Dogwood Hill (A Chesapeake Shores Novel - Book 12)

By: Sherryl Woods
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Standing outside Chesapeake Shores High School on his first visit to this quaint small town on the Chesapeake Bay, Aidan concluded he’d never seen a more beautiful sight in his life.

Not the hillside covered with a forest of flowering pink and white dogwood trees, though that was spectacular and unexpected in the middle of town. Not the nearby bay, which was sparkling in the spring sun, though it made him yearn to go fishing despite the fact it was something he’d done only once before in his life. Not even the state-of-the-art football stadium with its pro-level electronic scoreboard, its lush grass and impressive permanent bleachers, all of which should have knocked his socks off as the school’s prospective coach.

Nope, what caught his eye was the slender woman with her blond hair tousled, her laugh carrying on the breeze as she chased a puppy that was trying valiantly to herd a flock of unhappy Canada geese.

Just then the dog, some sort of black, white and brown Aussie shepherd mix from the looks of him, spotted Aidan, bounded over and tried to corral him into joining the geese in the nice tight group he was apparently envisioning in his instinctive puppy brain. With a black patch of fur around one eye, he bore a striking resemblance to a pirate, causing Aidan’s smile to spread.

“Stop it! Archie, that’s enough,” the woman commanded, fighting hard, but unsuccessfully, to swallow another laugh. “Sit. Be nice.”

Archie obediently sat, tongue lolling, and gave Aidan a hopeful look.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “He got away from me.”

“No problem,” Aidan replied.

“Actually it is a problem. The town has very strict leash laws,” she explained as she snapped Archie’s leash to his collar, “except for the dog park on the other side of the hill. It’s fenced in, so the dogs are allowed to run free, but Archie here spotted the geese, instinct kicked in and the second someone opened the gate, he took off on a mission to round them up. He thinks it’s his job.”

“He’s very good at it. Where do I fit in? Not being a goose, that is.”

When she smiled, amusement setting off sparks in her deep blue eyes, it quite simply took his breath away.

“Oh, he thinks anything that moves is fair game,” she confided. “He’s very diligent.”

Aidan, who’d never owned a pet, regarded the dog warily. “What happens now? If I move, does he try to snag me by the hand to drag me back?”

“I think you’re safe for the moment, though if you happen to have a dog treat in your pocket, you’ll make a friend for life.”

“Sorry. No treats.”

As if he understood, Archie stared at him dolefully, then inched closer, finally butting Aidan’s hand.

“He’ll take a good head rub, instead,” she told him. “Don’t worry. He really is harmless. I’ve only had him for a couple of weeks, but he’s been a real gentleman. His owner had to give him up because he was too energetic for her, so he’s looking for a new person and a new purpose.”

“Thus the geese,” Aidan guessed.

“Exactly.”

“Are you his new person?”

“Oh, no,” she said at once. “I already have two dogs and a cat, none of which I intended to have, but people know I take in strays and try to find new homes for them. When something like this comes up, they bring their pets to me. Cordelia’s grandchildren meant well when they gave her a pet for her birthday, but they didn’t really think about her being close to eighty. It happens a lot. People think the elderly need companionship, but they really have no idea which animal might be best suited for the job.”

“And you do?”

“I’d like to think so. Cordelia now has a beautiful cat whose owner died. Fluffy sits in her lap and purrs. They’re both content with their new arrangement.”

“What about the three animals still with you?” he asked, sensing that she was a woman for whom compassion probably overruled good sense on many occasions.

“I’m afraid I got attached,” she admitted with a rueful expression. “I’m Elizabeth March, by the way. Most people call me Liz. I own Pet Style on Main Street a few doors up the street from Sally’s Café. I opened just before Christmas last year.”

Aidan couldn’t stop the grin that threatened. “Pet Style?” he repeated. “I had no idea pets were fashion conscious.” He glanced pointedly at Archie as he spoke. The dog was happily sniffing a buttercup. His leather collar looked as if it had been given a good chew on more than one occasion. The serviceable, but unremarkable, leash was equally worn.

“They’re not, but their owners sure are,” Liz said. “You’d be amazed. Just last week I sold a fancy rhinestone-studded designer dog collar for $150. I’d expected to be stuck with it, but thought I should give a couple of high-end items a try. Sure enough, a tourist grabbed it up an hour after I put it on display.”

Aidan shook his head in astonishment. On a beginning coach’s salary, he’d be lucky to buy dog food and pay vet bills. Thankfully, he’d spent frugally and invested wisely during his couple of years as a pro football player. When he glanced back at Liz, she was regarding him speculatively.

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