“Are you happy to see me, beautiful?” Ezio’s heart swelled when he saw her. She was gorgeous and had a heart of gold to match.
One brown eye and one blue eye shone up at him with adoration. Ezio got down on his haunches and rubbed his hands through Tabitha’s fur. He was impressed that she hadn’t barked.
“How’s she been doing, Fred?” he asked the manager of the shelter.
“Great. I’ve been taking her out, just like the videos showed me. I think you found a winner.”
“Did you hear that, girl? I’m thinking I can take you to Phillip’s house real soon, and your full-time training can begin. What do you think of that?”
The licks came fast and furious and Ezio laughed. “Yep, you like that idea. You’re going to make someone very happy, aren’t you, girl? You’re going to be a Godsend to some lucky veteran, I just know it.”
Tabitha wiggled with excitement. Hell, Ezio was pretty excited too. So far, working at the shelter he’d only spotted four dogs with the temperament to be therapy dogs. Not that he was volunteering his time just to do that; he loved it here, but knowing how long the waiting list was for the dogs, he couldn’t help his sense of satisfaction when he found a dog like Tabitha.
“Shall we go visit Duchess and see if we can talk her into playtime?”
Tabitha wagged her tail. She knew who Duchess was and was eager to see the medium-sized border collie mix. The poor abused collie had come in three months ago and was frightened of men, so Ezio always led with Tabitha before going into her enclosure. A treat never hurt either.
They moved in front of Duchess’s spot and Ezio crouched down in front of his therapy-dog-in-training. The husky-Labrador-shepherd mix was wagging her tail, her tongue lolling out.
“Calm, Tabitha. Remember, play nice and calm.”
Ezio could swear Tabitha nodded. She clearly understood because as soon as he said the words, she stopped wagging her tail and she looked over at Duchess who was trembling in the back of her pen. Tabitha gave her a sympathetic whimper that had Duchess raising her head in response and standing up.
Ezio opened the enclosure and Tabitha walked slowly in. Soon the two dogs were sniffing one another. Finally, with Tabitha’s prodding, Duchess came to the front of the pen.
“Hey girl,” Ezio said as he held out his hand. “What do you think? Would you like to go play out in the yard with me and Tabitha?”
Ezio had high hopes for Duchess. He volunteered here at Harmony Rescue twice a week when he wasn’t overseas on a mission. He was really hoping that he could acclimate Duchess to people, because he believed with his whole heart that she would be a perfect companion for his shy niece in upstate New York. Lucia had mentioned that Sarafina wanted a teacup poodle, but Ezio still thought Duchess would be a great fit.
Duchess sniffed Ezio’s hand and finally licked it. He took that as a sign that he could give her a scratch behind her ear. When he was done, he gave her a treat. Tabitha held back, never begging, another sure sign that he’d chosen wisely. He waited one more beat, then rewarded her with her treat, which she daintily nipped from the palm of his hand.
“Okay you two, let’s go out back and play ball.”
He’d start with these two, then come back for the others that Fred thought would be good together. All in all, Ezio would spend five or six hours playing with dogs. Could there be a better way to spend a day off?
It wasn’t until he had three mutts that had so many different breeds mixed in it would take a geneticist a month to figure out their parentage, that he got a call. He threw two ropes out to the three males and watched them carefully as they played chase and tug-of-war while he took the call.
“Hey, Leo. What’s going on?”
“There’s free food at Kane’s tonight, wanted to know if you’d like to participate.”
“The lake house?” Ezio had only been there once, but it was a bit off the beaten path on Lake Anna and would take him an hour to get there. When he looked at his watch, he realized it was close to five o’clock already.
“I still can’t believe he calls that damn thing a lake house,” Leo said. For God’s sake, it looks like something out of a magazine. A lake house where I grew up meant that you built a dock and a shack next to it. Lake house my ass,” Leo laughed.
Ezio had thought the same thing the first time he’d seen it. Cullen had clued him in that Kane had made money, serious money, starting his own computer software company before joining the Navy.
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