"Is it always this, ah, exhilarating around here?" inquired an amused voice.
Oh, God, it couldn't be. Spread-eagled flat on the ground, her nose buried in Hercules' smelly fur, Sam prayed her ears were playing tricks on her.
"You betcha. Hercules and Thumbelina are in love but Sam's totally prejudiced against Thumbelina. Doesn't think she's good enough. Come to think of it, she doesn't think I'm good enough for her friends either. What is it with you anyway." Jewel's sandal-shod foot nudged her side none to gently. "You just want to keep all the males in your life to yourself? Is that it?"
Sam renewed her grip on a wriggling Hercules and lay still. Maybe they would think she'd killed herself and go away. What the heck was Max doing here anyway? In the middle of a weekday too, for crying out loud.
A shoe nudged her from the other side. "Hey, Sam. I'm on my lunch hour. Think you could spare me a few minutes? I have some questions for you."
Another nudge from Jewel's sandal. "Maybe you should go visit my therapist. Get these male monopoly issues worked out."
"She has male monopoly issues?"
"Yeah. She doesn't want to share."
"Huh, I'll be damned," Max said. "I've never heard of anything like that."
Simultaneously, Max and Jewel nudged her on either side. "What's wrong with her?" Max demanded. "She's not moving."
"She's just in denial," her friend kindly explained. "She feels like a complete idiot, so she thinks if she ignores us, we'll go away."
"Well, I don't have time for this."
The back of Sam's neck prickled in warning but, before she could move, strong hands grasped her around her waist and lifted her up.
"Good, God, what's that smell?" Max asked. "Did you land in dog poop?"
They all studied Sam's front. Sam, who had an idea as to what Max was referring and was pretty sure she hadn't landed in dog poop, switched her attention to Hercules. Hercules was confused. He had both Max and Thumbelina in his sights and didn't want to neglect either. His small body went into such an ecstasy of wriggles and yaps and growls, Sam almost dropped him. Then Thumbelina ambled closer and, without warning, reared and put her front paws on Sam's shoulders. Sam went down again.
This time, she couldn't hold onto her dog. Hercules was off and racing circles around the group again. Thumbelina immediately lost interest in her and, tail wagging, began to track Hercules. Jewel was practically peeing in her pants from something only she thought was funny and Max looked like he was out of patience. He began to reach for her again.
Sam scooted back on her aching butt. No. No way was he touching her again. The electrical charge that had zapped her when he picked her up the last time had not been fun. She popped to her feet just in time, and did a double take as she got her first good look at him. She had never seen Max dressed so conventionally. He looked like a cross between a pirate and a corporate warrior. "What are you doing here?" she managed to gasp. Her lungs still didn't have enough air.
"Putting my body parts in danger, apparently," he said grimly, as he blocked another rush at his trouser covered legs by Hercules. "Sit!" Thumbelina gave a loud woof. Hercules sat.
"How'd you do that?" Sam was amazed. Obedience to voice commands was not one of Hercules' virtues.
"I don't think I did. I think it was the fur mountain. Come on. I have to get back to work." And he grabbed her arm and marched her in the direction of the table and chairs. The damn electricity zapped her again and not only sealed her mouth shut but fried all her objections as well.
"I'll get you an iced coffee, Max," Jewel sang, and, like the good, sensitive friend she was, deserted her in Sam's moment of need.