Disclaimer: As always, this is just for fun! I do not own the characters of Jessica Fletcher or Seth Hazlitt. They belong to Universal. And like everyone else who is participating in this Writer’s Challenge, my intent is not to infringe on anyone’s copyright, nor is it to make any money.
Join our favorite veterinarian, Dr. Tipper Henderson from "Dead Dogs," "Fire and Water," and "St. Brendan," when she invites her new beau, Dr. Ben Howard (who made his debut in "Wild Blue Yonder"), to Cabot Cove's Halloween celebration.
Tipper felt a gentle nudging against her knee as she rinsed a white river of bubbly lather down her forearms and hands, and eventually into the sink. Looking down, she found a beautiful chocolate Labrador retriever happily wagging her tail.
“What are you doing back here?” she asked pleasantly as she dried her hands.
After lobbing the wadded paper towel into the trash can she coaxed the animal to follow her to the reception area. She, herself, had finished treating clients for the day but there were still two boarders to be checked in and one of them had obviously gotten lost.
When she rounded the corner to the waiting room Tipper found her normally efficient receptionist, staring dreamily at a tall, broad-shouldered customer who was filling out paperwork. Tipper shook her head and tried to hide her own smile when she realized that if the view from the back side was any indication of the view from the front, no one in her right mind could blame Jill for flirting.
“What’s everyone staring…” one of Tipper’s Vet Techs, asked in a whisper as she, too, entered the waiting area. Catching a glimpse of the man standing at the registration counter she murmured a very approving, “Ohhhhh, my!”
Intrigued by the hushed voices behind him, the new client turned.
“Ben!” Tipper exclaimed in surprise. She hadn’t seen him in nearly a month and obviously didn’t know him well enough to have recognized him – not from behind at any rate. Acute embarrassment colored her cheeks when she realized that she had been caught ogling him.
“Dr. Henderson,” Ben said with a polite nod. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I’m just dropping Katie off for the night.
“You know him?” Tracie whispered excitedly.
Tipper nodded but remained quiet as she tried to regain her composure – not an easy task considering the fact that he was looking at her with that very sexy half smile of his.
Ben reached down and patted his lab, who had made her way to her master’s side. “I guess Katie must have wanted to thank you personally,” he commented, his smile broadening slightly. It was true that he hadn’t intended to interrupt Tipper’s work day but he had to admit that he was happy to see her again.
“Thank me?” she asked, momentarily confused.
“Ticks, Lyme disease, doxycycline, ring a bell?” Ben asked.
“Yes, of course,” Tipper finally responded as she closed the gap between them and gave Katie a gentle head rub.
“I’m very glad to hear you’re doing better,” she said to the dog.
As she stood, Tipper met Ben’s gaze. The silent message that passed between them was a much warmer, more personal exchange than the spoken words that they had traded in front of Tipper’s staff.
“Who was that?” Tracie demanded after Ben had signed his paperwork and said goodbye. “He’s not an established client,” she knew for a fact. “I’d have remembered him if he was,” she added enthusiastically. “Yes, I’d definitely have remembered him.”
Jill answered, reading Katie’s registration card, “from
Tracie considered that for a moment. “Wait a minute,” she said as the wheels began to turn. Smiling devilishly she turned to Tipper. “Didn’t you invite a friend down for the haunted house tonight?”
Tipper had been far too busy to be nervous about having had invited Ben to Cabot Cove for the weekend. But now that the work week was behind her and he was actually there, she was restless, her stomach was jittery, and she couldn’t concentrate.
What was I doing? she asked herself as she stopped in the middle her second story hallway and turned in a circle, shaking her head and giving a frustrated palms up gesture to one of her cats who responded by gracefully leaping from the floor to the top of three stacked Weston trunks that served the dual purpose of providing extra storage and decorating the small space between the two bedrooms.
“A lot of help you are,” Tipper added as she began to retrace her steps. Stopping in the doorway of her bedroom, she suddenly realized that she had been on her way to the guest room to find a sweater when Dante had intercepted her for some much needed attention.
Blue or burgundy? she wondered a few minutes later as she stared into the small closet. Annoyed by her own behavior she finally lifted a soft, green sweater off the shelf and reprimanded herself for worrying over her clothes. They were going to a haunted house for goodness sake, not to a fancy dinner or Broadway show.
After running a brush through her hair she considered a rarity – eye shadow. Deciding that the cursory swipe of mascara that she had already applied was plenty, she turned off the light and jogged down the steps just in time to meet Ben at the front door. Ready or not, she said, taking a deep breath and expelling it slowly before opening the door.
He looked even better standing on her doorstep than he had earlier that day, standing in her clinic. It was the smile, she decided with an inward sigh as she invited him inside.
“You clean up good, Dr. Henderson,” he said in greeting.
“Huh?” Tipper responded, looking down at her jeans and low cut hiking shoes.
“I like it when you wear your hair down,” he answered easily.
“Oh,” Tipper said, nervously twirling a strand around her finger.
asked, having noted her obvious nervousness.
She hadn’t seemed at all nervous a few weeks earlier as they had
strolled across the campus of
He could hardly blame her, of course. Cabot Cove was a small town and their being seen together, whether completely innocent or otherwise, was sure to start tongues wagging. That was par for the course in a small town, especially for a well-respected professional like Tipper. He should know.
Ben helped her on with her jacket and waited on the front porch while she turned off the light and closed the door. “You know,” Ben said, as they descended the steps together, “if you’d rather spend the evening without several hundred chaperones, we could probably find an alternate form of entertainment.”
Tipper smiled and let out a small laugh. “Is it that obvious?” she asked, turning slightly to catch a glimpse of his profile as they stepped onto the sidewalk and headed for downtown.
Ben took her hand and stopped. “Let’s see…” he said contemplatively. “Sweaty palms, rapid heart beat, dilated, yet still very astute and beautiful green eyes…”
Tipper laughed and began walking, pulling him along with her. “Thank you, Ben, but I’m fine.”
“Last chance,” he offered.
A layer of tension melted away as Tipper laughed again. “Are you sure you’re not the one who’s nervous? You’re probably deathly afraid of ghosts, right?”
“Yep, horrified,” Ben agreed, glad to see that she was relaxing a bit. “Terrified as a matter of fact,” he continued in jest. “I think I’m actually phasmophobic.”
“Fear of ghosts,” he explained. “Or was it achluphobic?” he wondered outloud.
“Maybe it was wiccaphobic,” Tipper offered.
“Nope,” Ben decided. “I’m not afraid of witches. There’s only one thing that I’m afraid of.”
Tipper stopped and turned to look at him closely. “What are you afraid of?”
“I’m afraid that you’re going to make me wait until I take you home tonight to let me kiss you.” He said it with such sincerity that Tipper wasn’t quite sure how to respond.
“Well,” he asked, “are you going to make me wait?”
Tipper glanced around in all directions. “Well, no, but we’re standing right out in the middle of the street.”
“Hardly,” he replied, taking a step into the shadows of a towering maple. Tipper wasn’t sure exactly what she had been expecting but whatever it had been, she had been wrong. When they parted, her only thought was of tender promises.
Ben’s eyes smiled brightly, mirroring the grin that he fought to hide. “Wow! You’re definitely not philemaphobic, are you?”
“That’s good to know,” he continued before checking for other passersby and then stepping out of the shadows and onto the sidewalk.
“Philemaphobic,” Ben repeated with a chuckle as he stepped off the curb and began to lead Tipper across the street. “Hey, is that Dr. Hazlitt?”
Tipper suddenly slipped her hand out of his and into her own jacket pocket, quickly forgetting the topic of phobias. “Yes,” she answered. “He and Jessica are selling tickets for the haunted pirate ship.”
“I thought it was a haunted house?”
“Nope, a pirate ship,” Tipper repeated as they took their place in line.
“I don’t suppose you’re thalassophobic?” she asked.
Ben thought for a moment and then remembered his mythology. “The ocean? Not at all. You?”
“Nope – I love it.”
They stood in silence for a long, quiet moment before Tipper asked, “You know them all, don’t you?”
Ben nodded. “Most anyway – my senior thesis advisor studied phobias.”
The line moved forward quickly as
ticket buyers scattered – some going directly to the haunted house while others
opted to linger on
“Two please,” Ben and Tipper echoed each other as each placed cash on the table in front of Jessica and Seth.
Ben slid Tipper’s twenty back to her and again asked Seth politely for two tickets to the haunted house.
“I invited you,” Tipper reminded him, snatching his twenty before Seth could take it, and replacing it with her own.
Not wanting to make a scene, Ben weighed his options before responding. “I’m sure Doctor Hazlitt and Mrs. Fletcher will agree that the man should pay.”
“Ayuh,” Seth said. “Dr. Howard is right. Isn’t he, Jess?”
Jessica hesitated momentarily, looking from Tipper to Ben and back again.
“Well, I’m not so sure,” she finally answered.
“See!” Tipper exclaimed without waiting for further clarification.
“Hold it,” Ben said, placing his hand on her arm as she reached for the tickets. “Let Mrs. Fletcher finish.”
“Go ahead,” he said, nodding to Jessica.
“Well, I guess it depends on whether or not this is a date…” Jessica said, cringing slightly in anticipation of Tipper’s response.
“Yes, it’s a date,” Ben interrupted, swapping bills again before Tipper could stop him. “We’re holding up the line,” he added. “You can buy the popcorn balls,” he offered as consolation, sensing that the argument had merely been postponed.
“Have fun,” Jessica called after them.
Once they were a good distance away Ben stopped. “Look, Tipper,” he said quietly so that no one would overhear. “Next year, after I buy my own practice, you can pay for the haunted house tickets.”
“Your own practice?” she answered, not exactly sure what that meant for the two of them.
He nodded. “As you know, they don’t come cheap.”
Just my luck, Tipper thought. I finally meet a guy who could be the guy and not only does he live hours away but now he’s moving further away.
“No, they don’t,” she agreed, silently reprimanding herself for not being more happy for him. “You’ve found a practice to buy, then?”
“No, but I’m checking out a few possibilities,” he explained as they fell into step with one another.
Ben looked at Tipper with a puzzled
expression. “What makes you think I’m
“To visit – I’d never want to live there.”
“Well, no, but…” Tipper stopped and cocked her head to the side. “Where are you looking?”
“’What am I looking for’ would be a better question.”
“Well, what are you looking for?”
“Someplace small enough for an old fashioned private practice but large enough that I can do some general surgery and obstetrics.”
“That might be hard to find in this day and age.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied as he scoped out their choices for food. “I think I might have a couple of options come spring. Would you prefer the ghostly chili, the toxic pizza, the barbecued vampire bat wings, or the freaky Halloween hot dogs with fried fingers?”
“What, no moldy maggot casserole this year?” Tipper asked with a chuckle. That was one dish that had definitely not gone over well the previous year.
Ben grimaced. “I think you just spoiled my appetite.”
“That’s okay,” Tipper decided. “I’d like to check out the haunted house before we eat.”
“One final word of caution,” the guide said before removing the rope that kept the crowd onshore. “Please do not touch our volunteers…and in return,” he said with a chilling laugh, “we promise that they will not touch you.”
The gangplank bowed and creaked as they began to board The Revenge. Ben stopped and peered into the dark water below just as the guide reminded them that there were only two ways off the ship – the creaking, bowing gangplank and the icy waters below.
The small ship swayed beneath their fog-hidden feet as the group congregated on the main deck. “Scared yet?” Ben asked in a whisper as he rested his hands on Tipper’s shoulders.
Tipper looked back at him and grinned. “Nope – the scarier the better.”
Ben gently nudged her forward. “Let’s go then.”
Tipper led the way with Ben and the others following her into the forecastle. An eerie green light cast sinister shadows across the walls while pirate skeletons snored loudly in their bunks. The room smelled of rotting fish and human sweat – unpleasant to say the least. Once the door closed behind them the skeletons slowly began to come to life, like zombies rising from a watery grave. Tipper dodged and ducked, avoiding bony arms and a very life-like black cat with claws bared.
An unexpected hatch led from the crews’ quarters to the bottom of the ship, which had been divided into a series of three rooms – the cargo hold, the bilge, and the galley. Sacks of wheat and stacks of wood created a spider and scorpion infested maze through the cargo hold. Dried meat with large maggots crawling along the flesh hung from the rafters, making the maze more difficult to navigate. As they neared the entrance to the bilge, monstrous, mutant fleas emerged from the shadows and crawled across the walls, chasing the stragglers through the door and into the bilge.
Everyone’s stomach lurched when a powerful sewage-like odor blasted them head-on. Phantasmal seaweed materialized from the dark water, rising above the ankles of the bilgy, a misfortunate member of the crew who had been chained to his post as punishment for some misdeed or another. When they neared the exit, eight long tentacles, in search of prey, emerged from the water, causing everyone to instinctively scatter in different directions.
Not one customer made it through the room completely dry, and all welcomed the warmth of the galley, which was brimming with activity – small white mice and drunken, knife-wielding vampiric pirates. Rotting fruit and vegetables, rum, and stale mead added to the foul atmosphere.
As the door closed behind the final member of the group, locking them inside, the flickering candles were extinguished. Suddenly the sensation of thin whipping tails could be felt against their ankles and the accompanying sound of large skittering rodents had Tipper jumping up and dancing on her toes with arms flailing. Finally, she stumbled backwards into an unsuspecting crew member who tumbled to the floor beneath her.
As she tried to untangle her limbs from those of the man she had mistaken as Ben, she growled in frustration, “Would you kindly get you hands off my…”
Suddenly the lights came up and Tipper found herself face to face with Deputy Andy Broom. “Sorry, Dr. Henderson,” he apologized, his face turning bright red to match the bandana that covered his head. Tipper gaped. Poor Andy looked mortified and hesitated when a stranger offered him a hand up.
Ben suppressed his laughter as he helped Tipper up from the dusty floor as well. After regaining her composure, Tipper introduced the two men and then the three of them helped to restore the room to its prior state so that the show could go on.
The captain’s quarters provided the grand finale, with a spooky Davy Jones as the center of attention. Tipper shivered noticeably and on impulse gripped Ben’s hand when a parrot-sized rat crawled up Davy’s back to perch itself on his shoulder. The life-like rodent had Tipper’s complete attention and caused her to miss the other action going on around her.
As they disembarked, she suddenly noticed the warmth of Ben’s hand holding hers. For the briefest moment, she considered pulling it away but didn’t. Ben noted her hesitation but didn’t say a word. Instead he smiled inwardly at her decision and gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
“Look,” Jessica said, nudging Seth when she saw Tipper and Ben step off the gangplank. “Tipper and Ben – they’re holding hands.”
“I never would have guessed that you were scared of rats,” Ben commented as they approached the food vendors once again.
“Rats are repulsive,” Tipper exclaimed, not holding back her feelings of disgust.
“Doesn’t that make it rather difficult to treat someone’s pet rat?”
“They’re two completely different things,” Tipper declared before ordering a bowl of chili. “Fancy rats make good pets. They’re very social and they can even be taught to do tricks.”
Ben ordered chili as well and then carried both of their bowls as they made their way to an empty table. Tipper handled the Fritos and drinks.
“Do you realize how many parasites and diseases they carry? I mean, we’re not just talking about fleas and lice but tapeworm and leptospira, not to mention Hantavirus and Hepatitis E. And then there’s…”
Suddenly Tipper stopped, having noted an odd expression on Ben’s face. “Is there something wrong?” she asked.
Ben looked quizzically at her and then down at his bowl of steaming chili. “I’d love to discuss Hantavirus and rat bite fever with you. Honestly, I would,” he finally answered. “I’d just rather do it after we eat.”
Tipper blushed and shuddered before whispering, “You’re right. But I really detest the little vermin.”
Ben couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, I got that.”
After a hot cup of cider with Jessica and Seth, the pair walked home.
“Hello, Mrs. Malloy,” Tipper said with a polite wave as they walked past a large white colonial home with red shutters. Ideal, having just returned from the evening’s festivities, carried a crockpot in one arm as she climbed the three steps to the front porch.
“Well, hello, Dr. Henderson,” Ideal replied, waving with her free hand enthusiastically. “I hope you two had a good time,” she added brightly before disappearing quickly inside.
That was odd, Tipper thought. Normally, Ideal would have beckoned Tipper inside with a short (or frequently long) list of questions regarding Fabio, her overly-pampered Wheaten Terrier.
As they rounded the corner, Ben noticed a blonde woman watching them through partially closed curtains. “Who is that?”
Tipper looked in the direction that Ben had indicated and laughed. “That’s Phyllis Grant,” Tipper said as she waved at the partially hidden figure, which immediately disappeared from sight. “Phyllis owns one of the travel agencies in town.”
“And that?” Ben asked again a few minutes later as they approached Tipper’s walk. The woman in question was still dressed as Elvira and appeared to be looking for something. “Here, Sweetie,” she called. “Here, Sweetie.”
At the sound of the Ben’s voice, Eve Simpson turned and gave a mock gasp. “Oh, Tipper, I didn’t see you there.”
Before continuing, Eve gave Ben a very thorough once over. “You haven’t seen Sweetie, have you? She was in the kitchen just a few minutes ago but I think she snuck out when I took out the trash.”
Tipper suppressed a laugh. It was obvious that word of Ben and Tipper’s destination had traveled quickly. Tipper pointed to the living room window where the cat was snoring quietly on the back of the couch. “She’s right there.”
“Oh, silly me,” Eve exclaimed, suppressing her mild annoyance with the animal that had spoiled her cover. “I guess she didn’t sneak out after all.”
Eve soon excused herself and Tipper and Ben continued on. As they began up the steps Ben stopped. “Did you hear that?” he asked, stopping abruptly.
“That!” Ben exclaimed as he rushed around the corner of the house toward the fenced in backyard.
“Ben!” Tipper yelled in a loud whisper as she followed. “Where did you go?”
Just as Tipper stepped inside the confines of the waist-high white fence, a firm hand grabbed her and pulled her into the shadows next to the house. Tipper raised her arm to fend off her attacker and found herself face-to-face with…Ben?
“What are you doing?” she demanded in a barely controlled whisper.
“Sorry,” he apologized with an impish grin as he released her arm. “I just didn’t feel like saying ‘goodnight’ with all of your neighbors spying on us.”
Tipper contemplated the situation for a moment. “I should probably thank you,” she said reluctantly, “but next time you decide to pull a stunt like that you could clue me in beforehand.”
Tipper tapped her foot in mild annoyance before commenting, “And to think, I was planning to ask you inside.”
“Well, you did go to the trouble of creating a little privacy for us and it is early yet,” she explained nervously.
Ben bent down and kissed her gently on the lips. “I wouldn’t mind warming up in front of the fireplace with you.”
“With a cup of hot chocolate,” Tipper corrected as she took his hand and led him through the dark to the back steps.
“The bedrooms are upstairs,” Tipper explained as she rested her hand on the top of the newel post and glanced somewhat nervously up the narrow stairwell to the second story. She had already given him a tour of the main floor but wasn’t certain if she should continue the tour to include the second story.
“May I see them,” Ben asked, slightly amused that she had suddenly become somewhat shy.
“I suppose,” Tipper answered with a shrug as she started up. Inviting Ben into her bedroom was not something that she had planned on when she invited him down for the Cabot Cove Pumpkin Festival and Haunted House.
floors, Ben noted, the steps were also made of hard wood and looked to be
original. A green
When they reached the landing Tipper opened the first door. “This is the guest room,” she announced. “I haven’t had much of a chance to do anything with it just yet,” she continued as they stepped into the small room.
The furnishings were sparse – a double bed, compact bedside table, and small dresser – but the contrast of colonial blue furniture against pale yellow walls was inviting, and classic white trim gave the space a sense of airiness. A small nautical print, framed in white wood, hung above the bed, was accompanied by a pair of simple sconces.
“And this is the master bedroom,” she offered, hurriedly moving to the next room with hopes of wrapping up the tour quickly.
“Is it off limits?” Ben asked when she made no move to step inside.
“Uh…no, I guess not.” Tipper stepped aside to allow him to enter and then followed him inside.
As in the guest room, the sloping roof had created a low slanted ceiling. A queen-size bed with a simple farmhouse-style headboard dominated the room and was accompanied on one side by a matching bedside table in the same deep, antique ming red as the headboard.
A large built-in wardrobe dominated one wall. The soffit above had been outfitted with shelves, which were filled with a hodgepodge of books. A rectangular iron lantern with two ivory pillar candles and a variety of personal items and keepsakes rested on a large bureau; recently painted walls of beige added an extra touch of warmth.
The space was cozy, romantically so, Ben thought. The obvious focal point was the intricate patchwork pinwheel and broken star quilt in red and caramel that covered Tipper’s bed. Trying to focus his attention elsewhere, he zeroed in on the bureau in front of which Tipper was now standing.
“Who’s that?” he asked, indicating a well-worn stuffed animal that she had managed only partially to shield from his view.
Ben laughed and leaned in close – very close - to peer over her shoulder. “She must have a name,” he decided as he reached around Tipper to pick up the plush cat.
“Butterscotch,” Tipper answered softly, accepting the classic tabby and turning to place it on the bureau once again. “Just an old, worn out toy from my childhood,” she added casually.
Ben placed his hands on her shoulders. “I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree, Doctor. She doesn’t look old or worn out to me, just well-loved.” He angled his head down slightly. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the first animal that you doctored.”
Tipper suddenly felt very warm, whether from embarrassment or the warm feeling of his words against her neck, she wasn’t sure.
“Why are you embarrassed?” he wondered quietly as he turned her to face him.
The lie was far from convincing.
Ben gently pushed a strand of hair back away from her face. “You’re adorable,” he decided, ignoring her denial and kissing her on the lips, tenderly at first and then more deeply, more fervently.
As he drew away, he took her hand. “We’d better go,” he decidedly quickly as he led her from the room. Before this gets out of hand.
Anywhere but in there, he thought to himself. “For a walk.”
Tipper stopped part way down the stairs, bringing Ben to a halt as well. “Hold on a second,” she said, fighting the urge to smile. “Ten minutes ago you were complaining about being cold and now you want to walk some more?”
“We could go get a cup of coffee,” he suggested.
Tipper didn’t respond but instead slowly descended the remaining steps. When she reached the bottom she turned to face him. “It’s a shame you’re suddenly afraid to be alone with me,” she teased. “I had plans to spend the rest of the evening in front of a roaring fire with you. I was even considering telling you all about Butterscotch.” It was the best that she could offer at this point in their relationship.
“I like being alone with you,” he corrected. “I just think you’d be safer if we weren’t alone in your bedroom.”
Surprise spread across Tipper’s face. “You’re worried about my safety? Well, you needn’t be,” she said, patting him on the cheek. “I’ve taken Adelle’s Metzger’s self-defense class. I’m fully capable of warding off any unwanted advances from the likes of you.”
“Really?” Ben challenged.
“You bet. Now, why don’t you start the fire and I’ll make some hot chocolate?”
“Oh, Ben, could you do one other thing for me?”
“Of course, what is it?”
Tipper linked her arms around his neck and stared into his eyes. “Kiss me again.”
The pair, each with a cup of steaming hot cocoa in hand, had settled themselves on the small couch in front of the fireplace. Tipper relaxed within the circle of Ben’s arm and rested her head against his chest as she sipped her cocoa and watched the fire pop and crackle.
“I thought you were going to tell me about Butterscotch?” he finally asked.
“Mmmm. Hmmm. You were,” he answered contentedly, enjoying the feeling of holding her.
“Are you sure?”
Ben couldn’t help but to laugh at her response. “Positive. Besides, you owe me for telling you about the ‘Cat Who’ books, remember?.”
Tipper straightened up to look at him. “Oh, yeah,” she exclaimed brightly. “That’s far more embarrassing than my story about Butterscotch.”
“Hold the phone. I seem to remember you saying that it was ‘sweet.’”
“It was,” she agreed. “And as I recall, you were embarrassed by that.”
“Let’s forget about me for awhile and talk about you and Butterscotch,” he suggested, reaching forward to set his mug on the coffee table.
“Wouldn’t you rather hear about one of my more interesting patients, like Crummiekins the iguana?”
“Crummiekins the iguana?”
“Yup. Cross my heart and hope to die,” Tipper promised, making an invisible cross in front of her chest.
“I’d still rather hear about Butterscotch,” Ben decided. He wasn't about to let her off the hook that easily.
“Did you realize that this is the first time that we’ve been alone together, truly alone, in private?” Tipper asked, still hoping to change the subject.
“Your point being…?”
She turned to fully face him. “I’m sure we can make better use of our time than to tell stories about my childhood,” she explained before leaning forward and kissing him.
Pausing for a moment, Ben took her mug and set it on the table before shifting slightly and easing her onto his lap. Then, he deepened the kiss before drawing back momentarily. “Could you explain that again, more thoroughly this time?”
Laughing, Tipper wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close, easing them both down onto the couch.
How could a kiss be so intoxicating, so all encompassing, Tipper wondered as she relaxed and indulged herself in the taste of him. Her mind was growing foggy but her body was fully alert and very responsive to his touch.
“Ben?” she mumbled against his neck as she tried to clear her head.
“Huh?” he finally replied, lifting his head so that he could see her clearly.
His eyes were dark, his breathing rapid. His response to her only made Tipper’s internal struggle all the more difficult.
“What’s the matter?” he asked quietly.
“Your hand, if it moves any further south you’re risking bodily injury.”
Much to Tipper’s relief, Ben laughed. “Gotcha. How’s that?” he asked as he moved his hand to the small of her back, heating her skin with his touch as it slid beneath her sweater.
“Better,” Tipper decided, wondering if she wasn’t getting herself in deeper by the moment.
“And that?” Ben teased as he slid his hand slowly up along the length of her back.
Tipper gasped when she felt her bra suddenly release.
Before she could get out a half-hearted protest, Ben’s mouth covered hers, drawing her back into the glorious fog.
At the sound of the mantle clock, Ben suddenly bolted up. “Is that right?” he asked in disbelief.
Tipper squinted at the clock – one o’clock in the morning. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” she offered with a smile.
“It sure does,” Ben grumbled as he sat up, bringing her with him.
“You have to go, don’t you?” Tipper realized. Really, it was for the best. If he stayed, things might truly get out of hand.
“Yeah, Seth invited me to do rounds with him at seven o’clock.”
Tipper kissed him once more on the lips. “Then you’d better leave.”
He returned the kiss, softly, slowly before drawing away again. “I could stay another hour.”
Tipper placed her hand on his chest. “We’re still on for breakfast with Jessica and Seth at 9:30, aren’t we?”
“As far as I know.”
“Then I’m going to have to throw you out,” Tipper decided as she wiggled off the couch and stood.
“You’re throwing me out?”
“If you’re dead on your feet tomorrow, Seth will know why,” Tipper reasoned. “And believe me, neither one of us needs that.”
The following morning Tipper smiled as she watched Ben climb from the front seat of Seth’s car and jog up the walk.
Boy, I like the way you move, Dr. Howard, she admitted to herself. The boyish smile only added to the overall package, she decided when she opened the door, catching him in mid-knock.
Tipper turned toward the short hall that led to the back door. “I just need to grab my coat,” she explained over her shoulder. Suddenly, she found herself whirling gently backward until she was wrapped in Ben’s arms.
“Is that the way your mother taught you to greet company?”
Tipper stammered in response, “Well, no, but…”
Ben grinned and dipped his head, greeting her with a sexy, playful kiss.
When Tipper pulled away she was grinning uncontrollably. “Now that’s definitely not how my mother taught me to welcome visitors,” she laughed.
“We’ll have to work on your technique then,” he replied before kissing her again, more deeply this time.
Once Tipper caught her breath she backed away cautiously. It was obvious that his technique was flawless. “And you’re the perfect person to teach me,” she said as she disappeared to finally retrieve her coat.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he called after her.
Tipper pulled her ponytail out of the back of her coat and began to button it. “Nothing, really,” she responded as she reappeared. “It’s just that you seem to have had lots of practice.”
“Less than you think, I’m sure,” he replied, almost broodingly.
“I have a hard time believing that,” Tipper answered as she slipped on her shoes. “Especially after that little magic trick that performed with my bra last night.”
“Maybe I’m just skilled,” he said, holding up his hands and looking at them closely. “I am a surgeon.”
Tipper opened the door and ushered him out. “You’re dangerous is what you are, d-a-n-g-e-…hey, where’s Seth?”
“I thought we’d walk, so he went to pick up Jessica. They’ll meet us there.”
A walk, Tipper thought. Apparently she wasn’t the only one who wished that they had more time to spend lone with one another.
Jessica’s first thought when she spotted Tipper and Ben entering the diner was that the pair was obviously enjoying each other’s company. She smiled and waved them over to the table-for-four that she shared with Seth.
Before greetings could be exchanged, the suddenly efficient waitress was at their table, menus in hand. She greeted everyone warmly and then turned her undivided attention to the handsome stranger seated among the Cabot Cove regulars.
“Do you know what you’d like or do you need a little more time to decide, sweetie?”
Sweetie! The flirtatious moniker had Tipper’s posture stiffening immediately and noticeably.
“I’m not sure. I was hoping that my date would be able to recommend something,” he answered, meeting Tipper’s eyes and giving her hand a gentle squeeze beneath the table. “Tipper, what do you recommend?”
Tipper relaxed and looked down at her menu, hiding a satisfied smile. “Blueberry pancakes for sure,” she decided. “They’re the house specialty.” She turned the page and considered the rest of the menu, thoroughly enjoying the moment. “You’ll probably want something to go with that,” she said contemplatively. “How about a side of sausage patties, two eggs over easy, and a glass of orange juice?”
Ben closed his menu and handed it to the waitress with a pleasant smile. “Sounds perfect.”
After everyone had placed their orders, conversation turned to the previous evening and the upcoming holidays.
“I tried to coax Tipper to come up
“I have to take care of our boarders that weekend. Besides, you’re on-call,” she reminded him.
“If it isn’t work, it’s a conference,” he teased, knowing full well that his schedule was just as much at fault as hers.
Tipper began to argue and then noticed his grin. Shaking her head and smiling back at him, she offered a compromise.
“Is that invitation to Vail over New Year’s still open?”
“Nope, afraid not,” Ben replied much to Tipper’s chagrin. “I’m going to have to work, so I can’t go.”
“Oh,” Tipper responded quietly. So much for compromise. “Is there something wrong,” she asked, changing the subject. “You’re not eating your eggs or your sausage.”
“I like my eggs over hard with links,” he explained
Ben! Tipper gasped internally before kicking him under the table.
“It would do you both some good to eat oatmeal in the morning,” Seth commented, oblivious to Ben’s unintended double entendre.
Jessica stifled a laugh, having picked up on Ben’s words and Tipper’s reaction immediately.
When Seth looked up from his oatmeal, which had been served with blueberries and cream, Jessica looked ready to burst with laughter and Tipper looked mortified.
“What’s wrong with those two?” he asked Ben.
Ben reached down, rubbed his shin, and muttered, “I have no idea.”
Jessica and Seth remained while Ben and Tipper headed for the clinic to pick up Katie and then for a walk along the bluff. As she sipped her coffee, Jessica noticed a small smile creep across Seth’s lips. “You asked Dr. Howard to cover for you when you go to see your daughter over New Year’s, didn’t you?”
“Ayuh,” Seth replied. “He’s a very fine doctor,” he added before finishing off his own cup of black coffee. “As a matter of fact, I’m hoping he’ll join my practice next year when I retire.”
“Oh, Seth, you’ll never retire,” Jessica said, patting him on the hand. “What would you do with yourself?”
“Lots of things,” Seth replied. “But you’re right. I won’t retire completely. But I think that by the time summer rolls around I’ll be ready to cut back to working mornings only.”
Jessica smiled. “Something tells me that Tipper is going to be very happy about this.”
Seth straightened up. “I didn’t ask Dr. Howard to fill in for me because of Tipper,” he declared. “I did it because I want my patients left in capable hands.”
“Of course, Seth,” Jessica replied. Of course.
Ben took Tipper’s hand as they exited the diner.
“Can I ask you something?” Tipper inquired.
“Why did you bring Katie along with you?”
“She likes to fly,” Ben answered simply.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, but that’s only part of the reason.”
“What’s the rest?”
“My dog sitter was out of town.”
“Oh,” Tipper replied with a hint of disappointment.
“What’s the matter? Did you figure it was just an excuse to see you sooner?”
“No, I just…” she answered, obviously flustered by his question. Why was it that he could do that to her so easily? No one else could.
Ben turned to see her better and smiled when he admitted that that was part of the reason as well. “Now,” he said as they continued. “It’s my turn to ask a question.”
“Anything,” Tipper offered, privately pleased with his response.
“Was it my imagination or were you a little jealous back there?”
“Who me? Not at all. Definitely your imagination,” Tipper replied nonchalantly.
“Liar,” Ben declared as he released her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. He pulled her a little closer and then spoke quietly next to her ear. “I think you’re starting to fall for me.”
Tipper snickered. “Now you’re really imagining things,” she teased playfully before kissing him on the cheek. If he only knew how right he was.