Laying Down the Paw by Diane Kelly is the 3rd cozy in the Paw Enforcement series starring Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her trusty K9 sidekick Brigit (available August 4, 2015).
When a raging tornado hits Forth Worth, Megan's squad car is flipped over-and her devoted police dog, Brigit, is not amused. But that's not all that's upside-down. The streets are littered with looters-and members of a violent street gang-and no local business is safe. It's time to get back on all fours and see that the job of protecting the public is done.
But Megan, outmanned and outgunned, has no choice but to let the gang members get away. Later, when she learns that one of them is a suspect in an unsolved murder case, Megan is determined to see that justice is served. But will she end up in the doghouse? Her investigation has her and Brigit barking up the wrong tree at every turn. Meanwhile, a killer's on the loose….who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
No Dogs Allowed
Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz
At nine thirty on Sunday morning, I sat at the card table in the kitchen in my tiny studio apartment with a pen in my hand, circling or drawing an X over each ad in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram rental real estate section. My partner/roommate/BFF, Brigit, lay at my feet, her pointy teeth making short work of the chew treat she held between her two front paws.
The enormous German shepherd mix was the reason I’d jogged over to the 7-Eleven for a copy of the newspaper this morning. The hundred-pound beast needed more space than our current home provided, as well as a yard to run and poop in. The energetic dog had chewed up at least a dozen pairs of my shoes while we’d lived here. Did I mention that in addition to being my partner, roommate, and best friend, she was also at times a pain in the butt? I could never stay angry at her, though. Not when she’d look up at me with those big, brown eyes and wag her tail.
I’m such a sucker.
While Brigit happily gnawed her treat below me, overhead my upstairs neighbor flushed his toilet for the third time this morning. Flushhh. Were there no drugs for a bad prostate? Still, I’d take his repeated flushing over the bam-bam-bam that came through my floor on occasion, courtesy of the Congolese immigrant who lived below me. At the slightest noise, he’d whip out his broom and bang the handle against the ceiling. Never mind that I was rarely the offender. Okay, so maybe Brigit needing more space wasn’t the only reason for relocating. I could use some more space, too. Or at least space that didn’t involve sharing walls, floors, and ceilings.
I’d made appointments to see one place at three o’clock, another at four thirty, and a third at six o’clock today, but it was possible none of those would work out. My gaze continued down the listings. Given that the newspaper charged by the character for their ads, landlords tended to use abbreviations. Some of the abbreviations, such as bd for bedroom and ba for bath, were easily decipherable. Others, like g/a and frog and prq, not so much. Did Brigit and I want a place with a g/a or frog or prq? I had no idea.
Here’s an ad that looked promising.
3 bd 1.5 ba big yd S Hulen. $975/mo.
But, alas, the next sentence earned the ad a big X.
Though we shared an apartment, a bed, and an occasional bowl of popcorn, technically Brigit wasn’t my pet. She was a full-fledged officer of the Fort Worth Police Department, just like me. Heck, the dog outranked me. But, while she was well trained and behaved impeccably on the job, she was still a dog. Despite their extensive training, police K-9s didn’t become some type of robot any more than trained human officers did. The K-9 cops still did normal dog things, like dig holes and scratch doors and hork up yucky things on the carpet. Better to have a landlord who was tolerant of animals.
Below me, Brigit lifted her head, her ears pricked. She turned to face the door and stood, her tail whipping side to side with glee as she trotted over to look out the window. Woof! Woof-woof! No need to wait for Seth’s knock with Brigit announcing their arrival.
I glanced at the clock on my microwave. They were a half hour early. That could only mean one thing. Seth was anxious to see me. Good. I was anxious to see him, too. If I had a tail, it would be whipping side to side just like Brigit’s.
I walked over to the door and opened it as Seth and Blast stepped onto the landing outside. Seth wore tennis shoes, jeans, and a green Henley that brought out the color of his eyes and was fitted just enough to accentuate his shoulders. An avid swimmer whose best stroke was the butterfly, Seth sported shoulders as broad as they were strong. Blast, his Labrador retriever, wore a black collar imprinted with red fire hydrants. Both man and dog had short blond hair, square jaws, and muscular builds, looking as alike as a man and his dog could given that they were different species. But while Blast’s chin sported only whiskers, Seth’s had a subtle, sexy dimple, à la Ben Affleck.
Though it was early in February, the day was unseasonably bright, cool but comfortable. A light breeze blew past, carrying the scents of motor oil, dust, and garbage up from the parking lot. Ew. Still, the temperature was pleasant. The weather in the Lone Star State could change on a dime, though, going from calm and temperate to violently stormy in an instant. We had a saying here in Texas—if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes.
Brigit bolted out the door as soon as the space was wide enough for her to squeeze through. She ran up to Blast, her back half wriggling from side to side so rapidly and with such force she threatened to snap in two. Shameless, yet a part of me envied her for being a species that wasn’t afraid to show its feelings. Humans could be so wary and guarded.
Especially humans like Seth and me.
My brown eyes met his green ones and held for a long moment, as if each of us was trying to mentally feel the other out. Last night, he’d asked if he could come by this morning so we could “sort things out.”
What “things” needed “sorting out?” Long story short, last autumn, after we’d dated loosely for several weeks and I’d begun to fall—hard—for Seth, he had suddenly ended things for no apparent reason, leaving me confused, lonely, and heartsick. I hadn’t seen him again until New Year’s Eve when, as a member of the Fort Worth Fire Department’s bomb squad, he’d rescued me after a nut job tied me to a carousel horse at the Shoppes at Chisholm Trail mall with a ticking time bomb strapped to my chest. What a way to bring in the new year, huh?
After saving my life, Seth said he wanted to see me again. I’d agreed—how could I not?—but on the condition that we could see other people, too. I hadn’t been ready to put all my eggs in one basket. Smart move on my part, because it left me free to have some fun with Clint McCutcheon, a good-looking bronc-buster/deputy sheriff who, like me, had been assigned to work the stock show and rodeo. My relationship with the deputy had not set well with Seth, which I took to mean the guy was more emotionally invested in me than I’d realized. If I had to hazard a guess, Seth had reached the same conclusion. After winning the bronc-riding championship last night, Clint informed me he planned to resign from law enforcement and head out on the rodeo circuit. Though we’d had some fun, it was clear the deputy and I were not soul mates. We parted with no hard feelings.
So here were Seth and I, preparing to “sort things out.”
“’Mornin’, Megan,” Seth said in greeting, his deep voice, as always, causing a little spark inside me.
I tilted my head. “You’re a half hour early.”
He quirked his brows, a mischievous grin spreading across his face. “I was hoping to catch you coming out of the shower.”
“Too late for that.” I was dry and fully dressed, though I had left my long, dark hair hanging free and loose, the way Seth liked it.
He reached out a hand, took a lock between his fingers, and tentatively toyed with it, eyeing me all the while, assessing my reaction. He held it to his nose. “Mmm. Peaches.”
The fruity scent was courtesy of Brigit’s flea shampoo, which I’d discovered left my hair soft, shiny, and—yes—pest free. But let’s keep this little secret between us, shall we?
When he finally released my hair, I patted my leg and called the dogs, who ran into and around my apartment, barking up a storm. Ruff! Ruff-ruff! Ruff!
Seriously, did my downstairs neighbor stand in the middle of his place all day with his broom in his hand?
Ignoring the banging from below, I closed the door behind us and turned back to Seth. “Want some coffee?”
“There’s only one thing I want.” He stepped toward me, a gleam in his eyes. “You.”
Instinctively, I stepped backward, looking up at Seth. My breaths came fast as my butt hit the door. I could go no further, but Seth kept right on coming. He wrapped a warm hand behind my neck and captured my mouth with his, not just kissing me, but claiming me.
And damn if I didn’t like it.
Seth hadn’t exactly been the perfect boyfriend. It’s not that he cheated on me or lied to me or that I’d caught him dressing up in my high heels and lace underwear. He’d simply been closed, keeping me at arm’s length emotionally, which caused me no end of frustration. But he hadn’t been an ass on purpose. As I’d recently learned, Seth had been abandoned by his mother as a child and left to be raised by his grandparents. His grandmother, who’d been the one saving grace in his life, the one person he could count on, had died when Seth was a teenager, leaving him alone with a grandfather who was cold and aloof. Seth had never had a relationship with his father, didn’t even know who the man was. Add in several tours of duty in Afghanistan as an army explosive ordnance disposal specialist, and the guy had seen more than his share of heartache and loss.
Given his history, it was no wonder Seth suffered attachment issues and wasn’t the best at relationships. I couldn’t fault him too much. Besides, I wasn’t exactly the poster child for emotional stability myself. I was short-tempered and overly self-reliant, priding myself—perhaps too much—on my ability to survive on my own.
But everyone can change, right?
When we came up for air, Seth pressed his forehead to mine. “I want you all to myself. No more deputies. No one else, either. Deal?”
Despite the fact that he looked like a one-eyed Cyclops up close like this, he was nonetheless sexy as hell. And he was finally being honest and open about his feelings. I knew that must have been difficult for him. Unable to resist, I found myself saying, “Okay.”
He took a small step back and gazed down at me, the look in his eyes softening. “I’m not real good at these things,” he said. “But I want to be what you need, Megan.”
Before I could stop it, an airy half snort, half laugh escaped me. “That’s really sweet, Seth. But I don’t need anyone.” Hey, I only said people can change. I didn’t say I’d necessarily change immediately. Old habits die hard, after all.
The hurt look that flickered across Seth’s face caused a pang of guilt to slice through me. He had probably thought long and hard about what to say to me this morning. I shouldn’t have shot him down so quickly. It was the knee-jerk reaction of a long-term loner, of the now-grown woman who, as a young girl, had suffered a horrible stutter that caused her to be a pitied outcast and who’d learned, as a result, to be self-sufficient and independent.
“Everyone needs someone for something,” Seth said, surprising me again by his candor. The guy must have done some serious soul-searching over the past month.
“What do you need?” I asked. When he didn’t respond right away, I looked up into his face, searching for answers.
His green eyes narrowed as if he were thinking, trying to figure out himself what he needed from me. Apparently, his soul-searching had only gone so far. “I don’t know exactly,” he said finally. “I only know that, whatever it is, you seem to have it.”
“Oh, Seth!” I spurted out a satisfied sigh, blinking back happy tears. “That’s so … sweet.”
He stepped back, his face flushing slightly as if he were embarrassed to have bared himself. “Can we be done for now? All this lovey-dovey stuff is making my testicles shrivel.”
“You’re such a romantic.” I rolled my eyes, though secretly I was thrilled he’d gone as far as he had.
Brigit ran between us, Blast chasing after her, putting an end to our intimate interlude.
“Why don’t we take them to the dog park?” Seth suggested. “Let them burn off some of that energy.”
“Good idea.” I grabbed the newspaper and my purse and retrieved Brigit’s leash, calling her over and clipping it to her collar.
After locking up my apartment, I squeezed past one of my neighbors, a black man who’d decided to enjoy the brief respite from winter to sit on the steps in his boxer shorts and smoke a cigarette. The residents of Eastside Arms didn’t stand on formalities. Most had long rap sheets, low credit scores, and sketchy employment histories. As a college graduate with good credit, I was an anomaly. I’d moved into the place hoping the low rent would enable me to pay off my student loans quickly. So much for that plan, huh?
I followed Seth across the lot to his car, a seventies-era blue Nova with orange flames pointed down the side and license plates that read KABOOM. The car was simultaneously ridiculous and badass. It had a vinyl bench seat in front, which was held together with several strips of duct tape. Ditto for the dashboard, which had long since cracked in the relentless Texas summer heat.
He held the back door open while the dogs jumped in, then opened the passenger door for me. He lifted his chin to indicate the newspaper in my hands. “What’s with the paper?”
I slid into the seat. “I’m looking for a place to rent. A house with a yard. Brigit would be happier in a bigger place.” So would I. My efficiency apartment might be affordable, but the place lacked charm. And hot water. And insulation. My heating bills had been astronomical this winter.
Seth closed the door, circled around the front of the car, and climbed in the driver’s side, picking up the conversation where we’d left off. “Where are you planning to look? Around here?”
Though I’d like to live close to work and avoid commuter traffic, my options for rentals that allowed pets were limited. I’d have to take what I could get, where I could get it. “Ideally I’d love to live in W1,” I said, referencing my assigned police district. “But I didn’t see anything in the area that allowed pets.”
Seth didn’t have to worry about Blast impacting his living arrangements. He lived in his grandparents’ house in east Fort Worth, along with his grandfather, whom I’d surmised was both an old curmudgeon and had suffered PTSD since the Vietnam War.
Seth backed out of the space and drove to the dog park. Brigit and Blast stood in the back, tails smacking against the backseat with a whap-whap-whap as we pulled into a space. Seth and I retrieved our canine partners, led them through the double gates, and unclipped their leashes.
“Hey.” I lifted a hand to greet a redheaded woman I knew only as Bruiser’s Mom. Bruiser was a small, neutered Boston terrier with big balls, metaphorically speaking. He routinely picked fights with dogs three times his size. Fortunately, none of them took the little pip-squeak seriously.
After giving only a passing glance to Bruiser, Brigit trotted over to say hello to a couple of the other regulars, a poodle-pinscher mix named Delilah and a fluffy-haired chow named Tina, after Tina Turner. The trio wagged their tails, sniffed each other’s butts, and chased each other around in circles. Blast, meanwhile, reacquainted himself with a speckled heeler, a black lab mix, and an apricot poodle.
After spending a few minutes in idle chitchat with the other dog mommies and daddies, Seth and I began to walk around the perimeter of the park.
As we walked, Seth nudged my hip with his. “Valentine’s Day is this coming Saturday.”
I cut a glance his way and raised a brow in question.
“I thought we could go to Reata,” he said.
The Reata restaurant was a famous steakhouse, but it also served an incredible vegetable plate that would satisfy even the most diehard carnivore.
“Sounds great,” I replied. “I work that day, but I’m off at five.”
“I’ll make a late reservation.”
We walked back and forth along the park fence a dozen times before our dogs came looking for us, a sign that they’d had their fun, worn themselves out, and were ready to go. After loading them into the car, he leaned in. “You two hungry?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’”
We climbed into our seats and Seth drove to a nearby burger place, pulling into the drive-thru lane. He unrolled his window and leaned his head out to call into the speaker. “Two plain double-meat burgers.”
A garbled voice came back. “You want fries with that?”
Brigit stuck her head over the seat. Woof-woof!
Seth cast a glance at her, chuckled, and leaned out the window a second time. “Sure. Two large fries.”
Seth insisted on paying for Brigit’s lunch even though the department added an amount to my paychecks to cover the cost of her care. Who was I to argue? The beast ate way more than the stipend would ever cover.
The dogs’ lunch taken care of, Seth turned to me. “How’s Mexican sound?”
As Seth aimed his car for Chuy’s, a popular Mexican restaurant just west of downtown, I reached into the white food bag, the paper crinkling as I removed the burgers. I tore the burgers into bite-sized pieces and fed them to the dogs. “Wait your turn,” I scolded Brigit when she tried to snatch a chunk intended for Blast.
I finished feeding the dogs as Seth pulled into a curbside parking place across the street from Chuy’s. Peeking into the burger bag, I groaned and held up my greasy fingers. “They forgot the napkins.”
Brigit and Blast seized the opportunity to get one last taste of meat. Slurp. Slurp-slurp-slurp. Their tongues might be germy but they were effective.
We left the dogs in the car with the windows cracked and went inside. I made a quick stop at the ladies’ room to wash my hands with hot water and soap, then joined Seth at a table near the window where we could keep an eye on the car and make sure Brigit and Blast weren’t eating the seats.
We placed our orders and made small talk for a few minutes until the waitress returned with our food. She set our steaming plates down in front of us. “Here you go. Enjoy.”
Seth glanced down at the tortilla and turned his plate 180 degrees to face me. “Say hello to Willie Nelson.”
I took a look. Sure enough, the brown parts looked like a man with a bushy beard. “I think it’s less Willie Nelson and more Karl Marx.”
“How do you know what Karl Marx looks like?”
“Randy Dunham,” I replied. Randy was the sociopath who’d strapped explosives to my chest. The guy hadn’t even bought me dinner first. Jerk. “We found a copy of The Communist Manifesto in his bedroom when we searched it.”
The copy had been worn and dog-eared, several passages highlighted with yellow marker. Because I’d been the one to take Randy down, the higher-ups allowed me to go along with the detectives and crime scene techs when they gathered evidence at his home.
Seth picked up his quesadilla and took a big bite, essentially scalping Willie or Karl with his teeth.
“Pareidolia,” I said, with a shrug. “Weird how the brain works, isn’t it?”
Seth swallowed, splayed his fingers on either side of his head, and emitted an explosive sound. “Kapow! You just blew my mind.”
I read a lot and tended to retain random information, most of it useless. But occasionally some of the information proved helpful.
“Pareidolia is the tendency for people to see faces in inanimate objects.”
He nodded and took a sip of his soda. “Is there a word for seeing sexual organs in inanimate objects?”
“Ew.” I cringed. “Do we need a word for that?”
Seth shrugged this time. “You always hear about people saying something looks like guy junk or girly parts. You know, like butternut squash or tacos.”
I shook my head and waved a hand as if to clear the air of this ludicrous conversation. “Moving on topic-wise.” I held up the newspaper, which remained folded to the rental section. “I’m going to see three p-places this afternoon. Can you come with me? You might notice things I don’t.” After all, women tended to focus on things like wallpaper and closet space, while men tended to notice dripping faucets or dry rot. I’d already lived in one hellhole. I didn’t want to move into another.
He cocked his head, his gaze heated and intent as he eyed me. “I’ll come if you promise me a sleepover.”
My eyes flickered to his soft lips, his broad shoulders, and back again. Yeah, I can definitely see myself waking up to him. “Okay. I promise you a sleepover. I just don’t promise when.”
A slow, sexy grin spread across his lips. “I’ll take it.”
Dog Day Afternoon
FWPD Sergeant Brigit
The dog days of summer were so called because the star Sirius, also known as the “Dog Star,” in the constellation Canis Major, was most visible in the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course, though Megan knew this, Brigit did not and wouldn’t have given a cat’s ass about it anyway. All that mattered to Brigit was that she’d been taken for some fun playtime at the dog park, fed a nice lunch, and was now dozing peacefully in the backseat of Seth’s Nova, using Blast’s butt as a pillow.
If life never got any better than this, she’d still die a happy dog.
Copyright © 2015 Diane Kelly.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Diane Kelly is a former CPA and tax attorney, who had several brushes with white-collar criminals during her career. When she realized her experiences made excellent fodder for novels, her fingers hit the keyboard and thus began her Special Agent Tara Holloway romantic mystery series. She is also a proud graduate of the Mansfield, Texas, Citizen Police Academy.