Her Secret Protector(6)

By: Roxanne Snopek

“Frightened us?” she snapped. “Look at them! That dog went straight for little George. I’ve had it with loose dogs and irresponsible owners. I’m going to file a complaint. Enough’s enough.”

Brown Ponytail’s tentative smile took on a desperate edge. “Amanda, let’s just go.” She took a step backward, her eyes darting toward the mini-van they’d arrived in.

Ethan recognized the fear in her eyes and it made him sick to his stomach.

“My dog didn’t touch your son.” He worked to keep his voice level. “I can’t speak for any other dogs, but your kids were never in any danger with mine. If you like, though, I’d be happy to teach them some dog-safe skills.”

Instantly he recognized his mistake.

“So now it’s our fault?” Blondie was sputtering now. “How dare you! Sherry, hand me my phone.”

An older man jogging near the water’s edge noticed and came up to them, a Border collie mix jumping and pulling at the end of the leash.

“What’s going on here? Oreo, stay.”

Ethan gritted his teeth. Clinton Calloway. Of all people. With no control over his dog, either.

“Ethan Nash,” said the man, wiping his face on the sleeve of his t-shirt. “Winning friends everywhere, I see. Oreo, sit!”

“Mayor.” There always seemed to be too many teeth in the man’s smile.

Little George had stopped crying and was now squirming away from his mother’s grasp, trying to see over her shoulder.

“Doggies?” he said, then scowled. “Bad doggies.”

Calloway looked where the kid was pointing and raised his eyebrows. “They look scary but I’m sure Mr. Nash wouldn’t bring bad doggies around innocent children.” He yanked on the leash. The collie yipped, then stood still, subdued. “It takes a lot of work to train a dog properly.”

The superiority in the man’s voice made Ethan want to punch him, especially since Oreo was so clearly confused and discouraged.

“It certainly does,” agreed Ethan. He switched focus to the child, forcing his jaw to unclench and lifting his cheek muscles in what he hoped was a smile. “Would you like to meet them, little man?”

“Are you out of your mind?” Blondie/Amanda’s voice hit a fresh new pitch.

The kid frowned uncertainly. “Doggie bite me.”

“My God,” said the mayor. “Shall I call an ambulance?”

“Doggie did not bite you,” said Ethan to the boy. “You fell down.” He looked at the blonde woman, fighting to ignore the mayor’s attempt at escalation. “Has he been bitten in the past?”

“Yes,” she said.

“No,” said her friend, with a slight eye-roll. Some of her nervousness seemed to have abated.

The blonde woman lifted her chin. “He could have been. Last week at the park, a strange dog came up and snatched the sandwich right out of his hand. Scared the crap out of us both. No owner in sight, of course.”

“Georgie gave it to him,” said brown pony-tail. “He actually walked over to where the dog was hiding and handed it over.”

“His teeth touched my child’s hand, didn’t they?”

“Come on, Amanda. There wasn’t even a mark.”

“Unacceptable,” said Calloway with an emphatic head nod. “Dogs should never be running at large. I’ll have Animal Control look into it immediately.”

Not a justification for Amanda’s over-the-top reaction, but Ethan admitted grudgingly that it may have sensitized her.

“These doggies are very friendly, I promise.”

Little George scrambled out of his mother’s arms onto the grass to stand next to a pair of tow-headed kids of similar size. There was a third, smaller one in a stroller, sleeping peacefully through the mini-catastrophe.

“Get back here, Georgie.”

But the boy easily evaded his mother’s grasp.

“Good doggies, Mama.” He shoved out his lower lip, emphasizing the familial resemblance.

He and the other kids eyed the dogs from across the grass with avid interest.

The only ones who seemed traumatized were the mothers.

Make that mother, singular. Only Blondie was really upset.

And if she’d already had an alarming experience, he couldn’t really blame her. Also, while Gun hadn’t harmed the child, he hadn’t been completely under Ethan’s control, either.

“This is an unsafe situation,” said Calloway.

“I know!” said Amanda.

“It’s not,” said Ethan, praying Gun wouldn’t break. The kid danced closer to the dogs. Every line in Gun’s body indicated how badly he wanted to play with this small human, but he kept an eye on his master and stayed in position.

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