She blinked at him.

“What? You expected I’d carry it? No dice. If I’m gonna smell like abandoned dog piss, then you are too.” Abe dropped the tailgate and they hefted the crying puppy into the truck bed.

“Sure, the one time I’d be happy to see a hay bale poking out of the back of your truck . . . there isn’t one.”

He slammed the tailgate and peered over the edge. “It’ll be fine until we get home.”

By the time she climbed into the cab, she’d formulated a plan. “It’ll need a bath. And food.”

“Which it’ll immediately throw up, requiring another bath,” Abe said dryly.

“I’ll deal with it. I just can’t stand the idea of it being outside in the barn.”

“Hey.” Abe snatched her hand. “I’m not saying we oughta turn the pup out into the wintry night. I just don’t want you to ruin that beautiful dress. You looked stunning tonight, if I haven’t mentioned it.”

She blushed. He had mentioned it. Several times. The extra effort on her appearance had paid off the instant she’d seen the hot look of appreciation in Abe’s eyes. “Thanks.”

“I had seduction plans.” His lips grazed the back of her knuckles. “Good ones like the other night. You really liked that. But I’ll save those plans for another time since we’ll be puppy sitting.”

After reaching the ranch, they left the puppy in the truck bed while they changed clothes. Abe tracked down a cardboard box and Janie tried to prepare the bathroom.

Abe brought in a wiggly bundle wrapped in a ratty horse blanket. “Ready?”

“Yep.”

Plop. The stinky thing yipped, attempting to jump out of the tub. The whining increased tenfold when Janie hosed the pup down. Then it bent its furry head and lapped up water. Lots of water. When it finally stopped drinking, the puppy’s sides heaved, liquid spraying out the mouth and nose. Poor thing didn’t know what was happening and cried like they were killing it. As soon as the vomiting ended, Janie squirted a line of soap and gently scrubbed the fur. Except for the shaking, the dog stayed very still through the bath.

Janie’s heart broke at seeing how tiny the puppy was without fur masking his body size. Abe handed her a towel and she fluffed the fur as she dried it. She peered at the spotted underbelly. “It’s a boy.”

“So it is.”

“I’m gonna name him.” She braced herself for Abe to tell her not to get attached because they weren’t keeping the dog.

A beat of silence passed. “What?”

“George.”

“Why George?”

She shrugged. “Just popped into my head.” She carried him into the kitchen and set him on a towel. “You think his stomach is settled?”

Abe shook his head. “Give it another hour.”

So she and Abe stretched out on the linoleum, watching George explore. The pup was clumsy, as he hadn’t grown into his big paws. He was a funny little thing. Curious. Affectionate. Destructive. He ripped the newspaper on the floor to shreds, barking at the pieces that fell around him like confetti.

George yawned and trotted over to Janie’s side, snuggling into her leg before he put his jaw on his paw and drifted to sleep.

Janie petted his fur, smitten with the helpless critter. She looked over at Abe and blushed at seeing his amused expression. “What?”

“I never thought you were a dog person.”

“Why’s that?”

“You barely tolerated Celia’s mutt.”

She ruffled George’s soft coat. “Bringing another dog into Murray’s domain wasn’t allowed, so I can see where you might’ve gotten that impression.”

Abe reached over and ran his knuckles down Janie’s cheek. “Was I really that much of a bastard?”

“No.” She paused. “Okay, sometimes. You didn’t understand I wanted some things that were ours. Just ours. I know that sounds selfish.”

“I’ll admit, I thought it was selfish back then. But now? Not so much.”

“Did you have any idea how much I wanted a baby?” As soon as she said it, she wished she could take it back.

His hand froze. “You did?”

“Yes. I thought a baby would fix everything between us. I thought it’d give me a reason . . .” Janie angled her face away from his touch.

But Abe, being Abe, wouldn’t allow it. He gripped her chin between his thumb and index finger, forcing her to meet his gaze. “You thought it’d give you a reason to stay, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” Ask me what it would take to get me to stay now. Prove to me you’ve really changed.

Abe’s beautiful gray eyes churned with emotion. “How did we end up hurting each other so badly when we loved each other so much?”

“I don’t know.” It pained her to hear him using love in the past tense. She closed her eyes. She loved him now more than she ever had. But how could she tell him? When she’d repeatedly led him to believe this situation was temporary and he seemed good with that?

“Janie?”

Don’t make me look at you. I don’t think I can hide the truth from you much longer.

The fur ball against her leg stretched and whimpered. She scooped him up and rubbed her cheek on his soft head. “What’s wrong? You hungry?” She pushed to her feet, grateful to focus on the puppy.

Later, curled up in bed, they listened as George scratched, whimpered and cried in his puppy prison. Janie said, “You think this is what it’s like to be parents?”

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