No One Like You

By: Kate Angell

One


Dog playing dead in the middle of the road.

Beth Avery couldn’t believe the black Great Dane had stopped, dropped, and rolled onto his side. He had a mind of his own and was testing her patience. She shook her head. She should never have applied for the personal assistant position. Dog walker wasn’t on her résumé.

The big boy couldn’t be coaxed or talked from the crosswalk at Center Street and Egret Way. Nothing worked. He’d lain down and stayed down. All one hundred and fifty pounds of him.

The situation was hopeless.

Beth tugged gently on the leather leash attached to his harness. “Up, Atlas, up,” she pleaded again.

Not a flicker of his ears. He even closed his eyes. What if he was sick or hurt? She stared at his chest. The rise and fall was slow and peaceful. Had he fallen asleep?

Atlas was the alpha dog of the four dogs she was walking. Dismayed, she watched the golden retriever and two dapple dachshunds follow his lead. They, too, settled on the asphalt. The dachsies, Oscar and Nathan, turned onto their backs so the sunshine could warm their bellies. They stretched, yawned, looking way too comfortable.

What was she to do? Beth clutched the loop handles on the leashes so tightly they left an imprint on her palm. For a beat, she thought about letting go. See what they would do. It couldn’t be any worse than watching them sunbathe on the road. She wasn’t a dog person. She favored cats. So how was it that she found herself in this predicament at ten a.m. on a Monday morning?

She knew why. She was so desperate to find work, she’d somehow missed the dog walking requirement in the ad. She was so excited she’d been called back for a follow-up interview with Rylan Cates for the assistant position, she didn’t dare tell him she had no experience with canines. He’d met with people all week and had narrowed his choices to three women, herself included.

The final applicants went on to walk, feed, and bathe his dogs. She had no idea how the other ladies had fared before her, although Atlas smelled profoundly doggie. Beth shook her head to clear her thoughts. She wasn’t doing all that well, either.

She’d walked the pack for close to an hour, up and down the streets of Olde Barefoot William, where the homes were handed down through generations. She’d fallen in love with the beachside town, which was as eclectic in its architecture as it was harmonious. William Cates had founded the community. Here lay the inner circle. The old Florida-style cottages were quaint. The houses were shingled and shuttered, with wide porches. They’d withstood hurricanes and time. A few had had minor facelifts.

Enormous evergreens lined the narrow two-lane road. Ancient moss clung to the cypress. The sun cast shadows through the scarlet-flowered branches of the Royal Poinciana trees that cornered the street. The scent of plumeria, gardenia, and hibiscus was heavy on the air. Sprinklers on automatic timers kicked on, watering lawns.

Only three blocks from Rylan’s house, Beth sighed heavily. The neighborhood was momentarily quiet. No cars and no joggers. No one to witness the sleeping dogs. Thank goodness. How was she going to explain she’d fallen off schedule because Atlas pulled a Rip van Winkle? Baths needed to be given to the dogs before noon. Ry had handed her a canine cookbook for their food. They ate organic. A blender and baking were involved. Lunch would be late.

Determined to find a solution, she transferred the leashes to one hand, and then patted the back pocket on her cutoff jeans with the other. She had one trick up her sleeve she’d yet to play. She’d purposely changed her clothes and had dressed down for the walk. Had to. Drool stained white linen slacks. Dirty paws would leave permanent marks. She couldn’t afford cleaning bills. Not in her current economic state.

Sweetening her tone, she tried, “Atlas, treat? Yum, yum.” She smacked her lips.

Treat didn’t get the slightest reaction from the Dane, but the other dogs perked up. The two dachshunds scrambled to their feet and the golden retriever looked at Atlas then back to Beth. Rue was slow to make her decision.

“Oatmeal-apple biscuits,” Beth said, enticing the golden with a handful of snacks she pulled from her denim pocket.

Rue sniffed the air, then nudged Atlas with her nose, but the Dane wouldn’t budge. The retriever slowly rose.

Three up, and one to go. A minor victory, Beth thought.

The dachsies and golden ate their snacks, then eyed Atlas once again, waiting for him to make his move. Or not. Beth agonized over the moment until inspiration struck. Looping the leashes over her wrist, she crouched down near the big dog. There, she quickly tied her retro red Keds. Atlas had stomped all over her feet when he’d spotted a squirrel. She’d tripped twice over the loose laces.

Leaning forward, her cutoffs rode up and snugged her bottom. The fringe tickled the tops of her thighs. Her bright blue crop top had shrunk in the dryer making the back hem even with her sports bra. The sun kissed her bare skin.

She didn’t care if she looked ridiculous, whispering to the Dane. She needed this job. She drew in a breath and started making promises that she never planned to keep, sweet-talking him. “No organic food for you, Atlas. I’ll cook you a big, juicy steak if you’ll get up.”

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