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Writing Progress - Sushi and Suspicions

I’ve been working on Sushi and Suspicions , a Christian contemporary romantic suspense which will be releasing in June in the multi-author box set Summer Suspicions . Trouble follows Liv on her vacation to Hawaii when she is framed for the theft of an antique rifle. Only a handsome investigator can help clear her name ... and maybe give her a reason to stay in the islands. If you want to read a snippet of what I wrote last week, check out my last newsletter !

Year of the Dog serial novel, chapter 20

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 Twenty - Red Rubber Poochie Pacifier

Ashwin had to escape. He just had no clue how to do it.

Sometime while he was in his office, working, Auntie Nell had let Pepper out of Dusty’s room, or maybe Dusty had let him out. As soon as Ashwin realized he was trapped inside his office, he looked out through the glass panes in the office door and saw his aunt and the dog cuddling on his destroyed couch.

Auntie Nell had draped an old quilt over the tooth holes in the leather, and Pepper showed no signs of further chewing—rather, he was curled up at Auntie Nell’s side like a gigantic black cat, four paws in the air while Auntie Nell absently scratched his stomach.

And Auntie Nell looked beautiful.

He hadn’t seen her so content since she moved into his house. Maybe because his neighborhood was full of young working families, very few stay-at-home mothers, and only one or two retirees for her to talk to during the day on her walks around the block. But now, she looked happy, the way she used to when Uncle Ramsey was alive.

He hated to interrupt their cozying, but he had to leave his office, and he didn’t trust Pepper not to charge like a shark to chomp a piece out of his backside. The dog hadn’t seen him, or maybe hadn’t noticed him since Auntie Nell had him so nicely distracted.

Auntie Nell flipped another station on the TV, and Ashwin just watched her. Pepper’s nose nudged her arm, and she resumed scratching him.

Ashwin had only seen the dog as the enemy—after all, barking every time he came into view and ripping apart his house seemed like good reasons. But Auntie Nell’s contentment, which had been absent ever since Uncle Ramsey’s funeral, had finally returned. It reminded him of the love his aunt and uncle had lavished on him and Dusty in their home after their father died. The warmth of the memory softened his heart like a jar of old, hard lehua blossom honey sitting in the summer sun.

Wasn’t Auntie Nell more important than his allergies, than his house, even? And the barking—he hadn’t done anything to try to fix that. The dog could like men—Pepper liked Dusty, for crying out loud—so why couldn’t Ashwin make an effort to get on polite terms with his temporary canine houseguest?

Mari Mutou had offered her services …

No. The further he stayed from that flighty, intriguing foisting-problem-dogs-on-people woman, the better. He was surprised she hadn’t shown up on his doorstep, but he counted his blessings. He’d find some other way, but he was determined to get along with that dog, for the sake of his sanity and his aunt.

Except that happy thoughts were not going to make Pepper let Ashwin stroll out of his office into the living room.

He dialed Dusty. “Where are you?”

“In the garage working on my bike. Do you know where the—”

“I need you in the house to get Pepper.”

“That wasn’t my fault—after I let him into the back yard, he got all clingy with Auntie Nell and she wanted—”

“No, it’s fine.”

A dumbfounded second. “It is?”

“Just get him now so I can leave my office. Oh, and Dusty, your ex-girlfriend …”

“Which one?” Ashwin could hear the grin in his voice.

“Mari.”

“See, I knew you liked her.”

“No, I didn’t.” Good thing his brother couldn’t see his ears, because Ashwin was fairly certain they had turned the color of Auntie Nell's acerola cherry jelly.

“You didn’t? But she’s one of my nicer—”

“I meant I didn’t like her like that.”

“Oh. So, what about her?”

“Did she ever recommend some good dog books?”

***

Ashwin was in love with Vivian Caldwell.

Not literally, but at Dusty’s recommendation, he had looked on Youtube for her video podcast, Caldwell Canine Charm School, and watched it over and over. He might be obsessed if it weren’t for a good cause.

Namely, reinstatement of ownership over his home.

The first week, he watched a bunch of episodes and saw one about an insecure dog who hated men. Pepper didn’t quite act insecure—he looked more like he wanted to gnaw on Ashwin’s leg—but the techniques seemed easy enough.

He took a handful of Pepper’s kibble and tried it.

Auntie Nell sat with Pepper in the living room. Ashwin walked past the open archway and tossed some kibble down in front of Pepper.

Except his aim was off and he ended up nailing Pepper on the head. Which might have accounted for Pepper’s wild barking and chasing Ashwin into the kitchen.

He scrambled on top of a chair next to the breakfast table, but due to the height of the ceiling, he had to crouch a bit to keep his head from hitting.

He and the dog stared each other down. Pepper stayed a few feet away from the chair—he didn’t like the slick floors of the kitchen very much, and usually only stepped a few feet inside.

Auntie Nell hurried into the kitchen after them. “Throw more food to him.”

Ashwin did, but Pepper ignored the offering and kept staring at Ashwin, low growls in his throat.

“Well, you gotta admit, it’s an improvement,” Auntie Nell said.

Ashwin gave her a Have you been eating too much of Auntie Malia's macadamia rum pie? look.

“A week or two ago, he’d be barking his head off. Now he only barks a little and then growls instead.”

Oh. So much better.

“And why are you using kibble? Vivian uses chicken,” Auntie Nell pointed out.

“I didn’t have any,” he confessed.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake. I just bought a huge bag from SuperBulkClub.” Auntie Nell marched to the fridge and pulled out a plastic bag from the freezer. “I’ll have some in a sec.”

“Auntie Nell, I’m not going to stay up here while you fry up some chicken.”

“Who’s talking about frying? I’ll microwave this puppy in three minutes.”

… No pun intended?

At the very least, a piece of chicken lured Pepper back into the living room with Auntie Nell. She left a few pieces on the counter for Ashwin once he hobbled down from the chair, his back aching from being bent over.

Time to try again.

He crossed the entry foyer and approached the living room archway again. He again took care not to look at Pepper directly, and tossed some chicken at him (but not at his head).

Low growls, but Pepper did scoop up the chicken.

Ho yeah! Ashwin tossed more chicken.

He lapped it up.

You bettah believe it! Ashwin threw chicken and took a tiny step forward.

Pepper roared to life and in less than a second, Ashwin was up on the chair again. “Dang mutt!”

From the doorway of the kitchen, Auntie Nell said, “Doesn’t Vivian have the owners meet visitors outside and then they throw chicken?”

“But this is my house!”

“But does he know that?”

She had a point.

They needed Dusty to handle Pepper outside, because if the dog decided to chase after a mynah bird, he’d drag Auntie Nell along with him, clinging to his leash. Dusty’s good humor at being roped into helping gave Ashwin a twinge of guilt—he’d never be so cheerful if Dusty had asked him for something.

“Okay, so what do I do?” Dusty held Pepper by a short leash. The dog wasn’t barking at Ashwin since he was down by the other edge of the driveway, but he had him fixed in his beady stare. Which actually was an improvement, since last week, Pepper had started barking at Ashwin the moment he turned the corner from his morning run, when he would have been barely a speck at the end of the street. The street was clear right now, but one of the (male) neighbors could stroll by at any moment, so they had to do this quick.

“Vivian said to take the dog walking and have the strange person walk with you,” Auntie Nell said.

Ashwin was reduced to a “strange person.”

Dusty tugged Pepper and started walking down the street. Dating Mari must have rubbed off on him, because he walked as well as Oscar Martin, the Furry Friend Fixer, which was the other video podcast he’d watched on Youtube.

Ashwin approached from the side, giving Pepper a wide berth, and tossed chicken piece in front of him. But this time, the dog sniffed disdainfully at the chicken and walked on with Dusty. He stared at Ashwin, his lip curling.

Ashwin tried another chicken. This time Pepper didn’t even bother to sniff the offering, but walked all over it.

“Oh, dear,” said Auntie Nell from where she walked on the other side of Dusty.

“What do dogs like better than chicken?”

“Vivian mentioned warmed hot dogs.”

“Do we have any?”

“No.”

“That’s not helpful, Auntie Nell.”

She glared at Ashwin.

Dusty snapped his fingers. “I have some leftover ribeye steak I brought home last night. I went to Sir Loin's House of Steaks with some coworkers for dinner.”

“You actually had leftovers?” In his disbelief, Ashwin wandered a bit too close to Pepper, who growled softly.

Dusty tugged at the leash to correct him, almost absentmindedly. “I ate too much of the Onion Blossom Bomb, so I didn’t finish my steak.”

“It’s worth a shot. Take him around the block.” Ashwin jogged back to the house to get the steak.

He warmed it up in the microwave—he thought he remembered Vivian saying dogs liked warmed food because it smelled more—and cut it up into small pieces. He headed outside with his baggie of $25 doggie treats just as Dusty appeared around the corner of the block.

While Pepper immediately had him in his sights, he didn’t bark.

Dusty confirmed it as he approached. “Not bad, brah. Pepper barked at a neighbor on the next street like the guy was Jack the Ripper about to kill somebody, but he only growled a little bit when he saw you.”

Auntie Nell rolled her eyes. “Great progress. Growling at my nephew, the hand that feeds him.”

“Not literally. Otherwise Ashwin wouldn’t have a hand left.” Dusty grinned.

“Let’s try this.” Ashwin walked beside them again and threw down a piece of steak in front of Pepper.

Pepper reacted like it was like a deep-fried, sugar-coated malasada donut. He immediately snatched it up and actually looked to Ashwin for more.

“Wooooooow.” Auntie Nell stared.

“Don’t just stand there, throw him more,” Dusty said.

Ashwin fumbled in the plastic bag and tossed three pieces in front of Pepper. He gobbled them down and looked at Ashwin, mouth open. He almost looked like he was smiling.

They traveled around the block like that. As Dusty was about to enter the house with Pepper, he suddenly stopped and said, “No, Ashwin should enter first, before Pepper. That'll establish his alpha dog status.”

“Good thinking.” Ashwin entered the front door, holding it open for Auntie Nell. Dusty followed, entering before Pepper.

Once in the crowded foyer, Pepper immediately tensed, but Ashwin threw another steak piece at him, and his hackles softened as he rooted for it on the tile. He and Auntie Nell entered the living room, sitting in chairs while Dusty sat on the couch with Pepper at his side.

“Check that out,” said Auntie Nell. “Ashwin, you’re in the same room as Pepper and he’s not barking at you. He’s not even straining at the leash.”

Amazing. Ashwin tried to relax into the seat, but elation warred with nervousness that the dog would revert back to normal.

Pepper gave him a rather baleful stare. Ashwin threw him another piece of steak.

The three of them sat, staring at one another.

“Uh … what next?” Auntie Nell asked.

“I dunno,” said Ashwin.

Dusty cackled with laughter.

“What?” Ashwin frowned at his brother even as he threw another piece of meat at Pepper.

“It’s just that I’ve never seen you not know how to solve a problem before. Auntie Nell, go get Pepper’s Poochie Pacifier toy in my bedroom—it’s red rubber, with a hollow center—fill it with peanut butter, and bring it here.”

As Auntie Nell left, Ashwin’s ire made him aim badly—his next steak piece flew in Pepper’s eye. The dog didn’t mind, however, and sniffed the carpet to find the ricocheted piece.

“I just don’t know enough about dog training,” Ashwin grumbled. “You were the one dating the trainer.”

“Only for two months.”

“Long enough to know how to handle this dog.”

“That’s because she rescued him only a day or two after we started dating. Isn’t that right, Pepper boy?” Dusty ruffled the dog’s neck. Pepper actually leaned into his hand, then dropped to the floor. “That’s good. That means he’s comfortable enough with you here in the room with him.”

And suddenly Ashwin could relax, too. He sank back into his chair a bit more.

Auntie Nell entered with the Poochie Pacifier in her hand.

“Give it to Ashwin,” Dusty instructed. “Ashwin, wave it around in the air. Let him smell the peanut butter. Oh, and stick a few steak pieces in there, too.”

Ashwin put the last three pieces in the rubber dog toy and wafted the open end toward Pepper. The dog’s floppy ears perked up, and instead of looking at Ashwin, the dark eyes tracked the red toy in his hand instead.

“Good,” Dusty said. "Okay, offer it to him, but don’t get up. Make him come to you.”

Ashwin held it out to the dog.

Seconds ticked by. Pepper stared at the Poochie Pacifier long and hard.

Then he heaved himself to his feet and padded over to Ashwin.

Ashwin felt Pepper’s warm breath on his skin as the dog delicately took the toy from his hand. His finger grazed a slimey tooth, while whiskers tickled his knuckle.

Pepper retreated to the side of the couch with the Poochie Pacifier.

Dusty gave Ashwin a thumbs up. “Yeah, he's fine now. He wouldn’t eat in front of you if he wasn’t comfortable with you.”

All three let out sighs of relief. Auntie Nell patted his hand. “There, now things’ll be different.”

Ashwin sneezed. Three times in a row.

***

Pepper had infiltrated his bedroom.

That was the only way to explain why Ashwin sneezed four—no, five times as soon as he entered. This had happened for three days straight, and he hadn’t gotten any sleep.

Which was a shame, because Pepper was finally getting used to him. The dog still had a problem with any other man, barking and lunging enough to scare off anyone who unluckily walked in front of the house. But he no longer growled at Ashwin. He wasn’t cozy with him, but it was better than being chased up a kitchen chair.

Ashwin kept cut up hot dog pieces near him at all times, and Dusty released Pepper into the house more often when he was home. He could swear Pepper actually sought him out now, if only because Ashwin would throw hot dogs at him.

And Auntie Nell was happier than he’d seen her in a while. She loved having Pepper next to her while watching TV, which she could do more often now that Ashwin and Pepper were on their way to being BFFs. Sort of.

Which didn’t explain why Ashwin wasn’t sneezing so much in other rooms in the house, but he felt like his lungs would come hurling out of his nose (okay, maybe that was a gross analogy) whenever he went to his bedroom. What was more, he kept his door closed, so Pepper hadn’t even been inside his bedroom.

He got home and went to his room to change, and one sneeze rocked him so hard, he stumbled backward into his dresser. He stood there recovering, folded in half, his hands on his knees.

And then he saw it.

A black jacket. His black jacket, which he’d been looking for months ago and hadn’t been able to find. He’d given it up for lost, but there it was on the floor next to his dresser.

Covered in fine white hair.

“Dusty!”

Holding the jacket at arm’s length, Ashwin covered his nose and mouth with his other arm and marched out of his bedroom to the second floor hallway.

Dusty poked his head out of his door. “I didn’t do it.”

Ashwin thrust the jacket at him.

“Oh. Well, okay, yeah, I did do that.”

“What did you do?”

Dusty blinked. “You don’t know? Then I’m not telling.”

“Dusty!”

“I borrowed it. Months ago. I only just found it a few days ago and I put it back in your bedroom. Sorry about that, yeah? You didn’t need it, right?”

“What’s with the white hair?”

“Oh.”

Maybe his allergies had made his vision cloudy, because he could have sworn Dusty’s neck had turned beet red.

“I, uh … I had a girlfriend.”

“You’ve had many girlfriends.”

“Well, this time it was Eliza. She gave me an angora sweater.”

“A what?”

Dusty grinned. “That’s what I said, too.”

“What is angora?”

“According to the internet, angora’s a type of rabbit fur.”

“Rabbit?” Who in the world wore rabbit in Hawaii, where it rarely got colder than 50 degrees? Ashwin dropped the jacket and backed up a few steps. “How did it get on my jacket?”

“Well, the sweater itched like that one time went tromping through stinging nettles on a hiking trip, you remember that?”

Ashwin shuddered.

“So I stuck it in the bottom of my closet at my apartment. And somehow everything I put in that closet got covered with fur. It got all over my UH sweatshirt …” Dusty said mournfully.

“My jacket looked like Thumper nested in it,” Ashwin complained.

This was why his sneezing had been so intermittent. He’d sneezed every time Dusty came in or was going out—with his UH sweatshirt on. Or something else from his closet.

And now he remembered that he hadn’t sneezed even once when visiting Mari at the dog training class.

He wasn’t allergic to Pepper.

“Auntie Nell, I’m allergic to Dusty!” Ashwin bounded into the living room, his lungs suddenly fuller, his nasal passages clear, his …

His computer cables completely mangled.

Pepper looked up at him from the floor, a wire in his mouth, tail wagging.

***

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