Everyone thinks they can push Jaci Meadows around: her family, her boss, even her full-grown Malamute, Baby. The dog reaches Jaci’s shoulders, weighs more than the petite event planner, and has decided Jaci’s designer shoes are a favorite toy.
Justin Blakely understands dogs better than most people. It’s clear to him Jaci Meadows can’t handle her own life, let alone a two-hundred-pound Malamute ready to take on the world.
Can one oversized Malamute and one very discerning dog whisperer help guide Jaci back to her true path? Can she learn to say no or is she just too addicted to the need to be needed?
Hearts Haven Babies
“Oh no, Baby! You did not!”
Jaci Meadows’ gaze fixed on the shiny red bow just inside her front door—the perfect, tiny bow that belonged atop her favorite, most comfortable, and certainly most expensive pair of black designer heels. She wore them to all of her high-end events. The spiffy heels went with every outfit. The little red bow added a splash so she felt spectacular and pulled together when she faced her clients.
If Baby had chewed them up…
She rounded the couch, her heart in her throat. Sure enough, the shoes lay in the middle of the floor, both stiletto heels mangled and useless. The snappy little bow from the other shoe was missing.
“Oh, no.” Jaci didn’t even try to control the tears that streamed down her cheeks. Overwhelmed, she slumped all the way to the floor—briefcase, groceries and take-out bags pooled around her as she sobbed.
The shoes now joined a list that was becoming legion. An expensive handbag. Her best running shoes. Countless flip-flops. Jaci continued to buy and Baby continued to chew. Jaci’s favorite, I-don’t-feel-good-and-I-need-to-curl-up comforter was gone, along with too many throw pillows to even count.
Baby had been with her four months now, and the only thing she hadn’t tried to chew was the cover of Jaci’s phone…and that was only because she never let it out of her hand.
The tears just wouldn’t stop. No surprise after a long, difficult day getting all the books and events lined up for her boss’s homecoming. Deedee Hudson had spent almost a month in her Houston home leaving all the details and planning for the upcoming events in Jaci’s hands.
Deedee called it a “trying out period.” For what, Jaci didn’t know. She doubted very seriously her boss would ever trust anyone to completely take over the management of Polished and Perfect, her very successful event planning company. But a raise would certainly come in handy. Jaci could use the extra money to pay for her nephews’ football registration. They were both old enough to join and more than anxious to get into the youth sport, but her sister Linda, in her single parent status, simply couldn’t afford the fees.
Or better yet, the money could go toward some extra help for her mother. Dad’s Alzheimer’s had progressed pretty seriously in the last month. Mom needed full-time help…especially at night.
A large, raspy tongue raked the tears off Jaci’s cheeks. She opened her eyes. A two hundred pound malamute had parked itself right in front of her. Baby’s head rose above Jaci’s petite frame. She had to look up, and when she did, Baby’s pointed ears perked. She cocked her head almost as if asking a question.
With her caramel coat, black tips, and chocolaty eyes, she was a beautiful dog. Intelligent too. Sometimes it seemed as if Baby understood everything Jaci said. Like right now, when she cocked her head as if to say, “There, doesn’t that make it better?”
It did…almost. Baby was a warm, comforting presence, sitting so close, her hot breath panting over Jaci’s face…smelling slightly of plastic…like red bows.
The scent was a reminder, and Jaci’s temper soared again. She tried to push the huge dog away but wasn’t able to move her much. Baby outweighed her, after all, but that didn’t dampen Jaci’s anger.
“Oh, no, you don’t! You’re not getting off with a lick. Those were my best work shoes, Baby. I saved for two months to buy them and wore them at every event. They made me feel and look like a professional. You don’t know…”
Fresh tears spurted, and she turned away. Unable to push the massive dog from her seated position in front of her, Jaci turned and crawled to the side pulling bags and briefcase with her.
Her cell phone trilled Deedee’s special ring.
“Great. Just great.” Slumping back to her bottom, she wiped the tears from her cheeks and dug through her briefcase hunting for her phone.
“There you are. I thought I would have to leave a message.”
Her boss hated leaving messages. According to Deedee, event planning was an around the clock job, and that meant she and all her employees were on call twenty-four seven. That was the unwritten understanding of employment, and if Deedee couldn’t reach one of her employees, she questioned their commitment to their job. For Jaci to be unavailable in Deedee’s crucial time might cause her boss to lose her tenuous control and push her over the edge.
“I’m here. I was just dealing with another one of Baby’s episodes.”
“Baby? You still have that dog? I thought Andrea and her boyfriend were supposed to be back a month ago.”
“Actually, they should have been back two months ago.”
“Honestly, Jaci, you agreed to take care of her for two months. Now it’s stretched into four? Your life is too complicated to manage a dog, let alone one the size of a house.”
Actually, Jaci had never really agreed to the long term dog-sitting stint. Baby belonged to her best friend Andrea’s boyfriend. Jeff worked as a sound guy for a local band. When the group scored a gig in Houston, Andrea and Jeff asked her to watch Baby for the week. But their short trip turned into an extended tour across the country.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Andrea had asked using her best wheedling voice. “This is a great opportunity for Jeff and—well…he just has to take it.”
“Andrea, you know my job takes every spare minute. I don’t have time for a dog.”
“But she isn’t just any dog. She’s Baby, and you love her.”
Jaci did love Baby. She’d enjoyed all their visits and time together, but to take complete responsibility for the exuberant animal was more than Jaci could handle…and Andrea knew it.
“If you can’t take her, we’ll just have to check her into that kennel.”
“That” kennel was a run-down dump where animals sat in pens most of the day. But it was the only local place Andrea and Jeff had found willing to take a dog Baby’s size. Still it was no choice at all for Jaci, and Andrea, her supposed best friend, knew it.
So Baby became a destructive force in Jaci’s life…one that showed no signs of coming to an end. But Jaci wasn’t about to share that detail with Deedee.
“The situation is under control now. What did you call about?”
“Oh.” Deedee’s voice took on a different tone. Almost an apologetic one. “I called because I’m not coming home tomorrow.”
“I see.” Jaci’s tone must have reflected her disappointment.
“I’m sorry, Jacks, truly I am. I know this is a lot for you to handle. It’s just that every time I try to leave, Jerry falls apart.” Deedee’s marriage to Jerry was the second time around for both of them. When they’d met, they both had flourishing businesses. For years they’d managed both businesses, dividing their time between Angel Falls and Houston…until Jerry’s car accident almost two months ago. He’d suffered a pretty serious concussion and since then, he’d begun to experience panic attacks, night sweats, and a general deterioration of his mental faculties.
“Honestly, Jacks, I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll ever get better.” Deedee’s secret fear crept through her tone. The sound of it melted Jaci’s heart.
“He’ll improve, Dee. I know it. He has lots of people praying for him. It’ll just take time.”
“I wish I had as much faith as you do. But I’m beginning to wonder. I don’t know how long I can keep this up balancing two businesses.”
Deedee had been overseeing Jerry’s air conditioning supply and repair company since the accident…that left Polished and Perfect in Jaci’s weary hands. She knew she was capable, but…
“I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Whatever stress Jaci had been feeling melted away in the face of her friend’s troubles. She took a deep breath. “Everything will be fine. You wait and see. We’ll take care of things on this end. You just worry about you and Jerry.”
Her boss’s sigh of relief came over the phone. “You might not say that after I give you my next piece of information. I’ve just signed the contract for the Hartline Medical Conference. And they’ve moved the date to November.”
Polished and Perfect’s biggest client, the Hartline Medical Group, served thousands in East Texas. Their annual three-day conference offered workshops for employees and smaller health groups ranging from insurance billing to physical therapy. The huge conference took months to put together. Now Jaci would have two months.
She swallowed hard and assured Deedee it could be done.
“Great. I’ll email you the contract details and you can get started. The sooner the better.”
“Right. I’ll watch for the email.”
Jaci closed her phone. She looked into Baby’s brown eyes—focused on her in an intent manner—and sighed. Her life had just taken a detour. That meant something had to give between her and her greatest challenge.
“Well, girl, like it or not, you and I are starting obedience training…tomorrow.”
Justin Blakely fell in love the minute he saw her. She had a spectacular shape—lean and curvy in all the right places. That distinctive coloring…the sassy bounce to her step. Absolutely stunning.
The magnificent malamute’s owner wasn’t too bad either…