Author Sue Pethick presents a warm and fuzzy love story about a passionate pet owner, a smitten news man, and an unforgettable dog who steals everybody’s hearts . . . When her cuddly canine companion Boomer is diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Jennifer Westbrook decides to take a leave of absence from her busy PR job—and take Boomer on the greatest road trip of his life. Charting a course from Chicago to California, Jennifer plans some pet-friendly pit stops for her four-legged friend, including a dog show, a fire hydrant museum, and a factory full of squeaky toys. But when she tries to sneak Boomer into a NASCAR press box—disguised as her seeing-eye dog—Jennifer’s cover is blown by a curious, but very cute reporter named Nathan Koslow. Boomer takes an instant shine to Nathan, unlike the other men in Jennifer’s life. When the charming journalist asks to join them on their journey, she can’t say no. But when she learns that someone has created a website called “Boomer’s Bucket List”—and it’s gone totally viral—the trip takes a wildly unexpected turn for Jennifer, Nathan, and the dog who brought them together. It almost seems as if Boomer’s last wish is that his two favorite humans fall madly, deeply, in love . . . A Rave For Sue Pethick’s Pet Friendly “Quirky and endearing . . . especially when factoring in the hilarious antics of a certain four-legged character. The brewing romance tempers the humor with heart. The plot . . . delights. This is a light, heartwarming read perfect for a wintry afternoon at home or a sunny beach vacation.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
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Boomer's Bucket List
By Sue Pethick
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Sue Pethick
All rights reserved.
It was a glorious late-summer day in Chicago. The humidity that had made August so unbearable had finally relinquished its hold on the city, and the breeze blowing in from Lake Michigan held the promise of a perfect weekend. As Jennifer stepped out of her office, she couldn't believe her good luck. There'd been no last-minute snafus, no clients demanding her personal assistance, and no out-of-town conferences to attend. Other than a few errands to run on the way home, in fact, her calendar was blessedly free for the next forty-eight hours. She couldn't wait to pick up Boomer and get started.
The doggie day care was a block and a half away. Boomer enjoyed spending time at Waggin' Tails, but romping indoors wasn't the same as being outside in the fresh air, and Jennifer wanted to take him with her while she made her rounds. The woman who taught their obedience class said it was good for dogs to get experience with different people and situations; a walk would give Boomer a chance to practice his good manners and tire him out a bit before dinnertime.
The bell on Waggin' Tails' front door rang as Jennifer stepped inside, setting off a riot of barking in the back. The door separating the boarding area from the front room opened and Hildy, the co-owner, stepped out.
"Jennifer! You're here early. Going out to enjoy this lovely weather?"
"Yep," she said. "Just thought I'd swing by and pick up your favorite client first."
The "favorite client" comment was something of an inside joke: Jennifer's way of acknowledging that, sweet as he was, her dog could be a bit of a handful.
Hildy buzzed the back room and asked them to bring Boomer up front.
"Boomer's been doing really well lately," she said. "I think maybe he's starting to settle down in his old age."
The door opened, and Hildy's assistant brought out the Lab/retriever mix.
"Seems a little early for that," Jennifer said as Boomer bounded toward her. "He just turned five last month."
Hildy looked abashed.
"Oh," she said. "Well, maybe he was just tired then."
"Or maybe" — Jennifer smiled — "the obedience classes are finally starting to pay off."
"Yes, I'm sure that's it," the woman said. "Well, we'll see you two on Monday. Good-bye, Boomer."
"Old age," Jennifer grumbled as they stepped outside. "You're lucky you're not a woman, Boomie. After a comment like that, you'd be dying your hair and getting Botox."
Downtown was crowded with office workers trying to get a jump on the weekend. As she and Boomer headed down the sidewalk, Jennifer noticed how often the strangers who passed them smiled when they saw him, and she congratulated herself for adopting such a kind and loving animal. Boomer might not be the best heeler in the world, but he didn't snarl or jump on people, and he was a good listener whenever she'd had a tough day at work. In the short time they'd been together, in fact, Boomer had become her best friend.
Their first stop was at Altimari's Cobbler Shop to pick up a pair of shoes Jennifer had taken in for repair. The sling-back pumps had been the sole casualty of Boomer's chewing phase as a puppy, and it was just bad luck that they'd been the most expensive pair she owned. In a strange way, the fact that he'd picked out the Manolos had earned him a grudging respect in her eyes; Boomer obviously knew quality when he tasted it. Nevertheless, she'd never quite worked up the nerve to toss the shoes out, and when she told Mr. Altimari that she still had them, he'd encouraged her to bring them by the shop and let him see if they could be salvaged. Considering how long they'd been sitting unworn in her closet, Jennifer figured she had nothing to lose.
Lucio Altimari was at his workbench behind the counter when Jennifer and Boomer walked in. Mallet in hand, a leather apron secured to his wizened frame, he looked like an older version of St. Crispin, the patron saint of cobblers, whose picture was prominently displayed on the wall behind him.
"Hello, Mr. Altimari," Jennifer said as the door swung closed behind her. "I got your message."
The old man looked up and waved.
"Ciao bella! Yes, I fix them," he said, in an accent redolent of Tuscany.
He set aside the boot he was working on and stood, slowly working the kinks out of his back as he approached the counter. At barely five feet tall, the tiny, white-haired gentleman was almost a foot shorter than Jennifer. Nevertheless, with his powerful forearms and piercing blue eyes, he could be something of an intimidating figure. The eyes narrowed when he caught sight of Boomer.
"Ah," he said. "Il distruttore di scarpe."
Jennifer's Italian was rusty, but she was pretty sure he'd just called Boomer a shoe destroyer.
"That was a long time ago," she said, "and he's really, really sorry he did it. Aren't you, Boomie?"
Boomer hung his head, and Mr. Altimari shuffled into the back of the shop to retrieve her shoes. When he set them on the counter, Jennifer gasped. They looked as good as new.
"These are amazing," she said, picking one up to examine it. "You'd never even know they were damaged."
"I do my best," the old man said modestly. "Not perfect, but not so bad, either, eh?"
He showed her the bill, and Jennifer gave him her credit card. It wasn't cheap, she thought, but it was a lot less than a new pair of Manolos would be. As he handed her the receipt, the old man shot Boomer an admonitory look.
"I forgive you this time," he said. "But you no touch the Ferragamos or we gonna have words, capisci?"
"Don't worry," Jennifer said. "I think Boomer's learned his lesson."
Mr. Altimari wrapped the shoes in tissue paper and laid them carefully in a plain shoebox that he slipped into a paper bag. Satisfied that her dog had been sufficiently chastened, he could now move on to his favorite topic of conversation: helping Jennifer find a husband.
"So, you have big plans for the weekend, yes?"
"Not yet," she said. "To tell you the truth, it's been so long since I had an entire weekend off that I've forgotten how to plan for one."
"You should go out, have some fun." He shook a gnarled finger at her. "You not gonna meet anybody at home."
Jennifer smiled and nodded, trying not to feel irritated. Mr. Altimari meant well, and if he knew nothing of her past, it was her own fault. After leaving Vic, she'd gone out of her way to remake her life — new town, new friends, new job. Maybe if she hadn't been so eager to disavow her old life, things would be different, but there was too much at stake now for her to take the chance. Unless and until she wanted to open that Pandora's box, Jennifer told herself, she'd just have to put up with a little well-intentioned meddling.
"Don't worry, I'll think of something," she said. "And if I can't, I'm sure Boomer will."
Boomer looked up and wagged his tail happily.
"I know, I know," the old man said. "Not my business."
He handed her the bag.
"Molto grazie, Mr. Altimari."
The L clattered by as they stepped back out and headed for the grocery store. Jennifer felt a whoosh of air as the train passed overhead and shut her eyes against the dirt and leaves that rose up in its wake. Just two more errands, she thought, and they could go home. If she picked up dinner on the way, there'd be nothing to cook and no dishes to wash. There was still plenty of daylight left. Maybe the two of them could go down to the beach and play "catch the Frisbee." And tomorrow, she thought, they'd get up early and take a jog around Lincoln Park. She and Boomer hadn't done that in an age.
Jennifer ducked into Trader Joe's while Boomer waited outside, cadging pats from passersby and watching the cars make their way through rush-hour traffic. When she returned, he searched her pockets for the dog treat she always bought him as a reward, then devoured it quickly and waited while she bent down to untie him. As Jennifer grabbed his lead, she saw the hackles rise on the dog's back.
"What is it, Boomie? What's wrong?"
She looked up and saw a man she recognized coming toward them, talking on his cell phone, briefcase in hand.
"Oh, no," she groaned. "It's Phil."
She ducked her head, wondering what to do.
Oh, boy. This is awkward.
The two of them had been on a date the month before that ended when Phil, who'd been drinking, came on too strong and Boomer jumped to Jennifer's defense, baring his teeth and all but chasing the guy out of her house. Admittedly, it wasn't Boomer's finest hour, but Jennifer had had a hard time blaming him. The way she figured it, the guy had it coming.
Phil was only a few feet away now — she'd know that self-important blather anywhere. She glanced up and their eyes met. Phil's gaze went from Jennifer to Boomer and back again. Then, without missing a beat, he quickly changed course and crossed the street. As he scurried away, Jennifer smiled. Boomer wasn't just a dog, she thought. He was a big, fluffy bodyguard.
Probably best not to mention it to Mr. Altimari, though.
After a quick stop at Chipotle for a burrito and chips, they walked through the door of Jennifer's town house. Purse, leash, and shoes were abandoned at the door as she took the bags into the kitchen and set them on the counter. Boomer made a beeline for his water bowl.
"What a day," she said, taking a plate down from the cupboard. "Just once, I'd like to work for a client who knows what he wants before I finish my entire ad campaign."
She poured herself a Bud Light and set the chips on the table.
"I told Derek he's going to have to hire another AE if this keeps up, and you know what he said?"
She took another sip of beer and plunked her plate down on the table.
"He said half our clients would walk if he tried to steer them to another AE. Yeah, right," she said. "Like that's ever going to happen."
Jennifer continued filling Boomer in on the latest down at Compton/Sellwood while she ate her burrito and finished off the chips. It wasn't until she got up to get herself another beer that she realized Boomer was no longer in the kitchen.
"Hey, dude. Where'd you go?"
She walked out into the living room and found him lying on the couch. Boomer lifted his head and thumped his tail once, not bothering to get up.
"Poor guy. You really are tired, aren't you?"
Jennifer placed her hand on his side and gently patted the silky coat.
"All your buds at day care must have been running you ragged."
Jennifer frowned. They'd been home almost half an hour, and Boomer was still panting. It could be the heat, she told herself, but his heart, too, seemed to be beating a little faster than usual. Remembering Hildy's comment about Boomer's being more tired than usual, she wondered if he might be coming down with something.
"Tell you what," she said. "Why don't we just stay in tonight? I'll take a shower, put on my pj's, and join you here on the couch. Maybe we can find something good on Netflix."
She slipped her hand under his collar to make sure he wasn't feverish, then started upstairs. Boomer was going in for his annual checkup the next week anyway, Jennifer thought. She'd ask Dr. Samuels about it when she took him in then. In the meantime, she wasn't going to let herself get freaked out about this. The fact was, it was probably nothing.CHAPTER 2
People do a lot of different things when they're nervous. Jennifer was making her already too-busy life even busier. As she sat in the veterinarian's office that morning, waiting to hear Boomer's test results, she was answering emails, checking her phone messages, and balancing her checkbook — anything to keep from imagining the worst.
She reached down and gave him a reassuring pat.
"It's probably nothing," she whispered. "No need to worry."
But Jennifer was worried. When she'd brought Boomer in for his yearly checkup and casually mentioned that he seemed more tired than usual, she'd been expecting Dr. Samuels to give him a shot of vitamins. Instead, the vet had urged her to have a battery of tests done on Boomer that had lasted half the day and required a specialist's interpretation. She suspected that Samuels was overreacting, but he'd been so insistent that she'd agreed to have them done. Now sitting in his office a week later, Jennifer almost wished she hadn't. After all, Boomer was just a kid. There couldn't be anything seriously wrong with him, could there?
The examination-room door opened, and Dr. Samuels's new assistant called them in. A well-endowed brunette in her thirties, the woman dressed like a teenager and spoke in a giggly voice that went up at the end of every sentence. Just the type, Jennifer thought sourly, that her ex-husband, Vic, would have slobbered over. Boomer looked up, growling low in his throat as Jennifer shut down her computer. She might not have been so quick to judge, she thought, but Boomer didn't seem to like the woman, either, and Boomer was an excellent judge of character.
"Looks like it's our turn, Boomski," she said. "Let's go."
The door had barely closed behind them when Dr. Samuels came in. From the look on his face, Jennifer could tell it was bad news. Her heart began to pound, and she reached out for Boomer as if to shield him from what was coming. Samuels shook her hand and gave Boomer a friendly pat.
"Thanks for coming in again. I know it was hard having to wait, but I wanted to make sure I hadn't overlooked anything before we discussed the test results."
He glanced at Boomer's chart, then cleared his throat and set it aside.
"This isn't the kind of news I like to give my patients," he said sadly. "I like to think I can save every animal who comes in here. Unfortunately, however, that's just not the case."
Tears sprang to Jennifer's eyes and a lump formed in her throat as Samuels continued.
"When you brought Boomer in last week, I detected a systolic murmur and suspected there might be something wrong with his heart. Your comment that he'd been more tired than usual added to that suspicion, but without further tests there was no way to know for certain what was wrong."
Jennifer took a deep breath and willed herself to calm down.
"So, what's the problem?"
"Boomer has HCM, or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy," he said. "It's a thickening of the heart walls that reduces the amount of blood ejected during its contraction phase. As the animal's body begins to starve for oxygen, the heart pumps harder, stressing it further. Eventually, the animal develops heart failure."
He paused, waiting for Jennifer to ask another question, but her mind had gone blank.
"But he doesn't even look sick."
"I know," Samuels said. "And Boomer probably doesn't feel sick, either, at least not the way you or I would. He may not be able to jump or run around like he used to, but the chances are he doesn't really notice, and the good news is he's not in any pain."
All right, Jennifer told herself, this might not be the outcome she was hoping for, but it wasn't the end of the world, either. At work, she had a reputation for solving the biggest problems for the toughest clients. All she had to do was apply that talent to fixing Boomer's problem and everything would be fine. Heart failure was treatable, and she had money in her savings account. Whatever it took — a special diet, medicine, exercise — she'd pay for it, and gladly. She'd do anything to keep her boy alive.
"Okay," she said. "How do we fix this and get Boomer back to his old self?"
The vet gave her a pitying look and slowly shook his head.
"I guess I didn't make myself clear. You see, Boomer's condition is very advanced; he's past the stage where diuretics or any other type of intervention might have helped. All you can do now, I'm afraid, is to make sure he stays comfortable and enjoy the time you have left with him. I'm sorry."
"That can't be right," she snapped, sounding angrier than she meant to. "My grandfather lived for years with heart failure."
Samuels nodded patiently.
"I imagine he did, but human hearts are different. Look, if you'd like to speak with the canine cardiologist, I'd be happy to arrange a phone consult for you, but he and I went over the test results very thoroughly and there was really no doubt in either of our minds. At best, we think Boomer has perhaps a month left."
Jennifer found herself struggling to breathe, as if all the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room.
Excerpted from Boomer's Bucket List by Sue Pethick. Copyright © 2017 Sue Pethick. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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