Read Good Guys Love Dogs Online

Authors: Inglath Cooper

Tags: #Adult, #Romance, #Humor

Good Guys Love Dogs (5 page)

mind, she reluctantly agreed to
postpone their wedding

plans. He reassured her that nothing
would be different

between them. Once school ended, he
would return to

New York and pick up his life where
he'd left off. And

maybe by then he could mend the rift
between him and

his son.

43

6

abel Atkins waited at the door while
Ian parked

Mhis car at the rear of the house a
few minutes

later. “Did they
get you all fixed up, Miss Smidge? she

asked, wiping her hands on her
apron.

“She'll be fine.
Ian followed his plump, flour-dusted

housekeeper into the kitchen.

“Wel , that's
certainly good news, she said, giving the

dog an affectionate pat on the head.

Ian had known Mabel little more than
a week, but he

already felt as if he'd known her
forever. She made no

attempt to hide herself from the
world. Blunt and to the

point, she took great pride in her
work. Although she claimed

to have once been more than five
feet tal , she now stood

an inch or two under that height and
frequently complained

that she would soon need a step
stool to reach the sink. She

wore her hair in a kinky perm and
had a penchant for

chocolate malt bal s, which she kept
in the cabinet above the

stove, high enough to make her think
twice about pul ing

them out.

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GOOD GUYS LOVE DOGS

Ian spent his first few days in
Keeling Creek thinking

he'd do everything on his own. He
and Luke could manage.

But when the laundry started to pile
up and the dirty dishes

multiplied exponential y, he'd given
up and gone in search of

a housekeeper.

They'd been in town less than a week
when he'd asked

Maude Cutter at Cutter's Grocery if
she knew of anyone who

would be interested in the job.
She'd said Mabel was just

the woman he was looking for. And
she'd been right. Mabel

fit in as if she'd always been here.
She'd taken a firm hand

with Luke, too, informing him of
kitchen rules on her first day

in the house. Luke needed that kind
of structure, something

Ian hadn't been around enough to
give him.

Smidge managed an exaggerated limp
over to her bowl

where Mabel had a dish ful of
leftover chicken waiting for

her. No dog was a bigger ham when a
little sympathy could

be conjured up.

“Now if she'll
just stay out of the blackberry bushes,

Ian said.

“She's lived in
the city al her life, Mabel replied in the

dog's defense. “Been
running around like a wild thing set

free since you got here. She'l learn
soon enough.

“Let's hope so,
Ian said doubtful y. Only a few days

before, they'd found her in the
creek behind the house, hip

deep in mud and howling.

“Did you get to
meet Colby? Mabel asked.

“Dr. Williams?

“Funny as that
sounds to me, yes. The older woman

chuckled, stirring the contents of
the pot simmering on top

45

INGLATH COOPER

of the stove. “Known
her since she stood knee-high to a

grasshopper. Stil can't believe
she's old enough to be called

doctor.

“She seemed very
good. Ian opened the refrigerator

and took out the pitcher of lemonade
Mabel just made that

morning.

Colby Wil iams didn't fit his
stereotype of a smal -town

veterinarian. She was attractive.
Very attractive, if different

from the women he knew in New York.
Her style said casual,

a blue cotton shirt tucked into
slim-fitting Levi's, her straight

blond hair in a ponytail,
emphasizing a face with nice

cheekbones and expressive green
eyes.

“Even as a little
girl, she wanted to be the first female

vet in town, Mabel said. “And
she was. We're lucky to

have her.

Intrigued, Ian said, “She
mentioned having a daughter.

How old is she?

Mabel ladled out a bowl of soup from
the pot on the

stove and set it in front of him.
“A little younger than Luke,

I believe. Colby raised her by
herself. Nice kid, so she must

have done a good job.

“She's not
married? The question popped out before

he even realized he wanted to ask
it.

Mabel turned to look at him, both
eyebrows

disappearing beneath gray bangs.
“As a matter of fact, she's

not.

Ian swal owed a spoonful of soup and
burned his mouth

in the process.

46

GOOD GUYS LOVE DOGS

“Careful there.
Mabel eyed him with a thoughtful look

on her face. “It's
hot.

“You're right, it
is. He washed away the sting with the

lemonade and wondered at the glint
in his housekeeper's eye.

“Good, though.

“Glad you like
it. After my Thomas was gone, there

was just me, and food doesn't taste
nearly as good if you're

not cooking it with someone other
than yourself in mind.

It's a real pleasure to have you and
Luke to cook for.

“Thomas was a
lucky man. You'l spoil us if we're not

careful, Ian said with a smile. He
knew what she meant

about eating alone. When Sherry had
died, he thought he, too,

would die of loneliness. Knowing
that the smal , helpless

infant who was his son needed him
had been the one thing

that kept him going. Despite what
Luke thought, Ian didn't

know what he would have done without
him.

Mabel dropped the soup ladle into
the sink and turned

to give him an assessing look.
“That's al right by me. I

know you said you and Luke would
only be here until he

finished high school, but if you and
Colby happened to hit it

off, you might not want to return to
the big city.

He nearly choked on his soup. Mabel
scurried across

the kitchen floor, whacking him on
the back. “You okay, Mr.

McKinley?

Once he'd gotten his coughing under
control, he

nodded and wiped his eyes with his
napkin. Not wanting

her to get any ideas, he said, “If
you remember, Mabel, I

mentioned that I recently got
engaged.

47

INGLATH COOPER

“Oh, yes, you
did, didn't you? the older woman said

with a deadpan expression.

“She's coming
down this weekend. On Saturday.

“I didn't mean to
be making any untoward suggestions,

Mr. McKinley, Mabel said hastily.
“And if your intended is

planning a visit, then I'd better
quit yakking and get this

place in tip-top order, hadn't I?
She left him in the

kitchen to finish his soup alone.

Ian put his dishes in the sink and
went out on the front

porch of the two-story brick house.
Smidge followed him,

sprawling on the floor beside him.
With his glass of

lemonade in one hand, Ian leaned
against a porch column

noticeably in need of paint and
stared out at the oak trees

lining the driveway. Oak Hill was a
beautiful place. No

denying that. A lot like Tara must
have looked to Scarlett

after the war.

Built in the late 1800s, the farm
had been used to raise

both cattle and horses until a few
years ago when it went

up for sale and had since become
run-down.

Ian had asked his Manhattan real
estate agent to find

Luke and him a place in need of some
work. The thought

of that appealed to him, even though
he didn't own a

toolbox and had next to zero
experience in carpentry work.

Coming here had been his decision,
but going from a sixteen-

hour workday to a one-year leave of
absence felt like being

forced to a halt halfway through a
marathon. He'd consoled

himself with the thought that he
might spend part of his

time making improvements to the
house. He'd also hoped

48

GOOD GUYS LOVE DOGS

that might be something he and Luke
could do together. A

common ground.

The agent found him what he'd been
looking for. But

photographs of the place didn't
reveal just how much work

the farm would require. The barn was
in dire need of paint,

and a good number of boards needed
replacing, as wel as

the roof. The fields beside and
behind the house looked as if

they hadn't been mowed in years. But
the house itself was

the most daunting of al , with
peeling wal paper, floors in

need of refinishing and bathtubs
that needed re-sealing.

There wasn't a room that didn't need
something done to it.

He definitely had his work cut out
for him.

He heard the school bus in the
distance rol to a stop

and then move on down the road. A
few minutes later, Luke

appeared at the top of the driveway,
his book bag slung over

one shoulder, his baseball cap and
loose, baggy clothes

marking him as the city kid he was.
His expression remained

set and unsmiling until he spotted
Smidge wobbling across

the yard toward him, limping on her
bandaged leg.

Luke looked up at Ian, a worried
frown on his face.

“What happened to
her?

“She had a briar
in her paw. I took her to see the vet.

She got it out and gave her
something for infection.

Luke plopped down on the ground and
wrestled with

the ecstatic dog for a couple of
minutes while Ian watched

them, a catch in his heart. The boy
loved the dog, and he

had to admit he wished Luke showed
as much affection for

him.

49

INGLATH COOPER

Luke had been even less
communicative than usual

since they'd arrived here at the end
of August, and Ian hoped

patience would eventual y pay off.
He knew the changes

weren't easy for him. A new school.
New kids. But

schoolwork had always come easily to
him. He was smart

and, if anything, often bored by his
classes. He'd been one

of the top soccer players at his
school in the city, but

Jefferson County High didn't have a
team, and so far, he'd

shown no interest in any other
sports.

Luke got up and bounded up the porch
steps past Ian

without saying a word.

“How was school
today? Ian asked.

Luke turned around at the screen
door, his gaze on

Smidge. “Great,
he said, his tone less than convincing.

“It can't be that
bad. Surely, you like some of the kids.

“They're all too
wild for me.

Ian ignored his sarcasm. Despite his
intel igence and

athletic ability, Luke had a shy
side that made it difficult for

him to make new friends. “I
started chipping away the old

paint on the porch this morning, Ian
said. “I thought maybe

you'd like to help this weekend.

Luke kicked at a twig on the wood
floor. “You're the

one who wanted to come out here and
play farmer. I didn't

want any part of this. Believe me,
if I'd known you were

going to bring me to this no-action
town, I'd have asked that

judge for jail time instead. There
wouldn't have been much

difference, anyway. He disappeared
inside the house, the

screen door slapping closed behind
him.

50

GOOD GUYS LOVE DOGS

“Luke! Ian cal
ed, starting after him, then deciding

against it. He dropped down on the
top step of the porch.

He'd known that nothing about this
would be easy. So far,

he'd been right. His relationship
with Luke didn't fal apart

overnight and it would certainly
take longer than that to fix

it.

51

7

t five minutes past five that
afternoon, Colby

Astepped through the front door of
the Dippety-

Do Salon for her monthly trim. Her
basic, shoulder-length

cut required little more effort than
a nip off the ends.

A bel dinged, announcing her
arrival. A waiting area

held several chairs and a couple of
couches. Magazines

littered the coffee table,
GQ
and
International Male
among

them. Louise Mason, the owner of the
salon, theorized

that her customers didn't come here
to read about the latest

tuna casserole recipe or how to
paint their kitchen in less than

five hours. Here, women were free to
gossip, ogle men's

magazines and general y let their
hair down, so to speak.

Judging from the fact that the place
rarely had an empty

chair, Louise apparently had the
right idea.

“Hey, Colby.
You're on time as usual, Louise said,

approaching the desk. At five feet
ten inches tall, Louise

often joked that the only thing that
kept her from being a

professional model was her looks.

“Hi, Louise. You
keeping busy?

52

GOOD GUYS LOVE DOGS

The woman threw a glance at the shop
behind her,

where hair dryers buzzed and the
smel of permanent

solution hung in the air. “If
it weren't for vanity, I'd be in

the poorhouse.

Colby smiled and followed the
heavyset woman to the

back. Louise shampooed her hair and
applied an apple-

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