They tried to resist each other, but it was impossible. Soon their passions were unleashed, and their self-control went to the dogs...
FBI agent Jake Donnelly is not the kind of man who names a dog "Muffin.” Especially not a jowly bulldog. But now Jake’s Aunt Sophie has left him her beloved Muffin, along with a sizable inheritance that has some strings attached. Jake and Muffin have to attend a two-week therapy course designed to work out any bonding issues they may have.
Enter Leanne Crosby, a pet shrink and owner of a luxury pet spa complete with private counseling sessions, a doggie dating service, and plenty of quirky advice on proper pet parenting.
When the gorgeous and brilliant Dr. Crosby sets out to help Jake and Muffin become soulmates, it soon becomes obvious that she and Jake are falling in puppy love.
Coming soon!"It is a warm and touching story of how man falls in love with woman, and man falls in love with his dog. There is action and adventure around every corner, and don't forget the romance. When a book can make you laugh and touch your heart too, you know it is a winner." -- Marie Drake, NetGalley
"Let me get this straight,” Jake Donnelly said in a growl to the man sitting across the huge cherry desk from him. "You’re telling me my Aunt Sophie left all her worldly possessions to a... a mutt?”
The lawyer held up a finger as a point of order. "Technically, Muffin is not a mutt. He’s an AKC-registered English bulldog.”
"Muffin,” Jake muttered, trying to determine whether he was feeling more shocked or furious. "A bulldog named Muffin.”
And then it blindsided him. Again. Shock and fury had nothing on the grief. Aunt Sophie was gone. He’d been so wrapped up in work the last year, he hadn’t even known she’d been ill. The times he’d managed to find a few minutes to call her, she’d been her usual cheerful, eccentric self.
And now that he thought about it, she’d mentioned her precious new canine companion plenty over the last few years. Figuring the dog was her way of filling the void after Uncle George’s death six years ago, Jake hadn’t paid much attention. Now all of her words came back in painful snatches. Why hadn’t he listened more carefully? Obviously she’d been desperately lonely, but too proud to ask Jake to take a few days to visit her. He hadn’t seen her since Uncle George’s funeral, too busy climbing his way up the ranks at the Bureau. And now he’d never get the chance to see her, talk to her, tell her how much he’d loved her ornery little hide.
Going through her papers had been heartbreaking. Getting her bank accounts in order had brought back so many memories he’d almost broken down and cried. Except Jake Donnelly hadn’t shed a single tear since he was five years old, when it finally dawned on him that his tears brought his son-of-a-bitch father immense satisfaction.
"Technically his name is Kendee’s King of Stanton,” the lawyer corrected him again. "Muffin was Sophia’s pet name for him.”
Mr. Rapinov glanced over to a corner of his office, and Jake followed his gaze. Sure enough, abig lump of furry wrinkles snored softly, oblivious to the fact that he’d just been made a millionaire by Jake’s daffy aunt.
Jake shook his head. "There has to be a mistake.”
"I’m afraid not. Your aunt’s wishes were quite clear. Other than bequests to all of her employees and a few favorite charities, her estate is being held in trust to ensure that Muffin is well cared for, for the duration of his natural life. This includes the money, the Rhode Island estate, et cetera. The will is quite airtight.”
"I don’t care about her Rhode Island monstrosity, or her money,” Jake said. "Let Muffin buy all the doggy snacks he wants. All I want—and Aunt Sophie knew damn well how much I wanted it—is her cabin on the lake in Pennsylvania.”
Mr. Rapinov tsked sympathetically. "I’m afraid that is included in the trust.”
"This sucks,” Jake said, glaring at the dog. Then realizing the dog really wasn’t to blame, he reverted to glaring at lawyer Rip-’em-off. After all, he’d helped draw up this insane will.
The attorney shifted uncomfortably in his seat and loosened his tie. "All is not lost, however. There is good news in here,” he said, tapping his Mont Blanc on the will.
"What in hell could that possibly be?”
"Your aunt has named you Muffin’s guardian.”
Jake stared at him for a long minute, waiting for the good news. When the lawyer said no more, it occurred to him that Rip-’em-off considered that the good news. "I get Muffin?” he repeated, just to be sure he’d heard correctly.
"Indeed! So in effect, you will have access to pieces of the trust.”
It took Jake a few moments to absorb the shock. "There’s just one problem. I don’t want Muffin.”
The heir in question lifted his head and looked directly at Jake with a woebegone expression that would have earned him an Oscar if captured on film. His head was as big as a basketball but, forehead to jowls, one wrinkle of skin folded over another. He was mostly fawn colored, but he had some white markings on his meaty stumps of legs and a black blaze on his forehead. All in all, a face only a mother could love. Or an Aunt Sophie.
"You don’t?” the lawyer said, his Adam’s apple bobbing.
Jake was so busy refusing to feel sorry for the sad-looking canine, he forgot for a moment what the lawyer meant. It came to him when the dog let loose with a gas attack. Oh, great, a sad-looking mutt with no couth. "No, I don’t.” He held up supplicating hands. "Look, I work for the government—”
"Yes, I know. The FBI,” the lawyer said with a condescending sniff.
Jake thought Rapinov’s disdain a little misplaced, considering his own occupation. "Right. In my job I have to pick up and travel on a moment’s notice. Somehow I don’t think my boss is going to appreciate my carting a dog around with me. And they don’t provide pooch sitters, either.” He took a deep breath. "I don’t qualify to care for a Pet Rock, much less a living animal.” He paused as he stared at Muffin. "That animal is living, right?”
"He’s in mourning.”
"That makes two of us.” That was no exaggeration. He was in mourning, all right—in mourning for his aunt, in mourning for that cabin on the lake in Pennsylvania, the only place on earth he’d found pleasure in his youth.
The attorney cleared his throat. "Well, Mr. Donnelly, it’s a shame that you won’t take the dog. You realize this means you relinquish any right to inherit Sophia’s millions upon his death.”
"I told you, I could not care less about the mo—”
"And the Pennsylvania property.”
That stopped him in his tracks. "If I take the dog, I’ll eventually inherit the cabin?”
"That’s correct. Upon Muffin’s death.”
Jake again glanced at the animal. Personally, he felt he could almost make a case for the dog’s lack of life at this moment. "How old is Muffin?”
"He’ll be five on June fifth.”
Jake did the math. That made him about thirty-five in dog years, right? That wasn’t even middle-aged. That mutt wasn’t going to the great fire hydrant in the sky anytime soon.
"Of course,” Rip-’em-off said, interrupting his calculations, "a few other minor stipulations must be met as well.”
Oh, boy. Knowing Aunt Sophie, that could mean anything. "A few other minor stipulations?”
Rip-’em-off shrugged. "Very minor.”
Jake wavered. No, it was impossible. No matter how much he wanted that old cabin, he didn’t need a sorry excuse for a dog hanging around his neck for who knew how long. He’d find another way to get his hands on that property "Sorry, no can do.”
The attorney sighed. "Fine, if that’s how you feel. It’s lucky your Aunt Sophia made a contingency in case you refused, although I must say she’d be terribly disappointed in you right now, Mr. Donnelly. She so hoped you’d love Muffin as she did.”
"Well, I can’t,” Jake said, but guilt seeped into his gut regardless. The McAfees had been the only good thing that had ever happened to him. No matter how eccentric, Aunt Sophie and Uncle George had been the only loving, caring adults in his life. "I think Aunt Sophie would want the most loving home for Muffin. That’s not with me.”
"Fine,” said the lawyer. "Then by default Muffin will go to Dr. LeAnne Crosby.”
Alarm bells started clanging inside his head. "LeAnne Crosby? Why does that name sound familiar?”
"Dr. Crosby is the owner of Happy Hounds Health Spa.”
The memory of dozens of checks for thousands of dollars flashed through Jake’s mind. "A health spa? Isn’t she one of Aunt Sophie’s physicians?”
For some reason, the lawyer found that amusing. "I’m afraid not. As a matter of fact, she’s a psychologist.”
"My aunt was seeing a psychologist?”
"Not exactly,” the man said, his thin lips still stretched in an irritating smirk. "Dr. Crosby is an animal psychologist.”
Jake felt his jaw drop about a mile. His narrowed gaze returned to the mutt. "Are you telling me... my aunt was paying out that kind of money to a dog shrink?”
"Well, most of the outlay was for the dog spa Dr. Crosby runs. Sophia truly enjoyed her stays there every summer. Surely she mentioned the place to you?”
Jake racked his brain, furious with himself for not paying more attention to his aunt’s batty stories. "Is this the resort in Virginia?”
"It’s a freaking dog spa?”
"And Dr. Crosby is a freaking dog shrink?”
"Yes, she’s a highly respected animal psychologist.”
"Bullshit,” Jake muttered. He knew a shyster when confronted with one. After all, in his work for the FBI he profiled scam artists just like her—soulless folks who made fortunes preying on vulnerable senior citizens. And although Sophie had been smart as a whip, she’d also had a heart the size of Texas, and any good con artist with a credible story could probably swindle her. Why hadn’t he protected her? It was his job, and yet it could well be that he’d failed the one person he’d loved most in the world.
A dog shrink. That was a new one. And a clever one. After all, some people would do anything for their pets. Especially older, lonely people. "Let me get this straight. If I don’t take Muffin, LeAnne Quacksby gets him.”
"And upon Muffin’s death, she inherits the money?”
"And my aunt’s property in Pennsylvania?”
"Right. To be turned into an animal refuge.”
"Over my dead body.” Jake surged to his feet. "Come on, Muffin. We’re going home.”
"Minor stipulations, my ass,” Jake muttered one month later, ashe turned onto the dirt road with the sign pointing the way to Happy Hounds Health Spa. "Two weeks of my vacation wasted at a freaking dog farm.”
He slowed down and glanced at the far back seat of the station wagon Aunt Sophie had left him to transport the mutt—a thirty-four-year-old single male driving a station wagon, for God’s sake—to the lump of dog flesh lying there. "Hop to, mutt. We’re almost there. Try to pretend that you live and breathe, will ya? I don’t want this quack diagnosing abuse or something and trying to take you away.”
Muffin’s answer was a derisive snort.
In fact, in the last month Muffin’s answer was always a derisive snort. The most life he’d exhibited was the time Jake came home early to find Muffin happily munching on his favorite Garth Brooks CD. For the first time in his life Jake had considered violence against an animal. But of course another of Aunt Sophie’s "minor stipulations” had bounced annoyingly through his head. For Jake to eventually inherit the Pennsylvania property, Muffin had to live a long, healthy, happy life. No freak accidents for Aunt Sophie’s precious mutt, no, sir.
It had galled him at first that Aunt Sophie had set such terms, as if she were worried that Jake would even consider pooch-anasia, just to get his hands on her money. But after a month of living with the infuriating animal, he rather understood her concern. Especially when she was adding the stipulation that he waste fourteen days taking Muffin on a dog vacation.
There was only one upside he could see to this whole stupid trip: that was getting an up-close-and-personal look at one LeAnne Crosby and her dog operation. He’d done some unofficial checking on the animal shrink in the last month, and he’d pretty much come up empty. On the surface the woman seemed to be on the level: no complaints on file of her swindling customers, no past record. She was so squeaky-clean he smelled a rat. And if he discovered during this trip that she was ripping off innocent victims, he planned on exposing her—tail, beady eyes, and all.
Jake rolled down the window as he neared a stone gate, manned by a guard. Amazing. Was LeAnne Crosby afraid of gate-crashers?
For the first time Jake took a good look at the scenery. He had to admit the Virginia countryside was green and lush, with gently rolling hills as far as the eye could see. And, according to the brochure, two hundred acres of it belonged to the good doctor.
Two hundred acres of prime real estate. At a conservative estimate of five grand an acre, Ms. Crosby—and Happy Hounds—was sitting on a million bucks’ worth of primo turf.
There were huge terra-cotta pots of colorful flowers flanking either side of the gatehouse. Nice touch. Maybe the gatehouse was there to keep the dogs from wandering out and peeing in them. Lord knew Muffin had wreaked havoc on the pachysandra in his backyard.
He came to a stop, and a mammoth black man with a friendly smile and a single gleaming gold tooth touched fingers to the brim of his Stetson in greeting. "Welcome to Happy Hounds!”
"Thanks,” Jake murmured.
The man pulled out a clipboard. "And you’re registered to join us today?”
"Yes.” Unfortunately."The name’s Jake Donnelly.”
The man checked his chart; then his face split in a wide grin. "Well, I’ll be!” He removed his Stetson, revealing a pate as shiny and bald as a cue ball, then leaned into the window and craned his neck toward the back of the car. "Muffin, you ol’ hound! Good to have you back!”
Jake rolled his eyes, but they froze in midroll when he heard a happy yip come from the back of the car. The dog could yip? He twisted around to find the dog not only on his feet, but with his front paws on the seat, his ears perked and cocked back happily, and what looked like a joyous expression on his normally hangdog face.
Jake scowled at him. A month of feeding him and dragging him outside for walks and building a fence in his backyard to give the dog play space and the most he got for his trouble was a snort! Not once had he gotten a single yip.
"My name’s Buzz,” the guard said, slapping his hat back on his head, then pumping Jake’s arm hard enough to dislocate a shoulder. "You or Muffin need a thing, you just call on ol’ Buzz. I’m pretty much a jack-of-all-trades around here.” Buzz had Jake sign in, then handed him a card key to bungalow 7B, a map of the grounds, a list of basic rules, and a schedule of events.
Jake dumped all the material on the passenger seat with barely a glance, except the card key, which he shoved in his breast pocket.
"Y’all enjoy your stay, ya hear?” Buzz finished. He spouted directions to the main building, which he called the Hound Dog Hotel. "LeAnne’ll be awaiting y’all up there. She’s real excited to see Muffin again.”
"I’ll bet,” Jake grumbled. With a perfunctory wave he put the car back in gear and headed up the road per Buzz’s directions. "That was real cute back there, Muffin. Real cute. Just don’t forget who feeds your wrinkly butt.”
"And don’t forget our couth lessons. No passing gas in public, no sniffing crotches or butts. Got it?”
Jake had a hard time not admiring the dog spa. The grounds were beautifully landscaped. It looked like a country club, for crying out loud. To the west there were dozens of mulched trails leading into a lush forest. Straight ahead was what looked suspiciously like a golf course. All over the place there were white-fenced corrals filled with various numbers and types of dogs, owners, and young men and women wearing identical hunter green polo shirts and khaki shorts. Camp counselors?
Dotting the landscape to the east were Spanish-style condos, or bungalows, as they called them here.
His mind rolled over like a slot machine as he calculated the cost of this place. By the time he hit the stop sign he was up to four million.
He had to pause at the stop sign to allow a golf cart to pass by. Driving it was a man in his fifties who waved and smiled broadly at their car. On the passenger side sat a gold cocker spaniel with a golf visor on his head.
Gawd almighty! "I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
They climbed a rise and Jake almost gaped at what lay on the other side. Beside a large building, also built in the Spanish style, sprawled a huge swimming pool shaped like... a dog biscuit? Farther back there were six tennis courts. Behind the courts was a sparkling lake, with canoes and small rowboats dotting the surface.
Jake mentally added another two mil to his estimate.
People and animals lounged or exercised everywhere he looked—all shapes and sizes of both. And he had to grudgingly admit that all of them appeared quite content.
It was a sunny, surprisingly humidity-free early June day, but Jake was still grateful for the canopy to park under in front of the Hound Dog. In the month he’d had Muffin he’d learned one thing about the breed... bulldogs didn’t take kindly to too much sun or heat.
Actually, he’d learned another thing, too: they didn’t take kindly to physical exertion either. The most aerobic activity Muffin had engaged in was chewing his food. Even then he did it lying down.
Jake jammed the car in park and climbed out, stretching his spine. In mid-extension his eyes landed on a woman standing at the entrance to the Hound Dog Hotel, her hands buried deep in a white lab coat.
Jake swallowed an "ooomph” from the invisible fist that plowed into his solar plexus. If this was LeAnne Crosby, LeAnne Crosby was a looker. Thick auburn hair fell in soft waves to her collarbone. It was parted on the side, and tucked behind both ears, emphasizing a heart-shaped face and high, pronounced cheekbones. She had large, doe brown eyes, and a smile that could jump-start a corpse’s heart.
A killer smile, Jake thought grimly. One that could seduce a stone into producing blood. Jake had seen that kind of smile on the faces of some of the most notorious frauds in the country.
The wind picked up for a moment, and flung a hank of hair across the woman’s face, bisecting her mouth. She reached up and peeled it away, tucking it back behind her ear while pursing her lips.
Jake had been so intent on studying what the smile did to her entire face, he hadn’t focused on the lips.
Nice lips. Generous lips. Full, female lips.
Possibly lying, fraudulent lips.
"Welcome,” those lips said, curving into a bewitching smile designed, Jake felt certain, to knock the socks off her victims. "I’m LeAnne Crosby.” She stepped forward, pulling her hand from her lab coat and thrusting it toward him.
Bewitched and mentally trying to drag his socks back on, it took Jake a moment to shake her hand. "Jake Donnelly.”
"I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Donnelly.”
"Likewise, Ms. Crosby.” However, none of the reports on you mentioned that you’re a socks-knocker-offer.
"Actually, it’s Dr. Crosby,” she said softly. "But we’re very informal around here. Please call me LeAnne.”
"Oh, you’re a vet?” he asked, deliberately misunderstanding.
A shrewd light came into her eyes, but she didn’t miss a beat. "No, I’m a psychologist. But we have three wonderful veterinarians on staff, so you don’t need to worry.” She leaned sideways, peering into the car. "Now, where’s my favorite bulldog?”
Jake had forgotten Muffin. In fact, Jake had forgotten where he was. Annoyed with himself and her, he stalked to the back of the station wagon... to find Muffin prancing impatiently.
Jake opened the back door and was nearly knocked on his butt when Muffin bulldozed his way out in a flying leap of wrinkles and muscle. Jake stared in awe as Muffin landed gracefully and barked joyously at the doctor’s cry of greeting.
Awe turned to annoyance when Muffin nearly galloped to the woman, who’d hunkered down with outstretched arms.
The dog could run?
Ears perked with excitement, Muffin reared up on his pudgy hind legs and planted his front paws on the woman’s chest. As she laughed—a rather nice and throaty laugh for a potential rip-off artist dog shrink—Muffin proceeded to make dog wash of her face.
She didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she was almost encouraging him with cooing noises and head scratches that had him wagging his stub of a tail so furiously his butt looked like it was doing the cha-cha.
While they engaged in their little love-fest reunion, Jake took the time to study the woman more closely. Her skin was smooth, with a light tan, an appealing apricot color. Her lashes were thick, framing those velvety soft eyes.
That smile, below prominent cheekbones, was a knockout. He had to remember to ignore it, or else he’d be handing her that cabin on a silver platter.
"Oh, yes, I’ve missed you terribly, too, sweetheart! I’m so happy to see you!” she said as the dog calmed down a bit.
Jake cleared his throat, suddenly embarrassed and disgusted at this blatant public display of affection. Affection in any form made him uncomfortable; it was as foreign to him as Mandarin Chinese.
Except with Aunt Sophie, he recalled with a pang. He remembered the first summer he’d gone to stay with her. The first time she’d enveloped him in that sweet-smelling hug, he’d gone stiff with shock. It had taken him all summer to become accustomed to her reaching out to sweep back his hair from his forehead, or squeeze his shoulder. Even when he landed himself in trouble, the sum total of her physical recrimination would be a poke in the ribs.
Dr. Crosby gave Muffin a final scratch, then straightened to her full height, which he guessed to be about four inches above five feet. "I hope you’ll enjoy your stay.”
Like hell."Obviously Muffin’s happy to be here,” he said diplomatically. It wouldn’t do to insult the woman right off the bat. He had plenty of time—two interminable weeks—to discover whether there was anything nefarious about this place and its owner.
She smiled down at the dog, affection softening her striking features. "Muffin’s one of my very favorite guests.”
I’ll bet, he thought. His Aunt Sophie had dumped a fortune staying at this place. "Mmm,” he answered noncommittally.
"Oh,” she said, and the smile faded as she glanced back up at him and her eyes lost their sparkle. "I was so sorry to hear about Sophie. I’m truly going to miss her.”
She sure looked sincere. If she was acting, she had "stricken” down pat.
Jake bent and snapped the leash on to Muffin’s collar. "Yeah, me, too.”
"I’m sure Muffin’s been grieving.”
Oh, jeez, two minutes into the introductions, and the spiel begins. Straightening, he took a moment to decide whether to call her on it now, or play along. He supposed he’d play until he got the goods on her. If there were any goods to get. "Well, he’s tried to be a trooper.”
As if Muffin could understand English, he glanced up at Jake with an expression one could loosely interpret as "Up yours.”
Luckily, the woman was too busy gazing at Jake sympathetically to catch that look, or very quickly the jig would be up. For the sake of that Pennsylvania property, he planned on being the most attentive dog owner in history.
For the sake of that property, he wasn’t going to let on—at least for now—that he considered this woman a first-class quack.
He thinks I’m a quack, LeAnne thought, a little amused, a little annoyed. It wasn’t the first time she’d had this reaction from skeptics, so it didn’t really bother her. A couple of days at Happy Hounds usually won over even the biggest cynics.
Besides, she didn’t give a dog’s paw what this guy thought of her. As far as she was concerned, he’d been horrendously neglectful of his aunt, who had obviously adored and missed him the last few years. The selfish rat.
Sophie McAfee had been one of LeAnne’s first, and most supportive, clients four years ago. Until last year, she’d spent the entire season at the spa—the season being the months of May through September. Last year she’d had to cut her stay short, due to health problems. But never had LeAnne dreamed that it would be the last time she’d see the feisty woman. Sophie’s death had stunned and saddened her terribly.
That she’d been named in Sophie’s will had just plain stunned her. And, by the sour gleam that shone in this man’s electric blue gaze, she’d bet the farm—so to speak—that it had more than stunned him.
Over the years, Sophie had talked quite a bit about her nephew, Jake. She’d even once suggested that she fix Jake and LeAnne up on a blind date. LeAnne had smilingly declined. At that time it had been two years since Stephen’s death, but it had been far too soon for her to think about other men. In fact, it was now six years since Stephen’s death, and it was still too soon. The psychological wounds she’d received from her marriage hadn’t healed yet. She didn’t know if they ever would.
Sophie had known all about the details of LeAnne’s marriage, about the lack of trust that had become so obsessive on Stephen’s part that he’d managed to destroy any love she’d had for him. Even so, Sophie had been adamant that LeAnne get over it, start over. And she’d never stopped hoping that LeAnne would move on with Sophie’s nephew, whom she’d characterized as "the most handsome cuss this side of the Mississippi.”
Sophie hadn’t been far off.
His eyes were so deep a blue they shone almost black. His dark brown hair was cut short, very short. His features were classically handsome and complemented each other perfectly. All in all, a very handsome cuss indeed.
Who was gazing at her as if she were a first-class quack.
And she was gazing at him as if he were a chocolate éclair.
LeAnne gave herself a mental smack and returned her attention to Muffin—who was gazing at Jake Donnelly as if he were Satan incarnate.
Hmmm, no love lost there. Which made her wonder what Sophie had been thinking. The big lug looked as uncomfortable and out of his element as a jewel thief at a police convention.
She almost felt sorry for this man, who’d obviously been bamboozled by his scheming aunt. Then again, if he’d visited more often, maybe his aunt wouldn’t have concocted such a bizarre plan. The real loser here was Muffin, who didn’t deserve to be saddled with an owner who didn’t want him. The next two weeks were going to be a challenge, but one she planned on winning. By the time Jake Donnelly left Happy Hounds, he’d be hopelessly in love with... his dog. That’s right, his dog.
That was the plan, and she silently swore she’d stick to it.
"Buzz will help you get settled,” she told him when she spotted Buzz approaching with the luggage cart.
Donnelly’s brows lowered quizzically. "I thought that was Buzz back at Checkpoint Charlie.”
"It was,” Buzz said, his broad smile friendly as usual.
Buzz was one of those people LeAnne wished she had ten of. He was willing to pitch in and help with any job necessary, and his sheer size made him an unofficial security guard, even though he was probably the gentlest man LeAnne had ever met. "Buzz gets around.”
"You just leave your luggage to me,” Buzz said.
Donnelly gazed back in the direction of the front gate with a frown; then, apparently giving up on discovering how Buzz had gotten from there to here, he shrugged and handed Buzz his keys.
LeAnne offered her professional smile, even though her pulse was a little accelerated for some reason. This man was a challenge. Normally LeAnne enjoyed a challenge—the canine variety. She wasn’t at all certain she wanted one in human form. Especially this human form. This big, male, full-of-attitude human form. But for Sophie’s sake, and for Muffin’s, she was going to do her darnedest. "How does tomorrow at nine sound?”
"How does it sound for what?” he asked, in a voice just gravelly enough to raise her core temperature a notch.
She met his blue gaze and resisted the urge to fan herself. "Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot you’re not familiar with our routine.” Plunging her oddly itchy hands into her lab coat pockets, she focused on Muffin. "Tomorrow we’ll do a routine checkup, and then we’ll lay out a schedule for our walks, for Muffin’s massages—”
"Massages?” he interrupted. "For the dog? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
She chanced a glance up, and decided that he wore incredulity well. "Not in the least. While he’s here, Muffin gets first-class treatment. He gets twice-daily walks, once with you and one of our trainers, once on your own; he gets massages three times a week, followed by some grooming. Not only is it good for him, but it frees you up for a few hours to golf or swim or do whatever you like.” She forced herself not to ask what he’d like to do.
"I see,” he said in a tone that said he didn’t.
"At the evaluation tomorrow we’ll decide whether we need private sessions.”
"What kind of sessions?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Therapy sessions,” she answered, waiting for the inevitable explosion of disbelief.
"I see,” he said, so solemnly she knew he was biting back a snort.
"And you’re welcome to schedule training sessions if you want to teach Muffin some advanced commands. He’s already learned the basics.”
"He has?” the hunk said, practically glaring at Muffin.
"Sure.” LeAnne scratched Muffin behind the ear, then said, "Sit.”
Muffin plunked his hind end on the concrete.
"Shake,” she said, and Muffin dutifully gave her his paw. "Lie down.” Muffin plopped down. She looked up. "See?” She rubbed the dog’s belly, then straightened. "Up.”
Muffin rolled to his feet.
"Sit,” Jake Donnelly said in a belligerent voice she’d have to train him to tone down.
Muffin stood as still as a statue, then looked away with a long-suffering sigh. Yep, they’re going to need therapy sessions, all right.
"See, he doesn’t listen to me,” the man muttered. "And here I thought he was just dumb as a brick.”
Lots of therapy sessions. She took exception on Muffin’s behalf. "I’ve never met a dumb dog, Mr. Donnelly. Only dumb owners.”
He appeared to take exception on his own behalf. "Are you calling me dense?”
"Of course not,” she lied. She really didn’t understand people who didn’t understand animals.
Any pretense he might have attempted when they’d first met that he adored Sophie’s dog dropped right there and then. He glowered down at the mutt with an I-can’t-believe-you-got-me-into-this look. "What if Muffin and I just go on our merry way?”
For just a second, the thought was appealing. She didn’t need a surly, reluctant owner on her hands for two entire weeks. Even if he did look good enough to eat. But she wasn’t about to let Sophie down. Or Muffin. Muffin hadn’t asked to be pawned off on a man who didn’t understand or even like him. "What if you go on your merry way, and leave Muffin to me?”
His jaw dropped open for a moment, and then his eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Oh, yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? You take Muffin and my aunt’s property to boot.”
That thought hadn’t even occurred to her, and she found it highly insulting. What a turkey! She wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Mr. Donnelly, you know what you can do with that property?” she began, then took a deep breath and prayed for patience. "Look, Muffin is a wonderful dog, and doesn’t deserve not to be loved by his owner. Give us a chance to teach you how to handle him so that you both get pleasure out of the relationship.”
He opened his mouth, then closed it again, obviously swallowing whatever retort he was about to make.
"Let’s make the best of it, all right?” She was not above using guilt. When she saw him begin to form another protest or retort or insult, she used it. "It’s what Sophie wanted.”
The tight lines around his mouth eased somewhat at the mention of his aunt, which told her one positive thing in a sea of negatives: he’d cared about Sophie. She considered that a very important piece of information, and wasn’t above using it, either.
"Fine,” he said grudgingly.
She should feel victorious, but she couldn’t quite pull it off, considering she was looking forward to the next fourteen days about as much asshe looked forward to Pap smears. "Fine,” she echoed. "See you tomorrow at nine.”
"Right,” he said, then began following behind Buzz. Except Muffin refused to budge. "Come on, dog!” Muffin dug in further. "Please?”
LeAnne fought a smile. Boy, oh, boy, she had her work cut out for her. "Buzz, he’s probably telling you he wants his teddy-bear blanket. Don’t leave it behind.”
Jake Donnelly visibly swallowed. "His teddy-bear blanket?”
LeAnne narrowed her eyes. "Don’t tell me you weren’t given his teddy-bear blanket when you took him?”
The man waved. "Yeah, sure. But, you know, it was ratty, flea-infested, stupid for a male dog.”
Muffin sniffed loudly.
So as not to cause any more tension between beast and dog, LeAnne lowered her voice. "Please tell me you didn’t throw out his special blanket.”
She raised an eyebrow. "What did you do with it, exactly?”
Donnelly lowered his voice also. "Well... I sort of... burned it.”
"Burned it,” LeAnne repeated. Up until now, hopeless had not been a word in her vocabulary. At the moment, she was considering adding it. "Not in front of Muffin, I hope.”
"What do you take me for?” he asked indignantly. "Of course not! But it took a while to wrestle it away from him.”
Yep, she was adding it. And fairly close to using it. "Did it ever occur to you that the reason he was fighting you for it was that it was special to him?”
"He’s a dog!”
Muffin let loose a see-what-I-have-to-put-up-with whimper.
LeAnne sighed. "Our gift shop stocks blankets. Why don’t you buy him another one and hope he bonds with it?”
"Bonds... with a blanket.”
Crossing her arms, she said, "What, you never had a special blanket or toy as a child?”
His teeth clicked shut and his jaw spasmed. "No.”
LeAnne didn’t know how she knew, but she knew: he was lying. But she didn’t call him on it, because the flash that had sparked in his eyes told her he wouldn’t appreciate it.
"Besides, he’s almost five, thirty-five in dog years. He should’ve outgrown something like that by now.”
LeAnne just shook her head and turned from the turkey. "Go on, Muffin. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Muffin wouldn’t move.
Buzz glanced back and she shot him a pointed look. He nodded slightly. "Let’s go, Muffin, my man! I’ve got a Milk-Bone with your name on it in your room.”
Muffin yipped at Buzz and happily trotted up to walk beside him. As he passed Jake Donnelly, LeAnne could almost swear he stuck his tongue out at him.
Lots and lots of therapy sessions.