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Year of the Dog serial novel, chapter 1

I’m posting a Humorous Christian Romantic Suspense serial novel here on my blog! Year of the Dog is a (second) prequel to my Warubozu Spa Chronicles series.

Year of the Dog serial novel

by Camy Tang

Marisol Mutou, a professional dog trainer, is having a bad year.

While renovating her new dog kenneling and training facility, she needs to move in with her disapproving family, who have always made her feel inadequate—according to them, a job requiring her to be covered in dog hair and slobber is an embarrassment to the family. She convinces her ex-boyfriend to take her dog for a few months … but discovers that his brother is the irate security expert whose car she accidentally rear-ended a few weeks earlier.

Ashwin Keitou has enough problems. His aunt has just shown up on his doorstep, expecting to move in with him, and he can’t say no because he owes her everything—after his mother walked out on them, Aunt Nell took in Ashwin and his brother and raised them in a loving Christian home. What’s more, his brother Dusty also needs a place to stay after being kicked out of his apartment—with a dog in tow. And guess who the dog’s owner is?

But then Ashwin gets a request from an old friend, Edytha Guerrero, a private investigator who also runs a day spa on O’ahu’s north shore. A strange bit of “vandalism” at Marisol's facility had led her to find a purse belonging to Edytha’s sister—who had disappeared three years ago. Worried that Marisol might be in danger, and finding out that security expert Ashwin already knows her, Edytha asks him to covertly keep an eye on the busy young woman

Ashwin is reluctantly attracted to the lively, easy-going dog trainer. She reminds him too much of his happy-go-lucky mother, whose betrayal had caused him to keep people at a distance. Marisol sees past Ashwin’s cold exterior to a man who is loyal to his family, unlike her own mother and sister, who only criticize her career choice.

In the midst of Marisol’s disjointed family and Ashwin’s disruptive home, danger begins to circle around them from people who want the past to remain there. Can they shed light on the secrets moving in the shadows?

All the posted parts are listed here.

***

Chapter 1: Fire-Engine Red Corvette

Marisol Mukou wouldn’t have rammed her SUV into the sleek, expensive-looking Audi if her brother-in-law hadn’t been cheating on her sister. Really, it wasn’t her fault.

And if she’d been running late, as she usually did, she wouldn’t have even noticed the fire-engine red Corvette parked on the edge of the real estate agency parking lot, much less the two people in it. She’d have sped past it on her way to meet her potential dog training client.

But for once in her life, she arrived early for her appointment with Jim Tong, who had asked her to meet him at his workplace during his lunch hour. Her SUV hustled into the lot, looking for a shady spot under a tree or, barring that, next to a new-ish luxury car, whose owner would be less likely to ding her new teal-green paint job.

She found a good spot all right. Good viewing spot for the couple smooching in the Corvette. She couldn’t see the face of the blonde woman, but she got an eyeful of the forty-ish man macking in the middle of the day in plain view of everyone. Really, some people had no shame about PDA …

Wait a minute. She knew that man.

That man was William. Her brother-in-law. Her sister’s husband of fifteen years.

What was he doing with that woman?!

Crunch! The truck jerked as if she’d run into something.

Oh, no. She had.

Her stomach clenched like a wrung-out rag. She was going to be sick.

She had hit a really nice car, from what she could see of its back end. Black racing-type. Expensive. And an extremely irate owner.

“What are you doing? Weren’t you even looking?” The man had barely any of the local pidgin accent in his crisp voice. He had Asian features (Japanese maybe? Or Korean? She wasn’t very good at being able to tell) but his short, softly curling hair was a lighter shade of brown than a typical Asian. Average height, but wide shoulders and a lithe, athletic grace as he walked—no, stomped toward her car. His hazelnut-colored eyes were irked and flashing, and a muscle pulsed in his strong jaw. In fact, he reminded her of a certain K-drama star ...

“Hello? Anybody home?”

“Huh?” She blinked, and visions of a painfully beautiful Korean movie star with his hair blowing in an artful wind dissolved into the angry real estate agent (she guessed—this was a real estate agency parking lot) who was making his immaculately tamed curls stick up at wild angles from pulling at it with long-fingered hands.

Oh, right. Fender-bender. Focus, Mari.

She reached for her door handle to get out of the car, but then froze. William was still out in the Corvette, probably rubber-necking the minor ruckus she’d just caused. Assuming he hadn’t already recognized her teal-green car—and he might not, because the paint was new—he’d certainly notice his sister-in-law witnessing him in the act, so to speak.

If she didn’t want William to see her, she had to stay in her car.

She rolled down the window. “I’m sorry—”

“That’s all you can say?”

Mari prided herself on her girl-power and not quailing before men, but she admitted that this time, she quailed. She’d had no idea that a man handsome enough to appear on Asian beauty product advertisements could turn into such a frightening approximation of a Kaminari-sama thunder god. “L-let me get my insurance card.”

“Why don’t you back up first so I can see what kind of damage you’ve caused?”

Oh, that would certainly be good, especially if she deliberately ignored his acid tone. She backed away.

She immediately wished she hadn’t. His bumper looked like she’d attacked it with a chainsaw rather than just gently nudged it with her little SUV.

She closed her eyes and banged her forehead a couple times against the steering wheel, her gut puddling on her car seat. This was really not her day. Her year, even. With the way her dog training side business had been doing since New Year’s, she didn’t want to lose this potential client today.

And now she’d be late for that appointment, in all probability.

“If you’re done having your little meltdown, I’d like to see your insurance. Please tell me you have insurance.“ He managed to edge the polite “please” with sharpened insult.

Big fat jerk. He couldn’t get a clue that his irate mug was not the only source of miserableness bothering her right now? She grabbed for her purse, which had fallen from the passenger seat to the floor. The sooner she got this over with, the faster she’d escape her brother-in-law's notice and possibly escape into the building without him seeing her.

There! She dug her insurance card out from where it had stuck to the back of her medical insurance card. “Here you go.” She handed her card to the grumpy guy, who was fuming at his bumper as if he could fix it by staring really hard. He snatched the card from her without looking at her.

“Could I have yours, please?” Considering how low her opinion of him was plummeting, she was rather proud of herself that she remembered to say please.

“My what?”

“Your insurance card.”

I didn’t cause this accident.”

She had to speak through gritted teeth, so she tried to sugar-coat her tone. “I didn’t say you did. I’d like to give your name to my insurance adjustor so they can expect your insurance adjustor’s call.”

He only grunted as he copied down her info on his phone. It was really criminally unfair how beautiful he looked as his twisted his long, lean torso in order to dig in his back pocket for his wallet.

Marisol snapped her eyes forward to glare at her dashboard. Nope, not interested at all in looking at the pretty man with the I’m-so-annoyed-I-could-bite-your-head-off attitude. True, she’d hit his car. But she was polite and cooperating, and yet he acted like she was throwing a hissy fit over the accident. She grabbed her phone and took a photo of his insurance card, then peered through her windshield to take a photo of his license plate.

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Oh, thank goodness—William’s swaggering shoulders and slightly rumpled hair bobbed over the tops of the parked cars as he sauntered into the building. She didn’t see the blonde woman who had been stuck to his face like a leech, but she didn’t really care at this point—aside from the fact that Marisol’s older sister Jenessa definitely wasn’t blonde.

Marisol thrust the grouch’s card back at him. “Are you done?”

He flicked her card back at her, but she caught it easily with reflexes honed by years of tugging leashes with lightning speed before the dogs escalated from curious to disobedient.

“Well …” How should she end a conversation with an irritated man whose fancy car she’d just mangled? “Bye.” She backed her car out further, then swerved into a nearby parking stall.

The curmudgeon didn’t look very pleased she’d parked so close to him, but she didn’t know why he’d have a problem with that. Her car was parked. It’s not like it could do him any more harm.

She had to ease her car door open slowly because the stalls were so narrow that the neighboring minivan was practically snugged up against her SUV. Then she almost forgot her purse because she’d been too distracted in trying not to ding yet another car today.

After edging out, she used her hip to shut her door, crab walked out between the two cars and took a moment to take a deep breath. The beautiful peeved man and his beautiful mid-life crisis car had disappeared.

She straightened her knit blouse and marched away … but then had to pause when she realized she’d never set the alarm.

Well, now. That wasn’t too bad. Glancing at her watch, she let out a long breath. Despite the fender-bender, she would be just on time for her client appointment. As she approached the main doors of the building, she took out her cell phone to call Jim to let him know she’d just arrived.

She’d think about William after the appointment. Maybe she wouldn’t have to struggle over what to tell—or not tell—Jenessa since technically Mari couldn’t be sure she’d actually seen her sister's husb—

The glare from the noonday sun on the glass made the entrance doors seem opaque to her, so she didn’t see the figure on the other side of the door until she’d opened it.

William stood there in the entry way to the real estate office.

Tightness spasmed from her throat down her chest. Then she remembered that no, there was no need to worry, he didn’t know she’d seen him. Whew. She started breathing again. “Hi, William.”

He looked surprised to see her, but otherwise didn’t act any differently than normal. He smiled with an ease that made her want to give him a swift kick. “Marisol! What are you doing here?” Only when he walked closer to her did she notice that faint red tinged his cheeks. Probably congratulating himself on his narrow escape, the cheating weasel.

“I’m meeting a client—” she started to say.

She’d been faintly aware of clicking heels behind her, but then a woman’s voice behind her murmured, “Excuse me.”

Belatedly realizing she was blocking the entrance and letting the air conditioning escape into the noonday heat, Marisol automatically stepped aside and opened the door further for the woman … and caught a sweep of blonde curls.

“Thanks.” The blonde woman from the Corvette entered the building, nodding at Marisol.

It felt like a giant hand had squeezed her entire chest cavity, and her throat constricted. What were the odds? Stop. Breathe. After all, the woman didn’t know Marisol had already seen them.

And neither did William.

Marisol's conversation with her sister was already restricted to “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year’s.” She hadn’t wanted to think about whether she ought to tell her that William was a detestable piece of dog poop. She’d never liked William anyway, so her knowledge could just stay locked inside her brain. Being-the-bearer-of-bad-news to Jenessa: avoided.

William had been standing in front of Mari, but now he also stepped aside to allow the woman into the building.

However, rather than sweeping past him, the woman paused and smiled at him. “See you later, honey.”

And she kissed him full on his lying lips.

***

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