Chapter One (unedited)
One year earlier...
“Aww, come here, cutie. Good boy.”
Truth Richards knelt down as the small, fawn colored puppy ambled toward her.
“You’re such a good boy,” she murmured, rubbing behind his wide, floppy ears.
The small dog was stocky with short, broad limbs but was the softest, most lovable thing she’d seen since Danny had dropped her off at his single-story family home. She had barely had her bags settled inside when she’d heard the puppy’s soft whimpering coming from outside.
“Where did you come from, huh?” The puppy had no collar yet was too small to be out fending for himself. “Are you lost?”
In response, the sweet puppy licked her hand then tried climbing up her lap to lick her face. Truth fell back on her haunches and laughed when the pup began licking at her wildly.
“Don’t encourage her or she’ll never stop.”
Truth jumped at the unexpected male voice behind her and whirled around. The man was huge, with wide shoulders and biceps that stretched his white, dirt stained shirt. There were sweat stains under his armpits and around his collar, and his dark, shaggy shoulder length hair was just as damp with sweat. He had to have been walking for some time.
But where had he come from?
Daniel had assured her that she would be safe here alone, that there was only one way in and out to his modest, rural home. Yet, this man had made it up here without her even noticing him.
Truth clutched the puppy close to her as the man continued his long-legged stride toward them. His sudden appearance frightened her, but not as much as his unreadable expression behind his thick, unkempt beard.
He stopped just a few feet away from her, his dark eyes searching. He was dirty and there was a prominent bruise running along the side of his face. Her mouth went dry. But she wouldn’t let him see her fear and trepidation. He was the trespasser here.
“Excuse me, sir. But how did you get here?”
The man cocked a thick brow, his broad features twisting into what could have been amusement. “I should be asking you that.”
The man took another step toward her and Truth jerked back. He had to know how big and intimidating he was, but he ignored her and came down on his haunches. To her surprise, the puppy wiggled out of her arms and rushed over to the man.
The man scooped the small, sweet dog in his large arms and rose to his feet. He held the small pup to his chest as it licked him and barked excitedly.
Truth cocked her head to the side, confused. When the man started toward the house, Truth climbed to her feet and rushed toward him. She ran up the porch steps and blocked the front door with her body. The idea of her trying to block a man who still towered over her even as she stood on elevated ground was laughable but there was no way she was letting him inside that house.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you inside. If you’re here to see Danny or his brother, you’ll have to wait outside until they get back.”
The man’s fingers stilled over the puppy’s head, and he glared at her, letting his dark gaze travel down her petite frame. “And who the hell are you?”