Authors: Donna Ball
DOUBLE DOG DARE
Raine Stockton Dog Mystery
By Donna Ball
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the author.
Copyright 2013 by Donna Ball, Inc.
Published by Blue Merle Publishing
Mountain City Georgia 30562
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations and places in this book are either a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and no effort should be made to construe them as real. Any resemblance to any actual people, events or locations is purely coincidental
he sound of exploding china was like a gunshot. My two Australian shepherds, Mischief and Magic, darted under the kitchen table and even Cisco dropped his waving golden tail, laid his ears flat against his head, and made himself as small as it was possible for a seventy-two- pound golden retriever to do while still remaining upright and poised to run. Usually, as he knew very well, sounds like that were followed by yelling, and the yelling was usually directed at him, usually with good cause. This time, however, I simply stared in astonishment at the shattered remains of my Golden Retriever of America Club mug that were scattered across the floor. I hadn’t dropped it. I had thrown it. One minute it was in my hand, ready to be filled with my morning coffee, and the next minute I had smashed it on the floor. I couldn’t believe it.
Maude had given me that mug for Christmas over ten years ago.
My name is Raine Stockton. I am the owner and operator of Dog Daze Boarding and Training, and up until a few weeks ago, Maude, who had been like a mother to me for most of my life, had been my partner. Generally speaking, I am as calm and collected as anyone you’d ever want to meet; you have to be when you work with dogs. I hardly ever throw things, or drop them either. I don’t know what happened. One minute I was looking at the cup, the next I was smashing it on the floor. I guess I’d been under a little stress lately.
“Wow,” I said
. I was unable, for a moment, to drag my eyes from the mess.
Miles watched me from his seat at the table, his own coffee cup
paused midway to his lips. “To say the least,” he agreed mildly. His expression was unruffled. Or at least I hope it was unruffled, and not the kind of look you give a person you are trying to keep calm while you leave the room to make a call to the mental hospital. Come to think of it, I had been getting that look a lot lately, and not just from Miles.
We had been seriously seeing each other for
less than a year, but Miles was slowly moving his way up the relationship ladder toward semi-Significant Other, despite the fact that we had absolutely nothing in common and in almost every meaningful way were polar opposites. He traveled the world; I rarely left the mountains of North Carolina. He hobnobbed with the society elite; I went to pot-luck dinners. I was a dedicated conservationist, and he made his rather impressive living by destroying natural beauty and putting up condos. Though I frequently accused him of not understanding me at all, I sometimes secretly suspected he knew me a little too well. This was one of those times.
I cleared my throat in embarrassment and went to the broom closet, pausing along the way to snatch a handful of dog treats from the cookie jar. I quickly swept up the mess, and as soon as the floor was safe for dog paws
, I called my guys over and apologized, plying them with treats and neck rubs. No one forgives and forgets faster than a dog, especially when there are treats involved, and in a matter of moments I was awash in wriggling fur and happy doggie breath, laughing as I dodged wet kisses and tried to keep myself from being knocked over by the melee. You have to try really hard to stay upset when you’re around dogs, and frankly, at this hour of the morning, I didn’t have the energy.
Miles said, “Do you have a
n up-to-date passport?”
The question surprised me as much as my dropping and/or throwing of the mug must have surprised him. Both came out of nowhere, and neither had a rational explanation. I said
, standing up, “Of course I do.”
My father had been a district court judge in the small North Carolina mountain town of Hansonville where I still lived. He had also, as I had only recently found out, been a lying cheater, just like my ex-husband, who had abused his office and disgraced everything he had ever stood for and taught me to believe in, but that’s beside the point. The point is that before I went off to college, he and my mother, who had no idea he was cheating on her and lying to us both, had taken me to Raleigh to apply for my first passport. My mother made me promise to keep it up to date, telling me that it was a symbol of the world that was about to open up before me. She had died only a few years later, and in memory of her I had always kept my passport up to date, despite the fact that I had only used it twice: once when my ex and I had gone on our first honeymoon, camping in Canada, and again when we had gone on our second honeymoon, fishing in Mexico. I’m sure my mother had hoped the passport would be used for more exotic destinations, and come to think of it, so had I. But hey, we all face disappointments in life.
Some bigger than others.
I had started to get another cup of coffee but, feeling the scowl pulling between my eyebrows, I wasn’t sure I trusted myself with the china. I veered away and opened the door for the dogs. “Come on, guys,” I invited. “Run play.”
The two Aussies raced out into the misty summer morning, but Cisco, who rarely left a room when there was still food on the table, elected to stay.
“How’d you like a few days at the beach?” Miles said.
“I’d like it fine,” I said, keeping my voice bright and airy with a determined effort. “But you don’t need a passport for that.”
“You do if the beach is in the French West Indies.”
I gave a short bark of laughter that I hoped didn’t sound as mirthless as I felt. “Oh, yeah, like I can just drop everything and sail half
- way around the world with you.”
I made my way over to the table where a plate of bagels that Miles had brought all the way from Atlanta was waiting, along with cream cheese,
smoked salmon, soft butter and my Aunt Mart’s unbeatable strawberry jam. I forgot that Cisco was under my feet—how, I can’t imagine, since he’s almost
under my feet—and spoke sharply when I almost tripped over him. “Cisco, for heaven’s sake, will you
?” I pointed angrily to the dog bed on the other side of the kitchen. “Place! Now!”
Cisco’s ears went down, Miles’s eyebrows went up, and I felt like a cad as Cisco slunk away and dropped down onto his bed with a sigh, head between his paws.
In fact, I felt like crying. I felt like that a lot lately, too.
Miles got up from the table and went to top off his coffee. “One,” he said, “we’re not sailing, we’re flying. Two…” He filled a second cup and handed it to me. “It’s not half
-way around the world. It’s just St. Bart’s. Practically Florida. Mel gets out of school for the summer on Friday and I promised her the trip if she got an A in earth science on her last report card. I figured we’d leave Saturday morning. ”
Now he had my attention. Melanie was Miles’s ten-year-old daughter, and he sometimes accused me of liking her more than I liked him. Sometimes he was right. Since both Miles and Melanie lived full time in Atlanta a good three hours away, I rarely got to spend enough time with her during the school year. Miles had a place in St. Bart’s and he had been promising to take me there for months, but every time we made plans to go something always came up. A lot of people might have considered a trip to a romantic place like St. Bart’s with a man like Miles to be irresistible in and of itself, but what put it over the top for me was that fact that Melanie would be coming along. For a moment I actually considered it. But only for a moment.
I said, “You don’t think you might be going a little overboard? When I was a kid I got ice cream for getting A’s.”
Miles had had full custody of Melanie for less than a year and he was still feeling his way around some of the finer points of fatherhood. I knew he did not appreciate unsolicited advice on parenting—which was probably why, on this occasion, I chose to give it—and he usually let me know. This morning he clearly had another agenda.
, I got a quarter. Melanie gets a trip to the Caribbean. What do you say?”
I gave a swift sharp shake of my head. “Don’t be ridiculous. I can’t just take off like that. I’ve got three dogs. Just what am I supposed to do with them?”
He pulled out a chair for me at the breakfast table, shrugging one shoulder. “Bring them with you. As long as their health certificates are up to date, there should be no problem.”
I was outraged. “Put my dogs in the cargo hold of an airplane? In the middle of the summer? Are you crazy? Do you know how many dogs suffocate or die of heat stroke or get lost in airports or—
He held up a hand for peace and spoke over me. “No cargo hold,” he promised, “no airports, no heat stroke. We’ll take a private plane
, four hours in the air max. The dogs will fly first class, just like the rest of us.”
Did I mention I’m dating a rich guy? There are certain advantages.
“Four hours in the air with three dogs,” I muttered grumpily as I took my seat. “Sounds like the perfect vacation to me.”
, now I was just being difficult, although anyone who has ever taken even one dog on vacation with them will have to admit that it’s not the most relaxing way to spend a holiday. But the truth was that I really did want to go, as impractical as the whole idea was, and now I resented Miles for putting the possibility in my head.
“Suit yourself.” Miles sat across from me and reached for a bagel. “But Melanie will pout the whole time if you don’t bring Cisco. Not to mention what Cisco will do.”
I frowned, absently spooning strawberry jam on my onion bagel. Miles watched me, but said nothing.
“Cisco’s not going to do anything,” I said, and the dog in question lifted his head hopefully at the sound of his name. “He’s going to be right here with me. You might be able to hop on your private plane and go jetting off to the islands whenever the mood strike
s, but I have a business to run. I’m teaching three obedience classes and two agility classes a week, not to mention our therapy dog visits on Saturday, and I’m trial secretary for the agility trial next month
I’m on the committee for the Midsummer Night’s Dog Festival for the animal shelter, and—”
“I thought you said your classes finished up this week.”
“Well, they do.” I plopped a thin slice of smoked salmon atop the jam. “But I start another set in two weeks, and I have registrations to send out and confirmations to e-mail and bookkeeping to do—”
“And didn’t you spend all last week on the entries for that agility trial? Didn’t you say something about being finished with it until next month?”
Sometimes I loved Miles for remembering the little details of my life like that. Other times… not so much. You’d think a man who ran two corporations and who-knows-how-many subsidiary companies would have better things to do than to remember every little thing I said.
I took out
my frustration on the salt shaker, shaking it vigorously over the salmon on my bagel. “For heaven’s sake,” I told Miles tersely, “I run a boarding kennel. I can’t just take off whenever I want to. What am I supposed to do, close it down?”
he replied, buttering his bagel. “That’s what sole proprietorships do, you know, when they can’t be on site—they cease operations for a limited period of time. How long since you did that, Raine? When was the last time you had a vacation?”
I concentrated on spreading a big glop of cream cheese atop the salted salmon strawberry bagel. Vacation?
For the past ten years, my vacations had been weekend dog shows, workshops or training conferences, and those were possible only when Maude was available to take my place. Of course, Maude wasn’t here anymore. No more vacations for me.
“I can’t afford to close down,” I muttered. But I did not look at him when I said it because he knew perfectly well that I could… for a few days, at least. He had been here when I had come into an unexpected windfall over Christmas, enough to completely remodel the kennel building, buy all new equipment, and put quite a bit away for a rainy day. Or a vacation.
“Five days,” he said. “A week at most. Sunshine, surf, clear blue waters, plenty of tropical drinks with those little umbrellas in them... you’ll be a new woman.”
I bristled at that.
“What’s wrong with the old one?”