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Darcy wanted to curl into a ball. She wanted to throw something. “I’m …” Her phone rang and she reached for it without thinking.

“Got a dog situation,” Johnny said in her ear.

She swiped the last of the tears from her face. That was it, she was not going to shed another single one. She’d been disappointed before, hurt before. She knew how to pick herself up and keep going, it was what she did.

She’d simply do it again.

No one would ever see how AJ’s words had affected her. Especially AJ himself. She covered the mouthpiece on her phone and said to Ariana, “I don’t feel well.” Understatement of the year. “I need a minute and some fresh air.”

“Take all the time you need,” Ariana said. “I can cover your shift if you need.”

That she was being so nice only brought Darcy closer to the brink. “Thanks,” she managed and walked outside.

“Define situation,” she said to Johnny.

“Four-year-old yellow Lab service dog,” he said. “His owner went senile and they removed the dog from the home. Two attempts at reassigning him have failed. He’s outta here unless you want him.”

“Yes,” she said immediately, her heart breaking, although she didn’t know if it was for herself or for the dog. The fact was that some dogs just couldn’t be reassigned as a full-fledged service dog. But she’d bet her last dollar that the Lab would still make a most excellent companion. And if not, she’d find a home for him anyway. “I can come after work—”

“Now or never, sweetheart.”

“I can’t get a ride out there until after work,” she said, knowing everyone in her world was also working today.

“Not my problem,” Johnny said. “I’ll be here for another forty minutes. If you don’t get here before I leave, he’s going to the pound.”

“You’re such an asshole.”

“Of course I am. What does that have to do with anything?”

She shook her head. “I have to work, Johnny.”

“Well, tell them you’re going to be late. The dog’s a purebred. He’s four hundred bucks.”

She grounded her back teeth to powder. “One hundred.”

“Three. And that’s final,” he said, voice hard and cold. “Forty minutes, Darcy.”

And then he disconnected.

“Dammit!” Zoe was on a flight. Wyatt was at work, and at this time of day he’d be in surgeries.

God, she missed Xander, and not just because he might have driven her but because she missed him. But hell if she’d beg him to want her in his life.

She tried Adam but he was off the grid.

Crap. Okay, first thing’s first. She texted Ariana:

Sorry but I’m going to take you up on your offer if that’s okay. Not feeling well. Will be back in a few hours, promise.

Then she got into her car and headed out. She made it all the way to the turnoff to get onto the highway and … stopped.

Stared at the onramp.

“You’ve got this,” she whispered. “You’re going to make like a Nike commercial and just do it.” She put her foot to the accelerator and … drove right past the onramp.

She turned around and tried again.


On the third pass she slowed to a crawl, her heart pounding in her throat. Do it, just do it—

Beepbeepbeep came the horn of some crazy person up on her tail. They whipped around, came up even with her and flipped her off, and roared onto the highway.

“Hey!” she yelled after him, sticking her head out the window to return the gesture.

“Excuse me, miss, are you having trouble?”

Darcy turned her head and found an ancient, beat-up truck at her side, windows down, the driver somewhere between ninety and infinity, smiling at her kindly.

“No,” she said. “I’m fine.”

“Don’t let anyone rush you, Sweet Cheeks,” he said, and then got onto the highway going maybe twenty-five miles an hour.

She laughed at herself—which was better than crying—and made one last attempt. She was sweating buckets and her heart was pounding so loud in her ears she couldn’t hear the radio, but she made the turn and got on the damn highway.

“Oh shit.” She gulped air. “Okay. Well, I’m on. I’m on the highway.”

She had no idea who she was talking to. In any case, she was shaking, and because she was going twenty miles an hour below the speed limit, she also got herself honked at a few more times.

“It’s the skinny pedal on the right,” some asshole in a Lexus yelled at her.

She would have flipped him off, too, but needed both hands to white-knuckle the wheel. Sucking in a breath, she told herself to think of the dog she was saving. That was the goal. She was a big girl and it had been eleven months and she could do this. It wasn’t nighttime and it wasn’t storming. The rain hadn’t started up again. Everything was entirely different than that night, she assured herself.

Over and over.

And then a semitruck came up on her left to pass. Note to self: If a semi can pass you, you’re going too slow.

She didn’t care. She couldn’t bring herself to speed up. And it was too late anyway. The trucker was hauling a load of live turkeys, and while she stared at them, he honked his displeasure of her speed. She took her eyes off the turkeys to glance at him and her car seemed to catch in his draft.