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By:Roxanne St. Claire


Daniel Kilcannon opened his eyes on the morning after he buried his wife of thirty-six years and pushed himself up, not creaking too badly for fifty-six years young. His movement instantly woke Rusty, sprawled at the foot of the bed. The Irish setter lifted his glossy red head, a little hope in his big brown eyes as if to ask, Is she back yet?

“Bad news, my boy. It’s still just you and me.”

He dragged his hands through his thick hair, the next wave of grief bearing down, growing all too familiar since the moment his beloved wife succumbed to a heart attack in the prime of her life. When the wave passed, he tried to think clearly. About today. Beyond today.

What could possibly matter now that Annie was gone?

The kids.

Of course, Daniel and Annie Kilcannon had been driven by one thing as a couple: to do what was best for their children, no matter how old the six of them were. And the way they were living now?

Not best for his far-flung six-pack.

Annie used to say, You’re only as happy as your least-happy kid.

And today, none of them could be called happy, and not just because they’d had to say goodbye to a mother they loved with their whole hearts and souls.

Not one of them, with the possible exception of Aidan, was fully content. Three of them had picked up and moved across the country to the Pacific Northwest to follow their brother Garrett when he sold his company. Now they all worked for an industry behemoth, and it wasn’t fun like it was when they were helping Garrett run a start-up in Chapel Hill. Liam openly loathed the Seattle hipsters, didn’t even drink coffee, and was broodier than ever, if that was possible. And Shane was a damn good attorney, but he didn’t seem to have any enthusiasm for the meaningless corporate contracts he’d been stuck with out there.

Darcy’s wanderlust was rearing its capricious head again, making her threaten to quit her job and head to Australia or Austria—he couldn’t remember which—to catch up with her wayward cousin and get into whatever trouble those two always were getting into.

And Garrett? He’d been on fire when he started that Internet company a few years ago. The most restless of Daniel’s six kids, Garrett had found his passion and thrived in a world that combined his technological prowess and leadership skills. But then Garrett chased the almighty dollar and gave up control. Sure, he’d made them all a pile of money, but it cost the boy his soul, because ever since he signed that contract and sold his company a month ago, he’d changed. It was like he’d built a wall around himself, and nothing could take it down.

Molly stayed right here in Bitter Bark and had taken over Daniel’s veterinary practice in town. But even with the special relationship she enjoyed with her daughter, Molly had a sadness in her eyes, too, since most of her siblings had moved across the country.

They all needed to be home and be a family, now more than ever. And they needed families of their own. And, clearly, they needed a little help to make that happen.

Oh hell, they didn’t call him the Dogfather just because he was a damn good vet who’d rescued and raised a lot of dogs in his time. He could still hear Annie’s wind-chime laugh and tender touch as she teased him with the nickname that suited both his love of animals and his ability to get people to do what he wanted.

Except, he hadn’t been able to get Annie to live. He swallowed at the sharp pain in his chest, fighting the sting of tears. He had to manage the grief and agony and emptiness. And he would, because Annie wouldn’t want him moping around like a basset hound without a bone.

“I have to make them realize how much happier they’d be back home in Bitter Bark, North Carolina,” he said to his dog, who’d jumped off the bed and rubbed his head against Daniel’s leg.#p#分页标题#e#

The dog barked once, which Daniel took as a hearty agreement, but was probably a reminder that it was time for Rusty to visit the grass.

“I’m not manipulating them,” he said, feeling the need to defend the idea that was taking hold. He was being a fifty-six-year-old widower who wanted his family whole and happy.

On a sigh, he wandered to the window, pushed back the sheer curtain, and looked out over what he could see of the nearly one hundred acres of Waterford Farm. His gaze drifted over the rolling hills, the woods laden with the golds and reds of fall, the sunshine glistening like crystals on the pond.

Closer to the main house, which had grown and been remodeled repeatedly over the last thirty years, he could see Liam and Shane in the pen outside the kennels, already working with the two foster Dobies Annie had taken in before she died.