Excerpt for Caring for Riggs by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Caring for Riggs

Caring for Riggs







Bonnie Dee





Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2017 by Bonnie Dee

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

License Notes

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

Chapter One

Naturally, the elevator was out of order.

As Kyle entered the stairwell, he inhaled the stench of garlic, sweat, and age. The climb to his grandfather’s third-floor apartment was as he remembered it, from the worn linoleum-covered steps to the metal rail rubbed shiny from generations of hands to the wavy glass in the windows of each landing. He could be in 1995 again, or even 1925, which was probably when the tenement had been built. Impossible to believe he would knock on Gramps’s door and the old man wouldn’t bellow, “Let yourself in.”

He died alone, and it’s your fault.

Kyle hefted his backpack to the other shoulder and took a deep breath as he reached the second landing. Not his fault. He’d been traveling and hadn’t known Gramps’s health was failing. No reason to guess that his next visit to Chicago would come far too late. He’d missed the proverbial boat. Gramps’s last ship had sailed. Now there was nothing to do but take care of his grandfather’s meager estate, including finding a home for Riggs, the terrier mix who’d been the old man’s only companion over the years.

Poor Riggs had been alone in the apartment for several days except for a neighbor who’d promised Annaliese he’d walk and feed him. Kyle quickened his pace as he reached the corridor, as if he could make up for lost time and still arrive to save the day.

A few more steps and he reached Gramps’s front door. He was ten again, or thirteen, or fifteen, knocking and waiting for that let yourself in. Riggs would come bounding and barking to welcome him. He’d walk into a haze of cigarette smoke and a maze of piled newspapers and magazines. Gramps wouldn’t rise from his chair by the window, too busy chain-smoking and drinking coffee thick enough to stand a spoon in. He’d jerk his chin, acknowledging Kyle’s arrival. Hey, boy. Listen to this…and he’d read from whatever lay open on his lap. Gramps, that wiry stick of a man whose rare hugs felt like a skeleton’s embrace.

Kyle slipped the key into the lock and turned—no luck. He tried again and realized the door was already unlocked. Another deep breath and a turn of the knob brought him the rest of the way back to his childhood. No Riggs rushed to greet him. The apartment was empty except for the piles of papers and magazines which towered higher than he remembered. He walked through the clutter toward Gramps’s armchair, the one his bony butt had cut grooves into since the Carter administration.

Had he died in the chair or in bed, or perhaps collapsed on the floor in the bathroom? Annaliese hadn’t given details, and Kyle had been too shocked to ask his stepmother. Somehow he’d imagined Gramps could never, would never die. Taking the next plane from Amsterdam, Kyle had come straight from Midway to the apartment. He should text Annaliese to let her know he’d arrived and ask if she and his father would attend the funeral. But he couldn’t bear dealing with that just now.

As Kyle looked around the decaying apartment—although, surprisingly, the kitchen was clean and the refrigerator stocked with healthy foods—his simmering anger boiled up. How could David have allowed Gramps to live this way? Annaliese could’ve arranged a caregiver long distance from California. She handled all the minutia of their lives, everything outside the sphere of her husband’s all-important business life. But it was a waste of energy to hate. David would never change, and once the funeral was over, Kyle never again had to have any contact with the man who’d spawned him but made little other impact on his life.

Kyle set his suitcase in an alcove between stacks of vintage National Geographic magazines. He’d get Riggs from the neighbor’s apartment, which was where the dog must be. Old Riggs would have long since lost the bounce of the stray pup Kyle had begged Gramps to take home from the park. Gramps had been playing dominoes with one of his pals while Kyle threw a parachute man up in the air and tried to catch him before he reached the ground. When a mottled mutt intercepted the toy and ran off with it, Kyle had chased him down. They’d wrestled for possession of the parachute man, and it had been the start of a beautiful friendship. Good old Riggs. How could years have passed with Kyle hardly thinking of him?

The sound of toenails scrabbling on bare floor came from the hallway before the apartment door opened. Two dogs burst into the room, followed by a tall, stoop-shouldered man wearing a Chicago State University hoodie. A tan-and-black Yorkshire terrier raced toward Kyle, took a stance, and barked itself silly at the intruder. Following at a much more sedate pace came Riggs. Kyle dropped to his knees, ignoring the Yorkie and the neighbor, and held out his hands. “Remember me? How’ve you been, buddy?”

The gray-muzzled dog walked straight into his arms. Kyle scooped him up and hugged him—not too hard since his body felt as delicate as bird bones. Had the neighbor even been feeding him?

Kyle looked up. The CSU alum appeared even taller towering above Kyle. The man must be well over six feet and had the permanent slouch some lanky men adopted, as if stooping to avoid hitting their heads on doorways. His skin was dark cacao and his hair shaved to stubble on his nicely shaped head. A handsome man, except his eyes were glittering bits of jet that glared at Kyle as if he were a criminal he’d caught breaking in.

Kyle gently put down Riggs and stood up. He stuck out his hand. “Hi. I’m Kyle, Vince Skelton’s grandson. I think my stepmother told you I’d be coming to take care of Riggs and arrange for Gramps’s funeral.”

“Mm.” The stranger grunted, not sounding at all friendly or neighborly. “So, you’re him.”

Gramps had talked about him to this man? “Thanks for taking care of Riggs,” Kyle replied.

“No problem. I liked Vince. He was an interesting guy.” He continued to eye Kyle suspiciously but finally took his hand in a bone-crushing grip. “Darrell Baines. I live next door.”

Kyle didn’t wince at the hard grip, but his hand tingled after Darrell let go. “Again, thank you for taking care of Riggs. And Gramps too.” He nodded toward the kitchen. “Did you get him groceries?”

“He was eating pizza all the time, so I made sure he had a fresh vegetable now and then.”

“Well, I truly appreciate you looking out for him.”

“Someone had to.” Darrell’s tone was just short of icy.

Clearly, Kyle was in the doghouse for neglecting his grandfather. Fair enough.

A snap of those long fingers summoned the Yorkie from the direction of the kitchen. “Come on, Lacey. Quit nosing around Riggs’s dish.”

Dark eyes returned to Kyle, measuring him and finding him lacking. He stooped to unhook Riggs’s leash and handed it over. “He’s been out for his afternoon walk. He won’t need to eat again till this evening, but you shouldn’t give him more than a few tablespoons of food. He doesn’t digest well anymore and will vomit if you feed him too much at a time. Also, don’t expect him to hold his urine all night. He has to have an evening and a late-night walk. Poop bags and leash go on the hook right above his food dish.”

Darrell picked up Lacey’s trailing leash, bright pink decorated with a pattern of bones. “If you’re going out, let me know. I have to walk Lacey anyway. I’m used to taking Riggs too.”

Kyle bristled at his tone. “Thanks. But I’ve got this. Riggs and I are old pals. I know how to take care of a dog.”

Again Darrell drilled him with that do you? stare. “All right, then. Let me know when you set Vince’s funeral. I want to be there.” He turned to go.

“Wait!” Kyle was suddenly desperate not to be alone in this apartment with all its memories and the ghost of Gramps accusing him of being a shirker. He could have made the time to visit if he hadn’t been such a selfish prick.

Darrell half turned, pulling Lacey to a halt. “What?”

“How did he…? Annaliese told me Gramps died, probably of a heart attack, but she wasn’t sure, and there’s not going to be an autopsy. Can you tell me more about what happened? I can’t quite wrap my head around the, um, circumstances.”

“Yeah. I can tell you. I was the one who found him,” Darrell said in a cool, level tone.


*


Darrell was half inclined to ask for the guy’s ID when he found him inside Vince’s apartment. But there was no doubt it was the infamous Kyle. There were traces of the handsome teenage boy from one of Vince’s few photographs in the grown man. The angles of his face were sharper with the curves of youth worn away. Honed by time and experience to make him even better looking, Darrell thought before pushing the unwanted sizzle of attraction away.

Kyle Skelton was a jerk. He’d been the center of Vince’s world, but after leaving home at age seventeen, school unfinished, destination uncertain, Kyle had hardly looked back. Vince had a few well-worn postcards he’d received over the years that he kept in a pile beside his chair. In his typical tough way, he’d tried to shrug off how much he missed the grandson he’d raised, but Darrell could see his pain when he spoke about Kyle.

Poor old Vince had no one to care about but Riggs—and maybe Darrell, a little. He’d gruffly complained all the time, but Darrell thought he secretly appreciated being harassed about his bad diet and having Darrell take him to doctor appointments and walk Riggs when it became too hard for Vince to go up and down stairs. Caring for his elderly neighbor had been kind of a burden, but now that Vince was gone, Darrell felt a crotchety-old-man-shaped hole in his life.

Darrell pressed his lips tight to keep from demanding why Kyle Skelton hadn’t bought Vince a cell phone so they could at least keep in touch by text.

“I came in yesterday morning to get Riggs for his walk. Your granddad was sitting in his chair just like usual, but he didn’t answer when I talked to him.” Darrell paused, reliving the horror of that moment, the icy chill that had gone through him when he realized he had to feel for a pulse. “It must have just happened, because he’d already started his coffee in the kitchen.”

“I’m sorry you had to be the one to find him,” Kyle murmured. “That must have been hard.”

“Yeah. It was.” Darrell tugged at Lacey, who was still trying to head toward home to check out her own food dish. “I called the coroner and the cops and eventually found your dad’s phone number in an old address book. Vince never talked about his son. I didn’t know if the number would still work. But it did. After that, Annaliese took over.”

A hank of flaming-red hair fell over Kyle’s forehead when he nodded. He needed a trim. No. Scratch that. He looked pretty damn fine a little shaggy and with two days’ growth of pale ginger stubble on his jaw. He kind of glowed.

Once more, Darrell shut down his unwanted interest in the stranger’s appearance. “So, I guess your folks will be coming from California for the funeral?”

“Who knows. My father might send Annaliese to represent him. He can find an excuse to be too busy. And my mom is dead. But I suppose Gramps told you that.”

Kyle’s bitter tone almost touched Darrell, who understood about fractured families. Almost. But then he recalled that the man had ignored his grandfather when the man needed him most, and Darrell smothered his sympathy.

Lacey started whining and pulling again. Darrell scooped her up and held her in one arm like a baby. She gazed at him with imploring brown eyes. When are we going home? Can’t you see I’m starving to death and will soon drop dead if you don’t feed me? Have you no heart? As always, he couldn’t keep from smiling at his little darling, who could evaporate a bad mood the way the sun dispelled early morning fog. She was a bouncing bundle of pure joy.

His smile lingered as he regarded Kyle with a little more compassion this time. “I’m sorry about your grandfather. This must be really hard for you.”

“Because I haven’t seen him in years. Yeah. Too little too late, but I’m here now.”

Maybe the handsome grandson did have a heart. Then he added, “I’ll arrange the funeral and dispose of his stuff. Do you know if he kept a will anywhere in this warren?”

So much for a heart! He probably hoped to find something worth sorting through the junk. Perhaps he imagined his grandfather had secret wealth or a stash of valuables, or maybe he’d was just eager to inherit this rent-controlled apartment in a newly gentrified neighborhood.

“I wouldn’t know,” Darrell answered coolly. “Good luck with your search.”

He gripped Lacey, who was squirming to get down, and headed for the door.

Closing it behind him, he realized this might be the last time he’d ever be in Vince’s apartment. His two years of taking care of the old man and his dog were over, and what a sad, bitter note to end on. Part of him wanted to claim Riggs and take him home to live out his days with someone who loved him. Certainly Kyle Skelton wasn’t the man to care for a senior dog’s special needs. But Darrell really couldn’t afford vet bills for a second pet. Unless it seemed like Skelton was going to put Riggs out on the street, Darrell would force himself not to offer to take him.

That’s what he promised himself as he unlocked his apartment and put down Lacey, who raced inside.

Chapter Two

Kyle returned from the mortuary and the long hour of planning for a basic funeral while fending off the funeral director’s suggestions for upgrades. He fully intended to start cleaning Gramps’s apartment. Simply removing a few of the stacks to a Dumpster would go a long way toward making him feel he’d accomplished something useful. But first he had to take Riggs for his evening walk, and the dog seemed to be in no hurry to take a dump. That was fine with Kyle. He realized he wasn’t motivated to haul stacks of junk down the stairs. How would he manage to make a dent in the mess with the elevator out of commission?

He strolled along the street, finding some old landmarks like Patsy’s Pizzeria, and the newspaper kiosk on the corner. But many of the shops he’d known had been replaced by holistic chain stores or the buildings torn down completely. There wasn’t a face he recognized, or anyone sitting on a stoop like in the old days. The changes to the neighborhood made him feel old, although he was only twenty-six.

Riggs shuffled along slowly, nosing at trash, peeing on a parking meter, stopping and staring for no particular reason. He seemed as exhausted as Kyle’s jet-lagged body felt. Kyle leaned down to scratch the grizzled fur between Riggs’s ears. “Come on, buddy. The sooner you poop, the sooner we can go home and crash.”

“He likes the tree in front of the pharmacy.” A voice came from above Kyle. Once again, his gaze shot up Darrell Baine’s long body from sneakers to face. He was crouched in front of the man yet again, level with his groin. A quick flash of interest in that particular area raced through him, before he stood with a popping of his knees. There! He felt less at a disadvantage facing the man from this height, although he still stood a good half a head below him.

“Which tree? There’s three or four on the block now.”

Darrell pointed across the street. “We usually walk up that side and return on this one. Riggs is pretty senile. Familiar patterns make any dog more comfortable, but particularly an elderly one.”

Lacey strained to reach Riggs. When Darrell let her move closer, she dug her nose under his tail and sniffed, making sure it was really him.

“Good to know,” Kyle said. “He won’t be very happy about having to leave the apartment. It’s the only home he’s ever known. I don’t know what I’m going to do with him.”

Darrell’s thick brows knit together, furrows ridging his forehead. Shar-pei, Kyle thought and pressed his lips together so he wouldn’t grin.

“You’re not planning on having him euthanized, are you?” Darrell demanded.

“No! Of course not!”

“Well, it’s going to be hard to find a dog this old a home.”

“I know.” Kyle bit off the words. If he said any more, it would be to blast Darrell with Who the hell do you think you are lecturing and judging me without even knowing me?

He took a beat to lean down and lift Riggs into his arms. Despite his scrawniness, he was a dead weight of maybe fifteen pounds. Darrell had been carrying him up and down three flights of stairs several times a day for who knew how long. Kyle realized Darrell did have a stake in whether and where Riggs was rehomed.

“Guess I’ll cross over and let him use his favorite tree, then,” Kyle said.

He assumed Darrell would continue on toward the apartment, the direction he’d been going. Instead, the man fell into step beside him as if they’d been going the same way. Together, they crossed the street, Lacey leading the way with enthusiasm at her extended walk. Kyle set Riggs down on the sidewalk and let him meander toward the square of brown grass around a sad tree.

“I remember when we got him.” Kyle blurted the story that had been on his mind all day. “Gramps used to play dominoes or cards with the guys in the park. I’d tag along and entertain myself while they played. This little mutt came running up out of nowhere, no collar or tags, skinny and flea ridden, and Gramps absolutely refused to take him home. You can see how that turned out.”

Darrell chuckled, a deep ripple of laughter like a stream breaking through a skim of ice. Kyle wanted more of that thawing. Unaccountably, he needed this man to think well of him.

“I’ve been a real asshole, avoiding Gramps these past few years—hell, nearly a decade if I’m being honest. I called him and sent postcards, but when we talked, he never sounded like he cared much if I came back. I thought when I was ready to return, things would be exactly as I’d left them. It was selfish of me.” Kyle shook his head. “If it’s any excuse, when I left Chicago, I was just a high school dropout, bumming around the country, trying to get by.”

He paused, hoping for an I understand, but Darrell didn’t say a word.

“Eventually I got a good job and then I was caught up in traveling for that. Gramps was part of an unhappy past I wanted to forget. But I shouldn’t have. He was the only good thing in my childhood.” He wondered why he felt this urgent need to explain himself to a stranger. “I hope you can understand a little.”

*


Did he understand putting his past behind him and reinventing himself? Darrell had done his own share of that, though he’d never avoided his mother or brothers. But he gave a small nod of encouragement, interested in learning more about how Kyle had gone from homeless teen to world traveler.

“What is it you do exactly?”

“I’m an event planner,” Kyle said. “Mostly in Europe. I arrange meetings and conferences for parties from various nations.”

That sounded like a made-up job. Like a criminal in a movie who claimed to be “in shipping.” “Like governments or corporations?”

Riggs was squatting and straining. Kyle took a bag from his pocket and snapped it open. “Mostly corporate but sometimes other groups. I stage settings for high-profile conferences, conventions, and parties, learn the cultural expectations of those involved, and facilitate the event so everything goes smoothly. A lot of detail work to make sure everybody’s happy while they’re doing business.”

“How does a kid who didn’t finish high school end up doing something like that?”

A quicksilver grin flashed, and Kyle’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “That’s a longer story than I can tell right now, and I’m not sure you need to know it.” He cleaned up after Riggs, then tossed the bag in the nearest trash.

“Sorry. I’m nosy,” Darrell apologized. “I’ve never lived outside of Chicago. I can’t imagine owning my own business and jet-setting around the world.”

“I don’t own the company. I go where I’m sent and don’t have to deal with the headaches of running a business. It’s a good job. A good life.” Kyle almost sounded as if he were trying to convince himself. A flicker of something like doubt flitted over that expressive face, those transparent green eyes.

Darrell wanted to dig deeper. He liked uncovering secrets, which was why he read one mystery novel after another. During their conversation, he’d changed his mind about Kyle being a vulture come to peck away at his grandfather’s things in search of something valuable. The man seemed to be doing well financially and seemed honestly regretful about how he’d left things with his grandfather. There was a lot more going on under Kyle’s surface than Darrell had expected.

“What about you?” Kyle asked. “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a real estate lawyer with Taylor, Bradford and Brown. Since I spend most of my time researching and writing briefs, I only have to go into the office a few hours a week. I’ve been working remotely for a few years now, which allows me to give Lacey all the attention she deserves. I don’t believe in keeping dogs alone for hours on end while working ungodly hours.”

“Well, I’ve never met a more personable dog. Lacey’s adorable.”

Hearing her name coupled with the word adorable, Lacey pranced over to Kyle and gazed up at him, the little flirt. Her owner was too boring when there was someone new to admire her.

“Yes, you are.” Kyle went into baby voice mode and leaned down to ruffle her fur. “Cutest little girl in the world.”

“You’re a dog person,” Darrell stated.

“I would be if I had the time to care for one. But I travel all the time. That’s why I can’t take Riggs. I’m going to have to find him a rescue home or something.”

Don’t ask me. I’ll say yes, and I don’t want another dog. Darrell forced himself not to appear as if he were melting with pity over Riggs’s fate.

With both dogs walked and relieved, there was no reason to prolong this stroll with Kyle. “I should be getting back. I’ve got things to do,” Darrell lied.

“Yeah, me too. I thought I’d start clearing out some of Gramps’s junk tonight. Is there a service elevator I don’t know about? I can’t carry all those newspapers and magazines down to the Dumpster.”

Darrell shook his head. “There’s going to be a revolt if the super doesn’t fix it soon. Tenants are talking about withholding rent payment.”

“If it’s not rude to ask, why do you live here?” Kyle asked as they neared the building. “I mean, you’re a lawyer. Can’t you afford someplace…better?”

“I’m a creature of habit, and I don’t need anything fancier. Plus I appreciate the vintage woodwork and architectural details. Hipsters are taking over the neighborhood. Soon it’ll probably be priced out of my reach, but for now, it’s an undiscovered gem, in my opinion.”

“Even with a questionable elevator.” Kyle grinned, and whoa, what a rush his brilliant smile gave Darrell. Was he flirting or just chatting? Darrell wasn’t very good at telling the difference between a guy coming on to him or simply being friendly. But damn if that smile hadn’t set all his neck hairs prickling and his cock hollering, “I want that!”

He turned his attention to letting them into the building, leading the way upstairs. But he felt Kyle Skelton right behind him, breathing, existing, taking up space on the planet. What if they’d met at a bar and were going home together for the night? Sex fantasies stormed his brain. But they hadn’t, and they weren’t. He gave his libido a shake to silence it, and soon they reached the hallway.

“Good night and good luck with your cleaning,” Darrell said in front of the nearly side-by-side doors. “If you need some help tomorrow, let me know,” he added reluctantly, not because he didn’t have the time or energy to tackle that rat’s nest but because he wanted to spend as little time around Skelton as possible for the duration of his visit.

“I might just take you up on that offer.” Another beautiful smile blinded Darrell before Kyle disappeared into Vince’s apartment, Riggs gazing somberly at Darrell over one shoulder.

He inhaled deeply. It wasn’t the climb that had winded him, but the ridiculous spasm of attraction he’d felt toward The Handsome Grandson. He set Lacey down inside their apartment, and she skittered ahead of him toward the kitchen. She knew she’d get a biscuit from the cookie jar on the counter, and Darrell knew he’d be making a booty call to Bill to take the edge off his unwanted lust. That’s what friends with occasional benefits were for.

Except, it was late and he was tired. All right, perhaps not so late. He was just growing incredibly lazy recently. Working from home, he’d become a bit reclusive. All right, a lot reclusive. He hardly went out at night anymore, and he hadn’t gotten together with friends, let alone invited Bill over for sex, for a couple of months.

He’d probably had more contact with Vince than anyone else over the past few months. Christ, he was going to turn into a hermit like the old man if he didn’t do something about himself soon. He couldn’t continue to use Lacey as an excuse for being so stay-at-home. But for tonight, he’d give in to the lure of his comfy chair, a TV show, and a bottle of beer.

Chapter Three

When the lights went out, Kyle was sitting on the floor beside the tipsy pile of National Geographic magazines, reading an article about a Neolithic Amazon tribe.

“What the fuck?” he asked Riggs, who was sleeping on the couch. The white fur on the dog’s chest glowed slightly in the streetlight coming through the window. Riggs apparently wasn’t at all concerned about the sudden loss of light or the refrigerator’s loud hum ceasing.

Kyle waited for his eyes to adjust to the dimness, then tripped his way to where his phone was recharging in the outlet by Gramps’s chair. He used the phone as a flashlight, searching through his grandfather’s mail until he found an unpaid electric bill. Not surprising. It didn’t seem as if Gramps had exactly been on top of things in recent days.

There wasn’t much Kyle could accomplish without lights. His options were to rent a motel room or lie down on the sofa with Riggs and try to sleep. No way would he use his dead grandfather’s bed. It was too creepy. A motel sounded like the better option, but it seemed heartless to leave Riggs alone all night, even though he probably wouldn’t care. On the other hand, Kyle wasn’t ready to crash here, sitting in the dark, wasting his cell phone battery playing games. What to do?

His thoughts immediately turned to Darrell next door. That dog lover probably had a cozy apartment and maybe some leftovers to eat. He’d certainly be better company than the memories of Gramps that were currently haunting Kyle.

“Want to go see your friend?” he asked Riggs. “Yeah. I thought so. We’ll see if the neighbors are awake.”

Riggs continued to snore. Kyle petted him but Riggs only sighed and turned over. He left the dog sleeping while he went to find sanctuary next door.

He stood outside Darrell’s apartment almost a full minute, working up the nerve to ring the bell. It was almost midnight. Maybe the guy was an early-to-bed type. But within seconds of finally pushing the button, footsteps approached.

Kyle waved at the peephole in case Darrell was looking out at him.

The dead bolt slid and the door opened. Backlit in a rectangle of warm yellow light, Darrell appeared more imposing than ever. Behind him in the apartment, Lacey barked a welcome.

“Sorry to bother you,” Kyle said. “There’s no power at my place. Thought maybe I could hang out here awhile, if that’s okay?”

Darrell hesitated only a moment. “Come on in.”

Sure enough, his place was as snug as Kyle had pictured it; orderly, clean, and smelling faintly of balsam. The neat, welcoming space only served as a contrast to the chaos of Gramps’s apartment—which had been cluttered even when Kyle was a kid but had gotten much worse in his grandfather’s final years.

“Have a seat.” Darrell gestured toward the chair and sofa group that made up his living room. “Want something to drink? Tea, coffee, soda, or maybe something stronger?”

“Stronger would be great. It’s been a rough couple of days.” And surrealistic being back here after all these years.

While Darrell went to the kitchen, Kyle dropped onto a brocade leaf-patterned couch and looked around. The rest of the furniture and the area rug were covered in tawny, natural tones. Pale-green-painted walls completed the illusion of being in some forest glade. The home felt more country than city despite the traffic noise that constantly rose from the street below.

Kyle had only seconds to take in his surroundings before his lap was filled with a ball of fur. Lacey’s soft, warm body under his stroking hands was just the comforting therapy he needed after his stressful day. That and the small glass of whiskey Darrell handed to him when he returned.

“This’ll help you sleep,” he promised.

“Thanks for letting me visit. I couldn’t settle down on the couch, but I didn’t want to leave Riggs alone and go to a motel.”

Darrell sat in a tufted beige chair with his long legs sprawled in front of him. “He seems to be okay all by himself. I brought Riggs over here after Vince died, but he kept scratching and whining at the door. He wanted to go home. So I let him stay there the past few days. I check on him periodically and take him on walks. I don’t know how well he’ll adjust to relocation at this stage of his life.”

Kyle looked at the shining eyes of the young dog on his lap and considered his options. “I can stay here for maybe a week, but then I’m going to have to return to work. But I’d rather not think about that decision tonight. Tell me more about yourself. Distract me.”

“Not much to tell, really. I’ve lived in Chicago all my life. Most of my extended family lives nearby. Like I said, I work mostly remotely for the firm of Taylor, Bradford and Brown. There’s little I did at my desk that I can’t do at home.”

“And when you’re not working, what do you do with your spare time? What are your hobbies and interests?”

Darrell cocked an eyebrow. “Is this a speed date?”

“Could be,” Kyle volleyed back. “If you want it to be.” There it was, out in the open, blunt and fast, the little zing of attraction Kyle had sensed between them laid bare for examination and discussion.

But Darrell veered left, choosing not to acknowledge the elephant. “I, um, like running in the park. I’m not much of a gym rat, although I go in the winter months to keep in shape. I like music, local bands mostly. I don’t know. I’m into a lot of different things.” He shrugged, seeming ill at ease being the center of conversation. “I can tell you how I met your grandfather.”

“Yeah? How long have you known him?”

“I moved in here five years ago, but I didn’t talk much with Vince for about three years. He wasn’t the friendliest guy.”


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-17 show above.)