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It had turned out to be a decent gig. She ran the front desk accompanied by Peanut, the mouthy parrot that perched at her elbow, and Bean, the grumpy cat asleep on her printer. At her feet lay Gertie, a one hundred pound Saint Bernard and the heart and soul of the place.

The heart and soul of the place was currently snoozing, snoring loud enough to wake the dead.

The day flew by, and near the end, Adam Connelly—Dell’s brother—stopped at her desk.

“You ready?” he asked.

Adam was ex–National Guard, worked in Search and Rescue training both people and dogs, and was just about as tough as they came. Today he wore cammy cargoes and a military green T-shirt and a dog tag that read: Allergic to bullshit, bullets, and bitching.

She stared up at him. “Ready for …?”

“I’m teaching a puppy class. You’re assisting.”

“I am?”

He gave her a rare smile. “Yeah.”

Ten minutes later they stood outside in the yard facing their class. Darcy sidled up to Adam. “You seriously need assistance?” she asked disbelievingly, because the class seemed to be made up of four women and four adorable puppies. “You’ve been to the front lines. How bad can this be?”

“Bad,” he said. “Your job is to watch my six.”

“Your back?”

“My virtue,” he said.

She rolled her eyes but hey, he was the boss. If he wanted to pay her to stand there and protect him, who was she to argue?

“Watch and learn,” Adam said. “It’s not about training the puppies; it’s about training their humans.”

He turned out to be right. Within twenty minutes, two of the puppies had turned into escape artists and were on the loose, racing around in the mud, spooking a few horses in the pen and generally wreaking havoc.

Their owners stood there wringing their hands, so Adam and Darcy divided and conquered to capture the little wriggling heathens.

Adam had no problem capturing his, but then again he had strength and agility on his side.

Darcy, on the other hand, felt like a baby giraffe who’d just found her legs. Twice she dove for the damn puppy and twice she missed.

And landed in the mud.

Adam laughed so hard he had to bend over, hands on his knees.

She narrowed her eyes at him.

This only cracked him up all the more, a sight to behold because he was normally a pretty serious guy. When he’d finally controlled himself, he came over and offered her a hand, which she took.

And then pulled him down into the mud with her.

“People have died for less,” he said mildly but she told herself she wasn’t worried.


Then the still-on-the-loose puppy raced for the fence and the horse standing behind it with its ears pricked up, stomping a foot in irritation. When the horse lowered its head and snorted in the puppy’s face, the puppy squealed, jumped, and did a one-eighty in the air, diving right into Darcy’s arms.

“Got you,” she said triumphantly on her knees, covered head to toe in mud.

The puppy was still running in place in her hands, wriggling and squealing like a baby pig.

“Maybe this will teach you to listen,” Darcy told it. “Hush now.”

The puppy actually stopped struggling and relaxed, and Darcy flashed a triumphant smile at Adam. “See? This isn’t so bad at all.”

That’s when the puppy peed on her.

Adam grinned. “You’re right. This job isn’t so bad at all.”

By the time Darcy got home, most of the mud—and puppy pee—had dried, making movement even more difficult than usual. She had a raging headache and her body throbbed at each pulse point from overuse. She needed a hot shower, bed, and utter silence.

But she walked into the house to the scent of BBQ and the sound of music and laughter.

Wyatt and Emily were there, and some of Zoe’s friends as well. She remembered that she’d had a text from Zoe. She glanced at it and yep, sure enough, Zoe had given her a heads-up.

People were scattered throughout the living room, but Darcy’s gaze went straight to the tall, built man leaning against the mantel.

AJ, a beer in hand, smiling at something Remy was saying to him.

Remy was a good friend of Zoe’s. A beautiful petite redhead, who was perfectly toned from all the time she spent at the gym trying to get AJ’s attention. She was pretty and funny, and her legs always worked—and she probably was never covered in mud and puppy pee.

“Hear you’re going to Boise,” Wyatt said when he came up to Darcy’s side. “So AJ got his head out of his ass and asked you. That was my idea, by the way. Ask you, not tell you. You know, coax.”

“Coax?” Darcy asked.

“Yeah, sort of let you think it was your idea. Women like that.”

Darcy stared at her brother, who was so smart and also a complete idiot. “Who told you that garbage, Dr. Phil?”

“It’s Women 101, aka having two sisters and a really hot girlfriend,” Wyatt said.

Emily, who’d come up behind him, smacked him on the back of his head. “Women 101?”

He rubbed the back of his head. “Did you not hear the really-hot-girlfriend part?”

Emily looked slightly mollified as she gave Darcy a hug and then froze, nose wrinkled. “Uh …”

“I know,” Darcy said, backing away from everyone. “I’m a wreck. I need a shower.”

Everyone went back to whatever they’d been doing, taking her at her word. Except for one person.