The Saint Paddy’s Promise which publishes March 12th is the 100th book I’ve published. It’s been a busy five and a half years! For a preview of this very fun Tess and Tilly see below.
Five dogs in training, two human trainers, one canine trainer, a beautiful sunny sky, and a rarely seen high temperature of sixty-two degrees made for what I considered to be an almost perfect March day.
“Oliver Hanson, this is Tess Thomas and her dog Tilly,” Dr. Brady Baker, the owner of the only veterinary hospital and animal shelter in my hometown of White Eagle, Montana, introduced the tall, dark-haired man who had approached from the far side of the parking lot. “Oliver is interested in adopting Hank and would like to watch our training session today.”
“I’m happy to meet you.” I held out my hand in greeting. “Hank is a great dog. He has the usual energy one might expect from a sixteen-month-old lab, but Brady and I have been working with him for almost two months now, and the improvement we’ve seen in his responses to verbal commands as well as his overall attention span has been amazing.”
I couldn’t help but notice the way the man’s eyes twinkled when he smiled. “I’m glad to hear it. The main reason I came all the way from Spokane to adopt a rescue from the shelter in White Eagle is because of the work you do training your dogs before you place them. I have to say, I am more than just a little impressed.”
I glanced at Brady and grinned. Brady and I put in a lot of hours training the dogs here, and we were both proud of our accomplishments. “Brady and I realize that a dog who has received at least basic training will be less likely to find his way back to the shelter once he has been adopted.” I looked toward a bench in the sun. “You picked a good day to make the trip. Why don’t you have a seat, and after we put all the dogs through their paces, you can try working with Hank one-on- one.”
The man nodded. “That would be great. Thank you.”
I’m not usually one to brag, but I will say that Brady, Tilly, and I have worked out a training routine that by this point runs like clockwork. In as little as eight to ten weeks, we can take an undisciplined and untrained dog and turn him or her into one who will listen to his or her human and respond correctly to the basic commands of come, sit, down, stay, heel, and wait. Most dogs are cleared for adoption after the basic training course, but there are those with unique potential that we hold back for specialty training that could make them a candidate for advanced work with FEMA or another organization that utilizes highly trained canines.
Brady and I had tried a few different approaches in the beginning, but then we found that the key to our success in many cases was Tilly. Tilly is an old pro when it comes to responding to both verbal commands and hand signals, and we have often used her to demonstrate the behavior we are after, which seems to help the younger dogs who are eager to learn but have no idea what it is we are asking of them.
The dogs we’d brought out with us today seemed to be enjoying the warm weather and sunshine as much as their human trainers. Almost everyone was on their best behavior, which made the training session seem to go faster. In another couple of months, we’d add water training at the lake for many of the more advanced dogs. It was surprising how many of our prospective parents wanted to adopt dogs who liked the water and could swim.
“It seems to me that Rosie is becoming more and more distracted with each session,” I said to Brady as we loaded the dogs other than Hank into his truck after our session. “When we first started working with her, she showed real promise, but now I’m just not sure.”
Brady huffed out a breath. “Yeah. I’ve noticed that as well. Maybe some one-on-one time will help get her back on track. I’ll work with her this week. Why don’t you take Hank and get Oliver started with his individual session while I finish up here?”
“Okay. Do you know if Oliver has experience training a young dog?”
“When I asked him that question, he said that his last dog lived for an impressive seventeen years and he was a child when he was trained, so Hank will be his first.”
“Okay. I’ll go over the basics.”
I instructed Tilly to stay with Brady, then headed across the parking lot with Hank on a lead. Oliver stood up to greet us as we approached.
“Oliver, this is Hank.”
Hank wagged his whole body as Oliver stooped down to pet him.
“Hank is still in what I refer to as the puppy stage despite his size,” I informed the man. “He has a strong play instinct, which can seem to many to be a negative, but if you understand his need for exercise, you can use it to your advantage.”
“Oh, and how is that?” he asked as he ruffled Hank behind the ears.
“A lot of dogs respond best to food as a reward for a job well done, but Hank will do almost anything for a chance to play with you for even a few minutes. The trick is to use playtime as a reward for cooperative behavior. Hank wants to please you. If you make it clear what you are asking of him and reward that behavior with a tug-of-war session or a game of fetch, I think you will both be very happy. I’m going to have you put him through his paces today. When the session is over, if he has done well, let him know you are happy with his behavior and then play with him for a few minutes.”
Oliver nodded. “Okay, let’s give it a try.”
“We’ll start easy with a down stay and then work on recall and finally walking at heel.”
As I knew he would, Hank performed like a pro. When it came time for his play session, it looked as if Oliver was having as much fun as the dog. I think we’d found a match that had the potential to last a lifetime. Oliver agreed to return the following weekend for another session, and if that went well, he would take Hank home with him after the adoption paperwork was completed.
“Do you need a ride?” Brady asked after Oliver left to drive back to Washington and we’d completed our training for the day.
“No. Tony dropped me off and was going to pick me up, but I told him he could just pick me up later from Bree’s. If Tilly and I cut through the park, it is less than a mile to her place, and it is such a beautiful day that I thought we’d walk.”
Brady looked up toward the clear blue sky. “It is a nice day. How is the wedding planning coming along?”
I shrugged. “It’s coming along exactly as I predicted it would.”
“As you predicted?”
I looked Brady in the eye. “Stressful, angst-filled, drama at its best. On the day we found out that Mike and Bree were getting married, I told Tony that Bree would start off by swearing that she wasn’t going to be one of those bridezillas she professes to have no patience for, while I predicted that halfway in, she’d be as monsterlike as any bride who had ever existed.”
Brady laughed. “Is she really that bad?”
“She really is. But it is her wedding. And as her best friend, maid of honor, and future sister-in-law, I want her to have her perfect day. If she is having a hard time figuring out exactly what that day might look like, I am determined to be patient and let her take the time she needs.”
“You’re a good friend.”
“Bree means a lot to me. She has always been like a sister to me, and now that she is going to be my real sister, I couldn’t be happier.” I tossed the stack of traffic cones we used in training into the back of Brady’s truck. “Are we doing another training session on Saturday?”
“I’d planned on it. I thought we could just meet here if the weather is nice again. If we are back to regular March weather, we’ll meet at the shelter. I want to get as many dogs through our basic training as possible before the adoption clinic next month.”
“Are you still thinking of doing speed dating again?”
Brady nodded. “It seemed to work well the last time we tried it, so yeah, I thought we could give it another go.”
“Okay, then, I’ll see you on Saturday if not before.” After waving to Brady, Tilly and I took off across the park. I loved this time of the year, when the snow had melted and everything felt fresh and new. It had been an early spring this year and I supposed we could very well get more snow, but I knew once the heating trend started, any snow that did fall would melt in a matter of hours. Mike and Bree had decided to get married in June. I knew my brother would prefer a church wedding and an indoor reception, but Bree wanted to be married outdoors under the night sky. Her plan seemed to me to be riddled with problems, but I knew she needed to work through those problems herself, so I just stood back and supported her process.
Of course, in my mind, the biggest challenge was the weather. June could be tricky. Sometimes the month was warm and mild, while other Junes could be wet and cool. In terms of snowpack, it had been a mild winter this year. We’d had snow early on, but then it seemed to taper off, with only small storms blowing in during the normally heavy snowfall months. I supposed that a warmish winter and spring could mean that summer would arrive early. June could be gorgeous in White Eagle if the planets aligned and everything fell into place.
I glanced toward the walking path that meandered through the park. The trees were budding, and I knew that the brown and barren landscape would begin to turn green with just a few more warm days. The flowering shrubs were beginning to bud, and if the temperature cooperated, the entire park would be brilliant, with flowers in a multitude of colors before long. I glanced down at Tilly, who began to wag her tail so hard that it was swatting my leg. Pausing to see what she was looking at, I noticed a young woman with long blond hair sitting on a bench next to an elderly woman holding a cane. The young woman smiled at Tilly and me as we approached.
“Can I pet your dog?” the young woman asked.
“Certainly. Tilly loves to meet new people.” I motioned to Tilly that she could carefully approach the woman, who had reached out a hand.
“I just love dogs, and yours is beautiful.” The woman smiled. “My name is Jennifer Anne Claremont, and this is my grandmother, Elizabeth Bradford.”
“I’m Tess Thomas and this is Tilly. We are both happy to meet you.” I glanced toward the lake, which had been frozen until the warm weather we’d been having had arrived. “It’s a beautiful day to get outdoors.”
“It really is. And I am so grateful for the sunshine and warm temperature. I can’t tell you how many Saint Patrick’s days Nana and I have spent sitting on this bench in the middle of a snowstorm.”
“You sit out here every year despite the weather?” I asked.
Jennifer Anne turned her head to the side and glanced at her grandmother with a look of complete adoration on her face. “Have to. Nana has made the pilgrimage to this bench every March 17 for the past sixty years, rain, snow, or sunshine. I started coming with her eight years ago, after she suffered a stroke that limited her mobility and made it impossible for her to drive. It is also difficult for her to speak, which makes any sort of public transportation difficult, so I volunteered to chauffer her for as long as she needs me.”
From the woman’s loving expression, I didn’t think she minded the duty she had volunteered for in the least. It warmed my heart to see such a devoted granddaughter. I no longer had a grandmother, and in the moment, it really hit home how much I’d been missing out on.
“Sixty years?” I responded. “That’s quite a run. I sense there’s a story behind it.”
Jennifer Anne glanced at her grandmother. “Is it okay if I tell Tess and Tilly your story?”
The white-haired woman nodded.
Jennifer Anne turned back to where I was standing. “It’s kind of a long story, so you might want to take a seat.”
I sat down on a nearby bench, and Tilly sat at my feet.
The granddaughter settled back as well. “Sixty years ago today, my grandmother was supposed to meet the one true love of her life at this very bench so they could run away and start a new life together, but he never showed up.”
My smile faded. “Oh no. What happened?”
The light in Jennifer Anne’s eyes faded just a bit. “Nana doesn’t know.” She glanced at the woman sitting next to her. “What she does know is that Patrick O’Malley, the man for whom Nana had professed her love and agreed to marry, originally came to this area the previous summer with friends who’d rented a cabin and planned to spend their time hiking and fishing. By the time the summer came to an end, Patrick was madly in love with my grandmother, and when his friends left, he stayed. They grew even closer as winter set in, and by Valentine’s Day, they knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, even though my grandmother’s family didn’t approve of her relationship with Patrick and he assured her that his wouldn’t be any happier. They decided to defy their families and became engaged.”
I couldn’t help but notice Elizabeth’s hand tighten on her cane. She may not be able to speak, but I could see that she still felt strongly about the events that had taken place all those years ago.
Jennifer Anne continued. “Shortly after he professed his intention to spend his life with her, Patrick told my grandmother that he needed to return home for a short time to take care of some business and to notify his family of his intention to wed and to move permanently out west. Nana still lived at home, and she knew it would only cause problems with her very strict parents if Patrick came to the house looking for her, so the two agreed to meet here on this bench at two o’clock on Saint Patrick’s Day. From here, they planned to simply disappear and live out their lives together.”
“But he never showed up?”
Jennifer Anne’s expression softened. She glanced at her grandmother with compassion. “No. He never showed up.”
“And he never tried to contact your grandmother in any other way?” I asked.
“He didn’t. Initially, Nana came to the park and waited on the bench every day, but eventually, she was forced to accept that he wasn’t coming back for her, so she dealt with the fallout from their brief yet intense love affair and made do with what she had.”
“Patrick left my grandmother with child. My mother was born just before Thanksgiving that same year. When Nana’s parents found out she was pregnant, they kicked her out, and she was forced to find a way to provide for herself and her baby on her own. And she did. She moved to Polson, got a job waiting tables, gave birth to my mother, who she named Patricia, and made a life. For the most part, I think she pushed thoughts of Patrick into the back of her mind, but every year on March 17, no matter what else was going on her in life, she made the trip north to sit on this bench.”
I placed my hand over my heart. How incredibly sad. “And your mother—does she ever come with you?”
Jennifer Anne shook her head. “My mother died years ago. She had me later in life and died from complications from an illness when I was only two. Grandma gave up her plans for retirement to raise me and to ensure that I’d have a good life. She had her stroke eight years ago, when I was just sixteen. When it came time for me to leave home and go to college, I decided to stay to take care of the woman who had sacrificed so much to raise me when I needed her.” Jennifer Anne laced her fingers through the fingers of her grandmother’s left hand and gave it a squeeze. “We make a good pair, the two of us. Don’t we, Nana?”
It seemed to me that Elizabeth had a hard time smiling, but the love for her granddaughter that sparkled in her eyes was obvious.
“That is quite a story. It is both sad and beautiful. I have to wonder whether you have ever tried looking for Patrick.”
Jennifer shook her head. “Sixty years ago, it wasn’t so simple to look for someone who lived clear across the country unless you hired a private investigator. That took money that Nana didn’t have. The thought has occurred to me to try now. I realize that after all this time Patrick may be dead, but I still think that it would give Nana comfort to have the answers she’d never been able to find on her own. But I’m not exactly a computer wiz, and I certainly don’t have PI skills. I’d have no idea where to even start.”
I smiled. “It just so happens that my boyfriend, Tony Marconi, is a computer wiz. With your permission, of course, I would be happy to ask him to try to find Patrick.”
Jennifer Anne turned to her grandmother. “What do you think? Should we take a stab at it?”
Elizabeth paused, as if considering the offer. I watched as her gaze narrowed and her lips tightened. Eventually, she nodded her head slowly.
Jennifer Anne looked back to me. “Where would he start?”
“I guess he’d start with whatever you know.”
Jennifer Anne frowned. “We don’t know a lot. I’ve already told you his name, Patrick O’Malley. He told Grandma he was twenty-four when they met in 1959, so if he’s still alive, he’d be around eighty-four now. His grandparents immigrated to the United States from Ireland at around the turn of the twentieth century, but she doesn’t know exactly when. He never mentioned the first names of his parents or anyone else in his family to her. Nana said he referred to Boston as home, and that his parents owned their own business, though she didn’t know what kind. One of the friends he came to White Eagle with that summer was about his age and his name was Toby Willis. She didn’t know much about Toby other than that he’d been friends with Patrick for a long time.”
“Did Patrick know he was going to be a father at the time he left town?” I figured I had to ask. It had occurred to me that he may simply have decided that fatherhood was not for him and had used the excuse to go home to slip away, skipping out on his responsibility.
“No. Nana didn’t realize that she was pregnant until after they were to meet. They didn’t have early pregnancy tests back then.”
I realized that much was true. I took out my phone. “If you don’t mind sharing your cell number, I’ll text you mine. When I speak to Tony, he may have other questions for you. Do the two of you live here in White Eagle?”
“We both live in Polson.”
“Okay. That’s close enough.” I looked directly at Elizabeth Bradford. “I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to find your answers, but I promise you that we will try.”
Again, she didn’t smile, but I could see there was moisture in her eye.
When Tilly and I arrived at Bree’s home, I found her on the phone, and while I wasn’t sure who she was speaking to, I could tell she wasn’t at all happy. Not only was she pacing around the room but her naturally pale complexion was as red and ruddy as if she had spent the day in the sun.
“I sense a problem.” I filled a dish with water for Tilly, then sat down at Bree’s dining table after she’d hung up and turned to greet me.
“That was the caterer I’d hoped to hire. They said they are overbooked for the weekend I requested and are sorry to inform me that they will be unable to provide the food for my wedding. I have a feeling that they weren’t actually overbooked and were just using that as an excuse. When I initially spoke to them, it seemed obvious they weren’t really keen on catering a wedding that is going to take place so late in the evening.”
“I know you have your heart set on a wedding under the stars, and I know you have selected June 21 as your date because it is the summer solstice, but it doesn’t get dark until close to ten o’clock. That is really late for a wedding. And to try to have a meal after that is…” I wanted to say crazy but settled for “challenging.”
Bree let out a long sigh. “I guess you’re right. Exchanging our vows under the stars just sounded so romantic, and I chose the twenty-first because it felt sort of significant, being the solstice and all.” Bree groaned. “I’m making this too complicated, aren’t I?”
I put my hand over Bree’s. “It’s your wedding and I want you to have exactly what you have always dreamed of, and if having a reception at midnight is what needs to happen, you know I’ll be there. Having said that, yeah, I do think you are making it too complicated. You will never find a caterer who is willing to serve that late in the evening, at least not in White Eagle, and I have a feeling that there could be a lot of guests who come up with conflicting plans as well. If getting married under the stars on the twenty-first of June is the most important thing to you, I think you should go for it, but you should probably keep it small. Maybe family only. We could have the wedding at Tony’s place. A ceremony next to the lake would be magical. And after you exchange vows, Tony could prepare dinner for everyone. If,” I continued, “on the other hand, it is more important for you to have a big wedding with all your friends and acquaintances present, I think you should plan an indoor affair during the day, or perhaps earlier in the evening. Or at least an outdoor affair with an indoor alternative like The Lakehouse, which has a beautiful beach if the weather is nice but also has a conference and event room if the weather turns out to be less than ideal.”
Bree plopped down in the chair across from me. “Yeah. I’m hearing what you are saying. I guess The Lakehouse would be nice, if it is available. We could have the ceremony on the beach, weather permitting, and then we could have the reception on the patio. We could string lights, and by the time we got around to the dancing, it would be dark. I suppose that if Mike and I can’t exchange our vows under the stars, we could at least have our first dance there.”
“Or you could flip things around and have dinner first, say at eight o’clock, and then exchange vows after it grows dark, which, as I’ve said, I imagine should be around ten.”
Bree’s expression appeared uncertain. “You think? It would be sort of unconventional to exchange our vows after the meal.”
I shrugged. “It is your wedding. Do what you want to do. Well, at least what you and Mike want to do.”
My comment made Bree groan.
“I’m sensing yet another problem.”
“It’s not really a problem, it’s just that every time I ask Mike about the wedding, he responds with the boilerplate response: he wants what I want. At first, I found his desire to make me happy sort of sweet. Now I just find it annoying. It’s like he doesn’t even care about our wedding.”
I paused and then continued carefully. “He cares. I know Mike loves you and the day you exchange your vows is as important to him as it is to you, but guys don’t always care about things like the type of flowers in the bouquet or the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses, the way women often do. I think the most important thing to him, on the most important day of his life, is to have the certainty in his heart that he was able to gift the woman he cherishes with the wedding she’d always dreamed of.”
Bree wiped a tear from her cheek. “I know you’re right. I have let this wedding get to me in a way I’d vowed not to. I actually do realize that I am making not only myself but everyone around me crazy. Even my mother is losing patience, and she was so excited to be part of the planning when we started this journey. I’ll call The Lakehouse, and if it is available on June 21, I’ll arrange to go by with Mike for a look. Having the reception dinner before the exchange of vows isn’t the craziest idea I’ve entertained. We can have our guests arrive at seven thirty for drinks, have dinner at eight, the ceremony at ten, and then dancing after.”
I smiled. “I think that sounds like a perfectly lovely idea.” Of course, I realized that for Bree to be married under the stars as she dreamed, the weather still needed to cooperate, but in my mind, it was best to tackle one obstacle at a time. “Any idea what time Mike is going to be by?”
“He had to go out on a call or he would have been here by now.”
“I thought he was off today.”
“He was,” Bree confirmed, “but Frank called him in. He didn’t go into details when he called to let me know he was going to be late, but from what he did say, I suspect there’s been a murder.”
“Murder?” I screeched. It seemed to me that Bree might have opened our conversation with this piece of news. “Did he say who the victim was?”
Bree shook her head. “No. All he really told me was that there had been a death in the community that Frank wanted his help dealing with. He never actually said it was a murder, but if it was a natural death, why would Frank call Mike in on his day off?”
That, I decided, was a good question. “I’m going to call Tony to see if he knows what’s going on. If you want to grab your bridal magazines, we can look at place settings when I’m done.”
“I’ll get the magazines after I call The Lakehouse. If it isn’t available, we’ll need to focus our efforts on an alternate venue.”
Bree headed into the kitchen, where she’d left her phone, and I called Tony. I didn’t know for certain if he’d have heard what was going on, but I knew he was in town, so chances were he had heard and could fill me in.
“I take it you heard,” Tony said when he answered his cell.
“Not really,” I answered. “Bree just mentioned that Mike had to go out on a call and that someone had died. She didn’t know who or how. I was hoping that you did.”
“It’s Brick Brannigan.”
“Oh no.” Brick owned the local bar. He was a nice and popular guy, despite his rough side. “What happened?”
“I don’t have all the details, but from what I’ve been able to gather from comments I’ve overheard, it sounds as if he was shot in the chest, most likely as he cleaned up after closing last night.”
I supposed it made sense that he’d been shot after closing and not earlier in the evening. If he’d been killed while he was still open, there would have been witnesses to the event. “Any idea who shot him or why?”
“None. Mike is inside, as is Frank. The new rookie they are training to help out when one of them is off came outside to meet the coroner when he arrived, and everything I’ve managed to pick up has been by listening in on their conversation. I suppose that once Mike is done there he’ll be able to fill us in on the details.”
“The rookie’s name is Gage. He’s just a kid and about as green as they come, but he tries. Have the crime scene guys from the county arrived yet?”
“No, not yet, but I’m sure they’ll be along soon. When I first arrived, the parking area was deserted, but a crowd has begun to gather and it seems that everyone has an opinion as to what happened and why. Of course, it will be up to Mike and Frank to sort it all out. Do you want me to stay here and try to find out what is going on, or should I meet you at Bree’s?”
“Bree is in one of her moods, so you might want to wait a bit before coming by. I’ll text you and let you know when I’ve managed to turn things around and create a drama-free zone.”
Tony laughed. “You are doing an excellent job as best friend and maid of honor. I’m not sure I would have been able to maintain the level of patience you have.”
I smiled. “To be honest, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t had a meltdown of my own by now, but I actually think we are making progress today. I may even have talked her into starting the wedding earlier in the evening. I need to go before Bree changes her mind yet again. Text me if you hear anything, and I’ll text you when it is safe to come over.”
I spoke to Tony for another minute, then hung up just as Bree danced into the room.
“The Lakehouse has an opening on June 21 and they are willing to hold it for me for forty-eight hours so I can discuss it with Mike. I need to call him.”
“I wouldn’t. The murder he responded to was Brick Brannigan.”
Bree’s smile faded. “Brick? What happened?”
“Tony didn’t have all the details, but from what he overheard, Brick was shot in the chest while he was cleaning up last night.”
“Oh my God. Poor Brick. Who would do such a thing?”
I shrugged. “I suppose he could have gotten in an argument with someone. People do carry guns, and people who have been drinking don’t always make the best decisions. Maybe there was even a witness. We’ll need to wait until Mike gets here to find out what he knows.”
Bree plopped down on the sofa. “Yeah. Mike will figure this out. He’ll make sure that whoever killed Brick is made to pay.”
“You might want to hold off on a discussion of the wedding plans until after Mike has a chance to decompress. Brick and Mike were friends. I think he is probably taking this hard.”
“Of course. I’ll wait and bring up the venue tomorrow.” Bree folded her legs up under her body. “I guess we should have Tony come over now, rather than later. I doubt we’ll get much wedding planning done and he should be here when Mike gets here. Is he in town?”
I nodded. “I’ll call him back in a bit. He’s hanging out at in the parking lot of the bar, trying to find out exactly what is going on. Maybe he can even get a word to Mike that we are all here for him when he is ready to leave.”