Of Paws and Pet Rocks by J.D. Walker is now available!
Barry Dunning is a pet stylist and a gentle soul. Animals love him and he adores them. And while he would love to have a dog or cat of his own, the lease on his tiny studio apartment doesn’t allow pets. So, he paints miniature cats and dogs on rocks, instead.
Hurt by an ex-boyfriend, Barry doesn’t date. But his sister Trixie is always pestering him to get back out there, though he doesn’t think anyone would want him or his baggage.
Not so. Sheldon Svenson, the owner of the animal shelter where Barry volunteers on weekends is attracted to Barry and asks him out on a date. Barry — for once taking his sister’s advice — accepts.
Dinner ends in disaster, but Sheldon, undaunted, pursues Barry and asks for another chance. Will Barry decide to risk losing his heart?
“Tell me about yourself, Sheldon. I already know you own the shelter and love what you do. Why a rescue for animals? Is that something you’ve always wanted to do?”
He set his glass on the table and ate a couple of chips before he answered. “I’ve always loved animals. My brothers and I had lots of pets, growing up. Over the years I’ve had dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters — you name it.”
“How many brothers?”
“So did you always want to run a shelter?”
“Initially, no. I just kind of fell into it after leaving the messy corporate world behind.”
“Maybe. I got tired of the drama. Everybody’s a leg-humper on his way up the ladder. It got old.” He dipped a chip in salsa.
“I got out, did some research, and decided to open a shelter. It’s something I love and believe in, and it provides a place for animals that wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. And they never judge you, unless they’re cats. That just goes with the territory.”
I smirked. “Yeah, cats are like that. We’re here to serve them, after all.” I drank more of my margarita, then had some chips myself. The more I learned about the man, the more I liked. He was content with his place in the world, and that was attractive to me.
“What about you?” he asked. “Have you always enjoyed grooming animals? Is it your dream job?”
“I don’t know if it’s my dream job, but I’ve always been drawn to them. My sister and I also had pets growing up. In fact, you might even remember Trixie. She came by the shelter a while ago and adopted a beagle — Macy’s her name.”
“I remember Macy. Smart dog. As for your sister … short brown hair, golden brown eyes, lots of personality?”
“She had a baby in a stroller –”
“My nephew, Timothy. He’s a year old now.”
“Right. So you’ve always loved animals. How did you become a groomer?”
“Like you, I just sort of fell into, I guess. I started out on the floor at the pet store when I was nineteen, and became interested in grooming. I got certified and now here I am.”
“Boyfriends?” he asked, tentatively.
Before I could answer, our food came. I waited until we’d settled in a bit before I continued.
“Until a few years ago, I had infrequent encounters, nothing lasting. My heart probably wasn’t into that scene, anyway. I prefer something more stable, solid. I probably broadcast that vibe everywhere I go, which sends men running in the opposite direction, leaving me dateless.” I took a sip of water. “And then, there was Winslow.”
“Would Winslow be the man who broke your heart?” And my wallet.
“That would be he.” It still hurt to think about it.
“What happened, if I can ask?” The moment of truth.
“Not much to tell. I fell for his charm and fancied myself in love for the first time, ever. He was the one, I thought to myself. So handsome and attentive, so insistent on having everything in both our names. I was a fool. I should have known it was too good to be true. I mean, how dumb was I?”
Sheldon put his fork down and reached over to touch my hand lightly. “You’re not dumb, Barry. He took advantage of you, your sweet nature. It’s not your fault.”
“That’s kind of you to say, but it is my fault. I was naïve. He saw a sucker — a guy desperate for any form of affection — and I bought it all.” I set my fork aside, all appetite gone. “Now, I’m left with debt it will take me years to pay off. The real estate market is shit, too, so the house just sits on the ‘for sale’ listings like a lump.”
“You’ve been through hell, haven’t you?” Sheldon scrutinized me with what seemed dangerously close to pity. Great way to impress your first date in years, Barry.
“Ah, damn. I’m sorry to be such a downer.” And a total loser. “I’m ruining our meal, aren’t I? I should go.” I stood and took my wallet out of my pocket to get some cash. Sheldon became alarmed.
“Hey, put that away.”
“No, I need to leave, right now.” I placed some bills on the table.
“But –” He started to get up but I stopped him.
“No, Sheldon. Please, just … I’m sorry, but I can’t do this.”