Courting Chloe (Hudson Valley Heroes Book 1) (4 page)

BOOK: Courting Chloe (Hudson Valley Heroes Book 1)
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Sara tucked the check away in her desk drawer. She reached for a key to one of the guest lodges and passed it to Dowling. “You’re in luck. Our next training session begins tomorrow,” she said. “Of course, we’ll need to meet with Preston’s parents and have them sign the necessary releases.”

“I have full legal guardianship,” he answered. He nodded to the thick accordion file and rose. He set his nephew down, but Preston remained glued to his side, clutching his uncle’s hand. “That paperwork is in there as well.”

Sara nodded. “I’ll review Preston’s file at greater length tonight, but for the moment let’s assume everything is in order.”

“It is.”

“All right, then,” Sara continued briskly. “Every client we serve is assigned a personal trainer. You’ll work with Chloe. As she mentioned earlier, she’s a licensed nurse who specializes in pediatric trauma. You’re in good hands. Right, Chloe?”

“Of course.”

The reminder wasn’t exactly subtle. Chloe shifted her attention back to where it should have been the whole time: Preston. A child who had come to the camp for help.
Her
help. All right, then. Time to get her head straight. She and Dowling hadn’t started off on the best foot, but if they were to work together for the next four weeks, they needed to get past their rocky start. She turned to Dowling and attempted a reconciliatory smile.

He returned her smile with a look of total indifference. Polar glaciers radiated more warmth.

Chloe bit back a sigh. She couldn’t tell whether he disliked her personally, or whether his disdain was for the medical profession in general. Either way, it was going to be a long four weeks.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

Ian flipped on a light switch and glanced around the interior of the room—or
cabin
, as they called it here. The space was furnished in a rough, rustic Adirondack style that he instantly disliked. Overstuffed plaid sofa and matching chair, framed hunting scenes on the walls. Wide pine flooring and exposed beams on the ceiling. Large braided rug spread in front of a stone fireplace, windows framed by gingham curtains. Windows that held no view—only the stormy night and presumably, when the sun rose, an endless vista of woods and fields. In other words, nothing.

Every piece of furniture, every architectural detail, the antithesis of the sleek chrome, dark leather furnishings, and industrial lighting that filled his loft in Brooklyn. Although technically he was still in the state of New York, he felt as though he’d been uprooted to an entirely different country. Everything looked foreign and out of place here, and he felt lost in a way that suggested he’d never find his way back home. Worst of all, he’d dragged Preston here with him. As if the boy hadn’t had enough upheaval in his life.

It used to be he’d occasionally wondered if he screwed up. But that was Before. Now he measured his mistakes using mental equivalent of a Richter scale, his every decision, his every movement, balanced against the obscene amount of damage he might do. Coming here, for example. The idiocy of that decision suddenly felt catastrophic. What was he thinking? That a dog would fix everything?
A dog?
Unforgivably stupid. One hundred thousand dollars stupid.

The nurse moved ahead of him and gestured to the amenities. “The kitchen is fully furnished. Stove, refrigerator, pots and pans, dishes and glassware. No dishwasher, though we do provide soap, sponges, and a drying rack. You’re welcome to cook all your own meals, but we serve both breakfast and lunch in the main house once the training session gets underway. We encourage all our guests to join us. I think you’ll agree it’s important to eat communally.”

“Why’s that?” he asked.

She turned, clearly surprised by the interruption. “I’m sorry?” She’d been walking ahead, moving from room to room in the rote, disengaged manner of a flight attendant pointing out safety procedures, obviously intending to give her spiel and leave. Now she turned and faced him directly.

He searched his mind for her name and momentarily came up empty. Then: Chloe Edmonds—that was it. He pegged her to be in her late twenties. Medium height, medium build. Brown hair and big brown eyes. Nice mouth—plump cherry lips and pearly white teeth. Pretty rather than beautiful. Not the sort of woman who’d stand out in a crowd. Her looks belonged more to the girl-next-door variety.

“You said I’d agree that it’s important to eat communally,” he said. “Why?”

“Oh, that.” She tilted her head, considering. “Several reasons, actually. We’ve found that both lingering illness and sudden onset disability can be an isolating experience. It’s not unusual for our clients to have a history of withdrawing from society, either by choice or because physical limitations have made that necessary. Our goal is to help people reconnect with others. We ease that transition by providing a group that’s both non-judgmental and supportive. That helps everyone. Some of the bonds formed here last for years.” 

Ian nodded. He supposed that made sense. That had certainly been the case with him and Preston. Their world had shrunk to just the two of them, interrupted only by intermittent visits with doctors, physical therapists, and the like. It might be nice to meet people facing similar challenges.

“And the other reasons?”

She gave his suit a pointed once-over. “This is not a vacation. You’re here to work. Training a dog isn’t easy. Knowing that everyone else makes mistakes and is facing similar frustrations helps to prevent you from getting discouraged and giving up.”

“Wait a minute. I thought
you
trained the dog. Isn’t that the whole point?”

“We do. But it’s up to you to implement that training.”

Him? Implement training? His entire experience with dogs consisted of trying to avoid stepping in the steaming piles they dropped on city sidewalks. His skepticism must have shown on his face, for she gave a light laugh. “Don’t worry. It will all make sense once you get into it. Some people love the work. I know I do.”

A warning bell went off in Ian’s head. This was sounding more and more ominous. He had assumed that he would simply show up, hand over a check, and leave with a dog, preferably one that had been preprogrammed to know how to help a seven-year-old boy with epileptic type seizures. Apparently this was going to be far more complicated than that. She kept saying
work
. He had to work with a dog. What the hell did that mean?

Before he could follow up with more questions, Chloe continued briskly, “Breakfast is served from seven until eight in the main house. It’s buffet style, so drop in whenever you like. Lunch starts at noon. You’re on your own for dinner. If you or Preston has any dietary restrictions, just let us know.”

She turned and continued her tour, opening doors and demonstrating features as she moved through the cabin. Two bedrooms, one full bath. Linen closet stocked with fresh sheets, extra towels, pillows, and blankets. Stacked washer and dryer. Books, cable TV, and wireless internet connection.

The camp had done everything they could to make the place feel like home. But it was the things she didn’t point out that Ian’s gaze was perversely drawn to. All the subtle signs that screamed
Hospital
.
Recovery.
Therapy
.

Notes written in Braille affixed to doors and cabinet fronts.

Handicap support rails in the shower and around the toilet.

Beds equipped with motorized lifts.

A calendar style white board which bore the heading:
Remember to
Take Your Meds!

An emergency call button strategically situated in every room.

Ian’s throat went tight. Everything about the place conjured up the feelings of helplessness and guilt. Inadequacy. This wasn’t a solution. Not even close. This was just one more hospital, more procedures, more of everything he’d wanted to get away from. He clenched his jaw, fighting back a wave of panic. They shouldn’t be here. This was the wrong place for them. He wanted the room for Normal People. That’s where he and Preston belonged, not here. He just wanted everything to get back to normal.

“Mr. Dowling?”

He turned to find the nurse staring at him, her brows knit in an expression he’d come to recognize as professional concern—an expression that was a hair’s breadth too close to pity for his comfort. 

“Yes?” he snapped.

“The cabin. Is it satisfactory, or is there something—”

“It’s fine.” Turning to Preston, he said, “What do you think, buddy?”

“I don’t like it.” Preston wrinkled his nose. “It smells like this is a dog’s house.”

Christ.
Ian tugged his hand—the one Preston wasn’t clinging to—through his hair. Before he could remind his nephew that his manners were better than that, Chloe smiled gently and hunkered down on her ankles, bringing herself closer to Preston’s height.

“You know what a dog thinks when it comes in here?” she asked. Without waiting for the boy’s reply, she tilted back her head and took an exaggerated sniff. “Oh, wow, I like this—this smells like a little boy’s house.”

Preston turned away, burying his face in Ian’s thigh.

Chloe gave a good-natured shrug and rose. She looked at Ian and suddenly brightened. “Oh, I almost forgot. One of the best things about our pediatric program is its inclusiveness. There’s an elementary school nearby that—”

“No. No schools.”

Puzzlement showed in her eyes, then her face softened to one of understanding. Ian mentally pushed back, battling a flash of anger. As if she understood
anything
. As if she had any goddamned clue what he and Preston had been through.

“I’m not suggesting you enroll Preston full-time,” she said gently. “But this isn’t like what you might have experienced back home. The local school has an excellent program integrating children with—”

“No,” Ian repeated. “No schools. Preston’s being home-schooled for the time being. Until… until he and I can get a handle on things.”

“But—”

“Listen, I’ll follow your advice when it comes to dogs, all right? But anything else regarding Preston’s care we’ll leave to the professionals.”

Well, hell. He might as well have suggested they take a litter of puppies and throw them in the lake. He watched as her spine stiffened and fire flashed through her eyes. She studied him for a long, tense beat, then in a voice that dripped scorn she repeated, “The professionals.”

Oh, Christ.
“Look, it’s not that I don’t appreciate—“

“You don’t have to explain. I understand perfectly.” Turning away once again, she brought her hands together in a wrap-up clap. “I think we’re done here. I’ll get out of the way and let you unpack.”

Unpack.
Shit.
One more screw up on his part. One more in an apparently limitless series of screw ups. Not only was he behaving like a flaming asshole, he was an
unprepared
asshole. A bad scout. Ian sucked in a breath and then slowly let it out. “The truth is,” he said, “I didn’t know how all this worked… I wasn’t sure we’d be admitted so quickly.”

“Oh, really.”

Her tone was as dry as autumn leaves, her censor unmistakable. But to her credit, she didn’t say anything else. If she was going to rake him over the coals for buying his way to the front of the line and insulting her professionalism, at least she wasn’t going to do it in front of Preston.

Ian resolutely forged on. “I’d rather not drive all the way back to the city tonight. Is there a place nearby where we can stock up on a few essentials?”

Her gaze traveled from the tips of his polished leather Oxfords to the tailored shoulders of his three thousand dollar suit. One corner of her mouth turned up. “Armani essentials?” she drawled. “Hmm. I’m not sure we carry those around here”

Cute. Then again, he had that one coming. “Basics,” he corrected. “Toothpaste, toothbrushes, pajamas. Maybe a couple of changes of clothing for us both.”

Preston tugged his hand. “I’m hungry, Uncle Ian.”

He looked at her. “And someplace to get a quick bite to eat.”

Although she’d clearly enjoyed her retaliatory ribbing, one glance at Preston and she put away her lingering animosity—at least for the moment. “It’s Sunday,” she murmured. She checked her watch. “There’s a decent mall not too far from here, but it’ll probably be closed by the time you get there.” She bit lightly on her lower lip, thinking.

“Never mind,” Ian said. He’d handle it on his own, like he always did. Stupid to ask for help. “It’s fine. We’ll just jump back on the parkway and—”

“How’s pizza sound?” she said, cutting him off.

“Pizza?” he repeated.

“I like pizza,” Preston ventured softly.

Chloe looked at Preston and smiled. “Well, I think you’re in for a treat, then. Tony’s has the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. And believe me, I ate a lot of pizza when I lived in New York City.”

Preston brightened slightly. “New York City? That’s where we live.”

“In the city? Really? Where?”

“We live on the top floor of a building. Only a block away from the park.”

Chloe shifted her gaze from Preston to him. “Central Park?”

But before Ian could answer, Preston chimed in, “No, a better park. This one has a dragon slide, swings, a soccer field, and sprinklers that turn on in the summertime.”

“In Brooklyn,” Ian put in.

Chloe nodded in acknowledgment, but her attention remained on Preston. “You’re pretty lucky to have such a great park so close to where you live.”

Preston nodded.

Ian watched the exchange in amazement. By nature, Preston had always been somewhat shy. After the accident his distrust of strangers had increased tenfold—this was particularly true regarding doctors and nurses, all of whom seemed to be constantly poking and prodding him, insisting he take medications that tasted awful and only succeeded in making him feel worse, or who wanted to run one frightening test after another. With Chloe, however, he was a veritable chatterbox.

Before Ian could puzzle out the reason for his dramatic turnabout, Preston continued, “Dogs aren’t allowed there. Ever. That’s what all the signs say. No dogs allowed. That’s why I like that park so much. I hate dogs.”

Ah. So that’s where this was going.

Chloe’s eyes widened in exaggerated shock. “Oh, my goodness. You hate dogs?”

“Yes.” Preston’s lower lip trembled. Tears pooled in his eyes. “And if I have a dog, I won’t ever be allowed to go to my park again, and it’s my very favorite place.”

Ian opened his mouth to reassure Preston, but Chloe gave a subtle shake of her head. She hunkered down on her ankles once again and studied Preston with a look of stanch understanding.

BOOK: Courting Chloe (Hudson Valley Heroes Book 1)
12.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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