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No Good Deed: Chapter One

No Good Deed

Welcome To Phail

Piper

Piper Keenan grinned as she drove across the border from upstate New York into Vermont. After relying on transit for years in Chicago, she hadn’t forgotten how to drive. The freeways had been scary at first, but rewarding herself with Oreos at every rest stop had proved to be all the incentive she needed. Even fear of black ice melted with the power of chocolate.

Rusty, who lived up to his name, might be her first car, but they’d bonded in her three whole days of car ownership. He’d promised to not break down on the freeway and she’d promised him frequent breaks including an overnight rest in Syracuse, and a nice long rest in Phail, Vermont.

Her face scrunched up even thinking about the town’s name. The first suggestion she’d make would be to change the name to something less depressing. It was probably a big reason why the town’s population was less than her former condo building.

This temporary job helping the town would be a good move for her. A chance to leave her troubles in the rear view mirror, and take a breather before deciding her next steps.

With the pressures of the crowded freeways behind her, Piper soaked in the scenery. Vermont lived up to the hype. Snow covered the mountains, waterways, and the fields, making every view a fairy tale.

As someone who’d grown up in Chicago, snow and cold didn’t scare her. In the city, the snowy wind tended to rip through you and steal your breath. Plows and sanding trucks usually meant dirty brown snow on the ground. In contrast, Vermont looked like it belonged in a Christmas movie.

The road twisted and curved, dancing through the trees and the mountains. What would this place be like in autumn with all those trees showing off their colors? Gorgeous.

Not that she’d be here to see it. Her two-week job didn’t even stretch all the way to Christmas. With a sharp shake of her head, she shoved that thought away. No worrying about the future. This was a two-week respite from panic and worry. Right. Maybe she should pull over at the next rest stop. That last pack of Oreos was calling.

Just like in those Christmas movies she loved, the snow got thicker and harder. The wind picked up and Rusty shuddered a few times. Snow bounced off his windshield. “You’re doing great, Rusty. Not long now.”

The GPS showed her destination was in ten miles. Ten miles to Phail. Yup, that sounded awful. Maybe the guy who’d hired her could be talked into changing the name of the town. As the snow thickened, she reduced her speed. She didn’t need another crash, especially one that was her fault.

As she rounded another curve, she spotted a small animal climbing out of the ditch and onto the road, and she slowed further. “Come on, little guy. Newbie snow driver here. Keep moving. You can do it.”

Except he couldn’t.

The little guy got about halfway across her lane and flopped to the ground. Was he hurt? Piper pulled over to the side and put on her flashers. The animal didn’t move. You weren’t supposed to approach wild animals, but this was a little thing, and she couldn’t leave him alone.

When she shoved open her door, the icy wind immediately leached the heat from her body. But she was from Chicago, and a bitter wind wasn’t going to stop her.

Was it dead? Injured? The black and white pattern became obvious as she neared. “Tell me you’re not a skunk.” The body shuddered, and she realized the pattern wasn’t like any skunk she’d read about.

The icy wind shriveled her lungs, and this little one had to feel it worse than Piper. “Are you a dog? Please be a dog.”

A peek behind her showed the road was still clear, so she moved into the middle where snow was already covering the little body. She squatted down and sighed with relief. “You’re definitely a dog. Yay. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

The little dog rolled over and proved he was definitely male. He didn’t open his eyes, but his whimper nearly broke her heart. Piper held out her hand to let him sniff her her scent. Other than a whine, he didn’t react.

She brushed her hands gently over his body but didn’t find any obvious injuries. No blood and he didn’t react in pain to her touch.

Piper slipped off her hoodie and wrapped it around him. “Come on then. I’m going to Phail. Ack. That sounds terrible out loud. I hope they’ll let me change the town name. There might be a vet in town. If they had a website, I would know that already. We’ll get you checked out. I’ve got water. Are you thirsty? Please don’t die on me.”

Piper dashed back to her car and hopped into the driver’s seat. She angled the heater vents to aim directly at the dog, and held his little body close to hers and rubbed gently. He whimpered again, but it didn’t sound as sad.

“Do you have a chip inside? Is your family looking for you? I bet we can find someone in town who knows about dogs, even if they don’t have a vet. We’ll get you some food. Do you want some water?”

Piper slid the seat back to give herself room and took her reusable water bottle from the cup holder. “I don’t have a bowl, but I think the lid will work. Let’s try.”

When she held out the water, his huge ears perked up and his eyes popped open. She had to blink away happy tears. “There you are cutie. You’re definitely not a skunk but maybe I should call you Pépé LePew.”

His little face puckered up, and she laughed as she angled the lid so he could drink. “Okay. No skunk names. You have Snoopy’s coloring, but you’re not that kind of dog. What about Rocky? You climbed that ditch like a champ.”

He ignored her and dipped his tongue in the lid.

“Penguin? They’re black and white.” Still no reaction. “Panda? Zebra? Oreo?”

He yipped at the last word. “Oreo?”

His butt wagged weakly, and he reached out to lick her hand. “Okay. Oreo it is. I’d give you some of those, but I don’t think dogs can eat chocolate. Let’s make you comfortable, and see if we can find someone to help us.”

Piper made a nest of her sweatshirt in the passenger seat and then moved her seat forward until she reached the pedals. “Okay, Oreo. We’re going to Phail.”

She rolled her eyes at the name. “First thing on the agenda at my meeting will be a name change.”

Oreo didn’t respond, and Piper’s heart thumped at his stillness as he rested on the seat. She reached out a hand and reassured herself he was breathing but worry gnawed at her.

What if her bad luck extended to this innocent little dog? He wasn’t going to die if she could do anything about it. “Hang on, Oreo. We’re going to get help. Let’s hope we both find what we’re looking for.”

Troy

Growing up with a name like his, Troy Phail knew how to do a few things well. He could handle good natured teasing, but he could also finish a fight if someone else started it. Troy had been taught to value his town and his family history. He’d learned the value of being a team player, and he knew that hard work and determination meant you almost always accomplished your goals. Because a Phail really hated to fail.

But he was currently failing in two areas.

It had been over a month since he’d heard from four of his former military brothers. The six of them had done two overseas tours together and were as tight as regular brothers. Probably closer than most.

When they’d left the military, Troy had talked their team leader, Marcus Ramirez, call sign Arrow, into moving to Phail. Now Arrow was the local deputy and Troy’s closest friend. Without a police station in town, they’d converted the back room of Phail General into an office for him, complete with a holding cell for those few times they needed one.

As if the thought had conjured him, the door to the police office opened and Marcus strode through. “Stan just called in.”

Troy grinned. “What’s the trouble this time?” A cousin of Troy’s grandmother, Stan lived in a farmhouse on the north edge of town. The man refused to move into town because he’d lived his entire life on the farm, but he did get lonely.

Marcus shook his head. “Says there are lights flashing in the woods at night. Wants me to check it out. You want to come visit with him?”

Troy checked the clock. “Can’t this time. That city planner is arriving sometime today. Having the store closed wouldn’t make the best first impression.”

“Right. I forgot that was today. I’ll get back as soon as I can.”

Troy laughed. “You seriously think Stan will let you leave quickly? Not unless there’s an actual emergency.”

Marcus sighed. “You’re right. I’ll stop by your cousin’s and pick him up some food before I head out. Then I’ll check out those old shacks in the back of his property, see if anyone is squatting there or using them for something. Good luck.”

He would need it. This was the second area where Troy was failing. Small towns were disappearing all the time. People were moving to cities for jobs with higher pay and he wanted to halt, even reverse, that process here in Phail.

The people who had moved onto the Midnight Lake property just north of town had brought a lot of good with them. More business for the locals, and it had spurred Troy to figure out even more ways to grow the town, but without a budget, the options were few to none.

Troy had personally covered the bill for the city planner’s visit to Phail. It wasn’t like he had a huge bank account, but his family had responsibilities to the town named after them. There weren’t many Phails left, so Troy figured it was his duty to do what he could.

They needed more opportunities to attract new people and keep the people they had. Because of the Midnight Lake group, the town now had a volunteer fire crew and a part-time doctor.

He also needed something that would be a pull for his Army brothers to join them. None of the other four men had found their place since leaving the military. They were drifting, and if Phail had more opportunities, he might be able to lure his buddies here.

The store’s front door opened, but instead of the urban planner, the cook in Troy’s cousin’s diner, strolled in. Troy smiled. “Hey Manuel. What can I help you with today?”

The quiet man grinned and held up a box. “I need to mail some packages.” He placed a box on the counter, and Troy got out the scale.

“Sending Ginny’s cinnamon buns to your mom again?”

Manuel laughed. “Not for another couple of weeks. She likes them fresh for Christmas. But I want these presents in the mail early.”

After Manuel left, a few more people came in looking for snow shovels and batteries. After a bit of a lull, a woman rushed in. She was gorgeous with her thick brown hair piled high on her head and huge brown eyes full of worry. She wore jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. In her arms, wrapped in what looked like a hoodie, was a little dog.

“Are you Troy? I’m sorry I’m late. I found this dog on the road and I think he was nearly frozen to death. Or he might be sick, but he gulped down all the water I had in the car. I didn’t have any food I was sure he could eat. I had some chocolate bars and a bag of Oreos, but I think dogs are allergic to chocolate. Do you know if that’s right? I don’t want my bad luck rubbing off on him. And do you—”

The woman made eye contact with him and stopped talking. Then she took a deep breath. “Sorry. I’m rambling but I don’t want him to die and I don’t know what to do.”

Troy blinked as he absorbed all the words that had just spilled out of her mouth. Beautiful, with a soft heart. She was more worried about the dog than anything else. Troy rounded the counter and peeked into the bundle she held. A small black and white dog with huge ears stared back at him. “Hey, little guy. Aren’t you a handsome little Frenchy?”

She blinked up at him. “Frenchy?”

He nodded. “He appears to be a French bulldog.”

She smiled. “I’ve never heard of those. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about dogs. But I don’t want him to die.”

The dog’s big ears twitched and the tongue shot out to lick his lips. Smiling, Troy moved to the back of the store. He grabbed two dog bowls and a bag of food for small breeds. He returned them to the counter where the woman stood. He poured a small amount of food into one bowl. “I know you’re not supposed to let animals overeat if they’ve been starving. I’m going to grab some water. Why don’t you see if he shows any interest in the food?”

He filled up the other bowl from the bathroom sink and brought it back to the front of the store. Piper sat on the floor beside the counter. The dog, still partially wrapped in her sweatshirt, stood with his face in the bowl.

“Looks like he was hungry. Once his belly’s full, he’ll feel better.” Troy placed the water bowl next to the food.

Piper smiled up at him with those huge chestnut eyes and her smile almost knocked him on his ass. His blood raced through his veins and his heart thumped. He’d never had such a powerful reaction to a woman.

What was it about this one that made him feel like a teenager again, with a crush on the cute girl in History class?

Whatever it was, he was going to have to ignore it. He’d hired her to help his town. And that came first.

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