Charlie Rockwell is all about living in the moment. Commitments aren't in her playbook. At least not until she falls hard... for a soulful-eyed rescue dog she spots on TV. Adopting him is a no-brainer. But handling his doggy quirks? Well, that's a different story.
Will Porter is nursing a badly bruised heart. Who needs people when dogs are so much better? Especially his ever-faithful golden retriever.
When Charlie and Will literally crash into each other at the local dog park, sparks fly, tails wag, and suddenly, everything they thought they knew about relationships gets tossed up in the air. Their four-legged pals may have brought them together, but can they keep them that way?
Dive into this delightful tale by New York Times bestselling author Melissa Storm to find out!
The scrawny Rottweiler's eyes connected with Charlie's through the TV screen, begging her to save him. What if nobody else called in? What if she was his last chance at finding a home? Well, shoot. She couldn't just let him die.
Charlie grabbed her cell phone, called the local news station hosting the adoptable pets segment, and signed on the dotted line. Not once did she think she might be making a mistake. Not once did she consider the fact she'd been unable to commit to a man—or even a roommate—longer than two measly months.
And now she planned to commit to a one-year-old canine coming straight out of a neglected past?
Well, adventure had certainly found her, whether she'd asked for it or not.
The rescue volunteers didn't ask her many questions before inviting her to visit the kennel and come pick him up. If they had, maybe she'd have changed her mind.
She might have seen this as a move with the potential of becoming the biggest mistake of her entire life. Worse than the time she'd left mid-semester her junior year to travel to India in search of the answer to life. Worse than the time she'd gotten so caught up in the excitement of V for Vendetta she'd shaved her head in homage. Even worse than the time she'd practically eloped with a guy she'd only dated three weeks, because it seemed like a good and wildly romantic idea at the time.
At least she'd talked herself out of that one.
But what good did escaping one bad decision do, if she'd just replaced it with another by committing herself to a strange dog for—what?—ten years?
Charlie took a deep breath and gripped the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. No going back now. She may have been impulsive, but she had a heart, darn it, and she wouldn't abandon a dog no one else wanted in the first place. Definitely too late to change her mind at this point.
“Now or never,” she said to the hula dancer figurine on her dashboard before grabbing her purse and slamming the car door behind her.
“Oh, you must be Charlotte Rockwell.” A volunteer with a sloppy button-up shirt and a way-too-large smile greeted her the second she entered the shelter.
Charlie nodded, pretending her feet were one million pound weights gluing her to the linoleum floor below—the only way she'd be able to avoid making a break for it.
“I'm Angela. Come on and follow me to the back.” Her oversized smile grew even larger as she turned and trotted toward the back of the building.
Charlie's eyes darted to the floor to check if Angela's shoes sported actual springs.
“I'm sure Ruby told you everything you need to know when she stopped by for the home check, right?”
She nodded, even though she didn't have the slightest idea who Ruby was. The woman certainly hadn't been by her house for a visit.
“Perfect! Rugby's such a sweet boy once you get to know him. I'm so glad he's finally found a good home. You must be thrilled.”
Once you get to know him?
What did that mean?
She was this close to changing her mind and dashing straight out of there, but then they pushed through the large metal door to the kennel and Rugby glanced up at her with those same sad eyes that had melted her heart in the first place.
She was officially a goner.
“Hi, Rugby,” Angela cooed. “Look who it is. Your new mommy's come to take you home. Who's a good boy? Yes, you are.”
Charlie sank to a squatting position and stuck her index finger through the metal fencing.
Rugby stretched and raised himself into a sitting position. He sniffed her hand delicately and gave her a huge sloppy lick.
“Oh, see. You two are perfect! Best buds already,” Angela squealed. She rattled off a litany of instructions, shoved a folder of paperwork into one hand, and the leash to Charlie's new 115-pound baby in the other, and together dog and woman headed home.
* * *
Will Porter stifled a laugh as he watched the petite blonde tear into the dog park at the end of her Rottweiler's leash. Hardly three seconds passed as they sprinted from the parking lot to the first entry gate.
When the girl unhitched the second entry gate, her dog ran away at lightning speed, not even allowing her to remove his leash. Her eyes darted from side to side as if to make sure nobody had witnessed the mishap.
Luckily, Will looked away before she could catch him staring. He allowed his gaze to settle on her again as she ran after her squatting dog with a plastic baggie cupped over her hand.
Despite the circumstances, he couldn't ignore her beauty. Blonde hair escaped from her ponytail and clung to her cheeks in tendrils. Her delicate lips and nose were balanced by huge brown eyes and thick lashes. She almost reminded him of….
He snapped his attention away. Couldn't be thinking like that. Not today. He needed a distraction, and fast.
Will’s golden retriever jogged over and nuzzled his thigh.
“Good boy.” As he scratched the dog's head, he sensed her eyes on him, but he refused to look—refused to give her any reason to come over and start a conversation. When had he become such a bitter old man?
He was hardly thirty—way too young to write off the opposite sex altogether. He should still be in his party phase, living it up and flirting with any pretty girl who happened to look his way. But, no, he wasn't like that—even though he often wished he were. Would have saved him the heartache of….
He grabbed the ball Tuck had dropped at his feet and hurled it toward the horizon as hard as he could. The dog raced after it in a blur of golden fur and pounding feet.
Too late, he noticed the massive black blur moving in on the ball from the opposite side of the park.
“Rugby, no!” the blonde girl screamed, but her reprimand fell on deaf ears.
The two dogs reached the ball at the exact same time. The Rottweiler bared his teeth, a low growl emanating from his throat, but Tuck wouldn't back down. The poor dog didn't even realize what was about to happen. Why would he? He'd never run into such an aggressive, undertrained beast before.
Tuck barked an invitation for the other dog to play, and Will took off running to save his poor, over-trusting pet from the inevitable fight.
The hairs on the back of the Rottweiler's back bristled. His growl grew louder, and he lunged.
“Rugby, no!” The girl raced toward the dogs.
Tuck whimpered and ran back to Will, but the other dog slinked after him with a predatory gait.
“Hey, lady. How about controlling your dog?” he spat.
The blonde grabbed the end of the leash that was still attached to her dog and pulled him back. “I'm so sorry. I….” A sudden onslaught of tears overwhelmed her words.
Now Will felt like a bigger monster than her stupid dog.
“Hey, it's okay. Tuck's just fine. No harm done.” He patted the dog's head and turned toward the other side of the park, but before he could gain much distance, she spoke again.
“Really, I'm sorry. I've only had Rugby for a few days, and I don't have a clue what I’m doing. I thought if I brought him here, I'd see how more experienced people act with their dogs. Maybe learn a thing two. I don’t know.” She sniffed back a tear and stared up at him with large, brown eyes—eyes far too familiar for his liking.
Why did she get such a difficult breed if she knows nothing about taking care of a dog? Will couldn't help but wonder. Still, he felt like he should offer something helpful before parting ways.
“Good luck with your training. Try watching The Dog Whisperer maybe.”
His hold on her eyes broke when Rugby stood on his hind legs to lick the tears from his owner's face.
She chuckled and gently pushed the Rottweiler back on all fours, then wiped the slobber from her cheeks with the backs of her hands. Turning serious again, she said, “Thanks, I will, but… I just don't know what to do. I'm his last chance. The shelter had him for weeks. He even appeared on the adoptable pet segment of the news three separate times. Nobody wanted him except me. If I can't make it work, I'm practically signing his death warrant.”
Will frowned. What could he say to that?
“Hey, your dog is really well-behaved. Maybe you can help us?”
Uh-oh. He didn't want to spend time with a girl who reminded him way too much of the woman who'd turned him off love altogether, but at the same time, he couldn't refuse if it meant saving the dog's life.
“I—I'll pay. I'll pay whatever it takes. Only, please help us.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and offered a weak smile.
“Okay, sure,” he gave in. “And don't worry, you don't have to pay me anything.” He didn't return her smile. He couldn't let her think he was doing this for any other reason than to save the dog.
“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much!” She wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. “You have no idea how much you're helping me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Warmth spread through Will's body. He took a deep breath and let his arms go slack. She's just a girl, he reminded himself. Just a girl.
“I'm Charlotte by the way. Friends call me Charlie.” She released him from the hug and tucked a strand of hair behind her other ear.
“Will.” He drew a business card from his wallet. “Call me, and we'll set something up.”
As soon as she accepted the card, he retreated to the other side of the park and tried not to think about how her touch had stirred something deep within him.
A girl. Just a girl.