One Intimate Night(8)

By: Penny Jordan

‘I haven’t done anything to him,’ Piers denied sharply. ‘What—?’

‘Yes, you have. You’ve hurt him,’ Georgia insisted, ignoring Piers to hurry to the kitchen door and push it open.

As soon as he saw her Ben’s eyes lit up. This was more like it—a human who understood! Whining pitifully, he lay in his basket, his eyes half closed whilst he breathed arduously.

Whilst Piers looked on grimly from the doorway, Georgia rushed over to Ben, getting down on her knees in front of him, quickly checking his pulse and then the rest of him.

To her relief nothing seemed to be wrong, and then, disconcertingly, just as she was about to demand an explanation for his piteous cries from Piers, Ben opened one eye and started to nuzzle hopefully at the pocket where she kept her dog treats.

From behind her Georgia heard Piers saying sardonically, ‘It seems that diagnosis is even less your forte than training... There’s nothing wrong with him.’

‘Where’s Mrs Latham?’ Georgia demanded, hot-faced with chagrin. Piers, it seemed, was quite right—there was nothing wrong with Ben, but there was no way she was going to admit as much.

‘Not here, I’m afraid. Nor will she be here for the next few weeks; she’s having a much needed holiday with her sister, and whilst she’s away I’m going to be staying in loco parentis, so to speak.’

‘She’s left Ben with you? You’re looking after him?’ Georgia queried, unable to hide her feelings.

‘There wasn’t really much alternative. It seems that the kennels weren’ to take him...’

Georgia’s flush deepened a little as she saw the way Piers was looking at her.

‘You’re staying here, looking after Ben?’ she repeated, swallowing tensely, as though she found the words uncomfortably unpalatable.

‘I’m staying here looking after Ben,’ Piers agreed grimly. ‘And whilst I’m here I am going to look round for a more suitable home for him.’

‘No!’ Georgia protested. ‘You can’t do that. Mrs Latham would never part with him.’

‘My godmother is besotted with the animal, I agree,’ Piers replied acidly. ‘But that does not make theirs in any way a suitable alliance. Far from it...’

‘It isn’t Ben’s fault he’s disruptive,’ Georgia defended. ‘If he was properly trained—’

‘If he was properly trained. But that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? He is most certainly not in any way trained at all, and in my view—’

‘Setters are scatty when they’re young...but...’

Georgia had no idea why she was defending the dog so fiercely. After all, she had said herself that Ben wasn’t really a suitable dog for Mrs Latham, but something about the way Ben was looking at her, something about the obvious love and the doggy treats and toys which surrounded him touched her heart in a way she could hardly explain to herself, never mind to the tough, uncompromisingly unemotional man standing in front of her.

‘Look, I appreciate that you have a vested interest in him staying here. After all, you were the one who foisted him on my godmother in the first place, weren’t you?’ Piers told her grimly.

Georgia stared at him.

‘No. I...’

‘Don’t bother trying to deny it,’ Piers warned her. ‘My godmother told me herself that you were responsible for her getting Ben.’

Georgia’s heart sank. Mrs Latham had on more than one occasion mentioned how large a part she believed Georgia’s unavoidable absence from the waiting room had played in her becoming Ben’s new owner. But for Piers to claim that she had either actively solicited such a situation or even encouraged it was way beyond the truth. Not that she was going to attempt to tell him so. Why should she? Let him think badly of her if he wished. She didn’t care; why should she?

Just because he had the kind of sexy good looks that made her heart thud and her temperature rise, that did not mean that she was foolish enough to want to solicit his good opinion and ignore her own principles in doing so. Besides, he really wasn’t her type. No, not at all. She liked men with kind, open, honest faces and ready smiles, men who liked animals and understood them. The kind of man she liked would have immediately seen that Ben was as much a victim of the situation as his owner.

Georgia frowned as she looked down at Ben. She had no doubt that Piers would carry out his threat to find him a new home. And if he couldn’t... A horrible mental picture of Ben being dragged into the surgery to face... Georgia swallowed hard. The practice had a rule about not destroying healthy dogs simply because their owners no longer wanted them. But there were other practices... Tears filmed her eyes. Quickly she ducked her head and blinked them away. There was no way anything like that was going to happen to Ben. Not whilst she was around to prevent it.

‘All Ben needs is someone with the skill and the patience to treat him properly. He’s a strong-willed dog but there’s no malice or unkindness in him.’

‘Someone.’ Piers raised his eyebrows. ‘And have you any suggestions where I might find this paragon?’

Both his voice and his expression implied that he already knew that such a task was way beyond her capabilities, and, remembering the chaos of yesterday’s training class, Georgia could understand why.

‘He’s a very intelligent dog,’ she persisted. ‘He could be trained.’

‘But not by you, apparently,’ Piers told her derisively.

Georgia felt her face burn with discomfort. When she had finished her training course the instructor had told her that he had been impressed with her ability to handle the dogs. ‘But you could be a little bit firmer,’ he had added.

‘If I had him on a one-to-one basis then, yes, I could train him,’ Georgia insisted recklessly.

There was a long silence, and then, to her consternation, Piers said coolly, ‘Very well, then, prove it. You’ve got three weeks to persuade me that you’re right.’

Three weeks. Georgia swallowed nervously. What on earth had she done? What on earth had she committed herself to? There were places, she knew, where dogs underwent two-week intensive training courses, guaranteed to have them obeying all the basic commands and walking to heel, but the dogs were boarded at the training school and the trainers spent all day, every day, teaching them. There was no way she could achieve anything like the same effect with a couple of training sessions twice a week for three weeks.