Authors: Jenna Jared
"This is Heavenly Doggie Kennel. When are you coming to get your dog?"
Carrie Kennedy put down the scrub brush and gripped her cell phone with both rubber-gloved hands. As if her life weren't in enough turmoil…now there was a dog, too?
"Are you sure this isn't a wrong number?" she asked Dog Lady.
"Don't play smart with me. You were supposed to pick it up yesterday. Today is tomorrow, and yesterday you didn't come."
Carrie tried not to wrap her brain around Dog Lady's twisted time line and mentally swore instead.
Damn Phelps. What kind of lawyer was he, anyway?
"Mr. Phelps neglected to inform me that there was a dog--"
"Yeah, well, you, Mr. Phelps, or freaking Santa Claus better get over here and get this thing. I'm not watching it one more day. And bring a credit card to pay for damages."
"Five hundred bucks."
Carrie hissed in a breath. Nana had left her plenty of money. And she had her own money, too. But five hundred bucks was not a small amount. Not when she had make so many repairs to Nana's house. She needed to get it presentable and on the market so she could get home, get back to her life in Texas.
Nana had wanted her to stay in Rhode Island.
Carrie would have rather cut off her own head than stay there. Every moment she spent in the town of North Kingstown, she ran the risk of running into Zack Mahoney. It was bad enough she'd just buried Nana and was selling off her
possessions. Nana had taken her in as a newly orphaned girl, raised her, cared for her and loved her. Carrie didn't need the additional blow of bumping into the man who—as a boy—had crushed her girlish heart.
And after all, this was Rhode Island. You couldn't swing a plastic lobster bib without hitting someone you knew. With her luck,
someone would be Zack Mahoney.
She needed to sell Nana's house and get away. Fast.
"The clock's ticking," Dog Lady barked.
"Oh. Yes. I'll be there. As soon as I can." Carrie bent, picked up the brush and dropped it into the bucket. So much for scrubbing the tile floor. She'd have to do that later. After she called Phelps, Nana's lawyer, and chewed him a new one.
as you can? If you don't come and get this hound within twenty minutes, you'll owe me another couple of hundred."
"Twenty—I don't even know where you are!"
"I'm not watching this
for any longer than that. Not without compensation."
"Every minute you're late after twenty minutes, I'm charging you an extra ten bucks."
"Can you do that? Legally, I mean?" Carrie clutched the phone and watched her plans for the day go up in a puff of dog-hair-scented smoke.
"Watch me, lady. If I were you, I'd quit arguing—you just lost a minute."
Carrie got the address and hit the
button. She'd ream Phelps a new one after she picked up the dog. He should have mentioned the animal at the reading of the will, not just dropped it off at the kennel and forgotten about it.
Eighteen minutes and thirty seconds later, she pulled Nana's van into Heavenly Doggie Kennel's lot If it hadn't been for the giant, red-lettered pharmacy sign across the street, she would have missed it the small plaza containing the kennel altogether. But there, beside a dark and dank-looking building, stood a pale woman with tangled, platinum-colored hair floating about her head like a mist. Beside her, on a knotted pink leash, stood a shaggy gray pony. The pony began to jump around and bark.
Holy Mother of God…that's a dog.
A sinking feeling gripped her stomach and settled low in her gut. "Nana, please tell me that's not your dog," she prayed.
"Take your dog!" The slight woman shrieked as the beast strained at the leash, pulling her like a kite on a string. In a very strong wind.
Carrie got out of the van, peering up at the sign looming over them.
Heavenly Doggie Kennel
, it read in loopy, dark-pink letters. A winged, Pepto-pink poodle hovered over the words, supposedly looking angelic instead of absurd.
And if the giant dog even now racing toward her was heavenly, then…she was in Hell.
It galloped her way, leaped up and knocked her down. But instead of mauling her, the dog licked her face and wiggled with unmistakable joy. It settled down to on her stomach and breathed hot breath at her, then gave her a slurpy kiss.
Carrie hoped it licked her by way of a happy greeting and not because it thought she tasted delicious.
“Help!” She croaked at Dog Lady.
“Oh!” The woman said, and began pushing at the dog’s rear while Carrie shoved at its chest. Eventually, the animal got off of her. Carrie scrambled to her feet; the dog pressed against Carrie's legs like a tick.
"Her name is Ellie," Dog Lady said. "She's an Irish wolfhound. She's still a puppy."
? Carrie stared down at the animal. "The top of her head reaches my navel. She's enormous. Are you sure?"
Dog Lady nodded. She seemed rather pleasant, now that she knew the dog was leaving. "Quite sure."
"What could an eighty-three-year-old woman be doing with a dog this big? Her house is the size of a garden shed!"
Dog Lady shrugged and smiled, but she had no answer.
Carrie stared down at the dog. She couldn’t believe Ellie existed.
Why, Nana? Why?
"She never even mentioned it."
The woman’s expression made Carrie feel as if Dog Lady knew more than she was saying. She opened her mouth to ask, but then Ellie spotted a squirrel in the tree behind the building, and both women needed to wrestle with the animal to stop it from racing away in pursuit of the tree rodent. "We'd better get her into the van," Carrie said.
With the help of enigmatic Dog Lady, along with tugs, shrieks, pushes and—finally—a stale Life Saver Carrie found in the console between the front seats, Ellie got into the van. Apparently, the dog liked Life Savers.
She also seemed to like everything else, because during the ride home, Ellie pulled up and shredded half the rug and ate a plastic Sacred Heart of Jesus statuette, and then added to Nana's van's
l'odeur du something gone bad
with the smell of
something done bad
, depositing a runny poop the size of —well, Rhode Island—onto the center bench seat.
Way to go, Ellie.
Carrie pulled over and did her best to clean up the mess with a handful of Dunkin’ Donut napkins and some dried-out moist towelettes she'd found in the glove compartment. Without gagging. Or passing out.
"I think I hate you," she told the dog, which licked the side of her face and her ear with a tongue the size of a facecloth.
She hated the beast even more when a carsick Ellie vomited on the other rear seat, blanketing it with half-digested kibble and pieces of plastic Jesus.
Great. I'll never be able to sell this thing now, even if I get it detailed. Twice.
Then again, the only way she'd be sure to be rid of the vehicle was to abandon it. It wasn't as if anyone would want Nana's minivan anyway. It was old, dented, and on its last legs.
Carrie's eyes began to water—with tears of frustration or a reaction to the foul reek, she wasn't sure.
Nana, why did you do this to me? And why did you leave without saying goodbye?
Her life was going from bad to complete crap.
And then, she saw the red lights flashing in her rearview mirror.
Zack wondered if that was a pony in the back seat of the ancient minivan parked on the side of Ten Rod Road. It was hard to tell behind the tinted glass. Whatever it was, it was huge. Cautiously, he got out of his cruiser, pulling his big-brimmed Smokie hat on as he strode to the driver's side window, still trying to see the animal. Fifteen years as a cop, and he'd pretty much seen it all. It really wouldn't have surprised him to see a small equine poking its nose out the window at him.
He peered past the driver—a woman with her blonde-streaked hair pulled into one of those complicated up-do things—to see the pony, then took a step back when the smell hit him.
It was like a living thing, reaching its foul fingers out to grab at him. "Holy shit," he said, and tried not to gag.
"That's why I'm pulled over," the woman gasped. "I can't—the smell…I'm out of napkins and I just used up the last Handi-Wipe."
Then, abruptly, she fell silent. Probably trying not to vomit.
"Forget the Handi-Wipes. You're going to need a hazmat suit and a gas mask to clean up that mess." Zack pulled his gaze from the shadow of the animal lurking between the two sets of benched seats to look at the woman.
It was like a punch in the gut. "Holy…shit," he repeated. "Carrie? Carrie Kennedy?"
She narrowed her eyes. "Zack Mahoney." Her voice was cold. Like her eyes. Still the same silvery gray, but instead of the warm twinkles he remembered, there was nothing there now but shards of ice.
"Wow, Carrie. The last time I saw you was—"
"At the senior prom? When you took my virginity and
took my best friend home instead of me?"
Finally, he'd get the chance to explain! Zack opened his mouth to tell her, but—without warning—he was fighting with a bear. Or a werewolf. Or
big, with wiry gray hair and inch-long fangs.
It went for his hat.
It's a dog!
A big, angry one. He could tell it was one by the kibble scent of the animal's breath. And experience. Being the town animal control coordinator meant that he not only functioned as the dog catcher, but ran the pound, did community canine-training classes—pretty much everything dog.
But this animal…holy mackerel. It plucked his Smokey hat off his head; when he tried to tug it from the beast's mouth, it let go and lunged for his epaulets. "Shit!" Zack held the dog by the throat, away from his body, and ordered in the calmest voice he could muster, "Call your dog off, Carrie.
Why should I?
Carrie watched Zack struggling with Ellie and felt a deep sense of satisfaction. Finally, Zack was getting his due.
Go for his testicles!
Then again, if Ellie castrated him, Carrie would
be allowed to leave Rhode Island. She'd remained locked up and behind bars for a good, long time.
She pulled at Ellie's leash. "Down. Down, dog. Down." After many good, hard pulls, she managed to drag the dog to the back of the van, where she wrapped the leash around the leg of the seat. The dog hopped onto the rear bench seat and sat there, panting. Carrie patted Ellie’s head. "You were trying to protect me, weren't you? Thank you, you good girl."
Ellie whined and licked Carrie's chin, probably sensing her conflicted and tense feelings.
Either that, or the dog was just psycho. Carrie wasn't sure. She preferred the former; she needed a protector, especially from Zack Mahoney. Two minutes after seeing him for the first time in eighteen years, her heart raced, her knees trembled and her nether bits warmed.
Even with a dog tearing the hat off his head, he was the handsomest boy—
, she amended—she'd ever seen. He still affected her, even though he'd broken her heart and cast a long shadow that still darkened her life.
When she got back to the driver's seat, Zack stood, waiting, with his arms crossed over his chest. His gray uniform shirt hung in tatters off his muscular frame, and his hat dangled, chewed and holey, from one of his hands. She remembered the way his long fingers had enveloped her own on one of their long walks on the beach. And she especially remembered his hands searching out and finding her most intimate places.
Those very same places craved his touch still. Damn them. She took a deep breath and tried to gain control of her traitorous body as she peered out the window at him.
He stared back at her, his eyes the same rich, deep and dark chocolate brown she remembered. They burned hot—but not hot with desire, as she recollected. Instead, he glared more like he was hot under the collar.
What was left of it.
This was so not good. At all.
She had to hand it to him, though. Eighteen years later, and he could still make her feel like she was about to be struck by lightning.
No, not struck by lightning. Burned.
Nobody knew that better than her. He'd burned her once, and she still had the scars on her heart to prove it. Deep scars that made her mistrust every man she'd ever been with since Zack. Of course, a few of them had burned her too, but none of their betrayal had hurt her as much as Zack’s. He was her first love, and he'd taught her an important lesson:
Don't ever let a man touch your heart.