Hot Dogby Laurien Berenson
In an effort to escape tail-chasing males--namely her ex-husband Bob and boyfriend Sam--Melanie Travis opts to track down the elusive owner of Dox, an adorable Dachshund who's about to be put on the block at a charity auction. But the more Melanie discovers about the pup's background, the messier the case gets. It seems Dox is part of a divorced couple's emotional tug-o-war. . .
As if tiptoeing through the minefield of a broken marriage isn't nerve-wracking enough, there's also Melanie's stalker--or stalkers--to deal with. The obvious pair is a pesky local TV crew who figure Melanie's nose for trouble will lead them to the next Big Story. But what's truly frightening is the presence of someone far more sinister. Someone who's gotten into Melanie's house at night, and stolen her wallet. Someone who's dognapped Dox. With doggy abduction and her son's safety on her mind, Melanie's determination grows. Soon, it looks like her life may be the next thing up for auction. . .
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"Laurien Berenson just keeps getting better and better."--Harlan Coben
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Read an Excerpt
A Melanie Travis Mystery
By Laurien Berenson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2002 Laurien Berenson
All rights reserved.
Nothing sucks all the joy out of a glorious spring afternoon faster than the sight of a feisty, fifty-something ex-nun standing on the doorstep and glowering as though she has murder on her mind.
"Hi, Aunt Rose," I said. "Who do you want to kill?"
"Is it that obvious?"
She didn't sound distressed by this, my aunt who'd spent the better part of three decades known as Sister Anne Marie, wearing the solemn black habit of her order, turning to prayer in times of need, and taking her complaints directly to the Head Man upstairs. Actually she looked rather gratified by the effect her scowl had produced.
Stepping aside so I wouldn't get run over as she came marching in, I made a silent vow to tread carefully. With my relatives, that's always a good plan. As is keeping your back to the wall and your head down.
"Only to someone who knows you," I lied.
If she'd still been wearing the wimple and veil, I wouldn't have been able to do that; habits ingrained in a Catholic childhood are hard to break. Instead Rose was casually dressed in khaki pants and a cotton sweater, with a silk scarf in a nautical print tied jauntily around her neck. She looked less like a Mother Superior than a busy Connecticut matron on her way to the supermarket.
Except for the frown, which had, if anything, intensified. It was now firmly aimed in my direction.
"You're a better liar than you used to be," Rose said. "I suppose Peg has been coaching you."
Peg was my other aunt. She'd been married to Max, Rose's and my father's brother, until his death three years earlier. The two women had been in-laws for decades, and animosity had sizzled between them for much of that time.
Any hope I might have had of spending a peaceful Saturday afternoon was rapidly fading. Aunt Rose was heading for the living room. I trudged along behind. Books and magazines littered the coffee table. A rawhide bone sat on the couch. Davey's wooden train set took up much of the floor.
"I should have known," I said. "What has Aunt Peg done now?"
"I'm sure I have no idea." Rose stepped carefully over the wooden tracks, glanced at the chew toy, and wisely chose a chair. "Why? Is she in trouble?"
"I thought that's why you were here."
"Goodness, no. I haven't spoken to Peg in weeks. It's Peter who's giving me fits. I thought maybe you could help."
Other kind souls might have leapt in at that point to offer their services. I folded my hands in my lap and didn't say a thing. As it happens, I've been down this path of family obligations before. The scenery is often alarming, and there tend to be a surprising number of potholes along the way.
Peter was Rose's husband, an affable middle-aged man with an expanding paunch and a ready smile. He'd left the priesthood about the same time Rose had bid good-bye to the Sisters of Divine Mercy and they'd married shortly thereafter. Recently he'd taken a job running an Outreach program at a community center in downtown Stamford.
Peter loved his work, and I knew he was good at it. Whatever was bothering my aunt, surely it couldn't be too serious.
Before I could find out, however, I heard the back door slam. That noise was followed by the unmistakable sound of three youngsters—one human, two canine—racing through the kitchen and down the hallway.
"Hey, Aunt Rose!" My son announced his presence with a delighted shriek. "When did you get here? Where's Uncle Peter? Want to go outside and play?"
Faith and Eve, our two Standard Poodles, greeted the guest with rather more dignity. The pair are mother and daughter, both black, and both bigger than many people imagine Poodles to be. Standards are the largest of the three varieties; and these two stood twenty-four inches at the shoulder. They also exhibited that wonderful Poodle temperament: lively, intelligent, mischievous, and highly empathetic.
Eve was an older puppy now at nine months of age. With her ear hair wrapped, her topknot done up in brightly colored rubber bands, and the profuse coat she was growing for the show ring making her appear bigger than she was, even I had to admit she was quite a sight. Aunt Rose didn't so much as blink. Instead she simply held out her hand, which Eve sniffed politely before spinning on her hind legs and bounding back to Davey's side. Faith, meanwhile, trotted around the coffee table and hopped up on the couch beside me, resting her head in my lap.
"Play what?" Rose asked, considering Davey's offer. "What sort of game did you have in mind?"
"Basketball," he suggested quickly. "Or maybe tag. Then Faith and Eve can play too."
"Your father should be here any minute," I pointed out. My ex-husband was picking Davey up and taking him out for the afternoon.
Davey made a production out of checking his watch, a recent addition to his left wrist. "He's late. He was supposed to be here already."
"How is Bob?" Aunt Rose's brow arched delicately. The small gesture was as close as she would come to expressing disapproval in front of Davey.
"He's fine. He's doing great. He's ..." I stopped, shrugged. "... Bob. You know."
Rose nodded. She did indeed.
Davey headed for the front door. "I'll go out and check. Maybe I can see him coming."
"Good idea. Leave the dogs inside."
The backyard was fenced, the front wasn't. Davey knew the rules. So did the Poodles. Eve turned a small circle and lay down beside Rose's chair.
"Sorry about the interruption," I said. "Bob was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago. He's usually pretty punctual."
"I'm glad he's late." Rose smiled. "I don't see nearly enough of my nephew. It always seems as though Davey has grown another three inches between visits."
That the rebuke was a gentle one didn't make it any less well deserved. Somehow my relatives and I have less in common with the Brady Bunch than we do with the tortured characters in Hamlet. Or Monty Python. Which never seems to stop us from beating our heads against that barred and shuttered door that somehow lies between us and familial bliss.
"I'm sure now that you and Peter are living in the area again, things will be different," I said hopefully.
Aunt Rose didn't look convinced. I imagine I didn't either.
"Let me tell you why I've come," she said. "I'm afraid I need some advice. Quite without warning, I seem to have become the caretaker for a rather young puppy—"
"You got a dog?" I must have sounded surprised. Faith lifted her head and gazed at me inquiringly. Having recently acquired her championship, she'd had her elaborate show coat replaced by an elegant pet trim. Now I could tangle my fingers in her topknot and ears to my heart's content. "That's great!"
"Yes and no. You see, this isn't our puppy. Peter and I are just taking care of it for a little while."
Oh. That didn't sound like nearly as much fun. Faith and Eve were members of Davey's and my family. We were great believers in the joys of dog ownership.
"What kind of dog is it?"
"A Dachshund. A smooth coated red Standard." Rose paused, then added quite unnecessarily, "I bought a book."
"I can tell."
I didn't laugh. I didn't even smirk. Aunt Rose did not look amused.
"I read the book from cover to cover," she announced, "and I now know volumes about the history and function of the breed. However, I still know diddly about what puppies eat, why they feel the need to cry all night long, and how to stop them from doing their business in the house."
"Diddly," Aunt Rose confirmed. Her scowl was back. "Zip, zero, nada. My vocabulary is not what's at issue here, Melanie."
Of course not. "How old is the puppy?"
"Eight weeks, I think. Maybe ten. Or maybe three months, does that sound right?"
"They all sound possible." That was supposed to be an easy question. That Rose didn't have a ready answer wasn't a good sign. "Where did the puppy come from?"
"A man in Norwalk donated him to Peter's benefit auction." Rose plucked at a stray thread in her sweater. Her gaze, usually so confident and direct, didn't quite meet mine.
"Donated him ...?" Now I was the one who was frowning. "What auction?"
"It's a fund-raiser for the community center. Considering the amount of wealth that's concentrated in this area of Fairfield County, the resources available to Peter's Outreach program are a disgrace. And of course, you know Peter. He immediately set about to rectify the situation."
That sounded like Peter, all right. Though I still wasn't sure where a Dachshund puppy would have fit into his plans.
"Our first step was to drum up some support in the community and find sponsorship among the local corporations." Aunt Rose was a master at charity fund-raising. Now that she was back on familiar territory, her self-assurance was returning. "I have to say, both Peter and I are gratified by the response our efforts have received."
"When does the auction take place?"
"The second weekend in May. A hotel in Stamford has donated a ballroom and a number of area restaurants, and caterers have signed on to supply appetizers and finger food in exchange for prominent mention in the program. It looks like it's going to be quite an event."
"I can see why. It sounds like a great idea."
"Thank you." Rose was pleased. "Now back to the puppy—"
"Which is not a great idea," I said firmly.
My aunt's chin lifted. "Why not?"
"You can't simply hand a living, breathing animal over to the highest bidder. Puppies aren't an impulse purchase. They need to go to carefully selected homes where their new owners are prepared to devote the time and effort necessary to their upbringing...."
Aunt Rose didn't seem surprised by what I was saying. Indeed, she looked rather resigned. My voice faded away as a suspicion slipped, unbidden, into the back of my mind.
"Aunt Peg already told you the same thing, didn't she?"
"Yes," Rose admitted. "And rather less politely."
She would have, I thought. Aunt Peg was Margaret Turnbull of Cedar Crest Kennels, prominent in dog show circles for many years as breeder of the East Coast's top Standard Poodles. Aunt Peg's dogs were justifiably praised for their beauty, their excellent health, and their stable, fun-loving temperaments.
Faith had come, of course, from Cedar Crest. And I had bred Eve with Aunt Peg's careful guidance. Though Peg had made her mark as a breeder and owner-handler, she had recently added another feather to her cap when she'd gotten her judge's license over the winter. She'd already performed her first few assignments and was fast gaining a reputation for being tough, knowledgeable, and fair.
Peg didn't suffer fools gladly. Not in the show ring and not in her own family. I couldn't imagine she'd have been pleased to hear Aunt Rose's tale of the giveaway puppy.
"To be perfectly honest," said Rose, "I suppose I hadn't thought things through. One would assume that the puppy's breeder knew what he was doing. According to Peter, this Dachshund is very well bred. He even has a pedigree."
"Aunt Rose," I said patiently, "most purebred dogs have pedigrees. All that really means is that someone has written the names of their ancestors down on a piece of paper."
"Well this little dog has illustrious ancestors. Champions even."
I sighed. Unfortunately it wasn't unheard of for dogs even as little as one generation removed from reputable breeders to fall into the hands of the puppy mills that wholesaled puppies to pet stores. The American Kennel Club has created the option of limited registration to try to fix the problem, but it hasn't accomplished nearly enough.
"Not only that," Rose continued, "but a number of the donations that we've received for the benefit are rather grandiose. There's a very good chance that whoever takes this little fellow home will have paid quite a high price for the privilege. I saw Peter's notes about the puppy. I believe they said that his sire had won Best of Breed several months ago at that big dog show in New York."
"Best of Variety," I corrected automatically.
Dachshunds, like Poodles, come in varieties. In Poodles, the distinctions are made by size, Toys being the smallest at ten inches and under, Miniatures standing between ten and fifteen inches at the shoulder, and Standards being anything above that.
In the case of Dachshunds, things are even more complicated. Their varieties are divided by coat: smooth, wirehaired, and longhaired; and they also show in two different weight classes, Standard and Miniature.
Abruptly, incredulously, I realized what she'd said. "You don't mean Westminster, do you?"
"That sounds right. I believe Peter and I watched the show on television. If you ask me, it seemed like rather a lot of hoopla over a bunch of dogs."
Yes, well, dog shows sometimes did seem like that to people who didn't understand their inner workings. But I was still back on my aunt's earlier point. How had she and Peter come into possession of a puppy whose sire had just been awarded Best of Variety at Westminster? What kind of breeder would have donated such a puppy to a charity auction?
"Mom, come quick!"
Before Davey had even finished yelling, I was already on my feet. There are certain things that make a mother's heart race and her hands grow cold. The sound of a child shrieking pretty much tops the list.
I scooped Faith up, thrust her aside, and wiggled out from between coffee table and couch. When I reached the hall, Aunt Rose and the Poodles were right behind me. Davey hadn't bothered to latch the front door. Yanking it open, I nearly knocked myself over.
Anxiously I scanned the yard. Blood I can deal with, even broken bones. It's the unknown that makes me quake.
I spotted Davey immediately. He was standing by the driveway. His body was angled toward the street, and he was gazing back over his shoulder at the house, waiting for me to appear.
Quickly I cataloged all visible body parts. Everything seemed to be intact. Indeed, my son was smiling.
Relief washed through me, followed improbably by irritation. While I was happy it was a false alarm, I'd have been happier still with no alarm at all. I pushed open the storm door, dropping a hand to catch Eve before she scooted out.
"What?" I demanded.
Davey waved grandly toward the street. For the first time I noticed that my ex-husband's cherry red Trans Am was parked along the curb. Pulling in behind it was another vehicle, a white dually pickup truck towing a horse trailer.
My first thought was that the driver must be lost. Our neighborhood is more suburban than rural: small cozy houses tucked side by side on quarter-acre lots. We're fortunate to have wide sidewalks, plenty of trees, and not much traffic, but still, there's no place around here to keep a horse. Or even to ride one. Then I saw Bob walk around the side of the truck and confer with the driver as she parked.
For the second time in less than a minute, my stomach clenched.
"Isn't this the greatest?" Davey crowed. "Dad got me a pony!"
He had to be kidding.
A pony? No way.
Oh I understood the concept readily enough—small equine, shaped like a horse, useful for riding and eating grass. But what I couldn't seem to wrap my brain around was how that was supposed to apply to me and my family. What could Davey possibly want with a pony?
Like every child he'd had the occasional photo-op pony ride. But he'd never demonstrated any desire for riding lessons. Until Faith had arrived, we'd never even had a pet. Some people—notably my Aunt Peg—might say that we were still learning how to be responsible dog owners. So what did that say for our ability to deal with a pony?
"No." Nobody seemed to be paying any attention to me, so I repeated the word for good measure. "No. This is not happening."
Aunt Rose gave me a pitying look. Outside, Davey was already running toward the trailer. Not only that, but the news seemed to have zapped like radar through the neighborhood. Other kids were beginning to appear.
"We can't take care of a pony," I said firmly. Like my opinion mattered. Like anyone was even listening to me. "We have no place to keep it. We have nothing to feed it." I spread my hands helplessly. "The whole idea is impossible."
This was so Bob. Leap first, and ask the practical questions later. Or never, if you could get away with it. His grand gesture would make him look like a hero, while I'd end up being the bad guy who had to send the pony back to wherever it had come from.
Leaving Faith and Eve locked in the house, I strode down the steps and across the yard. The woman who'd been driving the truck had gotten out and disappeared around the back of the trailer. Judging by the clanking noises I heard, she was unhooking the ramp. Several kids, Davey among them, were clustered in an excited knot by the sidewalk. Bob came across the lawn to meet me.
"Hey, sorry I'm late, but this is pretty cool, huh?"
"Cool?" My tone indicated pretty clearly what I thought of that description.
Bob slowed, then stopped. His grin faltered briefly, then returned full strength. My ex-husband had charm to spare. He not only knew it, he was an expert at using it to great effect.
Excerpted from Hot Dog by Laurien Berenson. Copyright © 2002 by Laurien Berenson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Laurien Berenson is author of the delightful Melanie Travis canine cozy mystery series, including Jingle Bell Bark and Best in Show. She has a degree in psychology from Vassar College and has been married for almost twenty-five years. She lives in Georgia with her husband, her son, six dogs, and two Welsh ponies.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Melanie Travis lives a fulfilling life working, as a special needs tutor in Greenwich, Connecticut. She also gets immense pleasure out of showing her standard French Poodle puppy Eve at the dog shows. Her ex-fiancé wants to get back together with her but she¿s holding back, not sure if she can forgive him for walking out on her when she needed him most. Her life turns complicated when she agrees to watch Dax, a little Dachshund puppy, who is the rope in a custodial tug of war. Meanwhile Mel¿s ex-husband Bob is forging a relationship with their son and has a brand new girlfriend in his life. Things really begin to go crazy for Mel when doors she closed are reopened. When she returns home, her wallet and Dax turn up missing and the phone rings all night long. Sam wants to be there for her, but she rejects his overtures, determined to go it alone even if it kills her. HOT DOG is the latest and best in the Melanie Travis mystery series to date. This book is as much a family and relationship drama as it is a mystery and for the first time the audience sees the protagonist as something less than a super win. Laurien Berenson has written a real treat for the human as well as the canine persuasion. Harriet Klausner
Laurien Berenson's latest 'Hot Dog' is the best one yet, she keeps getting better and better. She knows the dogshow community very well and I phrase her in writing about it.
I claim the FIRST on this book because nobody else claimed it. Signed DogWood PS Find me in the Minecraft rsults
Can anybody tell me if the dog dies? Cuz if so i dont want it. At all. Ever. ~bp85
Another wonderful book in this series. It is hard to put these books down! The author is able to draw you into the story with her excellent writing skill. This book has a spellbinding ending. The characters are well developed and interesting. All in all, I spend very enjoyable time each day reading the books from this series.