When six-year-old Matt Wilson and his Shih Tzu, Pixie, step out of the Stanton Community Hospital and disappear, his desperate parents convince Jaron Greenberg, a local pet psychic, to aid the police in the search. Jaron specializes in finding lost kitties and fixing problem pooches. He isn’t prepared for a case with so much at stake. And as soon as he starts, the abilities he’s had since childhood begin changing and growing in unexpected ways.
Paulo Silva is a veteran detective new to the small town of Stanton. As the low man on the totem pole at Stanton PD, he isn’t happy when the chief assigns him to babysit the pet psychic instead of actively working the missing child case. As Jaron uncovers clues, Paulo starts to wonder if he might be the real thing. Or maybe it’s just his testosterone reacting to what he’s sure is mutual attraction.
THE HYSTERICAL yapping of a dog could be heard through the thin walls separating the small office from the main business area. It must be bath time for the Pomeranian. Resisting the urge to sigh, Jaron Greenberg gave his prospective client what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’m sorry about the noise. Most dogs love getting the full spa treatment at Pampered Pooches, but a few are nervous about getting their paws wet.” A chorus of barks joined the Pomeranian in doggy solidarity.
The old woman’s eyes widened behind her thick glasses as Jaron’s Newfoundland poked his massive head up to see what the racket was all about. The dog’s thick black coat and calm demeanor meant more often than not he blended in as he sprawled half underneath the desk on the black tiled floor.
“Don’t worry,” Jaron said, scratching Bear’s ears. “He’s a furry ball of mush.”
Mrs. Reynolds smiled politely but clutched her leather purse to her flower-covered bosom. It was hard to blame her. Bear really was a bear of a dog. A hundred-and-sixty-pound teddy bear.
Jaron leaned over and asked loudly, “How can I help you?”
The piercing screech of Jaron’s name from within the salon drowned out her response. Wincing, he could only imagine what the high-octave sound did to sensitive pooch ears.
“I’m sorry.” Jaron rose to his feet. “If you could excuse me for just a minute.” It only took three steps to get across the cramped office
He took a moment to center himself before opening the door. He wouldn’t be any help if the dogs sensed his growing annoyance. His shadow nudged his hand with his big wet nose. After patting Bear on the head, Jaron opened the door and entered the hallway. The vibrant pink walls made him slightly nauseous as he moved quickly toward the salon area. When his best friend’s parents had decided to escape the harsh Illinois winters for sunny Florida, they had handed over the keys to Stephen’s childhood home. Rather than sell it, Stephen opted to remodel the three-bedroom ranch home, since its proximity to downtown made it relatively easy to switch the zoning from residential to commercial. The living room, spare bedrooms, and dining room were gutted to make room for the main salon and reception/boutique area. The garage was converted to storage and a kennel for dogs waiting to be groomed.
Jaron stifled a laugh as he scanned the main salon. Stephen’s team of well-trained bathers, assistants, and groomers were running around like kindergarteners during recess. At the cutting and styling stations, a lab, a golden retriever, and a poodle wiggled and twisted on the slip leads attaching them to the waist-high stainless steel platforms. Only one of the three large-dog tubs along the back wall was occupied. A disgruntled Old English sheepdog sat unattended in the tub with a blob of suds on her shaggy gray and white head.
“Mel.” Jaron spoke loud enough to be heard over echoing barks. Grabbing the dark-eyed woman by her sturdy shoulders, he turned her toward her charge. “Finish washing Buffy.”
Melissa brushed her sweaty brown bangs off her forehead. “I swear I’ll quit if he lets that Pom come back.” Turning back toward the sheepdog, she weaved around a poodle whose hair was pinker than the walls. Why on earth do people do that to their pets? Jaron wondered. Stephen swore the dye was nontoxic, but Jaron doubted it was good for the dog’s self-esteem.
Jaron spotted Stephen patting the back of a short blond woman in her early twenties that Jaron didn’t recognize. They served the Pom fresh meat? What had Stephen been thinking giving a new employee the Pom as a client? Chaos was contagious in a pet salon. When a dog became agitated, the rest of the clients sensed the distress. The woman was crying in big gasping sobs and clutching her hand against her pink Pampered Pooches T-shirt. His best friend handed the woman off with alacrity to one of the cutters when he caught sight of Jaron approaching. Putting his hands on his ample hips, he said, “What took you so long?”
“I want you to promise…” Jaron said before being distracted by Stephen’s hair. Had his hair been like that this morning? Jaron liked to think he would have noticed his friend’s hair looking like a snow cone, with segments of red, yellow, and blue. Last he remembered, Stephen had bleached his hair to match Jaron’s white-blond locks. Maybe that had been like applying a basecoat before you paint?
“Stop staring at my hair and save us from that shark.”
Jaron held up a hand to touch his friend’s closely cropped hair. “I can’t help it. It looks delicious.”
Stephen batted the hand away. “I did her nails and cut without any bloodshed. Just turn on your mojo and get her calm enough to finish the wash and style before she kills us all.”
Jaron crossed his arms across his chest. “You said last time would be the last time you let that Pom come here.” The Pom’s name was Sweetie. There ought to be an award for most inappropriate name. Her reign of terror included ten different bite wounds and four stitches. She gave sharks a bad name.
Stephen looked over at the two assistants who were holding a towel up, preventing the shark from jumping down from the waist-high small-dog sink and slaughtering everyone. “The owner said he had gotten Sweetie therapy. He had a vet’s note and everything.”
“Banned for life, Stephen. I want you to promise.”
Stephen jutted his bottom lip out like a toddler instead of the owner of a successful dog salon. “The owner is so apologetic. I just can’t say no to him.” He waved his hands. “And I think exposure to your psychic mojo is helping her. She barely broke the skin this time.”
Looking at the mutinous faces of the staff, Jaron said, “Tell the owner to buy clippers and offer to teach him how to cut the hair himself.”
Stephen blinked his big brown eyes. “Private lessons?”
Jaron nodded slowly. “You could offer to teach him after hours at his place. Just the two of you and a bottle of organic shampoo.” With the shark as a chaperon, he thought. “You could light one of those doggy candles to set the mood.” He left Stephen debating which candle scent would be better: “Splendor in the Grass” or “Friends to the Rescue.” Jaron personally thought his friend should go for “Fart & Away,” as in faraway, but that was probably the annoyance talking. He appreciated Stephen allowing him to run his pet psychic business from within the salon, but lately Jaron spent more time dealing with the salon’s clients than his own.
Stepping over to the deep-set sink, Jaron gestured for the assistants to step back and took their place. Bear pressed against his hip. Attempting to ignore the assault on his ears from barks and yaps, Jaron focused his concentration on the pulsing energy around him. “Be calm,” he requested, closing his eyes, not because he needed to, but because it unnerved people to watch his blue eyes stare vacantly into the distance. Stephen had tactfully described him as a creepy white-haired doll with glass eyes.
All of the dogs except the Pom complied. Her stuttered barking sounded like the rapid fire of a machine gun with helium bullets, making him wonder how a five-pound dog could be so freaking loud. Jaron opened his eyes and stepped closer. She looked like a drowned rat with her sable and white hair hanging in wet clumps. She lunged forward with her needle sharp teeth, almost taking a chunk out of his hand.
Bear nearly knocked Jaron to the ground as he nosed his way to the sink. The Newfie was just over three feet tall standing. When he placed his front webbed paws on the edge of the sink, he was nearly as tall as Jaron’s six feet. Bear looked down at the Pom and made one deep bark that roughly translated to “be nice to my owner, you little shit.” What did the Pom do when faced with a hundred and sixty pounds of irritated Newfie? She sneezed and then went back to barking.
“Let me give it a try, big guy,” Jaron said, nudging Bear out of the way.
A year ago when the Pom first reacted so violently toward a groomer without warning, Jaron had taken a reading on the dog’s diamond studded collar, fearing abuse. In reality, the owner (more like servant) overindulged and tolerated the dog’s random rages without the slightest bit of reprimand. It wasn’t at the same level as abuse, but it wasn’t healthy for either party. Jaron felt a little guilty suggesting Stephen try to woo the guy with doggy candles. Stephen would eat the man alive.
Jaron zeroed in on the vibrating energy emanating from the Pom, isolating it from the other dogs. For most animals he could get a surface read of their emotions just by being in close proximity. To delve deeper he needed to either touch the animal or touch an object of emotional significance. His only option at the moment was to risk his fingers.
His concentration wavered when a woman asked, “Is he performing witchcraft?”
Looking over his shoulder, Jaron saw the blonde woman who’d been bitten on her first day at the salon.
“Shut up, Chrissy,” Stephen said, making a sharp gesture at her.
Chrissy raised her chin. “I’m a good Christian and I can’t be present for a satanic ritual.”
Jaron shared a look with Stephen before snatching a towel from the glass shelves above the sink and scooping up the Pom. She gave one more yapping protest before settling down in his arms. “I’m calming an upset dog, not performing a satanic ritual.”
Making the sign of the cross, Chrissy said, “You’re attempting to draw on occult powers to commit an unnatural act.”
Stephen jerked his head toward her. “Unnatural,” he said, his voice rising to screeching levels. “Tell me you did not just call my best friend unnatural.”
Chrissy’s blue eyes widened as her boss stalked toward her. People had a tendency not to notice Stephen’s broad and muscular frame until they pissed him off.
Looming over his employee, Stephen said, “He likes dick, too. Does that double his unnatural quotient?”
“Bear,” Jaron said, making the big dog’s ears perk up. He visualized what he wanted the Newfie to do. “Go babysit Stephen.”
Bear gave him a doggy grin before trotting after Stephen. Message received.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Chrissy squealed, and Jaron wondered if he would find his client hiding under the desk. He wouldn’t blame Mrs. Reynolds. Lifting the bundle in his arms, he looked the Pom in the eyes. “See the trouble you caused.”
The Pom licked the tip of Jaron’s nose, and Jaron saw an image in his mind of her owner holding a bag of gourmet dog treats. Rolling his eyes, he walked over to his friend, who was complaining bitterly about being pinned against the wall by Bear.
“He’s drooling on my five-hundred-dollar Gucci jeans!”
“You seriously spent five hundred dollars on jeans? And they call me crazy?”
Stephen glared. “We can’t all get away with Goodwill chic.”
Jaron looked down at his long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans. “Only the shirt is Goodwill. I splurged and got the jeans at Wal-Mart for ten dollars.”
Stephen made a sound of disgust.
Chrissy’s pale cheeks were blotchy as she looked away from her red-faced boss and glanced at Jaron. “Discriminating against a person for their sexual orientation is wrong. I wouldn’t do that.” She sounded like she meant it.
Jaron blinked. “Gay is okay but acting like Dr. Doolittle is the Devil’s work?”
“Communicating with the Devil is a choice.”
Jaron took a deep breath, resisting the urge to have Bear accidentally dump Chrissy into the tub. “I guess you’re right. I chose to calm a dog you failed to control, because she’s stressing out the other dogs and putting them at risk for injuries.”
Glaring, Chrissy pointed a finger at the Pom. “I did everything I was supposed to for that hateful little dog.”
Jaron held out the Pom for Stephen to take. “Dogs don’t hate. People hate. Dogs can sense people’s emotions and that’s not voodoo talking. Scientists have studied it. She bit you because she was afraid that you wouldn’t take care of her. Your fear and nervousness made her not trust you.”
Chrissy bit her lip. “I’d… never hurt her.”
Jaron nodded. “It’s not entirely your fault. Her owner needs to grow a pair and make it clear that biting isn’t an acceptable reaction. His overindulgence is making her insecure. But if you’re going to work here, you need to learn to spot the signs of stress before the dog bites.”
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JD Ruskin writes character-driven romance stories about complex men from a variety of backgrounds. JD is greatly influenced by her time in the Midwest, from the bustling streets of Chicago to the cornfields of rural Illinois. She enjoys writing stories with juicy plots, memorable characters, and smoking hot encounters.
JD’s first novel, When One Door Opens, was a finalist in the Rainbow Award and the winner of 2014 Epic E-book award. When not writing, she has a passion for traveling, photography, and graphic design.