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Cupid To The Rescue
Rugged and tough deputy sheriff Eli Bishop isn't scared of anything. Except dogs. When he's assigned a K-9 partner, he thinks things can't get any worse. Then he learns who'll be training him. Local vet Mary Travis is sweet as sugar but she's also Eli's ex-fiancée's sister. Revealing his humiliating phobia to her is not an option. Neither is developing feelings for Mary—who's built her career around the dogs Eli fears. When a terrible storm hits their town, ...
Cupid To The Rescue
Rugged and tough deputy sheriff Eli Bishop isn't scared of anything. Except dogs. When he's assigned a K-9 partner, he thinks things can't get any worse. Then he learns who'll be training him. Local vet Mary Travis is sweet as sugar but she's also Eli's ex-fiancée's sister. Revealing his humiliating phobia to her is not an option. Neither is developing feelings for Mary—who's built her career around the dogs Eli fears. When a terrible storm hits their town, Mary and Eli must find the courage to work together and save lives—and fall in love.
Serendipity Sweethearts: Three small-town matchmakers finding Texas-size love
Serendipity, Texas, had gone to the dogs. Literally.
Eli Bishop couldn't help but find some dark twist of humor in that irony-for him, anyway.
Despite the uneasiness skittering up his spine, he stood ramrod-straight with his shoulders set and his chin up, the last man of five comprising the straight line of the small-town police force. Anxiety clouded his chest as Captain Ian James elaborated on his new plan for a Serendipity police dog.
"Due to the recent influx of over-the-border drug trafficking, we've decided to incorporate a K-9 unit into the Serendipity Police Department," the captain announced, his hands clasped behind him and a stern set to his dark blond brow. He paced back and forth in front of the small squad of cops assembled before him, making eye contact with each one down the line.
"It is imperative that we stop these crimes before they become a threat to the peace and security of our town, and the best way to do that is to acquire a fully trained K-9 unit. I'm pleased to announce that, as of
January 1, we've been funded for one of our own. We'll be using it both in police work and, as the need arises, in search and rescue to deal with increasing difficulties in weather situations through our county. I have been working in tandem with a national agency to select the best possible candidate among our officers to work with the K-9 in this program."
The hair on the back of Eli's neck stood at full alert as the captain stopped before him. Sweat beaded on his forehead.
This was irrational.
He was making a big deal out of nothing. He was stronger than the fear of dogs he'd carried with him since childhood. He was. But that didn't stop his shoulders from rippling with tension as he pulled in a long, calming breath through his nostrils and fisted his clammy palms tightly against his sides.
He couldn't let a stupid phobia wreck an opportunity for promotion. He had always been competitive and ambitious, whether it was playing football in high school or being first in his class at the police academy. With his personal life recently taking a serious nosedive, he was at the point where there was nothing he wanted quite so much as the opportunity to prove his mettle to the department. His career was all he had left, and he was game for almost anything, except-
Please, Lord. Not this.
Eli forced himself to remain motionless, his gaze steady but empty. Over the years he'd perfected the art of not showing what he was thinking. It had held him in good stead, until now. He wasn't sure he could mask these emotions.
"Bishop, you'll be pleased to hear that the honor is yours."
Eli tried to steady his breathing, but his throat closed around the air.
Pleased? This wasn't an honor. It was a horror. His own personal nightmare. He clenched his jaw in a vain attempt to control the tremor that ran through him.
He could handle bad guys. Knives. Guns. Whatever else was thrown at him, no matter how frightening. Even a broken engagement, as awful as that had been.
But dogs? That was another thing entirely.
Eli cleared his throat. "Sir, may I respectfully suggest-"
Captain James abruptly sliced the air with a clipped movement of his hand and shut Eli down midsentence.
"Perhaps I haven't made myself clear."
The captain's voice was in command mode, and Eli knew he'd already lost the battle. Probably even the war.
"This is a direct order. I have taken the liberty of vetting you for this training through the national organization I mentioned. Everything has been approved and arranged. Mary Travis is expecting you at her house at promptly fourteen hundred hours today to start working with your new partner. She's training the K-9 herself, and she's graciously agreed to help you adjust to your new role as handler."
Eli stifled a groan as the bad news kept piling on. He knew it would take more than a little adjusting for him to be able to work with a dog, especially an aggressive one. A K-9 would no doubt fall into that category. He definitely needed to bring his A game, if he wasn't going to come out looking like an idiot.
What was worse-far worse-was that Mary Travis probably already thought he was a moron with a capital M. After all, it was her sister, Natalie, who'd left Eli high and dry one week before their wedding. No explanation. No hint of what was to come, or that anything had even been wrong with their relationship.
Clearly something had been. He still didn't know what.
Mary probably knew more than he did-which was exactly why he didn't want to work with her.
He nearly choked on his own breath as tidal waves of humiliation washed over him. He would rather have been paired up with practically anyone else in town- anyone who hadn't had a front-row seat to the way Natalie had ditched and disgraced him. He was certain his ego would never be able to withstand the hit were Mary to discover he couldn't even handle himself around a dog.
"Sir, Mary's work as a large-animal vet has her in high demand," he pointed out. "I'm sure she's already overbooked as it is. Are you certain she is going to have time to-?"
"Ms. Travis," the captain barked, cutting Eli off mid-sentence, "is already on board for this project. Her assistant is taking over her veterinary practice, so she can focus on her training kennel full-time. She has certification in search and rescue, and is branching out to include training small-town police K-9 units. Her expertise in this project will be invaluable, and you will follow her instructions. Do we understand each other?"
Captain James stopped and faced Eli, nose to nose, with their gazes locked in unspoken combat. The sharp smell of wintergreen gum tickled Eli's nostrils. He bit the inside of his bottom lip, knowing that sneezing would definitely not be the response the captain was looking for. There was nothing to say that would change the decision, so despite the fact that his pulse was working overtime and his mind was screaming to the contrary, Eli remained silent.
The captain jerked his chin affirmatively and flashed Eli a satisfied smile. "Bishop, we'll talk promotion and benefits later. Company dismissed for lunch." Without another word, he turned on his heel and walked away.
The squad visibly relaxed, all except for Eli, who remained stiff at attention for several more seconds. He couldn't seem to break the hold the captain's words had on him. Red-hot electricity bolted down his spine, setting every nerve ending aflame. Adrenaline roared through him, and his fightor-flight instinct burned in his veins the same way it did when he was in pursuit of a suspect.
Only this was worse, because he wanted to flee.
He had to cool off and get his head on straight, if he was going to face the afternoon class with any form of dignity intact. Thankfully, after lunch and some paperwork, he had time for a quick ride on his motorcycle. His bike was his refuge-especially with the mild January wind in his hair and the freedom of the road with no one else around for miles. He did his best thinking and praying on the open stretches of land around the small town he called home.
Soon he was heading southbound on the road out of Serendipity, the reassuring purr of the motorcycle engine underneath him. He had a little less than an hour to wrap his mind around his new responsibilities before he had to present himself at Mary Travis's place, hopefully with a clear head and the fortitude he'd need to complete the task at hand. He revved the engine and sped down the highway, keenly aware that he was exceeding the posted limit. He was a cop, and he should know better, but there wasn't a car on the road for miles. It was a token protest against circumstances entirely beyond his control.
After about twenty minutes, Eli turned his bike back toward Serendipity, slowing his speed to match his own reticence, even as he reminded himself that there was no sense putting off the inevitable. Surely God had His reasons for this trial. It came with a promotion, for one thing. And maybe, just maybe, it would take the heat off of Eli's personal life.
A tough guy with a dangerous dog. Who could beat that?
Maybe he'd no longer be known as the sap who'd been ditched almost at the altar. There had to be an upside, right?
He just hoped Mary Travis wouldn't be able to see through the thin veneer of courage he'd worked up during his ride.
He pulled his bike in front of Mary's light blue ranch-style house and removed his helmet, sweeping the sunglasses from his eyes. Mary's home stood on a fairly sizable plot of land-not enough for ranching or farming, but plenty of room for her kennels. He could already hear high, piercing yips and low, throaty barks coming from the vicinity of her front door, and his stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch that he sternly refused to call fear.
He paused for a moment outside the front door, swallowing hard and mindfully unclenching his fists. He'd forgotten to ask Captain James how long he anticipated this procedure would take.
One week, maybe?
Hopefully he could get in and get out without much time and hassle. Accomplish his objective and move on.
Eli combed his fingers through his hair, slid his palm across his scratchy jaw and straightened his shoulders, unwilling to yield to the tightness in his chest. He knocked firmly, knowing he'd have to be heard over the raucous cacophony of wildly barking dogs.
Mary surprised him by answering right away, almost as if she'd been waiting for him. Maybe she had been, since they had an appointment scheduled. Hopefully she hadn't been watching him struggle from behind her front curtain. He shifted uncomfortably.
"Eli," she greeted with a warm but somewhat reserved smile. She straightened her black-rimmed glasses, calling attention to pretty green eyes. "Please come in."
Easier said than done, since the door was crowded with canines of various shapes, colors and sizes. He eyed the doorway but didn't move.
Mary merely laughed. "Or maybe I should have said, 'Welcome to the chaos.'"
Mary could see that Eli looked uncomfortable, probably something to do with the chaos she'd just mentioned. She pulled on the collar of her large black Lab, Sebastian, urging him out of the way. She used the other hand to point behind her, commanding the rest of the dogs surrounding her to move backward. In hindsight, she realized she should have penned them all in the den before Eli had arrived, but she hadn't thought about it. She was used to dogs milling around her and getting under her feet, but most people-Eli included, if the expression on his face was anything to go by- weren't accustomed to it.
He looked miserable, as if he would rather be anywhere but here-not that she could blame him for feeling that way. And that, she was certain, had nothing whatsoever to do with the dogs. Her chest tightened, and raw emotion scratched at her throat.
Great. So now she was about ready to burst into tears.
Real professional, Mary. Get a grip on it.
She straightened her glasses again and with them her spine, determined to do whatever must be done.
If it was anyone except Eli-but it was Eli. And this was a part of the process neither one of them could avoid. Since the moment she'd heard that Captain James had selected Eli for the K-9 unit, she'd been concerned about their working together. Eli had every reason for wanting to avoid being around her, and there was nothing she could do to make it easier for him.
Or her, for that matter.
And Eli was still standing on her front porch.
"Get back, Horace," she ordered, gently pushing a fluffy husky's hindquarters for emphasis. "Francis- off you go," she said to a Boston terrier with three legs. "And you, Sebastian," she said to the Labrador retriever whose collar she still held. "Back to the den. Shoo!"
Eli's striking blue eyes widened and his jaw went slack when the animals obeyed.
"What?" she asked hesitantly.
"I can't believe all those dogs did what you wanted them to do. It was almost as if they understood what you were saying to them."
Astonished and not a little bit perplexed, Mary shook her head. Hadn't Eli ever been around a dog before? Serendipity was a ranching community. Nearly every family in town had at least one working dog, a collie or a shepherd to help herd their stock. But Eli's amazement appeared to be genuine.
"Of course they did what they were told. They recognize the tone of my voice, if not the words. Dogs are smart animals. Even if they didn't exactly comprehend what I was telling them, they understand my hand gestures and body language. Weren't you around any dogs growing up?"
He stiffened and shifted his gaze away from her.
She waited for him to elaborate. He didn't. "Cat person?"
"Not so much."
"I see." She didn't. But what was she supposed to say? "Then this will be a new experience for you."
Enough with the clipped answers, already. She was sufficiently nervous to begin with, even without having to carry both ends of the conversation. Was this what it would be like to work with him over the next few weeks? Curt, almost brusque responses to every question she had for him?
His attitude confused her. She knew Eli to be friendly and kind, and right now he wasn't either. She took a deep breath and fervently prayed for guidance. And patience. It was apparent she was going to need healthy doses of both to get through the rest of this day.
She stepped sideways, holding the screen door for Eli so he could maneuver around her and into the house.
He dragged his fingers through his thick black hair and eyed the doorway but didn't move to enter.
"Let's try this again, shall we?" she prompted. "Please, come in."
Eli stepped gingerly into the house and halted suddenly, raising his arms to shoulder level as a tan-colored whirlwind jumped out from behind the door, yipping up a storm, turning in tight circles and sniffing at Eli's ankles. The little apple-headed Chihuahua couldn't have been more than seven or eight pounds, but he was full of spit and vinegar, and she supposed he could appear a little startling to guests.
Once again Mary chided herself for not locking up the dogs before Eli arrived. His disdain for, or at the very least discomfort with, this whole situation was evident in every step he took and his closed expression. She watched helplessly as Eli braced himself, his shoulders squaring as he pressed his lips into a straight, firm line.