Author's Note: Thank you to the readers who messaged asking for updates. It took me forever to write this chapter (because real life and graduation are scarily near), and it is not as long as usual, but I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter Seventeen

I watched my breath form a puff in front of my face in the sharp cold of the early morning air. We'd had a gift of snow from Mother Nature, and the temperatures plummeted overnight. The driver's door to my Dad's old Ford F-150 creaked as I sat down, which was mine now as my poor old Dakota had finally kicked the bucket. I lifted my behind off the cold seat as I reached for my work phone in my jeans. My brown eyes eyed the orange, red, and gold leaves still clinging to the poplar trees my truck was parked next to. I blew on my fingers as I cranked my heaters and dialed the familiar number, still getting used to the new iPhones Dr. Caldin had purchased for staff to use during work hours.

"Hello. How did the x rays go?" the familiar voice of Kristy sounded on the line.

"Hey Kristy. Angus was reluctant to stand on the blocks so we had to get his girlfriend Annie to come along for moral support. And he needed some serious pushing. Donkeys." I laughed.

"Goodness. How do his feet look?"

" be honest, not good. It looks like the coffin bone has rotated more, but I'll need to do the measurements back in the clinic and compare with the last set of rads. He's sound enough, and I've upped his bute. But Shelly is aware that he likely won't make it this winter, unfortunately."

"Oh no. She loves that guy. Poor thing. Well, you come back quick, a client brought in some good city coffee. I saved you some."

"Thanks Kristy. I should be back in a half hour or so. Repacking all the DR equipment took longer than I thought." I glanced at the mass of boxes and lead aprons in the back of my cab, thankful I'd managed to rejig everything to fit. The line clicked, and hearing my old engine change sound and vibration as it warmed up, I got moving.

Growing up in an area that had more winter than summer, my eyes easily scanned the old gravel road for icy patches as I wound my way off of Shelly's property and towards the highway. I brought my truck to a bit of a sliding stop as my personal cell went off.

"Hello?" Dead air greeted my ear. "Hello?" I pulled the phone away, checking that it was still connected to a signal. I eyed the number, but it was listed as Unknown. "Hello?" I tried one last time. I hung up when nothing changed. I rolled my eyes before taking my foot off the brake and continuing down the gravel drive and onto the asphalt Township Road. I hadn't even made it five minutes when my phone went off again. I pulled to the side of the road, despite it being empty, just in case. 'Unknown again...maybe they had bad signal.'

"Hello?" I answered. Nothing greeted me. I didn't bother asking again. I ended the call and replaced my phone in the console next to my travel mug. "Jerks."

No sooner had I parked outside the clinic than my phone went off, again. I felt myself frown, getting annoyed. Glancing at the Caller ID, I relaxed; it was Jen.

"Hey." I greeted, turning my ignition off.

"Hey! Just checking to make sure we are still good to do our joint grocery shop today? Old ladies that we are." Jen chuckled.

"Yes we are, to both! Still meeting at...4 today right? Fingers crossed nothing comes in, but if I'm late just check your messages." I smiled.

"OK, will do! I'll let you get back to work."

No sooner had we hung up before my phone went off again. I didn't bother checking who it was, assuming Jen had forgotten to mention something.

"Hey, did you-" my voice died when I realize whoever had called me was definitely not Jen. Heavy panting and a male groaning sounded on the line. I felt my eyes go wide as a part of my brain realized someone was pleasing themselves to the sound of my voice. I ripped the phone from my ear, noted the Unknown number ID, and hung up before throwing my phone back onto the bench seat. I shut my door before walking to the other side to start unloading. I didn't check my personal phone again until my shift was over.

"Hey, you're not late!" Jen greeted, cloth shopping bags in hand. I smiled, trying to force myself to forget about the (hopefully) one time event from the pervert. I planned to block his number and maybe even call my phone provider later tonight. I glanced at my phone as I approached, noting some messages from Vlad that I had not replied to.

"Yeah, lucky me. It was a...controlled day." I replied, plopping my reusable bags into a cart.

" are things with you and Vlad?" I only half heard Jen's question as I loaded ginger kombucha into my cart. We started towards the produce.

"Uh...yeah they're good. We've both made it official by meeting the other's parents."

"Has either of you spent the night? Should be you staying there cause his place is crazy."

"Nope. Well...we've spent the day and evening together but we haven't spent the night."

" sex?"

"No! I've told you! Besides, Vlad isn't pushy." I leaned over to inspect some lemons, suddenly wanting to bake some lemon bars.

"Cheese!" I glanced at Jen, only catching that she had taken a photo of me.

"What are you doing?" I bagged my lemons.

"Sending it to Vlad. It was a cute photo of you being all...wife material. Not that you're not!" I rolled my eyes, faking annoyance before poking her in the ribs.

Later on, we stopped by the clothing area. I eyed up an olive green long sleeved top with lace detailing. I had just leaned over to grab my size to try on when someone shoved into my shoulder. I pulled back to find a man about my age turning to me.

"Oh, I'm sorry...Amelia?" I squinted at the man, my mind unsure of who he was.

"Joe?" Jen asked from next to me.

"Hey, Jen. Wow...Amelia, you look great. And you got glasses." Only when he smiled did I recognize him as a guy who I had known a bit in high school and first bit of my undergraduate degree.

"Hi Joe. Yeah...about five years ago. Thank you."

"How's married life?" Jen asked.

"Yeah, congratulations on getting married. Is your wife here?" I asked. Joe had gotten married at some point during our degrees, but I had already been away at vet school.

"No, Heather isn't with me today. Just getting some things. Sorry for running into you. How'"

"Good, yeah. I'm a vet now. Managed to chase my dream. How about you? Engineer?"

"Oh wow that's amazing. Yeah...I'm a computer engineer."

"No surprise, you always were good with computers." I smiled at him. He rubbed his neck as my phone dinged at me.

"Excuse me." I retrieved it from my bag, seeing a new message from Vlad. 'I feel so bad for ignoring him today. He doesn't deserve it.' I turned away from Joe to type a quick reply and a massive apology, hoping Vlad wouldn't get annoyed.

"Uh...yeah. Sorry I've got to get going. Just came in for a few things and was cutting through clothing before I ran into you. We should hang out sometime, like old times." Joe stated as I returned to the conversation.

"Yeah, that would be good." I smiled again before he walked off.

"You should get that. It's a good colour for you." Jen pointed to the shirt I was still holding. I laughed and shook my head, plopping my size into my cart.

My engine idled as I changed the transmission to park, turning my radio off. It was now 5:30 pm, and in winter this far north, it was pitch dark outside. I eyed the entrance to my apartment-style condo, suddenly feeling wary of the shadows dancing outside the well-lit security entrance. I cranked the ignition off, leaving my headlights on for a moment.

"Get a grip, girl. The dude found your number, that's it. Not like he knows anything else about you. Probably only kept calling because you were stupid enough to keep answering. It didn't even go to voicemail, so you're fine." I patted my cheeks to shake myself before opening my door and stepping out. I had two make two trips to get everything inside, but I only breathed once I was safe behind my locked door. I double checked the chain lock as well as the deadbolt before I felt happy enough to start packing things away. I went around my home, turning lights on and inspecting the area to ensure I was alone and safe. Once satisfied, I returned to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

"I could definitely use a cuppa right about now." I sighed. One of my phones went off on my counter, and from the ringtone, I knew it was my personal one. I eyed the Caller ID, breathing a sigh of relief once I saw it was Vlad.


"Hey, babe. Tell me, what do you call delivery in this weather?"

"'ve lost me. What?"

"A frozen Vladimir. Want to buzz me in?" I frowned, heading to my intercom.

"Are you actually outside?" I spoke into the speaker, only to hear Vlad laugh on both my phone and intercom.

"What are you doing here?" I asked my Russian once he appeared at the door.

"You seem like you've had a hard day, so I brought food." I smiled at him, opening my door wider to let him in.

"I do not deserve you. I'm really sorry for not replying."

"Nah. I get it, we all need to unplug for a bit." Vlad leaned down and pressed a kiss to my forehead. I smiled again, relaxing into his embrace. I eyed the paper bag in his hand, the smell of greasy deliciousness greeting my nose.

"Is that..?"

"A double smashed burger, with extra mushrooms and cheese? Yes. I also brought some of those buckeye doughnuts you're so fond of." I couldn't hold my squeal in as I squeezed Vlad, who simply laughed as I dragged him down so I could kiss his cheek.

A half hour later, after we had gorged ourselves on burgers, fries, and a doughnut each, we were seated on my sofa, both drinking tea.

"Thank you, Vlad." I sighed against him. My Russian chuckled, and I inwardly reveled in feeling his chest vibrate.

"You're welcome. You do know that you can talk to me, right? I was a bit worried today, I won't lie." green eyes pinned me, searching my face.

"I know. I'm sorry. It was just a hard day and I guess the Winter Blues setting in or something. Just one of those 'low days'." my heart hurt lying to Vlad. I wanted to die. Green eyes looked at me for a moment before he released me from his gaze. He didn't look convinced.

We sat in quiet comfort for a while more, intermittently talking about random things until it got late. Vlad kissed me thoroughly at the door, nearly causing my knees to buckle.

"Sweet dreams, beautiful. Don't dream of me too much." my Russian winked while I tried to reboot my brain.

"You wish." my lips curved upwards at him, unable to stop myself.

"Let me know when you're home safe." I told him.

"Will do. Goodnight, Daragaya."

"Goodnight." I still felt like a cotton wisp in the wind while I locked my door and made my way to my room. I closed my curtains before grabbing my night clothes and heading to the bathroom to shower and get ready for bed.

Later on, I was settling into bed when I noticed my phone blinking at me. Thinking it was Vlad, I unlocked it and went to my messages. There was indeed one from Vladimir, but there was also one for a number I didn't recognise. I frowned at my phone, noting the multimedia initials at the bottom. I replied the Vlad's message before biting the bullet and opening the message. I proceeded to drop my phone and scramble out of bed. I felt cold panic grip me.

I felt my back hit my closet door as my chest began heaving and breathing eluded me.

Staring back at me from my phone screen was a picture of myself, not a half hour ago.


Daragaya: My dear, darling [Russian]