The first rays from the sun kiss Vicki’s cheek and across her closed eyelids, turning her dream world a bright red. With a groan she rolls to bury her face into her pillows. Morning is her least favorite time of the day. One eye peels open and she looks at the digital clock on her bedside table. Seven a.m., time to wake up anyway. She stretches out her left leg, toes peeking from under the covers. She searches for Kane’s body heat. Normally the beast sleeps against her thighs, his body as close to hers as he can get. When one of them rolls over, the other does as well. But now her foot meets nothing but rumpled sheets.

Lifting up on an elbow, she looks down the bed. No Kane. Unease flows through her limbs. The beast hates morning as much as she does. More than once she has had to push his big butt off the bed to go out for a walk before she had to leave for work.

“Kane?” she calls as she climbs out of the bed, pushing the mess of her hair from her face before leaving the bedroom. All the way down the hall and the stairs there is no sign of Kane. She listens but the house is silent.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Vicki sees the object of her hunt. He is lying in front of the door. Fear freezes her heart as she watches his chest. Kane is sucking in air through small, quick, shallow breaths. His tongue hangs from his mouth.

She rushes to his side. His eyes are closed. Gently she places her hand on his chest. He gives a small whimper and tries to move his body. The effort appears great but he doesn’t move more than an inch of two.

“Jesus, buddy. What’s wrong?” She whispers to him. His only answer is another low whine. “Okay, that’s all I need to hear.” Leaving him on the floor, she grabs her keys and cell phone from small table near the door. She pulls a light jacket from the hook above her head and shoves her arms through the sleeves. Biting the key ring to keep from dropping them and pushing her phone into the cup of her bra, Vicki puts one arm under Kane’s belly, just under his hips. The other arm slips between his front legs to cradle his big chest. With all her might, she heaves the dog up into her arms. Saying a brief prayer of thanks for all her time at the gym, Vicki carries Kane to the Jeep. She leans into the body of the vehicle to hit the unlock button on the fob.

She risks a balancing act to pull the back door open. As gently as she can, she places Kane on the bench seat. His eyes open slowly and blink black closed. Vicki leans down and kisses his forehead.

“Hold on, baby,” she begs him before jumping into the driver’s seat and starting the car. She slams her foot against the accelerator. The nearest vet is fifteen minutes away. Concern for Kane makes her hyper-focused. She speeds around the curves and hills to get him to help.