Ranger’s Reprieve, Episode 4
By Kishan Paul
Lindsey sat cross-legged on the concrete floor in one of the training rooms of Paws for Veterans. A beautiful chocolate lab lay next to her with her head in her lap. Her eyes were closed as she brushed her thick coat. In the hour she’d been there, the owner of the agency had given her a tour and described in detail the service they provided. Rescue dogs, many from the very shelter she volunteered at, were brought here, trained, and then connected to soldiers injured in combat.
Considering she once worked as a trainer in a similar facility back in her teenage years, she pretty much knew how the place worked and what it stood for. The pay had sucked but the experience had been invaluable. That summer job was what cemented her decision to become a veterinarian. It was also why she had just volunteered to help train Java and his new owner for the next couple of weeks.
The dog planted a paw on her lap. She grinned and brushed it. “Today you’re going to meet your daddy.”
Java pulled her ears back and stared up at her with her dark brown eyes, as if looking for reassurance.
“I bet he’ll be an amazing daddy.” She scratched the patch of fur between her ears. “He’s probably worried if you’ll like him, too.”
Before she could say more, the dog rose to all fours and stared at the door behind her. Lindsey turned in time to see it open. Scuffed dark brown boots stepped in. She took in the frayed edges of the person’s jeans as her gaze inched higher. Thick muscular thighs hugged in denim towered over here. Soon she found herself staring at another part of him hugged by the denim.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” The deep, familiar baritones of the man’s voice echoed in the room.
She sucked in a breath and forced herself to lean back and stare into the irritated hazel eyes of her jerk of a neighbor.
Her mouth dropped. Of all the veterans in the country to walk in that door, of course it had to be this one.
Mr. Monroe closed his eyes and mumbled something to himself as he took some deep breaths of his own. She watched in complete fascination at the way his grey cotton tee stretched against his muscled chest when he inhaled a slow, deep lungful of air.
For some reason, she couldn’t think straight when he was around. Her brain went from screaming for her to run the hell away to wondering what he would look and feel like…naked…on top of her. She forced herself to stare at the floor as she tried to collect her thoughts.
Java nudged her cold nose against her chin and licked her cheek. She smiled and gave the dog a hug. She was right. She was tougher than this.
She climbed to her feet, kept a firm grip on the lab with her right palm, and stretched out her left arm. “Mr. Monroe, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Lindsey Marshall.”
The look of irritation on his face changed to one of anger as he waved his artificial left hand at her.
She cringed and dropped her arm to her side as she cursed under her breath. “Yeah, sorry I forgot you don’t have a …”
He tipped his chin at Java and cut her off. “Is that my dog?”
She nodded and pet the chocolate lab, who was currently pressing her head against Lindsey’s leg. “Yes, this lovely young lady is Java.” She rolled her shoulders back and flashed her most professional smile. “And I will be your trainer for the next few weeks.”
The corners of Asshole Monroe’s lips curved up. “Trainer? How about you work on training your own dog first?”
By Anne Lange
Just his fucking luck. Could his day get any worse? Not only did her freakin’ dog keep horning in on his sleepless nights. Not only did he have to see her rescue said pooch in a cute, short shirt and not much else. Not only did he have to torture himself with fantasies of gripping that mass of glorious red hair in his remaining fist while he drove into her tight heat from behind. Not only did he have to salivate, wondering what her pert nipples tasted like. Now he’d have to spend the next few weeks horny as fucking hell while Ms. Marshall taught him how to work with his dog?
How the hell did she expect him to concentrate?
He dropped his gaze to the dog. A dog who, oh look, no big surprise, sat huddled next to his pretty neighbor’s thigh. Yup, another female to reject him. Great. Just fucking great. Jess rubbed his forehead, feeling another headache coming on. And his damn arm ached like a bitch.
“Shelby isn’t being trained as a therapy dog, Mr. Monroe.”
“Damn good thing, because she clearly doesn’t come when she’s called.” The ball of fur didn’t skedaddle when ordered to either.
“Java, however, has been fully trained, Mr. Monroe. We—“
“My name is Jess. My father is Mr. Monroe and he’s ….” Why the hell did he tell her that? He didn’t want to be on a first name basis with her.
“I’m sorry.” Delicate eyebrows dipped in a frown, and she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth.
He was such an ass. Jess took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. He softened his tone. “Never mind.” He shuffled his feet and shoved his one hand into the front pocket of his jeans. His prosthetic hung at his other side like a flashing beacon to the two females sitting in front of him. The dog pitied him. He could see it in those soulful eyes of her. She blinked. Her ears were tucked close to her head. Her nose twitched as she studied him. “Look, maybe there’s somebody else who can help me with Java.”
Between the lack of sleep, panic attacks, and the headaches, he needed something to change. And he’d been hoping this dog would be the answer.
Lindsey rubbed the soft spot on the top of the Java’s head between her ears. The dog glanced up. Was that a plea in her expression? A plea for another wounded soldier to help instead of the broken one in front of her? Maybe one that at least had all his parts.
“Can we please start over?” Jess raised his head and captured Lindsey’s solemn gaze. “I am sorry,” she added. “About everything you’ve been through. I’m not…appalled by your injury, Jess. I’m curious about it, though.” She patted the dog absently.
Jess tore his eyes away from her. Those lips of hers were very distracting. But she wasn’t here to be his fantasy fuck buddy. She was here to work with him and his newly assigned dog.
Maybe if he kissed her and got it out of the way, they could move on. He could stop wondering, be able to focus more. Might take the edge off. God knows doing the one-handed dance to visions of her sugar plums wasn’t doing it for him.
Jess snapped his eyes closed. His mother would smack him upside the head. Since when did he objectify women like that? And when the hell did his pity party start rolling like a runaway train?
Oh yeah, when he lost his arm and got shipped home. What he needed was a big fucking rewind button. Chuck would still be alive. He’d have his arm. And he wouldn’t be thinking or saying the crap that he was thinking and saying. Though he wouldn’t be living next to the beautiful Ms. Lindsey Marshall either.
He tested out his smile. “Hey, you wouldn’t be interested in giving a guy a kiss, would you? You know, as a way to start over?”
By Aubrey Wynne
Java stood, tail wagging, and sniffed at the artificial hand. Her pink tongue licked a finger and then another. An unexpected smile curled his lips. At least one female is good with it.
“She understands verbal commands as well,” Lindsey said with more than a hint of laughter. This time, she held out her right hand.
Jess unclenched his fist from inside his pocket and felt her warm fingers slide over his. For a brief moment, he allowed himself to remain lost in those clear green eyes. When his jeans tightened, he gave a fake cough and ended the contact.
“So what’s on the agenda today? How to take her for a walk?”
“We’ll get to that. Today you both need to get acquainted and make sure you are compatible,” Lindsey said in a professional tone. “Have you owned a dog before?”
“Sure, as a kid. And our unit had a shepherd that sniffed out bombs.” Dammit.
“I only ask to make sure you have no fear of canines. Some people think they want a dog but are intimidated by the size, exuberance, or just the barking.” She studied him for a moment. “I don’t think that will be an issue.”
“I get the feeling there isn’t much that frightens you.”
No smile, no hint of teasing. She was serious. I’ll remember to keep the windows closed so she doesn’t hear me at night. “Nope. I’ve survived hell, and I’m here to tell it about it.” He absently rubbed his aching arm.
A flash of jade eyes took in the action, and a sadness shadowed her face. Not pity—he knew the difference by now. “I’d like to hear your story.”
She gently squeezed his forearm and the ache moved to his chest. He wondered again if he might find comfort in the warmth of her skin next to his, her body filling the cold emptiness that had settled in his heart since that day…
The next few hours flew by as he learned the skills of his new canine companion. He had even managed a few grins and a genuine laugh. An apology might be a good way to end the session.
“Thanks for all your help. I can be a real ass sometimes, and I appreciate you not holding it against me.” His mother would be proud of him but he could almost hear Chuck hooting with disbelief.
“Well, I know Shelby can be a bit obnoxious but she’s a work in progress. I’ve only had her a couple of months.” She bit her plump bottom lip then looked up at him under thick, dark lashes. “Since I’m your neighbor, we could probably arrange to bring Java home sooner and do more of the training at your house. Would you like that?”
Would he like that? No. Yes. Fuck! “Sure, if it isn’t too much trouble. I guess that would work.”
“We can introduce Shelby and set up some play dates.”
“Play dates?” Could you wipe the stupid grin off your face? She’ll think you’re a pervert.
“For the dogs,” Lindsey answered. “Or whatever.”
Those kissable lips turned up at the corners as she turned and bent over Java to attach her leash. He stuck his hand in his pocket to keep from giving her firm, round ass a light smack. Flirting had once been second nature to him but he hadn’t felt the urge in years. She’d also made him forget about his arm for a few hours. It might be an interesting summer after all.