Below is Chapter One of the working revisional draft of Training Tommy. This book was originally published by Avalon Books in 2002. But I have the rights back and since I was never that happy with what I had to cut to get it published, I’m revising it for release on my own later this year. The premise is if Sabrina can train Tommy using dog-training techniques, he might turn into Mr. Right. But what she doesn’t realize is he’s also training her to loosen up and have some fun and not be so rigid. This is a sweet romance and I hope my revision doesn’t push it over the edge into pure silliness. Otoh, what’s wrong with a little silliness every now and again?
“Come in,” Sabrina called at the sound of the doorbell. The soothing music on the yoga video did not disguise the sound of Elaine’s footsteps on the polished hardwood floor.
“You’re late, ohmmmmm,” she informed her friend from her undignified position, lying on her back with her ankles next to her ears, toes touching the mat above her head.
“Sorry, I didn’t know you were expecting me,” came an amused and unfamiliar male voice.
Sabrina gasped and rolled to a standing position so quickly she miscalculated her momentum. She toppled against the stranger. He backpedaled to avoid a head-on collision and tripped over Victoria. He and Sabrina went down with a joint whoosh of expelled air.
The dainty gray Persian cat fled to the relative safety of a nearby rocking chair for a moment to determine what the fuss was about. Then she leapt back down to sniff the stranger’s ankles as if that would explain his presence.
Just as Sabrina was about to rise, a monstrous multi-colored dog barreled through the open front door and headed straight for Victoria. The cat yowled in outrage and darted into the dining room, the dog hot on her heels.
So much for relaxation, Sabrina thought.
Still slightly disoriented, she didn’t know who or what to deal with first. The man stirred beneath her. She slid away from him and carefully got to her feet. He wasn’t faring much better than she was. He groaned as he grasped the side of the coffee table and used it to lever himself to a sitting position.
Victoria whizzed by headed for the stairs, the dog barking joyously as he bounded after her.
“Oh, my goodness,” Sabrina said before she glanced at the man. He was rubbing the back of his neck and rolling his shoulders, making sure everything was still in working order.
She started for the stairs, but hesitated. How could she leave a stranger, possibly injured, in her living room? She halted and turned back to him.
As if he’d read her mind, he waved her in the direction of the stairs. “Go on. I’ll be all right.”
“Are you sure?”
Just as she put her foot on the bottom step, the duet raced back down at full speed. She pressed herself against the wall as visions of the dog, flattening her with his size and weight, danced before her eyes.
She followed them as they disappeared into the dining room once again. The unmistakable clatter of china against glass warned her of their location. She reached out to steady the antique china hutch as Victoria huddled beneath it.
“That’s enough!” she addressed the dog.” Cease and desist this instant, or—or, I’ll call the dog catcher on you.” Was there a worse threat for a canine? And if so, what might it be?
Sabrina heard Victoria hiss and for once was sorry the cat had been declawed. She’d never expected poor Victoria would have to defend herself in her own home.
The dog lowered his chest to the floor, leaving his rear end up in the air, bushy tail wagging in excitement. She could hear him panting as he pushed his nose even further beneath the hutch. She saw Victoria’s tail twitching in outrage at the edge of the cabinet as the cat growled in warning.
“Okay. That’s enough.” She hooked her fingers under the dog’s collar and tugged. His nose was buried beneath the edge of the cabinet and he didn’t move an inch. “Now listen you, I don’t know where you came from, but wherever it is, you’re going back.” She tugged harder.” Just as soon as I can get you pointed in the other direction.”
Sheer force had no impact on the animal. She changed tactics. Releasing his collar, she stroked his more than ample fur. “Nice doggie. There’s a good boy. You don’t want to scare the little kitty, do you? Huh? Come on, boy.” Sabrina realized she had made an assumption as to the dog’s gender without all the facts admitted into evidence. But she wasn’t going to investigate further just at the moment.
“How about a nice doggie treat, huh?” she crooned. “What do you say? A biscuit? A bone? I’ve got some turkey breast in the refrigerator. I’ll give you a slice if you leave my cat alone.”
Perhaps she should offer him the entire breast of turkey instead of just one slice? She tried tugging on the dog’s collar again. “Come on. Out of there,” she commanded as she pulled. “You are really…starting to…annoy me.” She put all her effort into pulling the dog away from the cabinet.
“Skid, come here.”
At the command from the stranger she’d left in the living room, the dog sprang back so suddenly he knocked Sabrina onto her backside and she bumped her head on the solid oak dining table. But she hardly noticed as she watched the dog trot over to the stranger and gaze up at the man adoringly.
Sprawled on the floor, Sabrina stared at them. “He’s yours?”
The two of them looked at her with expressions of interest. She noticed they both had brown eyes. The man nodded and Sabrina was sure amusement flickered across his features. He extended a hand and helped her up.
“I’m Tommy Cameron. I just moved in next door. And this is Skid.” He scratched the dog behind his ears. The dog moaned in ecstasy. “You must be Sabrina Talbott. Are you okay?”
“How did you…why are you…what do you…?”
Tommy held up a hand and finished her incomplete questions, counting them off on his fingers. “How did I know your name? Your former neighbors, the McDermotts, mentioned it. Why am I here? I came by to ask if I could possibly borrow an extension cord. I’m having a housewarming party tonight and I don’t quite have all my stereo equipment hooked up.” It took him a little longer to figure out the last one. He narrowed his eyes in concentration. Skid cocked his head and gazed up at her. “What do you…think you’re doing?”
Sabrina returned her gaze to her new neighbor forgetting that he was completing her sentences.
“Looking at your dog.”
“I thought that’s what you were going to ask me.”
“You know there’s an uncanny resemblance between the two of you.”
Tommy brushed a handful of wavy brown hair back from his forehead. “I know we both need haircuts, but no one’s yet told me I look like my dog.”
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean…that exactly.” Sabrina took a good look at Tommy Cameron. A faded blue tee shirt stretched across a broad chest and hugged his biceps. Equally well-worn jeans covered the rest of him, including muscular looking thighs. A pair of beat up, no-longer-white sneakers completed his ensemble.
“I meant, uh, mannerisms, the expression on his face.”
Tommy glanced down at Skid and Skid turned his head in Tommy’s direction. Tommy shook his head. Skid did the same. “Sorry. I still don’t see the resemblance.”
Sabrina gave up. “Never mind. An extension cord, you said? I think I have one in the kitchen.”
He followed her there. “Nice house,” he commented.
“Thank you. I inherited it from my grandmother.”
She took an extension cord from a drawer and handed it to him.
“Nice outfit.” His appreciative gaze swept her form-fitting leotard and yoga pants. Sabrina knew she was covered more than if she wore a swimsuit, but somehow she felt exposed in the face of Tommy’s interest.
Hot guy has breached the neutral zone, shouted her internal alarm system.
“Thank you.” She felt her skin start to prickle the way it always did when she was nervous. Tommy Cameron made her nervous. She didn’t like it. Not one bit.
“Was there anything else?”
“No,” he replied after a beat. “Not at the moment.”
She followed him to the front door. Skid trotted out, fluffy tail waving like a flag made of troll’s hair.
Tommy paused at the bottom of the porch steps and turned back, with one foot on the last step. “So anyway, I’m having this housewarming party later. Why don’t you stop over?”
Sabrina shook her head. “I don’t usually attend parties. Unless I’m helping with the catering. Besides, I, um, have other plans.”
“You’re a caterer? I thought Mr. McDermott said you’re a—”
“Teacher. I am. High school English. And I’m definitely not a caterer, but I have a friend who is. She calls me whenever she’s short-handed, usually around the Christmas holidays. Mostly what I do is help the hostess.”
“Or host?” Tommy asked, his eyes alive with interest.
Sabrina’s skin prickled again. “Or host, I suppose. Although around here, the wives usually plan the parties.”
Tommy grinned. “Well, I don’t have a wife…yet. But I will pretty soon.”
“Oh? Really? How—nice.” What was this niggling sense of disappointment she felt at that announcement? She’d just met Tommy Cameron. Why should she care if he was in the middle of planning his wedding? She could tell just by his appearance, he certainly wasn’t her type. “
Oh, no. She knew exactly the kind of man she wanted. Mr. Perfect would be secure and stable. He’d be a professional, a banker or a lawyer maybe, and he’d wear a tailored suit to work every day. He’d get a haircut every six weeks. If he had a dog, it would be a civilized creature, well-groomed and well-trained. A Lhasa Apso perhaps. Or a Maltese. Yes. She kind of liked those little dogs. With their silky hair and pleasant dispositions.
She frowned as she glanced over Tommy Cameron’s shoulder to see the beast named Skid showing a bit too much interest in the base of one of her favorite rosebushes. Why would anyone name a dog ‘Skid’? “Uh, Mr. Cameron—”
“Oh, come on,” Tommy groaned. “Not Mr. Cameron. Tommy. Just Tommy, okay?”
“Okay, Tommy. Do you have a leash for your dog?”
“Well, yeah, somewhere. I may not have unpacked it.”
She took a couple of steps forward as the dog pawed the ground. “Don’t you dare,” she warned him.
“Unpack his leash?”
“Not you,” Sabrina replied. “Him.” She pointed to Skid. “That was my grandmother’s prize-winning rose garden. You’ll have to contain your dog. There’s a leash law in Ruskin County, you know.”
“Sure. No problem. Skid. Come here.” The dog glanced at Tommy then went back to inspecting the rose bush.
“Skid. Come here, buddy. Come on,” Tommy encouraged. He patted his thigh. Skid ignored him.
Tommy walked over, hooked two fingers under Skid’s collar and bent toward him. “You’re making me look bad in front of the lady,” he hissed.
Sabrina hid her smile, not knowing if he’d meant for her to overhear or not.
He straightened as he returned to the front walk.
“If he digs any of them up—” she began.
“He won’t,” Tommy assured her.
“But if he does…”
“I’ll replace them. I promise.”
Sabrina nodded. “Enjoy your party.”
“I wish you’d come. Skid and I promise to be on our best behavior.”
Sabrina had a feeling that Tommy Cameron’s idea of “best behavior” and hers were probably two very different things. “Thanks, but I doubt I’ll be able to make it.”
She went back inside and closed the door. Her last glimpse of her neighbor was his smile of farewell tinged with disappointment. She could swear the dog was smiling, too. Only in Skid’s case, his tongue lolled out of his mouth and he appeared unfazed by her rejection.
Tommy loped back to his house, dog in tow. “So much for making a good first impression. No thanks to you,” he told Skid as they gained the front porch. Skid wagged his tail and looked up at Tommy with adoration in his eyes.
Tommy opened the door and Skid trotted in, not a care in the world. In the kitchen, Tommy took a dog biscuit from a box on the counter and held it up.
“Sit,” he commanded. Skid circled around in a happy dance then barked sharply.
Skid jumped up and made a grab for the biscuit. Tommy held it out of his reach. Skid jumped again then moaned pitifully.
“Roll over you big galoot.”
Skid gave a sharp insistent bark, put his paws on Tommy’s chest and licked his chin. Tommy grinned and scratched him behind the ears. He lowered the biscuit and Skid snatched it from his fingers. “You know what your problem is?” he asked the dog. “You don’t listen.”
Satisfied with his treat, Skid dropped back to all fours, relocated to a patch of linoleum warmed by the sun shining through the window and plopped down.
Tommy started to unpack the half empty boxes of kitchen items. “You can’t just go barging into a lady’s house,” he informed Skid. Skid gave him a skeptical look as if to say, “Isn’t that what you did?”
“And you can’t go chasing her cat around, either.”
Skid thumped his tail a couple of times.
Tommy frowned. “And another thing.” He bent toward the dog and shook a handful of silverware at him. “Don’t get any ideas about digging up that rosebush you were so interested in. When I call, you come. Got it?”
Skid sighed and blinked his eyes a couple of times before closing them completely.
Tommy set the empty box near the back door and started on the next one. “Ah ha!” He held up Skid’s leash. “I’m sure our new neighbor will be happy to know I’ve found this.” Skid opened one eye, then promptly closed it.
Tommy hung the leash on a hook near the door, thoughts of impressing his neighbor with his well-behaved dog running through his head. He glanced over at Skid. Well-behaved might be too much to hope for. Restrained he could probably manage.
Sabrina Talbott would certainly consider it an improvement.
The McDermotts hadn’t mentioned how attractive Sabrina was. Even now, Tommy could picture her sparkly eyes, a mix of lavender and blue that reminded him of tanzanite. Her dark hair, which looked like it had that silky sort of texture that just fell through your fingers, had been slightly mussed from her yoga session. The snug tang top and leggings left no doubt Sabrina Talbott took very good care of herself.
If only she’d agreed to come to his party tonight he could make a much better impression.