Absolute Trust

By: Piper J. Drake

This book is dedicated to Courtney Miller-Callihan,

who has kept me sane and protected me from myself,

who listened to me tell stories about my dogs

and the working dogs I’d met…

and said this, this is what I needed to write.

Thank you.

Chapter One

It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon in New Hope. Few people were out and about on the main street when it was this cold out, which was perfect for Brandon Forte. The jet-black German Shepherd Dog walking just ahead of him needed space for this excursion, a couple of things to look at but not too much to excite him. A few people to see was good for them both, too, so long as they weren’t going to be overwhelmed with requests to pet or take pictures.

Besides, the bake shop all the way down on this end of town tended to have day-old baked goods at a discount, and the shop owner occasionally gave Forte a cupcake or cookie on the house along with special home-baked dog treats for whichever dog was with Forte. It gave the dogs and him something to look forward to on the walk.

Today, it was Haydn. Haydn was a seasoned veteran and one of the dogs Forte had trained on active duty for the Air Force. Now, Haydn had come to Hope’s Crossing Kennels for a new kind of training. The black GSD had a lot of physical therapy ahead of him. He’d been fitted with a prosthetic to replace his front left leg prior to arriving, but it was up to Forte to help Haydn figure out how to use it. The big dog had walked the kennel grounds fine but was obviously getting bored. It happened with intelligent animals, the same way it could with people. Both of them were more than ready for a change of scenery and terrain.

Thus, the outing and the very slow walking.

Besides, it took skill to stuff a chocolate cupcake with cookie dough frosting dusted with sugar in one bite. A man needed to practice once in a while to make sure he could still manage it.

And it was a necessary skill, as far as Forte was concerned. Sophie tended to bring her own cooking and baked treats to Hope’s Crossing Kennels every weekend. She was a close friend to everyone at the kennels, an integral part of what made the place home to each of them, and she was…more to him. If she caught him partaking of other sweets, she’d never let him hear the end of it.

Now if it was about dating, she never had a word to say about any of the women he saw or the one-night stands he indulged in now and then. He’d bumped into her once in a while in Philly on the weekends. They both dated, and it couldn’t matter less to her who he chose to spend his time with, as far as he could tell. But take a taste of someone else’s baking, and he was in for a world of hurt. Thus, the one-bite-and-inhale technique. Because she had a knack for popping up out of nowhere.

Which made it more fun when he took the risk and did it anyway.

Of course, he had a long history of crossing paths with Murphy’s Law, and apparently, this was his day for it because who would be walking down the street but the very person he was thinking about?

Sophie Kim was five feet, two inches of nonstop energy, usually. Today, though, her shoulders were slumped and her steps lacked the brisk cadence he’d always associated with her. She was heading out of a small art gallery with a large paper shopping bag, and despite the difference in her body language, she was still alert. The woman had expansive peripheral vision and excellent spacial awareness.

Which meant she spotted him and changed course to head in his direction immediately.

Forte swallowed hard.

She must’ve come directly from work because under her very sleek black trench coat, she wore a matching pencil skirt. Three-inch red heels popped in contrast to the severe black of the rest of her outfit. Which did all sorts of things to him. Naughty things.

The kind of things that were so good, they were really bad. Especially when a woman was off limits.

“Hey! Is that the new guy?” Sophie slowed her approach, keeping her gaze locked on Forte’s face.

She’d been around tiny dogs all her life, but she’d spent enough time at Hope’s Crossing Kennels over the past couple of years to have learned how to meet the much bigger dogs in Forte’s care. Training working dogs was his thing. Or in Haydn’s case, retraining.

Always a work in progress.

Sophie had been there when he’d come back from active duty, too battle weary to continue deploying. She’d helped him with the accounting when he’d established Hope’s Crossing Kennels and had generally integrated herself into the private world he’d created for himself, Rojas, and Cruz while they all rebuilt lives for themselves.