Skip to main content



Season of Wonder: A Haven Point Novel

“This is totally lame. Why do we have to stay here and wait for you? We can walk home in, like, ten minutes.”

Daniela Capelli drew in a deep breath and prayed for pa­tience, something she seemed to be doing with increasing frequency these days when it came to her thirteen-year-old daughter. “It’s starting to snow and already almost dark.”

Silver rolled her eyes, something she did with increasing frequency these days. “So what? A little snow won’t kill us. I would hardly even call that snow. We had way bigger storms than this back in Boston. Remember that big blizzard a few years ago, when school was closed for, like, a week?”

“I remember,” her younger daughter, Mia, said, look­ing up from her coloring book at Dani’s desk at the Haven Point Veterinary Clinic. “I stayed home from preschool and I watched Anna and Elsa a thousand times, until you said your eardrums would explode if I played it one more time.”

Dani could hear a bark from the front office that likely signaled the arrival of her next client and knew she didn’t have time to stand here arguing with an obstinate teenager.

“Mia can’t walk as fast as you can. You’ll end up frus­trated with her and you’ll both be freezing before you make it home,” she pointed out.

“So she can stay here and wait for you while I walk home. I just told Chelsea we could FaceTime about the new dress she bought for the Christmas dance there and she can only do it for another hour before her dad comes to pick her up for his visitation.”

“Why can’t you FaceTime here? I only have two more patients to see. I’ll be done in less than an hour, then we can all go home together. You can hang out in the waiting room with Mia, where the Wi-Fi signal is better.”

Silver gave a huge put-upon sigh but picked up her back­pack and stalked out of Dani’s office toward the waiting room.

“Can I turn on the TV out there?” Mia asked as she gath­ered her papers and crayons. “I like the dog shows.”

The veterinary clinic showed calming clips of animals on a big flat-screen TV set low to the ground for their clientele.

“After Silver’s done with her phone call, okay?”

“She’ll take forever,” Mia predicted with a gloomy look. “She always does when she’s talking to Chelsea.”

Dani fought to hide a smile. “Thanks for your patience, sweetie, with her and with me. Finish your math work­sheet while you’re here, then when we get home, you can watch what you want.”

Both the Haven Point elementary and middle schools were within walking distance of the clinic and it had be­come a habit for Silver to walk to the elementary school and then walk with Mia here to the clinic to spend a few hours until they could all go home together.

Of late, Silver had started to complain that she didn’t want to pick her sister up at the elementary school every day, that she would rather they both just took their respec­tive school buses home, where Silver could watch her sister without having to hang out at the boring veterinary clinic.

But then, Silver complained about nearly everything these days.

It was probably a good idea, but Dani wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on having the girls alone every day after school. Maybe they would try it out after Christmas vaca­tion.

This working professional/single mother gig was hard, she thought as she ushered Mia to the waiting room. Then again, in most ways it was much easier than the veterinary student/single mother gig had been.

When they entered the comfortable waiting room—with its bright colors, pet-friendly benches and big fish tank—Mia faltered for a moment, then sidestepped behind Dani’s back.

She saw instantly what had caused her daughter’s ner­vous reaction. Funny. Dani felt the same way. She wanted to hide behind somebody, too.

The receptionist had given her the files with the dogs’ names that were coming in for a checkup but hadn’t men­tioned their human was Ruben Morales. Her gorgeous next-door neighbor.

Dani’s palms instantly itched and her stomach felt as if she’d accidentally swallowed a flock of butterflies.

“Deputy Morales,” she said, then paused, hating the slightly breathless note in her voice.

What was it about the man that always made her so freak­ing nervous?

He was big, yes, at least six feet tall, with wide shoulders, tough muscles and a firm, don’t-mess-with-me jawline.

It wasn’t just that. Even without his uniform, the man ex­uded authority and power, which instantly raised her hackles and left her uneasy, something she found both frustrating and annoying about herself.

No matter how far she had come, how hard she had worked to make a life for her and her girls, she still some­times felt like the troublesome foster kid from Queens, al­ways on the defensive.

She had done her best to avoid him in the months they had been in Haven Point, but that was next to impossible when they lived so close to each other—and when she was the intern in his father’s veterinary practice, with the hope that she might be able to purchase it at the end of the year.

“Hey, Doc,” he said, flashing her an easy smile she didn’t trust for a moment. It never quite reached his dark, long-lashed eyes, at least where she was concerned.

While she might be uncomfortable around Ruben Mo­rales, his dogs were another story.

He held the leashes of both of them, a big, muscular Bel­gian shepherd and an incongruously paired little Chi-poo and she reached down to pet both of them. They sniffed her and wagged happily, the big dog’s tail nearly knocking over his small friend.

That was the thing she loved most about dogs. They were uncomplicated and generous with their affection, for the most part. They never looked at people with that subtle hint of suspicion, as if trying to uncover all their secrets.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” she admitted.

“Oh? I made an appointment. The boys both need check­ups. Yukon needs his regular hip and eye check and Ollie is due for his shots.”

She gave the dogs one more pat before she straightened and faced him, hoping his sharp cop eyes couldn’t notice evidence of her accelerated pulse.

“Your father is still here every Monday and Friday after­noons. Maybe you should reschedule with him,” she sug­gested. It was a faint hope, but a girl had to try.

“Why would I do that?”

“Maybe because he’s your father and knows your dogs?”

“Dad is an excellent veterinarian. Agreed. But he’s also semiretired and wants to be fully retired this time next year. As long as you plan to stick around in Haven Point, we will have to switch vets and start seeing you eventually. I fig­ured we might as well start now.”

He was checking her out. Not her her, but her skills as a veterinarian.

The implication was clear. She had been here three months, and it had become obvious during that time in their few interactions that Ruben Morales was extremely protective of his family. He had been polite enough when they had met previously, but always with a certain guard­edness, as if he was afraid she planned to take the good name his hardworking father had built up over the years for the Haven Point Veterinary Clinic and drag it through the sludge at the bottom of Lake Haven.

Dani pushed away her instinctive prickly defensiveness, bred out of all those years in foster care when she felt as if she had no one else to count on—compounded by the diffi­cult years after she’d married Tommy and had Silver, when she really had no one else in her corner.

She couldn’t afford to offend Ruben. She didn’t need his protective wariness to turn into full-on suspicion. With a lit­tle digging, Ruben could uncover things about her and her past that would ruin everything for her and her girls here.

She forced a professional smile. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s go back to a room and take a look at these guys. Girls, I’ll be done shortly. Silver, keep an eye on your sister.”

Her oldest nodded without looking up from her phone and with an inward sigh, Dani led the way to the largest of the exam rooms.

She stood at the door as he entered the room with the two dogs, then joined him inside and closed the door behind her.

The large room seemed to shrink unnaturally and she paused inside for a moment, flustered and wishing she could escape. Dani gave herself a mental shake. She was a doctor of veterinary medicine, not a teenage girl. She could handle being in the same room with the one man in Haven Point who left her breathless and unsteady.

All she had to do was focus on the reason he was here in the first place. His dogs.

She knelt to their level. “Hey there, guys. Who wants to go first?”

The Malinois—often confused for a German shepherd but smaller and with a shorter coat—wagged his tail again while his smaller counterpoint sniffed around her shoes, probably picking up the scents of all the other dogs she had seen that day.

“Ollie, I guess you’re the winner today.”

He yipped, his big ears that stuck straight out from his face quivering with excitement.

He was the funniest looking dog, quirky and unique, with wisps of fur in odd places, spindly legs and a narrow Chi­huahua face. She found him unbearably cute. With that face, she wouldn’t ever be able to say no to him if he were hers.

“Can I give him a treat?” She always tried to ask permis­sion first from her clients’ humans.

“Only if you want him to be your best friend for life,” Ruben said.

Despite her nerves, his deadpan voice sparked a smile, which widened when she gave the little dog one of the treats she always carried in the pocket of her lab coat and he slurped it up in one bite, then sat with a resigned sort of patience during the examination.

She was aware of Ruben watching her as she carefully examined the dog, but Dani did her best not to let his scru­tiny fluster her.

She knew what she was doing, she reminded herself. She had worked so hard to be here, sacrificing all her time, en­ergy and resources of the last decade to nothing else but her girls and her studies.

“Everything looks good,” she said after checking out the dog and finding nothing unusual. “He seems like a healthy little guy. It says here he’s about six or seven. So you haven’t had him from birth?”

“No. Only about two years. He was a stray I picked up off the side of the road between here and Shelter Springs when I was on patrol one day. He was in a bad way, half-starved, fur matted. I think he’d been on his own for a while. As small as he is, it’s a wonder he wasn’t picked off by a coyote or even one of the bigger hawks. He just needed a little TLC.”

“You couldn’t find his owner?”

“We ran ads and Dad checked with all his contacts at shelters and veterinary clinics from here to Boise, with no luck. I had been fostering him while we looked, and to be honest, I kind of lost my heart to the little guy and by then Yukon adored him so we decided to keep him.”

She was such a sucker for animal lovers, especially those who rescued the vulnerable and lost ones.

And, no. She didn’t need counseling to point out the parallels to her own life.

Regardless, she couldn’t let herself be drawn to Ruben and risk doing something foolish. She had too much to lose here in Haven Point.

“What about Yukon here?” She knelt down to examine the bigger dog. Though he wasn’t huge and Ruben could probably lift him easily to the table, she decided it was eas­ier to kneel to his level. In her experience, sometimes big­ger dogs didn’t like to be lifted and she wasn’t sure if the beautiful Malinois fell into that category.

Ruben shrugged as he scooped Ollie onto his lap to keep the little Chi-poo from swooping in and stealing the treat she held out for the bigger dog. “You could say he was a rescue, too.”


“He was a K-9 officer down in Mountain Home. After his handler was killed in the line of duty, I guess he kind of went into a canine version of depression and wouldn’t work with anyone else. I know that probably sounds crazy.”

She scratched the dog’s ears, touched by the bond that could build between handler and dog. “Not at all,” she said briskly. “I’ve seen many dogs go into decline when their owner dies. It’s not uncommon.”

“For a year or so, they tried to match him up with other officers, but things never quite gelled, for one reason or another, then his eyes started going. His previous handler who died was a good buddy of mine from the academy and I couldn’t let him go just anywhere.”

“Retired police dogs don’t always do well in civilian life. They can be aggressive with other dogs and sometimes peo­ple. Have you had any problems with that?”

“Not with Yukon. He’s friendly. Aren’t you, buddy? You’re a good boy.”

Dani could swear the dog grinned at his owner, his tongue lolling out.

Yukon was patient while she looked him over, especially as she maintained a steady supply of treats.

When she finished, she gave the dog a pat and stood. “Can I take a look at Ollie’s ears one more time?”

“Sure. Help yourself.”

He held the dog out and she reached for Ollie. As she did, the dog wriggled a little and Dani’s hands ended up brushing Ruben’s chest. She froze at the accidental contact, a shiver rippling down her spine. She pinned her reaction on the undeniable fact that it had been entirely too long since she had touched a man, even accidentally.

She had to cut out this fascination or whatever it was im­mediately. Clean-cut, muscular cops were not her type, and the sooner she remembered that the better.

She focused on checking the ears of the little dog, gave him one more scratch and handed him back to Ruben. “That should do it. A clean bill of health. They seem to be two happy, well-adjusted dogs. You obviously take good care of them.”

He patted both dogs with an affectionate smile that did nothing to ease her nerves.

“My dad taught me well. I spent most of my youth help­ing out here at the clinic—cleaning cages, brushing coats, walking the occasional overnight boarder. Whatever grunt work he needed. He made all of us help.”

“I can think of worse ways to earn a dime,” she said.

The chance to work with animals would have been a dream opportunity for her, back when she had few bright spots in her world. Besides that, she considered his father one of the sweetest people she had ever met.

“So can I. I always loved animals.”

She had to wonder why he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and become a vet. None of his three siblings had made that choice, either. If any of them had, she prob­ably wouldn’t be here right now, as Frank Morales prob­ably would have handed down his thriving practice to his own progeny.

Not that it was any of her business. Ruben certainly could follow any career path he wanted—as long as that path took him far away from her.

“Give me a moment to grab those medications and I’ll be right back.”

“No rush.”

Out in the hall, she closed the door behind her and drew in a deep breath.

Get a grip, she chided herself. He’s just a hot-looking dude. Heaven knows, you’ve had more than enough experience with those to last a lifetime.

She went to the well-stocked medication dispensary, found what she needed and returned to the exam room.

Outside the door, she paused for only a moment to gather her composure before pushing it open. “Here are the pills for Ollie’s nerves and a refill for Yukon’s eye drops,” she said briskly. “Let me know if you have any questions—though if you do, you can certainly ask your father.”

“Thanks.” As he took the medication from her, his hands brushed hers again and sent a little spark of awareness shiv­ering through her.

Oh, come on. This was ridiculous.

She was probably imagining the way his gaze sharpened, as if he had felt something odd, too.

“I can show you out. We’re shorthanded today since the veterinary tech and the receptionist both needed to leave early.”

“No problem. That’s what I get for scheduling the last appointment of the day—though, again, I spent most of my youth here. I think we can find our way.”

“It’s fine. I’ll show you out.” She stood outside the door while he gathered the dogs’ leashes, then led the way to­ward the front office.

After three months, Ruben still couldn’t get a bead on Dr. Daniela Capelli.

His next-door neighbor still seemed a complete enigma to him. By all reports from his father, she was a dedicated, earnest new veterinarian with a knack for solving diffi­cult medical mysteries and a willingness to work hard. She seemed like a warm and loving mother, at least from the few times he had seen her interactions with her two girls, the uniquely named teenager Silver—who had, paradoxi­cally, purple hair—and the sweet-as-Christmas-toffee Mia, who was probably about six.

He also couldn’t deny she was beautiful, with slender fea­tures, striking green eyes, dark, glossy hair and a dusky skin tone that proclaimed her Italian heritage—as if her name didn’t do the trick first.

He actually liked the trace of New York accent that slipped into her speech at times. It fit her somehow, in a way he couldn’t explain. Despite that, he couldn’t deny that the few times he had interacted with more than a wave in passing, she was brusque, prickly and sometimes down­right distant.

He had certainly had easier neighbors.

His father adored her and wouldn’t listen to a negative thing about her.

She hasn’t had an easy time of things but she’s a fighter. Hard­working and eager to learn, Frank had said the other night when Ruben asked how things were working out, now that Dani and her girls had been in town a few months. You just have to get to know her.

Frank apparently didn’t see how diligently Dani Capelli worked to keep anyone else from doing just that.

She wasn’t unfriendly, only distant. She kept herself to herself. It was a phrase his mother might use, though Myra Morales seemed instantly fond of Dani and her girls.

Did Dani have any idea how fascinated the people of Haven Point were with these new arrivals in their midst?

Or maybe that was just him.

As he followed her down the hall in her white lab coat, his dogs behaving themselves for once, Ruben told himself to forget about his stupid attraction to her.

Sure, he might be ready to settle down and would like to have someone in his life, but he wasn’t at all sure if he had the time or energy for that someone to be a woman with so many secrets in her eyes, one who seemed to face the world with her chin up and her fists out, ready to take on any threats.

When they walked into the clinic waiting room, they found her two girls there. The older one was texting on her phone while her sister did somersaults around the room.

Dani stopped in the doorway and seemed to swallow an exasperated sound. “Mia, honey, you’re going to have dog hair all over you.”

“I’m a snowball rolling down the hill,” the girl said. “Can’t you see me getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

“You’re such a dorkupine,” her sister said, barely looking up from her phone.

“I’m a dorkupine snowball,” Mia retorted.

“You’re a snowball who is going to be covered in dog hair,” Dani said. “Come on, honey. Get up.”

He could tell the moment the little girl spotted him and his dogs coming into the area behind her mother. She went still and then slowly rose to her feet, features shifting from gleeful to nervous.

Why was she so afraid of him?

“You make a very good snowball,” he said, pitching his voice low and calm as his father had taught him to do with all skittish creatures. “I haven’t seen anybody somersault that well in a long time.”

She moved to her mother’s side and buried her face in Dani’s white coat—though he didn’t miss the way she reached down to pet Ollie on her way.

“Hey again, Silver.”

He knew the older girl from the middle school, where he served as the resource officer a few hours a week. He made it a point to learn all the students’ names and tried to talk to them individually when he had the chance, in hopes that if they had a problem at home or knew of something po­tentially troublesome for the school, they would feel com­fortable coming to him.

He had the impression that Silver was like her mother in many ways. Reserved, wary, slow to trust. It made him wonder just who had hurt them.

“How are things?” he asked her now.

For just an instant, he thought he saw sadness flicker in her gaze before she turned back to her phone with a shrug. “Fine, I guess.”

“Are you guys ready for Christmas? It’s your first one here in Idaho. A little different from New York, isn’t it?”

“How should we know? We haven’t lived in the city for, like, four years.”

Dani sent her daughter a look at her tone, which seemed to border on disrespectful. “I’ve been in vet school in Bos­ton the last four years,” she explained.

“Boston. Then you’re used to snow and cold. We’re known for our beautiful winters around here. The lake is simply stunning in wintertime.”

Mia tugged on her mother’s coat and when Dani bent down, she whispered something to her.

“You can ask him,” Dani said calmly, gesturing to Ruben.

Mia shook her head and buried her face again and after a moment, Dani sighed. “She wonders if it’s possible to ice-skate on Lake Haven. We watched the most recent Olym­pics and she became a little obsessed.”

“You could say that,” Silver said. “She skated around the house in her stocking feet all day long for weeks. A dorku­pine on ice.”

“You can’t skate on the lake, I’m afraid,” Ruben an­swered. “Because of the underground hot springs that feed into it at various points, Lake Haven rarely freezes, except sometimes along the edges, when it’s really cold. It’s not re­ally safe for ice skating. But the city creates a skating rink on the tennis courts at Lake View Park every year. The volunteer fire department sprays it down for a few weeks once temperatures get really cold. I saw them out there the other night so it shouldn’t be long before it’s open. Maybe a few more weeks.”

Mia seemed to lose a little of her shyness at that prospect. She gave him a sideways look from under her mother’s arm and aimed a fleeting smile full of such sweetness that he was instantly smitten.

“There’s also a great place for sledding up behind the high school. You can’t miss that, either. Oh, and in a few weeks we have the Lights on the Lake Festival. You’ve heard about that, right?”

They all gave him matching blank stares, making him wonder what was wrong with the Haven Point Helping Hands that they hadn’t immediately dragged Dani into their circle. He would have to talk to Andie Bailey or his sister Angela about it. They always seemed to know what was going on in town.

“I think some kids at school were talking about that at lunch the other day,” Silver said. “They were sitting at the next table so I didn’t hear the whole thing, though.”

“Haven Point hosts an annual celebration a week or so before Christmas where all the local boat owners deck out their watercraft from here to Shelter Springs to welcome in the holidays and float between the two towns. There’s music, food and crafts for sale. It’s kind of a big deal around here. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it.”

“I’m very busy, with the practice and the girls, Deputy Morales. I don’t have a lot of time for socializing.” Though Dani tried for a lofty look, he thought he caught a hint of vulnerability there.

She seemed…lonely. That didn’t make a lick of sense. The women in this town could be almost annoying in their efforts to include newcomers in community events. They didn’t give people much of an option, dragging them kick­ing and screaming into the social scene around town, like it or not.

“Well, now you know. You really can’t miss the festival. It’s great fun for the whole family.”

“Thank you for the information. It’s next week, you say?”

“That’s right. Not this weekend but the one after. The whole thing starts out with the boat parade on Saturday evening, around six.”

“We’ll put it on our social calendar.”

“What’s a social calendar?” Mia whispered to her sister, just loud enough for Ruben to hear.

“It’s a place where you keep track of all your invitations to parties and sleepovers and stuff.”

“Oh. Why do we need one of those?”

“Good question.”

Silver looked glum for just a moment but Dani hugged her, then faced Ruben with a polite, distant smile.

“Thank you for bringing in Ollie and Yukon. Have a good evening, Deputy Morales.”

It was a clear dismissal, one he couldn’t ignore. Ruben gathered his dogs’ leashes and headed for the door. “Thank you. See you around. And by around, I mean next door. We kind of can’t miss each other.”

As he hoped, this made Mia smile a little. Even Silver’s dour expression eased into what almost looked like a smile.

As he loaded the dogs into the king cab of his pickup truck, Ruben could see Dani turning off lights and straight­ening up the clinic.

What was her story? Why had she chosen to come straight from vet school in Boston to set up shop all the way across the country in a small Idaho town?

He loved his hometown, sure, and fully acknowledged it was a beautiful place to live. It still seemed a jarring cul­tural and geographic shift from living back east to this lit­tle town where the biggest news of the month was a rather corny light parade that people froze their asses off to watch.

And why did he get the impression the family wasn’t so­cializing much? One of the reasons most people he knew moved to small towns was a yearning for the kind of con­nectedness and community a place like Haven Point had in spades. What was the point in moving to a small town if you were going to keep yourself separate from everybody?

He thought he had seen them at a few things when they first came to Haven Point but since then, Dani seemed to be keeping her little family mostly to themselves. That must be by choice. It was the only explanation that made sense. He couldn’t imagine McKenzie Kilpatrick or Andie Bailey or any of the other Helping Hands excluding her on purpose.

What was she so nervous about?

He added another facet to the enigma of his next-door neighbor. He had hoped that he might be able to get a better perspective of her by bringing the dogs in to her for their routine exams. While he had confirmed his father’s belief that she appeared to be an excellent veterinarian, he now had more questions about the woman and her daughters to add to his growing list.

Season of Wonder: A Haven Point Novel
by by RaeAnne Thayne

  • Genres: Fiction, Romance
  • paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HQN
  • ISBN-10: 1335947930
  • ISBN-13: 9781335947932