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Mia stepped out from Ollie’s room to find the main cabin empty. A single lamp was on, and the dwindling fire still glowed in the fireplace. Neither Ben nor Turbo around, and Mia wondered if Ben was done for the night too. A rush of disappointment swept over her at the thought of not getting to say good night to him.
Swallowing it down, she headed to the door with the dogs. The snow boots were all lined up beside the door on two long, thick rugs that were wet from the clumps of ice and snow that had been clinging to the boots when they’d come inside. The cold, wet patches stung Mia’s bare feet as she slipped into hers. She grabbed her coat from the closet and snaked it up one arm, transferred the puppy, then snaked it up the other.
When Mia moved to open the door and realized it was unlocked, she looked closer at the row of boots. Ben’s were missing. Her heart skittered in her chest. She opened the door with bated breath, but he was nowhere in sight.
Feeling the rush of cold air, Sam gave a determined shake of his head. His muscles tensed against her as if he was getting ready to leap. Sadie trotted backward several feet from the door as if to say “No thanks.”
Holding it open wider, Mia encouraged her. “Come on, girl. It’ll be a quick one, promise.”
Sadie whined but reluctantly followed Mia outside to the porch. Blue-white moonlight poured over the yard, bright enough to create shadows from the trees on the snow, and thousands of stars dotted the sky. The puppy squirmed in her arms as she stepped out deeper into the yard, crunching snow under her boots, until she set him down and zipped her coat.
Ben and Turbo were nowhere to be seen. She headed out into the yard, unable to entice Sadie off the snow-cleared porch. Sam trotted along, creating his own path, diving underneath windswept mounds, burying himself completely, then popping up and shaking himself off.
Mia was laughing at his antics when Sadie tore off the porch at something she’d spotted, barking and racing away into the darkness at the side of the cabin. Mia tensed, waiting, squinting to make out something in the darkness while trying to will Sadie back. “Ben?”
“Thank God,” she said when he called out into the night that it was him. She felt a rush of hesitation as he neared. “I thought the dogs might need to get outside another time before I put them in their crates.”
“Ollie’s asleep already?”
“As soon as his head hit the pillow.”
“Fresh air will do that to you.” Ben fell into step beside her as they headed toward the house.
Mia’s throat grew tight, and there was no denying why. They needed to talk. For hours into the night. There was so much to discuss. The only problem was Mia didn’t want to waste another minute of it not kissing him.
She swallowed hard. “Thanks for everything. For coming and all. For being so good to him.”
“I love him.”
She did her best to snip through the strings of connection drawing her to him. She was at a loss for words again, and Ben wasn’t helping them come any easier. She sat a squirmy and excited Sam back onto the ground. They were both quiet as they watched Sam leap and jump in a patch of untampered snow.
“Are you ready to go in? It’s freezing.”
“Mia, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the baby.”
They’d each spoken at exactly the same time. Mia bit her lip. “I can see why you didn’t, I guess. Would you have? Eventually.”
“Yeah, definitely. I was trying to find the right time.”
She nodded, conscious of her beating heart and the deep breaths she was taking. “I forgive you. Today’s a day for forgiveness, it seems.”
He shifted Turbo’s leash from one hand to the other. “About the other night…do you remember what you meant by ‘Et tu, Brute’? You texted that.”
Sam trotted off from them and up to the porch, snuggling against his mom, ready to go inside and get warm. Turbo looked off into the woods, not seeming to notice the cold.
Somehow, Mia knew if she told the truth, nothing was going to be the same. A tiny, nearly incoherent fear-filled voice inside her was screaming that she needed to stop this. But even if she couldn’t put it into words, she knew what she was doing. Suddenly her throat loosened, and the words spilled out. “The night Ollie was born, after the accident, you were there. You held my hand because Brad couldn’t. And not just that night. So many other times too. Sometimes I swear you’re the only person in the world who really sees me. When I figured out it was you Stacey was talking about in the letter, it wasn’t just that you knew and didn’t tell me, learning that made me doubt… I don’t know…everything.”
She could see the pain her words caused, and that more than anything was why she let herself step in and press her lips against his. He was four or five inches taller, but on the tips of her toes, she could just reach his lips. And just like before, she liked it. She liked everything about it.
She closed her bare, cold hands over the sides of his face and opened her mouth fully to his. He had strong lips, and she could feel the stubble from one day’s growth of beard against her skin.
He smelled like the Minnesota woods, cedar and pine, and he tasted like the s’mores they’d had in front of the fire. She could taste the sugar and chocolate on his lips and tongue. Her head began to swim, and she wondered if it was a flashback to drunkenly kissing him, or if she wasn’t breathing. Light-headed or not, she couldn’t pull away. She needed his kiss like she needed air, and he was going to have to be the one to stop it.
Only he didn’t. His hands slipped into her hair, and he lowered his face to hers so that she didn’t have to stand on her tiptoes. His tongue met hers, and he pulled closer as if he needed her the same way she needed him.
If he never pulled away, if he’d stand out here kissing her till they froze, Mia wouldn’t complain. Kissing Ben felt more than just good. It felt right. Like she’d been traveling a long time and had finally landed exactly where she should have been all along. It was as if she could feel broken pieces of herself mending together, halves becoming whole.
And somehow, even though she couldn’t explain it, she knew he felt the same way.
Excerpted from Love at First Bark by Debbie Burns. © 2019 by Debbie Burns. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.
GOOD because this book TOTALLY deserves your attention!
As I said, I haven't read the rest of the series, but I'm seriously adding it to my wish list for future reading. I mean first of all, we have the cutesy title...just try and tell me you didn't smile when you read/said it. Second, that cover! An adorable pupper, the snowy scene, and our potential couple walking through the drifts...can't you just feel the love? Last on the "why should I read this" roster, the story! What, you didn't think I'd forget about the nitty gritty part of things now did you?
The characters, both the two and four-legged ones, will endear themselves to your heart while the tale itself will speak to your soul. It's not that something utterly dramatic and earth shattering happens, but it's monumental enough to them and relateable enough for readers to have you caring right alongside each of them, come what may. You feel brokenhearted for the start in life that the border collie brigade got, but can't help having your heart warmed by how things turned around...not to mention how sweet each of them are in their own way! You cheer for Ben as he conquers obstacles in life not with an iron fist but a giving heart, patience, and understanding...and yeah, he's totally easy on the eyes too! He may not be superman, but he IS a super man...with his priorities straight, a good head on his shoulders, and yet just enough daredevil in him to keep things interesting...and really, what more could a girl want? (*adds to list of book boyfriends*) You can't believe the utter horses' behind that Brad was, at least when it comes to his role in a marriage, and yet can't help liking him a tiny smidge because half of his genes created the wonderful little boy that is Ollie. (Seriously, such a sweetie!) You feel well represented by Mia as she rebuilds her fractured heart, uncovers truths both welcome and not, and finds the strength to truly live again. Again, she may not be THE super woman, but she totally IS one anyway.
All in all, this book has SO much going for it! Love, loss, family, puppers, and enough feels to shut down the power grid to the big apple (still blush-worthy versus scorching!)...it's a great combination that'll have you SITting down for a moment only to find yourself STAYing straight through to the end. Seriously, I was flicking epages so much I didn't even stop to update my Goodreads status! Recommended for Contemporary Romance fans.
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