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Letting the pups out of their crates and leading them out to the backyard, he went back for Duke. He’d bought an extra-large cage for Duke to rest in, which he’d set up in the living room next to Apollo’s and Zeus’s cages. The vet had wanted him to rest as much as possible, but constantly carrying a single crate from the car to the house wasn’t going to work.

Opening the crate, Tyler carried Duke in as gently as he could. Setting him up on the cushiony bed in his cage, he rubbed his hands over his head and his ears. Duke looked up at him with that same trusting look, and Tyler’s chest squeezed.

“I got you, buddy.”

Duke laid his head down and snuggled in just as Tyler’s cell rang.


“Hey, man, I need your help.”

Tyler grinned at the sheer panic in his friend Blake Kline’s voice.

“Wow, you sound like you’re almost begging, man.”

“Asshole, I’m serious. These people I go to church with want me to meet their daughter for coffee tonight, and I didn’t know how to refuse—”

Tyler shook his head. Kline had nice guy written all over him, and people were always throwing their daughters, sisters, and best friends at him. “You say, ‘No. N. O.’ ”

“Look, they put me on the spot, and I thought I could do it, but . . . but I have to cover for Sparks tonight with the kids, so I thought maybe you’d go in my place.”

“You want me to go on your date?” Tyler didn’t do blind dates; he liked to know what he was getting into. “Dude, no. I’ll just cover your shift at Alpha Dog.”

“No, just . . . I’m not ready, man, okay? Can’t you do me a solid? I’ll owe you.”

Tyler grimaced, understanding ripping through him. Tyler had met Sparks, Kline, and their friend Oliver Martinez in group therapy, and when they’d all been assigned to Alpha Dog, they had grown closer. Tyler knew that Kline had lost his wife in a shooting at the Base Exchange where Kline had been stationed two years ago, and as far as Tyler knew, he hadn’t been involved with anyone since.

“Why don’t you just call her and tell her you can’t make it?” Tyler asked.

“Because they didn’t give me her number. Just told me to be at the Starbucks on Watt at seven.”

“You always get the digits, man.” Tyler couldn’t believe this was actually happening. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Who the hell sets their daughter up without giving her—”

“Look, yes or no, Best? Since you’re every woman’s type, I figured you’d be a good replacement. You just have to sit down, talk to her for an hour—”

“Half an hour. I have an injured dog at home.”

“Forty-five minutes.”

Tyler groaned as he smoothed his fingers over the tension headache building in his forehead. “Fine, but when you say you owe me, that isn’t just an empty statement. You’re going to actually owe me, so be aware, I’ll come a-calling sooner or later.”

“Fuck it, I’ll do whatever you want. I’m desperate.”

“Yeah, I got that.”

“Be at the Starbucks on Watt and Highway 80 at seven and just tell her I couldn’t make it.”

Kline ended the call, and Tyler shook his head. He checked the clock; he had forty-five minutes to get changed and be at the Starbucks. Damn it, he hadn’t even had dinner yet.

The things he did for these guys.

DANI WALKED INTO the Starbucks on Watt Avenue at five to seven, still fuming from her mom’s ultimatum. When she’d sprung the fact that she’d set up a coffee date for Dani with some guy from her church earlier, Dani had told her to cancel it. That she had no right to try to manage and control her life.

Unfortunately, that hadn’t worked, and her mom had asked her to go on this one date and she would stop pestering her.

For a while, at least.

Still, Dani had refused, until her mom had threatened not to watch Noah anymore. Dani knew it was a bluff, but if her mom went through with it, Dani would have to find someone to watch him, and day care and babysitters weren’t cheap.