After a busy several weeks of staying home, writing, publishing, and planning, Spiral Publishing is delighted to present Thursday Escapes! We’ll be sharing a different story from Kari Kilgore or Jason A. Adams on our site free each week. Just our way to try to help folks stay entertained while we’re all staying safe.
This week, it’s Jason’s sweet romance For the Love of Snarla Jane. It’s also available in ebook and print, and in Jason and Kari’s Partners in Romance collection. Check back next week for Kari’s touching story Dawn Visitor.
Snarla Jane steals hearts.
IT night owl Bill Jackson needs sleep.
Trisha Macintyre needs a friend.
She finds that friend in her new neighbor Bill.
Maybe more, once Snarla Jane wags her way into Bill’s heart.
Will the love of Snarla Jane bring two lonely humans together?
For the Love of Snarla Jane
by Jason A. Adams
For Bella, our own Snarla Jane
Bill Jackson woke to the lovely sounds of thumps, grunts, and swearing from next door.
Great. The new neighbor must be moving in.
Groaning, he pulled a down pillow over his head and tried to go back to sleep. Nothing doing. If anything, the elephants over in #3 just stepped up the pace.
He could sleep through the thunder of fighter jets from the base across the road, and the constant traffic on Nellis Boulevard had become nothing more than white noise since he’d moved in a year ago.
But people? People woke him up every time.
He cracked his lids, checked the clock. 5:38 pm. Probably still eighty outside. The October sun would be going down soon, but he still had two hours of sleep coming, dammit!
But, normal people and the normal hours they kept often dragged him from the blissful land of Tempurpedia. Bill sighed, rubbed his eyes, and flipped on the bedside lamp.
He swung his legs over the side. Put his feet on the cool linoleum. Scratched his belly hair. Yawned until his jaws popped. Grimaced as the yawn pulled his morning breath back down.
Slowly, the cobwebs began to blow away. The sunny yellow floor, a refugee from someone’s Harvest Gold nightmare, reflected lamplight up into the bedroom where it was immediately absorbed by the equally horrific faux-walnut paneling.
Gotta love mid-century-modern two-up-and-two-down dingbat apartments. Chock plumb full of enough kitsch and nostalgia to make a guy puke. Especially after the owner pulled all the stops on remodeling with period décor.
But the place was cheap, close to a bus line, and usually fairly quiet. For Las Vegas, anyway.
Unfortunately, all the stucco on the outside covered walls not much thicker than the formaldehyde-factory paneling inside.
Bill knew he’d miss having an empty apartment next door. And the peace and quiet that went with it. The last neighbors had been pretty quiet, at least until their teenagers started bringing dates home. Or got brought home by the cops. Ugh.
Working night shift at the Meadowville Data Center brought good pay, and it might be time to shunt some of that pay toward a new place. Maybe an actual house, instead of another apartment.
Once the albatross of student loan debt was paid off, of course.
Ah well. Might as well accept the situation and check the new next-door out.
Did he hear a dog? That would be just friggin’ perfect.
He had no problem with dogs in principle, but had no desire to interact with one of the hairy, smelly beasts. Maybe this one was with a friend or relative. A guy could hope, right? I mean, surely Manny Ortega, the building owner-slash-super, wouldn’t let a dog in one of his precious apartments.
Bill picked up his phone, tapped the appropriate taps, and started looking for clothes that wouldn’t scream “I might be night shift or I might be a serial killer.” In the kitchen his bluetooth coffee maker began roasting and grinding the magical beans.
Trisha Macintyre really, really wanted a shower.
She’d spent the afternoon trying to direct three hulking brutes—all of whom were badly in need of some quality time with a shower themselves—who seemed determined to give her a heart attack as they slung her meager possessions from the moving van, up the stairs, and into her new apartment. She was hot, parched, and ready for a nap.
The harsh chemical odors of new wood paneling, floor glue, and latex paint promised to send her to bed with an extra pain pill, but hopefully the open windows and ceiling fans would clear the worst of it out for a while. Didn’t do anything for the rubbery taste in her mouth, though.
The growls, howls, and barks from the bedroom weren’t helping her growing headache. Janie, her two-year-old pit bull girl, was not happy about all this brouhaha, and wanted the whole neighborhood to know it.
Finally the last box was set down, the last papers signed. With more relief than the situation probably warranted, Trisha let out her breath in a loud whoosh, shut the door to #3, and let Janie out of the bedroom before collapsing in a chair at the sparkly chrome and red Formica dinette.
Janie whuffed at her, and began sniffing her way around the tiny kitchen, then the living room. She paid special attention to anything the three strange humans had touched, hackles rising and falling as the investigation proceeded around and through the assorted boxes of her life.
Trisha hoped Janie wouldn’t mess the floor in her excitement, but at least pee wouldn’t show on the horrid yellow vinyl.
Oh well. The place was cheap, clean, and most importantly, close to public transit. She wasn’t quite ready to tackle driving with her new leg, but physical therapy was going well. Maybe by Christmas she’d rent a car and give it a shot.
Finally satisfied, Janie wrapped up her inspection. She trotted back to Trisha, showing all her teeth in a vicious smile before sitting at her feet and plonking her blocky brindled head on Trisha’s knee.
“So whatcha think, girlie girl? This place meet your approval?”
She scratched Janie’s ears, earning a groan as her undocked pibble tail went to work sweeping the floor.
Trisha groaned herself when someone knocked on the door. Didn’t she deserve at least a few minutes off her feet, both flesh and plastic?
She pushed her way up from the chair and limped to the door. Checking through the peephole, she saw an unruly mop of curly copper hair over a pale, tired face. A male face. One that needed a shave.
She made sure the safety chain was in place, and cracked the door.
“Hi,” the guy said. “I’m Bill Jackson. Your neighbor in #2. Welcome to the building.”
Trisha looked him up and down as Janie did her ferocious guard dog thing, hiding behind Trisha’s legs and whining. She reached down to scratch the big coward’s ears.
Bill looked to be in his early thirties, around her age. Not chubby, not thin. But not much muscle tone, and eerily pale. More pale than the red hair warranted, surely. But not sickly. Black t-shirt and blue jeans. Birkenstock sandals on his feet. He was holding a paper sack stained with grease marks, and a steaming carafe which smelled like heaven. Coffee, and something beyond the Mr. variety.
“What do you think, Janie? Do we open the door?”
Janie whuffed, but stayed behind her. This guy is new, that whuff said, but doesn’t seem too dangerous.
“I promise I’m harmless,” the guy confirmed, backing away a step and lifting the pitcher and the sack. “I bring offerings of fresh-roasted coffee and almost fresh apple fritters.”
The fritters did it. Her stomach grumbled as she shut the door, slid the chain, and opened up again.
“Come on in. My name’s Trisha Macintyre, and this is Janie. She promises not to eat you, if you behave.”
She thought his face went even paler, but he stepped in and she shut the screen door behind him, leaving the main door open.
Maybe a cross breeze would help air the place out.
Bill looked around the apartment as he followed his new neighbor inside. Not that he needed a distraction from her pert derriere, not at all. Her slight limp caused everything to rock in a fascinating way.
Damn she was pretty.
And not that he was scared of the giant brown and black-streaked behemoth in front of her. Not at all.
Trisha was an inch or so shorter than his own five-eleven. Okay, five-ten and a half. Honey-colored hair fell in a thick curtain to her shoulders, and she had that golden tan and hazel eyes that seemed exclusive to blonde women in the southwest.
Her broad shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist. Long legs all the way to the floor, nicely accentuated in blue jeans. Her left foot was bare, but she had a heavy black sneaker on her right. Weird.
Then he saw the elbow crutches leaning against the door. The limp must be something more serious than a sprain.
None of his business, of course.
She fetched a couple of mugs from a box and set them on the table. Bill sat down and poured the coffee while Trisha ripped a couple of paper towels from a roll on the counter.
Bill tried to ignore the dog as it paced around the floor. Was it eyeballing him, or the pastries?
Trisha finally quit puttering and flopped into the chair across from his. Her dog laid down beside her. Bill handed her a fritter and took a big bite of his own.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “I haven’t even started unpacking, and the day’s been so busy I never got around to ordering takeout.”
She bit into the fritter. “Oh my god,” she said, her eyes widening and then closing in bliss. “This is absolutely amazing!”
“Glad you like it. There’s a place just down the road that makes them fresh every morning. I usually grab a couple on the way home from work.”
“On the way home? Are you a nightbird?” She took a drink of coffee. Licked her lips with a perfect pink tongue.
“Yeah, I work graveyard at a data center. We do all the maintenance and batch jobs at night, when load is low.”
“Oh no,” she said, flushing as she opened her eyes and stared at him in dismay. “I bet we woke you up with all the delivery noise. I’m so sorry!”
“Forget it,” he said, looking away from her eyes and lips. “I needed to get up anyway.”
They nibbled fritters and drank coffee. Bill never knew what to say to people, and was just fine waiting for her to speak. Finally, she did.
“So is that your green Caddy down in the garage? The ’59 de Ville? Those fins would suit a whale.”
“That would be my car, Ms. Macintyre,” said a voice through the screen door. Bill looked out and saw a short, barrel-chested Chicano in faded dungarees and red checked shirt. Graying hair topped a cheerful face with deep smile creases at the corners of his nut-brown eyes. “El corcel del emperador. The Emperor’s mighty steed.”
“Hey, Manny,” Bill said, raising his hand. To Trisha, he said, “You’ve met Manuel Ortega, right? The owner?”
“Oh yes,” she said, smiling. “Come on in, Mr. Ortega! Bill here was kind enough to bring me aid and succor, in the form of donuts and coffee.”
“No, no. These are not donuts, young lady. These are apple fritters, and worthy of the great gods of old Mexico. And you must call me Manny.”
“Don’t let Manny fool you, Trisha. He’s American as apple pie.”
Trisha’s pit bull raised its head, popped to its feet, and went for Manny, baring its vicious teeth.
“Watch out, Manny! The dog—”
He stopped when Manny reached down to ruffle the dog’s ears with his thick hands.
“Si, eres una buena chica, ¿no?”
The beast’s whole back half wagged. The thumping of its tail against its ribs sounded like a bass drum.
“Big, strong man like you, afraid of this pretty girl. Tsk.”
Bill didn’t ask which pretty girl Manny referred to.
“But it was snarling,” Bill said, looking at Trisha. “That was a snarl, right?”
“That was a smile,” Trisha said, her own mouth quirking at the corners. “Janie always smiles at people she likes, dontcha Snarla Jane?”
Janie snarled her way back to Trisha on stiff legs, tail now going in circles like a propeller.
“Buena chica,” Manny said again, grinning at the dog. “Forgive him, Ms. Macintyre. He was attacked by a vicious canine as a boy, and still has nightmares.”
“What happened?” Trisha asked, hands going to her mouth.
“I was six. I was cutting through a neighbor’s backyard,” Bill said, feeling heat in his cheeks. “Their dog saw me and came after me. I got over the fence, but not before it took a chunk out of my butt. Nastiest schnauzer you ever saw.”
“Well, Snarla Jane won’t bite you, I promise. At least as long as you don’t bang anything. She hates sudden loud noises. But you don’t have to snuggle her at night, either.”
They all laughed, even if Bill had to force it a little.
“Bill, would you maybe have time to help me unload a couple rolls of flooring before you go to work?” Manny said. “They’re in the truck around back.”
“Sure,” Bill said, getting up and dusting stray bits of sugar from his shirt. “Trisha, it’s very nice to meet you. See you around.”
“Bye, Bill. Thanks for the food and the coffee. Drop by in the morning and I’ll whip you up some dinner to repay you.” She smiled and patted his hand, but didn’t get up.
Bill and Manny left the apartment and made their way down the central stair to the loading area behind the building.
“So what you think of her, eh?” Manny said, waggling his eyebrows. “Muy bonita, don’t you think?”
“I’m not big on dogs, but she seems housebroken and friendly enough.”
Manny punched his shoulder.
“Don’t play the smart kid with me, Bill. You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I reckon she’s pretty enough. What’s up with the crutches? She on the mend from something?”
“You could say, yeah. She was in a wreck last year. Some drunk ran a red light and t-boned the car she and her fiancé were in. Crushed the passenger door. They got her out, but her leg…well, she lost it below the knee. Just now getting to where she’s okay on her own. She took this place to get out of her mama’s house. I think they get along okay, but she needs to be on her own, you know?”
Wow. Okay. That explained the limp and the big black shoe.
“What happened to her fiancé? They postpone the wedding?”
“Oh yeah. They postponed it all right.” Manny spat on the pavement. “The dirty pendejo decided she wasn’t whole anymore and kicked her to the curb.”
“Man, that sucks. I hate that for her.”
“So show it,” Manny said as they reached a pickup loaded down with a lot more than a couple of rolls of vinyl floor. “Ask her to dinner. Walk her dog if she needs it. Flowers. Wine. Candy. All that shit.”
“Flowers and candy I can do. But she has to walk her own dog.”
“Bill, Bill, Bill. I thought you had a brain in that fuzzy pale head of yours.”
Trisha was enjoying having her own place again.
Over the next three weeks, she and Janie settled into their routine. Not much of one, really. Trisha was living on the insurance money from the accident, which should last her another couple of years if she stayed smart and didn’t waste it.
No, she and Janie stayed close to home. Manny sometimes took her grocery shopping in his gas-guzzling road whale. Sometimes Bill invited her over for a meal. Breakfast for him, dinner for her. He even set down a dish for Janie, though Trisha could tell her horrible, evil, vicious pibble made him nervous.
He should be nervous. Janie could lick the skin from a t-rex when she really got going. Best exfoliation on the planet.
She smiled as she puttered through the kitchen. This morning she’d make dinner for him, breakfast for her. A good vegetable frittata and some crusty rye bread. She’d started everything when he’d gotten off the bus fifteen minutes ago.
The eggs had about ten more minutes to go. Plenty of time to take Janie out for a quick trot through the grass, since Bill was probably still in the shower.
“Go easy on mommy, girlie girl,” Trisha said as she eased down the stairs. Her thigh muscles were getting stronger every day, but she still had to watch her balance on stairs and ramps.
Janie stayed by her side, the leash limp as they went.
On the traffic-filled boulevard, four lanes of cars and trucks zoomed in either direction, inches from the sidewalk.
Just before the bottom step, the worst thing happened.
Trisha’s right foot was on the way down when a faded delivery van backfired, belching sparks and black smoke like an old-fashioned cannon.
Janie gave a high-pitched yike and lunged, pulling her leash out of Trisha’s grip.
Trisha lost her balance, coming down on her fake foot at the wrong angle.
She screamed as she heard the artificial ankle snap.
As she watched her baby streak across the sidewalk and into the street.
All Trisha could do was hit the ground and begin crawling after her.
“JANIE!!” someone yelled. The same someone jumped over Trisha and pelted toward the now honking and braking vehicles.
She saw pale skin, red hair, and boxers covered with the Batman signal.
Bill ran barefoot right into the traffic, hands held out toward the oncoming cars.
Sweet Jesus, Janie was on the median. Darting back and forth, barking her fool head off.
Bill ignored the pain in his bare feet as he shot out into the traffic.
On the concrete divider, Trisha’s dog…Janie…ran back and forth. He finally got to her and grabbed her leash. She reared up and punched him in the thighs with both front feet.
Try to help and get bruises for your trouble.
Bill wound the leash around and around his hand, choking up until no slack remained.
How the hell was he going to get her back across the road?
This was Vegas after all, and people on the way to or from their busy lives weren’t going to slow down for something as mundane as a dog and a mostly naked computer guy in the road.
“Okay, Janie. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to pick you up, and you are not going to bite or struggle. Sound good to you?”
Jesus, he was talking to a dumb dog.
Still gripping the leash, he knelt down and gathered Janie in his arms. Wow. She had to weigh eighty pounds.
Tremors ran through her stiff body, but she held still. And kept quiet, except for a tiny little whine that tugged at his heartstrings.
“Gonna be okay, girl. Just close your eyes and—”
He broke off as a green-finned missile shot from the garage beneath the apartment building, barreling straight across the sidewalk and across both southbound lanes.
Tires squealed and brakes smoked. Horns blared and fists waved. Cars swerved and skewed.
But somehow didn’t hit each other.
Manny jumped out of the Caddy, popping a couple of flares which he waved at the now-still vehicles like a maniacal gunslinger.
“Andale, Bill! Get your ass in gear!” he bellowed.
Bill didn’t need telling twice.
Still holding the (incredibly heavy) Janie, he ran back across the road toward where Trisha held out her arms.
“I got…I got Jan…Janie…” he panted, setting both the pibble and his own self down. He put the leash in Trisha’s hand.
She threw her arms around Janie and kissed all over her blocky head. Janie returned it all with her raspy tongue.
Bill tried not to have a heart attack as he gulped in the dry desert air.
Manny pulled his road boat back across and into the garage. He killed the engine and strolled casually over to Bill and Trisha.
“Not bad,” he said. “Not bad at all. Not for a gringo.”
“Say thank you to the nice man, Janie,” Trisha said, wiping tears and slobber away with the palm of her hand. She grinned at Bill through her tears, and his heart skipped a little.
Damn, she was pretty.
Janie showed Bill all her gleaming teeth, then proceeded to lick his face raw.
And wonder of wonders, he wasn’t scared a bit. Not even when Trisha pushed Janie out of the way to add her own kiss.
“So how’s the new foot?” Manny asked as Bill held the Caddy’s rear door for Trisha. He’d been kind enough to drive them to the squat gray prosthetics center for Trisha’s final fitting on her replacement leg.
The bells of a nearby church rang six times. Trisha glanced at her watch, startled at how late it was. The fitting, testing, adjusting, and all the other stuff that went along with second-hand feet had gone on longer than she’d realized. But Bill had been there the whole way, chatting with her and the white-clad doctor/mechanic. She hadn’t noticed the time at all.
“Good as new,” Trisha said, grinning. She loved how they’d been able to match her skin tone almost perfectly. She might even break out a pair of shorts. “Better, even. It’s a whole new spring design, so it should last through any unplanned trips.”
The knee socket also fit far more comfortably. She felt like walking all the way home, or maybe dancing all the way.
Bill chuckled as he got in beside her. She still wasn’t completely sure about this whole dating-her-neighbor thing, but so far so good. Janie approved, always wagging her way to Bill and licking his hands. Bill was also more at ease by the day, tolerating Janie’s affections and even rubbing her ears when he thought no one was watching. The two must’ve bonded out there on that median.
Janie’s approval went a long way toward easing Trisha’s mind.
“Where to now?” Manny said as he reached over to the passenger seat to rub Janie’s ears. “Buena chica says we should go get some apple fritters.”
Manny had offered to take Janie for a walk in the park while they waited on Bill and Trisha, but she smelled something suspiciously like cheeseburger on her baby’s breath.
“I’m sure she does,” Trisha said. “But between you and Bill, Janie’s starting to get a bit of a belly on her. How about you take us home, and we can order some pizza?”
“Yes, madame. Home it is. But I will leave you three to your pizza, as I am an old man and need to hit the bed soon.”
“That’s a damn shame, Manny,” Bill said. “I guess it’ll just be me and Snarla Jane helping Trisha with the pizza.”
He squeezed her hand and smiled at her. She smiled back, amazed at how something as simple as a truck’s backfire could change her life so much.
In the front seat, Janie whuffed as her tail thumped against the seat as Trisha leaned over to kiss Bill’s sweet face.
For the Love of Snarla Jane
Copyright © 2020 by Jason A. Adams
All rights reserved
Published 2020 by Spiral Publishing, Ltd.
Book and cover design copyright © 2019 by Spiral Publishing, Ltd.
Cover art copyright © 2019 by Sasamihajlovic | Depositphotos.com