Love at First Bite
This short story was written just for you! The last contest winner was able to choose the main character and one object. Magen J. chose Charlotte, a hard-working, strong-willed, compassionate woman, and a basset hound puppy.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2014 Jacqueline Winters
Charlotte felt the sting of sharp teeth sink into her pointer finger, spoiling her much deserved sunny park nap. An event planner’s work was never done, but Charlotte had squeezed a couple of hours to herself this unseasonably warm Valentine’s Day before she was needed at the town hall to oversee the smooth execution of the Lonely Hearts Ball, a fundraising event for heart disease awareness.
Ready to scold the obnoxious little dog on the loose and let its owner have a piece of her mind, Charlotte shot up to a sitting position on her fuzzy purple blanket. Mouth open to lash a reprimand, Charlotte was struck speechless. Instead of the yippy little dog on the run she had expected to see, a tiny basset hound was bouncing up and down in short little jumps, his tail wagging.
“Why, you’re just a puppy.” His caramel colored ears brushed the ground as he replied to her with a couple howls. “Who do you belong to?” asked Charlotte, scanning the puppy’s neck for a collar that wasn’t there.
Folding her legs under her knees, Charlotte extended her arms to gather the excited puppy into her lap, but was interrupted by a deep male voice. “There you are you little rascal.” The man with sandy brown hair and blue eyes the color of the sky scooped the basset hound up in his arms, about to turn around without so much as a thank you.
“Excuse me,” said Charlotte, standing, hands were posted on her hips.
“Sorry,” said the man. “Thank you for corralling Baxter. He snuck off.”
“How do I know that he’s yours?” This man, attractive as he was in his dark wash jeans and thin gray sweater, had appeared out of nowhere. How did she know he wasn’t a puppy-napper? An unpleasant 101 Dalmatians image materialized in her head and she found herself irrationally afraid that this handsome stranger might turn her puppy into a coat if she didn’t intervene. As Charlotte watched Baxter struggle against the strong arms, she added, “Where is his collar and ID tag?”
“Over there,” said the man, pointing to a blanket under a sturdy oak tree that fanned a good deal of shade even with its absence of leaves. “On our blanket.”
As Baxter wiggled with more determination, his two front paws came loose. Charlotte seized the opportunity to swipe the puppy back.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Fury shone in the stranger’s eyes, making him very attractive. It was a look that would bring most stubborn women to their knees in submission, but not Charlotte.
“I’ll carry Baxter over to your blanket so you can prove you have his collar and ID tags. If you’re telling the truth, you can have him back.”
“This is ridiculous,” growled the man. “Lady, I don’t have time for this.”
It was Charlotte’s turn to shoot a glare. “My name is Charlotte. If you don’t care to show a little respect, then you’re not getting this puppy back.”
“Charlotte, please follow me.” His words were coated in malice, as if she had severely inconvenienced his entire day.
“I don’t like your tone,” said Charlotte, plopping back down on her purple blanket.
“Oh for crying out…” The man shook his head. “What now?”
“You’re certainly being rude to someone who saved your puppy from being eaten alive by one of those Great Dane’s,” said Charlotte, nodding her head across the park. “Or worse, run over by a car speeding around in the parking lot. You don’t strike me as a grateful puppy owner tpye that could appreciate this little guy like he deserves.”
For a moment, the man stared off toward the distance, as if debating what angry rant to spout at her next. But then he released a deep breath and fell onto the blanket next to her and the puppy. “I didn’t mean to be so rotten and ungrateful.”
He would have to do better than that for an apology, thought Charlotte, or she just might go home with a new puppy.
“Name is Dawson. And I really am sorry I was so rude.” He reached into a front pocket of his faded jeans and for a second, Charlotte was worried he might pull a gun. But the fear quickly subsided as he revealed a cell phone. Holding it between two fingers, Dawson flashed the screen at Charlotte.
“You’ve got to be kidding. You want my number?” Charlotte didn’t understand Dawson at all. Maybe this little transition from angry to apologetic worked on other girls, but she wasn’t about to fall for that trick.
For the first time since Dawson’s unexpected appearance, he actually smiled. “Sorry, no.”
Charlotte wasn’t sure why she felt a pang of disappointment. It wasn’t like she knew anything about this mysterious stranger in the park other than his name and that he was horrible at keeping tabs on a puppy.
“Read the text.” He tossed the phone at her. Charlotte almost read the words aloud but was glad she chose not to. Won’t make it to the park today. Sorry Dawson, but it’s over. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve already moved all of my stuff out of your apartment. There were a few more lines, but Charlotte felt like she was invading his privacy.
“Now I feel like the ass,” said Charlotte, handing Dawson back his phone.
“Don’t,” said Dawson. “It was irresponsible of me to let Baxter wonder off while I wallowed in self-pity. He was supposed to be my Valentine’s gift. The reason his collar wasn’t on him when he ran off it because I was trying to tie a ring to it with a red ribbon.”
Despite the tragedy that had unfolded for Dawson, Charlotte thought that might be the sweetest thing she had ever heard. “You were going to propose with a basset hound puppy on Valentine’s Day?” She couldn’t help it. Her heart melted in a puddle right there on the blanket. Any ill-mannered thoughts about Dawson vanished.
Dawson shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea. Guess I was wrong.”
What did she say to that?
“I’m going to ask something of you that you might think is completely reckless and even more irresponsible than letting Baxter run off earlier.”
Charlotte didn’t realize she was holding her breath until Baxter pawed her stomach and forced the air out. Surely this man wasn’t going to ask her on some sort of Valentine’s Day rebound date. No matter how much sympathy she had for his pitiful luck and irresistible good looks on the most romantic day of the year, Charlotte would not stoop to some cheap fling.
“I just picked Baxter up a couple hours ago. He hasn’t even had a chance to see his new home.”
Was he going to ask her to return Baxter so he wouldn’t have to? Charlotte protectively hugged the rambunctious puppy closer.
“He seems to really like you.”
“I like him,” said Charlotte firmly.
“I have a lot of new puppy things in the trunk of my car—dog beds, puppy food, bowls, toys, even a leash if you’d believe it. Baxter is up to date on shots. And if I wrote you a check to pay for his future food, would you be willing to give him the home that my broken heart can’t?”
Charlotte wasn’t sure how she felt about this offer. Of course she would take Baxter home. It didn’t matter if her landlord would pitch a fit, she would make the arrangement work. But how could this man so easily hand over a basset hound like it was a material object to a complete stranger? Her expression must have given her away.
“It’s a conditional thing,” said Dawson. “I’d like visiting privileges with the option to take him back when I’m ready. I know that sounds strange, but I’ve always wanted a basset hound. My heart just isn’t in it right now, but I know I’ll feel differently when I’ve had a chance to move on.”
“How do you know I can be trusted?”
“I know who you are,” said Dawson. “I’ve seen your commercials for event planning services. If you tried to sell Baxter to a puppy mill or something I would find you.” His tone was a little frightening.
Charlotte knew this arrangement only promised heartbreak for her in the future. She had already grown attached to Baxter in this short meeting. How would she feel when she had to give him back in six months or a year? But Baxter would suffer a great deal if his owner were in mourning. But Charlotte knew he cared, or he wouldn’t have made such a protective threat. “I’ll do it.”
To be continued… In a future novel