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One Hot Knight
By Christy Gissendaner, Shannon Godwin, Theresa Cole
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Christy Gissendaner
All rights reserved.
Life was a bitch.
Nine hundred years after an evil witch turned him, Yves remained stuck in a dog's body. He shook himself, fur flinging in all directions, and sat. Under the shade of the old oak in the park was his favorite spot to hang out. It was as far away from the playground as he could get. He'd liked children when he was in his human form, but not so much as a dog. Always pulling his tail and fur or dressing him up to look girlish. No, thank you. He might be a dog, but he had his pride.
The park was the perfect place to find a bite or two to eat. All he had to do was sit there and look hungry. Some poor soul would eventually share their picnic with him. He enjoyed the freedom he had these days, though a decent meal wouldn't be such a bad thing.
"Aren't you a pretty boy? Are you here alone?"
He glanced to his right to find the owner of the sweet voice. A beautiful woman, dressed in an overly large black smock, approached him. A halo of white-tipped blond curls surrounded her head and shoulders. She was gorgeous, yet approachable. The type who would give a stray dog a snack.
Bending down, she cautiously extended her hand. "May I pet you? Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you."
The beauty reached out a hand and scratched under his chin. "Such a nice doggie. You could use a bath though."
His right leg gave an embarrassing jiggle as she continued scratching him. He hated when that happened.
The sound of her laughter soothed him.
"Tell you what. Come with me and I'll make sure you get cleaned up. Then how about a good meal?"
Food. Ah, the way to a hungry beast's heart ... figuratively speaking, of course.
Barking was the best response he could give. "Woof! Woof!"
As they strode down a busy street, Yves turned his head and studied his reflection on the door panel of a shiny new Mercedes they passed. Arching his neck, he stuck out his wide chest and he flexed his tail. Not that his dog body wasn't decent, for a canine anyway, but it was still that of a beast. It could've been worse. Mauve could've turned him into a poodle. Now there was a yipping, entirely unmasculine breed. Or a pug! Hell, don't even get him started on the unattractiveness of pugs.
All in all, he could've done much worse than a Saint Bernard.
Yves turned his gaze back to the nicely toned calves of his soon-to-be savior. She was a striking woman, bombshell blonde and curved like a goddess. He couldn't properly judge, but she appeared to be of average height. In human form he stood well over six feet, at least half a foot taller than what he estimated her to be.
"It's not much farther. You're not tired, are you?"
Too bad he couldn't lift an eyebrow. Did a dog even have eyebrows? Regardless, all he could do was give her a blank stare. The woman had an unusual tendency to talk to him like an equal. It was a welcome change from being kicked or ignored. She had kind eyes. Surely she was the one to save him.
"Look, Mommy! A dog!"
Yves cringed. Not another child.
"Leave him alone, Scott. He doesn't look like he wants you to pet him."
Yves could've kissed the mother who stopped her child from approaching. Smart woman.
His possible savior had crept closer to him when it seemed the child would approach. She stood at his side, her leg right by his nose.
The scent of flowers floated to him on the breeze. It had to be from whatever concoction she'd put on. Why in hell did he have to possess such an excellent sense of smell? And why was it so damn windy in Chicago? He'd visited most of the states during his one hundred years or so in America, and this city had to be the breeziest he'd ever come across.
"Close one, huh boy?"
Yves moved his head in a nod-like fashion. Too close.
Her pace was unhurried as she began to walk again. He trotted after her. The streets were crowded, but luckily, they hadn't encountered any other dogs. He'd become accustomed to other canines, but that didn't mean he had to enjoy it.
A young man came up to them on the sidewalk. A sharp whistle pierced the air. "Hey, baby. You're looking good today."
"Thank you." Stepping around him, she tried to continue on her way.
A hand shot out and he grabbed her elbow. "Where are you going? Hold up, I just want to talk to you."
The small, rude man needed a warning. He continued to speak, not paying attention to Yves's curled lip and bared teeth.
Yves tried again. His growl earned a cautious look from the man. "Is that your dog?"
After letting go of her elbow, the man backed away with his hands in the air. "Okay, I'm sorry. Just don't let him bite me."
"Asshole," the woman whispered beneath her breath as the man rushed off. Before Yves could get too pleased with himself, she wagged a finger. "No! Bad doggie. Although I know you were trying to protect me, you can't growl at strangers."
His dinner ticket pointed a finger in his face and shook it rapidly.
Fighting? He'd only wanted to scare him a little, but she'd effectively ruined that plan.
"Now, listen to me. We're at my salon. I want you to be nice and don't pick a fight with the other animals."
Yves peeked inside the open doorway and froze. What self- respecting man, or dog, would willingly enter a shop decorated entirely in pink? Dogs might be color-blind, but he was not.
"Well, go on."
Every one of his manly instincts recoiled. Nothing on God's green earth could entice him to enter. Nothing. Nada. Not a thing.
"Don't you want a nice, warm bath and food?"
His mental denial ground to a halt.
"Uh-huh. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
The air around him reeked. His last bath was only a distant memory. The promise of cleanliness made him arch his tail and proudly stride into the shop.
Hey, a bath was a bath. Especially when he hadn't been clean in weeks, and even then it had only been quick dips in the freezing river. Besides, this place wasn't so bad. His head lowered to study the shop, and ...
A poodle, wearing matching hair bows and a kerchief, trotted past. A Great Dane was on a table being dried by a large, fluffy towel. The sight of a terrier having her nails painted made him want to turn tail and run.
He bumped into the woman as he tried to back out the door.
"Easy there, boy. You're going to knock me over."
A pat to his rump gently, but firmly, pushed him forward. "Let's go start your bath."
The bath was fine by him, but the first person who came at him with a ribbon or nail polish might draw back a nub. He hadn't survived nine hundred years on the streets by giving up his masculinity.
A large metal tub, in the shape of a paw print, stood in the center of the room. His savior set to work, humming under her breath as she filled the tub and poured in some sort of liquid.
Roses. Not flowers again.
What did she think he was? A bloody female?
"Okay, the water is ready. Come on, boy."
The water did look inviting, curls of steam rising from the center. It wasn't like he'd smell like roses forever. At least, he hoped not. Stranger things had happened. Take the curse that had trapped him as a dog for example.
Smelling like a female was worth it. A tiny set of steps led into the tub. He jumped in, completely soaking her and most of the floor. A scolding wasn't immediately forthcoming. She merely laughed and tossed her damp hair out of her face.
"We're going to clean you up and see about cutting some of the hair out of your eyes."
She scrubbed his ears and back with some sort of soft brush, dipping low to get his stomach and haunches. A sigh of pleasure escaped him, and he licked her chin.
"Maybe I should've given you a Tic Tac or two on the way home. Add getting your teeth brushed to the list."
Perhaps he should be offended, but he was too exhausted to give a damn.
"Normally, after being groomed, you would go to meet your playdate, but you're not actually getting the full Puppy Love treatment. Even though I'm positive you're full-blooded, I don't think any of my clients would go for a dog I picked up in the park."
The bath felt like heaven as the warmth of the water seeped into his tired bones. No clue what she was talking about, but he would listen to her all week as long as she kept scrubbing.
For the past several months, he'd roamed the streets of Chicago, sleeping in alleys and scrounging for food. Several narrow escapes with animal control had him constantly on the run. It was a welcome change to be able to relax.
"Time to get out."
Do I have to?
She tickled his ears. "Come on, lazybones. After we finish getting you cleaned up, I'll find you some lunch."
Nothing perked him up quite like the mention of food. Water poured off his body as he heaved himself out of the tub. A great shake helped to rid him of the excess before he trotted down the steps. A muffled squeak from her and a glance over his shoulder confirmed his fear.
Once again, he'd completely soaked her. Damp ringlets hung to her shoulders. Her smock plastered to a body, which was sculpture worthy. As she took a step, her woven sandals made a squishing noise. Yet, she didn't say a word. Either she was a sucker for punishment or had the patience of a saint.
Her shoes squeaked on the tiled floor as she took him to a different room.
His teeth were brushed with a foul smelling, minty concoction. Whatever it consisted of made his tongue tingle and his breath smell like a plant. It was the first time he'd tasted toothpaste although he'd seen it a few times. He'd rather chew on a mint leaf and be done with it.
The various stages of drying came next. First, a large towel was used to soak up the moisture on his fur. A machine that made a hideous noise as it heated his body was second. Brushing was probably the worst part. Removing several years of tangles proved difficult.
She wielded the brush like a pro, which he supposed she was. The other humans in the room treated her with respect and deference, which spoke of her authority. In his time, a woman wouldn't have been allowed a profession. Not an admirable one, at least.
A professional attitude continued to be displayed by her as she clipped the excess hair from his eyes and brushed his muzzle. She leaned in, close enough so he could see her brilliant blue eyes and the tiny smattering of freckles at the corners. He doubted anyone else even knew they were there.
Once again he was grateful he wasn't color-blind, or he wouldn't be able to see the glorious shades of her peaches-and-cream complexion, angelic eyes, rosebud mouth.
"Where did you find him?"
A tiny brunette with tortoiseshell glasses and pigtails, came over to lend her assistance. She picked up a brush, her touch not nearly as gentle as her boss's.
"In Portage Park. I think he's lost."
The brunette lifted a brow. "More like abandoned. Jeez, Regina. He's as big as a horse!"
Now he had a name to go with the face of his savior. Regina. He liked it. The name suited her.
"Are you going to take him to Doc Wilson?"
Yves shuddered a second time. If there was one thing he hated, it was going to the vet.
"Of course I am. Hopefully his tests will turn out fine. I decided to bring him here first. He needed a bath and the poor thing looked hungry."
"What are you going to do with him in the meantime? He's too big to keep in your apartment."
Regina's hands stilled. Yves stayed motionless as well. This he had to hear. "Actually ... "
"Good God, Regina! You're seriously not thinking of taking him home. Not only will your landlord freak out, but the dog will destroy your apartment."
"It'll be fine. I only have to keep him there until I find his family."
He swung his head back to Regina.
Sorry, lady. My family is long gone.
* * *
After she fed the dog, she pulled one of the larger dog beds they sold behind the counter with her. He plopped down on it as if he owned the place.
"I bet I could sneak you into my place, but it would be tricky. What do you think?"
The hound lifted his head, woofed, and put his head back on his paws.
"Oh, what do you know?"
Regina sighed. Some had called her crazy for tying her grooming salon to a popular online service for dogs, but business had been good so far. She and her staff prettied up the dogs before their owners took them to meet their playdates. Dogs needed socialization, but in a big city that wasn't always easy. There were the dog parks, but those encounters could be dangerous for all involved. Her service provided good matches for dogs that had the same temperament as their proposed playmates.
Regina dropped her head against the backrest of her chair and sighed.
The hound at her feet seemed forlorn. Although he was big and in good health, something about him screamed solitude. His eyes were haunted, and it was a bit unsettling. The soulfulness in his gaze called to her.
The clock on the wall struck four, one hour until closing.
Regina glanced around the empty shop. Why was she wasting her time?
Striding to the door, she flipped the sign to Closed. When she turned around, the hound was on his feet and staring intently up at her.
"Don't worry, boy. I'm not leaving you."
She gathered her things, remembering to grab the leash and collar she kept on hand, and carefully locked the shop. Although Puppy Love was in a nice neighborhood, one couldn't be too careful. The store next door, Shoe Haven, had been broken into just last month.
"Let's go. My car is just around the corner," she said to the dog, who obediently trotted at her heels. He'd taken to a leash much better than she'd thought he would. It was amazing how well trained he was.
Her pink Volkswagen bug was where she'd left it. The car had been a high school graduation present from her parents, and she'd kept it in topnotch shape. Last year, she'd painted it to match her shop. Bright pink with black paw prints scattered all over. Sure, it drew many curious looks, but when she explained the nature of her business, it typically gained her a new customer.
Regina opened the passenger side door and waited for the dog to jump in. He did, but he had to bend double to fit into the cramped space.
"Sorry!" Tottering on her wedged sandals, Regina ran to the driver's side, flicked a button, and released the convertible top. "There. Now you should have enough room."
With a shake of his head, the dog turned to watch the top retract to the back of the car. He settled into the seat, seeming pleased with the situation.
"Oh, you like that, huh? Just wait until the cool breeze ruffles your fur. This car is a dog's dream come true," Regina bragged.
She put on her sunglasses and turned on the engine. It sputtered once, twice, and a third time before finally coughing to life.
"It's a bit tricky, but she never lets me down. Do you, Betsy?"
The dog turned toward her and Regina rolled her eyes. "Yes, I named my car. She's been with me since I was eighteen." She chewed on that thought for a moment. "Nearly ten years. Wow. I'm getting old."
They would have to visit the park again. He would need to be walked before they headed to her apartment. The drive took only a couple minutes. Parking next to a beat-up, green sedan, she let the top up.
"All right. Watch your head," Regina warned.
"Come along, boy. Let's go for a walk."
The park was crowded as usual.
With a sigh, she undid the top two buttons of her Puppy Love smock, revealing a light pink camisole underneath. The spring sunshine and fresh breeze revived her. The dog glanced longingly at the trees surrounding the park and whined. The leash tightened as he pulled forward.
"No, stay on the path." Holding firm to the leash, she attempted to pull him back.
His limpid, brown eyes remained steady on hers. He woofed and carefully placed one paw on her knee.
"Don't beg. It's not attractive." But Regina's heart was already softening. Maybe if she let him go once, he would get it out of his system.
With a heavy sigh, she gave in. "Oh, all right. We'll go."
She cut across the walk path, pausing to let an elderly couple pass by first. Envy filled her at the sight of the old couple, who walked on with their hands linked. So it is possible to find your soul mate? That sort of love was what she wanted.
Excerpted from One Hot Knight by Christy Gissendaner, Shannon Godwin, Theresa Cole. Copyright © 2013 Christy Gissendaner. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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