Available May 2018
“I’m in love!” Janette couldn’t control her grin as she charged into Anna’s office. “And you have to help me meet him.”
Her best friend glanced up from her desk and snorted. “Wait, you’re in love but you haven’t met him?”
“Minor detail.” Janette rolled her eyes. “I just saw a poster for a book signing and demonstration this guy is doing tonight at the Cottage Bistro. He has the most soulful eyes I have ever seen. My God, you have to go with me.”
“He’s an author?” Grabbing an elastic from underneath a loose pile of papers, Anna threw her hair into a messy ponytail. How did she ever find anything in amongst all the paper rubble? “What does he write? If it’s murder mysteries, will you have to check your coffee for arsenic poisoning?”
“No. He’s a dog trainer, Brock Benson.” She let out a giggle at the soap-opera sounding name. “He’s written a book about his methods called Lion Tamer to Dog Trainer. It’s a free book signing and if you go with me, I’ll buy you a drink after… Or two tomorrow if I get lucky tonight.” She bit her bottom lip. “You know, when you see a guy and you can just tell he’s the man you’ve been dreaming of all your life?”
“Have you read his book?” Anna found a pen in the mess and held it up triumphantly. “Aha.”
“Hey! Pay attention. My life is about to change drastically and you’re still working?”
“I have to sign this one government document. Figures that the government is the last group in the world that still won’t accept electronic signatures.” Anna signed a paper and slid it into her outbox. “Okay, so what are you going to wear? Oh, if he’s an author, do you want to borrow my fake glasses so you’ll look smarter?”
“I don’t need the glasses. I’ll probably wear my Marilyn Monroe outfit from Bus Stop. You know, the white A-line skirt with the short pink cardigan and the pink stilettos?”
“Really? You don’t want to dress as someone smarter?”
“Marilyn was super smart. And she did get Arthur Miller. I mean, this guy’s better looking than Miller, but—”
Anna looked up and squinted. “I don’t think I know what he looked like—”
“I can’t remember, but definitely not as good, and especially now, considering how long Arthur Miller’s been dead.”
Anna eyed her skeptically. “Marilyn’s been dead for quite a while too.”
“Nope.” Janette posed languidly on the corner of Anna’s desk and lowered her voice to a breathy whisper. “Marilyn Monroe will never die. Ohh, do you think I should do her voice, too?”
“No. That would be too weird. And then you’d have to do that voice for as long as you know him.”
“Maybe it would be over the top,” Janette conceded. “So will you come with me? Please?”
“Tonight?” She frowned. “Oh no. Tonight we’re going to hang out with father while mother plays bridge. He’s gotten too forgetful to be left all alone.”
“Can’t someone else go?”
“No. It’s my turn. But take a picture to show me—or better yet, send me a selfie with him so I can see how good you guys look together.” Anna grinned. “And if he has any great dog training tricks let me know. I need to train Ericson to stop drinking orange juice out of the carton when he thinks I’m not looking.”
“He will have. I’m sure from his soulful eyes that he could just ask a dog to do anything and the poor little mutt would do it or die trying.”
WTH? Janette glanced around at the other audience members in the small pub to see if they were equally appalled. Mr. Benson wasn’t training what looked like some kind of pit-bull poodle cross, instead he was just scaring the poor baby. And no one was intervening! Shit!
“Hey.” Janette stood up, her face flushing as she felt first Mr. Benson’s attention on her and then the audience’s. “That’s not how you train a dog. You can’t just force them into submission.”
His eyes on her had first registered sexual approval and then swiftly turned cold. “I am the expert. I wrote the book.”
“Yeah? Well for an expert, you don’t know diddly-squat.” Her stomach flipped precariously as she walked from her first row table to the small makeshift stage. Do not throw up. It’s not really a stage, just a stupid riser. The bewildered dog was snarling at the man holding her leash and pushing down on her butt trying to make her sit.
“This animal is vicious and needs to be taught who is boss.”
“No. The poor baby is traumatized and you’re making it worse.” Janette felt the audience’s annoyance at her. Probably they thought she was some dumb blonde craving attention. Damn. She needed to do something to turn this around. “So have you taught her to do anything with your abuse?”
“Not yet. This takes time and repetition.” His voice reeked of contempt. He probably hated her as much as the dog, now.
Her skirt tightened as she took the eight inch step onto the stage and she prayed it wouldn’t split. Not that she didn’t trust her own sewing, but if something was going to go wrong with an outfit, invariably it would do so at the most embarrassing time. She relaxed as there was no ripping sound or cool air on her butt.
“Bah! I can train that dog to sit a lot more humanely in just five minutes.” Catching the terrified look in the dog’s eyes, she crossed her fingers she was right.
The guy held out the leash to her as the dog continued growling at him. If her furry face wasn’t contained in a Hannibal Lecter mask, the mutt clearly would’ve gone for the man’s throat.
Janette took the leash and carefully lowered herself to a squat beside the dog. Again that scary restrictive feeling of fabric straining against her butt. Just ignore it. Saving this poor animal is more important than any embarrassment, and who cares what that asshat thinks about me anymore, anyway. “You need to show the animal kindness and empathy then she’ll want to do your bidding.”
Janette ignored him. She barked quietly and then cocked her head watching the dog’s face. From the instant softening of her big brown canine eyes, Janette could tell the pit-poodle cross knew poodlese. She let out a sigh of relief. If the animal had only known pit-bull language, it would’ve been much more difficult. As she reached to remove the muzzle, the “trainer” rushed forward to stop her.
“Are you crazy? That animal will kill you.”
In response the dog lunged at him and Janette toppled to her knees, just barely hanging onto the leash restraining her. “Get back!” she snarled at the jerk. Janette barked quietly again and the dog returned to listen.
I’ll get you out of here if you’ll just work with me.
The dog whined hopefully and put her face into Janette’s outstretched hand. The muzzle was a monster of buckles and tabs but as soon as it was off, the dog lunged at her face, knocking her flat on her back. The audience gasped in fear and then erupted into relieved laughter when they realized Janette was being slathered with dog spit in appreciation.
“Okay.” Janette rolled back to her knees and awkwardly pushed herself to her feet. Wiping off the dog spit and then a pointless brush at the grey dirt on her white skirt, Janette took a deep breath. “Now that we’ve established how ferocious you are—” She raised a sarcastic eyebrow at the man. “Let’s see if we can train you.” She bent over and hugged the dog murmuring in its ear. Do a few tricks for me, then we’ll go and I’ll cook you up a nice steak, okay? When I move my hand like this, you sit.
“Okay Sweetie-pie. Sit.” At her hand motion, Sweetie sat and glanced up, wagging her stubby tail. The audience clapped and the dog stood to watch them warily.
“You didn’t train that beast. It was previously trained and you are a fraud.” At Mr. Benson’s shout, Sweetie growled and crouched as if preparing to jump at his throat. The man leapt back.
“As I guess you are too, then?” Janette asked innocently. “If I teach her some new tricks, then you have to let me take Sweetie-Pie home. Agreed?” The guy’s lips were drawn into two tight white lines, but he nodded tersely. She turned, smiling to the audience. “You want me to get her to do something more complex? Anyone here know the Hokey Pokey? You put your left foot in. You take your left foot out…?”
The audience started singing the childhood rhyme as Janette explained the motions to Sweetie Pie. Within moments she and Sweetie were dancing along. The trainer looked apoplectic.
The warmth of the audience’s approval felt like a huge hug that even Sweetie-Pie seemed to appreciate. “Any other requests?”
“How about the Time Warp?” someone shouted out from the back.
“What’s that?” Hmm, maybe asking the audience wasn’t her best idea…
Mr. Benson shook his head in annoyance then explained, “It’s a song and dance from the Rocky Horror movie.”
Do you want to try something new, Sweetie Pie?
The happy dog woofed her approval. Within minutes they were following the audience as they sang, “just a step to the left, and a jump to the right.” When Sweetie stood on her back legs and attempted the “pelvic thrust” the audience lost it. Janette raised her eyebrows at the dog. “You’re gonna have to work on that, kiddo.” Okay, time to leave while the crowd is still with you. Janette carefully stepped off the stage and grabbed her clutch purse from the table. Sweetie-Pie glued herself to her leg—apparently not taking any chances about being left behind.
As they walked out the door, Janette turned to address the hapless trainer. “Good luck with your book.”
Brock Benson loaded the boxes of unsold books into the back of his SUV. He grumbled at the sight of the empty dog cage. How did it all go so wrong? He’d written a good book. They said non-fiction sells better than fiction. Just read a few other books on your topic so you can call yourself an expert, write what you’ve learned, and voila you’re an author.
He’d gotten an agent. His agent found him a publisher. And when the publisher had decided his book tour should include training demonstrations, he’d thought, why not? He could get untrained dogs from various pet shelters and put his newfound knowledge to use.
Where the hell did that blasted woman come from? A Marilyn Monroe doppelganger, with her 50’s clothes and hair, right down to the beauty mark. When he’d seen her at the front table, he’d wondered if his fear of public speaking was making him hallucinate. When she stood up and wiggled toward him, his throat had parched and he worried the whole audience would see his attraction to her.
Then she’d spoken. Her voice was nice—not Marilyn’s—but it was the anger and contempt that had swiftly deflated his body’s enthusiasm.
And how had she trained that dog so fast? Damn. He’d already spent his advance and now had two months of book tours ahead of him. Apparently the experts he’d gotten his training ideas from hadn’t known what they were talking about. How the hell had they dared to publish such rubbish?
He rubbed the aching muscle at the back of his neck. When he’d first seen that cursed woman, he’d had visions of rolling in the sack with her. Sure she was way out of his league—hell she was too gorgeous for any mere mortal—but he’d read somewhere that authors have groupies falling all over them. A short nerd from New York could dream, couldn’t he? She was flawless. Shiny, blonde hair, huge brown eyes, lush red lips, and curves that could drive a man insane! He cringed as he recalled the crowd singing the Time Warp. He used to love that movie. Obviously now it was not one of his favorites.
That dog pound must have set him up. No one could teach a dog to stand on its hind legs mimicking… He shook his head. Maybe the woman was a rival dog training author. That could explain some of the night. He’d go home and Google female dog trainers. With looks like that, she’d have a ton of pictures to help sell her dog training techniques. He let out a sigh of relief. Now that he had a plan, he felt much better. Maybe if he worked with that woman she could help him sell his book.
“I can’t believe I thought that soulless bastard was good looking.” Janette wrestled the soggy tennis ball from Sweetie-Pie’s mouth and tossed it across the flat grass. Sweetie-Pie gleefully loped after it.
“Wasn’t he the man of your dreams?” Anna teased. She perched on the edge of the park bench to avoid some bird poop.
“Nightmares, more like. I knew something was wrong the second I saw him pull her out onto the stage. She was trembling. Any normal person would’ve at least patted her to comfort her. Sweetie-Pie only met him yesterday though. She said she was chained up outside a house for the first few years of her life. Probably she was owned by drug dealers, but it’s hard to know with her limited understanding of things. She was in the pound for a while, which was mortifying. People were mean about her looks when they walked by her cage.”
Anna coughed. “She’s not exactly the cutest of dogs. Too bad she got the pit-bull face and build. It looks, um, strange with poodle hair.”
“Her eyes are pure poodle.” Janette smiled as she grabbed the ball and flung it. “They remind me of dad.”
“He must’ve been pretty special for your mom to turn her back on the pack and run off with him.”
“Yeah. He was really sweet. Not like mom’s ex. What a sociopathic POS werewolf he was.”
“I never knew how bad he was until the police incident, but he did always scare us.”
Janette shook her head. “I will never let a guy try to run my life like that. One hint of exaggerated machismo and it’s adios amigo.”
“Probably good you didn’t end up with the dog trainer, then. He probably has control issues. So I guess you didn’t get a picture of him, huh?”
“No.” Janette pulled out her phone. “But I bet he’s on the internet. Let’s see… Lion Tamer plus Dog Trainer… and go.” She grinned. “Yup, he’s here a lot. Oh my God! There’s a picture of me. Look, someone videotaped me at the book thingee with Sweetie-Pie.”
“Cool. You look great. What’s that on your skirt?”
Janette rolled her eyes. She’d have to dry clean it.
“Oh, is that him in the background? He looks mean with that scowl. But I can see how you thought he was cute once. There.” Anna pointed at the phone. “When he’s not frowning, he’s cute.”
“Yeah, but he wasn’t nice to Sweetie-Pie.” She sighed. “What a waste of good facial features. Plus he was the perfect height for me. He was just a little taller than me in my pink suede shoes. Five sixish? I hate getting a crick in my neck from kissing too tall guys.”
“So now you have a pet. Seems odd a werewolf having a pet dog. Kinda like if Goofy was the owner of Pluto. Doesn’t Sweetie-Pie resent you having opposable thumbs?”
“Not as long as I feed her. And she doesn’t eat that canned crap anymore. We had pancakes and bacon for breakfast. You should’ve seen how excited she was. I am reading up on what’s healthy for dogs, though, so I don’t accidentally poison her.”
A nice house. The fancy gabling looked a little dated, plus it wasn’t nearly as large as the modern, square, pillared houses surrounding it, but the paint was fresh and the lawn well kept. Brock nodded. Too many people threw out perfectly good things just to get something newer and more fashionable. It was good this woman, Janette, was not like that.
The smudged white doorbell produced a string of electronic charms which in turn set off a cacophony of ferocious barking. At least it only sounded like one dog. He’d assumed she’d have a few, given her natural way with the animals.
Oh damn. It was scratching at the door trying to get at him. He stepped back on the small porch checking how far to the stairs in case the dog sprang at him. She should keep that thing in a cage.
“Oh hush, Sweetie-Pie.” The scratching stopped and the barking receded, minimally. She must have pulled it away from the door. The door swung inward and his eyes dropped down to the woman bent at the waist holding the godforsaken dog from the night before. The woman’s position gave him a delectable view of her bountiful boobs spilling from her v-necked t-shirt.
He gulped and tried, heroically, to focus only on her eyes. Her questioning gaze turned to anger. Had she noticed his lustful gaze? He’d masked it quickly, but why else would she be angry?
“You! What do you want? You can’t have Sweetie-Pie back.” Her arms circled protectively around the ugly mutt and he let out a sigh of relief.
He shook his head. Was she crazy? “I don’t want your dog. I want you.”
She blushed and he realized what he’d said.
“No,” he corrected. “I mean, I want you to help me, not that I…” Close the mouth. Do not stare at her breasts, so close he could almost—Stop!
“Help you?” She straightened with a shocked expression.
He blinked. She was a lot shorter than he remembered. Oh yeah, she’d been wearing high heels that night, he realized as he noted her bare feet with hot-pink polished toe nails. Even her damned feet were incredibly sexy.
The dog, suddenly unrestricted, leapt at him.
“No, Sweetie-Pie.” She didn’t even shout and the animal instantly stopped and sat. After a beseeching glance at the woman, it turned its malicious glare on him as if to say, “If I could, I’d rip you to pieces.” She, Janette, he reminded himself, bent to pat it and again, tormented him with another tantalizing eyeful. He focused on the top of her head to keep from peeking. She was still gorgeous and perfectly turned out, but not as Marilyn. He tried unsuccessfully to imagine what she’d look like without make-up.
She straightened again and he was both relieved and sorry to be saved from her over-abundant cleavage. Her expression was skeptical. “Why would I help you?”
Brock smiled. He’d anticipated this question. “Because I want to learn from you how to train dogs properly.”
“Oh.” She blinked her big brown eyes then narrowed them at him. “Shouldn’t you have learned that before you wrote the book?”
“Yes. But unfortunately I studied dog training from charlatans.”
“From fakes. They said you had to show dominance and strength to the dog, then it’ll obey. It didn’t.” He stared pointedly at the dog now sitting between him and the woman as if protecting her from him.
“Sweetie-Pie is a ‘she’ not an ‘it’, thank you very much. How would you like it if I referred to you as ‘it’ instead of ‘him’?”
“If you were patting me like that, you could call me anything.” His smile died even as the words tumbled out of his mouth. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Her lips pressed in anger suddenly loosened and she let out a delightful peal of laughter. She shook her head. “No, you shouldn’t have, but it was funny.”
“Will you help me?”
“There’s nothing to teach really, other than to say, treat the dog like she’s a human. They have their own thoughts, personalities, desires.” She blushed. Was that because she’d said desires? His face felt warm at the thought and he fought to listen to the rest of what she was saying. “I mean, if you want a dog to do something for you, you should offer her something in return, like food or affection. Then they have to choose to do what you want.”
He frowned. “A dog’s not a human.”
“True. Generally they’re more loyal and nicer.” She cocked her head to the side and pursed her lips. What would those lips feel like if he kissed them? “Why did you write about dog training when you don’t seem to even like them?”
“Hmm?” Stop staring at her lips. “I needed to write a book to make a living. I took an on-line course on how to write a bestseller. The guy said to study what’s selling on Amazon and I followed all his suggestions. It was selling great until the publisher suggested touring with the added draw of actually training dogs.”
“But since you’ve already been published, why bother to learn how to train a dog now?”
“My book’s been pulled. A video taken of me unable to make that dog sit, and then you getting her to dance the Time Warp—” He shook his head in frustration. “It went viral. People petitioned Amazon to remove my book. There were even death threats. Social media is vicious.”
“My agent says if I give them a better dog training book, with a different pen name, no photo, then they’ll honor my contract.”
“Can they cancel your book deal just like that?”
“I signed a code of conduct clause. I swore in the video and they are using that as leverage.”
“But everyone swears.”
“It’s an escape clause.”
“Sorry. But that wasn’t my fault. You shouldn’t have been abusing Sweetie.”
“I know that now.” Cripes! How much must he grovel? Enough that she’ll agree to help. “I really need your assistance.”
“But I’m not a dog trainer.”
“What?” He studied her face to see if she was lying. “Then what do you do?”
“I’m a beautician. I do hair and make-up for the movies.” She squared her shoulders with pride and her breasts strained against the fabric of her pale blue t-shirt.
“Well, could you show me how you trained this dog?” The dog in question was now lying at her feet, having decided he was no longer a threat.
“Hey, Janette.” A female voice from behind him made him jump. “I got some dog stuff you’re gonna need for your new roomie.” A tall brunette also in her twenties bounded up the steps behind him. Her eyes narrowed as she stared down at his face. “Say aren’t you—?”
“Brock Benson.” He held out his hand. She ignored it.
“You’re the soulless b—”
“He’s here because he wants to learn how to train dogs.” Janette jumped in swiftly making him wonder what the other woman was going to say. “This is my best friend, Anna.”
He nodded warily.
“Oh. Anyway…” The woman handed Janette a plastic shopping bag. “I got you proper dog food bowls, a new leash, doggie bags to pick up—”
“Eww.” Janette’s nose crinkled in disgust.
“You have to pick it up. Otherwise they fine you big bucks.”
Janette turned to the dog. “You are so learning to use the toilet, kiddo.” It glanced up and wagged its tail.
“And I made her a new collar and tag to replace that cheap one.”
“Cheap? It’s a picture of my book cover!” He sighed. “Of which I now have 249 more copies that I can’t use.” At Janette’s questioning gaze, he added. “They were author giveaways to help promote at the signings.”
She shrugged. “Oh Anna, I was gonna ask, can you look after Sweetie-Pie on Saturday? I’ve got to be on set for the new Jennifer Lopez movie and I don’t want to leave her alone for the whole day.”
“Sure—Oh no, I can’t. I’m flying out to DC on Thursday for that computer conference for my new job. I won’t be back until Sunday.”
Anna glanced pointedly at Brock and he backed up until the wrought iron railing bumped against his butt. “Oh no. The dog hates me.”
“Sweetie-Pie is her name,” Janette corrected him and then eyed him speculatively. “That’s not a bad idea. I mean, if you’re a writer then you’ll be at home not doing anything, anyway.”
“It’s a very bad idea.” He didn’t like the smile now playing on her beautiful lips.
“Okay. If you don’t want my help…”
Closing his eyes, he muttered, “Damn,” then took a bracing breath. “What do I do?”
“Just hang out with her, feed her, walk her—” She held up the small plastic bags with an evil grin. “Pick up her poop. And then I’ll come get her after work, probably at around eight. We’re not shooting any evening scenes.”
“Just for one day?” He could use the muzzle.
Anna piped up, “And you have to be very nice to her. Otherwise Sweetie-Pie will tell on you. She and Janette have this weird psychic connection.”
“Even more weird is the fact that I believe you.” He bent to pat the dog and then stopped when it growled in warning.
“First lesson,” Janette informed him. “Never pat a dog without asking permission.”
“No, silly. From the dog. Put your hand out like this and let the dog come to you to sniff it.”
He shoved his hand in his pocket. “She’ll bite me.”
“No, she won’t.”
With a silent prayer he offered his hand in sacrifice. The dog nonchalantly sniffed it and then laid its head down again.
“Keep your hand where she can see it and gently stroke the fur on her head and neck. No sudden or jerky motions.”
“All right.” The fur was remarkably soft and his hand remained intact. He let out a shaky breath.
“Well done. Just keep in mind that you need to let her know what you’re doing and not to scare her or force her to do anything. What’s your address and I’ll drop her off at Seven AM on Saturday.”
Extracting a business card from his wallet, he cringed at the now useless cover art adorning the front. He scrawled his address on the back.
“Here.” He patted the beast again, remembering to approach slowly. “I’ll see you soon.”
He nodded and then turned and walked back to his car. Within seconds he heard her peal of laughter along with that of her friend. As long as he got her expertise, he would survive the humiliation. The only other question was, could he finagle this dog-sitting gig into a date?
Read Chapter 2 HERE