Bailey Sinclair has only one friend outside of her dog - Luke Pierson. They'd been through everything together--or so she thought. When she discovers her precious black lab, Chevy is missing Bailey and Luke must weather two storms together--the one roaring outside, and the one brewing in her heart.
French fries, or onion rings? Bailey Sinclair stared through the window at the fast food menu to her left, chewing on her lower lip as she debated how many fat calories she really wanted to consume before her weekly kickboxing class. Maybe she should just go with the burger. No onions, with cheese. And a Coke—diet, of course.
Bailey rolled down the window and waited to place her order. The steady drum of the rain on her car was deafening. She watched as water dripped down the interior of her door and began to puddle inside the arm. That’s going to smell bad later.
“May I take your order?” asked the nasally, electronic voice from the other end of the box.
Bailey quickly placed her order then rolled up the window. Was she the only one who ate before kickboxing? A girl had to keep up her strength, right? She retrieved her food from the attendant and then pulled into an empty parking space to eat. A quick check of her watch confirmed she still had a full half hour before class started. Just enough time to eat. And digest.
She unwrapped her burger and took a big bite. Mmmm. A pickle dropped onto the wrapper in her lap and she tossed it into the paper sack. Her cell phone rang just as she reached for her large Diet Coke. Ugh. Great timing. Bailey grimaced as she tried to maneuver her drink and burger while pulling her phone from the depths of her pink purse.
“Hello?” Bailey choked as a piece of bun went down the wrong pipe. She coughed. “Hello?” Her eyes began to water.
“Hey you, it’s me.” Luke Pierson’s typical line made Bailey smile. Best friends for two years, yet somehow his greeting never got old.
“Hi there.” She shifted the phone to her other ear to take another bite of the burger. Juice dripped down her chin. She winced. At least Luke couldn’t tell. Not that she worried about how she looked in front of him; they had a ripped jeans, oversized sweatshirt type of friendship—comfortable, and real.
Until recently. Bailey let go of the thought.
She wiped her mouth with a napkin. “What’s up?” She was so going to pay for this meal during her kickboxing class.
“Uh, nothing. Kinda. Well, something.”
She frowned. Luke’s carefree, fun-loving tone usually suggested middle-of-the-night basketball games, a Sunday afternoon drive in his Jeep, or trips to the pet store with Chevy, her beloved dog. But tonight his voice sounded different. Tight. Too controlled.
Something was up. “What’s going on? I thought you would be heading to school about now.” Luke took night classes twice a week at the local college.
“I was. But…well, okay, don’t panic, but…Chevy got out.” Luke sighed over the line.
Bailey dropped her burger, splattering mustard onto her black work-out pants. She stared blankly at a piece of lettuce in her lap. “Out? What do you mean, out? I saw him in the backyard just this morning.” Her heart rate increased.
Chevy, the purebred black lab she’d named after her Camaro, was her most loyal friend. Her confidant. Though two years old, and almost ninety pounds, he had been her baby ever since her overprotective father purchased him for her over a year ago. Her dad worried about Bailey living alone in the small rental cottage she called home. Chevy was always there. Protecting. Watching. Guarding.
“I went by earlier to take him for a walk, since I knew you would be going to the gym straight from work.” Luke paused. “But he wasn’t there.”
A lump formed in Bailey’s throat. While she was away, Chevy stayed outside in the fenced backyard at her landlord’s request. Chevy’s tail could leave bruises on unsuspecting shins. Not to mention the potential to destroy furniture…And the drool. Oh, the drool.
But that didn’t matter now. “I fed him when I left for work this morning.” Bailey’s eyes widened. “There has to be some kind of mistake.”
“I’m sure you did, Bailey, but you have to accept this. Chevy is missing.” Luke’s voice grew thick. “I’m on my way back to my house right now. I’ve searched for over an hour already, but I’m going to grab that whistle we’ve been training him with and see if he’ll come to it.”
Bailey swallowed hard. Chevy? Missing? The combination of words struck fear into the deepest corners of her heart. He couldn’t be missing. Maybe he was just asleep in his dog house. Maybe he was hiding. Maybe…
“I’m almost home now. I’ll call you when I know anything. I’m sure it’ll be fine…” Luke’s voice trailed off and in that instant, Bailey knew he was putting on a front. Everything wasn’t fine; it was evident in his distraction and forced cheerfulness. Chevy was gone.
And if he didn’t come back, he’d take a portion of their hearts along with him.
Bailey fought back the hysteria rising in the back of her throat. “But you have school! You can’t miss because of me.”
“Bales.” Luke speaking his nickname for her, determined and familiar, broke through the panic. “I can, and I will. I don’t mind.”
She swallowed hard. “What do you need me to do? I can skip the gym and come and help you search.”
“No, it’s fine. Don’t change your plans.” A car horn blared and Luke muttered under his breath. “Listen, I need to pay attention to the road. Everything is going to be okay. I’ll call you when I find him.”
“All right.” Bailey heard her voice grow tiny and hated the vulnerability in it. Chevy would come home. He was a smart dog. Luke had helped her train him, and Chevy continued to learn new tricks almost daily. “If he jumped the fence, he’ll find his way back.”
“When, Bailey, not if. When. Remember that.” Luke’s voice softened. “Bye.” He hung up, and Bailey sat holding a dead cell phone and a limp burger. She couldn’t eat now. The few bites she had managed to get down were already turning her stomach sour. And kickboxing? Who was she kidding? She had to do something. She had to help. She had to get home.
Bailey threw the rest of her dinner into the brown paper sack and peeled out of the parking lot. She cut a quick 180 and pulled onto the street, tires spinning on the slick road as they sought traction. Bailey gripped the steering wheel and shifted into third gear, ignoring the warning lights flashing in her mind’s eye. She didn’t have time to be careful. Chevy was out in the cold. In the rain. Alone.
She began to pray as she pressed the gas pedal to the floor.