Excerpt: Love at First Bark By Debbie Burns
Love at First Bark
By Debbie Burns
Publication Date 7/30/2019
“This heartstring-tugger is certain to win fans.” —Publishers Weekly STARRED Review for A New Leash on Love
Animal portrait painter Mia Chambers and architect Ben Thomas have volunteered at the High Grove Animal Shelter for years, and they share a complicated history. Ben has secretly loved Mia all this time, but she was married to his best friend. Now she’s newly widowed, with a young son, and Ben doesn’t know how to tell her what’s in his heart. All he can do is stay close, help her as much as she’ll let him, and watch for the right moment to bare his soul.
When a dozen adorable border collies get dumped in St. Louis’ biggest park, everyone at the shelter mobilizes for a large-scale rescue. Rushing to the park to round up the frisky collies, Ben and Mia unexpectedly plunge into a new phase of their entangled lives. Who knew that opening their hearts and homes—to animals in need and to each other—would lead to so many upheavals…and new beginnings…?
Rescue Me Series:
A New Leash on Love (Book 1)
Sit, Stay, Love (Book 2)
My Forever Home (Book 3)
Love at First Bark (Book 4)
What People Are Saying About Debbie Burns:
“[A] warm, wonderful story.”—Romance Junkies for A New Leash on Love
“A tender love story…will win the hearts of animal fanciers.”—Publishers Weekly for My Forever Home
“It captured my whole heart.”—Urban Book Reviews for Sit, Stay, Love
“Sexy and fun.”—RT Book Reviews, 4.5 stars, TOP PICK for A New Leash on Love
Debbie Burns’ writing commendations include a Booklist Top 10 Romance Debut of 2017, a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly, and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews, as well as first-place awards for short stories, flash fiction, and longer selections. She lives in St. Louis with her family, two phenomenal rescue dogs, and a somewhat tetchy Maine coon cat who everyone loves anyway. Visit her online at www.authordebbieburns.com/
Author Website: www.authordebbieburns.com/
Once Kit, the still-healing sheepdog, was hooked up and supported by the harness, Mia and Ben took off at a snail’s pace with her and headed out the back shelter door. The easy-going dog had long, shaggy hair and was wearing a red bow on top of her head to keep it out of her eyes. She didn’t seem phased by the walking assistance she still needed as she recovered from hip surgery.
Mia had helped walk countless twosies—dogs needing the assistance of two people—over the years, but she couldn’t remember being so acutely aware of another walker’s presence so close to her. The fact that Ben was behind rather than in front didn’t help as much as she might’ve thought. Even before they’d stepped outside and away from the familiar smell of the kennels, she was savoring the cedary scent of his cologne. He was in jeans and an outdoorsy olive–green wool sweater with its three buttons open at the collar, accenting the perfectly formed trapezius underneath and reminding her how much she wouldn’t mind losing herself in that sculpted neck or the shadow of stubble along the ridge of his jaw. Again. Only this time sober.
As Kit warmed up, it no longer felt as if a snail could outpace them. They started down the strip of woods, and Kit came to a complete stop next to one of the seasonally decorated cedars. She seemed entranced with watching the erratic flight of a nearby bird. As usual, her strength was picking up as they walked. Her gait was steady and even, and Ben seemed to be holding on to the straps now as a precaution rather than to help lift her.
“So, as you may be guessing,” Mia said to fill the silence, “walking most of the twosies isn’t that exciting.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I could do this all day.”
Mia glanced behind her to catch him raising an eyebrow at her. “What, life at a slower pace?”
“That would be a should do, not a could do.”
Mia had just started to ask what the “could do” meant when something about the way he was looking at her told her she might not be ready for his answer. She stopped midsentence and did her best to refocus on Kit, whose head was raised as she watched a gray bird flutter about in a nearby tree, her ponytail of forehead hair flopping every which way.
Mia was about to attempt a change of topic and ask if he knew what type of bird it was that had caught Kit’s interest when she heard Ben give a quiet “Come here.”
Before she knew it, he was stepping in close, his free hand locking over the back of her hair, and his lips were closing over hers.
Like the first time, his kiss seemed to address everything she could possibly be craving. Her blood raced through her veins, and she opened her mouth to his reflexively. She wanted to lose herself in his kiss, to press in against him and lock her hand around his jaw or over his shoulder. She wanted to savor his taste as much as she did the feel of him.
Only she was sober this time and Ollie wasn’t far away and something about this was real in a way nothing had been in a long time, and it scared the hell out of her.
She took a step back, an almost involuntary one. “Ben, I…I don’t know…” She shook her head. “So maybe I don’t know what it is that I don’t know. I just—”
“Mia, I know.” He brushed his thumb across her cheek. “Trust me, I do. I just thought it might be easier to move forward if you weren’t the only one who’d taken that risk.”
An embarrassed laugh tumbled out of her. “Are you seriously telling me you just kissed me so things aren’t as awkward tonight?”
“I didn’t mean to imply that I didn’t want to.” He leaned down and lifted her chin, brushing his lips over hers a second time. He started to pull away but then met her gaze and came in again, making this kiss longer, slower.
Mia closed her hand over his shoulder to steady herself as it continued. She must’ve been holding her breath because she became a bit dizzy. When he finally moved away, he pulled her into a one-armed hug and brushed his lips against her forehead.
“Thank you.” She laughed at herself for thanking him for a kiss and buried her face in his chest. “It helps. Mostly. I did climb onto your lap though. That’s going to be hard to get over.”
He chuckled and kissed the top of her head. “No pun intended, huh?”
She laughed harder and stepped back. “That’s not funny.” She bit her lip. “Okay, it’s funny. A little funny. Seriously, Ben, everything’s so complicated, and this doesn’t make it any less so.”
Ben locked his hand in hers as Kit woofed at the bird as it swooped closer, chirping loudly at Kit and flicking its long tail.
“You’re right. Things are complicated, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon. So how about just letting go and taking tonight and the next few days as they are? No questions. No heavy talk or decisions. Just making sure Ollie has a fun Christmas.”
Mia drew a long breath and nodded. “That sounds like a really good plan. But can I ask one more thing first?”
She gave an exaggerated bat of her eyes. “If that’s the case, would you mind kissing me once more? If you do, I’m pretty sure I’ll have the strength to make it through anything, even facing Victor and Irene on Christmas morning after this.”
He narrowed his eyes, cocking his head sideways a bit. “That’s two people, so I’m pretty sure that means I’ll need to kiss you twice.” Then his lips met hers again, and the fear and hesitation that had been rising inside her ebbed away until it was just him and her and a barking dog and a territorial little bird.
Excerpted from Love at First Bark by Debbie Burns. © 2019 by Debbie Burns. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.