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It wasn’t like Oliver wasn’t going to be up on the stage with him. Eve had come up with a detailed plan for the event with duties for everyone, and she hadn’t missed a beat. All of the head trainers would be leading out a shelter dog for the “Picnic with a Pooch” auction and after lunch would give the winner one basic lesson in obedience training. The kids would be leading their dogs around the facility with raffle tickets to sell for several large prizes Eve was collecting. Oliver had actually been relieved at how easy the gig at Alpha Dog had been so far.

Then this morning, Sparks had informed Oliver that Best had found just the right dog for him to work with, and he couldn’t wuss out now. He had told Best he would help train dogs and work with the kids while he was here, so he wasn’t about to go back on his word.

Even if he was pretty sure Best was using the ugly dog to mess with him again. He should never have admitted that he wasn’t a big fan of dogs.

“Do you have anything with less drool? Why can’t I have one of the Labs?” Huge-ass dogs with massive jaws and saliva hanging from their lips hadn’t been what he had in mind to train.

Sparks opened the kennel and attached a leash to Beast’s collar. “Nope, just Beast. He’s been at the shelter for several months; people kept passing him by because of his size and looks, but with a bit of training, he’ll make a great military or police dog. Best said he would be a good match for you, since you’re both stubborn sons of bitches.”

“What am I supposed to do with him?”

“Take him home with you. I take Dilbert home.” Dilbert was Sparks’s canine charge, a huge black-and-white pit bull that liked to stick his face in Oliver’s crotch. “Best temperament-tested him before he brought him over, so he should be shiny. Oh, but he did say that they are transitioning him onto the program’s diet, so he might be a little gassy.”

Best would set him up with a giant slobbering fart factory. “I’m going to kick that guy’s ass.”

Sparks slapped the leash into Oliver’s hand. “Do what you gotta do, but I am going to grab Dilbert and get the rest of the guys ready for this photo shoot.”

At the mention of the shoot, Oliver’s skin hummed with anticipation. He hadn’t seen Eve since Monday, but they had talked on the phone. She’d called on Tuesday to find out about the dog’s temperaments, and when he’d confirmed they were good to go, she’d been off and running. The first thing she’d wanted to do was get the pictures taken, and Saturday was the only day that worked for all of the trainers.

After the shoot, they were going to go over her massive to-do list and use the pictures to set up the social-media accounts. But all Oliver cared about was getting to see her again, since he hadn’t been able to get her off his mind all week. Especially since she was texting and calling several times a day to ask his opinion or add something else to the list of things they needed to get done.

The doors that led to the back training field crashed open, and a group of teenaged boys walked in. Jorge Ortiz, one of the kids Oliver had taken off Best’s hands, shouted, “Hey, yo, Sergeant Martinez! That is one ugly ass dog!”

“I’m sure he was thinking the same thing about you, Ortiz,” Oliver said.

The kid’s face flushed, and the guys around him started in, razzing him about his looks, but he smiled good-naturedly. Ortiz was the quintessential class clown who had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time smoking pot with his friends. He’d actually confided to Oliver that being

in the bunks was better than being home with his mom, who was scary as shit.

Of the three kids assigned to Oliver, he had to admit that Ortiz was his favorite. There had been an instant bond with the teenager, while his other two charges were a bit more damaged. Tommy Drake was a skinny white kid of fifteen with a chip the size of Antarctica on his shoulder, and Darrel Quinn was a towering black kid who hardly said a word. Oliver knew just looking into the kid’s dark eyes that he had seen some shit, and he’d mentioned to Sparks that Darrel might need someone to talk to. Someone who had come out of hairy situations and could relate to what was going on inside the kid.

“So, when is the general’s daughter supposed to stroll in here to crack the whip?’ Sparks asked.

“Eve’s supposed to be here with the photographer in half an hour,” Oliver said.

“Eve, huh?” Sparks smirked at him.

“What, it’s her name,” he said.

“And yet Best was ordered to call her Ms. Reynolds,” Sparks said.

“It’s just because we’re working together,” Oliver said. In actuality, he’d never asked her if he could call her Eve, but somehow, he didn’t think she’d mind.

“Well, when Eve gets here, send her out back. Figured we’d set up in the training yard, since it’s such a nice day and it’s the only place where the grass is green.”

Sparks walked away from Oliver, leaving him alone with the monster at his feet. The dog stopped panting long enough to shake his head, sending long streams of slobber flying in every direction, several of which stuck to Oliver’s pant leg. He grunted in disgust.

“You have problems, pal.”

“Well, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black,” a woman said behind him.

Oliver looked up as Eve came up alongside him decked out in black slacks and a sheer polka-dot blouse. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, and those same sexy glasses slid down the bridge of her nose as she glanced at Beast with a smile. “And who are you, big guy?”

Beast’s whole body started to tremble, and then he was on his feet, every muscle working to make him wiggle as he approached Eve.

Oliver pulled back, warning, “Watch out, he’s a mess.”

Eve laughed, and to Oliver’s surprise, she knelt down in her slacks and held out her hand to Beast. “Are you a mess? Huh?”