Chapter One excerpt three

(Start from the beginning here:)

Haylee angled her path upward so she could keep an eye on the stranger as he walked away and before long, he’d disappeared around a rise of black rock.

“He seemed nice,” she told Jewel. “Though I could be biased by pretty packaging and a very nice voice. I’d ask your opinion but you’re as subtle as a freight train. You’d snuggle up to Jeffrey Dahmer if you thought he’d feed you.”

The dog kept looking behind them, as if hoping the man would reappear. And he hadn’t given Jewel any food whatsoever.

“I don’t have time for a man,” she said. “Or interest.”

She’d blown through her share of relationships – if you could call them that – years ago and wasn’t interested in revisiting that minefield.

Fine. She was a coward.

“On the off chance I read the vibe correctly,” she continued, “I’m doing him a favor by shutting this down before it gets started. Trust me.”

Jewel wagged her tail, panted and licked her lips.

“Enough arguing,” she said. “Time to head on home.”

As they retraced their steps to the area where she’d last seen the man, a sound wafted over the water. A voice, calling out. Calling her?

“Did you hear something?”

Haylee  squinted against the last rays of gold and scarlet painting the smooth ripples of the bay, in the universal human belief that by straining her eyes she’d be able to hear better.

She glanced at her dog, Jewel, ambling across the vast, lonely stretch of sand ahead of her.

Of course the dog had heard it. The lapping Pacific surf that muffled sound to human ears was nothing to a dog.

His voice?

She was probably imagining the distress.

Most likely, she was hearing some kids horsing around up by the cabins, in which case, they’d say hello and call it a night.

But what if it was someone in trouble?

“Fine it, Jewel.”

Immediately, the dog put her nose to the ground.

Haylee picked up her pace, watching Jewel’s tail sweep back and forth, a flesh-and-blood metronome, the tick-tick-tick measuring out a life lived in the moment, anticipation unmarred by dimming vision and arthritic hips, joy untarnished by worry or regret.

She thought of her current fosters: the little terrier cross, so full of attitude. Another Lab–pit bull, who was almost ready to move to his forever home. The border collie with the thousand-yard stare. None of them compared to Jewel.

She pulled salt air deep into her lungs following as the dog moved upward, scrambling over the surf-scoured rocks gleaming against the fading citrus sky, absorbed, Haylee imagined, not so much in the object at the end of the search, as the search itself. The journey, not the destination.

Jewel glanced back as if to say Pay attention!

“Right behind you, girl.”

She’d heard no more calls, but the old dog’s zeal was a joy to see. And you never knew.

Like freshwater pearls on a loose string, the Oregon coastline was dotted with beaches, each one a glowing gem nestled against the velvety silhouette of black rock. The wind-and-surf-pounded outcroppings, with their hidden caves and mussel-laden tide pools, all gloriously inviting in the light of day, told a different story when darkness fell.

It wouldn’t be the first time an unsuspecting beachcomber or sunbather had miscalculated the tides and spent a chilly night waiting for the ocean to recede.

Newcomers and visitors were especially vulnerable.

She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Hello? Is someone there?” 

In the silent suspension between waves, Haylee listened for the voice, but caught only the pad-pad-swish of foot and paw on sand, empty nothingness.

Not the tall stranger then, with his piercing eyes and soft dog-patting hands who may or may not be Gayle’s handsome doctor.

“Ju-Jube honey, I think we’re SOL on this one.”

But Jewel bunched her shoulders and clambered ahead. Haylee knew when she was being ignored. She ought to be firmer. She ought to reassert her position as alpha.

Being and doing as she ought to got old. It wasn’t as if Jewel sought domination of their little pack, after all. She knew on which side of the pantry door her kibble was buttered.

Just then the ocean paused its breathing and the sound came again, a voice, certainly, his voice, maybe, carried gently over the evening air, but landing not so much like distress as . . . the sounds you made when you banged your head getting into your car, cussing yourself out for stupidity. Dumb-ass noises, she thought.

“Woof,” said Jewel, breaking into a stiff old lady’s run.

“Please don’t throw yourself at him this time,” she cautioned. “He could be hurt.” More likely a loss of dignity, which did not preclude the need for assistance; however, she knew from experience that where dignity was concerned, the need for assistance was often inversely proportional to its welcome.

“Hello?” she called again. “Is everything okay?”

No answer.

Haylee pulled herself up onto a ledge of rock, the top still dry, but not for long, as evidenced by growing splotches of foam where the incoming tide marked it. Already across, the dog splashed through a tide pool still warm from the sun, and disappeared around a corner. Haylee hissed as her knee grazed a section of mussel-encrusted rock, glad she’d switched her flip-flops for sturdy-soled ankle boots after supper. She’d have to check Jewel’s paws carefully when they got back.

A watery crash sounded, large-dog loud.

“Jewel!” Haylee hauled herself over boulders slippery with algae and bits of kelp. The Labrador retriever in Jewel gave her a great love of the water, but the Y chromosome could have come from a hippo, for all the grace she had.

Another splash, then a storm of sloshing and splattering, and then the voice again, clearer now. Her pulse sped up a notch.

It was definitely him. Didn’t sound like he was in trouble. Though he could certainly be trouble. And now, there wasn’t a single other soul to be seen on the peaceful beach.

“Are you okay? Be careful with my dog. She’s old.”

More squelching slips, accompanied by grunts and indeterminate half shouts. Haylee wide-stepped over a shallow pool and clambered around another section of rock, peering frantically for Jewel’s form among the shadows beneath her.

“It’s the friendly dog,” came the voice. “That’s a relief.”

She looked down onto the rocky landing from where she heard the voice and saw a figure sitting on the dark slab of rock next to a glittering pool, the sharp edges worn smooth by surf and wind. A white T-shirt clung to his upper body, cargo shorts below, both darkened by water. Jewel draped over him like a bad fur coat, half-on, half-off, her tail slapping wetly on the rock.

The man sounded neither surprised nor irritated but, since Jewel’s sudden appearance would most certainly be cause for such reaction, this in itself was disconcerting.

“We heard you calling,” she said. “Thought you might need help.”

“Way better than an amorous sea lion, at least, which was my first impression,” continued the man, as if she hadn’t spoken.

That nice crisp voice had a note of desperate calm running through it now.

Haylee half climbed, half slid down the rock separating them.

There he was, the same handsome stranger, in the flesh.

“So, you’re okay, then?” she asked, slipping down the last bit, until she was standing just above where he sat with Jewel.

“Oh, absolutely. I’m more than okay. I’m fantastic.” He gestured to the dog. “I can’t feel my legs though. Do you mind?”

“Right.” Haylee motioned for Jewel to climb off.

He winced as the dog’s nails dug into his thighs. “You sure she’s not a sea lion? Ow! Or possibly a walrus? Wait. No tusks.”

 Read the next excerpt here.

Copyright © 2017 by Roxanne Snopek, All Rights Reserved

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© 2018 Roxanne Snopek. All rights reserved.