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Tripping into Puppy Love – Sneak Peek!

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Chapter 1

Anne Marie

The spa is a flurry of furry activity. In every direction, there’s howling, crying, panting, lip smacking, and the pitter-patter of nails on a marble floor.

In any other spa, this would be the definition of chaos. But at the Dog’s Paw Dog Spa, it’s just another glorious day.

“Someone get Patchouli in here. He’s next for his trim!” Rita calls down the hall with her iPad in hand.

“Right on it, Rita!” I reply, doing my duty as the new girl. “Mr. Patchouli, would you care to accompany me into the grooming room?” I hold out my hand to invite him in, and the owner sighs in relief as she passes over the leash.

“Good luck,” she says. “He’s not great at walking with humans.”

“Not great at—whoa!” The schnauzer scampers under my feet, then around my feet, and then on my feet until I’m well-tied up and have to grab at Rita’s desk to stay upright.

I rub my hip where it’s never been quite the same since the incident. But back into the present moment…

“Patchouli, I see that I’m going to have to keep you on a short leash, quite literally.”

A shampoo over here, a dog walk over there, and then I wash the floors until they shine like the Parthenon (assuming they shined a lot before they were ruins and all).

“Anne Marie,” Rita waves me over, “I need your help in the training center as soon as the vet room is mopped. It’s urgent!”

“On my way!”

Jog, jog, go to the training center, watch out for the uneven stairs into the dirt floor of what used to be equestrian grounds and now is overrun with pups of all ages running their agility exercises.

With a deep breath in and a Saint Bernard-sized exhale, I can honestly say…


“Present, Rita!” I trot over to her.

“Hang out over there,” she points to the edge of a group of staff, “because I think you should hear this, even if it is only your second official day.”

At that very moment, in walks Miss Chardonnay teetering in her stilettos. She runs this whole place—mainly the Chateau Rose hotel, but the Dog’s Paw was always her ‘pet project’.

The pun makes me chuckle.

She struts gingerly in those three-inch heels. I struggle enough in running shoes, so I have no idea how she keeps her balance with those on. Rita rushes over and lays a rug at the bottom of the steps, so her heels don’t sink into the mud.

Mental note: never let Miss Chardonnay sink into the mud. That seems worth remembering.

“Good day, everyone!” she calls out in her charming French accent. Her glossy white hair is pulled into a tight bun, and her wide-leg pants float like a cloud around her. She is the picture of French femininity—not that I know much about it.

See, Colorado is the farthest I’ve been from Pine Oak Acres, Nebraska in my whole life. And it’s barely a five-hour drive away.

It’s not that my parents were protective… they were obsessively protective. My big brother is the worst, though. He’s called and texted me at least three times a day since I got here. We grew up on a farm—a very unproductive farm since my parents didn’t have a clue what they were doing—as they insisted that we had to live off the land to be self-sustaining.

Did I mention that my parents were new-age hippies?

Basically, the exact opposite of Miss Chardonnay, who strikes a pose I’m sure I’ve seen in magazines, leaning against the railing of the training ground with one hand raised as though she were calling a waiter.

“I am threeled,” she drawls, “that you have all made it for this most important briefing before what is likely the most important period in ze history of The Dog’s Paw.”

She inhales dramatically.

“The Great Global Dog Show will descend in the coming days, and I expect everyone to be at his and her best.” She scans the thirty-plus staff, and we all stand a little taller, me included.

“What show?” I whisper to Rita, controlling my voice like a kindergartener who’s about to go to recess.

“What show?” Rita’s jaw drops. “You haven’t heard of the Great Global Dog Show? But it’s televised in fourteen languages.”

Miss Chardonnay continues. “I am counting on you all, every single one of you, to be ze greatest support that the Great Global Dog Show has ever experienced in their worldwide history. Even you, Miss New Girl.” Miss Chardonnay gestures grandly with her long fingers at me.

I know my eyes are stretching wide like a baby deer. The smile on my face has been plastered there since eight in the morning yesterday when I showed up for my first shift. I bounce on my toes, half because it’s hard to contain this burst of excitement, and half because it helps manage my problem.

My problem. I’d almost forgotten about it these last couple of days.

That’s the beauty of being surrounded by four-legged wonder beasts, also known as pup-a-lup-a-las, also known as every non-human that walks into the Dog’s Paw Dog Spa.

But now I’m feeling rather out of the loop. And I know exactly why.

“How can you be a dog lover and not watch the annual Great Global Dog Show?” Rita asks.

“My parents don’t have a TV.”

“Oh.” Rita nods, and while I was worried she might judge me for it, I don’t get that sense at all. She pats my shoulder. “Just take my lead.” She clears her throat. “Miss Chardonnay?”

“Yes, Rita?”

“I would like to take this opportunity to make sure everyone knows the history and reputation surrounding the Great Global Dog Show.”

“But isn’t it self-evident? It’s been the same for the past ten years, ever since it began!” Miss Chardonnay raises her arms like even the silliest child on the planet would know the basics of the Great Global Dog Show.

“Still,” Rita continues, “for everyone’s benefit, allow me to refresh their memories.”

“Yes, well,” Miss Chardonnay backs toward the stairway, “far from it for me to prevent refreshment. Everyone, I give you your new assistant manager, Rita!”
Applause breaks out from all the staff.

That’s how I got this job. Rita was promoted from receptionist, and I’ve taken on her previous, less savory duties. Not that I mind for a second. I’ll clean the kennels all day long if I have to. Rita reports to Lizzie, the British general manager, and Lizzie reports to Miss Chardonnay.

I think it helped that when Lizzie hit her head and was unconscious during my job interview, I carried her to the hotel next door. Nothing helps a job application like lending a literal hand to your future boss’s boss.

Yesterday was official day one, and it’s been crazy ever since. I had a rushed tour and spent the day learning the iPad scheduling.

Today, things are getting real.

“Hi, everyone! Great to see you all gathered together.” Rita bounces to the front. That’s what I love about Rita. Everything she does is with a smile. Unless she’s making a serious point, then she goes thoughtful-scowly, which is what she’s doing now. She straightens her spine. “Now that I’ve been promoted to assistant manager, I feel it is my duty to review not only the rules of the show but also the guidelines for the Dog’s Paw Dog Spa during this period.”

Rita takes us through the normal stuff, work hours and how we aren’t to go to the Chateau Rose—the adjoining luxury hotel—unless instructed to do so. The Chateau Rose hosts celebrities from all over the world, and with the big show coming to town, I guess we’ll have dog royalty in the house. I can understand why Rita would be concerned.

I wonder what I’d do if I saw someone uber-famous walking along the laneway between the Chateau Rose and the Dog’s Paw…

I’d probably freak out, forget how to talk, and stumble face-first into the shrubs. See, if I turn my head too fast, it messes with these crystals in my inner ear… and down I go.

It all happened after the incident, the accident that changed my perspective on life… even though I was just a kid. It was then that the doctor explained that I had crystals in my head. Being a kid, I figured that “crystals” were like diamonds. I was the richest person in the world because I could grow diamonds in my ears.

But then I started having nightmares about people wanting to steal the diamonds from me.

I woke up crying, and Mom came rushing in. She thought I was bawling because of the trauma of the incident, even though I tried to explain that it was just because of the diamonds.

I’m not sure at what age I learned that everyone has crystals in their ears, but that’s when the nightmares stopped. It just happens that my crystals are a touch looser than everyone else’s. They have a tendency to bounce out of place at the most inconvenient of times after a rush of adrenaline. And when that happens, all sense of balance goes out the window. I can hardly tell which way is up.

It’s not ideal.

And definitely not something to put on a job application for the best job on the entire planet. I figure if I can make myself indispensable to the Dog’s Paw, then they’ll be more likely to look past the awkwardness of my dizzy spells when they happen—since it’s a question of when, not if.

See, I don’t know how this job stuff works… This is my first one. I worked on the farm while I did my studies, but the time has come that I make my own way. It’s what I had to do.

Much to my big brother’s displeasure.

Mom and Dad weren’t thrilled, but they knew it was time. Craig, however, was another story.

But I won’t let any of that bring me down now. I can only cross my fingers that my dizzy spell won’t happen in front of anyone, or better yet, that it waits until I get home to Mrs. McKenney. She doesn’t mind. Then again, she’s almost completely blind, so nine times out of ten, she misses the drama altogether.

I’ve become quite adept at silently stumbling.

Unless it’s a messy fall… and that happens sometimes. Even thinking about it makes the side of my head ache. Let’s just say that I now exclusively take baths.

“That will be enough for now,” Rita finishes. “Just be sure to ask questions before making any assumptions. Understood?” She smiles. “I promise there will be chocoballs for all of you when this is done.”

That’s met with cheers. I got to taste one of Rita’s chocoballs yesterday. It was a first-day gift, and it was divine.

In addition to knowing every single dog that walks through the door, Rita is a baker on the side. The woman’s got it all together.

Coming from my town of three hundred, I also have a lot to learn. Hampton Hills isn’t exactly a metropolis—to most people, it’s a small town with a side of historical charm, but for me, the fact alone that there are more than five streets is enough to make me rely on my maps app to get to the grocery store for Mrs. McKenney.

“Hey,” a man with a gentle smile strolls over, “you’re the new girl, right?”

“That’s me! New girl, right here.” I point my thumbs at my chest and realize I look like a dork. “They call me on the phone, but you can call me Anne Marie.”

His smile widens and something about him reminds me of my dad. “Good to have you, kid. We really need some energy to help us get through these next few weeks with the show.” He points his thumbs at himself, and the gesture feels more like solidarity. There isn’t a mocking bone in this man’s body. “I’m Scotty, maintenance. Call me if you need anything.”

“Thanks, D—Scotty.”

Oh my goodness, I totally almost called him Dad. I’m a twenty-four-year-old woman. So embarrassing.

Fortunately, I don’t think Scotty noticed, as he gives me a final thumbs up and heads out of the training center.

“Anne Marie!” Rita calls and I go running. “I have a job for you.”

I join her and a very tall, very broad woman.

“This is Nora, night shift. Nora, Anne Marie, the new girl.”

“Ah, yes. New girl.” Nora nods and narrows her eyes like I might actually be a foreign spy in disguise as the new girl.

Rita doesn’t notice. “Nora took out a group last night for sense training, and she suspects some of them might have ‘left their mark’ in the fields, if you catch my drift.” She crosses her arms and looks sideways at Nora, though Nora hasn’t taken her gaze off of me.

I rub my hands together. “I see where this is going. Doggy-do duty. I’m on it!” I turn to run out of the center, but Rita calls me back.

“Your enthusiasm for such duty,” she chuckles at her own pun, “is noted, but please, take the shovel and doggy-do carry-all. It’s in closet number five by the barn.”

“You bet, Rita!”

“I’ve never seen anyone so happy to collect poop,” Nora says as I leave the barn. “It’s peculiar.”

“Then pick up after the dogs yourself next time!”

Rita, coming to my defense. I like her already.


Chapter 2

Anne Marie

The grounds of the Dog’s Paw and the Chateau Rose are straight out of a dream. Rolling hills with beautiful scenery are rounded out with a small lake, a chapel, and a forest. Just beyond it all are the Rocky Mountains. I mean, wow. I feel like I could be here for years and barely get to know a piece of the property.

But first things first. Doggy-do waits for no woman, and we can’t host dog royalty with droppings on the lawn!

I catch myself humming a tune that my mom used to listen to on a record. Yes, we were in the new millennium listening to records. And not in the hipster kind of way.

Growing up, I never knew we didn’t have much. We had a house. We had a community. We had each other. And we had chickens.

I whistle the tune as my hunt continues, since the offending droppings are nowhere to be found. Is it possible that the dogs didn’t actually ‘do their business’ while on sense training?


I spoke too soon, so says the heel of my running shoe as it sinks deeper into the squishy-but-drying plop of doom.

I’ve got to keep my eyes on the grass. What’s the point of humming and staring at the clouds when the problems are all right here on the ground?

It’s like a filter has lifted from my eyes, and now all I can see is doggy-do.

It’s everywhere.

“How many dogs did she take out?” I ask the lawn. “Unless one of them has a serious problem, it’s like she unleashed a pack that hadn’t been outside in three mealtimes.”

The carry-all is getting heavy, and I’m a distance away from the Dog’s Paw, right at the edge of the forest. I glance at my watch.

“Time for a quick break.” I drop the carry-all but on second thought, I hide it behind a bush at the forest entry. That seems like the Dog’s Paw thing to do. Because who knows what pop idol or famous actor or handsome prince might come walking by?

I’m thinking like a Dog’s Paw staffer already.

And if I go for a quick stroll in the woods, it’s for business research, right? After all, I need to know the grounds. I might have to chase a wily greyhound this way one day. Best I have a lay of the land.

That’s what I tell myself.

The green of trees and bushes envelops me, but I stop. It feels like I’m stepping into someone’s home, like I should ask if anyone is here, because the tree cover is so thick that the light is dim. If the Chateau Rose is dreamlike, this forest is a fantasy. I bet there are creatures large and small who scamper over the fallen logs and play in the tree trunks, singing little animal songs and bouncing in the joyous light of—

Oh, no. I know that sound.

Barking… And it’s coming this way…

I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be picking up doggy-do on the lawn. What if it’s Nora coming to find me out? What if the forest is off-limits? I never thought to ask. What if I lose this job just two days in? I’ll never be employable in this town again.

The bark becomes a howl, and there’s more than one. Hounds. They’re releasing the hounds on me!

I do what every self-respecting new employee of a luxury dog spa would do—

I climb a tree.

It’s not even a very bushy tree, there are others around that would have been a better option since I’m in a forest, but no. I choose the flimsy young maple that bends even as I reach the first branch.

If I can just reach another branch up… it’s leafier up there, and I can make myself at least a bit hidden from view. Why did I wear a bright pink blouse today?

One more hand, and… I’ve got it! The branch is solidly in hand. Lift one leg, wrap it around, lift the other, and I think this is going to be okay.

There’s a man down there, all in black. He low-whistles and the dogs come to his feet. He looks around as if searching for something. One of his dogs, maybe? Or did he hear me scrambling up this tree?

He looks up, not at my tree but at one nearby, and I catch my breath.

He’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever laid my mid-western eyes on.

Something about the way he’s looking around, a weariness in his eyes. He’s looking for something or someone… maybe someone who will make all his dreams come true…

I’m lost in a fairytale. And it’s very poorly timed.

I shift my weight so that I’m deeper in the leaves, anything so he doesn’t catch sight of me… And I hear a crack.

I have half a second to adjust my tumble, and it’s all I can do not to land directly on his head.


Whoever idealized falling in a pile of leaves as a soft landing has never actually done it. All the wind is knocked out of me, and I’m not a hundred percent sure which way is up.

I wipe the brush off my face and hear a chuckle behind me.

“I thought I saw someone walk into the forest.”