For a moment, she allowed herself to experience what Griffin McCabe might have felt when he discovered that his dog was missing. Did he stay out all night looking for him? did he put up lost dog posters with Spencer’s photo? How long did he keep hoping he’d turn up? Did he cry?
Her heart twisted as she realized that Griffin’s “missing” dog was resting safe and sound beside her and he had no clue. Based on the Facebook post, he hadn’t given up hope, even after a year with no leads. She closed her eye in defeat.
Damn it, she had to do it, and it had to happen now. If she waited, she’d find a million reasons not to call. but now, on a dead-end day when she could feel his loss in the pit of her belly, she could allow it. It wasn’t fair to let the stranger continue to wonder if his dog was dead or alive.
but… but what if he was an a-hole and demanded that she give him back? And who actually owned Spencer Was there a statute of limitations on pet parenthood?
Justine felt herself getting preemptively angry at Griffin.
“No matter what he says, he’s not getting you back.” She twirled Spencer’s fur into little peaks on the top of hs head. “But do I text him or call him? What’s safer?”
She tried to envision how she’d phrase what happened in a text.
“I have your dog”?
It sounded like she’d kidnapped him.
“Your dog is alive”?
“I have something to tell you that might come as a surprise…”
She realized that she needed to hear his voice. It would be the only way she could gauge if he’d been good to Spencer, back when he was Leo. She’d keep the call short, the details sparse, so he wouldn’t be able to figure out anything about her.
the more she thought about how to choreograph the call, the less confident she felt about placing it. But Justine braced herself for the weirdness to come, took a deep breath, and dialed.
As the phone rang and rang, she realized that he probably wouldn’t answer an unknown number. She was about to hang up when she heard his voice.
“This is Griffin, may I help you?”
He sounded friendly and upbeat, almost like he’d been expecting her call. It knocked her off-balance for a second. She wasn’t ready for him to sound pleasant. For an instant her brain started creating a face to match the voice, but she stopped herself before she could humanize him too much. She needed to keep her guard up. What she was doing was risky, no matter how warm and inviting he sounded.
“Hi, my name is Justine. Do you have a couple minutes to talk? Did I catch you at a bad time?” She kicked herself for not organizing her thoughts before calling.
“Not at all. I have a few minutes.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “What’s going on? Is that update giving you problems? My phone’s been ringing about it nonstop.”
“No, actually this is about–”
“Wait, don’t tell me.” He chuckled and she involuntarily smiled at the sound of it. “You locked yourself out. Don’t worry, it happens! I’m here to help. Are you in front of your computer?”
He sounded so genuinely kind that her nerves dropped to a manageable level. “This isn’t about business… I’m sorry, is it a bad time? Are you busy?” Her finger hovered near the phone, ready to hit the disconnect button.
“Oh. yeah, I have a minute.” A wariness replaced the happy tone. “How can I help?”
Justine took a deep breath.
“I don’t know how else to say this, but… your dog, Leo is here with me. I mean, his name is Spencer now, and I’ve had him for a year, and I adopted him, officially. I have the paperwork and everything. But I wanted you to know he’s okay.” The words came out in a rush. It was important for him to understand that his dog was fine, but also that Spencer was no longer his dog.
“Wait, what?” Griffing went silent for a moment. “You haveLeo? How did you findme? Where are you?
She hesitated. Once she answered, there was no going back. “I saw your Facebook post.” She wanted to stop there, but she inexplicably opened her stupid mouth and continued. “We’re in Rexford.”
“Oh my God, you’re only two hours away! I’m in Brooklyn. He’s okay? Leo’s healthy? Griffin’s voice went up an octave, like he didn’t believe what he was hearing.
Spencer stirred and for a second Justine wondered if he could hear and recognize Griffin’s voice. Regret flooded through her.
And worse, jealousy.
“He’s great,” Justine answered confidently. “He’s amazing. And happy. So happy.” And she knew it was true. Her dog was her dog and he was exactly where he belonged.
“I’m in shock. I’ve been waiting for this day…” Griffin’s voice broke. He paused to collect himself and Justine found herself moved despite the simmering ugly feelings that were making her want to hang up. “To be honest, I actually never thought this day would come. Thank you so much for tracking me down. I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
It felt like a power move, especially considering she couldn’t get his name out of her head.
“I’m…” She considered giving him the wrong name since he couldn’t remember how she’d introduced herself. “I’m Justine.”
“Justine!” it came out in a whoop, like he was toasting her.
“You made my day. You have no idea. Leo was my partner in crime since he was a tiny puppy. We spent nearly every day together for two years. I am so fucking happy right now!”
Justine calculated how her year with Spencer compared to Griffin’s two before she answered. “I’m glad to hear it.Listen, I just wanted you to know he’s okay, so–”
“When can I meet you to pick him up?”
Justine almost dropped the phone. Suddenly her butt felt numb from sitting on the cement floor. “Wait. What?”
Griffin was silent for a moment.
“Isn’t that why you called me?”
“I thought I told you… he’s uh… S-S-Spencer is my dog.” She stammered.
He didn’t respond.
“I adopted him, paid the three-hundred-dollar fee, signed the official paperwork, and everything,” Justine continued, her voice strong. “I’ve had him for a year. He’s… mine..” She felt like a grown-up version of Veruca Salt.
“Well, I have papers that say he’s mine,” Griffin said slowly.
They both paused, and the only sound was Spencer snoring softly beside her.
Justine went for his jugular. “But you lost him. He ran away from you.”
“Wait, wait, wait, hold up. That’s not how it happened. I need to explain the whole situation.” Anger seeped into his voice.
Justine realized she’d made a huge mistake by calling Griffin. He was treating her like she was someone who answered a lost dog poster, not the rightful owner of the dog in the photo on the telephone pole.
“You know what? I’ve gotta run,” she said in a rush. “I just wanted you to know he’s okay.”
“Wait, can we set up a time to meet and talk this out? I’m going to be home–”
“Sorry,” Justine cut him off. “I’ll call you back later.” She hung up the phone abruptly and tossed it on the bed next to Spencer.
It was official. She’d just made a huge mistake.
(C) Victoria Schade, Berkley, 2021. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
What do you do when you discover your four-legged best friend might belong to someone else? From the acclaimed author of Who Rescued Who comes the charming story of a custody battle between two pet parents who would do anything for the dog they both adore.
Justine Becker could not be more in love with her rescue dog, Spencer. He’s her best friend and “colleague” at her dog supply store, Tricks & Biscuits, in upstate New York. When she discovers a heartbreaking social media post trying to locate a dog that looks suspiciously like Spencer, Justine realizes that her beloved pup might actually belong to someone else.
Her worst fears are realized when she and Spencer meet up with Brooklyn-based Griffin McCabe, and he wants Spencer back. He claims he is the dog’s rightful owner, and has the paperwork to prove it. But Justine refuses to roll over and let him take Spencer without a fight.
It’s not easy juggling Spencer’s burgeoning new career as a dog actor, along with the demands of her life upstate, all while constantly trying to prove she’s a better pet parent than Griffin. Their not-so-friendly competition teeters on the edge of flat-out hate, so when romantic feelings for Griffin catch Justine off guard, she needs to determine if it’s all part of his plot to win the pup back, or if the guy who was good enough for Spencer might also be good enough for her.
Romance Comedy [Berkley, On Sale: March 16, 2021, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593098851 / eISBN: 9780593098868]
About Victoria Schade
Victoria Schade is a dog trainer and speaker who serves as a dog resource for the media and has worked both in front of and behind the camera on Animal Planet, as a co-host on the program Faithful Friends, and as a trainer and wrangler on the channel’s popular Puppy Bowl specials. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, her dogs Millie and Olive, and the occasional foster pup.
Photo Credit: Jeff Reeder