Propping the alley door open, Chase Prescott looked left then right. No sign of his new friend. Dropping another bag onto the pile, he would have loved to shut down, remodel, upgrade, and reopen his new business, but common sense told him that in this small market he could not afford to lose even one customer to inconvenience. Within a week of signing on the dotted line, Chase had been doing his best to get in a couple of hours work cleaning out decades of worthless merchandise before opening the doors to customers each day. On only the second day he'd been putting out the trash and noticed a stealth dog lurking down the alley.
Strong intelligent eyes captured Chase's attention. Back in Manhattan, it seemed everyone he knew had small yappy dogs with polished toenails and ribbons atop their heads. Convinced this magnificent animal was foraging for food, Chase stepped inside and returned with a dish of leftover lunch only to find the dog had vanished as quickly as he'd appeared.
The following day, having drawn closer, the prowling animal paused to regard Chase as though sizing him up before moving on. This same ritual had become part of Chase's routine the last few days. Almost time to lock up, Chase wondered where was his daily visitor?
Around from behind the mountain of outdated dry goods along the alley wall, familiar amber eyes once again sized him up. "Have I not passed the test yet?" Chase crouched down on his haunches waiting to see if today would be the day the dog would finally come close enough for him to check for any signs of ownership. Patiently balancing in place, Chase resisted the urge to fist pump the air when slowly the furry canine crept up in front of him.
Scanning the dog from head to rump, he searched for signs of injury or starvation. Though the fellow looked pretty lean, Chase suspected it had more to do with a high metabolism. "Somewhere," he held his hand, palm open, for the dog to sniff, "in your family tree I'd bet there's been a wolf or two." Or three. Odd patches of color indicated his maternal ancestors had more than likely been cattle dogs. Maybe border collie. More comfortable of the animal's friendly nature, Chase raised his hand to scratch behind the dog's ears, surprised when he leaned his head into Chase's touch. "Okay, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you do belong to someone."
The old fashioned bell over the front doors sounded. Not the obnoxious dong of modern electronics but the delicate jingle of an era long gone by. Slowly, Chase pushed to his feet. "Sorry boy, I've got to take care of business." Every time that sound rang, a shot of adrenaline spiked, propelling Chase eagerly forward. Who knew a stupid bell could be so exciting.
Four years at one of the best business schools in the country. Ten years on Wall Street making his mark on the world—and his bank account. Now the remainder of Chase's resume would be minimized to owner of a small town farm and feed store—and God how he already loved everything about this place.
The local police chief stood in the doorway with a tall man cut from the same cloth beside him. "Hey."
"Chief." Any other place and time and Chase would have assumed a visit from the local authority meant something somewhere had gone wrong. Here, he'd already learned, paying a social call was the norm.
"Finn Farraday." The chief's almost clone stuck out his hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Same here." Before agreeing to buy out the feed store, he'd done some checking around and knew the Farradays owned one of the largest ranch operations in the county. From what little information Mr. Thomas had shared after the sale, the Farradays had always been one of the stores best customers.
"I see you're not changing the name?" Finn waved a thumb over his shoulder indicating the storefront behind him.
"Well, look who's here." The Chief squatted down, and with its tail wagging, the stray trotted up to him. "Don't you look happy." The police chief began a two handed under the neck rubdown. Had the dog been a cat, he'd be purring.
Grinning, Finn leaned over to scratch the dog's back then suddenly stopped, cocked his head, and squinted. "Does Gray look a little taller to you?"
Tilting his body back a bit, the police chief shook his head. "Nope."
"You've got a nice dog, Chief." Chase thought the strong lithe dog suited the man.
Chase looked to Finn.
"Nope." Finn shrugged. "Not mine either."
"Hm. Sure looks like he belongs to somebody."
"That's what we all thought." The Chief patted the dog and stood upright. "If you figure out who he belongs to, make sure to let us know."
Chase nodded and wondered who all was we all. "Sure thing."
"Well," Finn stretched out his hand again, "I just wanted to introduce myself and give you a welcome to town. I've been late getting around to it, but things have been a bit hectic." He sprouted a grin even wider than when he'd spotted the dog. "Just got myself engaged."
The pieces fell together. Staying at the B&B until he figured out housing of his own, he'd heard a good deal about the Farradays. Already having met Adam, Meg's husband, and the police chief, it shouldn't have been such a surprise to find the family resemblance extended to more of the siblings, but it had surprised him to realize the strapping man in front of him was the recently engaged youngest brother. "Congratulations."
Frowning, the police chief stepped aside. "Back door open?"
Chase nodded. "Yeah, that's how…" He looked around. "Where did he go?"
"That's what he does." Finn shook his head and took another step toward the rear.
The bell over the door sounded, and like a shooting star, Gray sprang up out of nowhere, bolted past the three men and galloped forward.
"Shit," three male voices echoed.
Visions of wolf fangs sinking deep into an unsuspecting customer had Chase sprinting after the animal. Damn it. Finn on his heels, Chase saw the Chief reach for his holster and Chase's heart skipped a beat. He didn't want to see the dog hurt, but friendly or not, strays could turn. Just what he needed. Less than a week in town and already he would be making front-page news for all the wrong reasons.
A loud howl pierced the panicked silence. All at once a tall brunette closed the door behind her, arms stiff the chief raised his gun at the door, and the lightening quick dog leapt up knocking the lady off her feet into a display of garden seeds.
Arms and legs flailed. Packets flew left and right. The woman let out a stunned yelp and the Chief and his brother stood silently on either side of her.
"What the..?" Rather than find a bloodied victim, Chase came to a stop at the dog standing akimbo over the prone woman, licking her face.
The two brothers burst into laughter. The chief holstered his gun and Finn turned, slapped Chase on the shoulder, and muttered, "Here we go again."
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