"There's my good girl," Emma said as she popped the front seat of her yellow Bug forward and grabbed the leash of the Black Lab jumping out of the back seat.
The dog wagged her entire hindquarters, thumping her tail against the car hard enough that Emma shooed her out of the way so the pup wouldn't hurt herself...or dent her car. She rummaged around in her pocket for the keys to the house, and when she finally separated the right one out from all the others with a loud jingle, she gave the dog a big grin, rubbed her soft, floppy, dark ear and scratched under her chin. "Let's get you inside," she said, nodding to the bungalow-style house they were parked in front of. The two jogged up the driveway to the garage where Emma unlocked the side door. Emma used the garage entrance so she could clean up the dog before heading into the house proper. She always made sure she wiped the dog's feet before going in as a courtesy to the owners — especially after a muddy walk like they just had. As she opened the door, she stopped short.
"Oh! Huh. Looks like I finally get to meet your Daddy, hey girl?" Emma asked, looking over her shoulder at the dog who was trying to push past without success. They squeezed by the vintage black Jeep parked in the usually empty spot, over to the door that lead to the breezeway into the house.
Earlier in the year, Emma Swan had bought out iPet Saviors/i from her boss, Mrs. Lucas, who wanted to retire. Since she started working there almost a decade ago, Emma, who had a real knack for working with dogs, handled most of the dog training while doing a portion of the dog-walking and then pet sitting gigs on the side when she had time. She had been saving up to start her own dog training business, but when Mrs. Lucas started talking about retirement, Emma jumped at the opportunity to take over the whole operation. She loved the (canine) clients they already had and didn't want to lose them to competition, so keeping the company going seemed the right answer. While the day-to-day operations, on top of her training sessions, took up a fair amount of time, there was one dog she just couldn't, well iwouldn't/i, entrust with anyone. That was Gale — the only dog Emma still took for walks regularly and the highlight of her day. They had a connection, Emma and Gale, and she wasn't about to let a little work get in the way of spending time with her best furry girl.
The blonde human and the sleek black canine had been a team since Gale started with Pet Saviors as a 12-week old rambunctious ball of fluff about a year ago. In that whole time, Emma hadn't met Gale's owner. They communicated by notebook — he would leave instructions or training requests and she would write a little something about Gale's day — but they had never crossed paths. Their "conversations" amused Emma more often than not because they frequently pretended to write as if they were Gale. It was silly, but once it (he) started there was no going back. Some days those notes were the only thing worth laughing about. Nonetheless, Emma never felt a need to get to know Gale's owner since the whole point of Emma being with Gale was to break up the dog's lonely day and give her the exercise she needed to not be a furniture eating lunatic. People weren't Emma's thing anyway, so notes and the random email worked just fine for Emma and Gale's "Dad," Killian Jones.
Gale let Emma rub the dirty water off her belly and legs with a towel that hung in the garage on a peg just for such occasions, licking her face when Emma was close enough to reach. Emma laughed, teasing the dog about her kisses being the only ones Emma got these days so she was going to enjoy them. Once Gale was all cleaned off, Emma opened the door that into the breezeway and eventually to the kitchen. She released Gale from her leash and hung it on the door knob then closed the door behind her. Gale had already galloped off, barking happily, looking for her Dad.
"Hello?" Emma called out. "Mr. Jones? It's me, Emma Swan, just bringing Gale home from our walk." Given the nautical decor, number of books around the house, and lack of photographs on the walls and surfaces that weren't of Gale in various stages of her growth, she always liked to think Mr. Jones was a retired Naval officer who was a professor now. She pictured him as sort of roundish and balding with a good sense of humor, and given the lack of female touch to the place, very much alone except for Gale. She'd be finding out how right she was soon enough.
Emma toed off her sneakers just to be sure she didn't track in any mud herself across the spic-and-span hardwood floors and walked across the kitchen to peek around the corner of the doorway into the rest of the house. Down the hall to the left, Gale sat in front of a door, the tip of her tail swishing across the floor in short arcs. Emma took a few steps toward the dog and stopped when she heard retching coming from behind the closed door. Wincing, she quietly motioned to Gale to come away from the door, but she wouldn't budge. Instead she gave a short bark and wagged her tail harder.
Sighing, Emma walked over to the door and when the retching stopped, said loudly, "Mr. Jones? It's Emma Swan, Gale's dog walker. Are you ok in there?"
"Aye," he said. A beat later there was another retch and a cough followed by, "Perhaps."
"Do you need to go to the hospital?" she asked, ear pressed to the door, wondering if she was going to have to kick it in to get to him if he said 'yes.'
"No, love. I just need to stop throwing up." Emma could not have agreed more. As a secondary thought, she made note of his British accent that managed to make discussing vomiting sound charming. Definitely an impressive feat.
"Uh, ok...Listen, I have to get back to my office for a training session, but I'll be back later to take care of Gale so you can rest. Is that ok?" Emma didn't know what possessed her to make the offer, but she did anyway.
"No need...oh bloody hell," he groaned and then threw up again. Emma tapped her foot, impatient to finish the conversation before she started throwing up too in what had the potential to be the worst first meeting in history. Gale looked up at her with her most winning doggie grin and wagged harder, her tail smacking the door. "Actually, if you could, I would be in your debt," he said, obviously having reconsidered her offer after his conversation with the toilet.
"No worries. I'll be back later. Gale should be good until then, so don't worry about her. I ran her hard today so she'll just sleep."
"Thank you, Ms. Swan," his tired voice rumbled through the door.
Leaning over, Emma scratched the top of Gale's head and kissed her nose. "You be a good girl for your Dad, Ok?" Gale returned the kiss and curled up outside the bathroom door as Emma walked away.
After a rather...challenging obedience lesson with a construction foreman, Leroy, and his Bulldog, Grumpy, Emma wrapped up the day's paperwork and stopped by Mrs. Lucas' to pick up some chicken soup. Emma had called her ahead of time to get the scoop on Killian Jones since Mrs. Lucas had the advantage of actually meeting him when he first hired them to train and walk Gale. "Granny," as Emma liked to call her, assured her that Mr. Jones was "a good man. Bit of a rapscallion, but he loves his dog, so he can't be that bad." That was good enough for Emma. She also told Emma to come by for the soup because she knew he lived alone and probably would not be interested in cooking anything for himself to help him recover. Since Emma's own cooking skills were limited to opening packages of pop tarts and picking up take out coffee, she could totally understand the appeal of homemade soup when feeling under the weather. Besides, Granny's was on the way.
So, soup in hand, Emma let herself into the house and was greeted by a howling and very wiggly Gale.
"Shhh, Gale! Let your Dad sleep, ok? I know. I'm happy to see you again today too!" Emma said in an enthusiastic whisper. She put the soup down on the counter and knelt to pet the dog and calm her down.
"Must be dinner time for you, huh, good girl?" At the word "dinner" Gale's ears perked as much as droopy ears can and she stopped wiggling, sitting still in anticipation. Emma grabbed the dog's bowl from the stand it sat in and scooped out some kibble from the closed container near it, and then went to the fridge to get the raw meat she knew Gale also ate and mixed them together. Still sitting pretty, the drool began dripping from Gale's mouth to the floor.
Emma chuckled and shook her head. "Oh, Gale. Must you be so stereotypical? You're better than that." Dinner preparations complete, Emma placed the bowl back in its stand and, after a few seconds of intense Jedi dog mind tricks to be released from her sit, gave Gale the go-ahead to eat. Tail wagging the whole time, Gale munched away.
"Is that you, Ms. Swan?" the low, rough voice of Gale's owner called out from the living room.
"Sure is, Mr. Jones. I'm just feeding Gale. How are you feeling?" she inquired.
"Better, thanks, love. And, please, call me Killian. Still have all my internal organs where they belong, so I'm pretty sure I'll live."
Smiling to herself, Emma stood in the doorway between the kitchen and living room waiting for Gale to finish her dinner. She still couldn't see his face, but she could see some tousled black hair — practically the same color as Gale's — sticking out at one end of the leather couch. "It did seem a bit touch-and-go there," she teased. "I'm going to let Gale out into the yard and then I'll be back," she continued.
Opening the door to the breezeway, she slid the glass door that lead to the back deck of the fenced-in yard and let Gale out to take care of business. Returning to the kitchen, she found a bowl in one of the glass-paned cabinets, poured some soup in it and heated it up in the microwave while she rummaged around until she found some crackers to go with it. Balancing the soup, crackers, and a glass of water, Emma returned to the living room and walked around the couch to bring Mr. Jones...Killian some dinner.
When Emma finally laid (her comically wide) eyes on Gale's Dad, she almost dropped the soup right to the floor. He was pale with dark circles under his eyes from being sick, but holy shit, those eyes. Comparing them with the color of the sky or sea didn't do them justice. Framed by thick, dark brows and lashes that made him look like he was wearing eyeliner, the clarity and depth of his eyes was...arresting. But they were the icing on, quite frankly, the most gorgeous cake she'd ever seen. He was absolutely not an aging, slightly out-of-shape college prof. If anything, he was just a few years older than she was and most definitely not soft. Suddenly she understood what Granny's smirk and wink meant when she sent Emma on her way earlier.
Hoping she wasn't actually staring at him in spite of her overwhelming desire to for the next 50 years, Emma smiled at Killian and set down the soup, crackers and water on the coffee table in front of him. He was a client and she couldn't forget that even though she was already stretching the rules of professionalism by taking care of Gale after hours, never mind her owner. Still lying down and covered in a dark blue blanket, Killian smiled weakly back at Emma as he slowly sat up, his hand resting on his stomach as if to hold it in.
"Mrs. Lucas thought you could use some of her chicken soup."
"Please thank her for me, Ms. Swan?" he asked.
"It's Emma. And I will," she said, perching on the arm of the chair opposite putting as much distance between them as she could without looking rude.
"My apologies for meeting like this. I really appreciate you coming over to take care of my Gale for me. I wasn't expecting any special treatment myself. Thank you," Killian said earnestly, meeting her eyes with a look of gratitude Emma had only ever seen in dogs. It was a genuine sincerity that few people could pull off — she knew because she had seen them try and fail before. It threw her off.
Breaking eye-contact, Emma smiled nervously and stood up, flipping her long hair behind her. "I'll go see if Gale's ready to come in. Be right back."
Heading to the deck door to let Gale in, Emma needed to take a couple of deep breaths and separate her body's reaction to the smoking hot guy on the couch (How can anyone look that hot when they had just spent the day puking? she thought) from the fact that technically she was in his employ. She didn't get into this business to meet people, although they certainly came with the dogs she cared for. She did it because the one lesson she learned in this life was that dogs were loyal and people were most definitely not. She loved the dogs and wanted them to have good lives — lives they deserved considering how much love they gave. Even though the majority of the owners were kind people, she just never really gave a shit about any of them beyond making sure the dogs were never mistreated. She wasn't about to change that now. No matter how blue their eyes were, or how the way they said "love" so casually made her heart flutter.
Gale gave a short bark, breaking Emma out of her anti-pep talk. She slid the glass door open letting the dog in, and ran her hands over the shiny fur as she trotted past to go to her Dad. Stopping at the doorway to the living room, the dog stopped and looked back at Emma, wagging her tail and waiting.
Emma smiled at the dog and said, "Ok, ok, I won't leave yet." She followed Gale back to the living room where she found Killian laying back down on the couch, sound asleep on his side, soup barely touched. Gale hopped up on the couch and curled up behind Killian's knees in a way she obviously did regularly, resting her head on his thigh. He shifted in his sleep and his hand came out from under the blanket and rested on the back of Gale's neck, both of them sighing in unison. Emma tilted her head and smiled at the dog, leaning over to stroke her back softly so she wouldn't wake Killian. Watching the two of them for a moment more, so perfectly matched, Emma's heart ached in her chest.
"You're a sweet girl," Emma whispered. "Be good. I'll see you tomorrow."