by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris / Rescue Diva ~
If not for the generous endowment of left by wealthy patron Mrs. Cambridge, may she rest in peace, Mary Jo’s dream of operating a topnotch private shelter for needy pooches might never have come true. So Mary Jo feels she owes it to the woman’s memory to be courteous to her son, a conceited playboy who keeps showing up in her office wanting help on training his expensive, spoiled dog.
But when Mary Jo’s heart becomes a traitor, developing feelings that she would much rather not have for this obnoxious man, she wishes she could kick him out, rude or no, and go back to the quiet, nun-like life she led before he started hanging around…
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MARY JO AND THE MILLIONAIRE
Katerina Lorenzatos Makris
She didn’t like him. And she didn’t like his dog, either.
There. She’d admitted it. She, who had never met a dog she didn’t like. Plenty of men she didn’t like, but never, ever a dog.
Now here they were again, the two of them—Royce Cambridge and Busendorfer, his 130-pound black Bouvier—occupying a corner of her miniscule office, taking up space she barely had and time she had even less of.
If Royce were anyone else, anyone else, she would boot both him and his uppity dog out of her office. But without Royce, or rather without the endowment from his mother Elaine, may she rest in peace, there would be no office. There would be no Two Square Rescue. The fifty-four dogs currently occupying the kennels just down the hall would be long dead, or days away from it at a kill shelter, or still out on the streets meeting fates even worse.
Over the top of her computer screen, Mary Jo glanced at the tall, trim, tanned playboy and found him grinning at her—that mile-wide, lopsided, dimpled grin that every woman on the planet except Mary Jo seemed to find irresistible. She smiled briskly back at him.
“We’re not in your way, are we?” he asked.
Yes, she wanted to say. As a matter of fact you are. Our agreement—the one you are constantly breaking—was that you weren’t supposed to talk. I would let you sit here occasionally and quietly while I worked so as to help you socialize your animal. But you’re coming in every day. Sometimes more than once a day. And you’re not sitting quietly.
“Oh, of course not,” she said instead, jaw clenched so hard she thought she heard a tooth crack. “You’re fine.”
“This is just so good for Busendorfer. Really good therapy. Right, Buse?” He scratched the curly black head of the dog who regally reclined and unabashedly drooled on her plaid sofa, which, along with almost everything else at Two Square, was a gift from his oil heiress mother.
Busendorfer. Who named their dog Busendorfer? How pretentious. How obnoxious.
“It’s the name of a concert piano company,” Royce had explained when he first brought the dog in to meet her. “The best piano company.”
It also annoyed her no end that he always said “therapy” instead of socialization. This wasn’t therapy, even if the dog did lie on the couch, uninvited, every time he came in.
“Yes, it’s good socialization.” Mary Jo smiled at the dog, who glared back at her. At least she thought it was a glare. Who could tell under all that hair? How could he even see through it?
She wished Royce would get at least the fur around Busendorfer’s eyes clipped. But she had settled for the fact that he’d gotten the dog clipped, so to speak, at the other end. As in neutered. With the millions of unwanted dogs dying every year—even puppies—she just couldn’t stand the sight of un-neutered pets.
And who got a Bouvier? A snobby breed for snobby people. Probably not a rescue, either. She’d bet bottom dollar that Royce had bought the dog from a breeder. She had absolutely no tolerance for selfish turds like him. Not when every day she was forced to turn away calls—her heart breaking each and every time—from the kill shelters begging her to take in a beautiful, young purebred golden retriever, or a cute, bouncy little Yorkie, or a mellow old shepherd mix who still loved car rides and chasing his squeaky toys.
Mary Jo forced herself to stop. No good could come of dwelling on those thoughts. There was work to do.
She had to stay focused on the fifty dogs at a time whom she could save there at Two Square Rescue. Occasionally a few more if she crowded the kennels a bit, or if she was able to scare up new foster homes, or squeeze the budget a little tighter.
She just had to concentrate and keep going.
But Royce and his Bouvier weren’t letting her concentrate on a thing.
Suddenly Royce stood up. “That’s not you, is it?” He leaned over her desk to peer at one of the photos on the wall behind her.
Mary Jo nodded and kept typing on her keyboard. She could smell him. Something like pine, oranges, and a little bit of sweat. A man smell. For a moment she shut her eyes and breathed it in.
His smell, she liked. A pity she couldn’t feel the same about his personality.
It had been too long—a year? a year and a half?—since she’d been even this close to a guy. Too many dogs, too little time, too little life of her own. If only that luscious man smell were coming from another member of his species—one who wasn’t so conceited—she’d consider shoving Busendorfer off that sofa, shoving the guy onto it, then—
“How old were you in that pic?” he asked, startling her out of her fantasy.
She cleared her throat. “Um, thirteen.” She left out further description of how excruciatingly shy she had been. How she had clung to her life support system, which came in the form of GoGo, her first dog. How, when her mother snapped that photo of her, she had frantically clutched GoGo’s scruffy little terrier frame to her chest in an effort to hide the sizable boobs she had already sprouted, and which drew loads more attention than she’d known how to handle at that young age.
“Oh. I remember that dog.” Royce leaned even closer.
“Never saw you without him.”
How could he possibly have noticed? By the time she found GoGo—or GoGo had found her, actually—Royce, who would’ve been 16 at the time, was already screeching around town in that blue convertible Stingray his father had given him. It seemed to come equipped with a bevy of blondes as a standard feature, because Mary Jo never saw him in the car without one or more of them.
She really wished he wouldn’t stand so close. Leaning right over her, he pulsated with that male zing of his that decked other women flat. Almost an audible, palpable buzz.
Even worse, she sat at eye level to his abs, which she happened to know had remained flat and sleek under his T-shirt, even though he was in his forties now. The tennis court of the Cambridge family estate stood right next to the doggy exercise yard of Two Square Rescue. There were days when Mary Jo would volunteer to relieve a few minutes of a staffer’s shift in the yard so that she soak up a little sunshine. And, coincidentally, watch a tennis game or two next door. Royce, she’d noticed, never wore a shirt for tennis.
Right now, right in front of her, barely two feet away, those abs tapered off from that broad chest of his, then down to narrow hips, and below to the muscled thighs so casually encased in faded jeans.
“Well, we’d better get going.” Abruptly he turned and crossed the room. “OK Buse? Should we head home?”
Mary Jo exhaled in relief. She realized she had been holding her breath. Her whole body, in fact, was one long, tense wire.
“Is it OK if we come back again tomorrow?”
“You sure? We really don’t want to… impose.”
This was her chance. Ask him not to come back. What would be the harm? He really held no authority over the endowment his mother had left for Two Square. Mary Jo was only letting him come around out of respect for Mrs. Cambridge, and because she believed her son sincerely did want to get that aloof dog of his better socialized.
But in memory of Elaine Cambridge, the angel who had made her dream of saving canine lives come true, she couldn’t bring herself to be rude to this self-absorbed, smooth operator—her son.
Maybe she should tell him the truth. In a tactful way. Or at least a version of it.
Sorry. You are distracting me from my work.
Or… Sorry. It’s been too long since I had a man. You are a man, and you’re a distraction.
Or… Sorry. You are incredibly hot. Even though you always have been totally stuck on yourself—for example there was the time you made everybody at grade school assembly watch a video of your Caribbean cruise on your family’s private yacht—and now you are nothing but a jet-setting trust fund baby who beds every woman who doesn’t have the sense to run the other way, you are still outlandishly good-looking and I would give just about anything to be in your arms right now.
“You’re welcome to come in any time, Royce,” she said. “And Buse too. No worries.”
She couldn’t believe how cool and professional she sounded. Her heart pounded, her blood rushed, and she didn’t even want to think about what was going on deeper inside her, but what came out of her mouth hadn’t given any of those secrets away.
“Great. Thanks.” He nodded. “So. Allrighty, then. See you tomorrow. Come on, Buse.”
The dog, as usual, paid not the slightest bit of attention to Royce. He remained ensconced on the sofa, plate-sized paws draped casually over the edge.
“Hey, Buse,” Royce tried again, upping the volume.
“Buse, let’s go!”
The dog yawned, drooling liberally.
Quietly, Mary Jo said, “Busendorfer, off.”
After wiping his slobbery lips on her sofa’s arm, then giving her one of his sideways, disdainful glances, off jumped Busendorfer onto the linoleum floor.
Royce laughed. “Geez, how do you do that?”
Shrugging, Mary Jo couldn’t suppress a smile. “Practice.”
In response, Royce bestowed upon her another one of his lopsided grins, lifted an eyebrow, and said in a voice so low it was almost a whisper, “I think I could learn a lot from you.”
Then he walked out with his dog and shut the door behind him.
Mary Jo cursed her quivering body, which was turning into a lowdown traitor without a lick of sense.
She took a deep breath, grabbed her glass for a few gulps of ice water, then forced herself to stare at her computer screen and try to remember what it was she was supposed to be doing.
Payroll. Right. OK.
Suddenly the door flew open. Royce’s head popped in, followed by Busendorfer’s shaggy one pushing in below.
“I almost forgot,” Royce said. “Are you busy Saturday night?”
Mary Jo had trouble not falling out of her chair. “What?”
“Well, I have the biggest favor to ask. It would really help me if— “
She must have had a dumbfounded look on her face, because Royce said, “Never mind. I really don’t want to bother you… “
Then he must have noticed her frown.
“OK. Well. I’ll go ahead and ask you. There’s this wingding in Minneapolis on Saturday night. The theme is something about the importance of philanthropy, I think. You know, a lot of big mucky mucks like the mayor and whoever, and they’ve invited me to come and speak about animal charities. Because of my mother. But I don’t really know what to say. I know how she felt on the topic. But I don’t know the whys and the wherefores. Statistics and all that. I wondered if you’d come along and fill in the blanks. I could sort of intro you, then maybe you could do a short talk on the subject?”
For a moment Mary Jo could do nothing more than stare back at him.
“But I realize this is pretty last minute. I had almost forgotten about this thing until today. And you probably have other plans, so— “
“Can I talk about pet overpopulation?” she asked.
“I guess so.”
“And spay and neuter?”
He shrugged. “If you want to.”
He nodded. “My mother was always going on and on about all that.”
“Where? And what time?”
“Regis Hotel. I can pick you up at four, to give us plenty of time to get there. Doesn’t start till seven but there’s the couple of hours of driving, so— “
He looked surprised. “Oh. OK. Great.”
She went back to typing.
“OK then. Well. Great.” He backed out the door and shut it.
Mary Jo bit her lip. What had she just done? A whole evening with Royce Cambridge? And a speech? She’d never given a speech before in her life. Maybe one or two in junior high, which of course had been disasters. Holy crap.
“Oh, and I almost forgot.” Her office door banged open again, with Royce and his dog standing there. “Sorry. Forgot to mention. It’s an overnight.”
This time she frowned even harder. “Overnight?”
“They’ve got a brunch the next morning. A fundraiser. Bad form for me not to show up. And for you, maybe some good visibility? Lots of deep pockets there that I suppose could be tapped for animals?”
Mary Jo considered the prospect of spending a night at a swank hotel in close proximity to Royce Cambridge. Her body had developed its own ideas about him, despite the wisdom her brain kept trying to impart. Probably, she wouldn’t get a wink of sleep Saturday night, knowing he was just down the hall perhaps, or even next door, maybe even with a door that could be opened…
“I can get you back here to Cedar Falls by three in the afternoon on Sunday. But, look, if you can’t stay the night, I can send you back with a driver.” She could hear the rapid backpedaling in his voice.
She thought about the leaky pipe over the Two Square bathroom. All the boards on the north fence that needed replacing. About the nice, tree-shaded space adjacent to the tool shed that was crying out for another row of kennels, so that she could welcome a dozen more lost souls at a time. Maybe even hire an additional adoption coordinator for weekends, which, thank goodness, were getting busier now that Two Square’s reputation was spreading around the county.
Deep pockets, he had said. Well, then. All right. Deep pockets, here I come.
“That’s fine,” she told Royce. “The overnight is fine.”
“Oh.” Now he looked completely shocked. “Wow. That’s great.” A smile. “Thanks.”
“Not a problem,” she said, and forced herself to smile back. “Thank you, too.”
Before he had even shut the door, she flew into a full-blown panic attack. An overnight? A speech? On Saturday? And this was already Wednesday!
“Mary Jo?” Once more, he popped his head in. “Really sorry. Forgot one more thing.”
She folded her hands on the desk, trying to look calm.
“It’s formal. Very formal. The group is an older crowd, you know, and they go the distance. Tuxes, gowns, all that. If you don’t have anything, and since this is such late notice, I’ll be happy to— “
“No,” she said brusquely.
Her face burned with heat, and this time it wasn’t from lust. This time, in her mind’s eye, all she could she see was a teenage twerp laughing. No matter what happened, no matter how long she lived, she’d never be able to get that out of her head whenever she saw the man who now stood before her.
During Mary Jo’s teenage years, her mom hadn’t had a lot of cash to provide her daughter with new clothes, but she did have sewing skills, so in preparation for Mary Jo’s first date—the high school Valentine’s Day Dance with William Massey—they had fun together picking out patterns and fabric and coming up with what they thought was a knock-out dress.
So maybe the trim with the little pink hearts around the neckline would be dorky by today’s standards. Or the shoes, which she and her mom had dyed fuschia to match the dress. And maybe she and Mom hadn’t done a perfect job of fitting the dress, so the bodice was a little tight around her untamable boobs. Then there were the huge poofy sleeves, which these days would be ridiculously out of fashion.
But at that time, on that sweet night, Mary Jo had not expected ridicule.
Which is what a certain guy decided to dole out to her.
The minute she and William arrived at the school gym, Tiffany Bosworth and a couple of her mean girl sidekicks took one look at her and cracked up laughing. The guy standing with them could easily have just turned away. Not joined in. Not participated in ruining a girl’s very first date at her very first dance.
But he did.
If she lived to be two hundred, Marijo would never forget the sound of his laughter, or the cold smirk on his face.
See? she asked her body. I tried to tell you. He hasn’t changed. Still a complete jerk. Hasn’t changed a bit. He’s manipulating me into going to that stupid event on Saturday so that he can get himself out of making a speech. He just wants to shove that responsibility off on me.
And on top of everything else, he’s afraid he’ll be ashamed to be seen with me that he’s willing to buy me a dress. Afraid I’ll wear something dorky again. Which I should do. Just to spite him. It would serve him right.
She tried to make the words come out of her mouth: Never mind. I’m not going. Tell him she had other plans. This just wasn’t going to work.
But in her head, a slideshow started playing.
Mitzi. Cockapoo. Found on Highway 18. Twelve years old. Eye infections. Poor appetite. Listless. Needed meds for the eyes. Meds for hypothyroid. After two weeks at Two Square: eyes bright, cuddling with volunteers. After one more week: adopted.
Charger. Purebred Rottweiler. Owner surrender. Eight months old. Wiggler. Kisser. Barker. Jumper. Puller on leash. Needed daily sessions with trainer. After one month at Two Square: less barking, no jumping, no pulling. After two more weeks: adopted.
Reginald. Purebred pit bull. Confiscated by animal control from a fight ring. Two years old. Terrified. Missing eye. Missing ear. Top lip torn off. Needed veterinary care—two thousand dollars. Needed TLC—priceless. After five months at Two Square, could stand next to a human without trembling. During six months in a foster home, was taught how to play by the resident cat. Adopted: by smitten foster mom.
Mary Jo drew a deep breath. She looked at the man across her office, an older version of the boy who had once laughed and sneered at her. She made herself remember the reasons why she sat in that office every day, and the reasons why she believed she had been put on this earth.
“Thanks, Royce. But I do have a gown. I’ll be waiting for you at four on Saturday.”
He nodded, looking like he knew when not to push his luck, and shut the door, for the fourth and, Mary Jo hoped, final time that day.
To be continued…
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Now… who’s the dog in this story’s cover photo?
The handsome cover model for this story is Ramblin’ Wreck. A three-year-old, 70-pound, “very sweet, loving, and playful” yellow Lab/golden retriever mix, he was rescued and re-homed by Carol Kelly’s group Praying for Paws of McDonough, Georgia.
Wreck’s foster mom Bonnie Burnette said that Ramblin’ Wreck was named after the Georgia Institute of Technology’s school mascot, which is a car.
“It seemed sort of fitting for him since he was rambling around lost, and looked like a wreck because he was skinny and dirty,” Burnette explained in an email interview with Spicy Stories. “One of my favorite football teams and one of my favorite dogs.”
Before he was lucky enough to land in the loving arms of Burnette and Praying for Paws, Wreck was in serious danger.
“Late on a Friday evening, a lady in the neighborhood where he was found sent out a plea to local rescues looking for someone to take him,” Burnette recalled, “because the owner of the vacant house he was hanging out around was threatening to kill him if someone or animal control didn’t pick him up.”
About the author
Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Her fiction includes 17 novels for Simon and Schuster, E.P. Dutton, Avon, and other major publishers (under the name Kathryn Makris), as well as a teleplay for CBS-TV, and a short story for The Bark magazine. She has written hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, The San Francisco Chronicle, Travelers’ Tales, NBC’s Petside.com, Animal Issues Reporter.com, and Examiner.com (Animal Policy Examiner).
Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).
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