Christmas on Cougar Mountain - Nancy Radke
Hard-working Zoey is dedicated to helping children learn, and has built her business to the neglect of having a family. When she rescues a dog on the freeway, she discovers that the escape artist brings a family with him, including a boy she would like to help, and as love grows, a man she would like to keep. But will Kellen ever trust her to help his son, much less give her his heart?t.
ExcerptAbout the Author
A dog... on the freeway! Or just about. A lovely Border Collie, it was walking up the on-ramp, headed into deadly traffic. Zoey's headlights picked up the shadowy form as she drove past.
Quickly decelerating, she pulled over to the edge and stopped, throwing on her emergency flashers. She hadn't reached the actual freeway yet, she still had about thirty feet before the lanes merged. Watching for any cars coming up the on-ramp behind her, she opened her driver's door and stepped out into the pouring rain. It was December in Seattle, so she was used to it. She splashed around to the back of her car and called the dog.
"Here boy. Here girl." What did you call a dog when you were a total stranger? "Come on." She bent forward and patted her hands against her legs. Zoey had grown up on a farm in Idaho and was no stranger to animals. She used her very best, soft coaxing voice, one that had saved the lives of lambs and other baby animals who had lost their mamas and had to be coaxed into eating. "Come on, pet. This is no place for you. You'll get killed, or cause a pile-up, as people try to miss you. Come on, sweet."
The dog paused, looking about, totally bewildered, then looked toward her, head low. Hers was the only encouraging, friendly voice around, and Zoey called again, wishing she had even part of a sandwich to help bring the dog to her. The rain soaked her hair and shoes and made short work of her raincoat. She could feel the moisture working its way around the collar.
"Come on. Would you like to go for a ride?"
The collie lifted its head.
"Ride? Go for a ride?"
That evidently meant something, and Zoey hurried over to the passenger door and opened it. "Get in! Ride."
The dog bounded forward and leaped into her car. She shut the door quickly. None too soon, as two cars made the turn and were headed up the ramp, their headlights blinding her. She waited for them to swerve around and pass on by, then she rounded her car, cracked open the driver's door, and slipped inside.
A wet tongue greeted her, adding to the wetness on her face. The dog was halfway onto the driver's seat, thoroughly soaked, and Zoey had to push it away so that she could sit down. It put a wet paw on her arm and licked her face, treating her like a long lost friend, giving her a big doggy "thank you."
"Down. Get down," she protested, thankful that she had chosen to travel in her jeans and heavy coat, rather than in her better clothes.
The dog immediately jumped down on the floor and sat there, head cocked to one side, as if to say, "Now what?"
She stared out into the pouring rain. Almost a monsoon. Now that she had the collie off the freeway, what was she going to do with it? She was still close to Bellevue, although not familiar with this neighborhood.
"Well, I'm not going to have to worry that you'll bite me," she said, flipping on her turn signal and accelerating onto the freeway. "Let's hope your owner had a chip put in you."
She continued alongside the freeway for a few hundred feet, then pulled back off it, following the cloverleaf around. She drove down to the small shopping mall where she had stopped to get some coffee. There should be a veterinarian somewhere close. She didn't want to take the dog with her, out of the area where she found it, in case the owners were looking for it.
Flipping on her phone, she searched for a nearby vet's office. She found an animal hospital about a mile away, and drove to it.
Leaving the dog in the car, she tried the office door. Still open.
"Hi. I found a dog on the freeway, and would like to see if it has a locator chip," she called across the room to the attendant.
"Sure. Bring him in."
Zoey still wasn't sure if the dog was male or female, so checked when she opened the door to take it out. Male.
He ran happily ahead of her, but when she said "Heel," he came in close to her left side and stayed there.
"Well, someone has been teaching you manners," she said, opening the vet's door and going inside.
"He doesn't look like he's been injured," the lady said, as they approached her.
"No. He was running up the on-ramp when I got him."
The attendant petted the dog on the head and got a sweeping tail wag response. "Good boy. He might have been following his owner's car. Dogs do that, expecting to get picked up. Then they get lost or hurt."
"If so, he might be from around here. I picked him up on this exit."
The lady scanned him along the back and shoulder. "No chip. Probably a family pet, and so no one thought to put in a chip. Do you want to leave him here?"
"What will you do with him?"
"We'll send him to one of the pet rescue groups. If they can't find his owner, they'll put him out for adoption. If no one takes him, he'll be put down."
"That would be a shame. He's a nice dog. Well trained. I think I'll leave my name and number with you, and take the dog. You know what he looks like. If someone calls looking for him, you can send them to me."
"Do you have room for him?"
"Yes. I have a large enclosed porch where he can stay." Zoey wrote down her name and phone number on a pad and handed it to the attendant. "I put 'Found Dog' beside my name."
"Border Collie. Male," the attendant said, and added the words to the paper. Then she tore off the note and stuck it on a bulletin board on the wall behind her.
Zoey looked at all the notes. There were a lot of them. "All lost dogs?"
"Dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, birds... you name it. Even a rooster. We get a lot of missing pets this time of year. Folks get busy with the Christmas holidays and forget to check their animals. Or they think someone else in the family has done it."
That wouldn't be her, Zoey thought. Her family was still in Idaho.
"Come along, Dog."
"You'd better name him. Do you want a leash?"
"A name?" Zoey's mind stayed blank. What would she name the dog?
"Call him Jack. Just something rather than 'Dog.'"
"OK. Jack was my grandfather's name. I can remember that."
"Have you had a dog before?"
"Not recently. But my folks had dogs. There was always one or two around."
Leashes and collars hung on a rack near the counter. Should she get one? She might only have this dog for one day. She realized she wanted Jack. He would keep the nights from being so long. He probably wouldn't sleep out on her porch, after all.
"I'll take a leash and collar." She chose a serviceable-looking set from the rack and put it on Jack. Sixty dollars. She could afford it, and pulled out her credit card.
The attendant ran the card and handed it back to her. "There you go. Don't get too attached. Owners have a habit of showing up out of the woodwork, when you figure they never will."
"Thanks for the warning." She put the collar and leash on the dog. "Come on, Jack." The collie followed her to the door and waited while she opened it. "Good dog. Heel."
Jack positioned himself on her left side and stayed that way out to the car. She opened the door and he looked at her. "Get in."
Thus invited, he jumped inside. She went around the car and joined him.
"There is no way I'd let anyone put you down," she told him, giving him a scratch behind the ears. "Even if you chewed holes in my boots. I'm a sucker for a lost animal. Besides, you'll make the kids feel at home." And herself less lonely. She didn't say it, but she thought it.
Zoey's biological clock was ticking. She was almost twenty-eight and had no man interested in her. She had tried gym membership, but couldn't stand the smell. Online dating seemed too risky. Her work kept her so busy, she really didn't have time for dating. She had spent her college-age years getting her business going, and hadn't met anyone.
Now she wished she had spent a little time looking around, "husband hunting," but it had seemed so important to find a place where she could work. She had tried renting a duplex, where she could live in one side and work in the other, but it wasn't set up the way she wanted it, and the double rent was just as expensive as a house. So she had bought a new house, built the way she wanted it.
She felt left behind. As lost as this dog. The eligible men had all settled down with someone else. She was going to have to make some changes in her life. Schedule more vacations. Join some clubs. Go out and meet people. Pray about it more often.
She turned on the windshield wipers and drove home to their rapid thumping. At top speed they still couldn't keep the windshield clear of the heavy rain. Like everyone else on the freeway, she slowed down to forty miles an hour.
The dog in the car made a difference. She had made this trip many times, to and from the airport, but always by herself. Just the presence of a living, breathing being in the car beside her made a difference. He couldn't talk back to her, but she chatted away to him, happy to have a companion for the journey.
"Do you know you are both beautiful and intelligent?" she asked Jack. "I don't expect I'm going to get to keep you very long, not a dog like you. But if your owner is out of town or somewhere, I wouldn't want you to end up at a shelter and go to someone else. Or get put down. I'll take care of you. You really are a sweetie. You don't look very old."
In reply, he steamed up the windows and filled the air with the smell of wet dog, but she was very glad to have him.
Author Nancy Radke, started out writing full-length, modern romance and suspense stories, then switched to novella length for her western series, The Traherns, and now writes both, usually two or three books at the same time. She has published ten Sisters of Spirit books, including Christmas on Cougar Mountain, thirteen Trahern books, and one book of a new Brothers of Spirit series. A former special education teacher, her education background shows when she includes history, or in this case, reading problems, in her books. Her books are G-rated, no sex, no swearing.
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