His Plain-Jane Cinderella

By: Jennie Adams

Stacie couldn’t claim to be close to her younger sister either. Not any more. Maybe never again, but she kept the words to herself. Why was Troy not close to his parents? Was that why he’d spent school holidays with an old uncle?

‘The reason I came over…’ Troy shifted and she realised he had something tucked into the crook of his arm. That something wriggled and let out a yip.

‘You stopped by because you have a dog?’ Somehow Stacie hadn’t pictured him with a pet. He seemed too solitary for that.

Why had he brought the dog to her? Had he learned somehow of the Bow-wow-tique and he wanted to make a purchase?

Fang would have known about the dog from the moment he let out that woof, of course.

‘I found this mutt on my front step when I got home this evening. I thought it must have come from here.’ Troy’s words were dry, though his hold on the dog was gentle enough. ‘I—’ His gaze seemed to catch on her mouth before he cleared his throat and went on. ‘When I saw a car arrive here I thought I’d found the dog’s owner.’ Troy held the bundle out. ‘I’m not quite sure where it’s come from if it isn’t yours.’

Stacie’s hands closed around it.

It was a sweet little dog, collarless and a bit too lean. It looked as though it had some poodle in its gene pool. ‘It’s not exactly the kind of dog I’d have pictured you owning, now that I look at him. If anything I’d see you with—I don’t know—a husky or boxer or Dobermann or something.’ A strong dog, a man’s dog, worthy of someone like Troy.

She paused and added, ‘Then again, I have Fang, and he probably doesn’t exactly suit my image either, though he’s a very sweet muscle-dog.’ Even if he was terrified of balloons and grasshoppers. Stacie would keep those secrets safe for her pet!

Her gaze moved from the poodle to the much-loved Fang who was now running about her yard. She met Troy’s eyes again. ‘Would you like to come inside? I’m sorry I can’t claim ownership of the little dog, but maybe we can clean him up and find him some food while you decide what you’re going to do about him.’

His frown remained fixed. ‘The owner will have to be found.’

That might not be as easy as he hoped it would be.

‘How about we take care of his immediate needs for starters?’ She stroked her fingers over the dog’s head. It shivered in her hold. ‘Food, clean it up and warmth. Once those things are sorted out, we can worry about the rest.’

Troy seemed to hesitate for a moment before he nodded. ‘If you have some dog food you could spare, I’d appreciate it. Then I think I’d best take it into town to the lost-dog shelter, or the pound if there isn’t one of those. That seems the logical next step.’

In a town the size of Tarrula would there be an animal shelter? And what if the pound put the dog onto borrowed time?

‘We’ll see what’s in the phone book.’ Stacie placed the dog back into his hands and led the way inside.

Troy followed Stacie into her home. The farmhouse was small, but with verandas down each side and a porch at the front. She would have her work cut out, whipping this home into shape, but it felt solid beneath his feet.

Troy had his own challenges with a dog suddenly showing up, a home and orchards to settle into and a catch-up needed with Carl Withers to discuss the forward progress of the processing plant. Yet all he could think of in this moment was the woman in front of him. Her eyes had softened as she looked at the mutt. She’d reached for it and cuddled it close.

Stacie Wakefield was gentle, and probably a very giving woman. Troy had never looked for those characteristics, but something about those facts attracted him to Stacie in a way he couldn’t explain. Strength was his forte. He’d hurt a gentle woman like Stacie, would stomp on her emotions without meaning to.

He’d never managed closeness with his parents, had much preferred the company of his crusty, grumpy, unemotional old uncle until the man had died while Troy was away on a mission. Even then he hadn’t missed him, not desperately. Just those times of quiet companionship with Les had counted the most.

‘Come inside, Troy.’ Stacie gestured him into her home.

Visions of Stacie working about the place filled Troy’s mind, filled it with too much curiosity and interest. He could picture her in old clothes or overalls, intrepidly taking on DIY projects, strange nail-decorations flashing as she worked. He stifled a smile.

And he had to admit the combination of delicacy and determination that he sensed in Stacie intrigued him whether he wanted to let it or not.

‘Bring the dog into the laundry. We might as well start with a bath for it.’ Stacie led the way.

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