Thursday, August 23, 2018

Welcome to Dog Town

Where have I been all this time?

Hanging out in Dog Town!

Formally known as Dorset Hills, Dog Town is the best destination for dogs and dog lovers in North America. It’s small enough to be charming and big enough for a hint of mystery. The people are quirky and the dogs are real characters.

I’ve written four books in a new series of romantic comedies that will be released over the next couple of months. The series opens with Bitter and Sweet in Dog Town.

Two unexpected homecomings to a dog-crazy town. A secret that binds three hearts to the past. Can one spoiled beagle sniff out the truth at last?

Remi Malone has conquered lifelong shyness with help from Leo, her unofficial therapy dog. The promotion she craves is finally within reach. All she needs to do is land a big donation for the hospital foundation from a visiting heiress.

Hannah Pemberton isn't thrilled about being back in Dorset Hills to open an exhibit of her late mother's art. "Dog Town" has become a joke and the visit is stirring up old ghosts. She can't even remember Remi, the hometown advocate.

Tiller Iverson broke Remi's heart in high school and left town 12 years ago. Now he's back with his annoying dog, using his charm on Hannah to win the donation and the job Remi wants. He only has Labor Day weekend to pull it off.

Everyone's stressed... even Leo. And when Leo's misdeeds get him barred from duty, Remi's budding confidence is shaken. She'll never get the second chance she deserves without her canine sidekick. 

But in Dorset Hills, where there's a dog there's usually a way.

I’ll post the first chapter of Bitter and Sweet below.  I invite you to join my mailing list to learn more about this story and those to come. I have several fun giveaways for readers.

Hope to see you over in Dog Town, where the canine citizens are always stealing the spotlight. If you like laugh-out-loud tales, delightful characters, and small-town capers, then you'll love these light-hearted novels.

In the meantime, take a look around my website

Chapter 1

Newcomers to Dorset Hills were often surprised to learn that its celebrated rolling hills weren’t necessarily the main attraction. While the hillside trails were certainly well-used, it was the boardwalk along Lake Longmuir that drew the real crowds. In a small city hailed as being the best place in North America for dogs and dog lovers, a proper promenade was an absolute must. There was no point in having a rare breed in “Dog Town” if you couldn’t show it off.
   Remi Malone went down to the boardwalk on her lunch break most days. Given a choice, she wouldn’t have left her desk in the basement of the old mansion that served as headquarters for the Dorset Hills Hospital Foundation. Although it was dank, dim and dingy down there, it was also the perfect hideaway for an introvert.
   She wasn’t given a choice, however. Leo always insisted they go out. When the clock in the City Hall tower chimed noon, the 19-pound beagle left whatever he was doing to stare at Remi with soulful eyes. If that didn’t work, he escalated to a whine. And if that didn’t work, he unleashed the notorious beagle howl intended to carry for miles on a fox hunt. Leo wasn’t as dumb as some people chose to think.
   On Thursday August 29th, Remi rose from her desk on Leo’s first cue. She leashed him and came upstairs to collect her colleague and friend, Arden Lee.
   “I feel lucky today,” Remi said, admiring the fundraising poster Arden was designing on a huge monitor. “Game on?”
   Arden saved her work before turning. “You poor thing. I know how hard losing’s been for you, and yet you keep trying.”
   Remi laughed. “Enjoy your lead while it lasts, my friend. You’ll be sucking my dust after lunch.”
   “Then remind me to floss later.” Arden grabbed a little mirror and carefully selected a lipstick from the dozens lined up in her desk drawer. An artist to the core, she considered her pretty face another canvas. Her eyes looked either blue or grey depending on her makeup, and her shiny dark hair made them pop.
   Dogspotting, the game they’d invented, added a bit of spice to their lunchtime strolls. It ran on a simple points system. All they had to do was identify rare dogs, reel off unique breed traits and ideally get a photo for their digital scrapbook. Arden had recently taken the lead for the first time with sightings of a Dogue de Bordeaux and a schipperke, both new to Dorset Hills. This rankled with Remi no end. Unlike her friend, she had an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s approximately 350 dog breeds. But Arden had proven a quick study and shamelessly capitalized on Remi’s unwillingness to ask strangers for pictures of their dogs.
   As usual, they tried to sneak past their director’s office on the way out. Leo had other plans and stopped in Marcus Tremblay’s doorway to wag his skinny white tail. The dog never stopped selling, even when someone refused to buy. Marcus disliked dogs in general and kept hand sanitizer in his pocket in case Leo happened to touch him.
   “Hey, Remi,” Marcus called. “How’s your report coming?”
   “You’ll have it by two, like I promised.” She never missed a deadline but Marcus objected to their lunchtime constitutional on principle. Butts in seats made him happy.
   “I’d like to read it over lunch. If it’s ready.”
   She peered in at him. Unlike her dungeon cell, his office was bright and airy with white plastic chairs, a red metal clock and picture frames in primary colors. Marcus himself was the kind of guy you’d overlook were it not for his big spade-shaped beard and handlebar mustache. Remi called it a “statement beard” and she didn’t much like what it was saying
   The guilt trip often worked on Remi but Arden had Marcus’ number. “Can we get you anything while we’re out, boss? How about a flat white cappuccino?”
   He drummed his fingers, deciding whether to push it. “Okay. But don’t be gone too long. You know we’re short-staffed through Labor Day.”
   Remi waited till they merged with pedestrian traffic on Main Street before grumbling, “As if I’d be missed.”
   Arden checked over her shoulder to make sure the coast was clear. “Of course you’d be missed, Cinderella. Where would Marcus be without his researcher?”
   They walked past the hospital itself, which somehow glittered less than City Hall, despite being built from exactly the same brick. After that came the shops. Some, like Bertucci’s Fine Meats, predated Dorset Hills’ transformation into Dog Town. Others, like the Lucky Dog Barkery, Puptown Girl Fashions, and the Paws and Relax Spa were the direct result of it.
   “I wish he’d see me as more than a researcher,” Remi said. “I’m ready for a promotion.”
   “Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard this whine before. Tell him, not me.”
   “I shouldn’t have to. I’ve found tons of great leads that turned into donations. Why wouldn’t he just promote me since there’s a client management job available?”
   Leo stopped to leave his mark outside the Law Society building. Landscapers had already planted fall flowers in city-sanctioned yellow, orange and white. Council left little to chance, even where vegetation was concerned. Remi wondered if something nefarious had befallen a riotous English garden in her neighborhood recently. It had been clear-cut overnight. There was no place for pink daisies in Dog Town anymore, it seemed.
   “Be like Leo,” Arden said, as the dog sparingly sprinkled a shrub. He had a big tank for a small dog, but there was still a lot of ground to cover. “Stake out your turf, Remi.”
   “I wouldn’t know how. Marcus scares me.”
   “Oh, he’s all beard and no bite. Just offer him a juicy lead and tell him you’ll manage the client relationship. Then go and get that donation.”
   “Easy for you to say.” Remi frowned as she wove through the crowd. People were pushy and impatient today. End of summer blues, probably.
   “You’re ready for this,” Arden said. “Claim it.”
   “I have sniffed out a potential lead, actually. Hannah Pemberton is unexpectedly coming to town this weekend.”
   Arden turned to catch Remi with a stare. “Of the billionaire Pemberton family?”
   “The same. We went to school together. Her family moved to New York City after senior year and as far as I know she’s never been back. On Sunday, she’s opening an exhibit of her late mother’s art at the Barton Gallery.”
   Arden stopped and the foot traffic flowed around her. “Remi, this is it! The break you’ve been waiting for. Marcus always gives the lead to the person with the best connection.”
   “I’m not sure she’ll remember me. Back then, Cinderella would have been a step up for me.”
   Leo allocated a few drops to the fire hydrant outside the Dog Town Tavern. Arden continued to stare at Remi. If she were a dog, she’d be sniffing the breeze for clues. Luckily, something caught her eye before she could press for details.
   “Bearded collie!” she called out. “Three points.”
   “Old English sheepdog. Honestly, Arden. I’d dock you for that if we were actually on the boardwalk.”
   In a few minutes, they stepped off the sidewalk and onto the long wooden trail that ran for about a mile along the shore. For all its popularity, it wasn’t particularly attractive. The City had been uncharacteristically slow to exploit its potential. However, the new mayor, Bill Bradshaw, had promised a boardwalk facelift during his campaign.
   Remi saw a small white dog romping in the distance. Could it be…? Surely not... But it was!
   “Pumi!” she shouted. “Hungarian herding dog. Non-shedding. Semi-erect ears. Curly tail. Whimsical expression. Recognized by the AKC in 2016. Plural is Pumik.”
   “Whimsical?” Arden got out her phone to confirm. “Did you memorize the entire kennel club website?”
   Picking up Leo, Remi raced toward the white dog. It felt as if her luck was turning.
   The dog’s owner was a rangy woman in cargo pants and a safari-style shirt. She was startled at the running footsteps but her expression softened when she saw Leo, and she reached for his long, satiny ears. Dog people could never resist those ears.
   “Sorry to bother you,” Remi said. “I just wondered if your dog is a pumi.”
   The owner’s face lit up. “Why, yes. You’re the first person in Dorset Hills to know that.”
   While they chatted, Remi put Leo down and he gave the pumi a perfunctory sniff. Leo was usually indifferent to dogs. His main interests in life were people and food—usually in reverse order.
   Remi finally summoned the nerve to ask for a photo. Afterwards, she waited till the owner was out of earshot before jumping off the boardwalk and kicking up the sand. “Eat my dust, girlfriend.”
   Arden joined her in the sand, grinning. “Put your competitive streak away. No one wants to see that in public.”
   “Competitive? Who me?”
   “The seeds were always there but they’ve clearly been growing in your basement lair.”
   “Spores, not seeds,” Remi said. “Like mushrooms.”
   Arden’s expression was serious. “You really have changed, Remi. When we met, you hid behind your hair and glasses and hardly said a word. Once in a while you’d make a brilliant comment and people would be shocked.”
   “Then I’d hide in the basement for ages before trying again.” Remi leaned over and picked up Leo. “I owe it all to this guy. When Marcus let me bring him to work everything changed. He’s my unofficial therapy dog.”
   Leo lolled in her arms. He adored being adored. Remi had to remind herself of his trainer’s warning that he was a dog, not a baby, because Leo himself seemed to forget. Sometimes when she set him down he’d refuse to lower his landing gear.
   “Well, Leo is going to get you the promotion you want.”
   “Do you hear that, Leo?” Remi said. “Go get my promotion. Get it.”
   She lifted Leo high and spun in a circle until his white legs and tail flew out. Suddenly there was a yelp, and it didn’t come from Leo.
   “Ouch, geez!” A tall man in running shorts lurched backwards. His hand went up to his face. “Did you just hit me with a beagle?”
   “I’m sorry!” Remi dropped Leo onto the sand. The man was shirtless and sweat dripped from his square chin onto his muscular chest. He moved his hand and revealed two long scratches from Leo’s claws on his tanned cheek.
   The jogger pushed his shades up to stare at Remi with bright blue eyes. “That dog is a lethal weapon. Are you licensed to carry?”
   Arden laughed, but Remi was too flustered to be sure he was joking. Then she looked down and immediately dropped to her knees. “Oh my god. Is this a Tibetan mastiff?”
   “Rocky? Yeah.” The jogger grinned down at her.
   “The most expensive dog in the world,” Remi said, flicking her eyes at Arden. The huge black and tan dog sniffed the hand she offered warily, and then allowed her to pat his head. “It’s a fierce guardian breed that only has one annual estrus.”
   The jogger’s eyebrows went up. “One what?”
   “Heat cycle,” Remi said, her cheeks warming. “Not that Rocky needs to worry about that, I guess.”
   The guy looked at Arden. “Your friend is… interesting.”
   “Isn’t she?” Arden laughed again. “Rocky’s got her addled.”
   “A Tibetan mastiff in Dorset Hills,” Remi said, still on her knees. “I can’t believe it.”
   “Just visiting,” the guy said.
   Remi stared up at him, shading her eyes. “It’s so hot.”
   His eyebrows rose again. “Pardon me?”
   “Rocky shouldn’t be running with you. His coat is meant for a cold mountain climate.”
   The guy rolled his eyes. “It was just a short lap up and down the boardwalk.”
   Sticking out her hand, Arden said, “I’m Arden, and the dog authority is Remi.”
   “James. Well, I’d better get Rocky back and put him in the freezer.” He grinned at Remi. “Kidding.”
   James’ eyes were the lightest, clearest blue Remi had ever seen. Like a Siberian husky’s. They were so intimidating that it was hard to ask, but she knew she might never get another chance. “May I take a photo?”
   “Uh… I could use a shower first,” he said.
   “Of your dog!”
   Taking her phone, James nudged Rocky over to stand beside her. Leo ambled into the shot as well. After taking the photo, James typed something into the phone and handed it back. “Now I have your contact information in case these scratches go septic.”
   “He’s joking, Rems,” Arden said. “Aren’t you, James?”
   “Probably.” He backed away slowly. “How’s this, Officer Remi? Slow enough for Rocky?”
   “Perfect,” she called after him. “Sorry about your face.”
   When he was gone, Arden shook her head. “I wouldn’t count on him asking you out, Remi. You were a little hard on his ego.”
   “Fine with me. Not my type anyway.” She didn’t think much of someone who’d put his own needs before his dog’s. Plus, who needed a breed that expensive? It was like driving a Corvette when any beater would do.
   “Rich and stunning is exactly my type,” Arden said. “But they’re as rare as Tibetan mastiffs in Dorset Hills.”
   “Well, you can have him. I can only focus on one thing at a time, and right now, that’s getting ahead in my career.”
   Arden checked her phone. “Let’s grab Marcus’ coffee so that he’s in a good mood later. Leave Leo with me when you pitch him, okay?”
   A wave of anxiety washed over Remi. “I need Leo. I don’t want to be alone with that beard.”
   “My friend, you got this,” Arden said. “No one keeps Remi in the basement.”

* * *

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