Carly Kennedy's life is in a spiral. She is drowning in work, her divorced parents are going through their midlife crises, and somehow Carly's sister convinces her to foster Baxtera basset hound rescue with a bad case of the blues. When Carly comes home late from work one day to discover that the dog walker has accidentally switched out Baxter for another perkier, friendlier basset hound, she has reached the end of her leash.
When Max Sheffington finds a depressed male basset hound in place of his cheerful Hazel, he is bewildered. But when cute, fiery Carly arrives on his doorstep, he is intrigued. He was expecting the dog walker, not a pretty woman with firm ideas about dog discipline. And Carly was not expecting a handsome, bespectacled man to be feeding her dog mac and cheese. Baxter is besotted with Hazel, and Carly realizes she may have found the key to her puppy’s happiness. For his sake, she starts to spend more time with Hazel and Max, until she begins to understand the appeal of falling for your polar opposite.
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What a peculiar phenomenon it is to see something that the brain cannot comprehend. Not something that simply doesn't make sense in the moment-like that time you saw your mother tiptoeing out of the neighbor's house in the early morning hours half-dressed and giggling. Or that time your boss handed you a pink slip after you'd helped him reorganize the staff, and you smiled with delight because you didn't get that you had efficiently organized yourself right out of a good job.
No, this was different. This was like a weird ministroke, but without a headache or heart palpitation. Carly felt perfectly fine. And yet she could not comprehend how the dog stretched out on her couch could look exactly like her dog and not be her dog.
It was a basset hound, just like her dog, with a black and brown coat with patches of white, long floppy ears, and ginormous paws and eyes that could look happy and sad at the same time.
"You're not my dog," she informed the imposter. "Where is Baxter?"
The dog had no answer for her other than a tail that thumped a happy beat against the pillows it had destroyed.
Actually, technically, Baxter was not her dog. He was her sister's dog. Except that technically Baxter was not Mia's dog, either. He was a dog her mother had tried to give one of Mia's kids for his birthday, but of course things had gotten out of hand, because they always did where her mother was concerned. It was a long, complicated story, and, frankly, when you got right down to it, Carly's entire family was complicated, and their lives were muddied together, and anyway, that's how she and Baxter the Dog had ended up in each other's company.
Carly had not wanted the responsibility of a dog. Carly was very busy. Carly was going to move to New York City as soon as she found a job there. A dog required attention and care and food, all of which Carly did not have. Nevertheless, she and Baxter had been going along with this arrangement since a tearful Mia had pushed the listless dog like a big sack of flour across her kitchen's tile floor to Carly's feet. That was Carly's first glimpse into life with a basset hound: they were disinclined to cooperate.
But Carly had pitied the poor creature and had taken him just to spare him the chaos that was erupting around him in Mia's house. And Baxter did seem to appreciate the rescue. Carly had never had a dog before, so in addition to a dog bed and water bowl, she bought a manual, something like, The Care and Feeding of Your New Best Friend. She read it cover to cover, and was happy to report to no one that in their monthlong acquaintance, Baxter had never once gotten on her beautiful cream West Elm couch. He liked to keep to his corner of her kitchen, near the back door. He liked to press his head to the wall, as if he thought if he couldn't see anyone, no one could see him. Carly didn't have the heart to tell him she could still plainly see him.
He seemed to be okay with her tiny backyard. He liked to sleep a lot, too, and he liked to chew on giant bones. Occasionally, he'd go outside and bark at something only he could see, but then he'd trot back in, mission accomplished. Sometimes, when Carly was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the coffee table, listening to Megan Monroe, the host of her favorite podcast, Big Girl Panties, give tips for how to navigate life when it was pummeling you with lemons, Baxter would come and sit next to her, his butt pressed against her leg, facing away. Carly would absently caress his back while Megan convinced her that she could have it all. Megan said she could have the perfect boyfriend (she would need a boy for that), the perfect home (if she could scrape up the rent), the perfect job (if someone would just hire her already), and still be her. Given the current state of Carly's life-a complete and utter mess-she felt compelled to listen to every single episode, sometimes taking notes, while Baxter dozed beside her.
Yep, they'd had the perfect working relationship, and Baxter had never once branched out of his territory and onto a couch, much less taken up pillow eating. Which made him much more desirable than this imposter.
"Maybe I'm being punked," Carly mused, and quickly rifled through her mental catalogue of friends in search of the jokester who would pull a stunt like this. But her close friendsKarma, who had just gotten married and was in the honeymoon phase and was never free, and Lydia, an ER nurse working night shifts and never awakedidn't have the comedic chops to pull this off. No disrespect to her friends.
Was she in the wrong house? She'd been in desperate need of a bathroom, and a lot of the houses around here looked sort of the same. She'd rushed in without really looking at anything but the dark hole of her tote bag where her keys were swimming. She did a quick scan of the room, her eyes flicking over the built-in bookcases that framed the fireplace, the hand-scraped wide-plank pine floors, the pale blue rug, the cream-colored couch, and the floral armchairs.
Definitely the right house. Definitely the wrong dog.
Speaking of which, the dog apparently grew bored of waiting for her to figure it out. It stood up on its stumpy legs on the couch, paused for a good and long downward dog, then slid off, landing with a thud, before confidently trotting over to sniff her legs and lick her shoe.
"Listen, I don't know who you are or how you got here but I want Baxter back." She leaned down to scratch him behind his long ears.
The dog allowed it and sat to give her a moment to reconsider, its tail swishing hard against the floor and knocking around the balls of synthetic white stuffing that had previously occupied her throw pillow.
"You're super cute, but I'm not keeping you. I want you to go home. Who are you? Why aren't you wearing tags?"
The dog's tail wagged harder. It slid down to the floor, rolled onto its back, presenting for a belly rub. That's when Carly had visual confirmation that this most certainly was not Baxter. This dog was female.
"Okay, we've got to get this situation fixed," she said, making a circular motion at the dog's head, "before wrong bassets start showing up at regular intervals around here." But she did reach down and rub the dog's belly to demonstrate she could be hospitable, even in the face of disaster.
From the bowels of her overstuffed tote bag, still on its side in the entry, the contents partially disgorged, her phone sounded a cheery little notice of a text. "Stay," she said to the dog.
Of course the dog didn't stay. She hopped up and trotted into the kitchen like she lived here and helped herself to big, loud laps of water from Baxter's bowl.
The text was from Phil, the photographer Carly had coerced into doing a shoot for her. It said simply, Meet me at five.
Meet him at five? First of all, five was the worst possible time to meet anyone anywhere. And second, their shoot was tomorrow. Tuesday. Wait a minute . . . Carly looked at her watch. Shit. Today was Tuesday.
Don't be late, he added.
"I'm already late! I'm like a day late!" she shouted at her phone.
Carly and Phil had worked together at the big advertising firm of Dalworth, Bartle and Simmons. Phil had been an art creator at DBS and had been made redundant in the reorganization, too. With his photography skills and his contacts, he'd quickly transitioned into a professional photography career specializing in headshots and weddings. Carly knew this because she and Phil, and some of the others who'd been laid off, met occasionally for drinks and to complain about the unfairness of it all. (Megan would not approve. Time spent complaining or feeling sorry for yourself is time you could have spent creating your new reality. But as Carly was still struggling to create her new reality, she was up for a little whining from time to time.)
Carly's new reality was a tiny little one-woman marketing and public relations shop with a grand total of two clients. Temporary clients, just until she got a full-time position with a firm. Unfortunately, temporary clients willing to take her on between jobs were not the kind to spend a lot of money, and life had become a struggle. Carly knew that Phil felt sorry for her, so borrowing another page from Big Girl Panties, she had used that to her advantage and had asked him for a huge favor.
How the hell had she gotten her days mixed up? How could it be Tuesday? She thought it was Monday. Where did Monday go? How did a person forget a Monday . . . unless, maybe, you were working every day, including weekends. The last time she and Lydia spoke, Lydia had insisted Carly was the one with the scheduling problem. "You work all the time," she'd complained.
WaitTuesday was also the day her dog walker took Baxter on his walk. "You have got to be kidding me," she muttered as the imposter dog padded out of the kitchen, water dripping from her jowls and leaving a trail across Carly's hardwood floors.
She texted Phil back, said she'd see him at the studio at five, which was impossible, then squatted down and started shoving things back into her tote bag. She had schedules to keep. Deadlines to meet. These photos of a young fashion designer's collection were going to Ramona McNeil, the influential creative director at Couture magazine. Couture was one of the premier fashion magazines in the country, and it was the holy grail for someone like her client Victor Allen.
It was the holy grail for her, too. Carly currently had two applications submitted for vacant positions at the magazine. One, in marketing and publicity. One, in the creative department. In the meantime, she'd worked her ass off to get Victor noticed, and considered it a feather in her cap that she'd succeeded.
Carly needed these photos and she was not going to be derailed by an imposter dog. She shoved her bag onto her shoulder and ran down the hall to find the dog, grabbing a leash off a peg in the entry on her way.
She found the basset hound in the bathroom with one of Carly's very expensive shoes between her paws. Carly cried out with alarm. She dove for the shoe as the dog's tail wagged. "Are you crazy? You must have a death wish," she said, and tossed the shoe onto her bathroom counter. "Come on. You're riding along. I obviously can't leave you here alone and, by the way, you owe me a couch pillow," she said as she hooked up the leash on the dog's collar. "An expensive couch pillow, too, because I bought that one when I had a job." She rubbed the dog's head and caressed its back a moment. "We have to get out of here before you eat my house."
The dog responded with excited tail wagging as she trotted alongside Carly on their way down the hall. "If you're wondering who is responsible for this disaster? It's Brant, your former dog walker." She opened her front door. "Just so you know, he's a dead man walking, so FYI, you may not be romping around Lady Bird Lake next week. He's dead just as soon as I get Baxter back." The dog gazed up at her with adoration. "No offense, Bubbles."
Judging by the wag of her tail, it didn't appear that any offense was taken.
On the way to the studio, Carly cautioned Little Miss Sunshine in the back seat to be on her best behavior when they arrived. Her client, the youthful and phenomenal fashion designer Victor Allen, was doing some different and colorful things with his hair these days and, on occasion, he appeared to be dressed for Halloween.
"So no barking," Carly said. "I have only two clients and I can't afford to lose either of them. Got it?" She looked in the rearview mirror, but all she could see was the back half of the dog and that furiously wagging tail. Bubbles had her head out the window.
"Victor is going to be huge in the fashion world if I can get him through the New Designer Showcase without killing him. And, yes, that is why I am wearing this mess," she said as they inched across town in heavy traffic. "Don't judge."
Bubbles surged forward to lick her face. "Yeah, okay," Carly said. She pushed the dog back before she wiped her cheek of her slobbery kiss. "I still can't believe this happened, can you? I mean, having the wrong day, the wrong dog . . ." She sighed. "Well, whatever, it happened, and, like Megan says, I don't have time to dwell on it because I am dwelling on solutions." She glanced in the rearview mirror to see if the dog bought any of that. Bubbles was sitting in the middle of the seat now. Her tongue was hanging from one side of her mouth. She was panting as she stared out the front windshield like she hadn't heard a word.
For what it was worth, Carly didn't buy it, either.
The light turned green, but the cars stacked up at the light in front of her didn't move. Carly instructed her car to call Brant. Not surprisingly, given the magnitude of his screwup, the call rolled to his voice mail.
"Brant! This is Carly Kennedy. You know, the one with the depressed basset hound? Well, guess what? You put a happy basset hound in my house! I want my depressed hound back! How could you do that? Where is Baxter? Whose dog is this? Call me back immediately!"
She ended the call and muttered her opinion of Brant the Dog Walker. The line of cars began to move, and she shot forward. In the back seat, Bubbles had stuffed her nose into a crack between the two back seats, snorting loudly. But then something outside caught her attention and she surged to the window and released a deep, baying howl of joy.
When they reached the studio, Carly grabbed her tote bag, the dog's leash, and dashed inside.
She didn't know what she expected-probably Victor and Phil pacing around each other, the models antsy . . . but no. Victor, with his rainbow hair and hand-painted jeans, was on a skateboard, slowly moving around the two models who were sitting on plastic chairs, their gazes on their phones. Phil was sprawled on his back on the beat-up earth brown couch that looked as if it had been picked up off the street.
“I made it!” Carly shouted, as if she’d just swum across the English Channel to get here.
“Great.” Phil slowly rolled up to a sitting position. He yawned.
Victor stopped skating and maneuvered his board around to face her. He looked her up and down and shook his head. “That’s not how you’re supposed to wear that.” He hopped off his board and strode across the room to her. He forced her arms into a T and began pulling and tugging at the weird wrap-around jumpsuit thingy she was wearing.
Victor was twenty years to her twenty-eight, but sometimes the age gap felt much greater. He was still at that young and dumb age about so many things in life. The sole exception was fashion, and in that he had the talent to lead the charge into fashion-forward designs like a boy king. He was a creative genius, and that was not hyperbole.
“Hey, Bax,” Victor said to the very interested basset who was sniffing around his sneakers.
“That’s not Baxter,” Carly said as Victor jerked her around so that her back was to him. She had to drop the leash so as not to get tangled in it.
Victor snorted. “Yeah, it is. I’m looking right at him.”
“So funny thing,” Carly said. “This dog looks like Baxter, but it’s—”
Victor put his hands on her waist and made her twist again.
“But it’s not Baxter. There was a mix-up with the dog walker and somehow I—”
“Hey, are we going to do this, or are we going to talk about dogs?” Phil asked, and unfolded his lanky self from the couch.