Chapter One from Dog Collar Couture
Lucie stood on the sidewalk under a soothing stream of October sunshine while Fin, an eight-month-old Australian shepherd with more energy than a horny frat boy, sniffed at a giant maple tree on Chicago’s West Side. After this stop, she’d call it a day. As soon as she got horny frat boy off the tree.
Not always an easy task.
Time to break out some Alpha Lucie. “Okay, Fin. Finish up. No more stalling.”
Fin swung his head around, stared at her with his one blue and one green eye, and Alpha Lucie crumbled. Just completely melted. I’m useless to the Alpha population.
In her own defense, Fin’s eyes—shades of tropical seas—could take down an entire army. She simply could not get mad at this dog.
Even when he hurled himself at her, blasting her in the chest with both front paws and knocking her on her butt. Or when he decided to stop, plop his furry bottom on the sidewalk and bark—woof, woof, woof.
Three rapid-fire barks meant, at least in Fin’s mind, playing fetch. Which he could do for 90 percent of his waking hours.
But she’d been working on him. Giving him a treat every time he kept pace with her. He might be fifty pounds overweight by the time she finished with him, but he’d be a dog walker’s dream. A graduate of Coco Barknell.
On the street, a car rolled by, slowing as it went. Probably someone looking for a parking space. They wouldn’t find one on this block. Every parked car was squeezed bumper to bumper.
Fin’s ear went up, and he barked at the car. Her hero. She bent low, gave him a nuzzle. “You make me crazy, but I love you.”
A wet tongue slapped across her cheek. The bonus of working for dogs.
“Aw, you two are the cutest.” A middle-aged woman hoofed down the sidewalk wearing a flowy skirt, an equally flowy blouse and a long cardigan against the late afternoon wind. She carried a briefcase in one hand.
Lucie scratched Fin’s snout before standing tall. “He’s a good boy and deserved some love.”
The woman stopped just a few feet away. “Can I pet him?”
Something in Lucie’s spine fused. After the dognapping of the Ninja Bitches last spring, she didn’t take to strangers wanting to come near her clients. The woman must have sensed Lucie’s sudden-onset Terminator and gestured to the auction house behind her.
“I’m Estelle. I manage Bendorf Auctions. I’ve seen you out here with this cutie.”
Lucie let out a long, silent breath. “Fin.”
“His name is Fin. You can pet him. Sorry. I’m protective.”
Estelle glanced at Lucie’s messenger bag with the screen print of a winking poodle wearing a diamond collar. The Coco Barknell logo created by the fabulous Ro, aka Lucie’s best bud. And currently the squeeze of Joey, Lucie’s ape of a brother. Blech.
“You’re a dog walker?”
“Yes. I’m Lucie from Coco Barknell. We also have a line of dog accessories.” Lucie slipped one of her business cards from the easy-access front pocket of her bag. There’d been a time when she’d been too shy to even tell people about her fledgling business.
Now she was a pro and whipped out her card to anyone with even a passing interest. Her growing bank account helped inspire this newfound aggressiveness.
Estelle took the card. “Thank you. I have a little guy at home myself. A mutt, but the cutest darned thing. Maybe I’ll buy him a collar or something.”
“Sure. Check out our Web site. If there’s something you see, let me know, and I’ll drop it by next time I walk Fin.”
“Oh, that’d be great. Thank you.”
Finally, Estelle bent over and gave Fin a good rub.
“Stay, Fin,” Lucie warned.
Please don’t let him launch.With Fin, she never knew. One second he’d be calm and the next—airborne.
But, lookie here, he stayed put. He’d definitely get a treat for that.
“Good boy, Finnie!”
Lucie pulled out another treat. Peanut butter this time. Although the carob seemed to be his favorite.
He made a move to jump, but Lucie tightened her hold on the leash. “Stay.”
“Well, now I’ve made a new friend.” Estelle gave him one last pat. “I’ll be sure to look out for you now, Fin.”
“He loves people,” Lucie said. A little too much.
“I see that. It was lovely meeting you, Lucie.” She held up the card. “I’ll check out your Web site.”
Estelle wandered up the walkway to the entrance of the auction house, an old, brick building with a door the color of the purest blue sky. Such an interesting choice. Eclectic, yet elegant.
Fin finished his treat and stretched out on the sidewalk for one of his siestas. “Oh, no you don’t, mister. Let’s get this walk finished.”
Lucie took two steps, but Fin—as usual—didn’t move. “Come on, boy.” She clicked her tongue—the treat sound—and he popped right up. Lucie sighed and tossed him another peanut butter nib.
In order to fix one bad habit, she’d created a treat monster. She’d deal with that later. After saving her precious schedule.
At the corner, they turned right and looped around the front of the auction house. Fin spotted something on the ground and charged, dragging Lucie with him.
As they approached she recognized the telltale eye—the blue in the middle—of a peacock feather. Actually, this one had two eyes. How cool was that? The sun glinted off the iridescent green and turquoise, and images of Fannie and Josie—the Ninja Bitches, a couple of shih tzus long on attitude and short on stature—wearing those colors flashed in Lucie’s mind.
Gripping the leash so Fin couldn’t snag the feather, Lucie bent low and scooped it up. She’d take it back to the office so Ro could create some sketches of peacock doggie coats.
“That, Fin,” Lucie said, “would be a best seller. I just know it.”
With the walk complete, Lucie gave Fin a good-bye smooch, hopped on her scooter and zipped off. Her day had run half an hour over schedule, and she needed to get home and get cleaned up for dinner.
It had been an interesting couple of months in the Rizzo household, what with Dad home from prison.
Early release for good behavior.
He’d done two years on a tax-evasion conviction, and in that time Lucie had been downsized out of her investment banking job and moved home with Joey and Mom.
Joey drove her insane with his big mouth and constant teasing, but he’d taken care of their mother while Dad was gone. Now, at 29 years old, he’d finally moved out. Which left Lucie and her mom in the minefield known as living with Joe Rizzo, Mob Boss.
But they were adjusting. All of them. Dad might have been having the hardest time. While he’d been gone, his wife had learned a little thing called independence. She’d also learned to tell him to “make his own damned dinner” once in a while.
By five fifteen Lucie walked in the front door of Chateau Rizzo. “Helloooo?” she called in her usual greeting. “I’m home.”
She stopped just inside the door and enjoyed the sensory overload of cooking meat and rich spices. Her mother made the best roast beef ever. And that was no exaggeration. Whatever the secret spice was, it gave the meat just enough of a kick. Lucie often threatened to sign her up for one of those cooking-show battles. Mom versus a famous chef. Mom and the roast would win. No doubt.
“Lucie!” Dad hollered.
He appeared in the doorway that led from the small dining room to the kitchen. He wore flat-front slacks and a crisp, baby-blue dress shirt. “You’re late. You said you’d be home by five.”
Welcome to living at home with a protective father. “I know, but the walks ran long.”
“You should call if you’ll be late.”
The door behind her opened and whacked her hard enough to send her spiraling forward. Whoopsie. To keep from falling, she hooked her hand on one of the staircase spindles, gripped it hard enough to pop a knuckle and fought a battle with momentum. She hung on for a second—whew—and pulled herself back to her feet.
Joey stood in the doorway holding the door open for Ro.
Ro rushed in, her arms out. “Luce, are you all right?”
“Luce,” Joey said, “what the hell are you doing behind the door? I could have killed you.”
“Thanks for your concern, Mr. Sensitivity.”
“Hey, next time, don’t stand there.”
“Joey,” Ro said, “zip it.”
He scrunched his face and stabbed his hands in the air. “What? Now it’s my fault?”
“Joey,” Dad warned in that low, scary voice that always made his son snap to, “shut that mouth.”
“Sorry, Dad. Where’s Mom?”
Her father circled his hand. “Ran to the store for bread. She’ll be back.”
Ro, working a tight, black skirt, stilettos and a light-pink cashmere sweater sauntered by; and, pig that he was, Joey cocked his head sideways to watch as she gave Dad a hug.
In a lot of ways, Ro was the female version of Dad. Tough, but with a tender side that popped out when least expected. And, of course, if someone messed with her loved ones, she took them out.
“Hi, Mr. R.,” she said. “It’s so great having you home again.”
Dad grinned and released her. “My wife is fattening me up.”
“Oh, pee-shaw. You were too thin when you first got home.”
Lucie couldn’t argue with that. “She’s right, Dad. You look like your old self now.”
“Luce,” Ro said, “I worked up sketches for some new couture coats. I’ll show them to you tomorrow.”
Wackiest thing ever, but Ro was convinced the market for couture dog clothes was untapped. As crazy as it was, Ro might not be too far off. Some of the high-end clientele usually went for ostentatious when it came to the samples Lucie brought them. Between the two of them, Lucie and Ro had developed an affinity for knowing which client would go for what.
“Speaking of, I found a peacock feather today. I left it on my desk at the office, but the colors are amazing. I was thinking we could do something with them.”
“Feathers! I love that idea.”
“Well, I was thinking more the colors of the feather, but if you want to play, go for it.”
“Oh, I’ll play. I can totally see those Ninja Bitches running around with feathers on their backs.”
“That’s what I thought! I swear we think with the same brain.”
At that Joey grunted and Lucie smacked him on the head.
“Knock it off,” Ro said. “Both of you.”
Leaving Ro to entertain Dad and Joey, Lucie headed upstairs for a quick shower before dinner and to call Tim. Detective O’Hottie, as Ro called him. Six feet one of muscle with the strawberry-blond hair and blue eyes inherent to Irish boys, Tim O’Brien had it going on.
And currently, he had it going on with Lucie.