But first, the cover!
Here's the beginning of Chapter 1.
Saffi snored, her side rising and falling with the rhythm of the soft snorts, her tail draped over the end of the couch. Kayla, perched on the other end, dug away at the chunk of wood in her hand, trying to copy the way the dog flowed into the furniture.
Kayla’s friend Jean sat back in the armchair, feet up on the handmade table. She waved a hand at Saffi and asked, “Can you link to her when she’s sleeping?”
“I’ve done that.” Kayla’s mouth twitched. “It’s hard to stay awake.”
“What’s it like when she dreams?”
Kayla shrugged. “It’s not as cool as you might think. Her dreams are pretty — ordinary. She’s smelling stuff, or she’s running in the woods, or whatever.” Though all those smells, so many all around, and so strong — that was still a long way from ordinary.
“There she goes!” Jean pointed. Kayla craned over to look. Sure enough, Saffi’s eyelids were twitching with the motions of REM sleep. Jean looked up at Kayla with big, pretty-please eyes. Kayla shrugged again, but gave the subvocal command that opened her neural connection to the dog.
There were, of course, no words; not even what she would call thoughts. Instead, Kayla sensed curiosity, then growing interest and concentration on a familiar scent. Slow-moving prey.
Kayla laughed. “A possum! She’s dreaming she found a possum out back.” She broke the connection and went back to her carving.
Jean leaned forward and studied the carving, the dog, and the carving again. “That’s pretty good. How did you learn to whittle, anyway?”
“Dad taught me. I guess he learned from someone around here — a neighbor, I think.”
“He taught you other stuff, didn’t he? I mean —” Jean grinned. “You’re not half as clueless as most city kids.”
Kayla suppressed a sigh. How could she sum up all those hours in the woods with Dad, learning survival skills and woodcraft because that was what he had to teach and it gave them more time together? “Yeah. He showed me how to do a few things. Make a fire, tie knots, shoot, set traps, come in out of the rain.”
Jean mock-gasped. “Shoot, set traps? You mean you eat meat? And you from the city!”
Kayla smirked back. “Yup, even before we got this ferocious carnivore here.”
Jean got out of the chair and wandered over to the mantle over the fireplace, picking up the wooden bust in its center and running a finger along the short carved beard. “Did you do this one too? That’s your dad, right? It really looks like him.”
“Thanks.” Kayla could hear that she sounded sulky. That was hardly fair to Jean, who hadn’t meant to poke a sore spot. But Kayla remembered working long and hard on that carving, starting over twice, doing her best to capture her dad’s expression and the tilt of his head. And Dad had acted so happy and grateful. . . . The girl who had cared that much, who had put so much work into pleasing her father, seemed a stranger now.
She didn’t want to remember that girl. And she really didn’t want to miss her.
Jean might have picked up on Kayla’s mood; at least, she changed the subject, turning back toward Saffi and pointing back and forth between the dog and Kayla. “It’s a pretty sweet setup you have. At least, it seems that way to me. Your mom helped come up with the human-dog connection tech, didn’t she?”
“Yeah. My dad did too. He’s just as good at that tech stuff as Mom is, even if he ditched it to move back here.” Ditched his job at Edenar Corporation; and ditched Mom while he was at it.
“Was Saffi one of the first dogs to get hooked up? Did you get her as a puppy?”
Kayla shook her head to both questions. “She was already a year old or so. She had months of special training before we got her. Besides, they don’t want the customers having to deal with puppy craziness.” She found herself grinning. “What if they chewed their own shoes?”
Jean guffawed; Kayla went on. “We didn’t get her until Dad — decided to move. Mom thought having her would make the move easier on me. Not that it’s exactly worked out that way.”
Jean wrinkled her forehead as if to ask the obvious question. As if answering it, Saffi stirred, lifted her head, jumped to her feet on the couch, then started barking frantically. Jean stared at the dog. “What’s she on about?”
Kayla reconnected, then winced at the flood of excitement, the total joy, so much stronger and simpler than how she felt. “My dad’s home.”
Saffi leaped down from the couch and ran toward the door, then back a few steps toward Kayla, then toward the door again, over and over as if trying to pull Kayla along with her. But Kayla’s own feelings must be passing through the link: Saffi’s delight faded away, and she paused, her tail falling low.
Why spoil things for Saffi? Kayla disconnected; the dog looked at her for a moment, then ran off toward the door.
Soon Saffi was wriggling and whining in eagerness, her tail whirling in circles like a propeller, as Kayla’s father opened the door carrying a large wooden crate easily under one arm, a sack of groceries in the other.