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Chapter 1
I
m not so sure of this. Josh Tavendish ran his fingers down the
hodgepodge of colored shapes. Do you really think its going to
work?
Sarah stood beside him, reading the now empty box. He figured
that, being a veterinarian, she would be the one who would know
what would attract, and keep, a parrots attention.
It has to, she mumbled. Quite frankly, I dont know why
theyre insisting on this. Half the children are terrified of Murray.
Josh nodded. Not to mention that a lot of adults arent too com-
fortable with him, either. Andy isnt sure its going to work, but he
couldnt say no. You know how he feels about expanding the burn
unit for the hospital. For that, hes willing to give anything a try. If
including Murray in the fund raiser earns more money for the hos-
pital, then Andy will do it. Although Andy wasnt the only one who
had doubts about whether the whole thing would work. Murray did
not have the most friendly disposition, but then neither did Andy.
Ever the responsible fire chief, Andy had dressed up as Santa for
another hospital event a few years ago. Even though he hadnt been
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the cheeriest Santa on record, the occasion had been a success and
therefore sealed Andys fate. For this seasons affair, the theme was
swashbucklers. With Andys disposition, Josh could well imagine
Andy as a swarthy pirate.
But Josh couldnt imagine Murray, Andys cranky parrot, behav-
ing himself in a crowd. He especially couldnt imagine the bird pos-
ing for photographs.
He poked at the red plastic square and watched it swing. Do
you really think this is going to make Murray behave? Whats it sup-
posed to do, hypnotize him?
Sarah tapped the blue circle. They didnt teach us much about
parrots in veterinary college, but I do know theyre smarter than
people think. The most important thing I learned about them is that
a bored parrot is an unhappy parrot. Andy needs to keep Murray
distracted, so this thing just might work.
Josh turned his head to look over his shoulder. For the first time
since he opened his pet supply store four years ago, a line of people
waited outside. He wished it had something to do with the ad hed
taken out in the Bloomfield Gazette, or the small poster hed put up
at Sarahs veterinary clinic, but he knew it wasnt so. Nor did it mat-
ter what new pet toys he had on sale.
The people outside crowding the sidewalk werent coming to
check out his new stock. Like a twisted Groundhog Day, everyone
was here to see how Murray reacted to the new parrot toy.
This was worse than reality television. And it was happening in
his store.
The buzz of conversation outside increased.
He didnt know the last time Bloomfield had seen so much
action. There would be no middle ground for what happened today.
It would either go really good or really, really bad, and he didnt feel
very optimistic right now.
In his experience, Andy was only slightly friendlier than Murray,
with emphasis on the slightly. The specific reason Andy agreed and
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would tolerate todays sideshow was that allowing people to watch
Murrays reaction to the new toy created hype, and hype drew peo-
ples attention to the fund raiser. Throughout Andys years with the
fire department, hed seen too many injuries, so having the hospital
well-staffed with up-to-date equipment in good repair was impor-
tant to him, which was why hed agreed to participate.
Josh checked his watch. I have to go open the door. Andy will
be here in five minutes.
Sarah stood back, giving both dogs a hand signal to sit and stay
while Josh walked to the door.
Like many pet supply stores, he encouraged people to bring their
pets inside under the condition that they were docile and controlled
in a public environment. A sign on the door notified newcomers
whether a cat or dog was currently in the store, for obvious reasons.
He didnt have a sign to say he had a guest bird.
It didnt matter. It appeared that at least half of Bloomfield
already knew one was due to arrive.
Even though most people had come to watch Andys parrot,
many people had brought their dogs, most notably Libby with
Tobie, her little Miniature Schnauzer, and Lynn Myers brought
Beasley, her Cocker Spaniel. Off in the distance, near the end of the
line, he couldnt remember the owners name, but Max, the German
Shepherd sniffed at the fire hydrant, and Fluffy, a dog of no particu-
lar breed whose owner he also couldnt remember, scratched at her
hand-knitted sweater.
Strange how he could remember the names of the pets better
than the names of most people .
Wisely, no one brought a cat, but then, with the size of Murray,
he had no question who would have the upper hand. Or paw. Or
was that claw?
Before opening the door, he checked to make sure Rufus held his
position beside Sarah and Scruffy. Rufus usually accompanied him
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to the door when he opened it every day, but this time Josh thought
it wiser to keep both dogs away from the crowd.
He turned the switch so the neon sign flashed OPEN, and he
turned the sign to show that guest dogs were in the store and peeked
through the blinds. The lineup appeared even longer than the last
time hed checked. Josh flicked the lock, opened the door, and stood
back.
Everyone filed straight to the bird section, forming a circle
around his newest acquisition.
Again, Josh checked his watch. Andy was never late. Ever.
Sure enough, squawking in the distance signified that Andy
had opened the door of his vehicle right on time. The squawking
increased in volume, and the muffled bang of the car door closing
silenced the noisy bird.
Josh shook his head. He hadnt been in contact with many par-
rots, especially big ones like Murray, but he felt pretty sure this par-
ticular idiosyncrasy was unique.
As the store door opened, the crowed hushed. The parrot
squawked.
Andy strode in with the bird perched on his forearm, hollering
and bobbing his head until the door closed, when Murray went still
and silence reigned once more.
The crowd remained quiet as Andy approached the new parrot
toy and held Murray closer to it. Everyoneexcept for a little boy
pressed tightly against his mothers side, anyway.
Mommy, the youngster whined, tugging on his mothers hand.
Why isnt Murray playing with his new toy? Doesnt he like it?
Hush, Mattie, the boys mother whispered. We have to let him
decide.
At the mothers soft words, Murray stretched and extended his
wings. Hush, little babysquawk! he bellowed, not the least bit
softly. Hush, little baby!
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Andy mumbled something under his breath that Josh couldnt
hear.
The child cringed, his lower lip quivered, and tears streamed
down his face. He turned and pressed his face into his mothers
thigh. Murray called me a baby. I isnt a baby. The little boy then
began to cry in earnest.
The mothers face turned beet red. She rested her hands on her
sons shoulders and turned toward the door. Excuse us, she mut-
tered as everyone in the crowd did their best to part for them to
allow their escape.
The parrot folded his wings and stared at the toy. This time, he
didnt holler and squawk when the door opened.
If it wasnt Joshs imagination, everyone in the crowd seemed to
hold their collective breath - like a bad crowd scene in a B-grade
movie, except it was really happening.
In his store.
Sarah stepped forward. Ignoring potential risk to her fingers,
she flicked one of the colorful shapes. Murrays head bobbed, he
hunched, and he reached for the toy, pecking it with his beak.
The crowd gasped. Everyone stiffened.
Josh squeezed his eyes shut waiting for Murray to decide if he
liked the toy, keeping them shut, just in case he should be praying,
even though he didnt think he should bother God about cranky
parrots and ugly pet toys.
He likes it, Sarahs voice trickled into the blackness.
Josh opened his eyes and forced himself to smile as he stepped
toward Andy and Murray. Will that be cash or on your credit card?
He looked around at the crowd. Or maybe I can just put it on an
account for you, and you can pay me next time youre in. Not that
Andy was in often, but Josh didnt want to be responsible to hold the
bird while Andy got out his credit card and signed the receipt.
Andy didnt look at anyone in the crowd. He glanced at the door,
then down to the bird on his arm, then at Rufus and Scruffy, who
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both wagged their tails as they watched from a few feet away. Yeah.
I gotta get him out of here. I dont need a bag. Andy held out his
free hand.
Not wasting a second, Josh unhooked the parrot toy from the
rack and handed it to Andy. Andy turned and walked out of the
store without waiting for Josh to retrieve the box.
Beside him, Sarah sighed. Well, now the fun begins.
e e e e
Thanks, Will, Sarah Faire said to Joshs employee as the teen
stacked the last box in the corner of the lobby of her clinic. Ill see
you next week.
He grinned, nodded, and turned toward her weekend reception-
ist. Yeah. Next week. See ya, Sarah, he said, speaking to Sarah, but
his gaze didnt break from Brittany. He stepped toward the coun-
ter, slapped his palm on the top, and leaned toward Brittany, his
voice lowering an octave when he spoke. Ill see you in school on
Monday, Britt. Before Brittany could answer, he turned and high-
tailed it outside.
Brittany giggled as the door closed behind him. Sarah rolled her
eyes and selected the boxes of medical products from the order.
Fortunately for Brittany, although unfortunately for Sarah since
she was Brittanys employer, Sarah certainly remembered those days
of teenage love. However, unlike Brittany and Will, whose feelings
for each other were mutual, her love hadnt been returned.
Leaving the rest of the order for Brittany to sort, she called
Scruffy into the back of the clinic, closed the door to the reception
area, turned in the direction of Joshs store, which was only next
door, and sighed.
Shed developed a silly schoolgirl crush on Josh when shed been
much younger than Brittanyfar too young to really know what
true love was all about. Shed probably been eight years old, and Josh
had been all of eleven.
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She turned and stared blankly at the wall, picturing Josh in his
younger years. As a little girl shed thought him so handsome, even
though hed really been fairly average. But now, as an adult, nothing
about him was average. Josh had grown from a geeky boy into the
epitome of a tall, dark, and handsome man. Maybe not so dark,
but certainly tall and handsome. Added to his royally straight nose
and that impish dimple in his chin, and that one whisp of his dark
brown hair that never behaved, when he smiled her knees nearly
melted, even after knowing him so many years. Or maybe it was
because shed known him so many years and been completely enam-
ored with him, even before the transformation into adulthood.
All through her growing up years, because Josh and her brother
Tucker were best friends, shed seen Josh often, which had been both
good and bad. Good that shed seen him almost daily, and bad for
the very same reason. The pathetic little-girl crush had lasted until
hed left for college when neither of them had been that little. After
Josh graduated and returned to Bloomfield, hed taken a job as man-
ager of Bloomfield Pets; Sarah had gone off to veterinary college. By
the time she graduated, old Mr. Carruthers had shut his business
down and retired, and Josh started a business of his own. After all
that time, shed put her childish feelings aside. Likewise, Josh had
also grown up when theyd gone their separate ways. Yet, in all the
time theyd been apart, shed never found that elusive man of her
dreams.
Now, as mature adult professionals, they had grown to be friends,
and business associates of a sort.
Shed started her veterinary clinic the same year Josh had opened
his own store. To save on the cost of shipping, theyd placed their
orders with the wholesaler together. In the years that followed, both
their businesses had grown and become established so they no longer
needed to split shipping costs, but they still did.
Like most vets, she sold some high-end pet foods, treats, and
anti-flea products from her lobby. Not wanting to compete with
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each other, Sarah and Josh had made a friendly agreement that they
would never stock the same products. Therefore, every Tuesday they
ordered take-out for supper and sat together to go through the sup-
pliers catalogues. She suspected that it wasnt just to save money for
their customers, but mostly so Josh didnt have to cook on Tuesdays,
since he always picked up some kind of take-out for supper.
Her friends often teased her about their standing date night,
except it wasnt anything like a date. What little it had once been had
expired long ago.
Shed almost finished sorting the vaccination serums when
Brittany tapped on the door. Excuse me, Dr. Faire? There are a cou-
ple of dog toys in here that arent on the list. What do I do?
Normally, Sarah would have just sent Brittany next door, but
with things heating up between the two teens, she knew Brittany
would never simply hand the items to Will and leave within a few
minutes. Most likely it would turn into a half-hour visit, and Sarah
didnt want to lose Brittany for that long. Nor did she want to call
Will back. Saturday was the busiest day for both of them. Unlike
Josh, she closed for lunch. On Joshs busiest day, he couldnt spare
Wills time, and Sarah was still on her lunch break.
She clipped Scruffys leash to her collar. Ill take the toys. I have
to talk to Josh about something anyway. Ill be back in a couple
of minutes. If my first appointment is early, tell them Ill be right
back. Most of all, she didnt want the lobby to be empty when peo-
ple started coming in for their appointments.
The phone rang, sparing the need for more explanation, or
Brittanys rebuttal. Sarah picked up the bag, and headed next door.
The displayed sign indicated a guest dog in the store, meaning
she needed to keep Scruffy leashed. If Scruffy and Rufus were the
only dogs in the store, she would have let Scruffy go without it.
Instead of one dog present, though, there were fivefour big
dogs and a small dog that looked like a mixture of several different
toy varieties. The four larger dogs remained at heel with their own-
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ers, checking out the treats and toys their masters picked up with
avid interest. In comparison, the small dog yipped and yapped con-
stantly, while the owner, a man she didnt recognize, laughed.
Sarah gritted her teeth. It was a small dog, but it was still a dog,
and while in the store, dogs were expected to have manners.
At the sight of Scruffy, the little dog stiffened, crouched, and
then lunged with all his miniature might. The leash slipped out of
the mans hand, and the small dog blasted off toward Scruffy.
Sarah gave a small tug upward on Scruffys leash to signal Scruffy
to sit. Stay, she said, positioning her palm toward Scruffys nose.
While Scruffy sat obediently, if a little anxious, Sarah took careful
aim and ran forward a few steps, stomping on the trailing leash. She
halted the dogs trajectory a second before the animal would have
latched onto Scruffys hind leg.
Bad dog! She pointed to the ground and stared the small dog
in the face, making direct eye contact. The dog hunched, cowered,
then looked up at her, baring its teeth.
The owner approached, not running, and apparently not con-
cerned at his dogs aggressive behavior. Sorry, he snickered. He
thinks hes a big dog, but he couldnt hurt a flea.
Not lifting her foot off the leash, Sarah glared at the man. No,
but he could hurt a dog. A bite is a bite, and bad behavior is bad
behavior.
Behind her, one of the other dog owners clapped and another
whistled.
He snickered again. Its okay. Theres a vet next door. He could
have put on a band-aid.
She narrowed her eyes. Im the vet.
Oh. His smile dropped, just as Josh came running round the
corner.
Whats going on?
Sarah drew her fingers through her hair and turned to the man.
I dont know you, but I see this kind of thing all the time. Just
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because your dog is small, that doesnt make him any less a dog. A
small dog still needs to be a dog, and that means they have to fol-
low the orders of the pack leader. A good dog needs to have a good
leader.
Its not my dog. Its my wifes dog. She usually carries it around
in her purse, but I wasnt going to put the dog in a tote bag. Maybe
I should have. He held up a small bag of dog food. I think Ill just
pay for this and leave.
Sarah lifted her foot off the leash, allowing the man to pick it up.
Hmm, the man muttered. He shut up. Hes also sitting still.
How did you do that?
I showed him I wasnt pleased with his behavior. This isnt going
to stop him from doing the same next time, but if you are consistent
in showing him youre displeased when he does this, eventually it
will stop.
One eye narrowed and his head tilted marginally as he stared
down at her. Do you do dog classes? I should send my wife.
Sarah pointed to the rack of books next to the cash register. No,
I dont. Buy a book on obedience and follow it. Or take a class by a
registered instructor. Or both.
The man bent to lift his wifes dog. The second he touched the
dog, it started yapping again.
This time, Sarah grabbed the dog by the scruff of its neck. No.
she said firmly.
The dog silenced, no doubt out of shock that a human had actu-
ally expressed displeasure in his behavior.
Wow The mans voice trailed off. You really should do
classes. Like that guy on television. Without waiting for a response,
he turned and walked toward the cash register.
Josh grinned. Nice work. His dog does the same thing every
time he comes in here. Thank you.
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Its nothing. She handed him the bag. This was in one of my
boxes by mistake. I have to go. Ive been here much longer than I
thought Id be. Im late for my next appointment.
She turned and hurried toward the door with Scruffy faithfully
at her side. As her hand touched the handle and she pulled the door
open, a round of applause echoed inside the store.
Whoo-hoo! The Vet Whisperer! someone called, just as the
door closed behind her.
She sighed and headed to her clinic. Her first patient of the after-
noon was a guinea pig who needed his teeth trimmed, a welcome
and silent improvement.