LOVE AT FIRST BARK - Debbie Burns
St. Louis, Missouri - Present Day
For Ben Thomas, reaching the summit of Mount Everest was an important goal in his life. But for the past eight years Ben has been in love with his best friend's wife, Mia Chambers. He had heard Mia's speech at the college of his friend, Brad's, and could not forget her. However, it was Brad who made the first move on her and soon it was Brad and Mia who were married, shortly after her pregnancy was confirmed. But it was Ben who was at Mia's side when she delivered Ollie, and when the injuries from the automobile accident she and Brad were in cost her a chance at any future children. So, from afar, and much too near sometimes. Ben had to watch Mia hold up a marriage that wasn't working, raise her son in the midst of her husband's infidelity, and now, deal with Brad's sudden death. For Ben, this is not the time to reveal his feelings for Mia, but as Ollie's godfather, he will be able to help in emotional ways, all the while keeping too many secrets from Mia.
Mia is an animal portraitist and a long-time volunteer at the High Grove Animal Shelter. She and Ollie moved out of the house she and Brad owned, unable to deal with a failing marriage. Living in her grandparent's home inherited by Mia's mother, Lynn, who works in Kenya as a teacher, Mia is struggling to make ends meet, deal with Brad's demise, and give her son a normal childhood. She is thankful for Ben's support and how he so obviously cares for Ollie. The holidays this year will be difficult in too many ways. To complicate things, someone has dumped a dozen dogs in the local park, and Mia has taken in a mother dog and her young pup to foster.
As difficult as life can be, Mia knows that keeping things as normal as possible for her grieving son is the most important thing. Ben, who is a Big Brother to a young teenage boy, Taye, is always around to visit Ollie, take him for fun events, and give some emotional support when it is needed. Slowly coming to the realization that it's been Ben who has been there all along for her, even during her turbulent marriage, Mia refrains from revealing that knowledge to Ben or that she cares for him. It's only been a short time since Brad's death, and maybe Ben doesn't feel the same for her.
LOVE AT FIRST BARK is centered on Mia and Ben's growing relationship, but the dogs and cats at the High Grove Animal Shelter are key characters. Their need for help, and the love they give in return balances the upheaval in Mia's life and the need for Ben to be honest about his feelings. The arrival of Mia's mother opens up new emotions for Mia. Her mother's honesty and ability to see what Mia cannot in her relationships is eye-opening for the daughter.
The author's knowledge of dog behavior and training is spot on. As a dog owner/trainer myself, I appreciated the honest and realistic approach to all aspects of pet ownership. LOVE AT FIRST BARK is a wonderful, heartwarming tale that all readers will enjoy.