It wouldn’t have been pleasant for him.” Keren watched Rayah squirm on the counter. She was the biggest baby when it came to dental treatment. “It’s why you should come for regular check-ups, because prevention is better than cure.”
“Did you tell Scott that or did you just glare at each other?” Rayah said. “He must’ve been in pain if he went to you.”
“Which is ridiculous,” Keren snorted. “I’m a professional. My aim is to help people look after their teeth and oral hygiene and stop them from experiencing discomfort. I’ll treat anyone.”
“I know,” Rayah said. “I believe you had a visit from Severton’s cutest terrorist yesterday.”
Keren grinned. “She’s such a sweetheart,” she said, thinking of Sadie Grace, although terrorist was probably a much better adjective. “Did Jonny remember to leave money from the tooth fairy?”
Rayah nodded, looking a little dreamy. She kept it very well hidden, but she’d had a huge crush on Jonny Graham since Sadie Grace had started in her nursery class eighteen months ago. “Sadie ran to me this morning in the yard and told me she had a shiny pound.”
“When are you going to ask Jonny out?” Keren said. “Instead of staring at his ass whenever you see him walking away?”
“I’m not. I can’t.” Rayah said. “And I know that means I’m going to die a lonely mad cat woman who becomes known as the most prolific purchaser of batteries in Severton to power her vibe, but it’s never going to happen.”
Keren shook her head. They had this conversation at least twice a week. Jonny was a widower with three children, his wife Grace was killed in a hit and run when Sadie Grace was just three months old. He was also in charge of the local fire station and could’ve produced his own calendar to raise funds, which Keren had suggested.
“Still don’t understand why not,” Keren said, because she didn’t.
“Because he’s the best friend of my brother and cousins, which pretty much makes it incestuous. We grew up together – he saw me naked when I was six – and I’m not what he needs.” Rayah shook her head, clearly still trying to convince herself.
“What does he need?”
“Someone hot who will look after his children and be a good wife. And let’s face it, Key, I’m not good wife material. Look at me – hot mess pretty much sums it up,” Rayah stretched out her arms, knocking something off the shelf and almost falling off the counter.
Keren raised a brow. “You’re hot. His kids adore you – you know you’re his go to babysitter…”
“Because I’m single and available when he gets called into work. I’m like a little sister. He hooked up with some woman in Leeds last weekend,” Rayah said, her words tight and her nose wrinkled.
“The man has needs,” Keren said. “I still think you should offer to assist him with them. Think about how you’ll feel if he meets someone and it’s serious. The worst that can happen is that he says no, and you know Jake and that lot won’t interfere.”
Rayah shrugged. “I wasn’t like this when he was married. I loved Grace – and they were so perfect together.” She shook her head. “Let’s not talk about Jonny. Let’s talk about your love life.”
“And that will be a very short conversation, because it died a long time ago. In fact, its gravestone is now covered in moss.”
“You shouldn’t refer to your vagina like that. Moss does not become it,” Rayah said. “And besides, it won’t have healed up and it won’t be eating grass. You just need to find it some penile action.”
“And they let you teach the young of this community,” Keren said. “There is no hope.”
“Have you tried that new dating website? The one I sent you the link to?” Rayah said, completely ignoring the insult. She was used to it. She’d been considered a terrorist herself since being old enough to point.
Keren muttered something under her breath about wastes of time. “The men on there aren’t what I’m looking for?”
“What are you looking for?” Rayah said. “Besides someone to knock the moss off your falula.”
“Falula? Where the hell do you get these words?” Keren said, leaning back against the counter. “I want someone who doesn’t look as if they’re, well, desperate to see what a naked woman looks like. And let’s face it, most men on dating websites are there for a reason, at least they are when they get into their thirties. You know, they’ve been divorced or they’ve never had the confidence to speak to a woman or…”
“They live in remote communities and it’s difficult to meet new people,” Rayah inserted. “I get what you’re saying. Maybe we need to go out more in Leeds and Manchester.”
“Ray, I’m not likely to meet anyone serious in a bar. We’ve been trying that now for years. Where do most people meet their partner?” Keren said, feeling more and more resolute as to what she was going to need to do.
Rayah shrugged. “You live in Severton. So here it would be at a barn dance or in primary school. Or potentially on the young farmers’ pram push.”
“But in the city, it’s at work. Or someone connected with work.” And the pram push was an excuse for farmers to resort back to being children and create vehicles to push each other round in while drunk. Not the best for finding a potential partner.
Rayah sat up straight and proceeded to knock over Keren’s recipe book holder. “You’re thinking of moving again, aren’t you?”
Keren didn’t say anything, instead she topped up Rayah’s glass with more prosecco.
“Key, you can’t leave. This is your home… You love it here,” Rayah said, using exactly the same tone as she had to persuade Keren to go with Connor Roberts to the after-prom party so Rayah could tag along with his brother.
“I do love it here, Ray. But I’m thirty-two. Time’s ticking by if I want to meet someone and have a family. And if that’s not going to happen, I’d like to specialise in children’s dentistry,” Keren said. “There’s a post opening up in Manchester, working with kids with complex physical disabilities. I’d love to do something like that and there’s nothing to keep me here.”
“I know,” Keren said. “But it isn’t going to change us. We coped through university being at opposite ends of the country. I have to at least consider this.”
“Have you applied?” Rayah said accusingly.
Keren shook her head. “No. It isn’t advertised yet. I know the person in post at the moment is moving to Australia with his wife, but there’s no time frame on it yet.”
Rayah hopped off the worktop and strutted into the lounge with her glass. “I can’t have you leave Severton,” she said. “So I guess I need to find you a reason to stay.”
“That sounds ominous,” Keren said.
Then Rayah’s mouth curved into a smile wide enough to swallow a bus. “Would you let me set you up?”
“No,” Keren shook her head. “We’ve tried that. Twice. Both went horribly wrong. Embarrassingly so.”
“This won’t. Honestly. He’s just moved to Severton and he’s joined Scott’s band,” Rayah said, sounding as if she’d just discovered the solution to end world poverty.
“I can’t see myself in a relationship with a musician,” she said, trying to hide under a blanket on the sofa and hoping Rayah would go away. “Too unreliable.”
“He’s an accountant. I suspect he’ll be reliable.”
“If he’s an accountant, he’ll be boring.”
“He’s joined the search and rescue team.”
“That doesn’t mean he’ll be interesting.”
“He plays guitar…” Rayah was at her most persuasive.
“So does Scott.”
“But Olly is the right age, he’s had a couple of long term relationships. He’s intelligent and good with money…”
“You can’t assume that just because he’s an accountant…”
“He’s just bought the Jacksons’ place on Moorcroft. He’s good with money,” Rayah said, now looking as if she had not only discovered the solution for world peace, but had also worked out how to stop global warming. “And he’s hot. Let me set you up for a drink with him. Just a drink.”
Keren began to flinch. “Why can’t you just ask him to join us all for drinks on Friday and then if we click, I can ask him out?”
“Because that’ll make it sound like I’m interested. And he’ll hear you and Scott bickering. If Scott can speak by then. Go on, let me set you up.” Rayah beamed at her.
Keren held her head in her hands and shook her head.
“Even if I say no, you’re going to do it anyway.”