Good Girl Page 53

The house comes into view, and I cross my fingers—literally, I cross them—that I’ll find her waiting at the front door, little tail wagging, looking up at me like, Hello, Mom? Can we get into the freaking air-conditioning now? My fur is frizzing.

I take the last few steps at a run even though my legs are aching, my feet cut into a million pieces.

I make it up the steps before my knees buckle.

She’s not there. My baby girl is not there waiting for me.

I let out a keening wail at the realization that my dog is gone. A dog like Ranger surviving a night on the bayou? Sure. But Dolly…Dolly barely even survived Rodeo Drive.

I fall to my knees, palms hitting the wood as my head drops forward, heart breaking.

“Dolly,” I whisper.

I feel the wet nudge of Ranger’s nose against my cheek. Then he lowers himself to his belly beside me, snout resting on the back of my hand as he looks up at me, big brown eyes mournful and comforting at the same time.

I hiccup out a sob, then another.

I know there are people who say that it’s just a dog, but I’m guessing maybe those are the people who’ve never had a dog. Or maybe they have kids to absorb some of their love. But it’s just me and Dolly, and she has all my love. And now she’s gone.

I tuck my elbows into my sides, covering my face with my hands, trying to get it together, but I just can’t. I feel like I’m going to splinter.


I’m sorry, Dolly.

My brain does that clichéd thing where it flits through a montage of memories. Her thrashing her toys. Barking at leaves. Curling up on my pillow even when it means no room for my own head. Her playing hard to get with Ranger, and the way she’d follow Noah around like a faithful servant when he was working inside the house.

The visions are so vivid that I can actually hear her bark.

Over and over I hear her bark, and I start to cry harder, until I realize…

That is her bark.

Ranger’s already off the porch, his barks loud and manic as he darts off into the darkness.

I stand, starting to follow the big Lab, when I see him.

The porch light doesn’t give me much, but I see Noah, walking toward me in the dark, slow and steady.

In his arms is a tiny fluff ball, barking madly.


I lose a flip-flop running toward them, but barely notice. My dog squirms when I get close, and I carefully pull her from Noah’s arms, burying my face in her damp, slightly smelly fur.

“Where?” I choke out.

“The cotton ball managed to get all that ridiculous fur behind her front legs completely tangled in some sort of prickly bush on the far side of the property. Even if she heard us calling, I don’t think she could move.”

“Thank you,” I whisper. I step closer to him, all but crushing my dog between us as I press my face into his neck. “Thank you.”

Noah gathers me to him. “Always,” he whispers against my hair.

We stand like that for several minutes, Noah stroking my back soothingly, letting my heart cease its panicked gallop, before he gently steps away and turns me toward the house.

He nudges me forward, only to stop me once more, his grip tightening as he pulls me to a stop. “Princess. Your feet.”

I peek down, register that they’re covered in mud and blood. “I’ll take care of them inside.”

I start to move forward again, but he holds me back, grumbling something about me being an idiot, and then scoops me up in his big arms.

I squeak in surprise, adjusting my grip on my dog, but as he carries me toward the house and up the steps, I can’t help but giggle at the picture we must make, him carrying me, me carrying Dolly.

Only Ranger is left out, and his pissed-off bark lets us know he knows it.

Noah gently sets me down outside the door, opening it for me and the dogs before following me inside.

“Let me take her,” he says. “I want to check her paws. I think she’s okay, but she was pretty tangled. Had to cut some of that stupid fluff with my pocket knife, so don’t go getting pissed at me because she has a bad ‘do.”

I smile over Dolly’s head. “Did you just say ‘a bad ‘do’?”

He gently eases the dog from my arms. “Take care of your feet. I’ll take care of hers.”

I hesitate, not wanting to let Dolly out of my sight, but then I see the way she pants happily, managing to claw her way up his chest to give him a loving lick on the chin.

“Don’t think I didn’t see that smile just now,” I say, pointing a finger at him.

His face resumes its usual impassive mask. “Go. I’m going to wash her down here, where the sink’s bigger. Then I’ll bring her up.”

“For her blow-dry?” I ask.

He glares, and I blow him a kiss before gingerly making my way toward the stairs. Ranger runs back and forth, obviously torn between staying downstairs, where his master and his crush are, and going upstairs with boring old me.

I’m a little touched when he chooses me, bounding up the steps two at a time before turning at the top of the stairs and watching intently as I hobble my way up.

“Good boy,” I say, bending to kiss his head once I’m up. “You’re a good dog, such a good, handsome boy. Such a good, handsome, smart boy.”

“Quit trying to charm him,” Noah calls from the kitchen over the sound of the running water. “My dog.”

“Just like you have my dog?” I call back.

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