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If you couldn't be useful at the scene of an accident, you should leave. Onlookers only caused trouble.
Banksia Bay's Animal Welfare van had been hit from behind. Dogs were everywhere. People were yelling at each other. Esther Ford was having hysterics.
Abigail Callahan, however, had been travelling at a safe enough distance to avoid the crash. She'd managed to stop before her little red sports car hit anything, and she'd done all she could.
She'd checked no one was hurt. She'd hugged Esther, she'd tried to calm her down and she'd phoned Esther's son who, she hoped, might be better at coping with hysterics than she was. She'd carried someone's crumpled fender to the side of the road. She'd even tried to catch a dog. Luckily, she'd failed. She wasn't good with dogs.
Now, blessedly, Emergency Services had arrived. Banksia Bay Emergency Services took the shape of Rafferty Finn, local cop, so it was definitely time for Abby to leave.
Stay away from Raff Finn.
It wasn't past history making her go. She was doing the right thing.
She tried to back her car so she could turn, but the crowd of onlookers was blocking her way. She touched her horn and Raff glared at her.
How else could she make people move? She did not need to be here. She looked down at her briefcase and thought about the notes inside that she knew had to be in courtnow. Then she glanced back at Raff and she thought She thought
She thought Rafferty Finn looked toe-curlingly sexy.
Which was ridiculous.
Abby had fallen for Raff when she was eight. It was more than time she was over it. She was over it. She was so over it she was engaged to be married. To Philip.
When Raff had been ten years old, which was when Abby had developed her first crush on him, he'd been skinny, freckled and his red hair had spiked straight up. Twenty years on, skinny had given way to tall, tanned and ripped. His thick curls had darkened to burned copper, and his freckles had merged to an all-over tan. His gorgeous green eyes, with dangerous mischief lurking within, had the capacity to make her catch her breath.
But right now it was his uniform that was causing problems. His uniform was enough to make a girl go right back to feeling as she had at eight years old.
Raff was directing drivers. He was calm, authoritative and far more sexy than any man had a right to be.
'Henrietta, hold that Dalmatian before it knocks Mrs Ford over. Roger, quit yelling at Mrs Ford. You drove into the dog van, not Mrs Ford, and it doesn't make a bit of difference that she was going too slow. Back your Volvo up and get it off the road.'
Do not look at Raff Finn, she told herself. Do not. The man is trouble.
She turned and tried again to reverse her car. Why wouldn't people move?
Someone was thumping on her window. The door of her car swung open. She swivelled and her heart did a back flip. Raff was standing over hersix foot two of lethal cop. With dog.
'I need your help, Abby,' he growled and, before she could react, there was a dog in her car. On her knees.
'I need you to take him to the vet,' Raff said. 'Now.'
The local veterinary clinic was half a mile away, on the outskirts of town.
But she wasn't given a chance to argue. Raff slammed her car door closed and started helping Mrs Ford steer to the kerb.
There was a dog on her knee.
Abby's grandmother had once owned a shortbread tin adorned with a picture of a dog called Greyfriars Bobby. According to legendor GranBobby was famous for guarding his master's grave for almost fourteen years through the bleakest of Edinburgh's winters. This dog looked his twin. He was smallish but not a toy. His coat was wiry and a bit scruffy, sort of sand-coloured. One of his ears was a bit floppy.
His eyebrows were too long.
Did dogs have eyebrows?
He looked up at her as if he was just as stunned as she was.
What was wrong with him? Why did he need to go to the vet?
He wasn't bleeding.
She was due in court in ten minutes. Help. What to do with a dog?
She put a hand on his head and gave him a tentative pat. Very tentative. If she moved him, maybe she'd hurt him. Maybe he'd hurt her.
He wiggled his head to the side and she tried scratching behind his ear. That seemed to be appreciated. His eyes were huge, brown and limpid. He had a raggedy tail and he gave it a tentative wag.
His eyes didn't leave hers. His eyes were were
Let's cut out the emotion here, she told herself hastily. This dog is nothing to do with you.
She fumbled under the dog for the door catch and climbed out of the car. The dog's backside sort of slumped as she lifted him. Actually, both ends slumped.
She carried him back to Raff. The little dog looked up at her and his tail still wagged. It seemed a half-hearted wag, as if he wasn't at all sure where he was but he sort of hoped things might be okay.
She felt exactly the same.
Raff was back in the middle of the crashed cars. 'Raff, I can't.' she called.
Raff had given up trying to get Mrs Ford to steer. He had hold of her steering wheel and was steering himself, pushing at the same time, moving the car to the kerb all by himself. 'Can't what?' he demanded.
'I can't take this dog anywhere.'
'Henrietta says it's okay,' Raff snapped. 'It's the only one she's caught. She's trying to round up the others. Come on, Abby, the road's clearhow hard is this? Just take him to the vet.'
'I'm due in court in ten minutes.'
'So am I.' Raff shoved Mrs Ford's car another few feet and then paused for breath. 'If you think I've spent years getting Wallace Baxter behind bars, just to see you and your prissy boyfriend get him off because I can't make it '
'Cut it out, Raff.'
'Cut what out?'
'He's not prissy,' she snapped. 'And he's not my boyfriend. You know he's my fiancé.'
'Your fiancé. I stand corrected. But he's definitely prissy. I'll bet he's sitting in court right now, in his smart suit and silk tienot like me, out here getting my hands dirty. Case for the prosecutionme and the time I can spare after work. Case for the defenceyou and Philip and weeks of paid preparation. Two lawyers against one cop.'
'There's the Crown Prosecutor '
'Who's eighty. Who sleeps instead of listening. This'll be a no-brainer, even if you don't show.' He shoved the car a bit further. 'But I'll be there, whether you like it or not. Meanwhile, take the dog to the vet's.'
'You're saying you want me to take the dog to the vet'sto keep me out of court?'
'I'm saying take the dog to the vet's because there's no one else,' he snapped. 'Your car's the only one still roadworthy. I'll radio Justice Weatherby to ask for a half hour delay. That'll get us both there on time. Get to the vet's and get back.'
'But I don't do dogs,' she wailed. 'Raff '
'You don't want to get your suit dirty?'
'That's not fair. This isn't about my suit.' Or not very. 'It's just What's wrong with him? I mean I can't look after him. What if he bites?'
Raff sighed. 'He won't bite,' he said, speaking to her as if she were eight years old again. 'He's a pussycat. His name's Kleppy. He's Isaac Abrahams' Cairn Terrier and he's on his way to be put down. Put him on your passenger seat and Fred'll take him out at the other end. All I'm asking you to do is deliver him.'
It was twelve minutes to ten on a beautiful morning in Banksia Bay. The sun was warm on her face. The sea was glittering beyond the harbour and the mountain behind the town was blue with the haze of a still autumn morning. The sounds of the traffic chaos were lessening as Raff's attempts at restoring order took effect.
Abby stood motionless, her arms full of dog, and Raff's words replayed in her head.
He's Isaac Abrahams' Cairn Terrier and he's on his way to be put down.
She knew Isaac or, rather, she'd known him. The old man had lived a mile or so out of town, up on Black Mountain where.. well, where she didn't go any more. Isaac had died six weeks ago and she was handling probate. Isaac's daughter in Sydney had been into the office a couple of times, busy and efficient in her disposing of Isaac's belongings.
There'd been no talk of a dog.
'Can you get your car off the road?' Raff said. 'You're blocking traffic.'
She was blocking traffic? But she gazed around and realised she was.
Somehow, magically, Raff had every other car to the side of the road. Raff was like that. He ordered and people obeyed. There were a couple of tow trucks arriving but already cars could get through.
There was no problem. All she had to do was get in the carwith dogand drive to the vet's.
But.to take a dog to be put down?
'Henrietta should do this,' she said, looking round for the lady she knew ran the Animal Shelter. But Raff put his hands on his cop hips and she thought any minute now he'd get ugly.
'Henrietta has a van full of dogs to find,' he snapped.
'But she runs the Animal Shelter.'
'So that's where he needs to go. Surely not to be put down.'
Raff's face hardened. She knew that look. Life hadn't been easy for Raffshe knew that, too. When he was up against it.well, he did what he had to do.
'Abby, I know this dogI've known him for years,' he told her, and his voice was suddenly bleak. 'I took him to the Animal Shelter the night Isaac died. His daughter doesn't want him and neither does anyone else. The only guy who loves him is Isaac's gardener, and Lionel lives in a rooming house. There's no way he can keep him. The Shelter's full to bursting. Kleppy's had six weeks and the Shelter can't keep him any longer. Fred's waiting. The injection will be quick. Don't drag it out, Abby. Deliver the dog, and I'll see you in court.'
'Just do it.' And he turned his back on her and started directing tow trucks.
He'd just given Abigail Callahan a dog and she looked totally flummoxed.
She looked adorable.
Yeah, well, it was high time he stopped thinking Abby was adorable. As a teenager, Abby had seemed a piece of hima part of his wholebut she'd watched him with condemnation for ten years now. She'd changed from the laughing kid she used to befrom his adoring shadowto someone he no longer liked very much.
He'd killed her brother.
Raff had finally come to terms with that long-ago tragedyor he'd accepted it as much as he ever couldbut he'd killed a part of her. How did a man get past that?
It was time he accepted that he never could.
What sort of name was Kleppy for a dog?
He shouldn't have told her its name.
Only she would have figured it. The dog had a blue plastic collar, obviously standard Animal Welfare issue, but whoever had attached it had reattached his tag, as if they were leaving him a bit of personality to the end.
The name had been scratched by hand on the back of what looked like a medal. Abby set the dog on her passenger seathe wagged his tail again and turned round twice and settledand she couldn't help turning over his tag.
It was a medal. She recognised it and stared.
Old Man Abrahams had done something pretty impressive in the war. She'd heard rumours but she'd never had confirmation.
This was more than confirmation. A medal of honour, an amazing medal of honourhanging on the collar of a scruffy, homeless mutt called Kleppy.
Uh-oh. He was looking up at her again now. His brown eyes were huge.
Six weeks in the Animal Shelter. She'd gone there once on some sort of school excursion. Concrete cells with a tiny exercise yard. Too many dogs, gazing up at her with hope she couldn't possibly match.
'The people who run this do a wonderful job,' she remembered her teacher saying. 'But they can't save every dog. If you ask your parents for a pet for Christmas you need to understand a dog can live for twenty years. Every dog deserves a loving home, boys and girls.'
She'd been what? Thirteen? She remembered looking at the dogs and starting to cry.
And she also remembered Raffof course it was Raffpatting her awkwardly on the shoulder. 'Hey, it's okay, Abby. There'll be a fairy godmother somewhere. I reckon all these dogs'll be claimed by tea time.'
'Yeah, probably by your grandmother,' someone had said, not unkindly. 'How many dogs do you have, Finn?'
'Seven,' he'd said and the Welfare lady had pursed her lips.
'See, that's the problem,' she said. 'No family should have more than two.'
'So you ought to bring five in,' someone else told Raff and Raff had gone quiet.
You ought to bring five in. To be put down? Maybe that was what Philip would think, Abby decided, though she couldn't remember Philip being there. But even then Philip had been a stickler for rules.
As were her parents.
'We don't want an abandoned dog,' they'd said in horror that night all those years ago. 'Why would you want someone else's cast-off?'
She needed to remember her parents' advice right now, for Isaac Abrahams' cast-off was in her car. Wearing a medal of valour.
'Move the car, Abby.' Raff's voice was inexorable. She glanced up and he was filling her windscreen. 'I don't want '
'You don't always get what you want,' he growled. 'I thought you were old enough to figure that out. While you're figuring, shift the car.'
'Or I'll get you towed for obstructing traffic,' he snapped. 'No choice, lady. Move.'
* * *
So all she had to do was take one dog to the vet's and get herself to court. How hard was that?
She drove and Kleppy stayed motionless on the passenger seat and looked at her. Looking as if he trusted her with his life.
She felt sick.
This wasn't her responsibility. Kleppy belonged to an old guy who'd died six weeks ago. His daughter didn't want him. No one else had claimed him, so the sensible, humane thing to do was have him put down.
But what if ? What if ?
Oh, help, what she thinking?
She was getting married on Saturday week. To Philip. Nine days.
Her tiny house was full of wedding presents. Her wedding gown was hanging in the hall, a vision of beaded ivory satin. She'd made it herself, every stitch. She loved that dress.
This dog would walk past it and she'd have dog hair on ivory silk.
Well, that was a dumb thing to think. For this dog to walk past it, he'd have to be in her house, and this dog was headed to the vet's. To be put down.