August puttered around the house like a fussy old lady straightening picture frames and setting doilies under vases. Well, maybe not that bad, but he was taking more time than necessary to straighten up, as if Eric Grover were an adoption agent making certain his home was fit for an orphan. What was the point in scouring the tub and shower or getting every last wrinkle out of his bedding? The veterinarian wouldn’t even be in those rooms.
I’d like him to be. Not the bathroom, but the bed. August could picture the big bear of a man sprawling there and taking up more than his share of the mattress. He’d like to see how hairy Eric was. A tuft of dark curls at the throat of his shirt suggested a full pelt from chest to groin. What delicious heat such a large body would generate, keeping August warm on a cold winter night.
“Shut it!” he warned himself aloud. “Just shut it down right now.”
Of course, he was projecting. The chances of his meeting another gay man in this tiny burg were about as likely as finding pinecones on a magnolia. Eric Grover probably wasn’t inclined that way, as much as August might like him to be.
Anyway he should be focusing on the dog right now. It was a big responsibility to take on. He hadn’t had a pet since he was a little kid—a cat named Jerry that had been hit by a car. His military life had been too transitional to allow for pet ownership, since he’d been stationed wherever his expertise was needed. Even now he was living in a temporary home from which he’d be absent for hours. He prayed he wouldn’t return to a house trashed by a bored, impatient, and very large dog.
Earlier that day, he’d purchased the largest-size dog crate he could find, a huge bed, enormous dog dishes, a fifty-pound bag of dog food with an airtight container to store it, the longest-length collar the feed-and-grain store sold, a retractable leash, a massive tug-of-war toy and another toy that looked something like a deer carcass. He was ready with rawhide bones, biscuits, breath fresheners, three trays of canned dog food, and an assortment of flea and tick treatment options since he couldn’t decide which one was best. Along with the antibiotic and pain relievers Patricia at the clinic had given him, he had everything he could possibly need to keep this dog for at least a month—and it only took about half his paycheck.
August smiled. Owning a dog would hardly break the bank, but it was a big commitment. Not owning, he corrected himself, fostering.
The doorbell rang. August tossed down the pillow he was plumping and walked slowly to the front of the house. He waited before answering the door so he wouldn’t seem too eager.
“Hey,” he greeted the burly man on the front stoop. Fresh snowflakes powdered broad shoulders under a black coat and sprinkled Grover’s dark brown hair. As they melted on hair, beard and moustache, they made glittering diamonds in the porch light.
August dragged his attention from the vet to the dog beside him. “Come on in.”
Both man and dog entered the small front hall, their sheer size filling it to bursting. They were the only guests August had entertained since a week ago, just after he’d arrived, when a local pastor and his wife dropped by to welcome him to the community with muffins. When they’d enquired about his religion, August had named the Christian church his mother occasionally dragged the family to and hoped it would keep them from proselytizing. Pastor George and Judy had informed him their church accepted members of many Christian denominations, this being such a small community it was necessary to combine. They’d left him with muffins and a business card with a prayer on the back about the reclaiming of lost sheep.
Eric had eaten the muffins and thrown away the card.
“Come right in,” he repeated, gesturing toward the living room. The house might be a wreck, but at least the furniture he’d leased was modern and comfortable.
Grover offered him the dog’s lead. “Here. Time to get acquainted.”
August produced a treat from his pocket to get the dog moving, then let his new pet sniff around the living room before guiding him to a fluffy bed near the fireplace. “Lie down. You can explore more after you rest.”
The dog dropped onto the pillow with a sigh.
August looked at Dr. Eric, hands buried in his coat pockets, shoulders hunched. He looked nervous and anxious to leave. Now that the dog was delivered, what excuse could August make to prolong his visit? “Want a drink?”
“Let me take your coat.” August stood behind the vet as he removed his long, black duster. A mist of melted snow spattered him, and when he carried the heavy oilskin coat to the front entry to hang it, the aroma of wet animal fur wafted up. Hardly a sexy odor, yet it caused a prickle of arousal. The duster conjured images of cattlemen and open ranges, the stoic cowboy daydreams of August’s youth.
He was glad to have something to do with himself as he got a pair of glasses and poured the scotch he’d opened yesterday to unwind after his accident. Dr. Grover sat in one of the chairs near the fireplace. Too bad August hadn’t lit a fire. It would’ve added a romantic glow. He handed Grover a glass and sat across him from.
“Drafty house.” Grover looked around. “You should caulk the window frames and nail plastic over them before winter really sets in. This place has been neglected for years since the Browns lived here.”
“I can tell. But it was a good price and convenient. It’ll do.” August was miffed that his guest hadn’t commented on the new décor or the small touches he’d made to turn an abandoned house into a home. But August was practical too and agreed with Grover’s concerns. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to play handyman.”
“I could help you with the window plastic. It’s kind of a two-person job.”
August paused with his glass halfway to his lips. Was Grover being neighborly, or was it an invitation to spend more time together? “That’d be helpful. Thanks.”
Grover nodded toward the sleeping dog. “What are you going to name him?”
“I put an ad in the local paper and online in case someone around here is missing him. If nobody responds, I guess I’ll have to call him something, even though I’m not keeping him.” He gazed at the mass of gray-and-black fur against the stark white cast, the closed eyes that he knew were golden yellow when open, and the large paws moving as the dog tracked some animal in his sleep. “He reminds me of a bear cub, so I guess I’ll call him Bear.”
“Good a name as any,” came the laconic reply.