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Feliz Naughty Dog
Author: Roxanne St.Claire

 

Chapter One

 

 

Pru stared at the text message on her phone, a ribbon of disappointment curling through her.

“Seriously, Emma?” she murmured, falling back against the Buick’s back seat as she ripped the wrapper off a mini candy cane that was about to become breakfast and comfort food all in one peppermint sugar bomb. “Way to steal my Christmas Eve joy.”

Instantly, Gala, the dachshund sitting on Gramma Finnie’s lap in the passenger seat, turned and gave her a sad look that reflected exactly how Pru felt.

“Is there a problem, lass?” Gramma Finnie asked, stroking Gala’s tan head. “Are we running late for your meeting? Traffic is heavy in Bitter Bark today.”

“Oh, no, we’re right on time for the team kickoff in Bushrod Square. It’s just…other stuff.” Vague, but easier than trying to explain to her great-grandmother why this news was such a drag.

“Donchya be worryin’, dear Prudence,” she cooed in her lilting brogue. “I find it hard to believe you’ve left a single stone unturned organizin’ the Random Acts of Christmas Kindness for Bitter Bark High. Look at that bag full of instructions and lists and other RACK goodies to help your school win.”

“Win.” Pru grinned and slurped the candy cane. “And eat.”

Gramma laughed. “General Pru’s got this.” She winked as she said the nickname their family had been calling Pru forever. “I’ve no doubt Bitter Bark High will beat the other schools in the county by RACKing up the most points.”

Pru let out a sigh and threw a look at her backpack, which was, as her great-grandmother had correctly noted, a General Prudence Kilcannon Bancroft special. Maybe if the general spent less time managing college résumé-building projects like RACK IT UP and more time flirting with guys on the basketball team, she’d have a boyfriend for her team partner today, like Emma did.

“I guess.” Pru sucked the candy to a sharp point and tunneled her free hand into the fat rolls on Pyggie’s neck, Yiayia’s other doxie, who was curled next to her in the back seat. “But it’s never fun to get ditched for boys.”

“What do you mean?” Yiayia, the Greek grandmother who’d come into their extended family a few years ago, took her gaze off town traffic long enough to eye Pru in the rearview mirror.

“Emma and Charlotte were supposed to be my RACK IT UP partners today,” Pru explained. “And I made us the absolute most amazing list of Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, too.” And maybe overdecorated it just a bit. “But Emma just texted me that they want to partner with their boyfriends today.” She rolled her eyes. “So I’m flying solo.”

“That’s a random act of Christmas unkindness, if you ask me,” Yiayia said. “Is there anything worse than picking a man over a friend on Christmas Eve?”

“Nothing,” Gramma Finnie said with a sideways look at Yiayia. “Unless it’s dragging your friend along to shop for one on Christmas Eve.”

Pru frowned at the puzzling comment, but then another text came in from Emma.

You’re not mad, right? We figured since you’re running the show you can get another team. Or come with us, of course!

“Just what I want to be, a fifth wheel.” She thumbed back a quick, No problem! You guys have fun! and tossed the phone on top of her bag, pushing down her growing resentment.

“There are no other teams,” she said, more to herself than the grannies. “And now I’ll have to do my random acts alone, on foot, since Emma was going to drive. We were going to take Linda May’s raspberry croissants to the Starling Senior Living Center.” She made a face. “Now they’ll have all the fun of handing them out to the seniors and get any extra croissants.”

“Doesn’t really matter as long as your school ‘racks’ up the points, right?” Gramma Finnie asked, always seeing the silver lining in any dark cloud. “The more points, the more chance you have of Bitter Bark High winning.”

“True.” Pru grabbed her phone and checked the RACK IT UP app. “In Vestal Valley County, it’s still a three-way tie between Holly Hills, Bitter Bark, and Sweetheart Springs, which is a shock considering how little interest my whole school has in this. But they’ll all want the prize.”

Most of her friends acted like participating in Random Acts of Christmas Kindness was totally bogus and dumb, but they’d all be first in line if Bitter Bark won an all-expenses-covered Winter Formal with DJ Fearsome McQ.

“Did you say Sweetheart Springs?” Yiayia asked, her dark brows rising with surprise.

“Right? A dark horse for sure,” Pru said, thumbing through the list of participating high schools on the app. “I expected Holly Hills High would crush this, since they are the town that Christmas built, and Sweetheart Springs is full of wedding parties and honeymooners. Oh, and rich people who own second homes. The high school isn’t exactly famous for its spirit. But the judges gave some kids forty points for painting a Christmas mural on the side of a foster home overnight in freezing weather.” She let out an exasperated sigh. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“That’s close to the mall where we’re going after we drop Pru off, isn’t it?” Yiayia said under her breath to Gramma Finnie.

Gramma Finnie nodded, but added a warning look.

“Where exactly are you two going after you drop me off?” Pru asked, eyeing the octogenarians, and getting a whiff of…trouble.

“Nowhere.”

“Not important, lass.”

A zing shot through her at the dismissive responses. “Is this Dogmothers business that you forgot to tell me, the honorary member of your matchmaking team? Are you working on Ella’s match?” Her voice rose with enough excitement for Pyggie to force himself up, nearly taking a lick of the dagger-sharp candy cane Pru pointed at the front seat as she demanded to know more. “Are you getting her some of that famous hot springs water that’s supposed to make you fall in love, hence the unfortunate name of the town Sweetheart Springs?”

“Settle down, Prudence,” Yiayia said quickly. “There’s no matchmaking happening.”

Gramma Finnie lifted a dubious brow, silent.

“What?” Yiayia shot back. “I have an errand to run at the mall is all, which happens to be right between Holly Hills and Sweetheart Springs.”

“You’re going to the Vestal Village Mall on Christmas Eve? With the dogs?” Pru asked.

“Oh, dogs are more than welcome,” Yiayia said. “They’re trying to cash in on Bitter Bark’s huge tourist success by letting dogs go everywhere, so Pyggie and Gala will be safe and happy.”

“But will you?” Pru asked. “That place’ll be a madhouse today what with that massive Santa’s Workshop and the indoor train and carolers everywhere. Who in their right mind would go there on Christmas Eve?” Let alone two octogenarians and their dachshunds.

Once again, an indecipherable look passed between the two women, a look that Pru ached to interpret. Few things were as fun as the grannies on a matchmaking mission.

“What are you going to get?” Pru asked.

“Caught,” Gramma Finnie whispered. “Then killed.”

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