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And a framed image of my father and me on the shore long ago, one that I’d shared with her when we signed the purchase contract on the beach house in the Outer Banks.

I sipped from my glass, taking in the change. There were no other personal items in the main living space, so the alteration was … profound. She’d also chosen brilliantly colored mosaic glass frames, which sparkled and drew the eye.

“Are your bachelor self-preservation warnings going off yet?” Eva teased, taking the glass I held out to her.

Amused, I glanced at her. “It’s too late to scare me off.”

“You sure about that? I’m just getting started.”

“It’s about time.”

“Okay, then.” She shrugged, then took a drink of the pinot noir I’d selected. “I was willing to pacify you with a blowjob, if you started freaking out.”

My dick thickened and lengthened. “Now that you mention it … I am feeling a little cold sweat—”

A furry ball rolled out from beneath the coffee table, jolting me so hard I nearly spilled red wine onto the Aubusson rug beneath my feet. “What the hell is that?”

The ball shook itself out and became a puppy not much bigger in size than my shoes. It stumbled toward me on shaky legs. Mostly black and tan with a white belly, it had huge ears that flopped around a sweet face alight with joy and excitement.

“He’s yours,” my wife said, with laughter in her voice. “Isn’t he adorable?”

Speechless, I watched as the tiny dog made it to my feet and began licking my toes.

“Aww, he likes you.” She set her glass onto the coffee table and sank down on her knees, reaching out to rub the puppy’s silky head.

Confused, I looked around and noticed what I hadn’t before. The duffel bag Raúl had carried in had ventilation mesh on the top and sides.

“Oh my God, you should see your face!” Eva laughed and picked up the dog, rising to her feet. She took my glass and shoved the puppy at me instead.

I caught the squirming bundle of fur because I had no choice, arching my head back when it started licking madly at my face. “I can’t have a puppy.”

“Sure you can.”

“I don’t want a puppy.”

“Sure you do.”

“Eva … No.”

She took my wine to the sofa and sat, curling her legs beneath her. “Now the penthouse won’t feel so empty until I move in.”

I stared at her. “I don’t need a dog. I need my wife.”

“Now you have both.” She drank from my glass and licked her lips. “What will you name him?”

“I can’t have a puppy,” I repeated.

Eva looked at me serenely. “He’s an anniversary gift from your wife, you have to keep him.”

“Anniversary?”

“We’ve been married a month.” She leaned back into the sofa and gave me the fuck-me look. “I was thinking we could go to the beach house and celebrate.”

I readjusted my hold on the wriggling dog. “Celebrate how?”

“All access.”

I was hard instantly, something she didn’t fail to notice.

Her gaze darkened as it caressed my erection where it tented my pants. “I’m dying, Gideon,” she breathed, her lips and cheeks flushing pink. “I wanted to wait, but I can’t. I need you. And it’s our anniversary. If we can’t make love then and have it be just you, me, and what we have—with no bullshit—then we can’t make love ever and I don’t believe that’s true.”

I stared at her.

Her lips curved wryly. “If that makes any sense at all.”

The puppy licked my jaw frantically and I hardly noticed, my attention focused on my wife. She just kept surprising me, in all the best ways. “Lucky.”

Her head tilted to the side. “What?”

“That’s his name. Lucky.”

Eva laughed. “You’re a fiend, ace.”

By the time Eva went home, I had new dog crates in my bedroom and home office, and fancy water and feed bowls in my kitchen. Puppy food in an airtight plastic storage container sat in my pantry, and plush dog beds took up space in every room in the house. There was even a patch of fake grass, which supposedly Lucky would urinate on—when he wasn’t relieving himself on my priceless rugs, as he’d done not long ago.

All the items, including treats, toys, and enzymatic sprays for accidents, had been left waiting in the foyer outside the elevator, telling me that my wife had enlisted Raúl and Angus in her plan to foist a pet on me.

I stared at the puppy, who sat at my feet, looking up at me with soft, dark eyes filled with something akin to adoration. “What the hell am I supposed to do with a dog?”

Lucky’s tail wagged so hard, his back end shifted from side to side along with it.

When I’d asked Eva the same question, she’d laid out her plan: Lucky would ride with me to work, and then Angus would drop him off at doggy daycare—who knew there was such a thing?—and pick him up in time to ride home with me.

The real answer was written in the note she’d left on my pillow.

My dearest Dark and Dangerous,

Dogs are excellent judges of character. I’m certain the adorable beagle you now own will worship you nearly as much as I do, because he’ll see what I see in you: fierce protectiveness, thoughtfulness, and loyalty. You’re an alpha through and through, so he’ll obey you when I don’t. (I’m sure you’ll appreciate that!) In time, you’ll get used to being loved unconditionally by him and me and everyone else in your life.

Yours always and forever,

Mrs. X

Rising up onto his back legs, Lucky pawed at my shin, whining softly.

“Needy little thing, aren’t you?” I picked him up and tolerated the inevitable face licking. He smelled faintly of Eva’s perfume, so I pressed my nose into him.

Owning a pet had never been on my wish list. Then again, neither was having a wife and that was the best thing to ever happen to me.

Holding Lucky away from me, I eyed him consideringly. Eva had put a red leather collar on him with an engraved brass plate. Happy Anniversary. Next to that was the date of our wedding, so I couldn’t give him away.

“We’re stuck with each other,” I told him, which made him bark and wiggle harder. “You may regret that more than me.”

Sitting alone in my bedroom, I can hear Mom yelling. Dad pleads with her, then shouts back. They turned the television on before they slammed their bedroom door shut, but it’s not loud enough to cover their fighting.

Lately, they fight all the time.

I pick up the remote to my favorite radio-controlled car and drive it into the wall, over and over. It doesn’t help.

Mom and Dad love each other. They look at each other for a long time, smiling, like they forget anyone else is around. They touch each other a lot. Holding hands. Kissing. They kiss a lot. It’s gross, but it’s better than the screaming and crying they’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. Even Dad, who’s always smiling and laughing, has been sad. His eyes are red all the time and he hasn’t shaved the hair off his face in days.

I’m scared they’re going to split up, like my friend Kevin’s parents did.

The sun goes down slowly, but the fighting doesn’t stop. Mom’s voice is hoarse now and scratchy from tears. Glass breaks. Something heavy hits the wall and makes me jump. It’s been a long time since lunch and my stomach is growling, but I’m not hungry. I really feel like throwing up.

The only light in my room comes from the television, which is showing some boring movie I don’t like. I hear my parents’ bedroom door open, then shut. A few minutes later, the front door opens and shuts, too. Our apartment goes all quiet in a way that makes me feel sick again.

When my bedroom door finally opens, Mom stands there like a shadow with light shining all around her. She asks me why I’m sitting in the dark, but I don’t answer her. I’m mad at her for being so mean to Dad. He never starts the fights, it’s always her. About something she saw on television or read in the paper or heard from her friends. They’re all talking bad about Dad, saying things I know aren’t true.

My dad isn’t a liar or a thief. Mom should know that. She shouldn’t listen to other people who don’t know him like we do.

“Gideon.”

Mom flips the lights on and I jerk in surprise. She’s older. She smells like stale milk and baby powder.

My room is different. My toys are gone. The carpet beneath me is now a rug over stone floors. My hands are bigger.

I stand and I’m the same height as her.

“What?” I snap, crossing my arms.

“You have to stop this.” She swipes at the tears streaming from her eyes. “You can’t keep acting like this.”

“Get out.” The sickness in my gut spreads, dampening my palms until I clench them into fists.

“These lies have to stop! We have a new life now, a good life. Chris is a good man.”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with Chris,” I bite out, wanting to hit something. I never should have said anything. I don’t know why I thought anyone would believe me.

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