“Scout, bring me the ball. Come on, boy.”
The dog rolled to his feet but didn’t return with the ball.
Movement from the corner of Heath’s eye distracted him. He glanced next door. The house had been vacant when he had moved in six weeks ago. But recently, he’d noticed delivery trucks coming and going. Boxes and new appliances had disappeared inside the one-level rambler that, from the outside, looked much like his own.
However, this was the first time he’d seen evidence of the human who’d moved in. A woman crossed her back lawn carrying black plastic cartons of flowers. She looked to be about his age and wore white sneakers, navy blue leggings and an oversize navy-and-pink-striped shirt. Her dark brown hair spilled like a waterfall over her slender shoulders. She was singing softly. Pausing, she tipped her face to the sun and closed her eyes.
Heath couldn’t look away.
He hadn’t dated anyone in almost four years. His last girlfriend had wanted a diamond ring, a big wedding, the whole nine yards. After he did genetic testing to see if he had the markers for Huntington’s.
Instead of giving her what she wanted, he’d ended the relationship. Because even though he didn’t want to know if he could have the condition, he knew the odds were not in his favor. After that, he’d vowed to avoid romance and dating. No need to break someone’s heart if he had a disease that would eventually kill him at a young age. Solitariness. That was his plan. His coping strategy. And he wasn’t changing his mind.
Evidently some part of his brain had forgotten his intentions. Maybe he’d been too hard on Scout, because one glimpse at the beautiful lady who’d moved in next door and all logical thought vanished.
A four-legged blur of fur and lolling tongue dragged him back to reality.
Ignoring Heath’s command, the dog darted across the grass and hopped over the few pathetic shrubs that served as a property line. He had one destination in mind. Heath watched it all unfold in slow motion. Scout lunged at the woman, knocking the flowers from her hands.
She squealed and stumbled sideways.
Seizing the opportunity, Scout planted his paws on her hip and took her out. They tumbled to the grass. The woman was no match for his exuberant puppy energy. He proceeded to lick her face.
Heath shoved his hands through his close-cropped hair. “Oh, Scout. What have you done?”
* * *
Lexi Thomas lay flat on her back, staring at the clear blue sky overhead. A reddish-brown dog with a ginormous amount of curly hair licked her face. She’d always fancied herself a dog person. Two or three roamed through the peach orchard back home in Georgia. But this one had literally knocked her off her feet.
“Okay. Okay.” A nervous laugh escaped her lips as she gently pushed the dog aside and sat up. His chocolate-brown eyes surveyed her face. He whined and sank down on his elbows, his hind end in the air and tail swaying like the sea oats outside her grandparents’ beach house. Panting, his pink tongue spilled from his jaws, almost like he was offering her a toothy grin.
She rubbed her head. Oh, boy. Maybe she’d spent too much time alone, if she was giving this cute dog human characteristics. Maybe she’d addled her brain when she fell.
Her fingers found their way to the back of her head. Nothing hurt. No goose egg.
Air whistled through her teeth. No harm could come to this precious child. He or she was all she had left of Beau. She pressed both palms to the cottony fabric over her abdomen. Falling wasn’t great for pregnant women, right? She closed her eyes and mentally scrolled through the chapters she’d read in her book about preparing for pregnancy and a baby.
She’d meant to be more diligent about reading that book, but whenever she started, she promptly fell asleep.
“Ma’am, I am so sorry. Are you all right?”
She squinted into the sun, trying to identify the source of the deep voice. It was smooth, like syrup on a stack of hot pancakes, and belonged to a man. A tall, handsome man. He filled her frame of vision. Sandy-blond hair cut short with military precision. Tan, muscular arms peeked from the short sleeves of a brick red cotton T-shirt. His jeans were faded yet comfortable looking and he wore a popular brand of athletic sneakers.