Today, HJ is pleased to share with you Matt Dunn’s new release: Pug Actually
A delightfully refreshing take on contemporary romance, narrated by the distinctive, quirky voice of a lovable pug named Doug, who becomes a cupid of sorts when he decides to fix his owner’s love life with his own four paws.
Not all heroes wear capes, some of them wear collars.
Rescue dog Doug, a pug, wants his owner, Julie, to be happy. He loves her unconditionally, and he’s loyal – two things that can’t be said about Julie’s boss, Luke. Luke and Julie are sleeping together. But Luke is married. And despite repeated promises he’ll leave his wife soon, Doug’s certain he’s just stringing Julie along. But Julie refuses to break off the affair, worried that this is as good as it will get, and she might end up like her crazy, cat-owning neighbor. It’s a prospect that horrifies Doug as much as her being with Luke does.
Newly-divorced Tom, on the other hand, is perfect for her and everyone around them can see it – except for Tom and Julie. Perhaps, with Doug’s help, they can get over their initial animosity towards each other.
Doug struggles to understand, navigate, and influence the quirks of human relationships, but he knows he can’t give up on Julie – after all, being a “rescue” dog works both ways…
Enjoy an exclusive excerpt from Pug Actually
“Was that Luke I just saw driving away?”
Julie’s other best friend Priya has just arrived. This is good because a) she’s brought wine and snacks (though I’m not a fan of the former given how much of it Julie drinks on an all-too-regular basis, the more of it she consumes, the more of the latter I get), and b) given the amount of wine Priya’s brought, and the fact that she’s just seen Luke leave, she and Julie are inevitably going to have a pretty heavy conversation about Luke at some point this evening. And maybe—just maybe—this time, some of it might sink in.
“Might have been,” says Julie, then she hurries off to fetch a couple of glasses from the kitchen, to avoid further ques¬tioning. Ever since Luke became a feature in our lives, Priya’s been pretty vocal in her disapproval, mainly of Julie’s ongoing belief that Luke will eventually leave his wife for her.
“Right. Only he didn’t seem that happy.”
Julie seems to be considering trying to explain what hap¬pened, then evidently thinks better of it. “Probably because he was going home to her.”
“Oh Jules, I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for? We haven’t split up, or anything.”
“That’s what I’m sorry about!” Priya lets out a slightly over-the-top laugh, then, with a super-friendly “Hey, Doug!” she kneels down to scratch the wrinkles on the top of my head, following it up with an impressed-sounding “Big stretch!” when I perform my usual warm-up move. “And?”
“And nothing. He was just passing by. Called in for a quick…”
Priya holds a hand up as if she’s going for a high five. “If you’re about to add an i and an e to the end of that last word, then that’s way too much information!” she says.
“Visit, I was going to say.”
“Right.” Priya gives me a final pet, then hauls herself back to her feet. “Not had an argument, have you?”
“Just a difference of opinion. That’s all.”
“Do I want to know?”
“Don’t you always?”
“Sorry, Jules. I just don’t want to see you get hurt. And I’m afraid Luke is never going to leave his…”
“P!” It’s Julie’s turn to do the high-five thing. “I don’t want to hear it.”
Priya gives me a look as if she and I are in on a secret, then she nods at the wineglasses, so Julie pours them both a drink, then empties a packet of Kettle Chips into a large bowl, which she sets down on the sofa between them. I take up my usual position on the rug in front of the sofa and stare expectantly up at the bowl. Julie picks up the TV remote, stabs at a cou¬ple of buttons, unmutes the volume, and the familiar Game of Thrones theme tune blasts out into the room.
“Winter is coming,” she says, in a funny voice, and Priya frowns.
“We still talking about you and Luke?” she says, and Julie does that openmouthed thing that’s supposed to indicate both disbelief and displeasure.
“Priya, just drop it, will you?”
“Okay, okay.” Priya takes a huge gulp from her wineglass. “It’s just…”
“He will leave her. He promised. He said it again tonight. He just has to get all his ducks in a row, and…”
“That’s ducks with a d instead of an f, right?”
Priya’s very quick-witted. She comes out with a lot of this kind of thing, and possibly despite herself, Julie smiles.
“P, please. Not all of us have it as easy as you and Sanj, you know?”
Sanj is Priya’s husband, and the point Julie’s making is that Priya didn’t have to lift (or even swipe right with) a finger to find Sanj. Their parents introduced them, and it’s why Julie quite often tells Priya she doesn’t have “a leg to stand on” when commenting on her and Luke. Although to her credit, Priya won’t be put off.
“Maybe so,” she says. “But just tell me this—how long are you going to give him?”
Julie helps herself to a chip, and while I hope I might be getting one too, she’s too preoccupied with Priya’s question to think of me.
“As long as it takes.”
“And what if it takes forever? You want a family, right? Kids?”
Julie chews thoughtfully. “Eventually,” she says, in the same way you might say “obviously,” and Priya leaves a dramatic pause before tapping the face of her watch.
“It won’t take that long,” Julie says, sounding a little less confident than before.
“But what if it does? How many more excuses can he come up with?”
“He’s promised me. Told me we’re going to grow old to¬gether.”
Priya shudders. “I’m suddenly seeing Luke as this funny lit¬tle wrinkled thing, sitting next to you on the sofa, alternately snoring and farting, and you’ve already got one of those!”
For some reason, Priya nods down at me, then she smiles sympathetically. “He either wants to be with you, or he wants to be with her. He can’t have you both. That’s not how it works. Although…”
Julie reaches for the remote and stabs at the mute button. “Although what?” she says, though in a tone that suggests that—despite killing the volume on Game of Thrones—she doesn’t really want to hear Priya’s answer.
“It’s exactly what he’s got right now.”
“Two women, two shags…”
“He doesn’t sleep with her anymore.”
Priya throws her head back and roars with laughter—to me, it looks like she’s putting it on a bit, but it has the desired effect. Assuming the desired effect is to make Julie annoyed.
“He doesn’t,” she insists, crossly. “He told me.”
“And you believe him?”
Julie nods, and Priya narrows her eyes in an I-don’t-be¬lieve-you kind of way, then she takes a sip of wine. She’s good at this stuff—sees everything in black and white, much like I do. Although of course with me, that’s genetic, given how dogs are color-blind.
“What does he tell her, do you think?”
“How does he justify them not doing it?” Priya passes a chip to me, and I wolf it down almost without chewing to avoid missing anything.
“He… Well…” Julie stares at the screen, where either a fight or some weird sexual encounter is taking place—often on Game of Thrones it’s hard to tell the difference. “Priya, can we please talk about something else?”
“No, we can’t!” says Priya, suddenly angry. “I get that he’s charming, and good-looking, and how it can be flattering to have a married man paying you attention, but Luke is lead¬ing you on, Jules, and the quicker you realize that and kick him out, the better. Otherwise you’re just going to be sitting around wasting your time, listening to excuse after excuse from him as to why now isn’t the right time for him to leave his wife, while he gets to have his cake and eat it and all you get out of it is the occasional shag. And if you’re not careful, you might wake up one day and find yourself all alone, like that mad lady who lives next door with nothing but a creepy cat for company.”
Priya pauses for breath, and I swallow so loudly it makes a sound, my reverie following Priya’s reference to cake dissi¬pating almost instantaneously at the mention of the word cat. Surely Priya’s joking? There’s no way I’m going to let some¬thing so duplicitous into the house, no matter how desper¬ate Julie is.
Fortunately, my embarrassingly-loud gulp seems to have gone unnoticed. Instead, Priya sees how devastated Julie looks, and all the fight seems to go out of her.
“Sorry, Jules,” she says, leaning across to give Julie a hug. “I just worry about you. That’s all.”
“There’s no need. Honestly.”
“No?” Priya doesn’t sound convinced, nor does Julie, and to be frank, neither am I.
“No! It’s just…complicated.”
“It shouldn’t be.”
“Watch.” Priya helps herself to another chip from the bowl, then holds it out to me, just out of reach, and though I regard it hungrily I decide not to debase myself by begging. “Just find someone who looks at you the way Doug is looking at this Kettle Chip.”
“That is how Luke looks at me.”
Priya shakes her head. “Doug looks at this chip like he thinks it’s the only one in the world for him. It’s all he’s focused on, the most important thing in his life right now. Luke… He’s always going to be thinking about the other bag—no pun intended—he’s got at home. And possibly another one in the shop he’s got his eye on too.”
“That’s not true! It’s just Luke says it would devastate her if he left just like that.”
“But it’s devastating you all the time he doesn’t! Besides, put yourself in her shoes. Would you really want someone who doesn’t love you to be hanging around?”
“He does love her. He’s just not ‘in love’ with her.”
“I’d argue he’s not ‘in love’ with you either. Especially if he treats you like this.”
“How do you know?”
“He tells me. All the time.”
“He tells you he’s going to leave her all the time too, and that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
“Yes, well,” says Julie, which seems to mean the exact op¬posite, and also signifies the end of the conversation, given how she’s suddenly snatched up the TV remote and is stab¬bing at the volume button, thus rendering any further discus¬sion impossible.
Priya sighs, and, with a resigned “Here you go, Doug,” she feeds me the chip she’s been using to demonstrate her point.
I take it gently from her fingers, careful not to make too much of a mess as I crunch it, and as the two of them turn their attention back to the television, I collapse down onto the rug, more than a little troubled by what Priya’s said. Because the truth is, like Julie’s pointed out, it is complicated. Even I can see that. And yet, what Julie can’t see is that it’s in Luke’s interest to keep it that way.
Later that night, when I’m having difficulty sleeping, I re¬alize something—however remote the possibility is that Julie and Luke might end up together, the alternative might just be the cat thing. And neither of those options are anything to look forward to.
Then something else occurs to me, something important. I am, in fact, what’s known as a rescue dog. My previous owner was very old. Housebound, practically, so what on earth she was doing with me was anyone’s guess. Because she was very old, walks consisted of my being let out into a small back “yard,” which couldn’t have measured much more than that. And as for food—well, perhaps you might not be so quick to judge my current, voracious eating habits if you knew that back then, I had to take my chances whenever I could—some¬thing dropped from the stove, or, on the few occasions my human remembered, from a generic bag of value dog food from the local corner shop.
Long story short, one morning, my original human didn’t wake up, and it took three days for anyone to notice. You’d have thought I killed her, given the home they sent me to after that. But at least I got fed there regularly, was walked a few times a day; had all my basic needs met, until the day Julie and Julie’s dad Jim took me somewhere much better. A real home. Julie’s home.
At the time, it never occurred to me there was a grander life out there than the one I had. I didn’t realize the situation I was in wasn’t healthy. Had no idea I needed to be rescued. A little, I suspect, like Julie feels right now.
And the utterly simple, yet mind-blowing revelation I have about being a “rescue” dog is this.
There’s no reason it can’t work both ways.
Excerpted from Pug Actually by Matt Dunn, Copyright © 2021 by Matthew Dunn
Published by MIRA Books
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Meet the Author:
Matt Dunn is a UK author who has written thirteen previous novels, including Then I Met You and The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook, with over 400,000 copies sold in digital alone. He’s also written about life, love and relationships for various publications including The Times, The Guardian, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Company, Elle and The Sun.