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“Until I think you’re ready,” General Reynolds said.

Oliver nodded grimly. The only option open to him was to bite the bullet and do the job.

“You’ll report to the Alpha Dog Training Program today. The event coordinator will be there at eleven to give you instructions on what you’ll be doing. I do hope you take this time to learn some discipline, Sergeant Martinez.”

Fuck you.

Taking a deep breath, Oliver stood up and saluted the general. As soon as he barked, “Dismissed,” Oliver was out the door, wishing he was headed home to beat the hell out of his punching bag. This whole morning had sucked donkey nuts, and the last thing Oliver wanted to do was be around a bunch of teenagers or his friends.

Not that Best and Sparks weren’t good people, but he knew that the minute they found out about his little time-out, they were going to laugh it up.

Especially Best.

OLIVER PARKED HIS car and wondered how in the hell a building that held dozens of dogs was so quiet.

Not that there would be anyone around to be bothered by the noise; Alpha Dog Training Center sat on several acres. The closest neighbors were a couple of farms. The facilit

y was a two-story, solid brick building surrounded by a landscape of cactuses and desert plants.

Probably trying to save water during the drought.

The cement walkway led to glass double doors through which Oliver saw Best before he even stepped inside. In the twenty minutes it had taken him to get to his car and drive off base to the Alpha Dog Training Center in North Sac, he had tried prepare himself for his friends’ reactions to his news.

He stepped inside. “What’s up, Best?”

Oliver’s voice echoed in the large, open front of the facility, and Best swung his way, his eyes widening. “Martinez? What are you doing in this neck of the woods?”

Oliver crossed the linoleum floor and slapped Best on the back. “Let’s just say that I got reassigned.”

“What, here? Well, hell, man, I could use you. Why didn’t you tell us? You know, if you haven’t taken the training course for handling military dogs, I can make a phone call.”

“I just found out I was assigned here. Where’s Sparks at?” Oliver definitely didn’t want to tell this story twice.

“He’s in the back talking to one of the kids’ parents. She came in hot about something, and I showed her to the ‘director’s’ office.” Best snorted, as if Sparks wasn’t cut out for running this operation. But Oliver had known Sparks longer. He was more than equipped to handle an irate parent. The guy was on his way to general someday if he could just get his psychiatrist to give him a pass. Sparks suffered from PTSD and survivor’s guilt after his last tour. Despite months spent in individual and group therapy, his shrink kept telling him he still needed time before she’d clear him. It pissed him off royally, but he’d seemed to become less restless since being assigned to Alpha Dog.

Oliver followed Best down the hall until a door on the end swung open and a robust black woman stepped out, smiling. “Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your program, Sergeant Sparks. When they told me my Keenan had been transferred here, I didn’t know what to think.”

Sparks stepped out after her, and although he wasn’t smiling, his tone was reassuring. “I assure you, Mrs. Washington, he is in good hands, and hopefully we can help get him back on track.”

The woman actually simpered at Sparks, and Oliver shook his head. Sparks’s normal countenance was somber—he was a bigger hard-ass than Oliver by a long shot—yet he never seemed to have trouble charming women. Even when Oliver’s married sister, Luz, had visited and met Sparks, she had fawned all over him. When Oliver had given her hell about it, she’d said she could never resist a brooding hero.

And yet, her overly friendly, computer geek husband belied her words.

“Martinez, why are you looking at me as if you want to kiss me?” Sparks asked.

Oliver realized that the woman had left while he was spaced out and shoved Sparks. “Kiss you? Who would want to kiss your ugly mug?”

Sparks’s dark eyes narrowed. “Ugly my ass; I’m as pretty as a fucking daisy.”

“Shit, I’m a daisy; you’re more like one of those thistles that grow where no one wants them,” Best said.

“A limp daisy,” Sparks fired back.

The bickering was actually making Oliver feel a little better about being there. He could handle a few weeks at this place if it meant being around his boys. As for the charity event, he’d follow the publicist’s rules and coast through it, just like he had with high school math. How hard could it be?

“HOLY SHIT, YOU got screwed!” Best howled with laughter.

“Glad the injustice of my situation gives you the jollies, dick,” Oliver said. The three of them had filed into Sparks’s office, and Oliver had given them the lowdown.

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