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Oliver gave the group a hard stare, and Best shouted, “All right, turds, get your asses inside and put your dogs in their crates. I think you need a couple hours in the weight room.”

Loud groans and curses rose up, but Best’s scowl shut them up fast. Despite his easygoing nature, Best hadn’t survived in the Marines because of his bad jokes.

When the kids were out of earshot, Oliver turned his attention back to Eve. “Hey, what are you doing here?”

“I just stopped by to see how the training was going,” she said.

“We’re getting better,” Oliver said. He stood up, keeping a hold of Beast’s leash so he didn’t get drool on Eve’s dress. “You look great. Hot date?”

He was surprised by how casual he sounded, even as he silently willed her to say no.

“Hardly. I’m heading up the hill with a few friends to go to Red Hawk Casino.”

“I didn’t take you for a gambler,” Oliver teased, relieved.

“I’m not really, but I’ve never been, so it should be fun,” she said. “What are you up to tonight?”

Oliver caught sight of Best by the fence, making a spanking motion with his hand. Oliver took a step toward him, but Eve turned around to see what had caught his attention and he blurted, “I’ll probably just head out to Mick’s with the guys.”

“That sounds like fun,” she said.

Heavy silence fell between them, and despite the tiny voice telling him not to ask, he couldn’t help himself. “Did you really drive over here to check on training, or was there something else you wanted?”

A rosy hue spread over her cheeks, belying her words. “No, nothing else. I just wanted to make sure that everyone is going to be on their best behavior for the fund-raiser.”

“I think we will be good,” Oliver said.

He watched Eve, trying to read more into her words and expressions. After almost three weeks of talking and spending time with her, he still couldn’t figure her out. Just when he started to think her resolve about being with him was softening, she’d put up that shield.

It had kept him in a perpetually frustrated state, and he hated it.

“Great,” she said. “Well, I should probably go. I’ve got an hour drive up the hill, and I’ve got to pick up my friends, so . . . yeah.”

“Got it, you got to go.”

She shot him a glare, but he had no idea what he’d said to piss her off. He didn’t even have a chance to ask before she was spinning on her heels and walking away.

What the hell was that about?

WHY AM I such an idiot?

It was the fiftieth time that night Eve had asked herself that, and still, an answer hadn’t presented itself.

“Where are you, and why aren’t you with your two besties having the time of your life?”

Eve turned to her friend Megan Bryce and answered her question with more snap than she intended. “Because the time of my life usually doesn’t involve me losing money.”

“Meow, what crawled up your butt?” Allison Breslin asked from the slot machine next to Megan.

“Yeah, you’ve been acting like a crankster since you picked us up,” Megan said.

Eve sighed, feeling like a heel. “I’m sorry, guys, I’ll shake it off.”

“What’s up?” Allison asked.

Eve considered telling her friends, but how could they really understand? Allison, also an army brat, was a sweet-faced blonde who had met her husband, Luke, while he’d been stationed in San Diego in the navy and she’d been at San Diego State. She understood Eve’s point on marrying a military man, but she’d also told Eve that even if she lost her husband, she’d never regret the time she had with him.

And Megan, well, Megan had followed in her father and three older brothers’ footsteps and joined the army right out of high school, eventually becoming an MP. She was tall, lean, and athletic with short brown hair and bright blue eyes. If she hadn’t been injured and medically discharged, she would have been a lifer. The three of them had met in high school and clicked, staying close despite distance and hectic lives. Yet, when it came to what they wanted out of life, their ideals were very different.