USA Today Bestselling Author
Rowan hopes that the deep emptiness inside him might possibly heal—if he just finds the retired K9 Hershey, named after an old trainer buddy. Nothing can hold Rowan back from locating his old K9 friend. What he didn’t expect was his old friend had found a new friend, with puppies of her own.
Brandi had just lost her grandmother, her home, and her best four-legged friend, Lacey, in a horrible forest fire that swept through town. Everyone said to not give up on Lacey, as dogs often disappeared only to reappear later. That one thought calls her to spend every spare moment she has at the site, calling for Lacey. When she realizes someone else has the same idea, she’s happy to join forces.
When things get ugly, she’s glad to have someone at her side because she hadn’t seen what ugly could really look like … until now.
The dog Rowan is going to California to locate has special meaning to him, he was on the mission where Hershey’s handler was killed. If he had known Hershey was retired and up for adoption he would have taken him in a heartbeat. The problem now is the family had been living where one of the wildfires destroyed everything. They’ve had to leave the state and if Hershey is found they don’t want him.
Brandi was in Europe when the rampant wildfire took over her neighborhood. She lost everything, her grandmother died in it and there’s nothing left of their home. She’s been coming back to the area every day since she got back but can’t find her pregnant retriever Lacey.
When she first meets Rowan she’s skeptical but decides to give him a chance when he’s back for a second day. They split off so they could cover more area. It’s Brandi who hears the growl and Rowan joins her. Putting out some food Brandi has, they are surprised by two puppies. He’s not sure if Hershey’s the one guarding them and he’s also worried because his voice is different and he’s not sure if his scent is the same.
Rowan being prepared, manages to get some pictures of the puppies and the other dogs, discovering in the process the mother dog is injured and there’s another puppy not doing well. They need to get them help and soon. But as they’re deciding how to go about it, a shot rings out, and Rowan has Brandi hide while he chases, unsuccessfully, after the shooter. Knowing they have no choice but to get the dogs out now, Rowan concentrates on Hershey.
This is a favorite scene.
As he took a third bite, he broke off a third piece for Hershey and threw it out to him but, this time, not quite as far. If Hershey wanted this piece, he’d have to come out of the shelter a little bit. And Rowan turned his head away and had another bite. As he broke off another one, he turned to look up and found himself staring straight at Hershey’s eyes.
He took a slow, deep breath and said, “Hello there, buddy.” His heart lit with joy. “I’m so sorry my voice is different now, but you know one thing? Hopefully my scent isn’t. My body’s been through a lot of doctors and hospitals and all that good stuff,” he said, “but it’s still me on the inside. That hasn’t changed.”
Afraid to talk too much to the dog just yet, much less reach out, Rowan continued giving Hershey time and little bits of the protein bar. At one point, he looked up, and the dog stared at him in confusion. “Hey, Hershey,” he said, as he reached up a hand.
The dog leaned forward and sniffed his fingers. He reared back and then leaned forward again. Rowan knew Hershey was confused; the scent was close but not quite right and from a long time ago. Rowan leaned forward again, and this time he put up the other hand, the one that hadn’t had surgery. Hershey sniffed and then whined.
Rowan smiled. “Hey, boy. I am so glad I found you.” And just like that, a switch flipped, and Hershey launched himself at Rowan. Hershey’s tail wagging, he jumped, circled him, jumped again, this time completely tackling Rowan to the ground. Rowan lay here on his back, laughing, letting the dog greet him.
“It’s been a long time, boy.” He gently cuddled the great big goof, walked his hands across Hershey, gently loving him, caring and rejoicing in Hershey’s greeting, knowing that this bond had never been broken. That was the thing about animals. They remembered. It took Hershey a bit to get around Rowan’s different smells and his different voice, but, after that, it was a done deal.
Finally Hershey laid down, half on top and half beside Rowan, and dropped his head on his chest. Rowan just held Hershey for a long moment. “It’s been a tough couple years, hasn’t it, buddy? I heard you got to retire and yet look at what happened to your retirement, but then something similar happened to me too.” He reached up and gently scratched the dog.
He heard Brandi’s voice off to the side, who said, “The two pups are coming out toward you.”
He reached up a hand gently, coming in contact with soft fur. The pup backed away a little bit and then came back again. Hershey barked, and pretty quickly both pups surrounded him. Rowan chuckled at the furballs. He said to Brandi, “You can try coming up, if you want.”
“Is it safe?” she asked in a dry tone. He shrugged. “No clue, but Hershey recognized me, and he trusts us enough that he got the pups here now.”
While Hershey was busy, he managed to get a rope and hooked it around the dog’s neck. Hershey didn’t appear to be bothered in any way. As part of his training, he was used to being on a leash. Used to having commands and somebody in authority over him. So this was a good thing.
With a big smile Rowan sat up gently, moving slowly, so that the pups wouldn’t get too scared, and gently he wrapped a rope around the first one, making it snug enough so that he couldn’t pull his head out of it, letting the rope trail behind him, getting him used to it. The pup seemed to treat it more like a toy than anything, rolling around, grabbing the rope, chewing it. When Rowan had the opportunity, he slipped a rope around the second one too.
“These three all have ropes now,” he said. “Do you want to come see if you can contact Lacey from here?”
“I guess that’s my best bet, isn’t it?” She walked up slowly and crouched. Hershey turned to look at her and growled.
Rowan reached up immediately and said, “Friend, Hershey. She’s a friend.”
Hershey’s ears came forward, and he looked down at Rowan. He smiled gently and rubbed Hershey’s forehead. “I know it’s been a long time, hasn’t it? But she’s a good person. It’s okay. We’re here to help Lacey, not hurt her.”
Brandi came closer and greeted the pups, who didn’t seem to think that she was anything other than part of the landscape. They rolled around, grabbing their ropes and tugging.
“They’re so special,” she whispered.
“Pups,” he said with a chuckle, still sitting on the ground. “Now we have ropes on these three, so it depends whether you can get up close and talk to Lacey as to how we handle her.”
She looked at Hershey. “Have you got him under control though?”
Rowan recognized the nervousness in her tone. “He’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ve got him now. He’s on a rope. He’s always been very well leash trained. Just don’t make any sudden moves, and go on up and talk to Lacey.” He watched as Brandi shifted closer toward the den that the dogs had created together, talking to Lacey gently. When he heard a whine on the inside of the hollow, Rowan smiled and said, “Give it a shot. I believe another pup is also in there.”
“If the pup is alive,” she murmured.
“We can only deal with what we have to work with,” he said. “So let’s hope everybody is alive.” He watched as she slowly crept a little bit closer and closer. Hershey watched, his ears forward, obviously disturbed at the turn of events but not enough to do anything about it. “Good boy,” Rowan whispered. “Good boy.” Hershey looked down and nuzzled his nose against Rowan, blowing deeply against his neck. Rowan wrapped his arms around his scruff and burrowed his face against his neck. He hoped that she had as much luck with Lacey as he was pretty sure that Lacey was badly hurt.
When he heard a strangled voice calling out to him, he turned to see her saying, “Rowan,” and she held up a third pup. “It’s alive but in rough shape.”
“Can you see why?”
“No,” she said. “It was just lying here.”
He shifted ever-so-slowly so that he could reach up a hand, and she gently placed the pup in his arms. And he tucked it against his chest, while Hershey nuzzled it. “Is this your adopted daughter?”
Rowan checked over the pup, but nothing was obviously wrong. Yet she was malnourished and suffering. “It’s a good chance Lacey has no milk,” he said, “and this one is too weak to eat otherwise.” He turned to look for Brandi, but she was inside the brush again. He didn’t hear any growling, so he hoped for a good outcome because, going into a hollow with an injured dog was never a smart idea. But just like he had a bond with Hershey, he could only hope Brandi had the same bond with Lacey. He called out, “Is she okay?”
“No,” she said, her voice thick with tears. “Her back end is damaged.”
“Like from a car accident or the fire?”
“I don’t know what I’m looking at,” she said, “but I think it’s an ugly injury and likely a broken leg.”
At that, he swore and said, “That would explain Hershey’s reaction.”
She lifted the brush and looked at him. “Why is that?”
“Because he knows exactly what those look like,” he said.
She stared down at her beloved dog, and the pain in her dog’s eyes just tore at her. But her tail moved in greeting and hope. With the brush matted down, she could see that this was where the sick pup and, of course, Lacey had bled all around. It didn’t look like she’d gotten up in a couple days. “We have to get her to a vet,” she said.
Dale Mayer. Rowan (Kindle Locations 581-645). Valley Publishing Ltd.
Getting Lacey and the pups to the cars was a bit of an adventure at least for Brandi. Then comes the hard questions about being shot at. As things get even more interesting and suspenseful, Rowan calls on Badger and the guys for help figuring things out. A relationship begins between Brandi and Rowan and there’s hope that maybe they can stay together. You know for the sake of the dogs (grin).
I love these stories so much. This one especially tore at my heart, knowing the devastation of the fires in California.
5 Contented Purrs for Dale!
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Dale Mayer is a USA Today bestselling author best known for her Psychic Visions and Family Blood Ties series. Her contemporary romances are raw and full of passion and emotion (Second Chances, SKIN), her thrillers will keep you guessing (By Death series), and her romantic comedies will keep you giggling (It’s a Dog’s Life and Charmin Marvin Romantic Comedy series).
She honors the stories that come to her – and some of them are crazy and break all the rules and cross multiple genres!
To go with her fiction, she also writes nonfiction in many different fields with books available on resume writing, companion gardening and the US mortgage system. She has recently published her Career Essentials Series. All her books are available in print and ebook format.
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