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AJ went to the refrigerator that he’d personally stocked for the man and pulled out the already cut-up fruit and a container of yogurt. “You said you’d eat this.”

“Fruit’s for fairies.”

“Dad.” AJ pinched the bridge of his nose. “You can’t say shit like that.”

His dad tossed up his hands. “I can’t eat what I want to eat, I can’t say what I want to say. And I can’t even remember the last time I got to boss anyone around.”

“It was me, last weekend, remember? You made me build those shelves for you. You yelled at me for two straight days that I was doing it wrong, and you had a great time doing it.”

“Oh yeah.” His dad smiled and nodded. “That was fun.” He limped to the cabinet and pulled out a box of Ding Dongs.

Jesus. “Dad, where’s your cane?”

“Cane’s for sissies.” He twisted around and looked at AJ. “Or can’t I say sissies anymore, either?”

AJ took a deep breath. “Your cane is to help keep you upright until your knee fully recovers from your surgery. If you fall on it right now, you’ll make everything worse.”

“I won’t fall. I’m not that old. I’m only sixty-five.”

“You’re seventy, Dad.”

His dad stopped and blinked. “You sure?”


“Well don’t tell anyone. I just signed up for a … whaddya call it … an online gig thingie.”

AJ stared at him. “An online dating site?”

“Yeah. And I told everyone I was sixty-five.” His dad very purposefully unwrapped a Ding Dong and shoved it into his mouth, looking absolutely rapturous. “Goddamn. This is better than sex. And I don’t need a fucking blue pill for it, either.”

AJ kicked out a chair for his dad. “Let’s hear it.”

“Hear what?”

“I want to know what’s really going on here.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re acting like a little kid,” AJ said.

His dad shrugged. “Maybe I figured it was about time I pay you back for all those years you were such a rotten kid. And speaking of kids, you going to make me a grandpa or what?”

AJ went brows up. “Looking to terrorize a whole new generation?”

His dad smiled. “I’d be good at it. You’d best hurry though. Apparently I’m older than I thought, and if you wait until after I bite the bullet, I’ll be pissed off and haunt you from my grave.”

“Then it’s a good thing you’re not dying anytime soon,” AJ said. “You’re too stubborn. And you know I’m not dating anyone right now.”

“Son, you’ve gotta use it or lose it.”

AJ scrubbed a hand over his face. He turned and went back into the living room, hunted up the cane from the foyer, and brought it to his dad. “Use this,” he said.

“Now who’s bossy?” his dad said, but took the cane.

AJ went to the stove. He drained the sausage and served it to his dad. He peered into the box of Ding Dongs—only one left. What the hell, he thought, and served that to his dad as well. “Enjoy it,” he warned. “It’s your last breakfast of its kind.”

“Sure,” his dad said too easily, and AJ just shook his head. He didn’t need kids. He had his dad …

Darcy held two part-time jobs, one at AJ’s Sunshine Wellness Center and also one at Belle Haven, Sunshine’s local animal center, where she filled in twice a week. That was today’s job. After she showered and dressed, she walked to her piece-of-shit Toyota, which moaned and groaned when she cranked over the engine. The morning had dawned cold and icy, and her car didn’t enjoy either.

Neither did she. Rain, yes. Ice, no. The roads felt slick, and since she had not yet been able to get back onto a highway, she had to take the back roads, which had her saying “oh crap oh crap oh crap” like a mantra.

To get over herself, she tried to think of something, anything else. The first thing that came to mind—how AJ had looked in his faded Levi’s and soft navy T-shirt that clung to his perfect back as he sang in her kitchen with Zoe.

He’d danced like no one was watching. Like he didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought.

And damn. Damn that was both a surprise and attractive.

What the hell was going on with her today?

She cranked the music and tried to relax but her favorite radio station wasn’t coming in, so she ended up on a candy pop station listening to that damn Frozen song and singing about how the cold never bothered her anyway. She was really owning the lyrics and getting into it when a deer dashed out from the woods and stopped right in the middle of the damn road, staring wide-eyed at Darcy.

Darcy let out a string of every bad word she knew as she slammed on the brakes.

The deer blinked and bounded off.

Darcy dropped her head to the steering wheel and gulped in air.

A car came up behind her and honked and took three years off her life.

“Yeah, yeah, bite me,” she yelled and carefully eased onto the accelerator. “It’s all good,” she told herself and tried to channel her inner Ariana. “Just clear your mind.”

But as it turned out, she really didn’t have an inner Ariana, because her heart stayed at heart attack level all the way into work.

She finally pulled into the Belle Haven parking lot, where both Wyatt and Emily worked as vets. Darcy had started off working here as a favor to Dell Connelly, one of the owners, a month or so ago when she’d finally been well enough to work again. Since she couldn’t do what she used to do, she’d been forced to take what she could get.