In Separate Bedrooms(3)

By: Carole Mortimer

‘Well, I can assure you I don’t have the same feeling.’ Mattie gave a dismissive laugh, long sooty lashes coming down to cover the anger now blazing in her eyes. And he could take that remark however he chose—either they had never met before, or he was so unremarkable that she didn’t remember him!

Except that she did …

‘This way,’ she instructed sharply, unlocking the door that went through to the indoor kennels, a riotous barking beginning as the dogs sensed company. ‘All our rooms are carpeted, as well as centrally heated.’ She reached down and stroked each of the dogs through wire-netted doors as they passed the rooms. ‘There is also a chair for those that prefer it. The basket and bedding is replaced with each new guest, although we appreciate that very often you prefer to bring your pet’s own bedding.’ She launched automatically into professional dialogue, having helped her mother in the kennels on weekends for as long as she could remember. Besides, her mother’s rates weren’t cheap, but she wanted Jack Beauchamp to know that the guests did get value for money. ‘We also provide a television set for those guests who like to watch the soaps,’ she explained indulgently. ‘As you can see—’ she came to a halt as she realized she had lost Jack Beauchamp at the second kennel.

He was down on his haunches in front of the wire mesh door, being rapturously greeted by the Yellow Labrador staying there.

Mattie strolled back to join him, her own expression softening as she too bent to scratch Sophie behind the ear. ‘She’s rather lovely, isn’t she?’ she said quietly, the Labrador having long ago become a favourite of hers.

‘Absolutely gorgeous!’ Jack Beauchamp turned to grin at her, that flirtatious charm wiped away in his genuine pleasure in the dog’s ecstatic greeting. ‘And so friendly,’ he added warmly.

Mattie’s breath caught in her throat at his sudden boyishness. He was just too good-looking for his own good. Or hers!

‘Sophie is just pleased to see anyone,’ she bit out curtly, instantly realizing how rude she had sounded, but unable to take it back now she had said it. Besides, she did not want to find this man attractive! ‘Her elderly owner died three months ago,’ she told him grudgingly at his questioning look. ‘The family don’t want Sophie, and instructed my mother to have her put down. Which is why we still have her.’

There was no way her mother could have a healthy animal put to sleep—which was how they had ended up with four dogs of their own, already! No way could she send Sophie to a dogs’ home either, for the very same reason; Sophie might not find a new owner, and so might possibly meet the same fate.

Ordinarily Sophie would have been out of the kennel following her mother around as she worked, but as her mother had been expecting a visitor—this visitor, as it turned out!—she had put Sophie in one of the kennel rooms just for the afternoon.

‘That’s terrible.’ Jack Beauchamp straightened frowningly, still absently stroking Sophie behind one ear.

‘Yes,’ Mattie acknowledged heavily, in total agreement with him. Over that, at least! ‘If you would like to come this way …’ she returned to her brisk, businesslike tone ‘… I will show you one of the empty rooms so that you can see exactly where—Harry?—will be staying if you decide to book him in for next weekend.’ Something Mattie, in spite of her mother’s need for business, hoped he wouldn’t do. She had already agreed to help her mother over the Easter weekend, which meant she was more than likely to bump into Jack Beauchamp again then!

‘It’s certainly luxurious,’ Jack Beauchamp acknowledged a few minutes later, sitting down in the armchair that stood to one side of the guest room.

‘Dogs are such loving, giving creatures, we feel they deserve the best,’ Mattie rejoined.

Brown eyes surveyed her unemotionally for several long seconds. ‘I agree,’ he finally answered. ‘Harry is going to love it here.’ He stood up. ‘I know it must sound slightly strange to you, but Harry has been with me since he was a puppy; he’s six now, and he’s never been away to kennels before.’

Mattie softened slightly. Having grown up with animals, she had the same weakness for them as her mother did. And there was no doubting that Jack Beauchamp—whatever else he might be!—cared about his dog very much.

‘I’m sure he’ll be fine here with us,’ she assured him as he once again bent down to make a fuss of Sophie. ‘Let me take you outside and show you the spaciously individual runs we have for each guest.’ She carefully locked the doors behind them as they went back outside. ‘Although each dog is taken for a long walk every day too,’ she hastened to add.