by: Gabi Justice
Summary: Dog Girl is Fangirl meets Pit Bulls and Parolees.
Saving the dogs who end up at Delray Dog Rescue is Kendall’s life. It’s the perfect job for a girl with severe social anxiety.
Delray Dog Rescue doesn’t just rescue dogs, it’s a second chance for felons, like her dad. Losing the rescue means losing Kendall’s home, her sanctuary, the dogs she loves, her identity and her dad, all over again.
But money’s tight, and soon, Kendall must decide between keeping a roof over her head and saving the rescue.
When a video of Kendall’s harrowing rescue of a pit bull from the path of an oncoming train goes viral. Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of Kendall, making her anxiety worse. But this is an opportunity to put the rescue in the spotlight and secure the donations needed to save it.
Can she overcome the social paralysis that’s plagued her all her life? Can she ignore negative comments on social media about her looks and smell? Can she accept help from a boy who really sees her, even though she can’t understand what he could possibly see in her?
DOG GIRL is the story of a teen girl who wants to save the world, and ends up saving herself in the process.
About the Author:
Gabi Justice is the author of Dog Girl, her teen and young adult contemporary romance debut set to publish in the fall of 2020. She is the mom to three dogs and one stray cat named Luna Buna. She lives in Florida with her husband and children. You’d be hard-pressed to find a tennis court in the state that she hasn’t visited, having three competitive junior players in the family. She spent most of her adult life writing editorial copy for local magazines after graduating from the University of South Florida. Florida provides the settings for all her coming-of-age stories that highlight bullying, misjudgment, acceptance, and teen anxiety. Her main characters are goal-oriented teenage girls with a drive that can be fierce and dangerous.
This book was such a joy to read. Kendall has a strong personality, and she does what she needs to, to get things done. She is my most favorite kind of main character. Even though Kendall suffered from anxiety, she had a good support team to help her cope. Justice portrayed her anxiety very well. Kendall is a fighter, and she’s resilient. I liked Ryan and how much of a calming presence he was for her. The storyline covers a lot of important, real-world issues. Overall, this was a cute and enjoyable YA read.
The truck pulls into the animal hospital. Rock rushes the pit bull inside. The five-thirty alarm on my phone buzzes reminding me how late it is. Typically, I’d be done with chores by now, or at least almost done, and heading into the house for a shower. God, I need a shower.
I could follow Rock, I’m definitely concerned about that sweet dog, but my part in this rescue is over.
You’re so far behind. The anxiety stirs.
Inhale. Exhale. It’s okay.
I hurry along the sandy path between the vet and the rescue center. Gotta get back on schedule. Three rambunctious, disobedient dogs need training, and the wolf-rescue-flyers for Spring Festival are still not finished. Plus Algebra II homework. There’s no way. Not enough time. My breathing quickens.
Calm down. Slow inhale. Exhale. A few deep breaths and the rapid fire breathing reduces to a controllable smolder.
I pass the length of the yard and close in on the barn when Cruz nearly knocks me over. “Cruz!”
Mid-jog, he says, “Sorry. Damn bus was late. Just got here.”
“Don’t know.” He gives me a small wave, but no smile. “Gotta go do work.”
That’s weird. Cruz never misses an opportunity to talk, especially when it comes to rescues. He loves to hear the stories. He’s desperate to go on calls, but he’s only been here a month, and so far, none of us are very impressed with his abilities.
I didn’t expect Mom to be gone this long. And she never explained why the Miami agent wanted to see her.
The phone alarm shrieks again, snapping me back to panic mode. I rush into the barn.
My boy, Rascal, spots me. His tail whips in quick circles and his paws drum the ground. The unconditional love soothes. He smiles. I grin back. I love him so much.
“Let’s go, boy.” I lead him to the training area.
Rascal, being his usual stubborn self, won’t crawl through the agility tunnel, so I enter the tube on my hands and knees, creep half-way, then turn around. He pokes his head in and growl-mumbles.
“Get in here. I don’t have time for this.” My fist pounds the ground.
“Arrooh,” he answers.
I laugh, “Come on, boy.”
He tilts his head, backs away, inches forward, tilts his head again, and talks in his hilarious dog howl.
“You can do it.” At the sound of my high pitch, he perks up and touches the tube with his front paw but doesn’t enter. “Tease.” I pound the floor with my fists again, shake my head, and whip my stringy, brown hair around. That gets him. He races inside, trampling me with dirty paws in an attempt to ram his way past.
“Rascal!” I’m shoved up against the wall of the tube.
We’re squished side by side. Wet slobbery kisses drench my face. His deafening bark rings my ear. Lick, bark, lick, bark, as if this is a fun game we’re playing. He nudges me with his slimy, wet nose and eventually squeezes past, scratching and tickling. I’m sure from the outside it looks like some freakish anaconda digesting a gator.
“Ouwa! Rascal!” One of his nails snags my skin.
He opens his mouth in a tongue-dangling, Bull Terrier smile, so I can’t stay mad at him. He’s adorable with that long nose, pink tongue, and goofy spotted face. He has muscles so dense he can drag a person without a problem.
“Rascal!” I cover my nose as the foul odor of his fart encircles me. “Rude!”
No remorse. He saunters out the other end to chase anything that moves.
I crawl to the opening, stick my head out, and gulp in the fresh air.
A guy leans over the fence. An extremely cute guy. He’s grinning wide, laughing. How stupid I must look, bested by a fifty-pound Bull Terrier. My cheeks burn. Oh my God, is my face bright red? I’m a tomato-red idiot rolling around in a tube with a dog. Wonderful!
“That looks fun.” His piercing blue eyes mock me.
“Very.” I’m still stuck in the tube. I start to ask him if he’s a Saint Paul’s guy. He looks like a preppy asshole. They’re all the same – faux hawk haircut with spiked blonde tips, clean sporty clothes because he probably doesn’t sweat, and a superiority complex. However, the amount of embarrassment zooming through my body will not allow proper functioning of speech right now.
I rush to stand, tripping over my feet, and brush the dirt off of my clothes in an attempt to look somewhat presentable. It’s not working. In fact, it’s worse. Large mud stains smudge my shirt. The old, faded, Spider-Man shirt! All the air leaves my lungs. No wonder everyone thinks I’m weird.
He’s even more gorgeous close-up. A flawless face, bad-boy grin with boy-next-door dimples and those blonde tips are actually from the sun, not the salon.
God, I sound like one of Vicky’s stupid Cosmo magazine articles. Listicle: Top five things on the hot meter.
But honestly, he’s probably an Instagram model. I can’t help but gawk with a huge smile plastered across my face. I might as well have a neon sign flashing: Seventeen-year-old virgin, approach with caution. She might attack.
I snap out of it and force myself to act professionally. It’s strangely difficult to get my mouth to cooperate and stay straight.
“May I help you?”
“Yes. I need community service hours for school, and I’d like to help out here.”
Even his voice is smooth.
“Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” I ask.
“Huh? No.” He laughs, the kind of choke-laugh that gets stuck in the back of your throat when someone has just said something ridiculous.
“Then you can’t work here.” I turn my back on him. Those perfect cheekbones are too much. If I don’t look at him, then maybe my heart will stop doing circus acts.
“I can go to the Walgreens and shoplift a pack of cigarettes if that’s the prerequisite to volunteer here,” he says.
My lips defiantly curl upward at his joke. Cute, articulate, and funny. I’m screwed.
Just keep your uncooperative face toward Rascal. Remember, he’s a Saint Paul Boy, and they’re all spoiled, entitled tools.
I struggle to ignore the voice, and whatever this is that’s happening inside my body and gather my facial expressions into a proper attitude of indifference. I spin around and face him. “I’m afraid that even if you so generously shoplifted on the rescue’s behalf, we still would not have a position available for you.”
Rascal takes advantage of my distraction and digs a giant hole in the dirt.
“No, Rascal!” I grab the leash and clip it to his collar then he jolts behind. His brute force pulls my legs out from under me, and I face plant in the mud. He drags me a few inches before I can get to my knees and wrestle him back into obedience.
Suddenly, Saint Paul Boy’s hands clamp under my sweaty armpits pulling me to my feet.
“What are you doing?”
“You’re welcome.” He removes his hands.
“No! You never jump the fence. Rascal could’ve attacked you, and we’d get sued.” He’s in my personal space. I’m nearly as tall as him, and it takes all my nerve not to look away, to stand my ground, to inhale his hypnotic cologne.
Why didn’t I take that shower?
But he just snickers and gestures to Rascal. “Him?”
He’s still too close. Maybe his olfactory glands don’t work?
“Rascal doesn’t look vicious at all.” Cute Saint Paul Boy cocks one luscious eyebrow.
Rascal sits next to us with his tongue flopping out and gooey slobber bouncing all over the place, that goofy grin lighting up his expression.
“It’s obvious you know nothing about dogs.” I turn to Rascal and deflate. Come on, you’re a bully breed. Do something to support my argument! Growl? Just a little growl. How about a rumble?
I yank Rascal, which I shouldn’t, and immediately regret it. My social helplessness isn’t his fault. I lead him over to the ramps hoping that will normalize this situation. Saint Paul Boy doesn’t move and continues to stare at me. The mud dries on my cheek, it itches and reeks of dog poop. If I could, I’d curl up in the corner and die.
Why is he still here? Don’t look at him. Keep working.
My eyes never leave Rascal as he masters the first ramp and ascends the second.
“You’re bleeding,” Saint Paul Boy says.
“What?” I glance down and see a smear of blood on my arm. It’s from earlier. It must be the pit bull’s blood. “I’m fine.” I rub it, but it’s dried onto my skin and won’t wipe off.
Saint Paul Boy offers a bandana handkerchief.
What is this, the fifties? “Uh. No, thank you.”
“Hello. May I help you?” Shane appears out of nowhere. Rascal didn’t even notice her, but he does now. He barks and tugs the leash. My stepmom is his favorite.
She eyeballs me, concerned I’ve allowed a stranger into the dog pit. Mom would be livid, but Shane gets worried not mad.
“Yes, you may.” He politely extends his hand over the fence.
She shakes it generously. They exchange greetings that I can’t hear over Rascal’s barking. I give up and let go of the leash so he’ll shut up.
“I need community service hours for my senior year. It’s a graduation requirement. I love dogs and was hoping I could help out.” His dazzling blue orbs slide in my direction.
He wouldn’t last a day here. We don’t need him. I’m sure Shane is going to say no.
“Yes,” she says.
What? Yes! Why is she doing this?
“We could use a strong boy like you. Corvette just left us, and he was about your build. No medical conditions, right? You can lift heavy bags?”
Ah. That’s it. Cruz’s late, I was gone, nothing got done so she needs someone to unload the Science Diet truck.
“Sure.” He shrugs his shoulders.
As if he’s ever done manual labor. Ha!
“Great. Come with me,” Shane says.
His eyes widen in surprise.
I snort. Those neat, sporty clothes are going to get so filthy.
“Now?” he asks Shane but looks at me for assistance.
I smirk and glance down at the pristine whiteness of his shorts. Overwhelming satisfaction fills my chest, and I suppress the giggles.
“Yes, of course.” Her chin lowers, and her brows rise.
“Great, let’s go.” His voice remains smoothly confident, but the slack in his smirk reveals the effect of Shane’s challenge.
He follows in her wake. He’s tall, six feet or more, and thin but definitely strong, carrying those broad shoulders proudly. Long, lean, tan legs with powerful quads and calves. And that butt. Wow!
He turns around and busts me checking out his ass. His lips return to a full smirk. It’s a gut-wrenching punch.
Frantic anger strikes like a bolt of thrilling but painful electricity. This time I can’t stop the critical voice inside my head. He saw you checking him out! You’re an idiot! Good job, Kendall. You deserve that dog girl label. Actually, you’ve stepped it up to dirty, weird, red-faced, dog girl. Why in a million years did you think you were capable of interacting with a guy like that?
I should’ve been busy training Rascal and totally ignoring him.
Rascal’s exuberant face bounces as he pants, oblivious to my internal death.
“Traitor!” I growl. “You’re as dumb as a stump.”
To this, he bows his head.
My heart breaks. I bend down and give him a generous scratching on his sternum. “I’m sorry, boy.” The tightness in my chest fades as I watch Rascal’s tongue hang and flap with joyful satisfaction. “You’re way cuter than he is.”
I risk a peek over my shoulder. Saint Paul Boy is carrying one of the giant dog food bags off of the truck, and he’s looking over here.
What’s behind me? I turn around. Nothing’s there.
I turn back and catch his eyes on me. Now he’s smiling. This isn’t good! The web of anxiety stretches and shudders.