Leon McNamee successfully worked his life plan to a good job, his own home, and the one thing he always wanted as a boy - a dog. He hasn’t had much luck in the relationship department, but in Smoke, he has all the company he usually needs.
Jeremy Cooke’s new plan is to stay clear of entanglements and not get hurt again. He moves to Marionville to start over and decides to rescue a damaged dog. After all, he’s well acquainted with abuse.
Leon and Jere get acquainted over their shared love of dogs, but Jeremy holds close his secrets. When an argument escalates, disaster strikes. Leon has to fight to save Jere’s dog - and the man’s trust. At the end of the day, his best ally is a black Labrador Retriever named Smoke.
* * *
I didn’t want to do that. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to him for fear I’d never see him again. My instinct said he’d never call me, and if I called him, he might hesitate to answer. I showed my desperation.
“Do you like baseball?”
“Yeah, I do! It’s really cool Marionville is getting a double A team.” He narrowed his eyes. “What?”
I hung my head. “I don’t know a thing about baseball.”
“So why did you ask me if I liked it?”
“Would you like to hang out at my place and watch the game? You can teach me about it.”
He stared at me, lips slightly parted, an enigmatic expression in his eyes. “Do you like anything other besides dogs?”
“I like to ski.”
He glanced at the sky, and then looked at me. “Water or snow?”
I grinned at him. “Both.”
“Thank God. I’ve never been water skiing, but I’m pretty good on the slopes.”
“I didn’t know they had mountains in Peoria,” I quipped, still smiling.
He smirked at me. He was adorable when he wrinkled his nose and rolled his eyes.
“When I was a mere lad, we spent every, and I mean every Christmas at my grandfather’s place in Pennsylvania. I learned to ski. And you’re a smartass, Leon McNamee.”
“And you’re just too cute Jeremy Cooke.”
I didn’t actually think about it. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have done it.
I slipped my arm around his shoulders, leaned in, and kissed him.
He started and sucked in a quick breath. I’d never had anyone go so still in my arms. But he didn’t pull away. His lips trembled, and yet he didn’t push us apart. I moved my lips over his in a soft caress and ended the kiss.