Her Secret Protector(8)

By: Roxanne Snopek



There’d be a certain freedom in that, she thought, wistfully.

At the end of the driveway she came to a gate. As rumored, the yard was fenced, but it was a tidy split-rail fence, no razor-wire or electricity or attack dogs or armed guards in sight. It figured. Feed Mom a local rumor, add a few small-minded gossips and assume a fifty percent exaggeration of the truth.

She leaned out the window of her SUV and pressed the button.

For a long moment, there was no response.

Then, the tinny sound of a voice behind a microphone.

“Yes?”

“It’s Carrie Logan,” she said. “I have an appointment.”

The voice did not answer, but she heard a click and the gate began to swing open. She drove through and that’s when she picked up the faint sound of barking.

Okay, so he had a dog.

She followed the circular driveway, then slowed as the house came into view. Far from being a cookie-cutter monstrosity, it was instead an elegant structure of timber and glass, modest in size and perfectly suited to the landscape.

Even her mother would have to admit it was beautiful.

But her heart thudded in her chest as she pulled to a stop. Bluebeard’s castle had been beautiful, too.

The sounds grew louder, clearer.

Not just one dog.

Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. A pack, by the sound of it.

This part of the rumor did not sound exaggerated one bit. Even people who liked dogs would think twice before opening their car door to dogs that sounded like this.

Not that Carrie didn’t like dogs, she reminded herself. She just liked them… in moderation. Small. And one at a time.

She turned off the ignition but didn’t undo her seatbelt. Ethan Nash would have to come to her.

Ar-ar-ar-ar. Big, deep voices. But where were they?

She tried not to listen, focusing instead on what she could see.

Minimal landscaping, tasteful. Lots of negative space.

Ar-ar-arrrr. Growling, too.

She clutched her bag to her chest and made sure her doors and windows were locked.

His garden was a mess. The rosebushes alone made her want to cry.

Was no one hearing this? The barking continued, almost frenzied now, but still she saw no sign of the animals themselves.

Suddenly, like a knife cutting through the air, the barking stopped. Silence rushed into the vacuum, vivid enough that she could hear the whoosh of blood in her ears and the ticking of her cooling engine.

Then the front door swung open heavily, as if the metal grommets studding the dark wood were made of lead. The figure in the doorway was nothing more than a still, shadowy silhouette.

Carrie cracked her window but didn’t open her door. She watched movies. She knew about the Too Stupid To Live Heroine and baby, that was so not her.

He moved forward into the light.

Oh, mama, she thought. You didn’t mention this.

Tall, dark and dangerous, personified. She swallowed hard and her throat clicked. Emphasis on the dangerous.

Two dogs stood on one side of him, a third on the other. They were tall enough to reach his hip, with upright ears like German Shepherds but taller, thinner, rangier. Their tails were at half-mast, neither wagging happily nor poised to attack. Simply waiting, as if for a command they knew was coming, but weren’t sure when.

He snapped a word she didn’t recognize and the dogs sat. Then he walked down the shallow stairs toward her, his face and figure coming into view with each step closer.

Ebony hair, black eyes, olive complexion, the scruffy shadow of beard on his chin. Heavily built and all muscle. Big eyebrows drawn together in a frown on his forehead.

“You afraid of dogs?” he said. His voice was low, gravelly, like perhaps it didn’t get used much.

She lowered the window further.

“Dogs, no. Ravening wolves, yes.”

His full lower lip twitched. He barked another command and the trio leaped down from the landing, tails wagging wildly this time. They hovered around her door, whining and shoving each other, their pink tongues lolling over big white teeth.

“Back away, boys. They’re Belgian shepherds. Malinois. Come on out and say hi,” he said.

Yeah, she thought. Do that.

Carrie took a deep breath, pushed open her door and stepped down into the yard. Immediately the dogs approached, whining and sniffing her enthusiastically. They didn’t jump or even push her but the sheer mass of them, so intense, no near, had her backed up against her door, hands up, face averted, before she realized it.

She hoped she hadn’t gasped audibly, but she wasn’t sure.

“Here!” snapped the man.

The dogs backed away but continued to pant and wag, as if she was a choice bit of steak tartar they couldn’t wait to taste.

“You said you weren’t afraid of dogs.”

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