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“Good morning, everyone, and thank you so much for coming out to support our local shelters and these amazing men and women. In the United States, one-point-two million animals are euthanized every year due to overcrowding in shelters and breed discrimination. The Alpha Dog Training Program wants to decrease that number by giving dogs who may have been overlooked a second chance.

“You’ve probably noticed the camo-wearing canines wandering about the event today with their young handlers. These dogs are future heroes, handpicked for this program, so if you get the chance, stop and hand them one of the bones from your goody bags. They have been working hard and deserve a treat. If you haven’t received a goody bag, they are located at the entrances and exits of the auditorium.

“But it’s not just the canines that benefit from Alpha Dog. This program gives at-risk youth a knowledge of animal health, training, and behavior in the hopes that they might turn their lives around. The program assists with job placement, and there is even a scholarship available for a student pursuing a degree in Animal Health.”

Loud applause greeted her words, and she relaxed a little.

“Today, the amazing trainers from Alpha Dog have donated their time and knowledge to you and the adorable adoptable dogs we are about to present. These dogs are from local shelters and have been given a grade of ‘A’ by an animal behaviorist. That means they would be an excellent addition to any home.

“In this auction, you will be bidding on a picnic lunch with both the dog and trainer, as well as a half-hour obedience lesson. All proceeds will be divided between the shelters and rescues participating in today’s event. That means that one hundred percent of the money we raise goes to medical treatments, food, and shelter for the animals while they wait for their forever home. Today, we encourage you to take lots of pictures and share them on social media. Use the hashtag #pawscause and tag Alpha Dog Training Program on any platform.” Taking a deep breath, she concluded, “So, what do you think? Are you ready to meet them?”

Cheers erupted from the crowd, and Eve laughed. “Well, all right, then. Our first cute canine is Thor, who is accompanied by Alpha Dog’s head search-and-rescue trainer, Sergeant Dean Sparks.”

As Sparks jogged onto the stage with a blond, medium-sized dog, Eve could almost hear the collective sigh from the women in the audience.

She grinned. “Aren’t they pretty to look at?” The crowd laughed, and Eve continued, “Thor is a five-year-old golden retriever mix whose favorite pastimes are playing fetch, swimming, and having his long, golden locks brushed. He knows basic obedience and would make an awesome jogging and camping buddy. He promises to bring unconditional love and laughter to his new home and to never leave your side. As for his picnic lunch, he’s chosen to share fried chicken, coleslaw, and buttermilk biscuits with the human who wins his time. Let’s start the bidding at a hundred dollars.”

Several paddles rose, and the auctioneer started taking the bids. As he rambled faster and faster, Eve nodded at Dean. Before the auction, she’d told the trainers to showcase their dogs by playing on their strengths. According to the shelter, Thor was quite the ham and, along with his basic training, could do a few fun tricks, one of which was playing dead.

“Bang, bang,” Dean said loudly, pointing his finger like a gun at Thor. Thor immediately fell and rolled onto his back, lying completely still but for his open mouth and lolling tongue. The audience laughed, and a collective “aw” rose up among the flurry of bids. Finally, a woman in her mid-forties won Thor and Dean for seven hundred and fifty dollars.

“Fantastic showing, guys!” Eve shifted Thor’s index card to the back of the stack and announced the next dog and trainer team.

As the auction progressed, she found herself getting into a rhythm, and even the trainers were strutting their stuff, cracking the audience up. When Megan escorted her dog out onto the stage, they did a whole bit where every time she talked to the dog, a big, beautiful husky named Siber, she would vocalize back at her. The audience was in stitches, and they went for nearly six hundred.

Eve turned to the last index card an

d stumbled a bit on the introduction as Oliver stepped out onto the stage with a black-and-white pit bull mix named Daisy. Now, he was going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, and there was nothing she could do about it.

It’s just a picnic. No big deal. They’ll eat, talk, train, and say good-bye. Besides, you were the one who couldn’t open your mouth and tell him how you feel, so really, it serves you right.

Clearing her throat, she awkwardly tried to recover from her long pause. “Accompanying Sergeant Martinez is Daisy, who would love nothing better than to find a home where she can lay under your feet all day, getting belly and ear rubs until the cows come home. Daisy wants her new family to know that she loves dancing, tea parties, and especially Channing Tatum movies.” More laughter. “We’ll start the bidding at one hundred dollars.”

Eve nearly scowled at the amount of women’s hands that shot up into the air and fought the urge to say something discouraging, like Oliver had halitosis or smelled like onions. But she wasn’t stupid or impulsive. She’d look crazy, and it would only embarrass Oliver, which was the last thing she wanted.

The bidding seemed to last forever, and when it was over, a small, gleeful laugh escaped her when she saw the winner was an older woman with silver hair. Eve glanced toward Oliver, who gave her a wry smile, and her face flamed. Did he know why she had laughed?

Turning away, she addressed the crowd. “Thank you so much for coming out and supporting this great cause. Winners, please come to the table at the side of the stage to make your payment, and as for everyone else, please enjoy the rest of today’s entertainment.”

Eve released the mic, and as she passed by Oliver, she slowed to ask, “Where’s Beast?”

“He’s cooling his heels with Best, who had to deal with a situation with one of the kids.”

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’s fine.”

“Woo-hoo, Sergeant Martinez!” the older woman who had won Oliver called from the payment table, and Eve noticed a younger woman standing next to her, looking embarrassed.

“I better go greet my date,” he said.

“I’ll go with you.” Why was she so curious, damn it? “I need to make sure there aren’t any problems.”

They headed over to his winner, and Eve stood back a little to listen.

“Young man, I want you meet my granddaughter, Abigail. She is having problems with her dog, and I thought maybe you could help,” the older woman said.

Eve snuck a glance at Abigail, a pretty, fresh-faced blonde with a shy smile and big blue eyes, and tried not to panic.