“So, you’re active military, but you train and evaluate dogs?”
“Yes, but the kids at the program do most of the basic obedience training. Once the dogs graduate from basic obedience, they will be placed into specialty training.”
“And the kids that are there? Is it like a camp or something?”
“No, they’re juveniles who’ve been charged with nonviolent crimes. Instead of spending two weeks to six months in juvie, they come to us.”
Dani thought her jaw would hit the floor. “You let criminals handle these dogs?”
“They’re kids who have had a little trouble; just like with the dogs, the kids are monitored for behavior. This program is helping to give these kids an outlet and a skill set so that they don’t end up in prison as adults. But even adult prisoners have benefitted from a program like this inside the prison. They put the dog in the cell with the prisoner, and it not only gives the dog a home, but it gives the prisoners a lifeline.”
Thoroughly scolded, Dani blushed. “Sorry, that probably came out pretty judgmental.”
“Didn’t you mean it to be that way?” he asked bluntly.
“No, not really. I was just surprised, because you hear so many stories about teenagers hurting animals, and—”
“You can’t go by what you see on the Internet and the news. I work with these kids, and although they might have problems, they would never torture the dogs.”
“Again, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t. I just get defensive of my kids, I guess.”
The way he said it left Dani with the same gooey feeling she’d had when he’d offered to pay carte blanche for Fugly’s care.
Dani gently ran her fingers over Noah’s back. “I know the feeling.”
TYLER PICKED UP Fugly from the veterinarian on Friday after work. He brought with him a new leash and collar with the name Duke on the ID tag and Tyler’s phone number on the back. Tyler had decided to rename him after a late-night viewing of G.I. Joe. As he paid his bill, the tech handed him his yellow microchip tags and the information he needed to register him online. Tyler had put up a Craigslist ad for a found dog and put Duke’s picture in several pet groups on Facebook, but even if the owners claimed him, Tyler’s info would still be on the chip. Just in case he got out again.
The tech led Duke out to him, and the minute the dog laid eyes on Tyler, he started to pull on the leash, dragging the bright orange cast behind him with a screech as it rubbed across the linoleum.
“Whoa, easy, Duke. I swear I’m not going anywhere.” Tyler laughed as he rubbed Duke’s ears before taking the leash. He and Duke walked out the door, and Tyler kept glancing down at the huge dog, a little concerned the extra-large dog crate he’d bought wouldn’t be big enough. He popped the back of his Tahoe open and unlocked the crate’s door. Tyler lifted Duke into the back, and the dog settled inside with his leg cast. All in all, it was just about perfect.
Tyler noticed a definite twinge in his knee as he came back around to the driver’s side and climbed behind the wheel. He needed to go back to stretching it when he got home at night.
Apollo and Zeus were locked in their crates on his backseat, and with all of the supplies he’d grabbed at PetSmart on the way to pick up Duke, his car was stuffed pretty full.
Pulling out onto the road, he saw a blonde zip by in a little black car, and his mind flashed to Dani and Noah. He’d ended up staying at the hospital an hour later than he’d planned, talking to Dani about the program and his group of kids while Apollo and Noah had slept. The Dani in the hospital room had been easier to talk to than the one he’d initially met. Maybe it was because her guard was down or she was more vulnerable because she was worried about Noah, but Tyler had enjoyed it. If Apollo hadn’t woken up whining, who knows how long he would have stayed. Noah slept through his departure, and as he’d said good-bye to Dani, he’d been tempted to ask for her phone number. The only thing that had stopped him was the voice in his head silently shouting the three types of women he avoided.
Yet, he still couldn’t get that soft look in her green eyes out of his mind. The one she had whenever she glanced at Noah’s sleeping form.
The one she’d shared briefly with him.
It was the same one he’d seen on his mom’s face when she looked at his stepdad, and it had scared the hell out of him.
Having been raised by a single mother himself, he still remembered a few of the losers who had used and ditched his mom before she’d met his stepdad, Gareth Best. His mom had been lucky to find a guy like Gareth, someone who accepted her kid as his and treated her with respect and love. Gareth had never treated Tyler like a burden o
r a pest the way a few of his mom’s boyfriends had. The first time Gareth met Tyler, he had taken his mom and him to the batting cages. It had been the most fun he’d ever had, and when Gareth had asked him how he’d feel about Gareth asking his mom to marry him, Tyler hadn’t hesitated. Once they were married, Gareth had adopted Tyler, and even after Tyler’s brother, Dereck, and sister, Zoe, were born, Gareth never treated him any differently.
Tyler remembered that every time Gareth had done something for him, whether it was bringing him a new mitt or taking him camping for the first time, his mom had gotten this soft, sweet look on her face.
Tyler knew that he wasn’t ready to be a dad to anyone; he had too much more to do. Maybe once he retired, he’d think about settling down, but he liked his life the way it was. Why complicate things?
Even if you see her again, you can just smile, say hi, and move on. Why sweat something that hasn’t even happened yet?
Tyler turned into the driveway of his house, hitting the garage opener so he could pull inside. After months in the hospital and all the physical therapy he’d needed because of his gunshot wound, he’d been more than content to settle in once he’d been placed with Alpha Dog. He’d started researching VA loans, and at twenty-eight, he had his own four-bedroom, two-bath in a Natomas neighborhood. It had been a foreclosure, so it had needed some work, but it was in good shape overall and less than ten minutes from work. Plus, the backyard was .18 of an acre, bigger than most, with a back patio for his barbeque. His mom kept hassling him about why he needed such a big house if he wasn’t going to settle down, and he’d told her it was so he could house all of them if they ever came to visit. His parents still lived in the Bay Area, while his brother went to Berkeley and his sister was still in high school. But really, Tyler just liked his space.