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RESCUE MY HEART
Manhattan Dinner Club, 1
JEAN C. JOACHIM
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A Moonlight Books Novel
Rescue My Heart
Copyright © 2014 Jean C. Joachim
First E-book Publication: January 2014
Cover design by Dawné Dominique
Edited by Tabitha Bower
Proofread by Shannon Ellis
All cover art and logo copyright © 2015 by Moonlight Books
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
For pugs in need and the wonderful people who save them.
Thank you to my readers, friends, and family who support me and inspire me to keep writing. Also to my editor, Tabitha Bower, proofreader, Renee Waring, Sandy Sullivan and generous-hearted people everywhere who rescue pugs.
Other books by Jean C. Joachim
FIRST & TEN SERIES
GRIFF MONTGOMERY, QUARTERBACK
BUDDY CARRUTHERS, WIDE RECEIVER
PETE SEBASTIAN, COACH
DEVON DRAKE, CORNERBACK
SLY “BULLHORN” BRODSKY, OFFENSIVE LINE
AL “TRUNK” MAHONEY, DEENSIVE LINE
HARLEY BRENNAN, RUNNING BACK
THE MANHATTAN DINNER CLUB
RESCUE MY HEART
SEDUCING HIS HEART
SHINE YOUR LOVE ON ME
TO LOVE OR NOT TO LOVE
HOLLYWOOD HEARTS SERIES
IF I LOVED YOU
RED CARPET ROMANCE
MEMORIES OF LOVE
LOVE’S LAST CHANCE
LOVERS & LIARS
His Leading Lady (Series Starter)
NOW AND FOREVER SERIES
NOW AND FOREVER 1, A LOVE STORY
NOW AND FOREVER 2, THE BOOK OF DANNY
NOW AND FOREVER 3, BLIND LOVE
NOW AND FOREVER 4, THE RENOVATED HEART
NOW AND FOREVER 5, LOVE’S JOURNEY
NOW AND FOREVER, CALLIE’S STORY (series starter)
SUNNY DAYS, MOONLIT NIGHTS
APRIL’S KISS IN THE MOONLIGHT
UNDER THE MIDNIGHT MOON
LOST & FOUND DUET (with BEN TANNER)
LOVE LOST & FOUND
DANGEROUS LOVE, LOST & FOUND
SWEET LOVE REMEMBERED
TUFFERY’S CHRISTMAS WISH
RESCUE MY HEART
JEAN C. JOACHIM
Copyright © 2014
It came at her suddenly, out of nowhere. Rory Sampson leapt out of the way of the speeding bike and onto the grass, yanking her pug, Baxter, with her. The dog flew into her belly, knocking the wind out of her. When she could breathe again, she was shaking her fist after the careless biker.
“Can’t you read? It says ‘no bike riding on the paths’!” she screamed. It was too late—the oblivious offender followed the path north. A few people looked after the man then at her. One woman asked her if Baxter was all right. Rory brushed herself off. Baxter was dazed for a moment, but appeared to be fine.
“Damn selfish bike people,” she muttered as she and her pug made their way to the Great Lawn in Central Park. Still trembling, she lost sight of the beauty of the sunny day. Since it was before nine o’clock on a spring Saturday, Rory unhooked the leash and let Baxter run free. He trotted ahead, always keeping an eye on her.
Examining her shorts and legs, she found grass stains on the fabric and a few small stones embedded in her thigh. A sharp pain shot through her flesh as she pried the pebbles from her skin.
“These were new. Now they’re ruined,” she said to herself, brushing dirt off her behind. Baxter appeared to be fine as he returned to her side, keeping pace with her stride. The few people in the vicinity ignored Rory’s almost-accident and went about their way. Irked by the lack of support from fellow New Yorkers against the reckless biker, her good mood evaporated.
Unexpectedly, a shirtless young man in running shorts came abreast of her.
“I saw that asshat almost run you down. I got a picture of him.”
Rory turned her head. Dazzled by the sweaty, half-naked body in front of her, she could barely speak. “Uh, thanks.”
“Are you all right?”
“Bruised, but okay.”
“Give me your email address, and I’ll send it to you.”
“How sweet, thank you. I’m Rory, by the way.”
“Carter.” They shook hands and exchanged emails.
Dark hair, light eyes, and bare shoulders as wide as the park stood right in front of her.Stop drooling.She wanted to reach out and touch his well-muscled chest, but held back.Be faithful to Bruce.
As she was about to maneuver their conversation into flirting territory, a gorgeous, half-dressed blond guy ran up beside Carter. “Did you tell her?” he asked.
“I did. Got her email.”
“What a pig.”
“Thinks he owns the park. Bikers here are all like that,” Rory said.
“Amen to that.”
“This is Benton, my partner,” Carter said.
Crap! They’re gay.Rory shook his hand and tried to hide her disappointment. They said farewell and prepared to continue their run. Baxter barked at them.
“Nice dog,” Carter called then took off, running in perfect stride with Benton.
Wish I had a partner like that. Bruce is just as hunky.She sighed and resumed her walk, pushing thoughts about her relationship with her boyfriend from her mind.It’s a beautiful day. Focus on that.She kept her eyes peeled for her park friends, people she saw only when walking Baxter. They were friendly acquaintances and fellow bike haters. She couldn’t wait to tell them what had happened. Halfway around, she still hadn’t seen any of her usual gang, so she headed for Pug Hill.
“We might as well find some of your friends,” she said to her dog as she steered him toward the east side of the park. Her favorite sign of warm weather had to be male runners without shirts. As another well-built one ran past her, her gaze swept his body.But I have Bruce, don’t I?She frowned until she spied a cluster of daffodils pushing toward the sun.
Raising her gaze a bit, she saw a familiar sight—the fawn and black of pugs whizzing by her eyes as they ran free. Baxter smelled his breed and began to whine. He raced toward the others, who were dodging, running, and playing. She jogged along behind him.
A group of three fawn-colored dogs were chasing another, who was making wide circles. Baxter woofed once then joined in. Rory loved to watch him romp in the park with others. Pug antics were especially cute and funny. The scene lifted her spirits and made her laugh.
There were several men and woman standing around watching and chatting. Rory joined the group. Each canine displayed a distinct personality as they jockeyed for attention, looking for a playmate. One especially small female pooch had moxie. She strutted up to one of the males and put her paw on his head.
“Dumpling!” A buxom blonde woman approached the playful pug. The male eased back, stretching his front legs, assuming play position. Before the woman could snatch up her little one, the two dogs were off and running. Dumpling was agile and dodged the larger male until he finally caught up with her. One nudge and she rolled over, came up panting, and charged again.
The blonde bit her lip.I know her.“Aren’t you Bess, from TV?” Rory asked.
She nodded, never taking her eyes off Dumpling.
Rory introduced herself. Bess acknowledged her, but still kept her gaze trained on her pug.
“She’ll be fine. She can handle that guy,” Rory said.
“You think so? She’s so tiny.”
“Maybe, but with a big heart. She’s got guts.”
“Someday a bigger dog is going to put her in her place.” Bess chewed her nail.
The two women exchanged facts about their dogs—ages, names, and whether or not they were rescues. Baxter was a rescue. Dumpling was handed down to Bess from her aunt. Rory crossed her legs and sank down on the soft grass. Baxter came over to her, panting.
“Would he like some water?” Bess asked. She plucked a plastic container and a water bottle from the small, pink backpack she wore. She poured some for Baxter, who lapped it up eagerly. Dumpling returned to Bess and had a drink as well. Baxter sniffed the little pug as she drank.
Rory watched a woman throw aCuzball for her pug, but another intercepted it, starting a game of keep-away. The first two were joined by two more dogs, and the four tore around in circles, vying for the toy. Two brunettes ran after them. The wily pugs eluded them at every turn. Finally, the women gave up and lowered themselves to the ground to catch their breath.
“Cuzis Baxter’s favorite toy, too,” Rory said.
“Romeo and Juliet love it, too, but now that other one’s got it. I’m Miranda.” The woman extended her hand. Rory took it and introduced herself.
“Freddy’s got theCuz, and he’s not giving it up. I must have a treat in here. That’ll do it. I’m Brooke,” the second woman said, rummaging through her purse. It wasn’t long before Freddy had five pugs chasing him, including his sister Ginger.
Brooke mooched a treat from a man with a black pug and lured Freddy into giving up the toy. The women got involved in conversation and didn’t notice the other dog owners slowly drifting away. A policeman approached. He tapped Rory on the shoulder. She turned around, and the smile fell off her face.
“Miss, is this your dog?”
“Baxter? Yes, he’s mine,” she said, quickly clicking the leash back on his harness. The other women followed suit. The officer’s dark brown eyes bored into hers. He whipped out a ticket book from his back pocket. “You know he’s supposed to be on the leash, don’t you?”
“What time is it?” She glanced at her watch.Crap! Nine-fifteen.
“He was supposed to be leashed fifteen minutes ago.” The cop took a pen from behind his ear.
“Oh, please, officer. I lost track of the time. I’m so sorry. I can’t afford a two hundred dollar ticket.” Her heart thumped so loud she thought he could hear it.
Bess stepped out from behind Rory. “What’s the trouble?” She blinked her big blue eyes.
A slow smile crept across his face. “Say, aren’t you…Bess…fromBaking with Besson TV?” He put the pen back.
“I am. And you are?”
“Nice to meet you.” She glanced up, into his eyes. “Are you six-foot three?”
“No, ma’am, only six-foot,” he smiled.
Bess shot him a flirtatious glance. “You’re the tallest officer I’ve ever seen.”
“I’ve watched your show. You’re an amazing cook.” He took a step closer to her.
“Thank you. What’s your favorite dessert?”
Rory watched Bess inch nearer to the officer. She studied the baker’s body language and facial expressions.I think I’m in the presence of a professional flirt. Maybe I can learn something.
“Your apple pie made me drool.” He blushed.
“Apple pie? That’s so easy to make.”
“My ex couldn’t bake to save her life. You make it look easy.”
“What a shame! I’d love to bake a pie for you.”
“Really?” He returned the ticket book to his back pocket and gave Bess the once-over again.
“Sure would. I’m trying a new recipe for a chicken dish. I could easily tack on apple pie for dessert. Would you be my guinea pig?”
Rory saw the man swallow.Is he drooling over the food or over her? Maybe both.She covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a grin.
“Me?” His eyes widened.
“Uh huh, I’m making it tonight. I hope it’ll be good enough for the show. And if you join me, I’ll do pie.”
Maybe she’ll be the dessert.Rory stood motionless, watching Bess wind the policeman around her little finger.
“A chance to eat your cooking? Are you kidding? I’d love to.” His gaze swept over her ample curves, clothed in a T-shirt and jeans, stopping to rest briefly on her cleavage.
“Fine. It’s a date, then.”
Like a beautiful spider, Bess wove a web of charm around the officer. He was a most willing victim. Rory had to admit that—with his glossy, dark brown hair, broad shoulders, and trim waist—he was hot.
The sparkle in her new friend’s blue eyes indicated that she found the officer attractive, too. Rory couldn’t tell if Bess wanted to date the officer or was flirting to get them out of tickets. Rory didn’t care. She let out a breath, relaxing her body as she watched Bess work.
“You’re serious?” he asked.
“Absolutely. Seven o’clock. The Wellington on Central Park West. You know it?”
“Yes, ma’am…I mean, miss…”
“Cooper. Bess Cooper. Apartment fifteen G.” Bess stuck out her hand. McNeil shook it and held it between his two for a moment, while their eyes locked.
“I look forward to it, Miss Cooper.”
She smiled a dazzling smile. “Bess.”
“Bess, then.” He tipped his hat and turned to leave, stopping for a quick word with the other women. “You ladies are lucky. Today, you get away with a warning. Next time, it’ll be tickets all around.” They watched him walk away.
“Cute butt,” Bess commented behind her hand. All four women breathed a sigh of relief.
“You’re really Bess Cooper?” Brooke asked.
“I’m impressed. I love your show.” Brooke snapped the lead on her two pugs. Rory suggested they have breakfast at the Boat House with their dogs. The others agreed, and they trudged up the hill toward the outdoor restaurant.
“That was quick thinking, Bess,” Brooke commented.
“Thank God. I owe you one,” Miranda said. “I don’t have two hundred bucks lying around, either.”
“Being a minor celebrity comes in handy. He was awfully cute, don’t you think?”
“Terry? Definitely a hottie,” Miranda said.
“You’re interested in him? Not only trying to get us out of tickets?” Rory asked.
“I am. I love a man in uniform,” Bess sighed, batting her eyelashes. “He’s hot and seems nice.”
“Sounds like a win/win to me,” Miranda said. Two women went to fetch breakfast while the other two settled into a table and rounded up the canines. The pugs got busy sniffing each other and finding a comfortable place to sit.
Chatting stopped when the meal arrived. They tucked into bacon and eggs, scones and coffee. Each woman fed a taste of her food to the dogs. When they were done, they ambled toward the 77thStreet park exit together. The pugs strolled along, tongues lolling, noses sniffing and snorting.
As they were saying goodbye, Bess raised her hand. “Wait! Don’t go yet. What are you all doing on Monday?”
“What did you have in mind?” Rory asked.
“Monday we do a run-through before the taping on Thursday. There’s always tons of food leftover.”
“Don’t you give it away?”
“We give away what’s left from the show. But the rehearsal food always goes begging. I’ll bring it home, and you all can come to dinner. How about it?”
“I hate to leave Baxter home alone.”
“Bring the pugs.”
“Fabulous. I’m coming,” Miranda said.
“I’ll bring wine,” Brooke said.
“Great. Come at six. Did you get the address?”
“Thank God. Then, I can find out how your date with the gorgeous cop goes,” Miranda said.
* * * *
Rory, the first to arrive, stopped at the entrance to The Wellington and gave Bess’s name. She and Baxter were promptly admitted by the doorman. At the fifteenth floor, Bess was waiting with the door open. Rory unleashed Baxter who, not waiting for an invitation, went racing into the apartment. Rory followed.
She was amazed at what she saw. The white, marble foyer led into a spacious living room with four huge windows facing Central Park. To blend with a rose-colored, corduroy sofa and loveseat, the room was painted a warm, cream color. The highly polished oak floor was protected by an oblong, Oriental area rug in pinks, beiges, and whites.
To the left was a giant kitchen with copper pots and utensils hanging from a black, metal circle over a granite-topped island. There was a professional stove with six burners and an enormous refrigerator/freezer combination. Two large sinks were placed next to a dishwasher. The kitchen walls were a light coral with natural wood cabinets. Brown and black granite counter tops, plus stainless steel appliances, completed the picture.
There were so many cabinets and drawers, Rory didn’t doubt that Bess had every cooking utensil known to man. She marveled at the room, almost as big as her entire apartment.Wow! I could do some major cooking in a space like this.
“Let me show you around,” Bess said.
Baxter was greeted by Dumpling. While the two dogs sniffed each other, Bess led Rory through the living room to the other wing.
“Here are the bedrooms.” The first one was a feminine fairyland. It was painted in light lilac, with a paisley print wallpaper in the same color gracing the top half of the walls. A queen-sized, canopied bed dominated the space. The spread was white eyelet, as was the canopy.
“How do you keep this clean with the filthy air that comes in our windows?” Rory asked, almost speechless at the elegance and richness, as well as the cleanliness, of the apartment.
Bess colored a little before answering. “I have maid service.” She led Rory to the second bathroom and the den. “The apartment belongs to my aunt, Delia. But she’s let me live here for a couple of years while she’s in Connecticut. I keep this for TV and as a guest room when she comes to visit.”
“Does she come often?”
“Not often enough. She’s my favorite.” The room had a rich, brown leather sofa bed, white walls, a cow skin rug, and chrome and glass tables. A large screen television hung on one wall and original, modern art oil paintings on the others. Coral, pink, and white throw pillows and a black afghan gave the room warmth.
Rory recognized Baxter’s bark. “Bet he doesn’t know where I am.” She smiled, trying to find her way through the large apartment to reach her dog. When she emerged from the hallway, Baxter was waiting in the living room, barking. He ran to her and jumped up to lick her face. Then the buzzer sounded, indicating new visitors.
“Have a drink,” Bess said, pointing to a tray of filled wine glasses. Rory took a glass and plopped down on the sofa. Baxter curled up at her feet. Miranda and Brooke came through the door together, chatting, while their pups pushed ahead. All six dogs greeted each other with a bark, tails wagging, before they began sniffing. Dumpling curled up in her bed by the kitchen while Bess checked on the food warming in the oven.
Heavenly scents wafted into the living room. The rectangular table between the kitchen and living room was set with beautiful, small flower print china and placemats in coordinating colors. The women sipped wine and exchanged news of their day.
Bess brought out the casserole dishes and placed them on cork trivets. Rory’s mouth watered at the tempting smells coming from theCorningWare.
The cook lit candles, refilled everyone’s glasses, and sat down. “This is a sausage and egg casserole. This is a broccoli, cauliflower, and cheese casserole. And this is a sweet potato, raisin, and turnip casserole. We were doing brunch food today to go with my homemade coffee cake. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. Everything looks delicious. I’m starved,” Miranda said.
The women helped themselves and passed dishes. Eating kept them quiet for a bit. Then, curiosity got the better of Rory. “I can’t stand it. Tell me. How did your date with hunky Officer McNeil go?”
Bess’s cheeks colored becomingly. “It was great.”
“Great? Give. I want details,” Brooke said.
Bess sat back with her glass of wine, grinning. “I made my new dish, Chicken Barcelona, for him.”
“Chicken Barcelona?” Brooke asked.
“I’ll make it for you guys sometime. Can’t give out the recipe for a year. It’s in my contract.”
“Yeah, and then what?” Rory asked.
“Begin from the beginning,” Miranda said between bites.
“Okay, okay. He arrived in civvies. No uniform.”
“Were you disappointed?”
“A little. But he looked so handsome. Navy blue jacket, white shirt, Kelly green tie, khakis.” She rolled her eyes. “Devastating!”
“He brought a bottle of wine and a dozen red roses. I melted. Roses are my favorite.”
“And?” Miranda pushed.
“We talked while I finished up the dinner and put the pie in the oven.”
“Fresh baked apple pie? He must have come in his pants.”
The women laughed.
“He did comment about sex and apple pie. I fed him the chicken, and he loved it.” She took a drink.
“Well? Come on, we’re waiting,” Rory said. All eyes were on Bess.
“Did you sleep with him?” Miranda asked then slapped her hand over her mouth. The women giggled. “Sorry, that just slipped out.”
“Not yet, but you’re going to?”
“Maybe. He asked me out for Friday. We’re going to a club he likes.”
“Dancing, drinking, and…sex to follow?” Brooke asked.
“Maybe.” Bess blushed.
“Did he kiss you?” Rory asked, resting her chin on her hands.
“We made out right before the pie. I put on music. He waltzed me around the living room. God, he smelled so good, and his body is so…so…hard, sexy. You know.” The women nodded while Bess turned several shades redder.
“He’s a good kisser. He’s funny, too.”
“What are you going to wear on Friday?” Rory asked. The women picked up their wine glasses and moved the party to Bess’s bedroom. They tore her closet apart, putting together the right outfit, while six pugs snoozed, cuddled up together on the bed.
At nine o’clock, the women stood up. “I have dogs to walk tomorrow,” Miranda said, stifling a yawn.
“You walk dogs, too?” Rory asked.
“And I write plays.”
“I write mysteries!”
The two women laughed. They trained their gazes on Brooke.
“Okay, Brooke, what do you do? And it better not be walking dogs.”
“I’m an advertising agency account executive with Gibbon and Walters.”
“That’s a big firm.”
“It’s a great job.”
“You all pumped me about my new guy, what about you?” Bess asked.
“I’m dating a Wall Street guy, Bruce. He’s hot,” Rory said.He’s coming over at ten. Can’t wait.
“How hot?” Bess narrowed her eyes.
“I’m dating my boss, Lloyd. He’s tall, dark, and sexy as hell.”
“Do you do it in the office?” Rory asked.
“We did—once. Don’t want to get caught by the president. They frown on that stuff.”
“Do you worry he’ll fire you if you have a fight?” Bess asked.
“He needs me on our biggest account. The client likes me. What about you, Miranda?”
“I have a guy I’ve been dating for a long time. He’s okay, but we can’t agree on where to live,” Miranda said.
“Where does he want to live?”
“Right here. I live in my mom’s brownstone, and I want to get my play on Broadway.”
“Stick to your guns, Miranda. A man is easier to replace than a life’s dream.” Rory said, snapping the leash on Baxter’s harness. The other two women leashed their pugs.
“This was great, Bess. Thank you,” Brooke said.
“Will you call us to report back the details of your date with Terry?” Miranda asked.
“Better than calling. How about you all come back next Monday, and we’ll do dinner again.”
They looked at each other. “You serious?” Rory asked.
“Damn serious. In fact, come every Monday. I’m never doing anything on Monday night, except eating too many leftovers.”
“Like an eating club?” Brooke asked.
“Yeah,” Bess said.
“Let’s call it ‘The Monday Night Dinner Club.’ Okay?” Rory asked.
“Perfect. Count me in,” Miranda said.
“Leave it to a writer to come up with a name,” Brooke said.
They agreed to return the next week and hugged each other before heading for the elevator. Five pugs crowded in, leaving barely enough room for the women. Rory smiled all the way home.New friends. For me and Bax.The warm feeling of belonging filled her empty heart.
Six a.m., 145 West 78thStreet, Manhattan
The heat of two bodies grinding together in passionate, sweaty sex wasn’t even off the sheets before Bruce pushed out of bed and headed for the coffeemaker. Rory watched her boyfriend walk across her studio apartment.He looks great naked. Cute butt.She stared at him until he turned around.
“I can feel your eyes,” he said, leaning against the counter as the coffee dripped.
“Can I help it if I love your bod?”Why don’t you come over here and feel something else? Oh, wait. You already did.
He chuckled at the compliment. “I guess since I’ve got it, I might as well flaunt it.”
Gorgeous–yes. Humble–no.She smiled as her gaze roamed over him.
“Don’t you have dogs to walk?” He cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Yeah. Gotta be ready by eight. Come on, Baxter,” she called to her pug, who had gone back to sleep after the activity on the bed was over.
“Lazy dog,” Bruce muttered.
“I heard that. He did too.” Also naked, she padded over to join him. Bruce slapped her gently on the rear before he headed to the bathroom. Rory slipped on a short, pink, terry robe. “Don’t make it too hot,” she called.
“No time to share with you today. Early meeting.”
She took a big breath, pushed some rye bread down in the toaster, and yawned. Baxter finally got up and stretched on the sofa bed before heading for the dog stairs. He ambled down and strolled toward the kitchen. Rory bent to scratch him behind the ears before she gave him fresh water. Then, she mixed dry and wet food for her dog’s breakfast. Bruce joined her again, clad only in a towel tucked in at the waist.
“You don’t need to cover up. I’ve already seen you naked. Like a thousand times.”
“Habit,” he replied, pouring coffee for himself.
“Hey,” she said, pointing to her empty mug sitting next to his.
“Oh, yeah. Sure.” He filled hers too. They sat at the little table, munching on toast.
“I brought theTimeshelp wanted ads for you.” He reached down and pulled newspaper clippings out of his briefcase.
“I’m already employed.”
Bruce raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”
“I walk dogs and write mysteries.”
“Time to grow up, Rory, and get a real job.”
“These are real jobs.”
He made a dismissive noise with his lips and turned his gaze to his food.
No respect for me, for dogs. Hates Baxter. What am I doing with him? Great sex? Oh, yeah.
“I make a lotta money since my promotion. You’ve got to keep up. You’re always broke. When are you going to takemeto dinner?”
“I cook at home for you.”
“It’s not the same.” He took a bite of bread.
“I’m making your favorite tonight—chili.”
He smiled. “Guess I’ll be here, then.” She reached out and touched his smooth, freshly-shaven cheek. His blond hair was parted neatly, and his blue eyes looked at her coolly. “But then I have some work to do.”