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Year of the Dog serial novel, chapter 15

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

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?

All the posted parts are listed here.


Chapter Fifteen - Teal-Green SUV

Ashwin had a bad feeling about things as soon as he saw the teal-green SUV.

No. It couldn’t be. What were the odds?

And how many teal-green SUVs were there on O'ahu? There had to be more than one.

Ashwin pulled into a parking spot several yards away from the nameless storefront in the seedy strip mall where Dusty had sent him. Lights blazed from the dirty glass window in front, and an occasional yap sounded in the cool evening.

The teal-green SUV was parked right in front.

He approached the open door slowly. What was he doing? Expecting that slender woman to come barreling out of the door at him? Besides, she seemed to only have it in for his car, not his person.

A woman’s voice floated toward him through the open doorway to the store. “Okay, everybody, here it is once again.”

It couldn’t be. Ashwin wavered between giving in to a headache and running away screaming.

No, he needed to be braver than that. He strode forward and peeked inside the doorway.

The first thing that hit him was the odor. But more than a dog smell, it reminded him of … a men’s locker room?

Dogs and owners lined the dingy walls of the bare single room, and amazingly, most of the dogs were sitting or lying at their owners’ feet. Some owners stood, some sat in cheap plastic chairs.

In the center of the ring was her.

Mari Mukou, her driver’s license had said. He’d like to think he had never forgotten her name simply because she’d been so strange and jumpy, not because he’d found her cute, despite his anger at her. Gentlemen didn’t get angry at ladies, despite the fact they’d left a massive gouge in his rear bumper. But a secret part of him admitted he’d been more angry at him for being drawn to her and ashamed about it. Successful security consultants didn’t find crazy Japanese women attractive.

And this crazy Japanese wahine owned Pepper.

God help him.

Mari went to a student and took his golden retriever to the center of the circle. With some kind of treat in her fingers, she held it in front of the dog, obviously letting it smell. The retriever licked at her fingers, but she didn’t relinquish the treat.

Then she inverted her hand so her palm faced upward—her fingers still gripping the treat—and lifted her hand from in front of the dog’s nose to a little above its head. The dog’s nose obediently followed, and as its nose pointed straight up, its bottom hit the ground.

“Sit,” she commanded as the dog did so. “Good dog.” She gave it the treat.

She repeated the action a couple more times. Then the next time, she simply lifted her hand holding the treat and gave the command, “Sit.”

The dog sat, staring at the treat in her uplifted hand.

“Good dog.” She glanced around the room. “As you see, once they figure out that this gesture”—she motioned upward with her hand—“means ‘sit,’ you won’t need to put the food in front of their noses. Okay, everybody try it.”

She happened to glance toward the door then, and saw Ashwin.

And gulped.

It struck him that this woman, rail thin with straight black hair pulled up in a long ponytail, was surrounded by dogs—some easily one hundred pounds—yet she looked at Ashwin as if he were going to eat her.

A client asked her a question, and she attended to the woman with her dog, which looked like a light brown puff ball because it was spinning so fast. She immediately took the leash and with minimal words but strongly felt body language, she tugged the leash a couple times and got the dog to stop spinning in circles. The dog sat and stared up at her.

Two seconds. It had taken her two seconds to get the wild dog under control. Granted, it probably weighed less than hockey puck, but despite its high energy quivering in its paws and wagging tail, the dog kept its attention on her.

She helped several other clients with their dogs, including a mean-looking Husky that turned into a playful puppy as soon as Mari took the leash.

Miss Mukou, not Mari. No ring on her left hand, but maybe she took it off to work with the dogs.

Ashwin, focus, for crying out loud. You’re flightier than she is.

Finally she dismissed the class after reminding them to practice the commands they’d done. She headed toward Ashwin, but was stopped with questions from a couple clients.

He stepped aside from the doorway for exiting students. Several of them glanced at him and then at his feet before moving away.

He looked down. Doc Martins. Not new, but not scuffed. No stains on his khaki pant legs.

Then it hit him. They were wondering where his own dog was.

Mari followed the last student out the door, waving at them all and calling, “Good night.” As soon as they were a few feet away, she turned to Ashwin. “What now? My insurance paid—”

“Whoa, whoa. Calm down, I’m not here about the car.”

“Well, you’re not here to recruit my services.” She also gave a pointed glance at his feet—rather, his lack of canine companion.

“How do you know I just didn’t leave my dog at home?”

“You have no dog hair on you.” Her eyes narrowed. “No, wait. You do.” She plucked a black hair off his Tori Herbie aloha shirt, her touch at his shoulder like a butterfly. He couldn’t move for a second.

She scanned the rest of him—rather rudely—and shook her head. “That must have been from one of my student's dogs. You don’t own one. At least, you don’t play with one.”

A rash-like warmth started to spread up his neck for no good reason. Dangit, he had to get control of this conversation again. “Actually, I am here about a dog. Yours.”

Her forehead wrinkled like folded rice paper. “My dog? Pepper?”

“You left him with Dusty, my brother.”

“Dusty’s your brother?” Pink lips formed a small O, then pulled wide in a grimace. “Did Pepper get loose or something? Did he bite you?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, it’s only for a few months. If you can avoid Dusty’s apartment in the meantime …”

“Dusty’s apartment?” Did she not know?

Her eyes immediately narrowed and her facial muscles tensed, an expression he often donned when his brother was involved. Warily, she said, “Is there something wrong with Dusty’s apartment?”

That boogerhead hadn’t told her. Fantasies of throttling Dusty flashed across his vision for maybe the millionth time. “Dusty got thrown out. I said he could move in with me, but he didn’t tell me he needed to bring the dog with him.”

This time, the pink O was the size of a peach. “He didn’t tell you? He just moved in?”


She screwed her eyes shut as though struck with a massive headache and sighed through gritted teeth. “Why am I not surprised?”

“So could you just take Pepper back?” She would, right? After all, she sounded reasonable.

Her eyes flew open. “Take him back? Ugh, you don’t know …”

Her groaning tone made his stomach clench. “Don’t know what?”

“I gave him to Dusty temporarily while I work on renovations for my new dog facility. It’ll hopefully be up and running by September.”

“And? You can’t have Pepper at your home?”

“I sold my house to buy my facility, and I took out a small business loan for the renovations. I had no where to live, so I moved in with my mother.”

“You can’t keep him here?” He gestured to the bare room, noting the dusting of dog hair over the cracked tile floor.

She shook her head. “I’m only renting this space during weekday evenings. On weekends, there are tae kwon do classes here.”

Hence the smell of a men’s locker room.

“Maybe your workplace? Do you work at a kennel or a vet’s office?” Yes, he was grasping at straws, but he couldn’t stomach the thought of going home to Pepper’s welcoming howling.

“I do this full time.” She bit her lip. “I quit my programming job months ago to make a go of my new facility.”

He couldn’t stop his mouth from scowling. This woman was just like his mother, just as financially irresponsible. Selling her house and quitting her job to buy a facility? She’d better get used to living at her mother’s house because she was going to be there a while.

“I’m sorry.” Dark eyes pleaded with him. “When I talked to Dusty, I didn’t know he was about to be evicted. He never told me. I never dreamed he’d move in with you and not tell you about the dog first.”

She started waving her hands wildly. “And I didn’t even know he’d moved because since I gave Pepper to Dusty, I’ve only had time to do training with him a couple times. Each time, Dusty brought Pepper to work with him and I picked him up there. I’d train him for the few hours Dusty was working, then return him so he could take Pepper home. I’m sorry, I really didn’t know.”

She sounded genuinely apologetic, and his stubbornness began to melt. But then he reminded himself that he couldn’t waver in the face of her sincerity.

“Well, I can’t keep your dog. He won’t stop barking, he’s tearing up my house, and I’m allergic …” Wait a minute. His nose was clear, and he was standing just inside the doorway. Why wasn’t he sneezing? Why hadn’t his nose plugged up like Uncle Kimo's kitchen sink?

“I’m sorry, but the reason I even gave him to Dusty is because I have no other options.”

Ashwin refused to be stuck with that dog. “Well, you better come up with other options, because if you don’t, I’m going to take him to a shelter.”

She gasped. “You wouldn’t.”

No, he wouldn’t. But he wasn’t about to let that dog ruin his life, and if he had to play Prince Lotor to her Voltron, then he would. “Just watch me.” It came out sounding rather menacing. He almost scared himself.

Her dark eyes spit black fire at him. “Because of his aversion to men, Pepper is unadoptable. If you take him to a shelter, that’s signing his death warrant.”

He hadn’t realized that. Suddenly his threat made him sound like a dirtbag. “Uh … look—”

She sat her fists on her hips. “I can’t believe you’d do that to a dog.”

“Hey, Ashwin!”

A spasm shot across his shoulder blades. That familiar voice belonged to his VP, his manager’s manager. Who loved his dog, Beanie. And who sounded close enough to have heard Mari’s accusation at him.

He turned. “Hey, Nathan. What are you doing here?” Hopefully his smile wasn’t too strained.

From behind him, Mari’s voice sounded at the same time. “Hi, Nathan. You’re early for your class.” Then a beat. “How do you know Ashwin?”

Dusty had told Ashwin, “Her class ends at eight.” He’d neglected to mention that it wasn’t her only class of the night.

Nathan Woo stood closer than Ashwin had expected, his German shepherd mix quiet at his side, although the dog's massive tail fanned leaves and dirt from side to side. “Ashwin, I didn’t know you had a dog.”

He felt as if he’d just been thrown out a window. The sensation of freefalling made his stomach jump to his throat. “My, uh … brother Dusty’s got a dog.”

“I remember you telling me Dusty’s living with you now. Dusty has a dog? That’s great.”

“Yeah. Uh, great.”

“Mari’s a terrific trainer.” Nathan winked at her. “She’ll help you get that mutt in line. Just look at Beanie.”

The shepherd glanced up at him at the sound of his name. The dog’s mouth opened and he started to pant, baring some rather long teeth.

Nathan smiled, baring teeth of his own. In a friendly way.

Ashwin managed to nod. “Yeah, that’s what Dusty said. Great trainer.”

Thanks to his VP, he’d just been stuck with a nightmare on four legs.

“So …” Mari’s rather pointed tone made Ashwin turn to look at her. “Why don’t you give me a call and we can talk about your private training sessions?”

Out of Nathan's sight, Ashwin raised an eyebrow at her. Was she saying—without saying it—that she’d give him sessions for free?

She smiled widely and her eyebrows gave an almost indiscernible twitch that silently screamed, You get me, right?

Well, he did need help …

No, not from her. She’d done enough to cause catastrophic explosions in his life, thank you very much.

“Thanks,” he said completely insincerely. “I’ll be going now—you have your next class.”

She dug into her pocket and handed him a business card. “Please call me.”

He barely nodded as he walked away. Sure, he’d call her. When Dusty became President of the United States.



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