The laugh escaped as she set the puppy down and let him race down the hall. "This ought to be interesting."
Moe shot out of the kitchen, then skidded to a halt. His eyes rolled, his body braced. And the little pup, a ball of brown and gray fur, yipped in joy and leaped up to nip at Moe's nose.
Brad grabbed Zoe's arm before she could ran forward. "But what if—"
"Have a little faith," Brad suggested.
Moe quivered, sniffed the pup as it jumped and tumbled. Then he collapsed, rolling over on his back in an attitude of bliss as the puppy climbed all over him and chewed on his ears.
"Big softie," Zoe murmured, and felt her own smile spread, big and foolish, as Simon wandered out from the kitchen.
"Hey, Mom! We're having subs for lunch. Me and Flynn made them, and…" He trailed off, his eyes going round as the puppy deserted Moe to charge him.
"Whoa! A puppy. Where'd he come from?" Simon was already down on the floor, laughing as the pup licked his face, tumbling back as Moe tried to horn in. "He looks like a bear cub or something."
Buried in dogs, Simon twisted enough to look at Brad. "Is it yours? When'd you get him? What's his name?"
"Not mine. He's just been liberated. And he doesn't have one."
"Then who—" He went very still, and those long gold eyes fixed on his mother's.
"He's yours, baby."
In that moment she knew the puppy could chew through her house like a plague of termites and she would never regret it. She would never forget that flash of stunned joy on her little boy's face.
“To keep?" Simon's voice shook as he managed to get to his knees. "I can keep him?"
"I think he's counting on it." She walked over to kneel down and raffle the pup's cloud-soft fur. "You're going to have to be very responsible, and make sure he's fed right and taught, and loved. Puppies are a lot of work. He's going to depend on you."
"Mom." Too overcome to be embarrassed that Brad looked on, Simon threw his arms around his mother and buried his face against her shoulder. "I'll take good care of him. I promise. Thanks, Mom. I love you more than anything, ever."
"I love you more than anything, ever." She answered his fierce hug with one of her own, then managed a watery laugh when both dogs tried to wiggle between them. "I think Moe's going to like having a friend."
"It's just like a big family." Simon lifted the puppy high.
The newcomer expressed his delight by peeing on Simon's knee.
Zoe rubbed the exfoliating cream over Dana's calf and grinned as her friend let out a long, heartfelt moan.
"I really appreciate the two of you giving up your Sunday afternoon to be my guinea pigs."
This time Dana grunted. Malory sat on a stool in the treatment room and rubbed her fingers over her newly scrubbed and polished skin. "I can't get over how good it feels."
"I wasn't worried about the results—these products are great. But I want to be sure the whole experience works."
"Works for me," said Dana's slurred and muffled voice.
Zoe glanced around, scanning the shelves of products, the glowing candles, the neat stack of mint-green towels on the counter, the clear crystal she'd hung from the ceiling over the padded table.
It was, she thought, exactly right.
"Of course, when we're doing this for real there won't be three people in here talking. You want us to be quiet, Dana?"
"You don't even exist in my little world. That stuff smells as good as it feels."