(Previously titled Dog Collar Limbo)
Lucie Rizzo’s life is...complicated. She’s worked hard to grow a legit business and leave behind the mob princess reputation. Now her mobster father is on parole, making things awkward at home—especially with her detective boyfriend. And thanks to an inescapable penchant for trouble, Lucie keeps stumbling into the wrong crime at the wrong time.
But what could go wrong at a dog show? It’s the perfect venue for Lucie to score visibility for her brand—and some quality time with sexy Irish cop, Tim O’Brien. Until her favorite client is snatched by a mystery woman. This broad messed with the wrong hot-blooded family! No one steals from a Rizzo, and Lucie and her zany sidekicks will do anything to take back what’s theirs.
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.”