Protecting Kate:Dark Horse, Inc: Book 1

By: Amy J. Hawthorn

Prologue





Electric and vicious anger mixed with disbelief, fueling Kate’s purpose as she stormed over the heated slate floor. The moment she heard the garage door closing, something inside her snapped into place.

At the open, cherry-wood pantry door, she crouched. She forced the tremor from her voice and concentrated on the dark, terrified eyes glimmering in the farthest corner. “Come here, sweetheart. It’s okay. He’s gone. Come here, baby girl.” Keeping her voice low and gentle, she coaxed the small, tangled mess. The little dog ran into the pantry, terrified, after her husband kicked out at it.

She hoped he only scared the poor thing, but she couldn’t be certain until she looked the stray over. “Come here, pretty girl.” Low whimpers greeted her, but the dog refused to budge.

Kate headed to the marble counter beside the stove to pull off a sliver of roasted chicken from the breast. Blowing on it, she tossed it from hand to hand. She’d spent half the day cooking Preston’s favorite meal. He’d promised to make time for dinner at home before yet another business trip. Instead, he’d taken one look at the dog and exploded into his biggest rage to date.

On most days, she’d capitulate and do whatever necessary to keep the peace, but today she refused to back down. For some reason, it became more important than ever to take a stand.

She would not “toss the mangy mutt back outside” as he’d ordered. For one, the temperature dropped twenty degrees when the storm rolled in, leaving the animal soaked and shaking. Secondly, the scrawny pup needed so much more than one good meal.

So Preston grabbed his already packed bags and stormed out. If he wouldn’t be home to eat dinner yet again, she’d make better use out of it. Right that moment, she couldn’t make herself care if he ever ate again.

He’d been remote, bordering on callous over the past few months, and he’d never allowed pets in their home, but she never would have expected him to kick a dog. She thought over the changes in him recently as she stooped down and then crawled on her belly toward the pup. Well, in truth? She’d have to admit he’d been an ass toward her a few times.

Her designer sweater would be ruined by the slate tile. She’d have to hide it from Preston, but she didn’t care. Memories of him blowing up at her for the simplest things emerged from the dark corners of her mind. Once, he’d grabbed her arm and shook her because she’d picked the wrong dress to wear to a dinner party. He insisted she should wear a dress in a size too small cut in a deep V past her breasts, which seemed inappropriate for the somber occasion.

She’d worn it and smiled, uncomfortable for three hours to make him happy. Afterward, she’d hidden the bruises on her arm from him for a week out of fear they might bring on another rage.

Even though he’d put them there.

Granted, she didn’t think when she’d brought the stray pup inside. At the entrance to their driveway, it’d darted across the road in front of Kate’s car. She slammed on her brakes to avoid hitting the poor thing. Her heart melted with one look into its big, sad eyes.

She knew about his allergy to pet dander, but he refused to let her explain. The little Schnauzer shouldn’t bother his allergies and, for heaven’s sakes, they had an enormous house. She could find room for one small dog. If nothing else, she could house it for the night and take it to the vet in the morning. The vet could look it over and put her in contact with a rescue.

But, just like everything else in her life, he took control, made the decisions, and her opinion didn’t matter. She’d given up on voicing it years ago, because she’d wearied of his constant disapproval. More than once, he’d given her the cold shoulder when he’d tired of her “theatrics.”

She’d spent the past seven years of her life giving her everything to him, so did bringing home one stray dog count as “theatrics?” No. It didn’t. The poor thing looked as if it hadn’t been groomed in, well…forever. It’s not like she’d picked up a neighbor’s dog and claimed it as her own. It needed care.

“Are you hungry? I bet you are. Come here and eat, baby. Come here.” She laid half of the chicken on the floor partway between herself and the dog. She pulled her hand back and waited. She whispered sweet nonsense and gave it all the time in the world.

Eventually, whether due to Kate’s patience or her hunger, the dog stood on trembling legs and limped forward.

Oh no. It’d seemed fine when she’d brought it in the house earlier.

Tears welled as she watched it eat the first piece of chicken. She placed the second piece closer to herself. When the dog came forward, she picked it up and wriggled out of the pantry.

Not caring what Preston would say, she sat the filthy animal on the counter near the sink and looked it over. It still wouldn’t put any weight on one paw. Her heart cracked in two as it looked up at her with cautious hope, its eyes darting between her and the chicken.

Afraid it would fall, she set it on the floor and pulled more chicken from the bone with her filthy hands. She didn’t have a single care over their ruined dinner as she picked up her phone. Sitting on the floor to feed the pup, she dialed a number she hadn’t used in over three years, but still knew by heart.

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