Barking excitedly, his tail wagging furiously, he rushed past Piers, determined to get to the front door ahead of him. Well, after all, he was the main male of the household. That chancy cat didn’t count. It had a home of its own several streets away, as Ben well knew, and only came here for extra meals.
As Ben made to barge past him Piers reacted immediately, grabbing hold of his collar and stopping him and then using it to half push and half drag the dog back into the kitchen, hauling him towards his bed and sternly telling him, ‘Quiet... Stay.’
Unused to such cavalier treatment, Ben did exactly that for just as long as it took Piers to get on the other side of the door and close it, and the sound that greeted Georgia as Piers opened the door to her was one of heart-rending distress as Ben, recovering from Piers’s assault to his household supremacy, started to howl with a piteous and searing intensity.
‘What’s happened? What’s wrong with Ben? What have you done to him?’ Georgia demanded immediately, her glance going anxiously to the closed kitchen door, behind which the dog’s agonised wails were increasing in volume.
‘I haven’t done anything to him,’ Piers denied sharply. ‘What—?’
‘Yes, you have. You’ve hurt him,’ Georgia insisted, ignoring Piers to hurry to the kitchen door and push it open.
As soon as he saw her Ben’s eyes lit up. This was more like it—a human who understood! Whining pitifully, he lay in his basket, his eyes half closed whilst he breathed arduously.
Whilst Piers looked on grimly from the doorway, Georgia rushed over to Ben, getting down on her knees in front of him, quickly checking his pulse and then the rest of him.
To her relief nothing seemed to be wrong, and then, disconcertingly, just as she was about to demand an explanation for his piteous cries from Piers, Ben opened one eye and started to nuzzle hopefully at the pocket where she kept her dog treats.
From behind her Georgia heard Piers saying sardonically, ‘It seems that diagnosis is even less your forte than training... There’s nothing wrong with him.’
‘Where’s Mrs Latham?’ Georgia demanded, hot-faced with chagrin. Piers, it seemed, was quite right—there was nothing wrong with Ben, but there was no way she was going to admit as much.
‘Not here, I’m afraid. Nor will she be here for the next few weeks; she’s having a much needed holiday with her sister, and whilst she’s away I’m going to be staying in loco parentis, so to speak.’
‘She’s left Ben with you? You’re looking after him?’ Georgia queried, unable to hide her feelings.
‘There wasn’t really much alternative. It seems that the kennels weren’t...er...able to take him...’
Georgia’s flush deepened a little as she saw the way Piers was looking at her.
‘You’re staying here, looking after Ben?’ she repeated, swallowing tensely, as though she found the words uncomfortably unpalatable.
‘I’m staying here looking after Ben,’ Piers agreed grimly. ‘And whilst I’m here I am going to look round for a more suitable home for him.’
‘No!’ Georgia protested. ‘You can’t do that. Mrs Latham would never part with him.’
‘My godmother is besotted with the animal, I agree,’ Piers replied acidly. ‘But that does not make theirs in any way a suitable alliance. Far from it...’
‘It isn’t Ben’s fault he’s so...so...so disruptive,’ Georgia defended. ‘If he was properly trained—’
‘If he was properly trained. But that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? He is most certainly not in any way trained at all, and in my view—’
‘Setters are scatty when they’re young...but...’
Georgia had no idea why she was defending the dog so fiercely. After all, she had said herself that Ben wasn’t really a suitable dog for Mrs Latham, but something about the way Ben was looking at her, something about the obvious love and the doggy treats and toys which surrounded him touched her heart in a way she could hardly explain to herself, never mind to the tough, uncompromisingly unemotional man standing in front of her.
‘Look, I appreciate that you have a vested interest in him staying here. After all, you were the one who foisted him on my godmother in the first place, weren’t you?’ Piers told her grimly.
Georgia stared at him.
‘Don’t bother trying to deny it,’ Piers warned her. ‘My godmother told me herself that you were responsible for her getting Ben.’
Georgia’s heart sank. Mrs Latham had on more than one occasion mentioned how large a part she believed Georgia’s unavoidable absence from the waiting room had played in her becoming Ben’s new owner. But for Piers to claim that she had either actively solicited such a situation or even encouraged it was way beyond the truth. Not that she was going to attempt to tell him so. Why should she? Let him think badly of her if he wished. She didn’t care; why should she?