Her dog saved his life. Can he repay the debt by finding her missing brother?
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Peyton McIntyre's brother is missing. Local police claim they're looking into it, but hope dwindles as the days continue to pass without any answers. Worse still, her only chance of finding him may depend on a rookie officer who sends her temper flaring and her heart quivering.
Kurt Collins is a fourth-generation police officer, but so far he hasn’t been able to live up to his family’s long legacy of service. When the infuriating and beautiful Peyton asks for his help, he wonders if she might hold the key to the recognition he craves. Last time they met, her dog, Gilda, saved his life. This time she just might be able to save his reputation.
As they begin their search it appears that Peyton’s brother may not want to be found. Unfortunately, failing to complete this assignment could risk both Kurt’s career and any chance he has at winning Peyton's heart. Is a happy ending even possible, or will Peyton and Kurt both lose everything before they’re through?
Find out if Gilda can make another rescue by helping her humans beat the ticking clock and discover that their hearts are better together than apart. This sweet tale of suspense and finding what matters is one you’ll want to hold onto… Order your copy and start reading today!
Protecting Peyton is book four in the Gold Coast Retrievers series. Each book stands completely on its own, but you'll have more fun if you read them all together! Learn more about the series here >> https://sweetpromisepress.com/gold-coast-retrievers/
Nicole “Hawk” Hawkins jogged along the cliff walk, a trail lined with scrubby brush and boulders that connected some of Redwood Cove’s finest homes to a scenic vista. The warmth of the mid-afternoon sun was a nice contrast to the cool breeze that blew in off the Pacific Ocean. Most residents of the small California town were working or in school at this time on a weekday which meant she encountered few people during her run. The soles of her sneakers pounded a percussive beat that drummed with the rhythm of her heartbeat.
Two more turns and a stretch and you’re done! You’ve got this, Hawk! Keep going! she coached herself, increasing her speed despite the burning in her lungs.
When she reached the end of the trail she checked her smartwatch and grinned. Although her heart rate was up higher than expected, she had beaten her former time by almost two minutes. Placing her hands on her knees, she sucked in deep breaths of salty air while staring at the ocean. Although she wasn’t overly religious, Nicole treated her post-run cool down as a time to meditate and reflect.
All too often as of late, however, Nicole’s thoughts turned to her new career with the Redwood Cove Fire Department. Even as her body calmed, her mind worked overtime reviewing everything she had to do to prepare the upcoming firefighter competition.
Each year, the firefighters tested their might against other departments in the region for a chance to participate at the state level. The winners from that stage would compete against firefighters across the nation.
I’m not only representing the department, she had explained to her roommate before heading out on her run, I’m also representing women. We have to work twice as hard to get the same recognition as our male co-workers, whether they work as cashiers, CEOs, or any other career.
Nicole stared at the ocean until her breathing returned to its normal pace, performing light stretches as she waited. From her back pocket, her cell phone chirped with the ringtone she had assigned to her parents. She grabbed the device and tapped the screen to accept the call.
“Hi, mom. What’s up?”
“You sound out of breath. Are you okay?”
“I just finished a run,” Nicole replied, not bothering to keep the annoyance from her voice.
Her mother’s sigh was as clear as if the woman stood nearby instead of on the other side of the country. “Nicole, you’ve got so much going for you. Your agent called again. Did you stop taking her calls altogether?”
“Yeah, I did. That’s not the life I want, mom. Even if it was, I’d still run to keep in shape.”
“You know, it’s only a matter of time before your new friends find out about your former life. Your agent says she can guarantee a starring role and you won’t believe who they have lined up as your co-stars.”
As her mother went on to name the A-listers up for other roles in the film, Nicole felt a familiar tickle inside her nose. After trying and failing to hold back a series of sneezes, she interrupted, “Sorry, Mom. I have to get back home. Thanks for calling. Love you.” Nicole ended the call without giving her mother a chance to reply.
“Gilda, come this way,” a female voice commanded.
Turning to locate the source, Nicole saw that it was Peyton McIntyre and her golden retriever, a search-and-rescue dog. The pair gained notoriety after teenagers used their drone to captured footage of Gilda pulling a local police officer from shark-infested waters.
Peyton nodded at Nicole and said, “Sorry. We didn’t know you would be here.”
“It’s okay, Peyton.” Nicole took a few steps back, increasing the distance between herself and the dog. “Um, hey, I want to apologize again. It was wrong, not to mention embarrassing, to act that way and if I could go back to change it, I would.”
Several weeks earlier, on the same day that Kurt and Peyton were due to appear on the local television station’s morning program, Nicole leaked a dash cam video from Kurt’s police cruiser to the station’s news department. Unbeknownst to any of them, Peyton’s brother, who was missing at the time, appeared in the video as well.
After crushing on Kurt since the moment they first met, Nicole was jealous at seeing him take an interest in another woman. Sharing the video was childish, and instead of discouraging Peyton and Kurt from becoming a couple, it had the opposite effect and pushed them closer together.
“Don’t worry about it.” Peyton’s expression looked as if it was chiseled from granite, like Michelangelo’s David. Bringing her left hand to her face, she rubbed her cheek and flexed her ring finger, the gemstone atop engagement band glittering in the sun. “Water under the bridge.”
Wow. Way to flaunt your engagement without directly saying it. Nicole was struggling for a way to respond without sounding like a jealous rival when the dog pranced about on its massive paws. It gave her an idea and she smiled. “Your dog is so beautiful. If I wasn’t allergic, I would want a one just like her.”
The stony expression on Peyton’s face softened. “Goldens are pretty fantastic. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t have her. Were you always allergic to dogs?”
“For as long as I can remember. When I was little and asked for a puppy, my parents told me I could have one but it would require allergy shots.”
“Oh, that’s terrible! What did you do?”
“I got a pet rock instead. Named him Spot and everything,” Nicole deadpanned. Much to her relief, Peyton threw her head back and laughed.
“That was a clever way to get around it,” Peyton replied.
Facing each other across the end of the trail, neither woman spoke for a minute. Uncomfortable with the silence that stretched between them, Nicole blurted, “Gilda is a search and rescue dog, right?” She inwardly groaned and knew she risked sounding dumb at asking such an obvious question.
In addition to Gilda rescuing Kurt from a group of sharks, she was also responsible for finding a missing boy at a local amusement center.
In an attempt cover her idiotic question, Nicole added, “I mean, you two found that kid at the water park?”
“Yes, but it was Gilda who did the real work. I’m more or less her translator.” Peyton beamed a smile at her dog, her voice tinged with a note of pride.
Nicole nodded, keeping her distance to avoid sneezing again. “That’s really awesome.”
“Well, we have an appointment. See you around, Nicole.” With a gentle tug on her dog’s leash, Peyton said, “Come on, Gilda. Let’s go home.”
Giving a little wave, Nicole waited until they were out of sight before making her way back down the trail. As she walked, she couldn’t help but notice how different the west coast scenery was from her childhood home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
On the east coast, she always felt like a fish out of the water. Nicole loved everything about California, however. The year-round sun added natural copper highlights to her dark red hair. The salty air cleared up her acne. She had never felt more beautiful or alive.
Nicole was so lost in thought that she almost missed the scent of smoke on the balmy air. Raising her hand as a shield against the sun, she scanned the sky above the rooftops of the homes nearest the cliff walk for the source of the smoke. She spotted wispy gray clouds at the same moment that a female’s screams filled the air. Acting on instinct, she broke into a run in that direction.
Half a block later, Nicole arrived on the scene. A dozen or so bystanders stood back and watched as a woman on the front lawn paced and made frantic motions with her arms and hands.
“Ma’am? Hello, ma’am? I’m a firefighter. Can you tell me what happened?” Nicole laid her palm against the woman’s wrist to get her attention.
The woman responded by grabbing Nicole’s shoulders and shaking her. Her eyes wild, she screamed, “The kitchen is on fire and my baby is inside!”
Sirens wailed in the distance. “Ma’am, the other firefighters are on their way and--”
“But you said that you’re a firefighter! It’s only one room on fire! Go get my baby now!” The woman stressed the last word.
Nicole knew that she shouldn’t go into a burning structure without her protective gear. The smell of smoke grew stronger by the second. If a life is at stake, though, isn’t it my duty as a firefighter to try and save it? The answer was clear, and she nodded at the homeowner. “Okay! I’ll go get your baby.”
Nicole turned toward the home and ran to the front door, using the back of her hand to feel the knob. Finding it cool, she turned it to open the door and stepped into the residence. A smoky haze assaulted her eyes and nose. Hunching over to avoid breathing in too much of the polluted air, she kept going forward, noting landmarks as she progressed.
The deeper Nicole went into the home, the thicker the smoke grew. This was a horrible idea but I can’t give up now. I’m already here and that woman is counting on me to find her baby.
A whimpering sound caught Nicole’s attention and she paused. Hearing it again, she dropped to her hands and knees and crawled forward, following the sound to a guest bathroom further down the hallway. Once inside the closet-sized space, she looked for the source of the whimpering. Before she could locate it, she sneezed. A minuscule chihuahua peeked out from beneath a towel on the floor and barked in response.
“A puppy?” Nicole sneezed again. “Okay, but where’s the baby?”
The dog stood its ground, yapping nonstop at the intruder inside of its home.
Grabbing the towel from the floor, Nicole used it to scoop up the tiny dog, only then noticing the petal pink leather collar encircling its neck. A dainty gold charm in the shape of a heart displayed a single engraved word.
“Baby,” she read aloud before sneezing twice more. “Are you kidding me? You’re the baby? Whatever. Let’s get you outside to your chihuahua mama, but you have to shush. I need to concentrate if I’m going to get us out of here.”
When Nicole turned back to the hall, the smoke was now a dense wall that clouded the landmarks she noted during her initial exploration. Hunching over with the dog in her arms, she took a guess and stepped forward.
Arnold “Snowball” Winters held his arms out perpendicular to either side of his body and ordered, “Everyone please, step back and let the firefighters do their jobs. Otherwise, you’ll be watching this from the back seat of my police car.”
The wailing sirens in the distance grew louder. Arnold performed a visual on the growing crowd of curious bystanders and thought, I'll be glad when they show up. It's my last day as a beat cop and, of course, there’s a huge incident. So much for getting off duty in ten minutes. Now I’m going to be stuck working overtime! The guys at the station are probably having one of those giant donut cakes from the Cup of Joe diner without me, too.
No sooner had the thoughts crossed Arnold’s mind when shame settled like a pile of bricks on his shoulders. As if feeling its actual weight, he slumped a little as he saw the homeowner hopping from one foot to the other while wringing her hands.
“Has anyone heard anything about my baby?” she shrieked. "I’m going to go inside and help look.”
"No! Ma'am, don't do that. You don't have the protective gear required to go into that kind of situation."
"That woman who went in after my baby didn’t have protective gear, either, but I don’t think she’s doing her job. She claimed she was a firefighter. So why hasn’t she come out here with my baby?"
"The one who went into my house. Weren't you listening?"
"Let's try this again. A woman went into your house to save your baby, right?” he clarified.
The woman rolled her eyes. “Um, duh! That is exactly what I just said to you.”
“Can you please describe the woman who went into your home?" Arnold stared at the homeowner. Please don't let it be Hawk. Anyone but her.
"She had long, red hair, and she was about this tall." The homeowner held her hand out to indicate the firefighter's approximate height. "But what does this have to do with my baby? I really need a smoke. Do you mind?"
Arnold watched in disbelief as, without waiting for him to respond, the woman pulled a baggie from the pocket of her denim cutoff shorts. "Um, ma'am? You can't smoke that--"
The homeowner patted the pockets of her shorts and rolled her eyes. "It's just my luck. My matches are inside my house which is on fire! You wouldn't have a light, would you?"
"No, I don't and I'm afraid you cannot smoke that here."
"But it's legal in California! I read articles on the Reel Life. I know my rights!"
Great. Another citizen whose primary news source is social media. Arnold silently cursed the person who invented Reel Life, the popular app that let anyone with a cell phone share anything and everything. "You're right. It is legal in California, but it's not legal on public property and you're standing on the sidewalk. Now, how long ago did the firefighter go into your house?"
Arnold looked toward the home where black smoke rolled out of the door and windows in thick clouds. Dear God, if that's Hawk inside, please let her be okay. Let whoever the person is in there be okay, but especially if it's her.
The woman stuffed the baggie back into her pocket. "I don't know. Before you showed up. Where's my baby?"
The blaring sirens on a firetruck pulling up to the curb drowned whatever else the homeowner said, despite the fact that her mouth kept moving.
Arnold waved his hand in front of her face, pointed to the ground, and yelled over the sound of the emergency vehicles arriving on the scene, "Stay here! Understand? Do not go anywhere!"
The woman scowled but nodded at him, crossing her bony arms over her chest and jutting her hips to one side before yelling, “Fine!”
"Stay here," Arnold repeated, pointing at the ground again with his index finger before running toward the firefighters. The men wore gear that protected them, from the yellow helmets on their heads to the thick rubber boots covering their legs and feet. Only one, the officer on the truck, wore a white helmet. Relieved to see that it was someone he knew personally as well as professionally, Arnold made a beeline for him and called, "Cappy! Cap! Captain Williamson! Theo! Hey, hold up!"
"Hey Snowball," the captain called Arnold by his fire department nickname. "What's up?"
“The homeowner says an off-duty firefighter went into the house to save her baby. From the description she gave of the person, it sounds like it might be Hawk. Whoever it is, they’re still inside.”
The other man’s eyes widened. “All right, anything else?”
“That’s all I’ve got.”
The captain clapped Arnold on the shoulder and began barking information and orders at his men.
Arnold stepped back to let the firefighters do their job. Although he worked in a different area of community services, their respective departments shared a mutual camaraderie of friendly competitions. From police versus firefighter jokes to pairing off against each other in local softball games and golf tournaments, the rivalry only served to strengthen their mutual loyalty to the community they served. It helped in a situation like this to remind them that regardless of whether they wore a fire helmet or a bulletproof vest, they were all on the same team.
When Arnold turned to check on the homeowner, he saw that the local television station had arrived and was interviewing bystanders. A good number of private citizens had their phones pointed at the home, each other, and themselves. No doubt they’re uploading everything to Reel Life.
Not seeing the homeowner in the crowd, Arnold scanned the area and found her sneaking along the front of her home. Running in her direction, he called out, “Ma’am! Stop!”
The woman turned to him with a blank stare. “I can go into my house if I want.”
“Actually, you can’t because it’s on fire.” Arnold stared at the homeowner, not caring if his expression revealed the sarcasm in his tone. “How many times do I have to say it? Would you rather wait here on the lawn, or in the back of my patrol car?”
“But my baby is inside! I just want to help the firefighters!”
Arnold frowned. “Ma’am, the best way you can help the firefighters is to stay right here. That way, if they have questions, they’ll know where to find you.”
A sullen expression settled over the woman’s features and she wandered off in the direction of the sidewalk.
If you’re inside that house, Hawk, hang in there. Help is on the way.
Healing Hawk is available mid-December 2018. Watch this space for details.