‘This place is incredible.’ Scott looked genuinely impressed. ‘The dogs are brilliant. I always knew you’d be an amazing trainer.’
As much as she tried to resist it, Margaret couldn’t keep the pride out of her voice. ‘I told you we didn’t have rejects.’
‘Seriously, Mags.’ He reached out and tucked a lock of her dark auburn hair behind her ear. ‘They’re a credit to you.’
As much as she wanted to lean into his touch, she pulled away, the old nickname trickling down her spine like warm caramel. He smelled the same. Like the forest after a sharp rain. Fresh and intoxicating. But there was so much he wasn’t saying. He’d obviously been in some sort of accident. Experienced a deep trauma. If her work with the dogs had taught her anything, talking about something that painful took time. The secrets these pooches kept…
She sucked in a sharp breath and turned to another section of the kennels. ‘If you are serious about wanting a dog, there are a couple down here we’d like to find homes for, but we have very strict rules about who we rehome them with. People who can keep a promise, for starters.’
To her surprise, Scott leant against the wall, crossed his legs and gave her one of those lazy half smiles of his. ‘That’s something I’ve been working on…’
Oh, no. He was flirting. She’d always been powerless against him when he was flirting. The next thing he’d do was push up the sleeves on his shirt. He knew she loved his forearms. They were all strong and defined and capable.
She tried to channel an inner ice queen, forcing her gaze away from temptation, her eyes dropping to his wrists. His cuffs were firmly buttoned. Her gaze shot back to his hairline where, now that she knew it was there, she could see the hints of scarring. Her eyes skidded down to the stubble that suited the new Scott. Whoever that was. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw yet more scarring through the dark facial hairs now dappled with the odd streak of silver.
Against her will, her heart ached for him. Ached for the pain he must’ve had to endure and for the support she could’ve given him if only she’d known.
Support he’d refused by dumping her cold turkey.
She took a beautiful golden retriever out of her kennel. ‘Meet Fergie. Perfect in every way other than the fact she doesn’t like lifts, which makes her ineligible for service.’ Margaret could feel Scott’s eyes on her as if they were heat. She cleared her throat and rattled off the list of rules and regulations in place for adoption. ‘…and the most important one? Is that the owner be consistent. Dogs like routine. If you can’t offer that, I’m afraid it’s no dice.’
Their eyes clashed and cinched. He knew what she was saying. If you’re here to stay…I’ll listen. If not…you need to walk away now.
‘Come to dinner with me.’
Margaret laughed with surprise. ‘What? Tonight?’
‘Yes. Tonight. What’s your local? No—’ He waved his hand between the two of them. ‘Somewhere special. Where would you go for somewhere special?’
Against her better judgement, she told him. ‘The Heather and Hare.’ It was a gastro pub in the next village she’d always wanted to visit but hadn’t found the right excuse. Like a date. ‘Just to be clear…this is not a date.’ Someone had to draw a line. Right?
He nodded solemnly. The gesture spoke volumes. He wasn’t here to flirt or mess her around. He was here to gain back the trust he’d lost when he’d sent an email shattering a love she’d once thought unbreakable. ‘Whatever it takes, Margaret.’