Authors: Mary Kay Andrews
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women
“I didn’t let her
anything,” Jack said. “I was taking her to that groomer of yours, who she detests, by the way, and she jumped out the window of my truck. I went looking for her and found another goldendoodle wandering down the lane behind West Charlton. I naturally assumed she was Shaz, so I tied a rope around her neck and walked her back home. What I didn’t know, since you couldn’t be bothered to tell me, was that I’d actually dognapped somebody else’s dog. A very angry somebody, who tried to sic the cops on me.”
“Not my problem,” Zoey said airily.
“Actually, it is your problem, since Shaz is your dog,” Jack pointed out.
That shut her up. At least momentarily. Any other woman would have been feeling painfully guilty by now, for abandoning her lover and her seven-month-old puppy, to run off to California the day after hooking up with a Jimmy Buffett impersonator she’d just met at a bar on River Street. A guy who called himself Jamey Buttons, for God’s sake.
But Zoey was not just any other woman.
“You told me you wanted a dog,” Zoey said accusingly.
“And you told me you loved me and wanted to have my children someday,” Jack said. “And just for the record? The dog I wanted was a black lab, not some funny-looking designer dog.”
“I’m not going to let you put a big guilt trip on me, Jack,” Zoey said. “I actually wanted to let you know that Jamey has a gig playing on a cruise ship out of Fort Lauderdale for the next three months, and I’ve signed on to be the ship’s Pilates instructor. I’ll send for Scheherazade when we get back. Probably in August.”
“Yippee,” Jack said bitterly. “Bye, Zoey.”
“Wait, Jack,” she said quickly. “Don’t forget, you’ve got to pick Shaz up by noon, or pay an extra day’s boarding fee. As it is, you already owe them seventy dollars.”
Jack tried, but couldn’t get back to sleep. Poppy was no help. She rested her muzzle on the edge of the mattress, watching him with her big, sad puppy eyes. He turned away, facing the wall, but he could feel Poppy’s warm breath on his neck.
Finally, he relented. He flipped back over and scratched under her chin. “There. Okay? Now can we get some sleep around here?”
Maybe he couldn’t sleep because he was dreading the coming morning. And seeing Poppy’s owner again.
The woman was a pistol, for sure. Her name was Cara Kryzik, Ryan told him. She wasn’t bad-looking, if you went for that kind of look. Which he didn’t. He’d always enjoyed blondes: tall, cool, athletic blondes. Like Zoey.
This Cara person, on the other hand, was the opposite of his type. She had shoulder-length, flyaway not-quite-brown, not-quite-blond hair. Big brown eyes that glittered dangerously when she was pissed off, a heart-shaped face, high cheekbones, and full, pink, lips that reminded him of overblown roses.
She dressed funny, too. That night, at the wedding, she’d worn an old-fashioned-looking pink silk rig that looked more like a nightgown, with its lacy inset bodice. She’d somehow managed to look sexy and demure at the same time, although he totally didn’t get how that look worked with pink cowboy boots.
Every time he’d turned around at the reception, she’d been right there in his face, telling him off, demanding that he return her dog.
His lamebrain brother, Ryan, found the whole scenario highly entertaining. But then, Ryan had notoriously eccentric taste in women. Take Torie, for instance.
“She’s worth the trouble,” Ryan said, when Jack pointed out the differences in their personalities. “I like a woman with fire.” Especially, he’d added, “in bed.”
It had been Ryan who’d coaxed Cara into dancing, despite her protests. His brother was a consummate party animal. He’d danced with almost all the women at the reception, including the seven-year-old flower girl, most of the bridesmaids, and their arthritic aunt Betty.
And he’d forced Jack onto the dance floor, too.
“You’re my best man,” he’d informed Jack, who would have preferred to melt into the woodwork. “It’s on the list of duties. Right up there with planning the bachelor party and making the first toast.”
So Jack had danced with their mother, he’d danced with Aunt Betty, he’d danced with Torie, and he’d even, at one point, been tricked into dancing with Cara Kryzik.
Torie had dragged him from the safety of the bar to do some stupid line dance, and he’d somehow ended up right beside Cara, who glowered at him with undisguised venom. Two dances later, Ryan shoved him into Cara’s clutches.
It was a slow dance. She was a decent dancer, and she actually felt pretty good in his arms, with his hand sliding over the smooth pink silk, and the warm, sun-browned skin of her back and bare arms. Her figure was full and rounded in the right places. She wore the lightest of perfumes and her hair smelled faintly of cherries.
But then it happened. Louie Armstrong’s wonderful world ended, and the DJ was playing “Come Monday.”
He felt his face flush and his feet grow leaden. She’d looked up at him in shock. And that was that. Jimmy fuckin’ Buffet. He’d fled like a thief in the night.
Smooth move, he told himself now, reliving that moment. Real smooth move, Ace.
So, just to recap. He’d stolen this woman’s dog. Called the cops on her, accused her of stalking, insulted her, and then abandoned her in the middle of a dance.
She, in turn, had called him a jerk and a liar. She was moody and dressed weird, and according to Ryan, she was just coming off a lousy divorce and seemed to hate all men, with the exception of her gay assistant.
He flopped over on his other side, facing away from the still-vigilant Poppy. Tomorrow morning, first thing, he would have to return the dog and face her wrath.
Cara heard a buzzing from somewhere far away. Still dead asleep, she flung an arm in the general vicinity of the nightstand, searching for the alarm, to shut it off. She slapped wildly in the direction of the clock, but the buzzing wouldn’t stop.
Annoyed, she flopped over, opened one eye, and stared at the clock. It wasn’t buzzing. And she hadn’t set it. But something, somewhere, was buzzing. And at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. Her doorbell?
Cara jumped out of bed, wide-eyed and startled. Who would be ringing her bell that early on a Sunday?
She stumbled over to the window and looked down at the street below. A man stood by the recessed entry to the apartment. He had a big, fluffy white dog on a leash.
* * *
Cara flew down the wooden staircase, barefoot, dressed only in her sleep shirt. She unlatched the chain guard and flipped the deadbolt.
Jack Finnerty stood on the street just outside her door. He wore paint-spattered jeans, a faded T-shirt, and a look that could best be described as sheepish.
“Uh, well, here’s your dog.”
The dog stood up on her hind legs, put her front paws on Cara’s hips, and shook all over with joy. Cara wrapped her arms around the dog. “I missed you! You bad, bad girl. I missed you so much. I hardly slept last night, worrying about you.”
“Yeah, uh, she didn’t get much sleep either,” Jack volunteered. “Look, I’m really sorry about this. I’ve been a jerk. I should have listened to you yesterday.”
“Yes,” Cara said severely. “You should have. And yes, you were a jerk. And worse.”
“You’re right,” he said, staring down at his shoes. “And I apologize.”
“Where’s your dog?” she asked, sticking her head out the door and looking around.
“At home. Now. After she jumped out of my truck yesterday, she made it all the way to Victory Drive and Abercorn. A woman managed to corral her and she took her to the vet, and they recognized her. Shaz is chipped, so they read the chip, just to be sure, and called the owner.”
“You,” she said accusingly.
Jack winced. “My ex. Shaz technically belongs to her. But she’s out in California, so Shaz is mine. Sorta. The vet called Zoey yesterday to let her know Shaz had been found. But Zoey, being Zoey, decided to torture me by not calling me until three this morning.”
Cara looked him over. His hair was mussed and there were dark circles under his eyes, so it was apparent he’d gotten about as much sleep as she had.
“Look.” Jack’s voice was low. “I really am sorry. Truly. Your dog looks almost exactly like Shaz. But if I hadn’t been such a prick, I would have looked closer and realized I had the wrong dog. Especially since when I got home last night, I discovered she’d peed all over my hardwood floors. Shaz is housebroken. Your dog, on the other hand, is fairly neurotic, but I guess you already know that.”
“Neurotic! She is not,” Cara said sharply. “And Poppy is housebroken. She never pees at home. She was probably traumatized by being dognapped. And then left alone in a strange house for hours and hours.”
“Whatever,” Jack said. “I better get back to Shaz. She’s been penned up in a crate at the vet’s office all night, and right now she’s probably not too happy with me either.”
“Thank you for bringing Poppy back,” Cara said coolly. “She’s home now, and that’s all that matters.”
“Have you had her microchipped?” Jack asked.
“No. I keep meaning to, but running my own business…”
“You should do it right away, especially since she seems to be such an escape artist,” he suggested.
“I know how to take care of my own dog,” Cara said, bristling. “Maybe you should do a better job of taking care of your own, especially since she got all the way to Abercorn and Victory.”
“Riiight.” Jack’s lips were clamped tightly in anger. “Anyway, see ya.”
She took great satisfaction in slamming the door in his face. “Not if I see you first, jerk,” she muttered. Poppy whined, and Cara knelt down on the floor and hugged her tightly. “Don’t ever do that again, you hear me?”
Still kneeling, she gazed out the sidelights as Jack walked rapidly down Jones Street.
“Horrible man,” she told Poppy. “I feel sorry for his real dog. No wonder she ran away from home.”
She sniffed the top of Poppy’s head and scratched under her chin. In addition to her puppy smell and the special rose-scented dog shampoo Cara bathed her with, there was a whiff of something else. Cara sniffed again, and recognized the scent.
“Sawdust?” she said, wrinkling her nose and holding Poppy at arm’s length. “Really?”
There were days when Cara hated Savannah. No matter its lofty ambitions of being the Paris of the South, Savannah was still a very small town. Everybody who counted in the town’s complicated social structure knew everybody else—and their business.
She chafed at Savannah’s insularity, its petty small-town politics, and its collective suspicion of anything or anybody new or “from away.” She’d tried hard to lose what she thought was only a faint Midwestern accent, but whenever she spoke to a local they invariably demanded to know where she was from.
On the other hand, sometimes that economy of scale worked in her favor. It had taken months for word of mouth to spread about Cara’s flowers, and even then, it had only happened courtesy of a timid little bride named Kristin Marie Manley.
Somehow, Kristin had stumbled across Cara’s cluttered little flower shop, back when she was still transitioning from Flowers by Norma. She hadn’t even put up her pink and white awning, or changed the sign, so as far as the world knew, good old Norma Poole was still turning out big, bunchy arrangements of gladiolus and leatherleaf ferns.
Kristin was newly engaged to the son of a prominent Savannah banker. She’d been raised by her widower father, and the two of them were clueless about what was involved in putting on a big society wedding. So Cara had taken her in hand, spent hours and hours with her, and with a laughably spare budget had still managed to pull off one of the prettiest, most meaningful weddings she had ever planned.
As luck would have it, Kristin’s new mother-in-law, Vicki Cooper, loved the flowers she’d done for her son’s wedding, and absolutely adored Cara. Vicki was on the board of half a dozen Savannah charities and foundations, and within a year of Kristin’s wedding to Cason Cooper, thanks to Vicki, Bloom was finally, slowly, starting to blossom.
Vicki, bless her generous, loudmouthed soul, was the gift that kept on giving.
Torie Fanning had been a Vicki connection—and on this steamy Monday morning in May, Cara had an appointment with yet another of Vicki’s acquaintances.
Cara had heard from Vicki just the previous week. As usual, Vicki was on her way to yet another of her endless meetings.
“Listen, Cara, sugar, you’re going to be hearing from a dear friend of mine, and I just want to give you a heads-up. Marie Trapnell’s daughter Brooke just got engaged to the oldest Strayhorn boy, Harris. You know the Strayhorns, right?”
“Mmm, the name is familiar. Do they have something to do with shipping?”
“You could say that. Honey, Mitchell Strayhorn
Strayhorn Shipping. And of course, the Trapnells have been around Savannah since forever. I adore Marie Trapnell, and I know you’ll be extra nice to her, ’cause she’s goin’ through kind of a hard time right now. Okay? Gotta scoot. Stay sweet, you hear?”
* * *
Cara fixed a pitcher of geranium-scented iced tea, filled two tumblers with ice, and arranged a few sugar cookies on a silver tray on her worktable. She placed her photo album on the table, then went over to the cooler and grabbed a handful of flowers—some daisies, a sprig of blue verbena, and some red bee balm. These she clipped and stuffed in the sterling bud vase that had been her grandmother’s.
The bells on the shop door tinkled, and a pale, nervous-looking woman stood looking uncertainly around the room.
“Mrs. Trapnell?” Cara hurried toward her, but Poppy bounded into the room, nearly knocking the poor woman on her butt.
“Poppy, down!” Cara cried. “Bad girl!”
“Oh, she’s all right,” the woman said, her voice soft. She stroked Poppy’s ears and looked up at Cara. “What a beautiful dog. What breed is she?”
“She’s a goldendoodle. A very disobedient, undisciplined cross between what’s called a cream English golden retriever and a standard poodle,” Cara said. “But please don’t judge the breed by Poppy. I’m afraid I haven’t been very effective at training her.”