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Darcy Stone had never been big on rules unless she was breaking them. But that was the funny thing about nearly dying—it changed you, in a big way. So she’d taken a good, hard look at her life and decided that maybe a few “guidelines” wouldn’t hurt.

Number one: Don’t stress the little stuff.

Number two: Never let a certain man into your heart. Ever.

Number three: Don’t take crap from anyone.

It was number three on her mind right now. Today’s crap came in the form of one weasel named Johnny Myers, a dog trainer who lived two counties over from Darcy’s town of Sunshine, Idaho, deep in the Bitterroot Mountains. Johnny was complete pond scum, not to mention under investigation for illegally importing and exporting exotic animals.

It killed Darcy to do business with him, but if she didn’t, he’d send the dog she wanted straight to the kill shelter.

“I’m not paying you seven hundred dollars for a service dog you intend to dump for not passing his certs,” she said into her cell phone as she walked through the pouring rain and into work. Hell, she didn’t have seven hundred dollars.

Her wet sneakers squeaked as she entered Sunshine Wellness Center and rounded the front desk. Cold had started to seep through her drenched clothes to her aching bones but she ignored this. “Make it two hundred,” she told Johnny, “and you’ve got yourself a deal.”

She didn’t have two hundred, either, nor a way to even get out to Johnny’s place since she no longer drove highways, but she’d worry about that later.

Johnny started sputtering with outrage as she shoved her wet hair back from her face, going still when her body suddenly went into hyper-alert mode.

Damn. Again? At this rate she could hire herself out as some sort of paranormal secret agent … except the only person whose appearance she could predict was AJ Colten.

Guideline number two, and the bane of her existence.

And sure enough, in walked her boss: six feet two inches of solid muscle, testosterone, and attitude. And damned if she didn’t have a secret thing for all of the above. Very secret, since she’d gone there with him once—or nearly anyway—and had been burned big-time.

Never again, no matter how hot he was.

Luckily she had one heck of a poker face, because on a good day just a fleeting glance from AJ reminded her that she was a twenty-six-year-old sex-starved woman.

On a bad day, every single part of her sent urgent memos to her brain that she was practically a re-virginized twenty-six-year-old sex-starved woman.

It took everything she had not to look hungry.

Or even overly friendly.

AJ made it a lot easier by showing absolutely zero interest in her. The only thing she got this morning was a hooded glance that probably meant he was wondering why he’d even hired her.

She raised an eyebrow in his direction, trying for non-chalance while she soaked up the sight of him and the easy, confident way he moved his big body.

“Not a penny less than six hundred,” Johnny said in her ear.

“Three hundred,” she countered, tearing her gaze away from AJ. “And I’m cold and wet and almost late for work. If you don’t want the money, tell me now, because I need to go.”

Thanks to an unseasonably warm late fall putting Mother Nature in a mood, rain and wind slashed at the building. Darcy loved the rain. What she didn’t love was a violent storm. Not only was she shivering, she undoubtedly looked like a complete mess.

Her life motto was dance like no one was watching, so she told herself she really didn’t care what she looked like. Then she told herself that a few more times while watching AJ’s mighty fine bod move across the room.

“Three hundred is a joke,” Johnny complained. “I bet if I opened my e-mail I’d have ten offers that are better.”

“You go take a look,” she said. “I’ll wait.” While she did, she shoved her purse into the filing cabinet, but not before taking a surreptitious bite out of one of the two breakfast taquitos she’d grabbed on her way in.

When she realized AJ was heading her way, she nearly choked in her rush to swallow because AJ didn’t approve of the love of her life—crap food. And as he was the boss, owning the Sunshine Wellness Center as well as being head physical therapist, she tried to play by his rules. Okay, not really, but she at least did her best to hide the evidence.

She booted up the computer and caught an accidental flash of her reflection on the screen.

Yep, she was a hot mess, alright, her long curls—usually her best feature, if she did say so herself—now resembled a frizzy squirrel’s tail.

Good thing she didn’t care.

Naturally, AJ was not a mess. Not that he ever was. Nope, as usual he’d defied the odds, the rain not daring to stick to him. And no squirrel-tail hair for him, either. His sun-streaked brown hair was short and silky smooth, and as he took in her hair, his lips quirked in an almost smile.


And then Johnny was back. “I’ve got plenty of e-mails with interest, so you ain’t getting it for cheap.”

It. Darcy forgot about her hair catastrophe, and AJ’s lack thereof, and grinded her back teeth together. Guideline number three: Don’t take crap from anyone. “Three fifty,” she said. “Tops.”

“Five hundred.”

This wasn’t going well. Plus, AJ was still looking at her, as always, aware of everything going on around him. She smoothed out her expression and added a professional smile. Nothing to see here.