His Plain-Jane Cinderella

By: Jennie Adams

‘Yeah—eh.’ He cleared his throat and stepped back, taking the wriggling bundle of dog with him. ‘I’ll just take the dog into your front hall; get it out of this small room and finish drying it off. It’s still a bit damp.’ He backed out of the room and refused to watch as Stacie made her way to her room to change her sweater.

Troy dried the animal with determined attention, Stacie’s dog standing by. The smaller dog didn’t appear afraid of Stacie’s pet, and her dog seemed friendly enough not to mind the invasion of its turf.

‘Not much of a guard dog, are you?’ Troy murmured the question to the Staffie, which wagged its tail and—Troy would swear—preened in its pink outfit. It might have jaws like a vice, but a mushy heart appeared to go with them.

‘That mushy heart wouldn’t last ten seconds in the army.’ Troy let the small dog loose.

‘Oh, good, you’ve finished,’ Stacie said as she rejoined him. ‘I checked the phone book. Tarrula doesn’t appear to have an animal-rescue centre. The pound has an emergency number for after hours, but I don’t think we really classify as an emergency.’

She’d changed the blue sweater for a cream one, and her work skirt for form-fitting jeans that showed every lovely curve to perfection. Just like that, all Troy’s belief that he could set aside awareness of her evaporated.

Well, he must push these reactions aside. Far and fast, because Stacie was a neighbour and an employee of sorts. And Troy was sworn off women in any case.

‘I guess it’ll have to wait for tomorrow to be checked for a microchip. At least the dog didn’t scrub up too badly.’ He forced his thoughts to that. ‘For a mutt.’

‘High praise, indeed.’ Stacie laughed.

And Troy responded to that laugh with a relaxing feeling inside himself that was wrong. All wrong!

The animal trotted into the depths of the house.

‘He’s headed for the kitchen.’ Stacie started to follow. ‘Let’s find some food for both dogs.’

A radiant electric heater warmed the kitchen. Around the room, pieces of rag had been stuffed into cracks in walls that had paint peeling from them.

Stacie had put her mark on the room regardless. There were knickknacks on shelves, and the room still managed an overall welcoming feel despite the work needed.

Stacie opened an elderly cupboard in the corner and pulled out a can of dog food. ‘This should keep him going. What happens if he has no owner, Troy?’

‘It’ll have to go to the pound.’ He looked down at the dog, which looked up at him with trusting eyes. ‘Someone will want it. It’s a cute thing in its way.’

And then he looked at Stacie, who also returned his gaze with an edge of militancy that thinly covered worry. ‘If no one wants him, the pound will want to destroy him.’

Troy had taken lives in the line of duty. Saved children. Hunted down people who didn’t care who in the world they destroyed. He’d stood by his team, his commitment and his beliefs, and had done what had to be done.

Now he faced a woman who was concerned about the future of a dog. He hadn’t really thought what might happen once he handed it over. Once he regained the ability to think, he made himself reassure her. ‘I’ll get their commitment about that before I hand it over.’

‘Thank you.’ Her shoulders relaxed a little. ‘For now, he needs a coat. I have one that will fit.’

‘Really? Your dog isn’t exactly the same size.’ As Troy spoke, he didn’t so much as glance in Fang’s direction, but he could hardly have failed to notice the way Stacie’s dog was dressed.

Stacie felt proud—of Fang’s clothing, yes, but moreover of standing up for the small dog’s future. That was a potential problem.

And there was another problem she was facing, that of being far too aware of this man. Was it because he was so clearly very strong that she found it so hard to ignore his magnetism? Past boyfriends had been…softer men. Andrew, too, because even when he had chosen Gemma over Stacie he’d been self-interested rather than ruthless.

Her glance lifted to Troy’s and locked there, caught in hazel depths that seemed to read every thought in her head. She sincerely hoped that wasn’t so.

Then Stacie glimpsed the edge of sensual need deep in the backs of Troy’s eyes.

‘Well, I’d best get the coat.’ She tried very hard to walk normally up the short hallway to the spare bedroom she’d converted for creating garments for the Bow-wow-tique. Yet she felt ridiculously aware of leading Troy deeper into the house, and right next door to her bedroom.

For goodness’ sake, Stacie. Do you think he’s going to die of shock if he sees a glimpse of bedcover or something? Or that he’ll succumb to an overwhelming urge to toss you down on the bed and deliciously ravish you?

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