Her Secret Protector(5)

By: Roxanne Snopek



And time had healed. He was in a better place now, and ready to start over, but the old adage about no second chances for first impressions seemed to be the law here.

“It’ll be fun,” he said, more to himself than the dogs. “We’ll go for a run at the lake, maybe meet some new friends, and on the way home, I’ll stop at Doc’s for some treats.”

At least he could count Dr. Morrow, the vet, as a friend.

Ethan slipped on his sunglasses, turned on the radio, then started down Mission Range Road to town. When he reached the park at the edge of town, he pulled into a shaded spot at the far end. There were only a few other cars but he wanted to keep the dogs well away from the children’s play area. Powerful, working dogs could be intimidating to the short crowd.

“Here,” he said, slapping his leg as each dog jumped down from the back of the vehicle. They stood beside him, waiting, excited but controlled.

Ethan checked again for people – there were none nearby – and then led them to the shrubbery at the far end of the field, where the young dog promptly lifted his leg and took care of business.

Naturally, the other two took the opportunity to leave their own, superior, calling cards. He watched them explore the smells of a new, exciting environment, admiring their waving coffee-colored tails and intent faces.

The air coming off the lake was fresh and cool, despite the heat promised for later in the day, and he breathed deeply. The dogs trotted down to the water and he followed, smiling as Gun attempted to tease the older dogs into a game of tag. He reached down for a stick and threw it into the water, laughing out loud as Gun promptly catapulted in after it.

The sound of high, excited voices alerted him to the approach of a couple of women surrounded by small children, coming from the gravelled parking lot. One of them was pushing a stroller.

“Come on, boys,” he called, pulling out the leashes.

Ashur and Mars returned immediately. Gun’s attention, however, was caught by the squealing sounds coming from the small prey-like creatures scrambling over the grass. He dragged himself from the water, shook violently, then stood transfixed.

Damn.

“Gun, here,” he snapped. The dog’s ears flickered. He looked at Ethan and took a few steps toward him, his tail down.

But then one of the kids kicked a ball, directly within the dog’s sight-line.

Gun took off like a bullet, his long, sleek body stretched out like a puma.

“Gun!” yelled Ethan, dropping the leashes. The dog meant no malice; he was going for the ball. Ethan knew that. But the women – now screaming – would only see a large dog pelting toward a small child.

The kid, a little boy, from the looks of his overalls and blue t-shirt, saw the dog and pulled up short, just as Gun stopped. The child turned back to his mother but stumbled and went down, tumbling over the turf, shrieking and wailing.

Gun, fired up from his successful take-down of the ball, gazed at the boy, ears pricked, tail high, muscles taut, quivering with the desire to chase.

Even friendly as he was, he could easily hurt the child by accident.

“Gun, here, now!”

This time, to Ethan’s immense relief, Gun responded. His body language softened in shame at the scolding. His tail and ears down, he slouched back to his master and dropped into a down-stay, like the others.

“What’s wrong with you?” screamed the mother from across the grass, where she gathered the youngster close to her body. She was attractive, blonde and heavy-set, but the anger on her face was unmistakeable. The other woman had herded the remaining children together and were now huddled awkwardly on the grass, the kids wailing in chorus. “Letting those dogs loose around children, are you crazy?”

Ethan willed himself to stay calm.

“Is your little guy okay, ma’am?”

He repeated the down-stay command and then walked closer to the mother.

The woman got to her feet and ran to her friend, clutching her son like she’d just snatched him from a burning building.

“It’s okay, Amanda,” said the second woman, her golden-brown ponytail bobbing as she rocked one of her own youngsters. She eyed him nervously. “We can go to another park.”

He glanced behind him. All three dogs were lying on the grass, alert but relaxed, the picture of controlled power.

Ethan put his hands up in front of him as if to show he was unarmed. The women and children were sitting between him and his truck, so he’d have to talk them down before he could put the dogs away.

He took a few steps toward them.

“Ladies, I apologize if my dogs frightened you.”

The brown-haired one attempted a smile, but the blonde one shook her finger at him, making the hair piled on her head quiver.

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