Authors: Shelley Shepard Gray
Illustrated map copyright Â© by Laura Hartman Maestro
In loving memory of
Phoebe, our beagle.
She loved napping,
kids, and pizza.
Because of that,
we loved her, too.
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and light for my path.
It takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow.
rankie was on the loose. Again.
“Mandy, dear, are you sure you didn't see where he went off to?” Emma Keim asked her six-year-old daughter.
Mandy shook her head, the long white ties of her
swinging with the movement. “I was talking to Frankie about my daisies, but I guess he weren't too interested in them.”
“I fear his actions have less to do with your daisies and more to do with the scent of pizza,” Emma said around a frown. “He's never smelled a pizza he didn't want.”
“I'm sorry, Mommy. I thought the gate was closed.”
Walking to the freshly painted white fence that surrounded their house like pretty icing on a cake, Emma examined the gate. The latch was in place. Then she noticed the beagle-sized hole underneath it.
“Looks like Frankie dug his way out this morning.”
“Oh, brother.” Mandy blew out an exasperated lungful of air. “Frankie can sure be a bad beagle.”
“Indeed.” Ever since Frankie had been a puppy, he'd had an inordinate fondness for pizza. But now that he'd reached the ripe of age of ten, he seemed to have developed a real problem of wandering off in search of his favorite snack. Honestly, one would think he was too old for such nonsense.
was. She had three girls to take care of by herself, as well as her home and a part-time job baking treats for several local inns in the area. She had no time to track down wayward beagles.
“One day I'm going to have had enough of his foolishness,” she muttered.
“Frankie don't mean to be bad, Mommy,” Mandy protested as she grabbed Emma's arm. “Don't be mad. He's simply a really hungry beagle.” Her middle child brightened. “Like the caterpillar in that picture book!”
“I know, child.” Gently, she rubbed her thumb over the little line that had formed between Mandy's brows. “You know I would never do anything to hurt Frankie. Go get your sisters, and hurry, please. We're going to have to look for him.”
While Mandy ran back inside, Emma put her hands on her hips and glanced around the neighborhood, valiantly hoping that Frankie would suddenly appear trotting down the street toward them.
But that was unlikely to happen. If her silly dog had managed to sneak a snack, he wouldn't still be wandering the streets of Pinecraft, Florida. Instead, he would be looking for a shady place to take a nap. And because he was a very deep sleeper, he would likely not even hear the four of them calling his name.
Behind her, the screen door squeaked open with a sprinkle of giggles. Looking at her three angels, Emma did a quick inspection. All were dressed for the warm summer day: three dresses in different shades of violet neatly in place, rubber flipflops on clean feet, and white
on just so.
Her daughters were her heart, for sure and for certain. After Sanford had passed away three years ago, Emma had wondered if she'd ever smile again. But then she'd looked into her sweet girls' faces and known that the Lord was good, indeed. He might have taken Emma's husband away far too early but He'd also given her three
reasons to live.
All she needed now was for Frankie to stop escaping and her life would be fine. Well, as fine as it could be as a widow.
“Where do you think Frankie went this time, Momma?” little Annie asked.
“Wherever he smelled pizza.” Feeling a bit silly, she sniffed the air. “Do you girls happen to smell pizza?”
“We never do,” Lena said. At eight, her eldest daughter had an answer for everything lately. “But I think we should head to the right when we start looking today.”
“How come?” Mandy asked. “The Kaufmanns live to the left and they are always eating pizza.”
Lena shrugged. “Frankie went left last time. Plus, it's kind of early for them to be eating pizza. Usually, no one's ever at their house until closer to dark.”
That was as good a reason as any. Holding out her hands for Mandy and Annie, Emma turned right and let Lena lead the way.
“Frankie? Frankie!” Lena called out as they made their way past their neighbors' houses. “Frankie, you silly beagle. Where are ya?”
“Frankie, come home! You . . . you hound!” Emma yelled in her best no-nonsense “mom” voice.
“I don't think Frankie likes being called a hound, Mamm,” Mandy said.
“Let's just hope he comes when one of us calls.”
Taking that as an invitation to bellow, Lena took a deep breath. “Frankie!”
Emma winced as an elderly couple reading books on their front porch looked up in alarm. “Lena, not quite so loud.”
“But if he's sleeping he won't wake up if I call quietly.”
“I know, but still . . .”
As they approached the Orange Blossom Inn, a boy sitting on the front steps said, “Who's Frankie?” He looked to be a year or so older than Lena and was dressed in long trousers, a light blue short-sleeved shirt, suspenders, and a wicker hat. He was surely Amish, but his attitude told Emma all she needed to know; he, like Lena, was blessed with know-it-all syndrome.
Never one to be shy, Lena marched right up to him. “Frankie is our beagle. Have you seen him?”
“Nope. Why's he called Frankie?”
“'Cause that's his name, that's why.”
“Well, I wouldn't come if I was a dog named Frankie. That's a silly name for a dog.”
Lena planted her hands on her hips. “Frankie likes his name. A lot.”
He smirked. “Then why doesn't he come when you call?”
“He likes pizza,” Annie said, scampering over to him. “Do you?”
Emma braced herself to step in. Surely this boy was about to say something snarky. Lena would then get mad and blurt something inappropriate, or Annie would start crying.
But instead, the young man stared at little Annie for a mo
ment, then stood up and smiled like he had all the time in the world for little blond five-year-olds. “Did you say he likes pizza?”
. He loves it!”
“My family does, too. And they just happen to be eating it out on the back patio. Come on.”
Next thing Emma knew, all three of her girls were following the boy into the inn. Though Emma wasn't afraid for themâshe'd known Beverly Overholt, the proprietor, for several years nowâEmma wasn't especially certain that Beverly would want little girls traipsing through her inn.
But since they were already inside, she followed, looking for Beverly as she stepped into the lovely entryway. When Emma saw her standing by the stairs, her arms folded across her chest and grinning, she grimaced. “Sorry about the interruption. I'm afraid we're searching for Frankie again.”
Beverly's green eyes lit up. “When I heard you calling for him down the street, I thought that might be the case,” she replied. Pointing toward the kitchen, she said, “They went that way.”
Emma hurried on. There would be plenty of time to apologize further later. For now, she had to keep track of her busy girls before they managed to get into as much trouble as one missing beagle.
The moment she passed through the swinging kitchen door, a pretty blond girl about eighteen or nineteen smiled at her. “They just went out the back door.”
But when she finally stepped out onto the cement patio, sixâno, sevenâpairs of eyes turned her way. Three belonged to her girls, the other four to three boys and one manâone very handsome man with dark blond hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and very light blue eyes.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” he said right back, sounding perplexed. “William told me you're looking for Frankie the beagle?”
She nodded. She was embarrassed, but this was no time to wish for better behaved beagles or less trusting little girls. “He wandered off.” Feeling more than a bit foolish, she asked, “Have you seen him, by any chance? He's tricolored and has white feet and a white-tipped tail.”
“Just as if he stepped in paint and got his tail dirty, too!” Mandy supplied. “He really likes pizza.”
“I think we just met a dog with that very description,” the man murmured almost a little too mildly.
Just then, Emma noticed that he was staring at his pizza box. Then she noticed that the paper plates next to the box were still in a neat stack.
And a slow, sinking feeling settled over her.
“Did, um, Frankie find
“He certainly did.” When he opened the lid, Emma groaned. At least half the pizza was gone. And the slices that remained were decorated with paw prints.
Frankie had struck again.
“I'm so sorry. I'll go buy you a fresh pizza.”
His lips twitched. “I'd take you up on it if I didn't feel so sorry for you.”
That's when the boy they'd been talking to out front silently pointed to a clump of boxwoods just beyond the edge of the patio.
Both Emma and her girls glanced over to see what he was pointing to. Sure enough, there was Frankie, lying on his side
with his stomach distended and his eyes closed. He was breathing deeply and kind of snoring, too. Orange pizza sauce dotted the white patch of fur on his chest and, from what she could see, two of his paws. It was obvious that Frankie was going to have a pizza hangover for most of the day.
While the girls groaned, Emma fought against taking a seat at the table and silently hoping for some stranger to come along and take over her life for the next four hours. If they attempted to move him, he was liable to throw up. Unfortunately, she knew this from experience.
The man looked like he was trying hard not to laugh. “I'm starting to get the sense that he's done this before.”
“All the time,” Lena whispered, obviously trying not to wake up Frankie. “He can't help himself, though. Pizza is his weakness.”
“I really am sorry,” Emma said, looking at each of the boys and the man. “I don't know what to say.”
“Why don't you tell me your name instead?” he asked.
Suddenly, a whole other feeling came over her as she noticed again just how attractive he was.
“My name is Emma. Emma Keim. And these, here, are my daughters Lena, Mandy, and Annie.”
“Where do you live?” the eldest boy, who wasn't actually a boy, asked. No, he was more a young man, at least seventeen or eighteen.
“Just down the way,” she said evasively.
“We have a white house and lots and lots of orange and cherry trees,” Mandy said.
“We're living here at the inn while my
gets our new
fixed up,” another boy added.
“I'm Jay,” the handsome man said, “and these are my sons Ben, Mark, and William.” Pointing to the youngest, he said, “I believe you and William already met.”
She smiled at them and couldn't help but notice that all three had their father's light blue eyes and muscular, lanky build. In fact, the only big difference, besides their ages, was their varying shades of blond hair. Ben's was dark blond, Mark's matched his father's, and William's was by far the lightest. “Pleased to meet you. I am sorry about the pizza. If you could wait a minute, I'll run home and get my purse and give you some money to pay for a new one.”
“That's not necessary.”
“But I'm sure your wife won't like your boys missing a meal.” The moment she said it, Emma wished she could take back every single intrusive word.
All four males looked mighty uncomfortable.
“We don't got a
,” William said quietly. “She's up in
“I am mighty sorry to hear she's in heaven,” Emma said. “It's hard to lose a parent.”
William looked at her curiously. “How do you know? Is your
“No, but, um, my husband is.”
A new awareness crackled in the air. The manâJayâlost his smile but he seemed to be examining her more closely. “I'm sorry for your loss, too.”
“Daed, how about me and Tricia take William and Mark to Village Pizza?” Ben, the eldest boy, asked.
“She's the girl who works here, remember? You met her yesterday.”
“Oh. Well . . .”
“They need to eat, Daed.”
After giving him a long look, he nodded. “
, sure. Go ahead.”
“Can the girls come, too?”
. We don't really know them,” Jay said before Emma could say the same thing.
Ben looked tempted to argue, then shrugged. “Let's go,” he said to his brothers.
“What? Oh, sorry. Nice to meet you,” he mumbled before shuttling his brothers back inside the inn.
Emma noticed all three of her girls staring at the boys' retreating backs. She wondered if it was because they were new, because they'd been rather nice, or because they were boys.
She stood up. “Well, um, I think it's time to grab my beagle and be on our way.”
“How will you get him home?”
“I'll carry Frankie,” she said. Though there was a fairly good chance he might get sick, she certainly didn't want him messing up Beverly's pretty patio, either.
Jay looked extremely doubtful. “Is it far?”
, just a couple of houses down.”
Mandy lifted two hands and showed off eight fingers. “Eight of 'em.”
“That's too far for you to carry a heavy dog,” Jay said. “I'll carry Frankie for you.”
“I couldn't let you do that.”
But before she could protest any further, he bent down and, with a grunt, lifted the snoring beagle into his arms. Emma had to believe that any man who would carry a dog so gently must be a good person.
And with that, she decided to go ahead and let him carry Frankie home.