Page 2

He didn’t return the smile.

Darcy attributed this to the fact that it was seven in the morning, and AJ hated mornings with the same level of passion that she herself reserved for doctors and exercise.

From the hallway that led to the offices, Ariana waved at AJ, all sweet and cute, pointing to the steaming mug of coffee on the counter waiting for him. The yoga instructor always prepared him organic coffee in the mornings.


Organic coffee? It sounded as good as tofu or kale, not that AJ ever complained.

Sometimes Darcy wished that she could be described as sweet and cute, too, but she was usually too busy being her normal sarcastic and annoying self.

Ariana had other things on Darcy, too. Calm and steady and grounded, for instance. And she meditated, didn’t eat chocolate—who didn’t eat chocolate?—and was Zen at every turn.

Darcy couldn’t have done Zen to save her life.

“You still with me?” Johnny snapped at her. “Five hundred. Today.”

Darcy turned her back on AJ and lowered her voice. “That’s five hundred more than you deserve, you bloodsucking scumball—”

“You kiss your mama with that mouth?”

Darcy kissed her mama never. Her mother wasn’t the kissing sort. “We’re done. Good-bye—”

“Wait! Jesus, we’re having a little fun-free enterprise here, no need to get all pissed off. Four hundred. Final offer.”

“Done,” Darcy said. She’d just have to find a way. She always did when it came to rescuing service dogs who, for a variety of reasons, needed to be “reassigned.”

Some needed to be retired, either because the work was too strenuous or they’d lost their owners, or they simply couldn’t keep up with the demands of their job. Most were sold to good homes, but not all. People had jokingly labeled these dogs as “career change” dogs, but Darcy knew the truth. They were throwaways.

And no one knew how it felt to be a throwaway more than Darcy herself.

In the past month she’d rescued three such dogs, each of whom had been let go by his owner but who still had so much to offer.

She’d easily placed them as emotional support dogs with people who needed them as badly as the dogs needed good homes. In this case that had been two military vets suffering PTSD and a woman who’d lost her hearing due to illness.

Word had gotten out, and now Darcy had a list of more people who needed emotional support or therapy dogs as well, people who couldn’t afford to go through the usual channels.

There certainly wasn’t a shortage of dogs or people who needed them.

But there was a shortage of funds, as these dogs, with their training and certifications, were expensive.

“The money needs to be here tonight or he’s going to the pound,” Johnny said.

Most likely he was lying, but he was a first-class jerk so she couldn’t be sure. “No problem,” she said, and hoped that was true. She disconnected and buried her nose in work.

“That was either a drug deal or a bookie,” AJ said.

That was the thing about AJ—the Navy vet was the definition of stealth. And maybe she hadn’t heard him coming, but she’d sure as hell felt him. She ignored both her happy nipples and him. First, she’d dedicated one of her three guidelines to him. Second, he was one of the few people on the planet who could see right through her and call her on her shit.

No woman wanted to be with a man who could see right through her.

And then there was the fact that he had a ’tude bigger than hers and could back his up with an all-around badassery she couldn’t begin to match.

Nope, if and when she decided to jump into the man pool again, it would be with someone sweet and kind and lovely and sensitive. Someone who’d fawn all over her and think she was the best thing to ever happen to him. Someone who hadn’t rejected her.

“I don’t do drugs,” she said without looking up, using her most impressive PMS tone. “Or gamble.”

“Sure you do. You gamble with your health when you eat spicy sausage taquitos from a convenience store for breakfast.”

“Ha-ha,” she said. “And for your information, I got the veggie ones.”

He didn’t say anything to this, and damn if she didn’t finally cave and look up, right into his eyes.

Big mistake.

AJ had deep, warm eyes the color of a hazelnut, and when he wasn’t being her militant hard-ass PT or her boss—in fact when he wasn’t looking at her at all—they softened.

Not that there was anything soft about him right now.

And that was the thing about AJ. He was tough and strong, both inside and out, and he always, always knew what to do, in any situation.

Whether that came from being raised by a Navy captain or from his own military stint, she had no idea. She could ask him for help with Johnny and he’d step in and handle it without hesitation.

Which was exactly why she said nothing. This was her problem, not his.

“Let me guess,” he said, his tone dialed to Not Surprised. “You’re in trouble.”

As that was usually the case, Darcy supposed she couldn’t blame him for the assumption. “What I am,” she said, moving past him, shoulder-checking him by pretend accident, “is none of your business.”

He caught her arm and turned her to face him. “I don’t just sign your paychecks. I’m your brother and sister’s best friend. You’re definitely my business. And,” he went on when she opened her mouth, “I don’t see how that’s a bad thing, having people want to help you.”