Year of the Dog serial novel
by Camy Tang
Mari 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, Auntie 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 Mari's facility had led her to find a purse belonging to Edytha’s sister—who had disappeared three years ago. Worried that Mari 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. Mari 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 Mari’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?
Chapter Seven - Red Zone
Three months later
Pepper barked as if an ax-murderer bore down on Mari.
In actuality, it was a rather frightened looking engineer-type walking his Pomeranian clear on the other side of the park.
“Pepper, come on.” Mari pulled her black Labrador-mix dog away in the opposite direction with a firm tug to his leash. It took a couple tugs before Pepper’s fixation on the man broke, but once it did, Mari got his full attention with a piece of liver. She kept it in her closed fist while Pepper licked at her hand, tantalized by the smell, his attention fully on Mari and the treat.
Ugh. The liver smelled like cat yack up, but it was also one of the tastiest dog treats, and with the way Pepper had been so resistant to rehabilitation, Mari had needed to break out the big guns—or in this case, the smelly guns.
Another try. She turned Pepper around, watching to see the moment her dog spied the distant man. Before Pepper’s state roused further, she distracted him with another liver treat.
This time, her timing was better. While Pepper eyed the man with a side gaze, his mouth and nose were busy licking at Mari’s fist, while she doled out crumbs of liver to keep him interested.
“Good, Pepper. Yes, man in the distance means yummy treats. Good dog.” After a few minutes, maybe she could move Pepper a little closer to the man.
Her cell phone rang. While keeping Pepper occupied with one hand, she answered her phone with the other. “Hi, Mom.”
“Don’t sign those papers today.”
“I’m good, how are you? I’m out training my dog, Pepper—your granddoggy.” She knew the granddoggy part would annoy her, but their relationship had become more of a Cold War since the night of the Slap Heard Round the World.
Pepper’s licking paused, and his nose moved a couple inches away from Mari’s hand, his eyes focused on the man. She shoved her fist in his face again to get his attention back onto the food.
Her mother ignored the granddoggy jab. “It was bad enough with you doing that dog stuff part time, but if you go full time, what will people say? No, you can’t do this. You’ll be an embarrassment.”
Mari’s shoulders tensed. Pepper picked up on her frustration. His nose pulled away from her hand and his hackles rose as his eyes focused on the man.
While cradling the mobile phone awkwardly between her ear and shoulder, Mari grabbed the leash with one hand and waved her open hand in front of his nose, letting him both see and smell the liver. This time, she let him eat all of it while simultaneously tugging him away from the man. Whew. She shouldn’t have let herself get upset—or at least not let Pepper sense it.
“You have to stop barking at all men,” she told him as she grabbed her phone off her shoulder.
“What did you say to me?”
Mom’s irate voice in her ear brought her back to the conversation. “Sorry, Mom, I was talking to Pepper.”
She should have said, You have to stop barking at your daughter. At the very least, her mother might have been silent with apoplectic fury.
“Just go back to your boss and ask for your job back.”
“Mom, I quit two months ago—it’s a tad late.”
“Then find another job. Don’t sign those papers to buy that abandoned school. I don’t want you to do this.”
Mari shook her head silently. Mom had given up her right to want anything from Mari the night William left Jenessa. It had been the straw to break the camel’s back. Or maybe, the dog’s back. That was more appropriate. Mari giggled to herself.
“Are you laughing at me?”
Mom paused, probably wondering if Mari were being facetious or not. “Well, whatever you do, don’t sign those papers today. Think about your family instead of yourself for once in your life.”
The accusation ripped into her flesh like a dog’s teeth. How dare she accuse her of something like that when Mari had tried so hard to be a good daughter? “What do you mean? Practically everything I do is for you or Jenessa. I take you grocery shopping or to Japantown whenever you don’t want to drive. I watch Jenessa’s kids for her whenever she asks me to, even at a moment’s notice. I have done everything I can to help Jenessa through this divorce—”
“Which you caused.”
“No, which William caused. I did not make him cheat on his wife and leave his family.” She stopped to catch her breath, but a tugging at the leash made her look down. Pepper danced around, reacting to her anger.
She breathed long and slow through her nose. She had to relax. She couldn’t let this ruin Pepper’s training.
“How in the world am I going to face my friends when they find out that my daughter left a well-paying job to work full time with animals, like some uneducated person who works at PetShart?”
“At least I’m not working at PetShart.”
“Don’t you talk back to me …”
A figure in the distance waved wildly at her. Lana. Thank goodness. “Gotta go, Mom, my client has arrived. Bye.”
“I’m not fini—”
She ended the call and dropped her phone back in her pocket. “Hey, Lan—”
“You can’t sign those papers today.”
Mari stared at her for a moment. “Have you been talking to my mother?”
“What? Why would I talk to her? She thinks I’m a bad influence on you.” Lana put her hand on her hip. “Look, you can’t do this. It’s just too risky.”
Pepper let out a series of wild barks.
Male human at nine o’clock. Rats, she hadn’t been paying attention.
“Come on, Pepper.” She turned him in the opposite direction while digging for another liver piece.
Lana stuck to her side. “You’re still trying to cure him of his aggression against men?”
“It’s not aggression yet—he’s only barking at this point. And yes, I’m still trying to rehabilitate him.”
“It’s been three months—”
“And during those months, I’ve quit my job, sold my house, and bought an abandoned school. Not much time for Pepper-curing.” Ew, that sounded more like she was turning her dog into charcuterie.
“You would have had time if you hadn’t been doing all that other stuff.” Lana was like a pit bull with a rib bone.
“I would have had time if I hadn’t had to keep arguing with you about this for three months.” She regretted her snappish tone as soon as it came out, but really, Lana hadn’t let up all this time.
“I only have your best interests at heart,” Lana said defensively.
“Why aren’t you happy I’m pursuing my dream?”
Something passed across Lana’s face—so fleeting, Mari wasn’t sure she’d seen anything, and even then, she wasn’t sure what emotion that had been.
Movement at the corner of her eye—just a mother and her two kids. Good. Pepper was fine with women and children. His ears perked up at seeing them, but he continued heeling at her side as she walked.
“Think about it,” Lana said. “You quit your job with Global Dynamics and now you’re jumping into your dog training with a huge financial splash. There are safer ways to ease into a full time business.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to ‘ease’ into buying my own facility.”
“You could have gradually built up your client list some more—”
“No, I couldn’t. I was already maxed out on my time outside of work in giving classes and running the dogs. The only way I could have taken more clients would have been if I stopped sleeping.”
“Since I’ve quit, I’ve been able to start some daytime classes and pick up private clients I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to help because of my work hours.”
Uh, oh. Barely ten yards in front of them, a man had just entered the park. A very large man. Pepper’s behavior tended to be in direct proportion to the man’s height and closeness to him. This guy had lots of both.
Calm, stay calm. She couldn’t let her anger at Lana and nervousness about the man travel down the leash. She dug for a liver treat, but Pepper spotted the man too quickly.
Barking and pulling, he lunged.
Mari kept a firm grip on the leash and pulled in the opposite direction. She tried wafting smelly liver in front of Pepper’s nose, but the dog had already escalated to the red zone. No distracting him except with distance.
Lana stalked next to her, oblivious to her struggles with her dog. “This is a bad idea. You’ll lose all the money you got from selling your house, you’ll lose all your savings, you’ll reneg on that small business loan.”
Pepper tugged sharply, causing a shooting pain in Mari's shoulder. She had to get her dog further away, but Lana’s tirade was upsetting both Mari and her pet.
She exhaled sharply and glared at Lana. “Why are you being like this? I’d have expected my best friend to be, oh, I don’t know—supportive?”
Lana’s mouth pinched closed while her nostrils flared.
Mari only got a glimpse before she had to turn her attention back to Pepper. She finally got his attention with a piece of liver and made him sit at her side.
When she looked up, Lana was stalking away.