Table of Contents
Love Is a Four-Legged Word
“Charming, pacey, funny, and heartwarming, Ms. Shepherd’s romantic and doggy debut is pure delight.”
—Marion Lennox, RITA Award-winning author
“A delicious, fast-paced read.”
—Julie James, author of
Something About You
“A humorous and fun story. The so-ugly-he’s-cute dog is a great character.”
Sensation titles by Kandy Shepherd
LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD
HOME IS WHERE THE BARK IS
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2010 by Kandy Shepherd.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. BERKLEY
SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Berkley Sensation trade paperback edition / July 2010
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Home is where the bark is/Kandy Shepherd.—Berkley Sensation trade pbk. ed. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-18849-1
1. Dogs—Fiction. 2. San Francisco (Calif.)—Fiction I. Title.
To the furry friends who are the heart of my home.
To my wonderful editor, Kate Seaver, cover artist Kimberly Schamber, cover designer Rita Frangie, and the rest of the team at The Berkley Publishing Group—thank you. Thanks also to my agent, Miriam Kriss.
Thank you to my writing friends, in particular Elizabeth Lhuede—there for me at the most ungodly hours—Cathleen Ross, Christine Stinson, Isolde Martyn, and Anna Campbell. Also to Vanessa Barneveld, Janette Hankinson, Simone Camilleri, and my other critique group members. My thanks also to Kim Castillo, truly an author’s friend. And to Amanda Englebrecht, who helped me with that most precious commodity—time to write.
My appreciation to Amanda Raine at [email protected]
for the time I spent with her and her canine clients, and also to Fog City Dogs.
Thank you to Melinda and Luke Booker and to Mate, that big black mutt who was my inspiration for the character of Mack.
Hugs to my husband, James, and daughter, Lucy, for your unstinting love, support, inspiration—and for putting up with me when I exercise the right to have an artistic temperament!
A special thank-you to the readers of my first book,
Love Is a Four-Legged Word.
For those of you who asked for Serena’s story, here it is . . .
Whalen was not a Yorki-poo kind of guy. Serena Oakley saw that right away. Alerted by the door chime—a dog barking to the tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out?”—she looked up from the check-in counter of her upscale doggy spa and day-care center.
She tried not to stare at the tall, powerfully muscled man who shouldered his way in through the glass doors from the sidewalk. Then quickly covered her mouth with her hand to hide her amusement. She pretended to cough.
In the six months since she’d opened Paws-A-While, Serena often played a game of matching owner to dog. The new client and the struggling, squirming little Yorkshire terrier-poodle cross he held tight to his impressively broad chest made perhaps the most entertaining mismatch she’d seen.
Just a few of the man’s long strides into the compact reception area and the little dog started to yap a cranky “put me down now.” At the owner’s embarrassed scowl Serena fought to keep her polite smile from breaking into laughter. She needed to be professional here and help him out. She put on her best meet-and-greet smile.
“Hi! I’m Serena Oakley. Good morning and welcome to Paws-A-While.” She stepped around the counter. “This little cutie must be Bessie.”
The Yorki-poo immediately stopped yapping, stilled, and looked up at Serena, feathery ears alert.
“And I’m Nick Whalen,” said the client. “My dog is here to be, uh, assessed for day care.”
Serena recognized the deep, gravel-rough voice from the man’s initial phone call. It had intrigued her then and it impressed her now. The voice matched the face with its strong, taut angles. And the tough, hard body that strained against businesslike jacket and pants.
“Of course, Mr. Whalen. We were expecting you. I’ve been looking forward to meeting Bessie. She looks just as sweet as I thought she’d be.”
And Bessie’s owner?
He was younger than she’d expected, only a few years older than her—around thirty-two, she guessed. Definitely a big-dog type. A man more at ease with, say, a boxer as chiseled and tough-looking as himself. Yes, she could see him with a boxer.
And the adorable pint-sized pooch with the yellow bow tied in her forelock looked as if she’d be much happier tucked into a nice older lady’s purse with just her nose peeking out.
But Serena didn’t share her thoughts. Dog care was a competitive industry in the canine-crazy Marina District of San Francisco. She could not risk even a hint she might be seen as poking fun at the pampered pooches that brought in the much-needed dollars and cents. She had a year to make her business succeed before she ran out of funds. That meant keeping her private whimsies locked safely away while she built her client base.
Besides, it was no hardship to lavish attention on her canine customers. There was hardly a dog born that she didn’t like.
“Hi, Bessie,” she crooned to the Yorki-poo. “Are you going to come play with us?”
Serena held out her hand for the little dog to sniff; then, once introduced, she scratched her under the chin. In response, Bessie enthusiastically licked Serena’s fingers.
Serena laughed and pulled her hand back. She wiped it with an anti-bacterial tissue from the box on the wall—following her own strict hygiene rule. Cross infection was a disaster any doggy day-care proprietor dreaded.
“I think we’re going to get on just fine, sweetie.” She smiled at Bessie. Then looked up to the owner and realized patting Bessie had brought her rather too close. Close enough to notice that his skin was tan and smooth and his eyes were a pale, piercing shade of blue.
Suddenly breathless, she took a hasty step back. “And I hope we’ll all get along with you, too, Mr. Whalen.”
“So I’m here for assessment as well?” He raised his brow, and she wasn’t sure if he were serious or not. “Are you going to put me through my paces? What’s it to be? Catch? Fetch? Roll over on command?”
Serena reacted with a quick intake of breath, too taken aback to answer. Every day, gorgeous dogs came through the doors of Paws-A-While—but never a human as attractive as this man.
Handsome wasn’t the right word to describe him. His jaw was too strong, his nose too crooked, his dark blond hair cropped too short for merely “handsome.” But the irregular features added up to something undeniably appealing. Something that made rash, unbidden fantasies flash through her mind of just the kind of paces she’d like to put him through.
Stunned at her own reaction, she managed to choke out a reply. “Of course not. We only have a formal assessment procedure for dogs, not people.” She was aiming for professional but feared that came out just plain pompous.
Flustered, she made the mistake of looking directly up to her new client’s face. Even in flats Serena hit five-ten, and although he was tall, she immediately connected with his eyes. Cool, quizzical blue eyes that seemed to enjoy her discomfiture and held her gaze for just a second too long.
She strained to remember the spiel she recited word perfect many times a day. “As we discussed, we cannot accept an animal for a regular day-care booking until we see proof of current vaccinations and, in animals over six months old, of . . . uh . . . spaying or cas . . . castration.”
Ohmigod. Why did she have to stumble over
stumbled on that word.
“Ouch,” he said.
Serena flushed so hot her ears burned. This was beyond embarrassing. Why did
word make her think testosterone? Levels of which this client seemed to have in abundance. The muscles. The voice.The . . .
Think no further, Serena
She forced her eyes to stay at the level of his face. Her voice revved up so that she started to gabble. “Then we need to see how your dog socializes with our other guests. The other dogs, I mean. And with the staff, too, of course.”
His mouth twisted. It was a sexy mouth, the top lip narrower than the bottom. Did he find her amusing? Dammit. Above all, Serena wanted to be taken seriously. To prove to both friends and critics that she could be a successful businesswoman.
“I see,” he said. “So there’s no formal procedure for checking out the owners. How do we best impress you?”
Roll over on my command.
No! She would not let her thoughts stray in that direction. What was it about this Yorki-poo owner that made her forget she was taking a sabbatical from sex?
She cleared her throat. “Pay your bill in advance and never be late for pickup time? Always impresses.”
“Want the credit card now?”