From the author of Once Upon a Wine, a new novel set in the charming seashore town of Black Dog Bay, Delaware.
When everything has gone to the dogs . . .
When Jocelyn Hillier is named legal guardian for the late Mr. Allardyce’s pack of pedigreed Labrador retrievers, her world is flipped upside down. She’s spent her entire life toiling in the tourism industry in Black Dog Bay and never expected to be living the pampered life of a seasonal resident in an ocean side mansion, complete with a generous stipend. But her new role isn’t without its challenges: The dogs (although lovable) are more high-maintenance than any Hollywood diva, the man she wants to marry breaks her heart, and she’s confronted at every turn by her late benefactor’s estranged son, Liam, who thinks he’s entitled to the inheritance left to the dogs.
Jocelyn has worked too hard to back down without a fight, and she’s determined to keep her new fur family together. As she strives to uphold the “Best in Show” standards her pack requires, Jocelyn finds love, family, and forgiveness in the most unexpected places.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Beth Kendrick is the author of Once Upon a Wine, Put a Ring On It, New Uses for Old Boyfriends, Cure for the Common Breakup, The Week Before the Wedding, The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service, and Nearlyweds, which was turned into a Hallmark Channel original movie.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Beth Kendrick
“Why are you running like it’s your money or your life?”
Jocelyn Hillier’s runner’s high plummeted as she answered her cell phone midstride and heard her mother’s voice.
“I’ve got a garage full of dirty laundry with your name on it.”
Jocelyn picked up her pace, her sneakers pounding in a steady rhythm against the loose white gravel beneath the heavy gray November sky. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“We just finished all the Thanksgiving leftovers. How do you have the energy to go for a run?” Her mother sounded incredulous.
“It’s refreshing. And I have to work off three days’ worth of turkey and mashed potatoes somehow.”
“If you need to burn some calories, I have enough laundry here to get you ready for the runway,” Rachel promised.
“Be there in a few minutes.” Jocelyn lifted her face to catch a few stray drops of cold rain. “Just leave everything and I’ll take care of it.”
Her mother’s tone sharpened. “Where are you right now?”
“Don’t play dumb. Running where?”
“Um . . .” Jocelyn slowed to a walk as she tried to catch her breath. “Shoreline Drive.”
“Why are you running on Rich Person Road?”
“Why wouldn’t I run on Rich Person Road?”
“Nothing good ever comes of mixing with the summer people.” Rachel clicked her tongue. “How many times do I have to say it?”
“I’m not mixing with anyone. They all packed up and left this morning. Besides, the views are amazing and the road is dirt instead of asphalt. Much better for my knees.” Jocelyn rounded a wide bend in the road and noticed a lone pair of seasonal residents still loading up their SUV. An elderly man and middle-aged woman were attempting to coax two black Labs and a chocolate Lab into the vehicle’s cargo area with no success. The dogs dodged and darted across the driveway while the humans gave chase to no avail.
She slowed her pace even more as she gazed at the house where the dogs and their owners lived. The vast, sprawling mansion had been constructed two or three years ago and the architect had apparently looked to French chateaus and Tuscan vineyards for his inspiration. The decorative archways, stained glass windows, and curving staircases with marble balustrades looked absurd between the neighboring Cape Cod–style homes covered with cedar shingles and widow’s walks. Jocelyn offered a smile and a wave to the man, who responded with a scowl.
“Jocelyn?” Rachel’s voice was impatient. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Yes.” Jocelyn blew out a breath. “But just to refresh, what did you say?” A rustling in a bush across the road caught her eye, and she nearly twisted her ankle as a muddy-pawed, stocky gray dog emerged from the foliage and trotted toward her.
“Oh my God.” Rachel heaved a mighty sigh. “I said—”
“Hang on.” Jocelyn let her hand drop as she heard the low rumbling of a car approaching. The little gray dog trotted into the middle of the road.
Jocelyn heard barking and shouting behind her and whirled around to see the chocolate Labrador sprinting down the driveway, making a beeline for the gray dog.
The gray dog heard the commotion and froze in the middle of the road, ears pricked up and tail wagging. The Labrador ran faster.
A sporty red convertible vroomed around the bend, kicking up gravel.
“Carmen!” the man called in a booming voice.
“Carmen!” His female companion dashed to the end of the driveway, then stopped and yelled commands from the safety of the lawn. “Come! Come!”
Carmen ignored them, preferring instead to initiate a through canine meet-and-greet in the middle of the road. The two dogs circled each other, sniffing and snuffling, until all Jocelyn could see was a blur of gray and brown.
The car was fifty yards away.
Jocelyn waved with both hands to catch the driver’s attention.
The driver ignored her. The car was forty yards away. Thirty.
Cursing under her breath, Jocelyn dashed directly into the car’s path, caught a dog’s collar in each hand, and dragged them to safety on the other side of the road.
For a moment, all she could hear was the thud of her heartbeat in her ears, the skidding of tires against gravel, and the panicked screams of the dogs’ owners.
“Jocelyn?” Her mother’s voice, tinny and distant, drifted out of the cell phone she’d dropped in the road. “Joss?”
The car’s driver, a tall, blond man in his late twenties, slammed out of the car. “Are you okay?”
“What the hell?” The scowly old man stormed up to the car. “Watch where you’re going. You could have killed someone!”
“I’m sorry.” The blond man looked distraught. “This is a new car, I was trying to adjust the seat heater—”
“You nearly ran over my dog!” The old man’s face was ruddy with rage.
“And me,” Jocelyn added. The old man ignored her. The young man turned to her and continued to apologize.
“Carmen!” The woman pried Jocelyn’s hand from the Labrador’s collar so she could reclaim the dog. “I told you to come.”
The little gray dog surveyed the agitated humans with bewilderment. Jocelyn scooped him up and held him close against her fleece running vest. “Don’t worry, little buddy. You’ll be okay.”
The next few moments were a cacophony of accusation. The old man berated the car driver. The woman berated the Labrador. The car driver retorted that it was obscene to care more about a dog’s life than a human being’s.
“My dogs are much better people than any of the people I know!” The elderly man harrumphed.
“Carmen is a pedigreed future world champion,” the woman added. “How many people can say that?”
Jocelyn rolled her eyes and decided to heed her mother’s advice about avoiding Rich Person Road. She gazed down at her scruffy companion. “I think my work is done here.”
The car driver stopped arguing with the old man and turned back to her with those soulful blue eyes. “I’m sorry. So sorry. I’ll never forgive myself for what almost happened.”
“It’s fine.” Jocelyn was suddenly very aware of the sweat on her forehead and her disheveled ponytail. “I should’ve worn more visible clothing. All this gray-on-gray is hard to see.” The little gray dog whined in protest. “That goes for you, too.”
The old man finally looked Jocelyn in the eye. “You saved Carmen.”
“Oh, well, I mean . . .” Jocelyn didn’t know where to look. “I just did what anybody would have done.”
“No. Not everybody would risk their life for my dog.” The old man glanced meaningfully at the woman. “Clearly.”
“It wasn’t just your dog, it was this guy, too.” Jocelyn hoisted up the gray mutt. “I’m a sucker for a dog in distress.”
The woman glared at her.
“I better get going.” Jocelyn shifted the gray dog to one hand and scooped up her phone with the other. “I have to . . .” But she seemed to be physically incapable of telling this trio of one-percenters that she had to hustle on home to wash other people’s soiled linens.
“I’ll give you a ride,” the blond man offered.
Jocelyn took two steps back. “I’ll be fine.”
“Oh, come on.” He smiled, and there were dimples and dazzling white teeth left and right. “I have heated seats.”
She found herself smiling back. “So you said.”
The old man stepped in between them, all business. “You live around here?” he demanded.
“Yes,” Jocelyn said.
“What’s your name?” he asked, as though taking a police report.
“Um. Not to be rude, but why do you ask?”
“I’ve been looking for someone to help care for my dogs. Walk them, play with them, wear them out.” He lifted one bushy eyebrow. “Clearly, they’re in need of more exercise.”
“Hey!” his companion protested. “What about me?”
The old man’s glare was withering. “You train them, Lois. You groom them and show them and motivate them to win best in breed. I need someone to take care of them when they’re not in the ring. Someone who can love them.”
Lois the trainer reacted as if he’d slapped her. “How can you say that? I do love them!”
The old man tilted his head toward the scuffs the car’s tires had left in the gravel. “Not enough.” While Lois continued to sputter protests, he nodded at Jocelyn. “You’re hired.”
“Yeah, I don’t really want to get involved,” Jocelyn said.
“Too late.” The man fished a business card out of the pocket of his navy blue barn coat. “I’m Peter Allardyce, and these are Carmen, Curtis, and Hester.” He pointed out each dog in turn. “Write down your phone number. You’ll be hearing from me.”
Jocelyn did as she was told, cowed by the authoritarian steel in the old man’s voice.
“Okay.” The dimpled driver rested his hand gently under Jocelyn’s elbow. “Let’s get you home safe and sound.”
Jocelyn looked at his face and found herself unable to argue. Again. Must be a rich person superpower. “But what about him?” she asked, nodding down at the scruffy gray mutt still in her arms. “I can’t take him home with me, and I can’t just leave him here.”
He smiled again, and Jocelyn realized, This is what it’s like to live in a cologne ad.
“Does he have a tag on his collar?” he asked.
Jocelyn peered at the tarnished metal buckle on the faded and frayed nylon collar. “No. He doesn’t look very well cared for.”
“Maybe he ran away,” the man suggested.
“Maybe. Or maybe someone dumped him by the side of the road.” Jocelyn had witnessed this firsthand. At the end of every summer season, tourists abandoned the pets they’d purchased on a whim when the puppies or kittens became too rambunctious or coordinating air transport proved too costly. Everyone who worked in Black Dog Bay’s rental industry had at least one heartbreaking story of a bewildered animal they’d had to re-home when the owners returned to “real life.”
The guy looked horrified. “People do that?”
Jocelyn nodded. “Oh yeah.”
“Then let’s take him to the shelter—”
“We’re not taking him to the shelter!”
He held up his palm. “My family just underwrote an animal rescue center out by Bethany Beach. Brand-new, top-of-the-line facilities, veterinary care on call twenty-four-seven. It’s really more like a luxury pet resort than a shelter. They can scan him to see if he has a microchip. If he does, we’ll contact his owner.”
“And if he doesn’t?” Jocelyn started to panic. “I can’t take him home with me. My mother will—”
“I’ll take him home with me until we find a great home for him.” He took off his spotless suede jacket and wrapped it around the dog. “Smitty here will be spoiled rotten.”
Jocelyn quirked an eyebrow. “Smitty?”
The guy patted the little gray dog on the head. “That’s his name.”
Smitty snuggled into the warmth provided by the jacket.
“How do you know?”
“Look at him. That’s a Smitty if ever I’ve seen one.”
Jocelyn laughed as the dog licked her neck. “I guess it is.”
“Let’s go.” The walking cologne ad with the poor driving skills opened the door and ushered her into the warm, walnut-paneled interior of his luxury automobile. “I’m Chris, by the way. Chris Cantor.”
Jocelyn feigned total cluelessness, as if she hadn’t heard all about the Cantors and their blue-blooded ancestors and social clout. “I’m Jocelyn Hillier.”
“Great to meet you, Jocelyn. I’ve got a lot of making up to do to you.” Chris slid into the driver’s seat and helped Smitty settle into the backseat, heedless of the muddy paw prints marring the leather upholstery and the suede jacket.
Jocelyn dug a tissue out of her pocket and dabbed at the stains.
“Don’t worry about it.” Chris put his hand over hers. He left it there.
Jocelyn glanced up at him, her initial rush of attraction replaced by suspicion. Why would a guy like him be flirting with a girl like her? Though she would never admit it to her mother, Rachel was right: the residents of Shoreline Drive didn’t cozy up to commoners unless they stood to benefit somehow.
She gazed into those earnest blue eyes. What do you want from me?
He squeezed her fingers, then let go and got into the driver’s seat. “How long have you lived in Black Dog Bay?”
“Since I was born.” She took a breath, then added, “My mom and I run a linen supply service.”
He didn’t wrinkle his nose or smile condescendingly. He looked genuinely intrigued. “What does that entail?”
“During the summer and holiday weekends like this one, we deliver clean sheets and towels to the rental homes and some of the bed-and-breakfasts. Then, when the guests leave, we pick them up, wash them, and start all over.”
“You run the business yourself?”
Jocelyn felt herself relaxing into the supple warmth of the passenger seat. “I do it all. Contracts, bookkeeping, and laundry. Lots and lots of laundry.”
He kept looking at her, and his evident interest mixed with something else. Respect.
She reached out and touched his wrist. “Eyes on the road.”
He grinned and refocused. “So you’re a small-business owner, a stray dog savior, and a hottie?”
Jocelyn laughed. “I’m a townie who’s not going to fall for some smooth-talking summer boy.”
“We’ll see about that.” His gaze darted back over to her. “What are you doing next weekend?”
“Great. I love laundry. It’s a date.”
“No.” She shook her head in mock exasperation. “There is no date. I don’t get mixed up with guys like you.”
“Did you hear that, Smitty?” Chris glanced at the dog in the backseat, who was drooling all over the window. “He’s shocked. He can’t believe you’re so cynical.”
“He may have been dumped by the side of the road,” she pointed out. “I think he’s a little cynical himself.”
“You’ll see. Stick with me, and you’ll see.”
Jocelyn brushed back a stray, sweaty hair from her forehead. “See what, exactly?”
He accelerated and the car’s engine responded with a low, thick purr. “Friday night. Seven p.m. I’ll bring the fabric softener.”
Seven months later
“Ooh, show me that one again.” Jocelyn leaned in closer against Chris’s shoulder.
“The one with the Eiffel Tower?” Chris scrolled back through the series of photos on his phone.
“No, the one of the vineyards.”
Chris nodded and kept scrolling. “Okay, but that wasn’t actually Paris, that was Loire.”
Jocelyn squinted through the bright noon sunlight to study the photo of a pair of wineglasses set against a blurred background of lush green vines. “It looks so beautiful.”
“It is.” Chris put down his phone and took Jocelyn’s hand. “You’ll see. You’ll love the wine.”
“And the chocolate.” Jocelyn closed her eyes and smiled. “I’ve read all about the best chocolatiers in Paris. Maison du Chocolat, Patrick Roger, Hugo et Victor . . .”
“You’ve already got the chocolate places memorized?”
“I’ve had them memorized since high school,” Jocelyn confided. “I used to spend hours on the Internet, reading about Paris. I knew just where I wanted to shop, eat, and sleep when I finally went.”
“Give me a list. Your wish is my command.” Chris pulled out his wallet and signaled a passing waitress for the check.
Jocelyn sighed. “I can’t believe I’m finally going. I’m so excited to see the Louvre.” She knew she’d butchered the pronunciation, but Chris didn’t correct her. Instead, he looked into her eyes, warm and indulgent.
“I’m a little nervous about jet lag,” she confessed.
“Don’t be. They have booze on the plane, and the seats lie flat.”
“In business and first class.”
Which was, of course, the only part of the plane you flew in when you had an Ivy League building bearing your family name. Jocelyn murmured her thanks as Chris paid for lunch, then forced herself to bring up the topic they’d never touched upon in the weeks since he’d first mentioned going to France.
“So.” She nibbled her lower lip. “About paying for the flights and hotel and everything . . .”
“Don’t mention it. My treat.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
“My treat,” he repeated, his tone firm. He took her hand in his, then frowned down at her fingertips.
“What?” Jocelyn followed his gaze down to her nails, which still bore traces of dried blood from the morning’s exertions. “Oh, I helped Bree dig up a septic tank this morning.”
“Just the two of you?”
“Yeah, we’ve done it before. This one wasn’t that bad, relatively speaking.”
“You should have called me,” Chris admonished.
Jocelyn almost laughed. “Honey. I’m not calling you to dig up a septic tank.”
He looked affronted. “Why not? You’re saying I’m too milquetoast to get my hands dirty?”
His use of the word “milquetoast” pushed her over the edge and she did laugh. “No, but septic tanks aren’t really your scene.” She tilted her head to indicate his pristine white polo short and elegant gold watch.
“Septic tanks aren’t anyone’s scene,” he replied. “Which is why you should have called me. You shouldn’t be out there doing all the dirty work by yourself.”
“Fair enough; next time I’ll text you and you can come out and grab a shovel.”
Chris shook his head. “What I’ll be grabbing is the number for a plumber. He can dig up the septic tank, and you and I can get brunch.”
“What about Bree?” Jocelyn asked.
“She can have brunch with us.”
“You make it sound so simple.”
“That’s because it is.” Chris lifted her hand to his lips. “My girl doesn’t have to dig up sewage.”
“I’m not afraid of a little sewage,” Jocelyn assured him.
“And that is why I love you.” He stood up, pulled out her chair, and helped her to her feet. “Now I have to go take a conference call, but when can I see you again?”
“Saturday?” she suggested.
“How about tonight?” He brushed her hair back from her cheek. “We could have dinner at the new seafood place in Rehoboth.”
He continued to surprise her with his attentiveness, his persistence. For the first few months of their courtship, she’d expected him to disappear. To simply stop calling and texting one day. But he kept showing up, weekend after weekend, and somewhere along the way, she’d let her guard down and let him into her heart.
“Okay, but maybe a late dinner?” she said. “I have to handle a late check-in at seven thirty.”
“Pick you up at eight.” And there it was—the cologne ad smile in all its glory. Never got old.
Jocelyn beamed, no longer conscious of the slivers of septic tank still lodged under her nails. “Before you go, show it to me one more time.”
Chris fired up his phone. “Which one? The Loire?”
“The Eiffel Tower.” She pressed her cheek against his as she gazed at the photo and thought, That would be the perfect place for a proposal. The thought so stunned her that she stiffened and pulled back.
“What?” Chris squeezed her shoulder. “Everything okay?”
“Of course.” She lowered her eyes and cleared her throat. “But I should go. I’m late for work.”
“You’re late.” Mr. Allardyce’s voice boomed through the foyer as Jocelyn let herself in the front door of the oceanside French/Tuscan-style mansion. “You should have been here fifteen minutes ago.”
“I’m sorry.” Jocelyn slipped the key ring back into her pocket with a jingle.
“You should be.” Lois, who always had a stinging comment and a snide look for Jocelyn, put on her sunglasses and prepared to make her exit. “They’ve all had a very demanding training session and they’re in desperate need of downtime.”
Jocelyn smiled her sweetest smile at the acid-tongued trainer. “Lovely to see you, as always. Good luck at the dog show in Dover next week.”
Lois slammed the door in response.
“She’s definitely warming up to me,” Jocelyn remarked as she strolled into the kitchen. “We’re going to be braiding each other’s hair and binge-watching The Crown soon.”
“Everybody’s been waiting for you.” Mr. Allardyce limped across the smooth travertine tiles, his hand shaking as he leaned on his cane. “Carmen was so upset, she started gnawing on the ottoman.”
“Poor Carmen.” Jocelyn glanced into the living room to assess the damage. “And poor ottoman.”
“Stop flapping your gums and get going,” Mr. Allardyce ordered. “I’m not paying you to talk.”
“Yes, sir.” Jocelyn dropped her handbag on one of the ornately carved oak chairs by the breakfast bar, then hurried to the back of the house to grab the leashes. She could hear the dogs before she even opened the door to the mudroom. The pathetic canine whining intensified as she approached.
Jocelyn flung the door open and braced herself. “Hi, babies!” A whirling dervish of black and brown fur emerged. “Hi, Hester! Hi, Carmen! Hi, Curtis!” She blinked her eyes against the flurry of dog hair drifting through the air and gave each pup a kiss on the head and an ear scratch.
“You guys ready for your run?”
The whining escalated to yipping and woofing as the dogs swarmed around Jocelyn in a mishmash of boxy heads and wagging tails.
As Mr. Allardyce never tired of telling her, he had worked hard to earn his fortune, and he only accepted the very best from himself . . . and from everybody else in his life. He prided himself on surrounding himself with the finest and rarest. Luxury automobiles. Oceanfront property. Purebred dogs of the most prestigious pedigree.
The trio of dogs tumbling over one another in the mudroom were technically Labrador retrievers, but they were so well groomed and athletically conditioned that they barely resembled other Labs Jocelyn saw at the park and the beach. Tall, lean, and long-legged, they were bred to work as field dogs.
Their impressive lineage hadn’t bestowed any sense of dignity. Each of the Labs currently slobbering on her had an AKC registered name, a cabinet full of trophies and ribbons, and a case of shampoos, toiletries, and grooming equipment that put a beauty parlor to shame. They had documents proving their parentage and professional photos that were reprinted in glossy magazines. They were high-maintenance, high-priced, high-status members of dog royalty. But right now, all they wanted to do was run.
“I know, you’ve waited long enough.” Jocelyn clipped their leashes on, though this was just a formality. As soon as she took them across the deck and out to the sand, she would let them loose to race across the dunes of the private beach that Mr. Allardyce had fenced off for his prized pooches.
“Don’t let them come back until they’re worn out,” Mr. Allardyce commanded as the dogs towed Jocelyn toward the back door.
“Has that ever happened? Ever?”
“One of these days,” the old man said.
“Very optimistic of you,” Jocelyn replied. Even Hester, who was pregnant, had an apparently boundless supply of energy.
Jocelyn let the dogs run for a good forty-five minutes before clipping their leashes back on and returning to the house. “They had a blast, as always,” she reported to Mr. Allardyce.
“But are they worn out?” He eyed all the perky ears and wagging tails with suspicion.
“‘Worn out’ is aspirational,” she told him.
He was pouring himself an iced tea but didn’t offer her any. “Be on time tomorrow.”
“Will do.” She brightened. “Oh, and I should tell you that I’m probably going to be gone for about a week and a half next month. Let me know if you need me to help find someone else for dog duty when I’m gone.”
His bushy gray eyebrows snapped together. “What? Where are you going?”
She couldn’t suppress her grin. “Paris.”
“With that spoiled millennial who almost murdered my precious Carmen?”
Jocelyn rolled her eyes. “That’s the one.”
“Why the hell would you want to go to Paris?”
“Uh, let me see.” She ticked off her reasons on her fingers. “Pastry, museums, chocolate, romance, the Eiffel Tower . . .”
“Paris is so crowded.” He wrinkled his nose. “And everyone speaks French.”
“Yes, well, that happens when you go to France.”
He slapped his hand down on the tabletop. “I forbid you to go.”
Jocelyn blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Hester is going to have puppies any day now, and I’ll need someone to be with her around the clock. Someone who knows her and understands her.”
“We have plenty of time to find someone else.”
“I don’t want someone else.” This might sound flattering from someone else, but coming from Mr. Allardyce, it was like a threat from a mafia boss. “I want you.”
“What about Lois?” Jocelyn suggested. “She’s much better qualified than I am to take care of puppies.”
“You made the whelping box.” He pointed to the towel-lined wooden box in the mudroom.
“By the grace of Pinterest.” Jocelyn shook her head. “And Home Depot. I don’t think it’s up to AKC standards.”
“The dogs love you best,” Mr. Allardyce insisted.
“That’s very kind of you to say, but let’s face facts: They love anyone with a pocketful of beef jerky.”
The old man set his jaw. “Hester needs you.”
This conversation was clearly going nowhere productive, so Jocelyn pointedly glanced at her watch. “Well, I better get going. I’ve still got some work to do before tonight.”
But her curmudgeonly employer wasn’t finished. “If I had a daughter like you, I wouldn’t let her waste her time with a trust-fund brat in a red convertible he bought with his daddy’s money.”
Jocelyn grinned. “Aw. So now I’m the daughter you never had?”
“Watch your mouth, young lady.” Mr. Allardyce reached into his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “Here. Curtis finally destroyed that stuffed squirrel you got him last month. Buy him another one.”
“Please” and “thank you” would be nice. Jocelyn glanced back at the contented dogs and told herself that canine gratitude would have to suffice. “I’ll stop by the pet supply store on my way home.”
Mr. Allardyce narrowed his gaze. “You going to charge me extra?”
He regarded her with a mixture of suspicion and disbelief. “Why not?”
She shrugged. “It’s on my way and it’ll only take a few minutes.”
“You shouldn’t give away your time,” he said. “Especially to people you don’t like.”
“I like the dogs,” she said.
Mr. Allardyce was gazing at her in consternation again. “You really do love them, don’t you?”
“I must.” Jocelyn glanced down at the twenty in her hand. “I’m certainly not in this for the money.”
Jocelyn scored the very last stuffed squirrel from the pet supply store at the edge of town, then turned back onto Main Street, driving with extra caution amid the throngs of pedestrians returning from the beach and the boardwalk. She meant to go right home and start on her other job. She meant to be diligent and responsible.
And yet . . . as she spotted the sign for the Naked Finger, Black Dog Bay’s estate jewelry store, Jocelyn stopped the car, snagged a parking spot that miraculously opened up (clearly an act of divine intervention), and dashed across the street. A bell chimed as she entered the shop, and a dainty-featured brunette greeted Jocelyn from behind the glass display case.
“Hi there. Welcome to the Naked Finger. I’m Lila.” The brunette tapped her pearly pink fingernail on the glass as she tried to place Jocelyn. “You’re a local, right? I know I’ve seen you around at the grocery store and the bank.”
“Jocelyn Hillier.” Jocelyn offered a handshake, keenly aware of the disparity between Lila’s moisturized, manicured fingers and her dermatological disaster of grime and raggedy cuticles. “My mom and I run the linen and towel service for the beach house rentals.”
“Oh right.” Lila nodded. “You guys supply the napkins and dishtowels for the Whinery, right?”
“Yeah. The Better Off Bed-and-Breakfast, too.”
Lila smiled. “Nothing like living in breakup central.”
Ever since Black Dog Bay had been dubbed “the best place in America to bounce back from your breakup” a few years ago, enterprising local business owners had made every effort to capitalize on the niche tourist market. Charming seaside diners and boutiques had changed their names to the Eat Your Heart Out Bakery, the Jilted Café, and the Rebound Salon to appeal to the “heartbreak tourists” who flocked to the beach along with the regular vacationers. Someone—possibly Hollis, the owner of Black Dog Bay Books—had even made up a legend about an apparition of a black dog that appeared to heartbreak tourists as a harbinger of hope and change.
Jocelyn nodded. “It’s about time someone opened a store like this.” She surveyed the rows of jettisoned engagement rings, wedding bands, bracelets, watches, pendants, all casualties of heartbreak and betrayal.
A showroom like this should act as a grim reminder that there was no such thing as happily ever after. The cold, hard proof of hundreds of broken promises should wipe the smile off Jocelyn’s face.
And yet . . . “So.” She sidled closer to the diamond rings, clearing her throat. “I think I’m losing my mind.”
“Go on.” Lila leaned in for more details.
“Yeah. I, uh . . .” Jocelyn was practically hoarse from all the throat-clearing. “Listen, don’t tell anyone, but I, uh . . .”
Lila held her position, her air calm and unhurried. “You can tell me. People tell me things all day, every day.”
Lila responded by reaching under the counter and pulling out a crystal jar. She lifted the lid, revealing a cache of individually wrapped chocolates. “Truffle?”
Jocelyn ripped off a foil wrapper and popped the truffle into her mouth. “Mmm.”
“Swiss,” Lila informed her. “My mother sends them to me from Europe.”
Jocelyn eyed the bottom half of the counter speculatively. “What else have you got down there?”
“Nothing too exciting, I’m afraid. Just Windex and Kleenex. The Kleenex is for the criers, but you don’t seem to be in a crying mood today.”
“Can I try on an engagement ring?” Jocelyn blurted.
“Of course.” Lila fanned out her fingers, indicating the array of rings. “Let me know which ones you like.”
“I’m not ready to actually buy one,” Jocelyn added, her cheeks aflame.
“That’s fine. Trying on jewelry is fun.”
“I’ve only been dating my boyfriend for seven months.”
“Hmmm.” Lila looked Jocelyn up and down, then picked out a ring with a square-cut diamond flanked by tiny side stones. “You might be a princess-cut kind of girl.”
“I’m the opposite of a princess.” But Jocelyn slipped the ring on and held up her left hand. She couldn’t stop staring. The facets of the stone turned the overhead lighting into fiery flashes of white.
“It’s lovely,” Lila assured her. “Just a hair over a carat, but the cut is excellent, which makes it look a bit bigger.”
“Ooh.” Jocelyn felt hypnotized. “It’s so sparkly.”
“Some of that is due to our fancy lighting, but if you want to step outside, you can get idea of what it looks like in daylight.” Lila started for the door.
Jocelyn took off the ring and plunked it back on the glass. “No. No, no, no. I can’t have anyone see me trying on engagement rings. Especially my boyfriend. Especially my mom.”
Lila nodded agreeably. “Okay.”
“You’re judging me, aren’t you? I would judge me, too.”
“No judgment. Who wouldn’t want to try on these beauties?” Lila replaced the princess-cut ring in the case and held out an art-deco-style band studded with diamonds and sapphires. “Here, give this one a shot.”
“I’ve never had an engagement ring on before.” Jocelyn wiggled the band into her finger. It only fit to the second knuckle, but she could still appreciate the artistry. “It looks so official.”
“That’s the idea.” Lila perused the selection, then handed over a wide platinum band set with a huge oval diamond. “Try this one. Two point four carats.”
“I can’t.” Jocelyn clasped her hands behind her back. “It must cost a fortune. I might scratch it or chip it or look at it wrong.” Her eyes widened as she noticed a massive, glittering green gem set amid a halo of tiny white diamonds. “Ooh, that one’s gorgeous.”
“This is the one that costs a fortune.” Lila produced a pair of white cotton glove and slipped them on before holding up the ring for examination. “Genuine Colombian emerald, AGL certified, just over four carats. No heat treatment or enhancement of any kind, not even oil treatment.”
“Oil treatment is a thing?” Jocelyn asked.
“It’s definitely a thing—ninety-nine percent of emeralds are treated to increase clarity.” Lila smiled down at the ring. “But not this one. And the setting is exquisite, too. Platinum, expert benchwork, original from the late 1920s. This is the most expensive piece in the whole store.”
“Hence, the gloves?” Jocelyn nodded at Lila’s hands.
“Nah, the gloves are because it’s cursed.”
Jocelyn did a double take to see if Lila was kidding. She wasn’t. “Says who?”
“Well, the woman who sold it to me was pretty keyed-up,” Lila replied. “When we made the sale, she went out of her way to tell me that this ring was definitely not bad luck and would definitely not bring financial ruin on any future owners. I hear weirder stuff than that on a daily basis so I didn’t give it much thought, but then . . .”
Jocelyn rested both elbows on the glass. “Go on.”
“My mother was in town for a visit when this all happened.” Lila glanced from side to side as though she were about to divulge state secrets. “She used to be a model in New York, and she knows all the society gossip. When she saw the name of the seller on the purchase documents, she told me that the seller’s great-grandfather lost the family fortune in the Great Depression . . . right after he got married. And then, after the family managed to build some wealth back up, the father lost his shirt when the tech bubble burst in 2000.” She gave Jocelyn a pointed look. “Right after he proposed to the seller’s stepmother with a family heirloom.”
“Maybe that was just a coincidence.”
“Maybe. But a few years after her dad got left at the altar, the seller married her husband with the old family heirloom. You’ll never guess what business they were both in.”
Jocelyn instantly thought of the details of the most recent economic implosion. “Real estate?”
“Ding-ding-ding. He lost everything—including his wife, although from what she told me, he had it coming. The markets weren’t the only thing he was shorting, if you get my drift.” Lila shook her head. “How did my mother put it? ‘The only currency that family has left is social currency, and that’s running out fast.’”
Jocelyn regarded the emerald with a mixture of awe and skepticism. “Is that all true?”
“I don’t know about the curse, but the parts about the marriages and the finances are verified by Google and the New York Times.” Lila straightened up. “There were engagement photos and everything, and it’s definitely the same ring. Very distinctive.”
“But it’s so beautiful. How could it be evil?”
Lila offered up the gem. “Want to try it on?”
Jocelyn snatched her hands off the counter. “No, thank you. I’ve got enough cash flow problems already.”
“Here, try this one instead.” Lila replaced the Colombian emerald in its case and pulled out a gold band with an Asscher-cut diamond. “You may not be ready to get engaged, but if your boyfriend happens to wander in here, I’ll be able to point him in the right direction.”
Jocelyn allowed herself to envision that for a moment: Chris walking into this showroom, announcing he was looking for a ring for his future wife.
“You look happy,” Lila observed.
“Let me see the one with the sapphires again,” Jocelyn said. Lila obliged. The center stone in the ring looked brilliant, flawless, elegant. Like something a lady would wear, a lady who didn’t spend all day digging up septic tanks and collecting bundles of damp, soiled towels. “Ooh, I do like this one. I’ve never seen anything like it. But I’m sure it’s expensive.”
“That’s his problem,” Lila said.
“We’re going to Paris,” Jocelyn said. “He’s taking me to the Louvre.”
“So romantic! You guys are going to have a great time!”
“But he’s not going to propose. It’s way too soon. And besides, his whole family is going to meet us there.”
“Even better. You can celebrate your big news with your future in-laws.”
Jocelyn indulged in imagining this for a moment, then snapped back to reality. “No, no, no. We’re in the phase where he buys me a croissant, not a ring.”
“Yes, but when you move to the next phase, you’ll know what you want. It’s important to know what you want.”
“I do. I know what I want.” Jocelyn was surprised to hear her voice so steady and clear.
“Well, there you go.”
“But what I want and what I have to do are two different things.” Jocelyn reluctantly took off the ring. “And right now, what I have to do is go to work.”
Lila handed her another truffle for the road. “Come back any time.”
“I will.” She leveled her gaze at the jeweler. “But, for real, this never happened.”
“Never happened,” Lila assured her.
“I have a confession.” Jocelyn bundled an armful of white towels into the industrial-size washing machine in her garage. “A shameful confession.”
“My favorite kind.” Bree, Jocelyn’s best friend since elementary school, handed her another pile of towels. “Is it about sex?”
“Partying with multiple members of a rock band all night and waking up in a bathtub full of ice, minus a kidney?”
“No.” Jocelyn rolled her eyes. “And for someone who’s supposed to be psychic, you’re terrible at reading my mind.”
“I’m not psychic.” Bree made a face.
“That’s not what your grandmother says.”
“My grandmother’s nice and all, but she’s a bit delusional. You know this. And, anyway, palm reading is way different than being psychic.”
“I don’t know the details, because neither one applies to me.” Bree shoved a pair of pillowcases into the washer drum with great vigor.
“That’s not what your grand—”
“Didn’t you have a shameful confession to make?”
“Oh yes. That.” Jocelyn couldn’t look her friend in the eye. “I had lunch with Chris today.”
Bree paused. “Uh-huh.”
Jocelyn glanced back over her shoulder. “Do I detect . . . tone?”
“All I said was, ‘Uh-huh.’”
“Uh-huh.” Jocelyn doubled down on the tone. “Anyway, I had lunch with Chris because he’s wonderful and considerate and he adores me.”
It was clearly costing Bree every ounce of her self-control not to respond with the snarkiest “Uh-huh” of all time, but Jocelyn went on with her tale.
“And while we were at lunch, we talked about Paris again. We’re really going, Bree. He bought the plane tickets. We’re going to have so much fun. And I know what you’re thinking . . .”
“No, you don’t. We just established that no one here is psychic.”
“Well, I know what you’ve already said: He’s not a full-time resident. He’s from a different background. I’m the Molly Ringwald and he’s the Andrew McCarthy in the Black Dog Bay version of Pretty in Pink.”
Bree scrunched up her nose. “It’s more like Maid in Manhattan and you’re J-Lo and he’s the rich hotel dude, but okay, close enough.”
“I know what you think, and I can’t really argue. It’s true. All of it is true.”
“It’s not personal. It’s not about Chris,” Bree insisted. “He seems really nice. It’s just that I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I know,” Jocelyn said.
“You deserve the best.”
“I’d hate for you to get your heart broken.”
“Me, too. And I swear to you, I’m going into this with my eyes wide open. But something about this just feels right.” Jocelyn leveled her gaze. “I’ve never had to hide who I am. I told him from the first day we met exactly who I am and where I came from.”
“He always shows up, Bree. He’s been driving down here every weekend to see me since New Year’s. That’s like a six-hour round trip.”
Bree nodded in acknowledgment. “Just don’t rush into anything.”
“I won’t.” Jocelyn couldn’t suppress a grin. “Oh, and by the way? I tried on a bunch of engagement rings.”
Bree dropped a towel onto the garage floor and covered her mouth with both hands.
“I know. I know.” It was such a relief to share this sordid secret with her closest friend. “I don’t know what came over me. One minute we were eating sandwiches and talking about Paris, the next minute I have a diamond on my finger. Like I was in a fugue state.”
Bree lowered her hands long enough to ask, “He went with you? It was his idea?”
“God, no! He can never find out about any of this!”
“Wait, wait, wait. You’re trying on wedding rings, in broad daylight, in the middle of Black Dog Bay, and you’re hoping he’ll never find out about it?” Bree clicked her tongue. “Lady, you are playing a very dangerous game.”
“I know.” Jocelyn hung her head. “I’m nuts. I’m a stage-five clinger who’s ready to buy a ring and a big poufy white dress after like six months of dating.”
“You said it, I didn’t.”
“But I’m not serious about it. I was just, you know, looking. Getting the lay of the land.”
Bree’s eyebrows shot all the way up.
“Fine, I’m a deranged psychopath.”
“But they were so pretty! I’ve never had a diamond ring on before, and I liked it!” Jocelyn crossed her arms over her chest. “Stop looking at me like I murdered someone.”
“I’m not.” Bree tried and failed to change her horrified expression.
“You are.” Jocelyn glanced down at her hands. “Like I’m drenched in blood.”
Bree took a breath, clearly choosing her words carefully. “You know, I heard there’s a therapist in town now. Down by the post office. She’s taking new clients. I heard.”
“I don’t need a therapist.”
“You said you were taking this slow,” Bree pointed out.
“I am. But is it really so awful to hope? What if it works out?”
“What if it doesn’t?” Bree asked, her voice flat.
“That’s not very supportive.”
“Someone has to be the voice of reason,” Bree said. “And as usual, it has to be me.”
“Chris and I are very compatible,” Jocelyn argued. “We come from different backgrounds, but we have the same values. We both love animals.”
“He doesn’t have any pets,” Bree said.
“His family just opened a shelter,” Jocelyn retorted. “And we both prioritize family.”
“Have you met his parents yet?” Bree challenged. “Has he met your mother?”
“I haven’t met his parents yet, but I will. His whole family goes to France every summer, and I’m invited.”
Bree looked begrudgingly impressed.
“And of course he hasn’t met my mom. You know how she is. It’s complicated.”
“That’s my point. It’s not like he’d relocate to Black Dog Bay on a permanent basis, would he?”
Jocelyn nibbled her lower lip. “Well . . .”
“Hold up. Does this mean you’d consider moving to Philadelphia?” Bree’s expression lit up.
“I can’t. Not right now, obviously. Who would take care of the business?” Jocelyn eyed her friend. “And why do you seem so excited?”
“Because I might be moving to Philadelphia, too.” Bree glanced all around the tiny, dusty garage, as if expecting eavesdroppers. “If all goes well.”
“What?” Jocelyn’s jaw dropped. “Why would you move?”
“Come on.” Now it was Bree’s turn to get defensive. “We’ve both been vowing we’d get the hell out of here since high school.”
“Yeah, but no one actually does it.” Jocelyn startled a little as the dryer timer buzzed. “Black Dog Bay is like the Hotel California. Name me one local who successfully made it out of here.”
“Um . . .” Bree furrowed her brow. “The mayor’s sister?”
“Ingrid Jansen? She’s in New York for college. Doesn’t count. She’s home for the summer; I just saw her last week.”
Bree leaned against the washer, deliberating. “That homecoming queen who was on TV?”
“Lila Alders? She’s back. She just helped me try on engagement rings downtown.”
“Oh! Oh! I know!” Bree smiled triumphantly. “Lila Alders’s mother. She moved to Europe.”
“For now,” Jocelyn said.
“The woman lives across the Atlantic. That counts as relocating.”
“Mrs. Alders didn’t grow up here.” Jocelyn lifted her chin in vindication. “She grew up out of state. But back to you. What’s this about Philadelphia?”
“You know how I’m always running my mouth about applying to law school? I finally did it this year. I got my act together really late but they do rolling admissions, so I might still be able to get in for the fall semester. Assuming I can get in at all, which is a big assumption.”
Jocelyn refrained from sputtering out questions long enough to remind herself that she was a good friend. A friend who wanted only the best for Bree. And if the best meant moving across state lines . . .
“But there are law schools in Delaware!”
Bree looked determined. “It’s tough out there for a law grad these days. The job market’s unbelievably tight. It’s not enough to graduate from law school anymore—you need to graduate from a top-ten program.”
At which point, Jocelyn realized that Bree was probably referring to the university to which Chris’s family had donated a building. “As it happens, I might be able to get you a recommendation from an influential donor.”
“Oh yeah? How’re you going to manage that?”
“I’ll ask him while we’re drunk on champagne in France.”
Bree’s eyebrows shot up. “He has some pull?”
Jocelyn explained about the campus library.
“Then I take back everything I just said. Try on diamond rings with wild abandon.”
“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this.”
“I have to. I can’t keep going like this.” Bree shook her head. “Snaking drains and digging up septic systems. Replacing toilets in the middle of the night. I want a real job. A job with benefits and a retirement plan and, God willing, an expense account.”
“I get that.”
“We’re almost thirty, Joss.”
“We’re twenty-seven,” Jocelyn objected. “No need to round up.”
“It’s time to get our act together. And the timing is perfect—we’ll both escape to the big city.”
“Yeah.” Jocelyn’s smile faltered. “Except . . .”
“Yeah. And the business.” Jocelyn sighed. “Oh, and don’t forget the dogs.”
“Mr. Allardyce’s dogs?”
“Yeah, they need me.”
Bree shook her head. “No offense, but dog sitters are replaceable.”
“That’s not what Mr. Allardyce says.” Jocelyn recounted that afternoon’s post-run conversation. “He forbade me to go to Europe.”
“Are you kidding me with this? You saved his dog’s life, out of the kindness of your heart.”
“It was more of a thoughtless reflex that almost got me killed.” Jocelyn brightened. “By Chris. See? We’re meant to be.”
Bree ignored the little detour to rainbow-and-unicorn land. “That crusty old jackass owes you a debt he can never repay. He should be sending you to Europe.”
“It’s not that simple. I think he sees me as the daughter he never had.”
Bree thinned her lips. “Is he even paying you minimum wage?”
“I haven’t sat down and figured out the hourly rate, but . . . probably not.”
Bree made a noise of disgust low in her throat.
“I feel guilty,” Jocelyn admitted. “I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Curtis doesn’t do well with change, and we’re trying to find a good prospect to breed Carmen with, and—”
Bree held up her palm. “I say this with a lot of love: they’re just dogs. As long as they get food, water, and exercise, they’re good to go.”
“But Hester is pregnant!”
“Hester is a fancy show dog that probably cost more than my first car.” Bree started waving both hands. “You can’t knuckle under to the Mr. Allardyces of this world. What has he done to deserve your hard work and loyalty? Has he ever once acted like the father you never had?”
“Uh . . .”
“That’s how the summer people are. They think that just because we don’t live on the private beach, we don’t notice how wasteful and entitled they are. They think we’re worthless. If you’re so important to him and his precious dogs, he should cough up some more cash to keep you around.”
“You’re pretty fired up about this.”
“I’m just getting started.” Bree’s expression darkened. “We need to value ourselves more. We need to demand that other people value us.”
Jocelyn opened the dryer door. “We need to start folding these sheets before the wrinkles set, is what we need to do.”
“I mean it.” Bree yanked out a pillowcase and waved it like a battle flag. “Our days of settling for the bare minimum are over.”
Jocelyn winced against the edge in Bree’s words. “Did something happen today?”
“What? No. Something like what?”
“I don’t know, but you’re being weird.”
“No, I’m not.” Bree huffed and puffed for a moment, then relented. “Okay, fine. I ran into Dan today.” When she saw Jocelyn’s confusion, she added, “Dan Hernandez.”
“Senior Year Dan?” Jocelyn asked. Bree Heffling and Dan Hernandez had bonded over two things in elementary school—the fact that in any alphabetical-order situation, they were invariably seated together, and the fact that they were the only two children in Black Dog Bay’s tiny school who weren’t (as Bree put it) as white as the driven snow. In middle school, they bonded over their shared love of playing FIFA Football on PlayStation and watching the TV series Scrubs. In high school, Bree and Dan found something else to bond over, which were hormones and their mutual attraction. They had a hot, steamy romance during the first half of senior year. They weren’t speaking to each other by Valentine’s Day. Even Jocelyn had never gotten the details on what went wrong, but every alphabetical-order situation from then until graduation was beyond awkward.
“He’s not Senior Year Dan,” Bree corrected. “He’s Dan Who I Totally Forgot about until I Literally Ran into Him at the Drugstore.”
“Oh right. That Dan.” Jocelyn studied her friend’s expression. “And? How was it?”
“Oh fine. He’s back in town for a while.” Bree cleared her throat. “Planning his wedding.”
“Who’s he marrying? Anyone I know?”
“Some girl from Bethany Beach.” Bree shrugged. “I didn’t recognize the name. Anyway, he just finished medical school.”
“I didn’t know he went to medical school.”
Bree nodded. “I guess all those seasons of Scrubs took hold.” She looked anywhere and everywhere except at Jocelyn. “He’s back for the summer, planning his wedding, being finished with medical school. He looks good.”
“Too bad he’s engaged.”
“It’s not like that,” Bree insisted. “But . . . you know how you have chemistry with some people? And no matter how long it’s been or how far apart, the minute you see them, it just picks up where it left off?”
Jocelyn turned away from the washing machine and focused on her friend, who ducked her head.
“It’s chemistry, that’s all.” Bree was trying to convince herself at this point. “Nothing to see. Just a tall, dark, handsome guy who happens to be a doctor now.”
“Are you going to see him again, do you think?” Jocelyn asked.
“Not if I can help it.” Bree got back to work. “He had his chance, and he blew it. I wish him nothing but success and happiness.”
“And for him to always think of you as the one who got away.”
“Obviously.” Bree shook out a pillowcase. “Anyway, back to you. When are you going to ask for what you deserve?”
Jocelyn gazed down at the top sheet she was smoothing out. “I guess I could talk to Mr. Allardyce about a raise.”
“You can and you will. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
“Well, he could . . .” Jocelyn cleared her throat. “Not like me anymore.”
Bree staggered backward in mock dismay. “Oh no.”
“Not that he likes me very much now.”
“We may not be multimillionaires with giant houses and designer labels plastered all over our bodies, but where would all these pampered summer people be without clean towels and fresh sheets?”
“They’d probably just order new ones off the Internet,” Jocelyn said.
“Shipping takes time.” Bree’s smile was diabolical. “And even the biggest mansion has only so much closet space. Time to take back our power.”
Reading Group Guide
In Dog We Trust
Questions for Discussion
1. Mr. Allardyce says, “My dogs are much better people than any of the people I know,” and he puts his money where his mouth is. Chris’s family also devotes a lot of time and resources to raising money for animal charities. Do you think there is any moral conflict in devoting so much money and effort to animal welfare as opposed to focusing on humanitarian causes?
2. When Chris breaks up with Jocelyn he offers her an expensive “parting gift.” Do you think she should have accepted the bracelet?
3. Mr. Allardyce and his acquaintances from the dog show world place a premium on preserving breed standards (both aesthetic and behavioral). In your opinion, what responsibilities do owners of purebred dogs have to adhering to historical breed standards and to providing their purebred dogs with access to the activities for which they were bred (e.g., herding opportunities for border collies)?
4. Lila, Jocelyn, and Bree stand by while Chris purchases an emerald that is allegedly cursed. If you could bestow a curse on a piece of jewelry, what would the curse be and who would you give it to? What if you could bestow a blessing on a piece of jewelry?
5. On multiple occasions throughout this novel, characters have to decide what matters most to them: “Your money or your life?” How do you see this dilemma playing out in your own life and your own choices?
6. Given what Nora tells Jocelyn about the circumstances of her courtship, marriage, and divorce with Mr. Allardyce, to what extent did she “deserve” what she got? Did Nora’s disclosure change your perception of Mr. Allardyce at all?
7. Was it right or wrong of Friday’s owner to effectively sell him to Jocelyn? Was Jocelyn right or wrong to agree to the sale?
8. What would you like to see happen to Bree as she embarks on the next step of her journey?
9. After she becomes the de facto beneficiary of Mr. Allardyce’s estate, Jocelyn experiences immediate differences in the way she is treated and perceived by others. How do you think your social, familial, and/or romantic relationships might be affected if you unexpectedly inherited tens of millions of dollars?