Valentine hound dog, p.1
Valentine Hound Dog, page 1part #2 of Have A Hart Series
Valentine Hound Dog
Have A Hart Series #2
Copyright © 2015 by Rachelle Ayala
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Former fireman Larry Davison covers his burn scars well, by working at an elementary school as a custodian where he finds a lost hound dog behind the dumpster.
Fashion designer Jenna Hart is in town to do a charity fashion show when she loses her top model, Little Treat. When Larry turns up with the puppy, she asks him to be in the show and bachelor auction.
Larry’s not sure he belongs in a fashion show and balks at being her good deed. Can Jenna convince Larry beauty is never skin deep and love's arrow strikes not only the beautiful, but the bold?
To my youngest son, Joe.
“A story of beauty that pierces right to your heart and soul.” Evelyn Nathalia
Jenna Hart was a fretter and a perfectionist. She had to be. At twenty-seven, she was a junior fashion designer for Moonique Designs, one of the couture houses in New York City, and it was her turn to run the annual Valentine’s Benefit Fashion Show. In return, she got to choose the location, design all the gowns, and pick the charity. It would be a giant boon to her career to pull off a major runway show in her hometown of San Francisco and at the same time, benefit their fabulous and overworked Fire Department.
Only one small, or rather large problem. Beefcake, or rather lack of it.
She called her brother, Connor, the newly installed fire chief. There had to be something he wanted that only she could provide, and she did know a lot of hot models on a first name basis.
“Hello.” Connor’s deep voice drawled over the line. “The answer is still ‘no.’”
“Even if I set you up on a date with that swimsuit model your entire squad’s been drooling over?”
“That’s an even easier answer. No.” Connor practically bellowed over the phone. “Last thing I want is a woman all my buddies take to the bathroom.”
“Ugh, don’t want to know.” Jenna blew out a sigh. “This show is to benefit the firefighters, you know, the widow and orphan fund—it’s near and dear to your heart.”
“Yes, and I truly appreciate that,” Connor said. “Is there a point to this call?”
“Are you always so rude to a benefactor?”
“Only if she’s my sister. Look, Jenna, me and the guys, we’re all over this runway show. We’ll post guards, we’ll escort the models, but we’re not going to be doing those exotic dancer poses. You want an orderly show or a bunch of screaming women?”
“Screaming women donate more money,” Jenna said, twisting her champagne-colored blond hair around her finger. Besides, the presence of firefighters, buff, half-naked men in nothing but boots and bunker pants held by red suspenders would definitely open more than a few purses. “My performance review as well as the success of this show is contingent on how much money I raise. It’s good for my exposure as a fashion designer.”
“True, but you’re not exposing my guys. We’re real firemen, not models,” Connor grunted. “We’re hairy, dirty, smoky, and sweaty. The answer is still ‘no.’”
“How about an underwear model?”
“Sports model? That surfing girl who’s been tearing up the circuits and modeling wetsuits.”
“When’s the last time you’ve been on a date?”
“A designer wardrobe!”
“New car?” Not that she had the cash for it.
“You’re a lonely guy. I know you’re still stuck on that ex-girlfriend who dumped you what, ten years ago?”
“Everyone has a price.”
“I’ll find yours. Mark my word.”
“Okay, and a wonderful day to you too, my brother.”
“You too, and the answer is still ‘no.’”
“Did anyone tell you you’re stubborn? Bye.” Jenna tapped the end-call button on her phone.
Why was she stuck with the only fire department run by a stick in the mud? Everyone thought her life was glamorous, surrounded by hot, hunky men. Her father and brothers were all firefighters, and she knew every guy at the station. When she let her boss, Monique, know about her connections, the older fashionista had been all over it, drooling over the prospect of a photo shoot with a backdrop of beefy men. It wasn’t as if she wanted them to drop their pants. They’d be shirtless, sure, wearing pants, helmet, and carrying an axe or rolls of hoses.
Her brother was taking this way too far. Perhaps she could try her father. He was the former chief before retiring a year ago from active duty.
Jenna propped her booted feet on her desk and called dear old Dad who was out on the golf course with his retired buddies. Out of her three sisters, she was Dad’s favorite. Older sister Cait was Mom’s buddy, and baby sister Melisa was everyone’s baby, but Dad had a certain respect for her and her coolheadedness, yes, and attention to detail, following instructions and bravery.
“Yep, Jenna?” Dad’s voice boomed over the phone. “What’s up?”
“It’s Connor. He’s so bullheaded.”
“Tell me something I don’t know. Bet it’s about the fashion show.”
“Yes, and I need your help.” That was all she’d been talking about since Christmas when she found out she was chosen to do the benefit.
“And if you’re asking me to overrule Connor, the answer is ‘no.’”
“Sure, I get it,” Jenna said. “Connor’s the chief now. But you were the one who set the old-fashioned direction. Every other firehouse in the country lets their guys pose with models, do calendars, and bachelor auctions.”
“Being a firefighter is serious business. We don’t build muscles for women to drool over. We need to be in tip-top shape to save lives. People count on us to have outstanding integrity, honesty, and bravery.”
Yadda, yadda, yadda. Jenna made flapping motions with her fingers. “I get all that. Okay, I agree. But don’t you think Connor’s lonely? He doesn’t go out partying with the rest of the guys. Every since he became Chief, he’s more isolated than ever.”
“Now, you leave your brother alone. He’s fine.”
“But it must be so lonely sleeping in the firehouse and not coming home, even on his days off.”
“That’s because he has meddling sisters like you and Cait angling to set him up on dates all the time.”
“Why’s he still stuck on that Elaine?”
“He says he’s over her. Just hasn’t found the ‘One.’ Now, you leave well enough alone.”
“Is it my imagination or is he depressed?”
“Don’t you go spreading tales.” Dad huffed. “Connor is an introvert. Unlike you and Grady.”
Grady was Jenna’s hell-raising twin who, like her, had left home—only he’d
“Yeah, which means he doesn’t socialize. That’s why he doesn’t understand marketing and exposure, and all the things he needs to do in addition to fighting fires. He needs publicity, name recognition, all that good stuff.”
“All he needs is another firehouse dog,” Dad all but growled.
“Why? What happened to Bear?”
Bear was the firehouse’s mascot St. Bernard.
“Had to be put down. He was in constant pain from an inoperable tumor.”
“Oh, no! When did this happen?”
“A week ago. Connor took it hard. Now you understand why he’s not up to gallivanting around with your parade of models?”
“It would do him good. A lot of good,” Jenna said. “A young man like him. Most eligible bachelor in the city shouldn’t be alone.”
“I agree. Find him another dog. He says he can’t replace Bear, but I’m betting a spry puppy will bring him to his knees.”
“Oh, Dad! You’re great! Thanks!” Jenna couldn’t help her voice getting more and more high-pitched. So much so that her mother peeked into the home office right when she hung up.
“Is everything okay?” Mom furrowed her brow. “Were you talking about Connor?”
“Yes, Mom. And I’m not setting him up on a date.” At least not yet.
“You should try harder. I don’t want my boy pining over Dr. Elaine Woo one second longer.”
“What happened to Sheila? The one he took to the Christmas Ball?”
“Don’t know, but I didn’t like her either. She looked too much like Elaine.”
“Oh, come on, Mom, all Chinese don’t look alike. Anyway, I’m going to find him a puppy. Dad says he’s lonely since Bear died.”
“Ah, yes.” Mom wiped her hands on her apron. “Bear. He’d been on his last legs for years, but the last diagnosis of bone cancer did him in. It would have been too painful to watch him suffer.”
Jenna bit her knuckle and groaned. “Poor Connor.”
“Yes, but then again, I might know of some puppies needing rescue. I hadn’t thought of foisting one on Connor since he’s been so down.”
“A puppy will do the trick.” It had to, and if Mom knew of some, Jenna was all for it. “Where do I go to rescue one?”
Besides, she could use one as a model for her show. Every designer had a signature final walk down the runway, some did cartwheels and others wore a big hat. She’d make her signature one of carrying a sweet little rescue pet to be adopted by someone attending the show.
In this case, Connor, and for that, he and his men owed her muscles, sweat, and lots of skin. Yep. That would work.
* * *
Most days, Larry Davison didn’t mind being the custodian at Gold Hill Elementary School. He was his own boss and managed a staff of two housekeepers. Best of all, he still got to be the big man on campus.
Sure, it wasn’t anything like his glory days as his high school’s top defensive linebacker, but without him and his mechanical prowess, Herculean strength, and endurance, Gold Hill would simply not function.
Or so he told himself while he repaired a pump on the boiler that kept the school warm. Late January in the Sunset District of San Francisco could be brutally cold with an occasional dip to frost zone, and with cold and flu season in full swing, getting the heat turned back on was even more important.
He wiped his hands with a rag and stood when he heard his name.
“Big D, there you are.” It was the vice principal, Mrs. Crowley. “Have you fixed the boiler yet? The teachers are complaining that it’s like the arctic zone here. If one of the children tell their parents they had to play Eskimo and wear their outdoor coats indoors …”
“Got the seals put in place. Just have to tighten everything and fire her right up.” Larry always put on a cheerful attitude. He was a big guy, over six-foot-four and with the mean-looking scars on one side of his face, he’d be Freddy Krueger scary if he wasn’t both gentle and friendly.
“Good. After you get that done, you’d better get to the cafeteria. There’s been an outbreak of stomach virus and we need the cafeteria cleaned and disinfected.”
“Where’s Martha?” Larry asked after the woman whose job it was to keep the cafeteria clean.
“She threw up, so we sent her home.”
“Dealing with clogged toilets.” Mrs. Crowley took off her glasses and wiped it with her sleeve. She replaced them and swiped a greasy strand of gray hair over her ear.
“Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I put my tools away and clean up here.”
“Good.” Having delivered her missive, Mrs. Crowley turned sharply and clip-clopped from the utility room.
So much for being his own boss. Larry thumbed his day planner and checked off the boiler repair.
Most days he enjoyed his job, except there was nothing worse than cleaning up vomit, okay, maybe diarrhea was worse. In either case, not only was the odor gross, but he had to triple disinfect every surface, then throw away the gloves he wore.
Hours later, Larry pulled off his rubber gloves and returned the bleach to the storage closet. The extra cleanup had killed his schedule. School had let out long ago, and he had yet to empty all the wastebaskets in the classrooms.
Wheeling his jumbo garbage can, Larry made the rounds. Most of the teachers were long gone, but there were always a few dedicated ones who stayed back to decorate their classrooms, or found the peace and quiet of a deserted school preferable to working in a noisy apartment.
He couldn’t help it, but his pulse quickened as he neared the kindergarten module and saw that the light was on under his friend, Melisa Hart’s doorway.
Even though he’d been unceremoniously shot down by Miss Hart, his heart still pitter-pattered whenever she smiled at him. These days, she had a lot to smile about since she was finally dating the man she’d had her heart set on, a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital.
Larry knocked on the door out of courtesy, waited a few seconds and turned the knob.
“You’re late today,” Melisa said, looking up from her desk. She was cutting out hearts from construction paper and pasting them onto paper lace backgrounds.
“Fixed the boiler.” Larry bent to grab a wastebasket. “The district’s lucky I’m such a jack of all trades, because a professional boiler repairman would have gouged out the budget.”
She beamed at him with a sweet, cherubic smile. “That’s because you’re our Gold Hill hero.”
Okay, so she wasn’t into him as a boyfriend, but she was still good for his ego. Somehow, being around her, he felt like a kindergarten boy with a crush on the teacher.
“Heard about the mess in the cafeteria?” he asked.
“Not really. My students only attend half-day.” She straightened her desk. “But Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I have to get all of these hearts pinned up.”
“Is this the secret Valentine game?” He picked up a heart which had been folded in half. It had a name inside. “What happens if they pick their own name?”
“If that happens, they trade with anyone else who picked their own name. If there’s no one else, they get to be my valentine.”
Larry took an empty heart and wrote his inside. “Pin this on your board. Maybe I’ll get lucky.”
Okay, so that might have been flirtatious, but truly, he was getting over Melisa Hart, not that it was easy. She was perfect, yet approachable—a real sweetheart all the way around, and the younger sister of his best friend, Connor Hart, who used to be his firefighting buddy. They were the two who went into buildings together to rescue trapped civilians.
“Maybe you’ll make someone lucky.” Melisa snatched the heart from him and pinned it near the top of the bulletin board, safely out of reach of the little five-year-olds in her class.
“Maybe.” Larry forced a smile, one which stretched the side of his face that still felt
“Okay, let me amend that,” Melisa said with her hands on her hips. “Definitely, you’ll make someone very lucky.”
She said it with the confidence of a child pronouncing that yes, indeed, there was an Easter bunny, that tooth fairies always visited at night, and golly gee, but everyone knew if you left cookies for Santa, you’d get an extra special gift.
Only problem, she was dead wrong. There was no fairy godfather, no magic wand, and definitely no woman who’d care for a has-been firefighter working as a janitor in an inner-city school.
Fairy tales died with the one child he hadn’t been able to save. He’d never forget those eyes behind the bars on the window right before the fire blew out the glass, leaving him burned over half his body.
“Ready to go?” Larry peeked back into Melisa’s classroom after he’d emptied the last of the wastebaskets.
“Rob’s meeting me.” Melisa graced him with a shy smile. “Thanks, though. Oh, I forgot to dump out the cake crumbs from the party.”
She pulled a plastic bag from her desk and swept the remnants of a sheet cake into it, along with the used candles. “We had the January birthday party. I saved you a slice.”
“Good thing I stopped by.” Larry took the trash bag and threw it into his rolling garbage can.
“Saved me a trip to the dumpster.” She smiled, handing him a slice of cake.
“Thanks.” He accepted the paper plate with a slice of birthday cake and gobbled it up in two bites.
“You don’t have to wait for me,” Melisa said, when it looked like he was standing around awkwardly.
Maybe she didn’t want her boyfriend to find her here with him. Larry could take the hint.
“Okay, on my way. Let me know if you need anything.” He forced a smile and waved as he rolled the trash can from the classroom.
by Rachelle Ayala / Romance / Suspense / Contemporary have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes