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The Lieutenant's Lost and Found Family

Written by Christy Jeffries

Lieutenant Nolan Murphy returns from overseas deployment expecting to find his home and canine companion just as he left them. Instead, an emergency storm evacuation has gotten his dog caught up in the chaos! Tracing the AWOL pup to Idaho, Nolan quickly falls for his new owners, little Harper Jordan…and her stepsister, Abby! Abby and Nolan struggle to come to terms with their “peternity” situation, and with the attraction that sparks between them. Harper’s shy personality blossoms as she urges Nolan to plan games for “their” dog, and even the puppy seems to be playing matchmaker! Will the once-lonely soldier find a new home—and his forever family—in Sugar Falls?

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Chapter One

Second Lieutenant Nolan Murphy sat in the lobby of the Furever Paws Animal Rescue in Spring Forest, North Carolina, a clipboard precariously balanced on his knees as he filled out yet another lost dog report. In the past week, he’d been to every single animal shelter within a three-hour radius of Camp Lejeune in search of his four-year-old mixed Labrador.

If this place didn’t have a record of Thor, then Nolan was pretty much out of options. He took the completed form to the volunteer behind the reception desk, an older man wearing a name tag that read “Hans.”

“Let’s see what we can find in our database,” Hans offered as he slowly pecked at his keyboard. Nolan shifted from one foot to the other, mentally preparing himself for the bad news that was sure to come.

“It says here that Thor went missing on September 14. If I remember correctly, that was during the worst of the hurricane season.”

“Yes, sir.” Nolan tried to hold himself at ease. “I was on a three-month deployment and my neighbor was taking care of my dog while I was gone. He resisted the mandatory evacuation as long as he could, but then the rescue teams came in and, I guess in all the chaos, he and Thor were separated.”

“Yep. We got a lot of animals from the coast during that week. Do you have a picture of your dog we could add to our report?”

While Nolan was scanning through his smartphone to find the most recent picture, another volunteer at the reception desk pointed to her open laptop. “You guys have got to see this video the vet tech just sent me. I’ve never seen such a big dog do a backflip.”

Nolan’s stomach dropped and his ears went on high alert. Backflip? He leaned over the counter to get a better view of the screen as the woman cued the video. At first, he saw only a giggling little girl with a tangled mass of brown ringlets. Then the camera panned to one of the most beautiful women Nolan had ever seen. Her hair was the same shade as the child’s, but her curls were much more tamed and her smile was twice as dazzling.

“Now, sit,” he heard the pretty woman say as she held up a piece of popcorn. Before the camera drew back to show the dog, Nolan already knew what would appear on-screen.

“That’s him.” He couldn’t contain his excitement as he pointed at the laptop. “That’s Thor.”

“Are you sure?” Hans asked, slipping his glasses higher onto his nose as he squinted at the screen.

“Positive. I taught him that trick myself, sir.”

They watched the video several more times, and each time, Nolan was more certain.

“Where are they, though?” he asked the volunteers. Thor looked to be in a public park somewhere with the woman and little girl. Between the arches of the gazebo, he could see a turquoise-painted building, its sign barely legible. “Can you zoom in and read what it says on that sign?”

Now all three of their heads were crowded together as the female volunteer enlarged the image on the screen. “Cowgirl Up Café, Sugar Falls, Idaho.”

Nolan jerked back his chin. “How the hell did my dog get all the way to Idaho?”

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Christy Jeffries

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