RELEASING OCTOBER 17, 2017
Spencer Jamison may not lace up his boots as a Navy SEAL any longer, but that doesn’t stop him from being the hottest service man I’ve ever laid eyes on. And don’t get me started on his adorable dog.
Dating Spencer is great…until the dead body turns up.
* Spencer *
Every once in a while, life takes a crazy, random array of events and turns them into something wonderful.
Other times, she takes your life, spins you around, throws you in a new direction, and then kicks you in the balls.
I’ve obviously pissed her off. There’s no other explanation for why I’d find myself in this tiny apartment on the outskirts of small town USA, Pelican Bay. With a boss whose brain has been overrun with testosterone after finding what he considers his soulmate. Or the roommate who sees it as her life mission to eat every single thing in my apartment.
The smell of fried chicken permeates the second floor hallway, and increases as I walk past the Johnson’s apartment door.
“Boss, Tabitha will cut off your nuts and serve them to you as supper if you put a camera or GPS in her car.”
Ridge, the owner of Pelican Bay Security and my delusional boss, laughs at my reasonable assessment. I don’t know how he’s survived the growing number of cameras he’s surrounded his girlfriend with as it is. The fact he wants to push it more is scary. Added proof he’s lost his damn mind.
“Tabitha can’t cook to save her life and I like it when she gets angry. Keeps things interesting. If you know what I mean.”
I definitely know what he means and wish I didn’t. “I do not want to hear about your kink.”
It’s Friday night and I’m a young, handsome—if I say so myself—single guy. There are songs written about how my evenings are supposed to look. But as I jiggle my apartment key in the lock, all I want is to get off this phone call, crack open a beer, and sit in front of the television.
This is not exactly the life I’d expected after the military. But three months after I laced up my boots for the last time, Ridge Jefferson knocked on my mother’s front door. He came armed with an offer to join his growing security company on the coast of Maine.
I figured, why not?
With two tours under my belt, I’ve seen shit no twenty-eight-year-old man should. At the time of his offer, a quiet life installing security systems in the northern United States sounded like a dream.
But Pelican Bay is crazy.
I haven’t discovered a hidden camera yet, but I’m sure there has to be at least one television producer living here because this place is the stuff prime time TV is made of. Gangsters and shootings and car chases. I wouldn’t be surprised if something blew up soon.
With a flick of my wrist, the door swings open, and I toss the keys on the table in the open area used as a dining room. I keep my eyes down until the conversation with Ridge is finished. It took a few times, but I’ve learned the hard way I don’t want to see any surprises until I’m ready.
“Spencer,” Ridge continues as I swipe my fingers through my brown hair. It’s longer than normal. Time to find a place to get a haircut. “I will do anything to keep Tabitha safe. Even if it means facing her wrath for a few days. You’ll understand when you find someone who creates those same feelings in you.”
I respect Ridge like a brother. The man did his time as a Navy SEAL, then returned to his hometown to take care of his family and set up a multimillion dollar security firm, but we couldn’t be more different. I already have one woman destroying my life; I have no plans to look for another.
“You’ll be the first to know if that ever happens. Until then, it’s Frankie and I all the way.” With the phone to my ear, I remove my jacket while Ridge guarantees he won’t bother me this weekend. It’s a promise I’ve heard many times. I’m skeptical.
Things have been quiet for a few months, but as the holidays approach, I’m waiting for the bottom to dropout. With the first week of December on the horizon, most people are preparing for the upcoming holidays, but criminals don’t take vacations. Which means I don’t get one, either.
Looking at the speckled white carpet, I step to the right and toss the smartphone on the table. So far, nothing is wrong with my apartment. At least, not in the two-foot radius I’ve seen. It’s a start. With a little prayer, I raise my head to check out the rest of the place.
My luck runs out.
When I left this morning, I had four cushions on the beige couch. Now there are three, the insides of the fourth strewn across the room. A clump of the white, fluffy stuffing material floats down from the ceiling and lands on top of my black boot.
“Frankie!” I holler into the quiet apartment.
There’s no answer.
After being here for more than a month, I thought the pillows stood a chance of survival. There’s not much left in the apartment she can take out her aggression or boredom or—whatever emotional issue this woman is working through—on.
There’s only one solution.
Turning on a heel, I head for the small opening to the kitchen but stop in my tracks. The garbage bag—one I tied intending to drop it off at the dumpster this morning—lies on the linoleum floor, a gaping hole torn through the middle. Much like a soldier at war, the insides are scattered across the floor, like guts left behind from an unknown attacker.
Except I know the enemy.
I’m sharing a bed with her.
It takes me two steps to make it over the line of brown sludge trailed in circles over the linoleum floor, its actual identity still unknown. I open the refrigerator door, and right there in the front shelf, six ice-cold longneck beers sit, looking like salvation. Three months ago, the six pack would’ve gotten me through the weekend, but now I’m going to need to restock tomorrow.
Even though I have two hands and two beers sound better than one, I decline the second. The lid comes off the dark brown glass bottle with a quick twist and I take a long swig. With another drink, I decide it’s time to deal with…this.
I clear the torn garbage bag with another large step and head down the hallway, reasonably free of debris and puke like you’d expect from someone who obviously ate the insides of a garbage bag today.
Somehow, the bedroom door is partially closed. I open it slowly, not ready to see what’s on the other side. I peek in and adjust my stance, scanning the room and using the same training taught by the military. It’s not needed. With a sigh of relief, I open the door the rest of the way and see the cause of all this destruction. She’s laid out peacefully, her head on the pillows at the top of my bed.
Stretched out on her back with one paw in the air, Frankie sleeps, completely passed out. It takes a lot of energy to destroy the house the way she does every day.
“Frankie,” I yell, and this time, she jerks. Falling to her side, her dark brown, almost black tail waves, snapping back and forth with her excitement. “Were you a bad dog today?”
She sits on the bed and tries to look sullen, almost like she understands what I’m saying. My lips frown, but it’s impossible to stay upset, even if what was once a cute, tiny puppy four weeks ago has now blossomed into a large monster. Frankie bounces off the bed, her paws stretched out in front of her like Superman. She leaps to the floor and jumps on my legs.
I bend down and pick her up, letting her give me kisses on the side of my cheek, her tongue leaving a wet streak. It’s the least she can do after what happened in the living room.
When I agreed to take home the puppy from a litter of seven found during a bachelor party with Kenny Jacobson, I thought the task of raising a puppy would be easy. When we were living together in a small cabin, there was nothing to get the puppies in trouble. Plus, they were hungry. Now, with proper care and food, she’s turned into my own mutated version of Frankenstein.
I’ve always said women are trouble, and I should’ve guessed adopting a female dog would only confirm the belief.
“What am I going to do with you?”
She doesn’t answer with words or barks, but continues to lick me on my cheek and in my ear.
“Uh-huh right, all right. We’ll go back to the pet store.” She’s chewed her way through the entire toy aisle. From cute pink bunnies to a small replica rubber tire, nothing makes it more than a day or two, but I have to keep trying.
* Joslin *
LOCAL MAN BRINGS RESCUE DOG HOME TO PELICAN BAY
Eight men celebrating a bachelor party in Kentucky each went home with a surprise—puppies!
This past October, Kenny Jacobson and his groomsmen got together at a cabin in southern Kentucky to celebrate his upcoming nuptials. On their third morning, they noticed a stray dog outside their rented cabin.
“She was scrawny and shaggy-looking, but a sweetheart,” said Will Perkins.
Swayed by her soulful eyes, the men gave her food and water. They were soon rewarded with her wagging tail.
Later that evening, Lucas Hewitt heard whining in the woods. He followed the sound to where he found six hungry pups.
Their beer fund quickly turned to dog food money as the men worked to clean and care for the mother and her babies. They washed, fed, and prepared beds for them in the already-crowded cabin.
But the rescue didn’t stop there. When the bachelor party was finished, the groom and groomsmen all took home a puppy. Seven dogs for seven men. “It felt like fate.” Wesley Harris summed it up nicely, saying, “We were in the right place at the right time.”
When asked how his wife-to-be felt about him bringing home a dog from his bachelor party, Kenny laughed and said, “We’ll see. It’s a surprise.”
You could say these men have a knack for coming to the rescue wherever they are. The groom and groomsmen, who live in different parts of the world, met last year after each assisted during an emergency on a flight to Tampa. They plan to maintain communication online and hope to one day reunite the puppies on another vacation.
The large automatic doors part, the metal squeaking as they slide open to let the elderly shopper out right as I finish reading the article. It’s cute. A bunch of men rescuing puppies from a bachelor party sounds like something Hallmark would make a movie about. There’s a smile on my face when I step back through the pet store’s doors.
The Chipmunks Christmas album blasts from the speakers overhead. I am so ready for this holiday to be over. The local stations started playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving. When did that become a thing? Hasn’t the rule always been Christmas music starts on Thanksgiving day?
The song changes and new lyrics quickly cover the silence. “Here comes Santa paws” makes my steps falter. How this song is worse than the chipmunks, I don’t know, but it is. I pass by the line of carts—my sister’s dog doesn’t need that many Christmas gifts, even if she does treat him like her new baby. The cute little Yorkie was a gift from her new boyfriend. She thinks it’s their chance to raise a puppy together, find out what kind of father he’ll be and whether or not he is marriage material. I see it as more of a twelve- to eighteen-year reminder she’ll have of this guy if they don’t work out.
I’ve been called negative a time or two, but I prefer realistic.
Pets and Paws is owned by a local family from Pelican Bay. They’ve been in the area for centuries. For years, the store was a cute mom-and-pop shop, but after extensive renovations, they’ve modeled the new layout to resemble a big box store. It’s not as friendly as it used to be, but the new generation has made a lot of changes. All in the name of meeting the future. It’s an epidemic I’m glad hasn’t reached Main Street.
Some of the updated stores are nice, improvements for the better. But if Pierce Kensington continues on his mission to modernize Pelican Bay, half the elderly population will die of heart attacks.
There are rows and rows of shelves, each taller than I am. Product is packed into every available space. Large signs hang above the beginning of each section, explaining what you’ll find. The right side of the store is dedicated to dogs and cats while the left side is for smaller critters and slimy companions. The entire space smells like wood chips and dog food, yet it’s a pleasant aroma. I stop and watch one of the green little lizards run around his aquarium placed on an endcap. They’re so cute.
I love all animals—the furry ones and the scaly ones—but picking one companion to have for the next ten to fifteen years is absolutely terrifying. What if I bought a lizard and killed him a few weeks later? Or worse, a big, beautiful, fluffy dog that would hate me? I couldn’t handle the rejection.
Veering to the right, I head down the aisle labeled Dog Toys. The entire row is jam-packed with toys of every type and color—bright ones, dark ones, ones made of fabric, squeaky ones, ropes for tug-of-war. The choices are endless. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for how the toys are stacked together in the aisle. Pink ones are settled next the blue ones and the smaller, softer toys obviously meant for tiny dogs are right next to the large rubber balls the size of my hands. This may turn out to be longer than the quick trip I’d planned.
I’m halfway down the aisle and my hands are still empty when a black streak flicks across the corner of my eye.
The black blur gets closer. My head turns, but not before a set of paws, nails out, hits me in the waist and scores down my leg.
“I’m so sorry.” The large man attached to the black ball of doom sprints up to our side. Reaching down, he snatches up a bright pink leash, but when it doesn’t make the dog stop jumping on me like I’ve hidden kibble in my pocket, he bends down and picks her up. “I don’t know what happened. She caught me off guard and snapped the leash right out of my hands.”
“It’s okay. She’s just happy, right?” I hold my arm across the space, giving her a second to sniff my hand before I rub behind her ears. She seems to like it if the long tongue that sneaks out and wets my cheek is any indication.
“Frankie, bad dog. We don’t lick strangers.”
I laugh. “It’s okay.” She takes another swipe at me with her tongue, but I pull back in time to miss being slobbered on. “She’s so cute.” She’s huge, but obviously a big puppy, if judging by her demeanor. Mostly black with spots of dark brown covering her legs and back. There are a few freckled white areas on her paws. Two lighter brown puffs of fur sit right above her golden puppy eyes, almost resembling well placed horns. She’s adorable, if rather large for a puppy.
“She’s cute, but rambunctious and crazy,” the stranger says. Now that my leg is no longer in danger of being flayed, I have a second to appraise the puppy-holding man. And appraise him, I do.
He’s hot, and I blush as soon as my brain takes in the bulging muscles from the arm wrapped around his dog, working to keep her still. A pair of black, tight-fitted jeans with a black Polo tucked in make him look like he’s about to go spy on someone through their windows. But it highlights some very nice assets—his bulging biceps. Forcing myself to make eye contact rather than envisioning what he looks like under that shirt, I’m thankfully not drooling when his deep brown eyes make contact. He flicks a hand through his hair, the motion startling me out of my daydream of us walking the Pelican Bay pier together, one of my arms wrapped around a striking bicep.
“She’s a puppy. That’s what they do.” A breeze tickles my leg, and I peek down to see a large opening in my brand new Christmas-tree print leggings. My face pinches. They’re a seasonal special. I’ll never find this pair again. Ugh.
“She ripped your…pants?” He asks and states at the same time, like he’s not sure what I’m wearing. “Can I buy you a new pair?”
It’s doubtful. I can’t imagine this big guy sitting on Facebook watching a live video in anticipation of scoring a piece of clothing. It would take hours.
“No, it’s okay.” Have I said “okay” five hundred times in this conversation? I think so. Get a handle on yourself, Joslin. He may be hot, but his dog ruined a fresh pair of holiday leggings.
While a piece of my legging blows in the breeze, his clothes aren’t disheveled in the least. Except for his lack of a warm winter coat, he’s the image of put together. My large black Columbia coat hides the upper half of my body, except for the hat and mittens I shoved in my pockets when I entered the store. Because I’m sane and wear a jacket in the winter.
“She’s only a few months old, and all my attempts to train her have been ineffective. It’s another six weeks before they start the next puppy training class, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to chew me out of a house before then.” He puts Frankie back on the ground but keeps a firm grip on her leash.
She makes a mad dash for me again, pulling on her tether, but I step back before she makes contact.
“I lost a dining room chair, my coat, and a brand new pair of L.L. Bean boots. They were limited edition. Back-ordered for over six months before they came. She ate the box and the shoes.” His voice starts to sound a little panicky as he speaks faster and faster, but I understand. We Mainers take our L.L. Bean seriously.
“Have you given her chewy toys?” Such a stupid, stupid question, but once my brain registered his hotness level—a solid ten—and I remembered my legs are unshaven under this now ripped pair of leggings, I lost my ability to form smart sentences. The universe is so unfair.
“Of course. She eats them all. The bright pink fuzzy duck,” he points to a pink duck toy hanging from a hook. “It made it almost forty-eight hours before I found the head on my pillow and the guts strewn across the living room.”
“You need to pick one of the flat designs that don’t have stuffing.” Not turning fully around, I step back and pull off one of the flat ducks from behind me. I toss it to him across the space and he catches it one-handed. His arm stretches in front of him, but I lose sight of the duck and focus my attention on how the muscle.
“This could work.” He examines the duck while I stare at him and hope I don’t get caught. I can’t help myself. Who knows when I’ll see such a fine specimen again?
I step to the side this time and grab a red, rounded triangle that catches my attention. “You definitely need one of these. Put some treats in the bottom, and she’ll spend all day working to get them out.”
I walk the toy to him and put it in his waiting hands. “How do you know so much?” he asks giving me a quizzical look.
I shrug. “I like dogs.”
“Sit.” He tugs on Frankie’s leash, but the dog doesn’t move.
He transfers the two toys to his other hand with the leash and stretches across the distance for a handshake. “I’m Spencer.”
For what is sure to be a stupid-ass reason, my cheeks turn all pink again. It’s like my body knows I’m going to touch a hot guy and immediately works to guarantee I make a fool of myself. “Joslin. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Well, Joslin, do you think you can help me find treats to put in this red contraption?”
I release his hand even though I don’t want to. “Sure, they’re probably in the next row.”
Spencer turns his back to me and starts to walk around the aisle. I follow behind, quickly snatching up the first toy I see for small dogs. I’m sure my sister’s Yorkie will love it. “You can do little treats, peanut butter, or doggie cheese spray.”
“Cheese spray?” He laughs but doesn’t stop walking. “Well, she wouldn’t be a Jamison if she didn’t love cheese spray.”
It doesn’t take long for Spencer to find a bottle of cheese spray. It’s designed to look like the human variety, which is unsettling for a number of reasons. I’ve never been a connoisseur of canned cheese, and now I’m sure I won’t start anytime soon.
With his hands full of the leash and toys, I’m relegated to carrying the cheese spray and a few other small, rounded treats Spencer grabs. As appreciation for my help, he offers to pick up my purchase, as well, and after a little back-and-forth at the register, I finally give in. I remember the gift I bought for my sister’s yorkie. The two squeaky tennis balls aren’t going to be enough. I’ll have to make a return trip—sans hot guy distractions and holy pants.
Spencer stops outside my car, the plastic bag hanging from his hands while Frankie does everything possible to jump all over me. We stand in the parking lot, and while he must be freezing without a coat, he doesn’t show any distress.
The time ticks on, the silence becoming more fitting of an awkward first date rather than some stranger you helped pick out toys at the pet store.
“Um…” I fumble for the door handle, ready to get in my car and leave.
“Would you like to go on a date with me?” he blurts out into thin air.
“What?” I turn back from the car even though I’m ready to flee.
“Dinner, maybe a movie.”
He smiles. “Tonight?”
“Um… I hadn’t planned on going anywhere.” Oh my God, Joslin, could you give a dumber response?
“That’s okay. I’ll bring something over. We can watch a movie.”
“A movie? You mean like Netflix and chill?” His eyes widen, and he takes an actual step back. Oh God. “I mean… Not that we…would chill. In that way. But just like… On the couch. Chill.”
He laughs, which might make the situation worse. “Relax, I understood what you meant. I would love to watch a movie and just regular chill with you.”
“Well, I’m not sure.” What am I doing? What is wrong with me?
It’s not that I don’t want to have a hot guy in my living room, but I watch way too much Investigative Discovery Channel at night. Hot guys are killers, too. It’s always the ones the neighbors don’t expect.
Spencer fiddles with his bags, giving himself a free hand, and pulls the cell phone out of his back pocket. It takes me a few seconds, but I finally catch up and realize this is the point we exchange numbers and information.
“How about you give me a phone number, and if you make up your mind in the next few hours, let me know?”
I hesitate for a moment longer before giving him my number. “I’ll let you know when I decide.”
Spencer leads Frankie to a big black truck in the second lane of the parking lot. I practically throw myself into my car, buckling my seat belt, but then wait another five seconds before I hit my head lightly on the steering wheel.
I chant while waiting until his black truck leaves.
HOLIDAY RISK COMING OCTOBER 17TH