Page 13 of Puppy Madness

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“I’m sorry. I know. I just need a second.”

I almost run for the door, then speed down the hallway, feeling like everybody is staring at me.

It’s such an embarrassing thing to do, breaking down like that, as though I’m putting my own concerns before the dogs’. Like it’s more important for me to be an immature crybaby than do my job.

In the bathroom, I splash water on my face, staring at myself in the mirror.

I tell myself to get it together. I tell myself it doesn’t matter how tired I am, how much I miss Mom, how badly I want Dominic…or how ruined Lizzy would be if he ever wanted me back.

Candace is waiting for me when I emerge from the bathroom. She’s holding a paper cup in her hand, steam rising.

“The coffee isn’t great,” she says.

I smile, my eyes stinging with tears. “I’ll take it anyway. Sorry about that.”

“Don’t sweat it. You should’ve seen me the first time two dogs went at each other. It can be scary.”

I nod, taking the coffee. “I thought they were seriously going to hurt each other.”

She waves a hand. “Dogs will rarely seriously injure each other unless they’ve been trained to, or they’re starving, or ill. It’s highly unusual for two healthy, well-fed dogs who’ve never been trained as fighters to kill each other.”

“But it has happened?”

“Somewhere. Maybe. But it wasn’t going to happen here. Even if we’d left them to it, sooner or later, one would’ve quit, and that would’ve been that.”

We walk together along the corridor. The wall on one side is all glass, looking into the yard. The other dogs are still playing peacefully, with another member of the staff watching over them.

“I need to learn how to use that thing,” I mutter.

“The no-bite stick? We can teach you. But there’s no reason to rush ahead.”

“I don’t normally cry like that.”

“You don’t have to be embarrassed.”

“I know, but I’m just saying.” We pause at the window, watching the dogs. “I never normally break down.”

It’s the truth.

But I don’t normally have such vivid, recent memories of Dominic in my mind.

I don’t usually have his scent, his closeness, his everything roaring at me to do something about it.

“If you cry again, that’s fine,” Candace says. “If you don’t, that’s fine too. Let’s get to work.”



“I heard the story on the news,” Matilda says as she leads me into her spacious kitchen, which overlooks a large, long garden. “You gave an interview, didn’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I tell her, nodding.

“Don’t mind him,” Matilda says, waving a hand at the floor. “That’s Pablo. And I’m Matilda. Ma’am makes me feel a hundred years old.”

I kneel, extending my hand toward the terrier. His breed is difficult to determine, but I’d guess his beard gives away his undeniable terrier-ness.

“Is he good with other dogs? We’ve got a few Corgis who are incredibly social, but it’s always a challenge mixing. We may have to arrange a meeting before we go any further.”

“Oh, that’s fine,” Matilda says.

When I stand, I find her watching me strangely. She’s around thirty, a successful lawyer with a large home and a garden plenty big enough for a terrier and a Corgi to go on adventures together.

She’s wearing a short dress, which I only notice because she keeps tugging on it. She’s got an odd look in her eyes… and then it hits me.

Is she attracted to me?

It doesn’t do anything for me except remind me how badly I want Danni. The only thing it might do is complicate the home-visit process.

“Would you like a drink?” she asks, her voice going breathy.

I nod. “Sure. Do you mind if I take a look around the garden in the meantime?”

“Uh, okay.”

Her response makes me wonder if she wanted me to stay in here with her, but the sooner I leave here, the better.

It’s insane since Danni, and I haven’t done anything and can’t do anything, but I feel like I’m betraying her by even talking with another woman who may be attracted to me.

The garden has high walls, no gaps in the fences, and no suspicious-looking plants.

When I return, Matilda is sitting on the kitchen counter, kicking her legs. It makes me feel sorry for her. She seems like a nice enough woman, and I don’t want to offend her.

But I also have no interest in anybody except for my Danni.

I couldn’t have imagined wanting anybody until this morning when I laid eyes on my woman.

“Everything look good?” she says, reaching up and twirling a strand of hair around her finger.

I’m sure this routine has worked many times before. But that doesn’t mean I want anything to do with her.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She flinches, hopping down from the counter and walking slowly toward me. I guess it’s supposed to be seductive, but I move a little away from her, trying my best not to seem rude.