|There’s got to be two of them, Aaron decided. It was the only way. Nobody could go from sweating in a kitchen to model perfect in the time between aprons coming off and the dinner chime. Gotta be a twin she’s hiding around here somewhere.
He grinned at the thought. One for each arm. Then rethought it. Two she-wolves, teeth bared and biting. “Hmmm. …Nope.”
Author: D. L. Keur
Something a Bit Different, The 1st Promise is Now Available.
When City Brit meets Country Yank, two worlds collide, and only the dog doesn’t bite.
World champion figure skater Sophia Morgan-Smythe wasn’t one to let outstanding debts gather interest, and she’s bound to repay the grumpy, hostile American hick who paid for her tow …only to wind up further in his debt when he steps in a second time to save her life, and the only good thing about the guy is his dog named Buckley.
Brit meets Yank in this epic tale of love against all odds. Buckley likes her; Aaron doesn’t. Sophia is totally confounded.
CLEAN, SAFE READING with Comfortably Sized Text, text and paragraphing set for ease of reading.
This book contains no profanity, no graphic sex, nothing to make you want to hide your eyes. This novel is just pure entertainment in good taste. There’s suggestion, there’s sensual tenderness and intimacy, there’s even situational humor (‘humour’ to you Brits), but it’s all General Audience. Nothing cringe-worthy.
NOTE TO READERS: This book is written using two languages, U.K. English in Sophia’s point-of-view and U.S. English in Aaron’s, so word definitions, syntax and phrasing, as well as spellings change accordingly. You are advised. 🙂 —D. L. Keur and Carole Hill.
687 pages, 122,000 words long, this is an epic love story.
Want to read an excerpt? Here you go:
1 – Road Rage
THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS unexpectedly changed to red just as Sophia Morgan-Smythe reached the intersection. And here she’d thought that she’d got her speed timed right.
Sophia cursed, clenched the steering wheel and stamped on the brake, her BMW grinding to a stop. Seconds later, an ambulance flew through the cross-street intersection, all flashing lights and wailing sirens. It was fortunate she had stopped and not sped through as usual. Maybe there was a god.
Now, though, long minutes later, the light seemed stuck. Be patient, Sophia, she chided herself.
Shouted at the light to turn or she would be late, late not only for her rendezvous with Ian in an obscure out-of-town location to give him the $6000 he needed, but also for a vital skating practice.
“Why does every traffic light in every small town I drive through await my approach and then turn?” she grumbled. Of course, her mum would say that it was divine intervention and that she should abandon this fool’s errand. And, in the future, Sophia would do just that. Ian had been warned—“Okay, but I mean it, Ian. This is the last time,” she’d told him. From now on, he could resolve his own problems.
She sighed. Tapped on the steering wheel, waiting, waiting, for the lights to change. But they weren’t.
Tempted to jump it, she looked around for traffic cameras—none she could see—but then reconsidered. Reminded herself that, unlike the U.K., police in the U.S. carried guns.
With lights on red, she surfed through the various radio stations and paused as one played a familiar love song—their song. She started to sing along, but the words no longer seemed to hold the same meaning or stir the same emotions within her as they once had. Ian had changed since moving to Seattle, and not for the better.
The lights were still red. She tapped the steering wheel. Knew that giving Ian money yet again was a mistake, but she also knew he was desperate. “Last time, I promise, Babes,” he had pleaded, her husband’s usual happy-go-lucky laughter lines all worry. “These people mean business.”
She wanted to believe him—that it was the last time. Needed to believe him. But she wondered why he would jeopardize his dream? …Their dreams. And all for what? Stupidity? A new obsession?
His brown eyes had searched hers, and he had teased her when she tried to resist him and his boyish charm that she found so attractive. And, once again, they’d made love—their mutual answer to everything it seemed. Then he’d rushed her out the door to go to the bank and meet him ‘there’ …wherever ‘there’ was, him setting the address on her phone SatNav and insisting that she not be late. “Our marriage is not all about you, Ian, and I don’t have a money tree,” she’d warned again—her parting shot.
He’d nodded and given her another hug. “Don’t be late, please, Babes?” He brushed her cheek with a kiss.
So, shaking her head, Sophia had grabbed her bag, skipped breakfast, and, now, here she was, stranded at a stuck light, her stomach growling along with her mood.
Finally, the light did change, and, as if on cue, her mobile rang—Ian’s ringtone. “Go away, Ian! I’m on my way!” She dropped the Beamer into gear and burned through the intersection.
“YOU JUST LEFT half your rubber on the pavement, Dude,” Aaron Jackson said, grinning at the fancy white BMW’s backend as it tore off. Beside him, Buckley turned his big head, the mastiff’s eyes laughing, tongue lolling. “Some folks don’t have no smarts, do they, big guy?” Aaron chuckled, putting the truck in drive. “He must have a hot date that can’t wait. Good luck with that on this stretch of highway.”
The papers on the console beside him started sliding off toward Buckley, and, knee-steering for two seconds, Aaron grabbed them and stuffed them into the storage compartment under the lid. “Six new customers, Buckley. Six! All big orders. All word-of-mouth referrals—the best kind.”
Hands back on the wheel, he started whistling. He had their heads well above water, now, and was almost done paying back the money he’d borrowed from his trust. “Next month.” Then he could start drawing a salary. Maybe hire his mom some help. Stopped whistling and turned on the radio. Chris Young came on. It was his foreman Mark’s favorite station. Mark always chose The Bull. Aaron swapped to The Wolf, then switched back. He liked Chris Young. Started whistling again. …And saw the white Beamer that was still in front of him gun it as the lights ahead turned yellow. “Make it, make it, make it,” he begged, knowing it would be close.
Predictably, the lights turned red. He groaned. The white, four-door Grande Coupe’s taillights came on as it braked hard, again. “Great. Stuck behind Mr. Hurry-Up-Can’t-Wait all over again.”
SOPHIA CLOSED her eyes, then leant forward to rest her throbbing forehead on the cold, hard composite of the steering wheel. “Every darned light!” And all she really wanted was to go back home to England where life was far less complicated—go back to how it had been, how they had been—happy and in love.
Two years she’d listened while Ian waxed lyrical about his dream to return home to the U.S.—his dream that, after playing professional ice hockey in the U.K., he would be snapped up by a U.S. team on his return. He’d insisted that she would also have more opportunities to develop her professional ice skating career. “A win-win, Babes,” he’d told her.
So, although doubtful, even cynical, she had supported him and uprooted her life and career, despite her personal reservations. And her reservations had proven right. You might be a shark in the pond back in England, Ian, but, here, you are just a minnow in a lake. “Not even a minnow! More like a tadpole!” she muttered as she checked the light—yes, it was still red. Closed her eyes, again, and sank into a puddle of misery at her own career’s descent.
She felt nothing more than frogspawn here, the other skaters at the local rink nicknaming her ‘the scrawny Brit’. World Champion four times, Olympic gold, and now she, Sophia Morgan-Smythe, had entirely disappeared from the ranks of renown. Moving here had been such a huge mistake—a crushing one—and there was no way to climb back up that she could stomach. “I don’t want to be a coach.” And that was about the only thing left. “I want my audience, my fans. I want to perform again!”
AARON WATCHED the light change from red to green. The fancy Beamer didn’t move. Just sat there. He couldn’t go around—too many cars, the ones stuck behind him pulling out to push their way into the other lanes. He put his hazard lights on. Heart attack or texting? he wondered.
The light turned back to red. Telling Buckley to stay put, he got out. Walked up to the heavily-tinted window on the driver’s side and rapped his knuckles on it, his eyes on the light.
The window rolled down halfway under his tapping. “Yes? What do you want?!” came an angry woman’s voice—a foreign-sounding voice. British, maybe?
He turned his eyes to the open window. Definitely a woman! Not a guy with a feminine voice. Switched gears to polite. “Ah …are you going to go when the light turns green again?”
The woman—pretty, blonde, blue-eyed …with about the longest, most ridiculous-looking fake eyelashes he’d ever seen, and wearing a very expensive wedding band—she looked at him as if she would eat him alive. Her hand wafted the air as if he smelled bad. “I’ll move when I’m good and ready!”
Flustered, he backed away. Took hold of himself, then stepped back up. “Lady, you’re blocking traffic. There’s nobody behind me right now, but that’s bound to change any minute. You’ve got to get a grip and do something.”
She revved her Beamer, cursed him, then burned rubber, the car’s backend whipping, almost catching him across the legs, to blow through the intersection on red. He jerked away as she tore off and barely missed being hit by a van coming into the left turn lane beside him. Traffic horns blared; tires squealed and brakes ground, cars swerving and panic-stopping to miss the Beamer. Where’s a cop when you need one?
The Grande Coupe disappeared over the next hill as the light turned green, the sound of a horn loud in his ears from a car now stuck behind his idling truck. Waving apology to the driver behind him who flipped him off, then tore off around him in the right lane, he got in …and had to wait for the light. Again. “Figures, huh, Buckley,” he grumbled, and his big friend riding shotgun next to him gave a low groan, then bundled his big body up into as tight a ball as possible and laid down on the passenger seat, dog overflowing upholstery.
THAT STUPID BUMPKIN telling her ‘to get a grip and do something’ because the lights were on green…. Seriously! She’d show him. Men! They were all cast in the same ‘bossy’ mould. Except for Ian. He wasn’t bossy. Just irresponsible—a dreamer. A selfish dreamer. …And there she was in her thoughts, full circle back to that. She pushed the speed up. She was late now.
Sophia was driving too fast and knew it for this particular stretch of road with its sharp bends and steep hills, but the clock on the dashboard confirmed she was now twenty minutes late and counting. She checked her rearview mirror to ensure the cowboy-hatted hick and his ugly, stinking diesel truck were nowhere in sight.
Her mobile phone rang. Ian’s name pulsed on the screen. Yeah, Ian, I know I’m running late. Give me a break! She swiped the screen to answer as she hit the next bend, lane departure alarm sounding, readjusted her steering to compensate, then snatched at the phone as it slid from the seat.
Bluetooth kicked in, and she heard Ian curse over the car speaker, followed by his usual platitude. Of course, he picked up right where they’d left off earlier that morning. At least his voice was mollifying: “Sophia, Babes. Where are you?! You’re supposed to be here!”
Sophia jerked the steering wheel as an animal—was it a moose?—sauntered onto the road right in front of her. Her car’s backend fishtailed, and she hit the brake. Hard. Missed it! Her car slid, nose-first, over the edge into the centre reservation, ground on something, stopped, and stalled out.
2 – Run, Aaron
SOPHIA CURSED as she looked out the side window and watched the big, rangy animal—it was a moose—continue across the highway to disappear into the trees beyond. Ian continued his tirade at her, and she finally zapped the call on the steering wheel control panel. If nothing else, at least she’d managed to miss the poor animal. Shame it wasn’t Ian. Then I’d have made it a direct hit! …But she wouldn’t have, and she knew it. For all his faults, she loved the big guy. This new gambling vice was getting serious, though. This would be the very last time she bailed him out.
The sound of Ian’s ringtone again crashed through her assessment of her own predicament. “GO AWAY, IAN!” she shouted to the sound, which seemed to be coming from somewhere off in the far reaches to the front and right. “This is all your fault!”
Thought about answering the call to ask for help, then immediately dismissed the idea. The centre reservation was not the best place to ground her car, which was now angled going the wrong way. She needed immediate assistance, not whenever Ian decided to show up.
Releasing her seatbelt, she opened the door to assess the problem. Yep, the low-sprung suspension had grounded the car on a hump, and she was well and truly wedged. Attempting to get out, she yelped as her foot slipped down from where it was resting on the brake, her knee and ankle objecting to further movement. Her foot was trapped between the clutch and brake pedals.
She closed the driver’s door again and inched her fingers down her leg to the problem. Yes, wedged.
Fingers going to the buckle at the back of her shoe, she tried to release it, but, one-handed with her long fingernails, she failed in her first attempt. Even two-handed, her face jammed against the steering wheel to reach, it didn’t work. Groaned. Tried again. Gave up. Closed the door.
Tried to get the car to connect to her phone. That failed, too. She hoped the phone wasn’t damaged. Or the car.
NEVER APPROACH a woman in distress. Aaron knew that rule. Had broken it. And almost paid for it by getting hit as she burned rubber. “Knew better. Did it anyway,” he muttered. “Never learn.” To his defense, though, he hadn’t known it was a woman.
The light finally turned green. Eight miles down the road, and there was the Beamer again, swung around and nose down in the median, the low car’s body high-centered where the slope steepened.
He didn’t want to stop. Did anyway. This was a lonely stretch of highway—not much traffic. Legally, Aaron was obligated to check on her and to help if she was injured or in danger of immediate harm. This time he had no choice. Grumbled. Shook his head. This was turning into a nightmare. Beside him, Buckley got up and looked.
ONCE AGAIN, Sophia rested her forehead on the steering wheel. What else could go wrong today? Occasionally, drivers travelling on the opposite carriageway honked their horns, and some even started to slow down, but none actually stopped. Couldn’t or wouldn’t, she decided. She would just need to be patient and hope someone kind would arrive and offer help.
First, Ian, then this. Bad luck usually came along in threes, they said. So what or who would be the third?
As if she’d rubbed the genie’s lamp, number three appeared, knocking on the side window again—the cowboy-hatted hick with attitude. What?! Was he stalking her?! She sighed and laid her head back on the steering wheel. She’d been rude. Now here he was again, the only help in sight.
THE WOMAN didn’t answer his knock. Looking in through the windshield, he saw that the airbags hadn’t gone off, so there was no collision impact. The lady didn’t look hurt, either. Head on the steering wheel, she wasn’t moving, but he saw no blood, and it was obvious that she was breathing, though she was slumped forward. Her hands still gripped the wheel. Awake, maybe stunned.
A check around the Beamer showed that it hadn’t suffered any damage. It would have to be towed out, though. “Or I can hook onto it.” He didn’t want to do that. Rife for a lawsuit if he damaged it.
Braving it, he tapped on the window again. “Lady? Are you all right?”
“Yeah, absolutely spiffing,” came the answer as the window finally rolled down partway. The woman groaned a disgust that reinforced the scorn on her face as she turned toward him. “Seriously,” she said. “Do I look okay, you stupid hick? I parked in a ditch just for the fun of it! …Why do you men ask such stupid questions?”
Oh, boy. One of those. It seemed his lot in life to be constantly bumping heads with angry women. Calm. Stay calm, he told himself, hard-tying his patience so it couldn’t escape. Do what you legally have to do and get out of here.
The woman groaned again. Then, “I’m sorry. It’s not been a good morning. I don’t mean to be rude.”
“Are you hurt?” Aaron asked again, ignoring her apology. “Do you need me to call an ambulance? …Tow truck?” Anger Management, maybe?
Of course, she’d take him up on it. You’ll never learn, Aaron! He called for a tow truck. Had to give them a valid bank or credit card number to dispatch. “It’s not my car.”
Didn’t matter. Aaron wouldn’t be charged if the client was good for it.
He used his ranch charge card. Gave over the ranch phone number, card number, billing address, and security code.
SOFIA WOULD love to have declined the man’s offer, but commonsense had overruled pride. She was well and truly stuck, her foot not budging. Heard him end the conversation with whomever he had called. “All right. Done,” the hick said and started to turn away.
Seriously, he surely did not intend to leave her stranded. “Wait! I need to get out first.”
He stopped and turned back around, his face a mask. “Waiting.”
Sophia again attempted to extract her foot from between the clutch pedal and brake. Darn! Her shoe would not give an inch. She reached down and once again attempted to undo the fastening at the back. Felt skin scrape. No chance.
She looked across at the bossy stranger, and if a man could manage a resting grumpy face, this one had mastered the technique down to a fine art. She continued to wrestle with the shoe until reluctantly conceding defeat. Her pride screamed, “Don’t!” but, again, common sense prevailed.
Opening the door, she smiled sweetly at the stranger. “Er…. Excuse me. Can you …er, please?”
A ‘please’ accompanied by a smile usually worked. …But not with this guy. His expression stayed the same and was utterly unreadable.
A ‘PLEASE’. Wonders never cease!
Squatting down so that he was at her level, Aaron asked, “What’s the problem, Ma’am?”
Her hand, long, garishly-adorned nails that made her hands her own liability, indicated her leg—a very long, nicely-turned leg, exposed from nearly hip to fancy, spike-clad hoof. “My foot? It’s stuck?” she said as if he couldn’t see that.
Nope. Not touching this one. Been there, done that. He stood and backed away. “I’ll call 9-1-1. They’ll send an extraction team to get you out,” he answered, and watched her mouth drop open.
She sputtered, a look of disbelief on her face. “Can—can’t you help?”
Yeah. There it was. Just itching for a lawsuit.
“I don’t think so. I don’t need the legal hassles when you claim I put my hand or my head where it shouldn’t be, or my eyes on something they shouldn’t see. You’re a Brit. Obviously you haven’t been keeping up with the times here in the good old U.S. of A. I’m a straight, white male, a ripe target for you feminists. No thanks. I stopped. You’re okay. I’ve called for help and done my duty by the law, so I’m out of here.”
Aaron touched a finger to the brim of his hat and gave her a mock salute. “Have a good day, Ma’am.”
Run, Aaron, is what he thought …and he almost made it.
3 – Curse of Fate
“HAVE A GOOD day! Honestly?! Does it look like I’m having a good day?” she called to his retreating back. Sophia felt tears threaten. Why did these darn Yanks seem to end every conversation with ‘have a good day,’ especially when they knew full well you were having a terrible one?! And ‘Ma’am’. Ma’am! Back home, one only addressed the Queen as ‘ma’am’.
The man continued walking away without a backward glance. “Hey, Cowboy! I’m talking to you! You can’t leave me here. I could get eaten by a bear!”
Sophia nervously surveyed the dense woodland opposite. Anything could be lurking in there. Anything!
He didn’t even pause. “Hey, YOU!” she yelled. “You can’t just leave a woman in distress alone!” And, still, he didn’t pause his step.
She screamed and held her hand on the horn, but, as well as being rude, he was obviously deaf. And how dare he assume she was a feminist!
Without so much as a backward glance in acknowledgement, she watched him get in his truck, give a pat to what looked to be a giant tan dog, pause to turn on his music full blast—of course, it was Country—before rolling his window up and edging his vehicle away from the shoulder. Then, he just drove off, abandoning her.
She released the horn and then pummeled the flat of her hands on the steering wheel. “Monster!”
Once again, she tried releasing her foot. Not a chance!
She heard the throb of an engine behind her. Oh, good! The 9-1-1, or who- or whatever Mr. Hick had called, had finally arrived!
IN HIS REARVIEW, he saw the muscle car pull up and stop. Oh, no. He turned off the stereo.
He slowed down, pulled over on the shoulder, Buckley getting up and grumbling out a low growl. Put his hazard lights on, the pulsing click of them hollow-sounding and stark in the sudden silence. Sure enough, two ‘bad boys’ in hoodies and slouch pants worn way below their navels exited the machine—an older Dodge Charger—that machine visibly vibrating and blowing black exhaust as it idled. Ready for a quick getaway? Double trouble, no less.
He hit the switch and let the window roll all the way down. Then he waited. Watched. Hoped.
SOPHIA CAUGHT a shadow, a sense of movement. Someone yanked the back door open. “What are you—?” She turned just in time to be greeted by the muzzle of a gun. …And screamed.
HE HEARD a scream—hers. You could not miss that woman’s voice. Buckley growled again, hackles coming up.
Hammer down, punching the throttle, Aaron spun it around, burning rubber the wrong way back to her.
A SPOTTY YOUTH sneered, “Shut it, lady.” Leaned in closer. Demanded, “Cell phone?!”
Sophia froze as he moved to her open door and pressed the gun into the side of her head. She nodded towards where her phone had disappeared. Panic! Where was it? Swallowed hard and closed her eyes. The smell of the toxic cocktail of the boy’s stale sweat and cigarettes mingling with her own fear made her want to wretch. “I—I don’t know where it is. It flew off the seat when I crashed.”
She felt the cold, hard steel of the gun push harder. She tried to stay calm.
“Lady, play nice. I’ll ask you one more time. Where—”
HE DROVE RIGHT at the hoods, putting the rig into the median and aiming at them as they stood beside her car. Laid on the horn.
Their heads turned. Then, of course, they just stood there, deer-in-the-headlights. Stupid as well as criminally inclined. …Same thing.
Both of them held guns, one a bag. Aaron’s luck was definitely failing him today.
He slammed on the brakes and jammed it in park when, almost on them, he opened the door, stepping out as the rig slid to a stop. Pulled his S&W to draw down on them as he did, Buckley jumping with him out of the truck, the dog’s hackles full up. “Buckley, stay.” His door was between him and them, not that that door would stop a bullet, but there it was.
Now they reacted as he leveled the gun, raising their arms, including their gun-toting hands, to cover their faces. They didn’t duck behind the front of her car. They didn’t use her as a hostage. They didn’t aim their weapons. Newbies at their game was his conclusion. “Leave while you can still stand,” Aaron told them, and watched them look at each other, look at the woman, then run, his aim and Buckley’s head following them as they jumped in their sorry version of Hot Wheels®.
Belatedly, he realized he should have had them drop the guns and the bag. The bag was probably her purse. Too late now.
He sighed as, belching burnt-oil exhaust, the Charger tore off down the highway. Ordering Buckley back in the truck—“Get in the truck. Get in the back, and stay, Buckley”—he watched till the car disappeared. He had no doubt they’d swing around and do a drive-by. “Get out of the car and into my truck, right now!” he barked at the woman. “They’ll be coming back mad, spraying lead.”
He put the S&W’s safety back on. Repeated his command for Buckley to stay in the truck and jammed the gun into the back of his waistband. Went over. Grabbed the clutch and brake pedal, lifted, and told her, “Pull it out.”
“You could have done that earlier, you know,” she sobbed.
He heard what he thought was the sound of the Charger. They had maybe a minute to vacate. “Lady, if you don’t want to be dead, get in the truck.” And, grabbing her hand, he ran for it, dragging her with him. Let her go, scrambled into the cab, and slammed the door.
Waited as the woman ran around and pulled open the passenger door.
He extended a hand, and she grabbed it. Pulled her in, grabbing the back of her skirt to get her all the way in, yelling, “Legs,” as he floored it to yaw them around, just missing the Beamer with his backend, his tires spewing turf, his dog tumbled and slammed against the far side of the crew cab. He spun it the other way and beat it gone out of there, going the wrong way down the highway, the passenger door slamming shut from the momentum. Glad she got her legs in.
“Blimey,” he heard the Queen of Anger say—practically the first honestly civil word out of her. He heard the gulped-back tears. He saw her hands grab hold. At least she wasn’t hysterical. He counted his blessings. And cursed fate.
4 – Big Dog, Bad Attitude
TERRIFIED, SOPHIA remained silent as, head jammed against his leg, her hair cascading around her face and onto the floor, she watched his boot on the throttle, his other on the brake. There was some dirt on the rubber mat, little pebbles that bounced and rolled.
She was focused on holding tight to anything safe within her reach. The vehicle bounced, braked, and then lurched back and forth. And then they were going backwards—fast. To think people paid good money for thrill rides such as these, and here she was getting one for free!
Her emotions battled somewhere between her terror and hysterical laughter as they hit a bump that dislodged her grip on what she assumed to be the handbrake. She found another handhold on the centre console, a cubby there. Her other hand groped, finding and grabbing fabric—his shirt, she realized—something popping as the truck accelerated, then swerved back and forth. Shirt too flimsy, her hand found belt. Grabbed hold.
They were going backwards at a ridiculous speed. Branches scraped the side of the truck, and she heard him curse. Felt him yank the steering wheel, more brush scraping. And then, finally, they stopped. After a long moment of stillness, she let loose her pent breath.
HE’D TAKEN the first and nearest dirt trail that was wide enough into the cover of trees, pulling up, backing around, then backing in fast, the ride making Buckley crouch, legs splayed and bracing, butt jammed in the corner. It bounced and jolted the woman still sprawled awkwardly across the center console and the seat, her hands gripping him and the console, her head jammed crookedly against his leg. Please don’t break your neck.
In cover, glad the truck was dusky gray, a color that camouflaged it well in the half-grown brush they were in, he stopped. Let it idle. Breathed out relief. Heard her do the same.
Buckley gave a groaning sigh and laid down, Aaron’s sentiments exactly. The woman let go of his belt, his shirt now pulled free and open in front by her desperate grabs.
Loosed from her grip, he redid his shirt snaps as she sat up. Did the snaps up wrong, and, popping them all back open with a jerk, started again, this time from the bottom up instead of top down.
Pulling the S&W free from where it jabbed him in the back, he set it on the console, muzzle pointed away from her, safety still on. He saw her eye the gun. Tucked his shirt in and put the gun back out of sight under his vest where it belonged. Put his seatbelt on and waited.
TAKING THE OPPORTUNITY to pull herself upright, adjust her position and then grab the seatbelt to secure it around her, Sophia hitched down the hemline of her dress. Saw that the dog was, in fact, a massive, tan creature with black ears and muzzle. It was lying down on the back seat and watching her. She eyed it nervously and then decided it was no threat. At least for the moment. It wasn’t growling. Neither was the owner of the dog, a good thing.
Sophia stole a sideways glance at the hick, relieved he had returned to rescue her and scare away the muggers. A grudging respect softened her earlier opinion. It was her lucky day that this rude, crude, common laborer not only carried a gun, but also was not afraid to use it. She’d also somehow have to convince Ian about guns.
She’d been nagging Ian since they’d arrived from England that they should learn to handle a gun, but he had ridiculed her suggestion. Told her she’d been watching far too many movies and shushed her when she objected. At least she now had the ammunition to press home the argument.
She suppressed a snort of laughter at the thought of Ian manning up should someone point a gun at him. He had muscle and good looks, but not much else …and was certainly last in the queue when brains and common sense were handed out.
Tempted to ask if they were safe, she swallowed the thought. The hick’s body language indicated otherwise. Two against one, both of whom were armed, and she guessed the odds were probably stacked in the thieves’ favour when they came back.
Remembering too vividly the gun muzzle pressed to her head, Sophia tried to control the panic that now rose up anew and threatened to overwhelm her. Close to tears, she dismissed the question and took a deep breath. Exhaled slowly to help her focus and remain calm, a technique she had developed to steady her nerves before a skating competition.
The dog, now standing, edged forward. Sophia felt its hot breath on the back of her neck. It tickled. She turned slowly. Its curious brown eyes, unblinking, stared into hers, no doubt trying to decide if she was friend, foe, or lunch. “Big dog,” she ventured. “Does it have a name?”
The stranger didn’t answer her. Just kept his eyes straight forward, watching the highway. She studied him—his mouth was set in a hard line; jaw set, too; body tense as he gripped the steering wheel. The hands gripping were relaxed, though, not white-knuckled. Certainly, she thought, what the hick lacked in manners, he made up for in guts.
BESIDE HIM, the woman had collected herself, covering up her decidedly provocative, lace-covered bottom, getting her neckline back where it should be, and generally pulling herself together. That she had buckled the seatbelt impressed. Some sense, it seems. Everything else was too obviously a wash in the safety first department. If it was a choice between fashion and failsafe, fashion came first, just like with most of them these days. No, thank you.
His nerves tense, muscles wanting to twitch as he felt her eyes on him, he kept studiously focused. Wished she’d stop watching him.
Buckley softly woofed. Aaron paid attention.
In moments, the Charger screamed past on the other side of the median, slowed as it drove by the woman’s stuck BMW, then sped up. Suddenly, it slammed on the brakes, backed up, and stopped even with the woman’s car, the young bucks opening the doors and starting to get out.
A cop car rolled past on this side. The kids jumped back into their oil burner and took off, and, predictably, the cop bolted across the median and, lights and siren coming on, went after them. “Okay. That took care of that,” Aaron muttered, more to himself than to the woman sitting next to him. “Cop’s on the tail of those creeps. I’ll take you back.”
He put it in gear.
“Are we safe now?”
Her voice quavered, and Aaron cringed. He hated tears, he hated hysteria—both ‘woman’ things. At least he was saved one, maybe both of them with this one. She wasn’t hysterical and wasn’t crying, just shaken.
Behind him, Buckley groaned, and a check in the rearview showed the dog lying down, putting his head on his paws. The mastiff was going to stay out of it. Chicken dog.
“…Are you sure it’s safe? Those yobs did not look the type to….” Her voice trailed off.
He didn’t answer her. Didn’t know what ‘yobs’ were. But she did have a point. Put it back in park. Kept his eyes straight forward, watching for the tow truck. Then, deciding, he finally said, “Okay. We’ll wait here until the tow truck comes, then drive over. That suit?”
A moment’s pause, then, “Better, thank you.”
…A minute, then two of welcomed silence. Aaron started to relax—mistake.
“My name is Sophia,” the woman said, the voice still tight. He glanced. Saw tears blinked back as she extended a shaking hand as if in greeting.
What to do?! He did not want to give her his name. He had to do something. She was looking at him expectantly. Panic began to set in. Abruptly, he chose to nod—slightly, slowly, and he hoped it looked ‘decidedly’, too. He kept his hands quiet on the shifter and the steering wheel.
It didn’t work. Her next words were: “And yours?” She still held the hand out.
He glanced away out the side window. What now? He cautiously touched her hand, and hoped that would satisfy.
It did. The hand dropped. Still she looked at him, though. “Um, I….” Blew breath. “…Jackson,” he said. “A. Jackson. Rocking AJ Ranch.”
“A?” she asked.
Her voice was getting stronger—good. But he grimaced at the persistence in asking for his first name. “First initial.”
Her face turning haughty and determined, she popped the glove box open. Grabbed the registration, him shocked at her audacity.
Behind him, he heard Buckley get up. The dog was watching her. He signed, and Buckley lay back down.
“Well, now, here it is!” she said, voice trying to sound victorious …which failed completely. She sniffed. Rubbed a hand across her eyes, then, mouth muscles twitching with spent nerves, tried smiling his way. “Arthur,” she said, still trying to sound victorious. The effect was ruined by the still slight quake of her voice, but he admired her ability to recover herself. She’d just gone through a really frightening ordeal, one that was his fault for not staying with her like she’d asked, and most women, even his mom, would be being carried out in a basket, all hysteria, tears, and screams.
She put the registration back and closed the glove box.
…A full five minutes of silence, her looking out the passenger-side window. It was bliss. Then the wrecker showed up. “Tow truck’s here,” he muttered, and put it in gear. Drove over. Told Buckley to stay put. Got out.
“You the owner?” the tow truck man asked as Aaron heard the woman—’Sophia’, she’d said her name was—get out of the truck.
“No. The lady here is,” he said as she came around.
“Okay. Here’s the bill,” the man said, holding out an electronic clipboard.
Aaron saw her swallow. Head to the BMW. Go to the open back door and just stand there.
Memory jogged—the bag. “Charge my card on record,” he told the guy.
“Will do, sir. You want the receipt?”
“Yeah. Give her one, too, though.”
“Sent to your phone,” the man said just as Aaron’s phone pinged.
He checked. “Got it,” he said, thanking the man.
“All right. Let’s get this car out.”
“Preferably without damaging it,” Aaron said.
SOPHIA HELD BACK the tears just long enough for her car to be towed from the centre reservation. When the tow truck driver handed her the invoice and paid-in-full receipt, she thanked him. Turned around to thank Arthur, too, but he was already in his truck, his music coming back on.
He did glance her way for just a moment, touched the brim of his cowboy hat, and nodded before pulling out.
“Thank you, Arthur,” she whispered as she watched the taillights of his truck disappear into the distance. Her earlier hostile behavior towards him made her feel guilty. He had obviously never attended ‘charm’ school, but he had put his own life in danger, so maybe—just possibly—she owed him. Maybe guardian angels did exist, and, today, one had manifested itself in the guise of a grumpy country bumpkin with a poor attitude and a very big dog.
For Those Wondering …Yes, More Books are Coming
For those of you wondering, yes, there are many more books coming in the Jessica Anderson K-9 Mystery series. I’m in the middle of book 6, right now, but also working with another author on a different series …that also includes a dog–a bull mastiff (wonderful dogs, those, by the way). I know that everybody wants more. And there are more. Jessie’s story is ongoing …as Search and Rescue is ongoing and Jessie and her dogs are skilled and dedicated to seeking out the missing! Hugs, Dawn, the author.
Dead Falls, Book 5 Now Available
Dead Falls, Book 5 of The Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries is now available at Amazon.com.
The living and the dead—her dogs keep finding them.
Rape, abduction, and multiple victims dead from unknown causes confound the Bitterroot County Sheriff’s Office until Jessie’s dogs uncover a connection to an even bigger case. Jessie and her pack are on task and tracking, but what they’re tracking could make Jessie the prime target for revenge.
The story of a woman and her beloved pack of search dogs who will stop at nothing to protect their own.
Clean, safe reading
No sex, gore, or profanity.
(And–spoiler alert–yes, dear reader, absolutely no dog dies in this book, either.)
NOTE TO FANS: This is an ongoing series. It doesn’t stop here. Book 6 is already in progress.
Reading the series in order is recommended. The first four Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries books are available at Amazon in both print and eBook format
In Case You Want to Give Them for Christmas, Here’s a Box Set.
Somebody who loves The Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries and wants to give them away to friends for Christmas—Thanks for the idea, Audrey—suggested I make a box set like other authors do …so I did. Unfortunately, I can’t make print book box sets. Amazon doesn’t have that capability …yet, though they say they might in the future. But I can do an eBook box set, so I did. The first three books are now available in one eBook box set that saves you money—the first three books for only $9.99. Enjoy.
Yes, Book 5 is in the Works. The Series Continues.
I keep getting asked—and thank you for asking in the comments and via email, because there isn’t any way for me to communicate with readers on Amazon, anymore—the series continues …because Jessie’s life with her SAR dogs continues. Book 5 is in the works, and there are presently 12 books planned, with a 13th sketched.
Why Landon and Jessie, both?
I’ve written novels from multiple points-of-view where there are a cast of many. These are plot-driven gallops: A Gathering of Rebels by Aeros (a novel published in two volumes because it was too big for one print book), and Created Evil by E. J. Ruek.
I’ve written novels with a single POV (point-of-view character), To Inherit a Murderer and Old Hickory Lane being examples of those which I’ve published myself.
And then there are novels with several main characters, A Montana Love Story series by C. J. “Country” James, and The Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries.
Why write books with multiple points-of-view? First off, if a plot-driven story, you follow the plot by experiencing the story from the most potent perspective(s) possible, and plot dictates who that is. Second, and, to me, very important, is to be able to not just see a character from his or her perspective and attitudes, but to see him or her from another’s perspective, attitude, and experience.
Why both Jessica and Landon, though?
Jessica Anderson and Landon Reid,
copyright 2022 D. L. Keur, All rights reserved.
Through Jessica, we get to experience the moment-by-moment experience that is search and rescue. We get to feel her and her dogs. We get to witness her dogs respond to her as if right there with her. That’s important to me. …And you, I think.
Through Landon, we get to see Jessica and her dogs as another sees her and them, especially the dogs at work and in their dedication and loyalty. And vice versa—we get to see Landon through Jessie’s eyes, including her dogs’ reactions to him. Sure other characters give us insights into Jessica by their reactions, but we don’t get the hands-on focus that we do from another point-of-view character, especially one integral to the events occurring that drive the story and drive the characters in that story.
An Update on The Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries
One of the ongoing comments and queries I get these days is: When will the next one be out? I get these before the just newly published book is even 24 hours old …which means some of you read really fast. Wow!
Answer: When I get done writing it, and my editors (of which there are three), my proof-readers (of which there are four), and my beta readers (of which there are also four, but a different four) get done.
A HUGE THANKS TO THOSE OF YOU WHO TAKE THE TIME TO EMAIL
I cannot tell you what it means to a writer to have someone take the time and make the effort to reach out and share your thoughts, your joy, your questions, your perspectives …and your own stories about your lives and your dogs. It’s a huge uplift to my life, and I try to answer everybody. Apologies to anyone who gets or got missed. Email is a wonderful thing. Getting the app to behave and not bin the good stuff and not keep the spam stuff is a constant fight.
How Many Books are Planned?
At least six, but I’ve scene sketched thirteen, now. It is an ongoing story, just as is each and every one of our own lives.
I’m writing number five right now and have the last book in the series in the works …in case I get run over by the driving duallies of a semi when making my way to the store. Then, all that has to happen is somebody has to push the button and you all will know the ‘end of the story’ …which I do leave tied up with a solid period …but, yes, it is but the potential beginning of the next, of course, because every end begets yet another beginning in both life and fiction. My literary mentor always told me that: “The end begets the beginning in everything we write,” and I’ve found that to be too true on both ends of a novel.
Addressing Some Grousing
First off: Landon and Jessica are written to be realistic people, not fairy tale figures. And in fact, they are both composites of people I know and have known. Just like everybody in every one of my novels, save maybe Created Evil, but, even then. So, yes, they are flawed, as well as gifted in their own ways. They have their idiosyncrasies and their foibles …just like we all do, and there are some things one may like about them and other things one may not …as it should be.
To those who grouse about grammatical errors in the book: We all (all of the above mentioned) do try, and these people are not slouches, but, invariably, after I hit the publish button and am reading the book on my Kindle or in my hand, there, bold as anything, my eye will catch yet another error.
One regular comment I get back from my helpers is ‘I got so immersed in the story that I don’t know if I caught everything’—high compliment, that, to a novelist.
And then there’s word processing programs.
I especially do NOT like certain programs that attempt to self-correct me, replacing words that I do mean with words the AI thinks I must mean. That happened in To Inherit a Murderer where Word exchanged my word ‘restrain’ with ‘sustain’ at the end of Chapter Three. Have I re-uploaded a corrected version of the book? I may have done so for the eBook, but not the print book. I’m not sure. Maybe, maybe not.
Then there’s spelling, of course. Though born in the USA, my dad was in the service, so I learned my ABCs and 123s in Europe, under British tutelage. Relearning American spellings was a chore, and then some.
Grammar, you ask? I learned my grammar under ‘old-fashioned’ (formal) schooling, not in slap-dash, anything goes ‘entertainment is education’ and ‘everybody gets a passing grade’ schools. My schooling, in primary and secondary schools, did include diagramming sentences, something I’m not sure is even done at the college level today, though I do hear it’s making a comeback in US public schools …or at least with parents of school-aged children.
And for those of you who don’t like my punctuation, hey, nobody can ever agree on anything, but I have dropped a lot of commas and semicolons from how I used to write, so some of you can count your blessings. Others not so much.
The old line from a song comes to mind: You can’t please everybody, so you have to please yourself, and I am completely selfish in that, if I like it, it stays.
There are now 4 Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries available at Amazon
D. L. Keur, author of The Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries
There are now 4 Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries available at Amazon in both print and eBook format
Her first mistake was calling 9-1-1.
Drones were supposed to make life easier for Jessie and her search and rescue dogs. Instead, they’ve made everything a lot more complicated. Her equipment confiscated, her very freedom threatened, Jessica Anderson finds herself in the crosshairs of both law enforcement and a vicious killer when her drones discover a body on the slopes of Long Peak.
When evidence points to other victims, though, it’s Jessie and her search dogs who law enforcement need to find their remains. What nobody suspects, though, is that the killer is watching, waiting, anticipating …ready.
A novel of a woman and her beloved dogs, a woman who, having fled a career in law enforcement, finds herself the target of, both, the sheriff and a murderer.
Clean, safe reading
No sex, gore, or profanity.
(And–spoiler alert–yes, dear reader, no dog dies in this book.)
Predator or prey? Jessie must decide.
Called out on a night search for two missing teens, Jessie and her pack of search dogs again team up with Bitterroot County Sheriff Landon Reid on a dangerous case involving multiple missing persons, felonious assault, and, ultimately, murder.
When Reid takes a bullet following a lead from Jessie’s snooping drones, his second-in-command authorizes a manhunt to run the fugitives to ground. Despite the risk, and against her better judgment, Jessie sets her dogs to tracking down the criminals, only to find that she and the deputies with her are in lethal danger from silent killers.
The story of a woman and her beloved dogs who step into the line of fire to save the lives of others.
Clean, safe reading
No sex, gore, or profanity.
(And–spoiler alert–yes, dear reader, no dog dies in this book.)
Dead or alive? Only her dogs know.
When an Alzheimer’s patient goes missing, no one thinks it’s more than a daughter’s careless mistake …except Jessica. When members of the patient’s family go missing, foul play becomes a certainty.
The Bitterroot County Sheriff’s Office and the whole search and rescue team kick it into high gear with the disappearance of Sheriff Reid and some of the last surviving family members.
The story of a woman and her beloved pack of search dogs who will stop at nothing to save the lives of both friend and stranger.
Clean, safe reading
No sex, gore, or profanity.
(And–spoiler alert–yes, dear reader, no dog dies in this book.)
Her dogs keep finding them, but more keep disappearing.
A lost teen in Western Montana, four strayed hikers in Eastern Oregon, then more kids lost in Bitterroot County tests the mettle of the newly formed multi-county SAR group and stretches the endurance of Jessica Anderson and her dogs to the breaking point. When camera crews catch a rescue on film, Jessie and her dogs are put in dire jeopardy, and Sheriff Landon Reid and his deputies can’t get there fast enough to save her.
The story of a woman and her pack of search dogs who risk it all to save the life of an innocent.
Clean, safe reading
No sex, gore, or profanity.
(And–spoiler alert–yes, dear reader, absolutely no dog dies in this book, either.)
NOTE TO FANS: This is an ongoing series. It doesn’t stop here.
The Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries Newsletter
Signup for new release updates. A newsletter for those interested in The Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries. It now ONLY comes when I’ve released a new book …because it seems that, any other newsletters I send, despite their infrequency, get folks upset and then they mark my newsletter as spam …which upsets ME since I never, ever want you to feel like I’m spamming you.
What was in the Trailer?!
Find out now. As a treat, I’m sharing the first three chapters of Book 3 of the Jessica Anderson K-9 Mysteries. If you haven’t read Books 1 & 2, Death Scent and Stray Trouble, you can find them here.
1 – Lost Lady
“JESSIE, can you come?” The slow words delivered in a low grumble, the tone always one anticipating a negative response—that was Sheriff Landon Reid.
“Are you at Sam’s or the shooting range?”
Leave it to Reid to keep tabs on her whereabouts!
Jessie had known Reid since high school. …Well, not really known, but recognized. He was the guy who was always the hero—football, basketball, track, top notch student, and, ultimately, co-valedictorian, friends with and graduating the same year as her older brother.
Reid was a ‘winner’. Always in the spotlight, always in the winner’s circle. She, on the other hand, was what they called ‘average’—a straight B student—somebody who had to figure things out and really work to get a decent grade …except when it came to dogs. Dogs she ‘got’, and they ‘got’ her.
She looked over where her crew were playing in Sam’s empty lower pasture. They immediately noticed her watching and turned their heads, ears alert.
Well, mostly, anyway. “Dad and I are out at Sam’s, feeding his stock, Sheriff.”
“Then you’re close to town. Good. I’ve got a lost Alzheimer’s patient. Remmers’ teams …ah …some of your SAR group’s teams—the three who live in town—are already working, but, so far, nothing. I take it your dogs are with you?”
“My dogs are with me, and, yes, we can come. Where are you?”
“The lady disappeared in …or from the Northridge Theater.”
Sounds like a simple search. Wonder what the problem is that the teams can’t locate her? Something wasn’t right. “Is Nelson Remmers there?”
“I haven’t been able to raise him. Got somebody heading out that way.”
“Okay. Well, we’ll be there as fast as we can.”
“Thank you,” he said, abruptly ending the call.
“Well, at least he gave you a few days off,” Oli grumbled.
She turned a grin on her dad who was leaning against the hay stack. Oli’s face was masked down. Numa, his brindle-colored Malinois, was sitting beside him, leaning into his knee. They were both waiting for a verdict of ‘bad’. “It’s a lost Alzheimer’s patient. In town.”
Oli’s face cleared a little, and he nodded. “Well, we’re done here, except for feeding the outside cat.”
“You have the kibbles and can of meat?”
“I do. I’ll lock up. You round up your crew and head for the rig.”
Two throaty barks—insistent—Acer’s. Then a nerve-splintering howl—Milo’s.
A chill ran down Jessie’s neck and back. Gooseflesh erupted on her shoulders and arms. Her breath caught, stalling. Both she and her dad looked. Frowned. Glanced at each other. “What in the world?!” Oli muttered, his hand immediately dropping to his sidearm.
The only time the pack leader …or any pack member, for that matter, summoned others of the pack was when there was danger or a find. That it happened now bespoke danger—serious danger—the double bark, then the resounding howl as reinforcement.
Her own hand slid to her hip. She wasn’t armed.
Within moments, all the dogs congregated. Milo, the Wonder Dog, launched himself over the four foot high board gate, Acer following, the two other GSDs and Mitch, a tawny Malinois yearling pup, right behind him. While giant Milo cleared it clean, the rest crested the top, their front feet catching at the top board, their hind feet hooking to drive them over. Except for Duchess who squeezed under the bottom board of the fence. The dogs now came at her and her dad at a dead run.
“Was is los? What is it?” she asked as they bounded up around her.
Acer, her big, sable protection dog and a fine tracker, huffed. White and brown Milo wagged. All of them circled her. This isn’t danger. This is something else.
A yip and a series of insistent barks—Oso and Queenie—left behind beyond the gate, a gate neither could scale or leap.
“You’d better go get them,” Oli grumbled, locking the barn. “I’m off to feed the cat.”
All the dogs trailed along back down the hill, including the little black puppy, Duchess. Opening the gate for the two left behind got the others to swap ends and immediately take off back up the hill again. They know. Somehow, they know we’ve got work to do.
Queenie, her red-headed setter cross, and Oso, the Elkhound, stuck with her, the latter uncharacteristically moving in alongside her …on the wrong side, as usual, pacing her. “Race you to the tailgate,” she said, and, opening his mouth, tongue curling, eyes squinting sideways at her as if he were laughing, Oso bounded forward, Queenie with him. Jessie was right on their tails, until they both kicked it into gear and left her behind.
She slowed to a walk, giving her still sore leg a break. Her dad and Numa trotted up. Oli chuckled. “Crazy mutts. I think they somehow know they’ve got a job to do.”
“Yeah. I must leave off a scent or something.”
“Okay, everybody, ‘sitz’,” she requested, getting to the rig, and, almost as one, the dogs, English speakers and German speakers, all, parked their butts on the ground. Both Oso and Queenie lifted their heads, their faces grinning up at her. The rest sat, but their heads swiveled to scan the yard, their nostrils sifting air. “Come on, guys,” Jessie chided. “Pay attention, here. We’ve got a lost lady to find.”
That seemed to do the trick. All of them settled down.
Done checking and changing out the batteries on their RF collars, her dad helping, she opened up both passenger side doors. “Hup.”
Their pack order prevailed as they all jumped in, with Acer and Britta taking shotgun in front until her dad shooed them into the back. The rest jumped in behind on the carpeted doggy platform that extended the full length of the rig behind the two front seats. Oso took the outside, sitting right behind the driver’s seat, his nose to the glass, Queenie next to him. Mitch and Milo took the rest of the space behind the front seats until Acer and Britta jumped back. Sumi, pushed and shoved, sandwiching herself in behind Acer and Britta and next to Milo who downed into his characteristic sphinx mode. Jessie lifted the pup in and put her on the front seat as her dad climbed in. He scooped up the little black fluff and plopped her on his lap.
Rolling the windows partway down for her pack as Numa jumped in at Oli’s feet, Jessie started the rig as soon as it let her …when the doors were all secured and locked and her dad had latched his seatbelt. Got to fix that so I can run it with the doors open.
Getting to the highway, Jessie was thankful that traffic was light, and, seven minutes later, they crossed into the Northridge city limits, a cop car picking them up and giving escort. That surprised her, though it shouldn’t have. Landon was pretty much always on top of things. Until he’s not.
2 – Accidentally on Purpose
BITTERROOT COUNTY Sheriff Landon Reid watched two of three local search and rescue, or SAR, teams, each skilled pair comprised of one dog, one handler, comb up and down a two, three, four, and now five block radius starting at the theater. They were seeking traces of the missing woman so they could start tracking her down. One team, along with one city P.D. officer and one S.O. deputy, was still inside, searching through the maze of nooks and crannies of the three-story, century-old theater. Their leader, Nelson Remmers, still hadn’t gotten here—not surprising since the man lived fifty-some miles south. Luckily, these three members of Remmers’ group actually lived in the town of Northridge.
Dedicated and, like all SAR members, unpaid volunteers, they’d come to Reid’s call within minutes. Unfortunately, twenty minutes into their search, their dogs had yet to find anything, and, with each passing minute, Landon was losing hope for a swift and speedy resolution. And the horrible thought struck him that maybe there wasn’t anyone to find. No. Unacceptable! If she’s not outside, she’s got to still be inside …which is better. She’s warm.
Then why aren’t we finding her? The other thing that troubled him was that nobody they’d asked who’d been at the high school concert remembered seeing Mrs. Little or Sheila Long, and soft-voiced Dorothy Little was everybody’s favorite ‘gran’.
It was the rule of law that, when an Alzheimer’s patient went missing, his office was immediately notified. They then organized the search, and handled the subsequent investigation. Rarely did an incident like this happen, though, and, for him, this was only the second time in his short career as sheriff. The first time—an incident last summer—had been relatively easy. The weather had been sunny and warm, and the man was found walking naked down a residential street in broad daylight. This time it had rained most of the day, it was almost dark, and the fifty-three-year-old woman who’d gone missing was diagnosed with the early onset form of the disease.
In calling Jessica Anderson, Landon was hoping that, by some miracle, her dogs could pull off the same kind of coordinated search operation he’d seen them demonstrate several times before. Their ability to coordinate a search between them to cover a huge area all at once was their specialty. He needed that. Right now! The wait was irritating. “Get here, Jessie!”
Despite it being late in May, the nights were down in the low-to-mid-forties—characteristic of mountain country. At eight-thirty in the evening, it was already cold, and, according to the daughter who doubled as the woman’s caregiver, her mother was only wearing a black cocktail dress, no coat. Black! On a black night. What’s wrong with red or white? Fluorescent yellow, maybe?!
Behind him, Dorothy Little’s daughter, Sheila, was huddled with her girlfriends. She was noticeably drunk. So were her pals. What bothered Reid was that, occasionally, short bursts of laughter reached his ears. Something’s not right. She really doesn’t seem worried. But, then, some people exhibited a weird hysteria when suffering anxiety or when faced with potential tragedy. Give her a break, he told himself. It’s her mom.
A police unit, its lights flashing, whooped its siren once as it turned the corner. Expecting Jessica’s mug-ugly old Suburban to trail it, Landon felt his spirits rise, but, instead of the old Suburban, a brand new, pearl white Lincoln Navigator turned the corner, vanity license plate ‘DOGGIRL’ mounted in its plate holder. Oli Anderson was riding shotgun, though, so it had to be Jessie. She got herself a new rig. About time. …And what a rig it was, too!
“Wow. That’s a Black Label L,” the deputy beside him whispered.
Yeah, he could see that—as big as a long-bed pickup truck. And, suddenly, he wondered. Shook his head. No. He wouldn’t have! Not Brian Ingalls. …At least Landon hoped not. Too much of a miser.
“Okay. Here we go,” he said to the older man to his left. “If anybody can find the woman, it’s Jessie and her dogs.”
“If you say so,” Northridge P.D. Caption Dirk Compton. muttered.
Landon cast a sideways glance at the man. “What’s the problem, Captain?”
“The woman missing is my kid sister, that’s what!” he snapped. “And it’s her daughter’s fault.”
Landon blew breath. Oh, boy. “Sorry. I didn’t know.” How’d I miss that? Then, “Shouldn’t you get somebody to relieve you, since you’re personally invested, Dirk?”
Yes, you should, Landon thought, but wasn’t going to push it. Compton was a decorated veteran, a long-standing, stellar officer on the Northridge P.D. “Okay. Hang tight. We’ll find her.”
Crossing the street at a trot, Landon got to the Lincoln just in time for the doors to pop open, the dogs, all seven of them, boiling out. For most people, the sight of this many dogs coming straight at them would freeze them in their tracks.
It wasn’t so much the setter or the dog Jessie had told him wasn’t a small Husky, but something called a Norwegian Elkhound. It was the two big, burly German Shepherds and the one more normal one, the darting Malinois, and, especially, the gigantic white and brown-spotted mutt Jessie called Milo—something that looked like a cross between a huge pitbull and a Great Dane.
A little over a month ago that would have been true for Landon, too. Not now, though. Not after the jobs they’d pulled off for him so far in the short time he’d been working with Jessie and her pack of search dogs. Despite his stress, his face broke open seeing them.
Queenie, the setter, and Acer, the latter still in a cast just like his mistress, bounded up, then around him. Milo and Mitch, too, the latter’s ear finally free of its bandage. Even the more reticent Britta, Sumi, and Oso seemed happy to see him. Tails wagged so much that hips and bodies swayed with the motion as they greeted him. They like me. That thought brought a smile, despite the circumstances.
“Hi,” Jessica Anderson said, her bobbed, platinum blonde hair fluorescing under the street lights as she came around from the back of the rig. She swung her big pack on as she closed the car doors, and Landon noted that she still limped.
He touched the brim of his hat as Oli got out, Jessie’s foundling black puppy cradled by its belly in his left hand, his dog, Numa, with him. The man’s face was its usual mask, but he acknowledged Landon with a nod, then leaned against the front fender. Jessie tossed him the keys, then turned to face Landon. Her deep blue eyes were serene, almost happy.
Serenity was something he hadn’t spotted in Jessie since they’d become reacquainted. It was a good thing to see. “Nice,” he said, nodding toward the Lincoln. And he meant it. About time she got herself a decent set of wheels.
She grinned. “It was a gift.”
“From?” And he hoped she’d say ‘Dad’.
He did! “Oh. …Nice,” he said, again, not meaning it, this time. At all.
“You said that already. Scent?” she asked.
“Right.” He grabbed one of the two big bags held by the deputy beside him, the one containing the woman’s coat. “This and her purse is all we have.”
Pulling on nitrile gloves, she fished from an outer pocket of the backpack, she pulled them on, stretching the right hand one over the end of her cast, then nodded. As she did, the dogs crowded in, tails wagging. They knew all about this. He opened the bag with the coat.
Immediately, all tails went still, then suddenly dropped. The dogs backed away and began to blow and sneeze. Jessie’s nose wrinkled, and, backing up, too, she shook her head ‘no’.
He sealed the bag with the coat back up and dropped it at his feet, the scent hanging around him despite that. Hope I don’t wind up smelling like that the rest of the night.
He opened the other bag, and Jessie did what Landon thought she would—opened the purse that was inside, poked around a bit with a finger, then grabbed the one woman’s glove that remained in it, the glove Landon hadn’t given the other teams.
Surprising him, she also pulled out a handkerchief he hadn’t noticed. “Handled,” she said. “Lucky that.”
She pooched the glove open with her good hand, and held it out to her dogs. The animals, tails a-wag again, moved in, putting their noses practically inside it, then sniffed in long draughts. How does she get them to do that? None of this grabbing them and forcing the scent onto their nose like the others had done. They just go for it all by themselves.
Now she held out the handkerchief clutched between the fingers of her gloved right hand, those fingers and the end of her thumb being the only thing not covered by her cast. The dogs really seemed to take notice of the hanky. Noses delicately sniffed around and under.
When the dogs finally dropped their heads and backed up, Jessie put the glove and hanky into two different bags, the fingers of her cast right arm surprisingly deft despite the fact that her arm up to the elbow, her wrist, plus most of her palm and thumb were immobilized. She sealed the bags and stashed them in her pack. Her dark blue eyes had turned bright …or was it the street lights? They caught at Landon’s. “I’m keeping those for now, okay?”
He nodded and, closing the evidence bag, motioned to a deputy to come take it and the one holding the coat. Why have her eyes changed? They only changed when she stressed. He knew that now. Way too well.
Jessie squatted down. “Okay, are you ready?” she asked, the dogs crowding in.
Tails wagged, bodies again swaying with the motion. The red setter-like dog and the one called Mitch both bounced and whined.
“Brave Hunde. My good, good dogs,” he heard her croon. Then, “One. Human,” she said, her hands making odd movements as she spoke, movements that, as usual, made no sense to Landon. …Well, maybe one of them, did—the upraised single index finger of her right hand when she said ‘one’.
Standing up, she gave another set of hand signals, saying, “Sweep. All. Such. Seek. Find it,” her voice light and excited. The dogs swapped ends from facing her to facing out to stand in a fan of fur around both her and Landon. Their stilled and their noses worked.
The deputy who had come to take the evidence bags stopped and stood stock still, his eyes rolling down to eye the dogs.
“It’s okay. You won’t bother them if you move,” Landon told him, and the man reached, grabbed the bags, then eased clear.
Oso—the one that still, to Landon’s mind, looked like a small, grinning Husky—suddenly sat, then downed. Then, tawny brown Mitch downed, too.
“They’re telling us ‘no air scent’,” Jessie said, canting her head his way. “How long has she been missing?”
“We don’t know. The concert got over at eight, so well over forty minutes, now, at least.”
Her left hand’s fingers clawed at her hair, pushing it up and back, then combing it back down just as suddenly. The nervous tic was back. Why? he wondered, as her fingers worked her hair again, her eyes going to the theater, then back to her dogs.
“There should be some remnant scent envelope,” she said. “It’s very odd that they’re catching nothing.” And what she said disturbed him. A lot.
The dogs, all standing stock still watching one another, not her, touched noses to each other, one by one, as soon as Oso and Mitch downed. It seemed to be their cue. They took off, noses near the ground, each in a different direction.
“What’s happening?” he asked, watching them disperse. Landon had only been eye witness to her dogs search for dead bodies on a mountainside. The only live search and rescue work he’d been close enough to somewhat witness was during Nelson Remmers’ test of Jessie and her dogs. The search for Ingalls had been completely out of sight, the dogs moving so fast that there had been no keeping up with them. Never had he seen the pack in action close up, hunting down the lost. Well, I guess I get to, now.
“They’re seeking some ground scent trail from which to start,” Jessie said to him as the dogs scattered. “Oso is scouting for an air envelope. Mitch is doing both. When one of them locates something, they’ll alert the others by vocalizing, but there are a lot of alleyways and hidden spots to cover. This will probably take time with no air scent. It’s why the other teams have had no success, as yet.”
“What do we do?”
“We just wait, listen, and watch.”
Her eyes were bright blue, now, instead of their normal dark, and it wasn’t the street lights. She was holding something back. With a start, he realized that the nervous tic and the sharpening color of her eyes only had happened after she’d opened the purse. What’s bothering her?
“Can you give me some background, Sheriff?”
Landon did and watched her nod. “I know of Sheila Little from school,” she said …muttered something under her breath he didn’t catch. Then she said something that rattled him. “So, maybe the perfume was accidently on purpose.”
Now, why would she say that? And the way she said it bothered him—there was rancor there, something he’d never before heard in her voice. Worse, a sudden harshness had taken over her usual affability. Her face had turned hard-bitten. It was the first time he realized just how much she actually looked like her dad.
As if reading him, she said, “Evidentially, there’s saturation of perfume on the coat, but not inside the handbag or on the kerchief. It’s apparent in the bag you put the purse in, too. But there was a different scent when I opened the purse—clean leather, linen, and lavender soap smells—and absolutely no perfume in or on the glove or hanky. A woman who wears a lot of scent will get it everywhere, but this is just saturating the coat with some on the outside of the purse. It’s probably also saturating Mrs. Little, possibly to try to alter her mood or to disorient her. What isn’t commonly known is that Alzheimer’s sufferers lose their sense of smell.”
She volunteered something! Completely out of nowhere and against her psych profile! Something’s changed. …But what she’d volunteered! And her voice was now cold enough to freeze Hades.
Landon knew her degree in crime scene analysis and her status, now, as a certified paramedic in both Idaho and Colorado, probably gave her these kinds of insights, but what she was suggesting went beyond a case of accident or even criminal neglect. It brought up intent, and he sincerely doubted that in this situation.
I really don’t like the way she’s reasoning. It was the first inkling he had, though, on just how much the Grierhausen case may have affected Jessica Anderson. It sent her over the edge, and she’s really never come back. It made her dangerous, not just whacko. Once she’d smelled the perfume, she’d started to exhibit stress and, simultaneously, seemed to grow remote …harder—‘calloused’ was the word that came to mind, that and ‘jaded’.
That sudden change ticked him off. The girl, already as changeable as the weather—wait five minutes—plus susceptible to weird PTSD ‘drop-outs’, had, in seconds, moved even further away from who he remembered she used to be in high school. But that was then, and this is now.
3 – Something’s Wrong
JESSIE SAW THE QUESTION and read the doubt. She shouldn’t have said anything, but it had needed saying. For Mrs. Little’s sake. …Because Landon Reid often took things at face value, then, simultaneously, switched gears to thinking things overly subversive. He often missed problems that he should catch, while assuming problems where there were none. …Like about her.
Even now, she watched his anger rise. He tried to hide it by ducking his head down, the brim of his precious white Stetson® hiding his eyes and pock-marked face, but she’d seen it, and that was okay, too. She’d done her duty. Her old boss, Captain Dennison,. would be proud of her. He’d always chided her on keeping things too much to herself. This time, she hadn’t, and, by Landon’s reaction, she’d hit the mark.
She had her own selfish motives for doing it. It was a trade, because now she needed to know. For her dogs’ sake. “Have your deputies checked the river bank?”
The head raised, the eyes leveled. “We have. No sign,” he said, his deep, gravelly voice sounding incredibly ominous as it all but hissed the words.
So he was angry with her, and Jessie wanted to burst out laughing for some bizarre reason. She quelled it. But she was relieved by his answer. “Good. That’s very good,” she said, and meant it. “Hopefully, Mrs. Little stays away from the water.”
Then, intentionally, eyes on Queenie and Mitch, not him, she added what she considered the obvious, deliberately putting ‘sappy, happy’ into her voice. “So, now all we have to worry about is her getting run over, mugged, raped, hurt from a fall, along with suffering hypothermia and, maybe, contracting pneumonia. …Or that she’s been abducted, of course.”
Now she saw him get really mad, and he didn’t try to hide it. Good. Get a clue, Landon. There’s something wrong here. There should be scent. Her dogs were good—very good. They were finding nothing.
Upset, she tried to put her mind solely on her dogs. Somehow, they’ll find her. She didn’t want to think about the condition in which her dogs would find the woman, though. She couldn’t. Something’s wrong.
Her eye caught on Queenie and Mitch, again. They were approaching the crowd of people standing under the theater’s marquee. Watching, Jessie began to worry for them. “Excuse me, Sheriff,” she said, and headed over.
Reid came with her. Jessie hadn’t expected that. Nor did she expect him to answer her impertinence, except maybe with his characteristic groan and unintelligible grumbling.
“She’d better not get run over or attacked by anyone,” he said quietly, his low voice soft again, anger gone or at least suppressed. “The entire on-duty police force is out and a lot of my deputies, too. All of downtown is shut down. So are all nearby roads. All through traffic is supposed to be stopped up to a sixteen block radius. Mrs. Little and your dogs shouldn’t be in danger from traffic or misfits in the downtown and nearby residential areas.”
“Good,” she replied as she dodged between parked cars to reach where, between them, Mitch and Queenie were isolating a group of women all about her age, several of whom she recognized.
People who weren’t used to dogs sometimes didn’t deal with them well and hers were not wearing their Search and Rescue vests. She’d left them home. In the wash. Mistake. Buy a backup set. Their bright RF collars identified them with the word ‘RESCUE’, but that was it.
Sure enough, as Queenie brushed between the people, sniffing legs, she heard a couple of the women squeal. One of those exclamations became a yell, then a scream of hysteria, and, getting there, Jessie tried to calm the woman down as poor Mitch just stood, looking up at her, his eyes confused. “My good, good dogs, Mitch, Queenie. It’s okay.” Of course, it has to be Sheila. “They’re just finding your mother’s scent on you and will move on. Don’t be upset,” Jessie told her gently, the reek of alcohol coming out of the woman’s mouth overwhelming.
“You get your filthy animals away from me, you freak!” the woman screamed, her fists balling up.
Mitch’s ears snapped forward, his eyes turning. He now identified Sheila Long as ‘threat’, his protection drive kicking in. Jessie called him to her. Immediately, he dropped his head and came. Queenie, too.
“You stay away from my mom, too.”
“No, Mrs. Long,” Sheriff Reid said, stepping in to put his tall form between Jessie and the woman.
With a start, Jessie noted that Reid had his body cam on. That was rare. “Their job is to find your mother,” Reid said, his voice firm.
And, again, Sheila Long stepped forward, her fists clenching again. “And I said keep that freak and her mangy animals away from me and my mom!”
Instead of pushing things, the sheriff, just stood staring down at the woman. He said something Jessie couldn’t hear, but she saw his body shift. Oh, boy!
She began backing away, signaling the dogs to come with her. Everybody else around them, including Sheila’s friends, backed up, too.
Despite the impediment of the cast on his front leg, Acer bounded up, his hackles raised. Jessie grabbed for him, hissing a command for both him and Mitch to ease. Queenie’s head was dropped and turned away, her tail sagging. “It’s okay, Queenie. Not your fault. It’s okay,” Jessie whispered to her oh-so-sensitive girl. Queenie loved people, and she didn’t understand people who didn’t love her back.
Reid, on his part, didn’t react to Acer’s sudden, bristling appearance, though he had to see him. He was still speaking soft and low to Sheila Long.
An all but subliminal low rumble…. Milo arrived, the big dog shoving through to plant himself in front of Jessie and the rest of the dogs. His tail was stiff and still, his hackles up. So were Mitch’s, now.
Suddenly, all dogs were in defense mode, protective of her and of their pack members. “Ruhig,” she whispered, asking for calm. “Ganz Ruhig.”
Calling Milo by name, then asking him to ‘fuss’, purposely Jessie only used the German instead of English, blessing the fact that, because of her consistent use of both, all her dogs now responded to either. German was the choice around people who mostly wouldn’t recognize the commands. Need to make my own language, like Remmers does, so nobody knows what I’m asking for.
Milo tipped his head a little and backed to press his butt into her, but kept himself in front of Jessica. Acer was again giving warning growls, too, and, by their warnings, Jessie knew things were getting tense. Dogs could sense these things when humans often wouldn’t have a clue. She wanted to warn Reid, but didn’t know how without further antagonizing Sheila Long.
An older police officer—a captain by his insignia—shoved his way in, and, with a nod the sheriff’s way, said something to the woman which Jessie also couldn’t hear.
Reid stepped back, bumping into Milo, his hand reaching down automatically, then stopping as it touched wet nose. Turning, he reached for and grabbed Jessie’s bad arm. “This way. Now,” he said quietly. “Bring the dogs.” Jessie felt his tension and urgency. His grip on her upper arm hurt as he pushed and pulled her.
Moments later, Sheila let out a stream of vulgarities. Reid twisted, pulling Jessie behind him as the dogs, as one, turned to face the heightened disturbance. “Ruhig. Fuss,” Jessie reinforced, Acer tense beside her left knee, his hackles stiffly upright. Milo who maintained his position between Jessie and the hostility was completely on alert, his hackles ridged now from tail tip to the top of his neck. Beside him, Mitch, matched him in attitude.
Sheila suddenly lunged at the police officer with awkwardly swinging fists.
The dogs didn’t move. Nor did they retreat. Tension rippled through them.
One of Sheila’s fists connected with the man’s chest as he caught the one headed for his face and did a twisting quick trick that turned the woman around, his foot tripping her, his other hand grabbing her dress’s belt to ease her, face down, onto the sidewalk.
The crowd moved further away. The dogs now backed, keeping distance. Some of their tension eased. …Not all. “I warned you, Sheila,” Jessie heard him say.
The woman was now kicking, screaming, and cursing like something out of a bad movie. Reid urged Jessie back out into the street, her dogs moving with her. “He’s her uncle,” Reid said quietly. “If anyone can handle her, it’s him.”
Dropping hands to dog heads, she felt their noses touch. “Sheila’s always been …rambunctious,” Jessie responded, “even in high school,” and saw Reid’s eyebrows arch.
“Is that what you call that,” he replied. “‘Rambunctious’.” He chuckled. “I’ll have to remember that one.”
On her phone, a bark came through—Sumi. Mitch and Milo took off. Then Acer and Queenie, too.
Jessie pulled her new unit off her belt and, seeing location, spun around to look down the street. She saw nothing, though—a dark shepherd on dark streets with stopped cars, the street lights leaving pockets of ‘dim’. “We have an alert. Sumi’s found something,” she said, and chased after Acer and Queenie. Mitch and Milo, who had moved as soon as the bark had sounded, were already halfway down the next block.
On Jessie’s phone app, it showed Sumi was more than eight blocks south—over half a mile—but Jessie wasn’t surprised that it was Sumi who’d had success. The dog was comfortable in urban environments from her days with Kingston as a law enforcement dog.
As she ran, Jessie saw a flash of blonde. Britta raced out from between buildings two blocks down the street. On Jessie’s app, the dots for Britta and Sumi converged. Shortly, the rest of the dots, including Oso’s blue one, reached Sumi, too. Way before Jessie.
When Jessie finally made it there, all the dogs were sitting with Sumi, all heads turned toward Jessie as she ran up. Tails tentatively wagged—’we found something, anyway’, that told her.
What Sumi had found was a crumpled napkin by the curb. It was a bar napkin …from a bar located yet another couple of blocks south, nowhere near where they’d been told the woman disappeared. We’ve started their search in the wrong area by more than half a mile. While that wasn’t a big deal in wildland searches, in an urban search like this one, especially like this one with all the people and the traffic exhaust, it was huge.
Praising them all, especially Sumi, Jessie got new gloves on, gingerly picked up the napkin, and, as Sheriff Reid pounded up, held it out to her crew. She asked them for another sweep. “Such. Seek. Find it. One. Human.”
Just like her first set of instructions, she didn’t include ‘live’ …because she wasn’t sure that the woman was. Now, with Sumi’s find, it was possible that the woman had been hit, the injured or deceased body hidden by a panicked driver. Unfortunately, it happened. Or abducted, came unbidden to her brain, something she didn’t want to think about. …But she knew she was beginning to think like a cop, again, not as who she was. Stop it. Not my job, she scolded herself, and attended her dogs.
“Which bar did that come from? The Craven Inn?” Reid demanded as she dropped it into another clean scent bag, sealing it up.
“It say’s ‘Henley’s’,” she answered. “I’ll give it to you later, if that’s okay? I might still need it for the dogs.”
He nodded, keyed his shoulder mic, and snapped instructions to someone to get deputies in there. “I want answers,” she heard him say. “Before they all conveniently ‘forget’.” He eyed her. “The chances she was picked up by someone?”
“I don’t know yet.” She turned to watch her dogs. “Hang on. They’ll tell me.”
Jessie’s dogs were on track, but they were close, two of them, Milo and Mitch, trotting back from the bar’s door to the crosswalk to cross the street. They stuck to pedestrian crossing stripes that traversed the width of the six-lane avenue that was also the main highway. So she crossed here, Jessie thought. Oso was sitting in the middle of the street, his head up, nose active. He was pointed west.
Jessie turned back to Reid. “I don’t think so. I think she used the pedestrian crossing.”
Again, Sumi barked. She was half emerged from the entrance to a narrow alley between two buildings on the far side of the street a half a block north, now. Britta stood with her looking down the alley at something. They had taken Oso’s hint—seek west. “Gotta go,” Jessie said.
Jessie took off after her dogs as the rest of her pack headed for Sumi, noses almost grazing pavement. Small sounds of quiet affirmation came from them, including Milo. Only Oso was silent. He was not catching a strong air scent, just traces, and his silence told her so. So the scent trail envelope had already grounded or maybe had been dispersed by traffic. Pausing just long enough to make sure she followed, Jessie’s dogs bounded down the dark, block-deep alley.
At a trot, Milo, with his long stride, quickly took point beside Sumi, Mitch, the Marvelous, loping along right with him. All three had their heads low, noses near the ground. Long trotting, Acer and Britta moved into flank position. Then came Oso, and Queenie pulling rear guard.
Jessie marveled—modified pack formation. They had moved to defense position, probably because of the environment, an environment they weren’t used to. They were wildland search experts, not urban search conditioned, though they had now, just last week, in fact, all passed their urban tests with flying colors. That included Mitch, thanks to Callen Parker pulling strings for her. Mitch had passed, despite the technicality of him being a half-year too young. But Jessie and her dogs worked wildland. It’s what she and they both preferred. They were on alert and hunting, though, despite the unnatural territory.
“Brave Hunde,” she whispered, trying to keep up. “My good, good, great dogs!” But she was losing ground …couldn’t run fast enough to match their increasing pace, especially with her bad leg. Yet, she didn’t want to call them down. Traffic was stopped, they were trained, and she had her app that tracked their RF collars. She’d catch up when they found their target, which she had no doubt they would now.
She hoped it would be soon enough.
So what was the sound of taffeta? The delivery guy fixing the drape of the big lavender bow on top.