Desiree Duvall grabbed her hard hat from the rear hook of the heavy-duty truck she drove with the BAB Construction logo on the side. She looked in the mirror to make sure the hat sat straight, and tucked as much of her red hair up under it as possible.
She reached over and stroked the head of her dog. “You ready to be my tough guy and whip these big bad construction workers into shape with me? Let’s do it, Hammer!”
Desiree had adopted the beautiful pit bull from the pound two years ago. A former fighting dog, he’d been seized from a dogfighting ring and would’ve been put down that day if Desiree had not rescued him. Hammer represented a perfect example of what a pit bull should look like, highly muscled and compact with a few battle wounds showing in his sleek black fur. He was all black except for a white stripe that ran down the center of his chest.
Desiree had been putting in a bid with the county to build the expansion on the animal services division a couple years ago. She’d finished taking some measurements when she found Hammer. She hadn’t even considered getting a dog before, but when she saw Hammer in the pen when she walked past, she had some sort of instant connection with him. She couldn’t leave him to be destroyed.
His sad golden eyes were the first thing that captured her heart. They seemed to see right into her soul. She insisted the staff open the gate so she could go in and spend some time with him. When she entered the dog run, Hammer sat like a perfect gentleman and waited for her to come to him. Desiree squatted down a few feet from him and held out her hand toward the dog. He came to her and sniffed her hand, then gave her a kiss on the cheek and nuzzled his head against her shoulder. Desiree put her arms around his strong, muscular canine form and she began to stroke his smooth fur. Just being that close to him, Desiree somehow felt complete. She determined at that moment he was coming home with her.
Hammer had become Desiree’s family. She had been too busy the past few years building her construction company and being the hard-assed construction maven to really even think about settling down too seriously. The guys who worked for her gave her the respect she deserved and demanded. They often called her “the pit bull” because of her tenacious way and willingness to fight for what she wanted. Didn’t hurt she used four-letter words more often than they did either. Desiree had a short fuse and a mean temper, and her crews learned quickly not to piss her off.
Once she brought Hammer home, he became her constant companion. His temperament matched hers: rough and tough on the outside, but nothing but a big softy on the inside. She instantly bonded with Hammer, and they became inseparable. When she visited the construction sites, he stayed by her side. He sensed when she needed backup and gave a threatening growl or a slobbering snarl to anyone who dared challenge or disrespect his owner.
His attitude often mimicked hers, and when they were home alone, they spent hours wrestling on the floor, running around in her yard, and hiking in the nearby mountains. There were tender moments spent curled up on the couch together while Desiree watched sappy movies and cried. Hammer would lay next to her, and she’d stroke his smooth, short black fur, feeling the silky texture for comfort. She reveled in their quiet moments of solace together, and against the advice of her vet, fed him popcorn. The softer, laid-back vibe was the side of them nobody else knew.
Desiree swung out and down from the open truck door. She had added a lift kit so she could get back into undeveloped areas with a little more ease. She slipped on her sunglasses and grabbed her clipboard from the truck.
“Come on, Hammer,” she called and held the door open.
He jumped gracefully down from the truck, which always surprised her given his stocky build. Kind of like seeing a linebacker dance ballet. He was bulk, muscle, and grace all rolled into one amazing package. Desiree looked down to see he had her BlackBerry in his mouth, waiting for her to take it. She must have left her phone in the cup holder. She reached down, grabbed the electronic lifeline, and clipped it on her belt.
Her hand dropped, and she stroked the dog’s head. “Thanks, Hammer! You’re always watching out for me. Now, let’s go put some fear of the bitch into these boys and get them back on schedule!”
She slammed the truck door, and the two headed off toward the office building construction site her guys were two weeks behind on—time to give the new crew members a full dose of Desiree Duvall and let them know why she named her company BAB Construction. She’d picked Bad-Assed Bitch because her jobs got done on time and on budget, or someone got their ass handed to them. She refused to consider any other options.
* * * *
“I don’t give a damn why you’re behind! I’m telling you now, you and this sorry bunch of losers will be back on schedule by the end of this week, and I don’t care how many fucking hours of overtime it takes. Got it, Manny?” She looked over at the project and became angry about the delay all over again. “I am not playing fucking games with you limp-dicked bastards. You begged me to give you and your lame-ass crew of halfwits a chance to work for me on a job, and I am not very fucking impressed so far!” Desiree whirled around and leaned forward, putting her face just inches from Manny’s. “Now, get your shit together or get the fuck out of the way, and I’ll bring a crew in that can do the job!”
Manny Espinosa had been hounding her for a couple of years to let him get in with her company, and the first chance she’d given him, he’d all but completely screwed it up.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Duvall. I had a couple of guys quit on me, and I just got two new ones hired today.” He gestured up toward two scruffy-looking men, working on setting rebar deep within the fresh cement of the wall of a new office building. “I promise we’ll be caught up by next weekend.”
“Not good enough, Manny! Make schedule by the end of the week, or don’t come back Monday morning. That gives you five days. Make it happen or you’re out, and I won’t pay one cent on our fucking contract.” She tossed out the threat even though she knew she’d pay him.
Manny needed her to be hard on him to keep on track, but he had six kids at home to feed and clothe.
She looked up toward the two new guys, and Hammer followed her gaze. “And tell those two to shave. You know my rules. Just because you work construction is no reason to appear homeless. Tell them to clean up their acts or they don’t work on my projects.” Desiree glanced back to Manny for a moment.
Hammer moved up a few steps and pressed his body against her leg. He gave a deep, rumbling growl from his chest when he stared at the two men. Desiree glanced down to find him snarling and showing a small amount of bared teeth. His ears flattened against his head. She looked up at the two men again then back to Hammer. Reaching down, she took hold of his collar. Hammer’s abnormal behavior gave her some concern about the new guys.
Manny nodded at the dog. “I’ll get it done, boss. But maybe you should take Hammer home so we don’t end up with a lawsuit.” He took a couple of slow steps back.
Desiree started toward the truck. “Make sure you get this shit up-to-date, Manny, or my lawyers will take a bigger bite out of you than Hammer will out of your crew!”
Desiree pulled on Hammer’s collar. He acted strange, walking slowly behind her while looking back at the two new guys working on top of the wall.
When they got back to the truck, Desiree opened the driver’s side door. “Get in, Hammer!”
Hammer looked from her to the work site. He stepped in front of her, snarled, and gave five quick but ferocious barks at the site. Desiree looked to see what made him behave so oddly. Nobody appeared to be doing anything to tease the dog. One of the new guys had stopped working and taken a drink from a bottle of water. He gazed in their direction, and Hammer gave three more vicious barks, leaning against Desiree. The worker looked at Hammer and laughed.
“Get in the truck now, Hammer!” Desiree gave his tail a small tug to get his attention.
Hammer glanced back at her, then walked over and jumped up into the truck. He assumed his place on the passenger seat, but instead of lying down and curling up as usual, he stood with his back legs on the seat and his front paws on the dash, staring down the new guy and giving a low, rumbling growl. Desiree got in and closed the door. She narrowed her gaze at the new guy. He bared his teeth like a dog and gave a loud bark back at them.
Desiree leaned out the open window and yelled, “Teasing my dog will either get you bitten or fired. Don’t fucking do it again, asshole, or I’ll do more damage to you than the dog ever could!” She threw the truck into reverse and backed around the open area before she took off, throwing rocks and dirt as she headed back toward town.
* * * *
Manny watched the truck drive off the work site and shook his head. He waved for the new guy to come down. The scruffy-looking worker jumped from the wall to the dirt below and walked over to Manny.
“Look, I told you the rules. You need to be clean shaven or you don’t work here. You also don’t fuck with the boss lady’s dog. He’s a former fighter, and he’ll rip your balls off. If it happens again, you’re done. Got it, smart-ass?” Manny poked the new guy in the chest.
The worker took his hard hat off and gazed down the road as the trail of dust from Desiree’s truck began to settle. “Yeah, I got it. But I ain’t afraid of that mutt. I could take him.”
He reached up slicking his steel-gray hair down and put his hat back on. “And I told you to call me Chopper,” he said with a cocky edge to his voice. He turned and stomped back to the site where his friend was and continued working.