Closing them in, she quickly set up the crate behind her L-shaped desk and padded the base with all those towels. As her hands lingered on the soft bed of towels, she thought of all the animals that had come into contact with the terry cloths of various colors. She prayed all of them had found homes like Soot had, even as she knew that wasn’t the case.
When things were set up, she eased back on her heels. Soot was watching her in that way he did, his big, exhausted eyes on her. “Come in here, boy. This is where you have to be.”
When he didn’t move, she reached in and patted the towels. “Come on.”
Nope. No go.
Another Fiber One did the trick. She got the bar out of her purse, fed him a little, and put the rest on the nest she’d made.
Soot walked in, ate slowly . . . and curled into a ball facing out at her. As she stared at him, she had an absurd worry that he might not like her over time. Saviors were one thing. Friends? That was a choice—
Abruptly, her conversation with Danny from the night before barged in and took over—as it had been doing since pretty much the second she’d stepped back from his almost-kiss and beat feet out his front door.
It had been a while since she’d watched the sunrise. Not since the rehab hospital. But, yup, this morning’s had been peach and pink and magnificent.
“You’re going to be okay in there. And I’ll take you with me if I leave.”
He laid his head down and just stared at her.
As she went to close the crate door, she stopped and took off the jacket that matched her slacks. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a knockoff she’d gotten at TJ Maxx when she’d had to find at least one week’s worth of office clothes at a dead run. But it smelled like her, and maybe that would help them bond? Or something?
“God, what am I doing,” she muttered as she wadded it up and put in the crate. “I’ve never even had a house plant—”
The knock on her door was sharp, and she quickly stood up. Tucking in her blouse, she smoothed her hair and tried to look professional. Damn it, she should have put on that lip gloss.
Don Marshall stuck his head in and muttered, “I didn’t know it was Bring Your Dog to Work Day.”
Moose was fucking late. Of course.
As Danny stopped his truck in front of a dilapidated old house with a Jumanji yard, he yanked the parking break and made sure the gear shift was in first before he canned the engine. Getting out, he rubbed his wet hair and jacked up his work pants.
Twenty minutes, two cigarettes, and three voicemails later, he was still killing time.
To keep himself from cursing, he stared at the structure and was reminded of his own farm. Like what he had saddled himself with, this place was two stories of vacated-long-ago, the roof holier than the Christmas season, the dormers more broken glass than window, the siding worn to paint chips and bare wood from countless winter blizzards, spring gales, summer thunderstorms, and fall winds. Maybe the property had once had a lawn, but now a meadow on its seasonal last gasp was a scruffy base for the vines that grew Charles Addams–style all over everything.
The nearest neighbor was a quarter of a mile away.
Walking forward, he high-stepped through the tall grass and weeds until he crossed over onto a broad, freshly mowed ring around the house and its collapsing porch. As he mounted the three steps, he stayed on the nail pattern on the left so his weight was supported by the stairs’ undercarriage. By the off-kilter front door, there was an official document stapled to the siding, proclaiming that the structure was going to be used by the fire department on this date, and that trespassing was prohibited.
Hinges creaked as he opened the way in, and inside, everything was all haunted house, cobwebs hanging from darkened corners, dirty windows filtering light that seemed more portent than illumination, rotting places in the floors and ceilings creating pockmarks, open wounds, sores.
Danny walked throughout the first floor to make sure there were no people and no wild animals anywhere. It was a short trip. Upstairs, he went more slowly because there was a lot longer distance to fall through courtesy of a bad floorboard. He checked closets, inspecting the odd lonely hanger. He ducked into bedrooms, reviewing the shells of bedposts and bureaus. He stepped into baths that had claw-footed tubs with cracked porcelain and broken mirrors over stained sinks.
The attic on the third floor was all bat guano, water stains, and leaves that had come in through the holes in the roof.
As he went back downstairs, his sinuses were pissed from the mold and dust, his ribs sore from that messy rescue the day before, and his head pounding from the alcohol and the no-sleep he’d pulled during the night hours. And yes, he refused to see any parallels between the state of his life and the condition the old house was in.
There was no connection between the two.
Off in the distance, he heard a low growl. “’Bout fucking time.”