Welcome to the Books of Ellen Gilman
Ellen's books have amused and pleased dog-lovers and people-lovers alike since her first book, Mollie’s Tail — To Mollie with Love was published in 2013. Her books now also include The Best Doggone Bakery (2016), and Ellen is hard at work on another.
Excerpt from “The Best Doggone Bakery”
Tires screeched. Bam!
Millie jerked her head up while retying Annie’s kerchief to see two cars collide in the street right in front of her. At the same time, Luke barked and wrenched his leash out of her hand, tucking his tail between his legs and taking off in a full-out run.
Millie knew the combination of loud noises and Luke was a recipe for disaster. Why didn’t I have a better grip on his leash? She bit her lip and took off chasing him while tugging Annie behind her. She thought she should be able to grab him; he couldn’t go fast dragging his leash. Besides, any other scenario was unimaginable.
“Luke, stop! Come back here!” Millie screamed. With her heart pounding, she flew after him, praying he’d be okay. What if she couldn’t catch him?
She ran on, gripping Annie’s leash as tightly as she could in her sweaty hands, her laser-like focus on Luke making her clumsy. She tripped headfirst, managing somehow to hold onto Annie’s leash when her hands hit the rough cobblestones. Crap—of all the days to be wearing wedges. Getting up hastily and not taking any time to even check herself for scrapes, she whirled around and realized she couldn’t see Luke anywhere. She couldn’t believe it.
Outside the front door of Frannie’s Flowers were two humongous clay pots filled with tall boxwoods totally blocking Millie’s line of sight. Did Luke whiz past there and past the next store, Julie’s Jewels? What if he tried to cross the street? The park sometimes had squirrels chasing each other up and down the trees. He loved to try to catch them.
Suddenly, Millie saw a flash of his tail, and off she went in hot pursuit, trying desperately not to trip or fall again.
Several pedestrians were in Luke’s path. “Help! Stop my dog—please!” she yelled.
One older man lunged for Luke’s leash, almost falling in the process, and he would have if the person walking beside him hadn’t held out his hand to steady him. Luke zigzagged around them and kept on going.
Quite unexpectedly, a thought popped into her head: Is it possible Luke is heading in a familiar direction? Praying she was correct, she chased him as he headed down the narrow brick path to the old farmhouse where Christopher’s Ice Cream and Cookie Shoppe was located. She almost laughed. Here she was, frightened to death he might get killed, and he seemed to be thinking about one of his favorite foods—yogurt.
The old white clapboard house, now the ice cream shop, was finally in sight. Sure enough, Luke was sitting on the walkway leading up to the old, faded red front door. Millie slid to an abrupt standstill. He was a glorious sight, sitting there with his sable fur glistening in the sun. Most importantly, he was in one piece. Thank goodness for that.
Rushing up to him, she plopped down and flung her arms around him, at the same time making sure to hold onto Annie’s leash. She buried her head in his soft, sweet-smelling, downy fur and erupted into deep, gut-wrenching sobs while every part of her shook.
She adored this dog, a sheltie she and her husband had rescued.
“I don’t know what I would have done if something had happened to you,” she managed to choke out between breaths, her cheeks wet with tears.
Luke nudged her with his nose and then proceeded to lick the tears off her face. She sighed and hugged him tighter—probably too tight, as he tried to give himself some wiggle room. Just then she heard the wail of a siren in the distance. In her rush to catch Luke, she had forgotten about the accident. Hopefully, everyone was okay.
After a long, drawn-out minute of holding, squishing, and squeezing Luke for the pure joy of it, Millie glanced around.
She shook her head. It was strange. Usually, there would be lots of people milling around. It was then that she saw a small sign hanging on the doorknob. She thought about getting up to read it, but there was no way she was letting go of Luke’s leash or Annie’s. Thankfully, they were sitting still from their run though the Commons. It didn’t hurt for her to sit still either while she caught her breath, allowing her heart to stop thumping.
Eventually, she did wander up just far enough to read the sign.
Thanks for ten wonderful years of patronage. We’re closing permanently. We will miss you.
“Sheesh! Christopher’s is no longer. Sorry to tell you, but you guys won’t be getting your yogurt here today. Not that you deserve it, Luke, frightening me the way you did.”
Millie traipsed over to one of the small windows, pressed her face against the glass, and peered inside. She could see only a tiny bit of the inside. None of the high-top wrought iron tables or black and pink polka-dot chairs were visible. She had fond memories of sitting with her parents and three brothers squeezed in next to her. They had been known to tease each other mercilessly about who had more ice cream on their faces and clothes than in their mouths. Those had been fun times when her parents were still alive.
Christopher’s shop was a fixture on this street in Houndsville and a place where visitors to the Eastern Shore of Maryland came to eat ice cream. Less than a block away was a new shopping district, Houndsville Commons, that had new storefronts with unique items and quirky names like Frannie’s Flowers, Julie’s Jewels, and Bridget’s Bookstop to entice those same tourists.
Christopher’s closing left Millie thinking wistfully about the past. She remembered the day four years ago, not long after she married Carl, when this old, well-known ice cream spot had come on the market. The rumor was that Christopher was planning to move to another town. She thought it would be a great spot for a dog bakery, and she suggested to Carl that they buy the property.
The day before they planned to sign the contract, Carl sat with Millie, took her hands in his, and told her they needed to talk. She’d remembered being frightened and holding her breath, not knowing what to expect. He told her he had a cost overrun on his newest building project and couldn’t buy the farmhouse. Of course, that was disappointing, but it wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle. It made Millie think about Carl’s father. He had started gambling, landed in bankruptcy court, and eventually lost his business. Carl was ashamed of his dad for disappointing his family and vowed it wouldn’t happen to him. That’s why this revelation came as a shock. Usually Carl was so conservative in choosing his projects. Of course, this meant the bakery was going to be put on hold.
As it turned out, Christopher’s own plans had changed, and he had ended up staying. Millie wondered what his story was this time. Was he just shutting down the shop, or was he closing and selling the farmhouse? And if he was selling, would he go through with a sale this time? She didn’t want to be let down again if she was lucky enough to persuade Carl to buy the old place. It was then that she noticed a sign stuck in the grass on the right side of a huge oak tree. She walked over to it. It was a For Sale sign. She touched it with her hand and ran her fingers over the words.
Millie’s imagination ran wild. She turned to look back at the farmhouse. She could totally envision her two beloved shelties, Luke and Annie, sitting side by side with their heads hanging off the edge of a huge leather sofa. Around them were golden retrievers with kerchiefs around their necks, beagles, and even collies begging for delicious-looking treats while humans watched and sipped coffee. How fun it could be.
Could her dream come true? She couldn’t imagine anything more perfectly suited for her. She loved dogs, sometimes even more than people. Her heart started thumping again, her stomach fluttering as though a million butterflies were inside. She took deep breaths to try to stay calm.
Millie chewed her lip thinking about what she should do right now. Oops, that hurt. Her lip was sore from biting down on it when Luke had run off.
An old high school acquaintance, Annabel Larson, owned and operated Miss Annabel’s Tea and Coffee Emporium. It was nearby in the Houndsville Commons. Annabel, the local busybody, most likely would know why Christopher was selling. Millie thought that maybe she should go there right now and tell Annabel what she was thinking. She started to walk in that direction but paused and stopped herself. It would be better to talk to Carl first.
She wished he was here with her. His smile and one of his special squishy hugs always gave her confidence. Lately he had been extremely busy running his now very successful construction business, leaving her feeling somewhat lonely. Hopefully, helping her open the bakery would ignite his interest, and he’d spend more time with her.
Millie pulled Luke and Annie toward her for one last cuddle. She shuddered to think she might not have been able to do that if events had taken a different path. She took a deep, satisfying breath. “Come on, let’s head home.”
She raced to her car, getting tangled up in leashes and slipping on the cracked pavement. These darn wedges causing trouble again—you’d think I’d go more slowly, having already tripped once. After struggling to open the door with sweaty hands, she eventually got herself and her dogs inside and tried to calm her beating heart.