Everywhere and Every Way

By: Jennifer Probst

Dalton slowly followed, pausing with his hand on the knob.

“You’re wrong,” he murmured into the silence. “Mom was never coming back.”

Then he left.

Dyken packed up his briefcase and left Caleb alone, staring at the closed door for a long, long time.

chapter two

* * *

Don’t look at me like that. I’ve had a shit day, and getting drunk is probably the best thing on my to-do list.”

Two sets of big brown eyes stared back at him. Every one of his moves was measured and studied in shaking silence. He’d been stupid to put the bag of rawhide bones near his bottles of precious bourbon, not realizing that each time he’d get a drink, the goofball duo would assume they were getting treats.

“No way. One of you stole the leftover chicken, and I still haven’t figured out who’s lying.”

Bodies finely tuned, ears pricked, tongues lolling in helpless excitement, these two were impossible to say no to. Caleb bit back a smile.

He’d found the two puppy mastiffs tied to a tree during a job. Abandoned, dehydrated, and starving, with sores on their bodies, they’d likely been out in the woods for a while. After a vet visit that saved their lives, Cal couldn’t stand the idea of them going to the shelter. They refused to leave each other’s sides, bonding from the horrific incident, so separating them wasn’t an option.

His father hated dogs and probably would’ve left them in the woods, deeming animals an unnecessary burden in life. Cal let Christian win most battles, since it was easier. But not this one. He’d decided to foster until he got them both a home together, but after a few weeks, Cal faced the truth: he loved them. He decided they already had their home—with him.

Because Caleb had tumbled straight into love with the gentle giants, who had no manners, little attention, but huge hearts that reached out and soothed his own.

They’d torn up his house pretty good the first few months, but after they realized they were safe, they turned into big mushes. Towering to his chest, almost two hundred pounds each, they resembled intimidating, ferocious beasts until you looked into their faces and saw the joyous abandon in their gaze. Unfortunately, they sucked at commands and rarely controlled themselves when meeting strangers. Most dogs wouldn’t have recovered from their trauma. But Gandalf and Balin had a zest for life no one could steal from them. They reminded Caleb of all the good things in the world worth fighting for.

Even his father had surrendered. Though he muttered about their sloppy behavior, Christian had loved the dogs with a passion Cal rarely saw him show toward anything other than work. Gandalf and Balin were known to flank his father and gaze at him in adoration while he watched CNN every night, sharing his popcorn and commenting on the sad state of the world. There weren’t too many people who missed Christian Pierce, but Caleb’s mastiffs still waited at the door as if his father would surprise them by coming through it one day.

Maybe there’d been hope for the old man, after all.

Cal shook his head, scooped out two rawhide bones, and held them out.

Gandalf could never seem to handle the stress, so he did the only trick he knew to get the bone in his mouth as quickly as possible. He fell to the ground and played dead. Paws stuck straight up in the air, head cocked at a sharp angle, he peeked through his eyelids to make sure he had an audience. It was the most ridiculous thing Cal had ever seen, but every time he did it, a laugh escaped his lips.

He threw the bone, and Gandalf came alive just in time to snatch it in his mouth.

Balin was a little more patient but tended to try to eat his hand along with the bone. Cal paused for three beats, then slowly offered the treat. Balin let out a whimper of distress, seeing it so close but not allowed to grab it. Finally Cal nodded, and Balin grasped the treat and raced toward his dog bed, where all food and toys were always hoarded.

And now it was Cal’s turn.

He poured a few fingers of his favorite Kentucky bourbon and tried to ignore the silence in the house. His gaze flicked around the elaborate kitchen, where his mother had reigned as queen. Memories rushed past him in a succession of images he didn’t want to see.

They’d gather around the horseshoe marble island for meals and lively discussions, the scent of fresh bread warming the air. The kitchen was equipped with all the state-of-the-art appliances, from the Wolf double oven and Sub-Zero refrigerator to the espresso maker, soda machine, and customized popcorn popper. God, how she loved cooking for them. Some of his best memories revolved around elaborate meals and her warm laugh, her patient tone when lecturing them on their wild ways, and the way she insisted none of her sons ever go to bed angry at the others.

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