By the Numbers
188 pages / 55000 words
Paperback at Amazon
The last thing Nathaniel, aka Deuce, expects to see when he gets home from work is his street jammed with fire engines and police cars. When he realizes that it’s his apartment building that’s on fire, Nathaniel can only think of one thing: his pregnant dog, trapped inside.
When firefighter Trey Donovan delivers Nathaniel’s unharmed dog to him, Nathaniel is exceedingly grateful. After all, it isn’t every day that he meets muscular, attractive rescue workers. Nathaniel manages to find out where Trey’s station is with the idea of saying thank you and offering him a puppy, but discovers that he and Trey have something else between them that needs exploring.
Trey, however, has responsibilities that could prove to make that exploration difficult. He has shift work to contend with. His seven year old daughter is a priority, plus he shares custody with his less than friendly ex-wife. Since Nathaniel is the new owner of one dog and six puppies, and doesn’t even have a place to live, he isn’t exactly in an ideal situation to explore a new relationship. Even if it is with a hot, handsome fireman.
Smoke was pouring out of windows, through doors, and Deuce's vision narrowed until all he could see was his apartment. "Let me go!"
The cop was yelling at him, and then there were two holding onto him, demanding to know who was inside, what apartment. They wouldn't let him go, and Deuce couldn't make the words come out. He swore he could hear her barking. "Q! My dog. She's locked in the bedroom. She's pregnant!"
"What number?" He didn't know who asked, didn't care.
"Six. Second floor, on the right." He made himself stop pulling at the cops, mostly because someone was going toward the building, someone in fire gear who could actually help, but also because the police weren't going to be patient with him for very long.
"Stay here," one of the cops, the second one, ordered. "You don't move, understood? If you head to that building I'll put you in cuffs and throw you in a patrol car."
Deuce nodded, not even looking at him. He was pretty sure the cop couldn't do that, but he wasn't about to find out. He just watched the apartment, his big front window that looked like it had maybe blown out or been smashed in. "Q," he whispered. Then he made himself shut up and wait.
...and wait, and wait. It felt like a year had passed before he finally saw the firefighter emerge again, and by that time the building had become almost totally obscured by the thick, dirty smoke. Too many people were still in his way and he couldn't tell if the fireman had found his poor Q, her belly swollen with pups.
He craned his neck and stood on tiptoe, trying to peer past the police officer that was keeping him from dashing to his building. Had the firefighter gotten to her? And had it been in time? Deuce was just on the verge of saying fuck it and risking arrest, but suddenly the flock of people in front of him melted away and he was face to face with a pair of strong arms that cradled his pregnant dog.
"Q!" He reached out his arms to take the squirming, panting mutt. "Is she okay? Are you?"
Q's tongue lolled and she whined and wiggled until he put her down. Holding onto her collar, Deuce crouched down next to her and looked up at the firefighter. "Thank you. God, I can't even tell you." He pet Q with one hand, made her sit and held on tight. "Thank you," he repeated.
The firefighter had already taken off his mask, and now he did the same to his helmet and wiped at his forehead. He nodded at Deuce and leaned down to give her a pat. "She's a nice girl. Came right to me and let me pick her up."
"She wasn't real scared?" Deuce noticed his own hand was shaking and he reached up to push it through his hair to make it stop. His knuckles hit his bike helmet though, and he let out a shaky breath before undoing the snap and taking the helmet off. "I'm a mess. Thank you so much, again."
"She was a little scared." The man shrugged and pet Q's head again, his gloves still on. "But not like some pets I've tried to grab. Got bit right through my turnouts once by some little yappy dog."
"What's your name?"
"Trey Donovan. And she is...?"
"Q. Well, her vet papers still say Cutie, but that's a stupid name. I got her about two years ago after a break up and took the liberty of cooling her up." Deuce gently stroked her belly. "She got loose on me, though."
The corner of Trey's mouth lifted as he gazed at the dog's stomach. "She wasn't spayed, obviously. Don't you listen to what Bob Barker tells you?"
Deuce didn't blush, but he did nod contritely. "Lesson learned, for sure. It'll be taken care of as soon as she's ready. I'm not sure how long we have to wait after the puppies come, but the vet will tell me. I hope they're okay."
Q whined again and looked at them both, her tail thumping on the ground. She was still panting, and Deuce decided he'd have to find some water for her really soon.
Someone was yelling for Trey, who glanced over his shoulder and nodded. He gave one last pat to Q and shifted his helmet to under his other arm. "Good luck getting rid of the puppies," he laughed. "My kid would love one." Then he turned and headed back in the direction from which he'd come, presumably to do something else heroic.
Sometimes love is complicated.
Copyright 2016 Chris Owen