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“Thanks. It’s hard, with it just being the two of us. My parents help out, but for the most part . . . ” She trailed off, and her face flamed. “I have to go. Take care of Duke.”

She just about raced for the door, and he caught up before she could fully close it, pausing in the open doorway, flummoxed. He’d never been so confused by a woman, but there he stood, puzzling and puzzling until his puzzler was sore.

What are you, the Grinch? Just be thankful your stupidity didn’t get the best of you. The last thing you want to do is lead that poor woman on.

Still, her reaction to his comment was interesting. Almost as if she was afraid of telling him too much.

It was getting harder and harder to remember why he didn’t want to get involved with her. Why couldn’t he remember she was off limits?

DANI WANTED TO curse her own stupidity. The poor guy was just trying to be nice, and she’d started off on a woe-is-me speech. He was so sweet with her that sometimes she forgot he walked into a room and women fell at his feet.

Not that it was his fault he was handsome and charming, but that didn’t mean she needed to be one of the simpering masses. Just thinking about the number on his coffee cup from that girl, how he’d tossed it in the trash like it wasn’t a big deal . . . It made her want to hate him. How easy it was for him to get and discard attention.

She didn’t, though. She might be jealous of how easy it was for him to pick up women, but she definitely didn’t hate him.

No, for a split second before she’d kissed his slightly roughened cheek, she’d thought about kissing him on the lips. A simple peck of thanks.

Or so she told herself.

She’d chickened out, though, and after running out of there as if she’d had hellhounds on her heels, she was glad she hadn’t gone there. It would have been a big slipup, and starting something up with a guy who was obviously a lady’s man would have just been her making the same mistakes over again.

She needed someone who would not only accept Noah as his own, but also care for her. Be her partner in life.

If only she actually believed a man like that existed.

Chapter Seven

THE NEXT DAY at Alpha Dog, Tyler stood frustrated in front of his group of teenagers, who hadn’t been listening to him since they’d assembled for training.

“What in the hell is wrong with you this morning? Fall in!”

His loud boom sent most of them scattering back into formation, save one. Carlos Mendez had been pushing back against their authority since he arrived at Alpha Dog a week ago, and nothing Tyler did, from making him do burpees to extra work, had seemed to curb his attitude.

“Mendez, get up here.”

Carlos and his dog, Lucky, walked toward Tyler, with Lucky leading Mendez. Tyler nearly started yelling again about letting the dog lead, but he held his tongue. When the sullen kid finally stood before him, his dark hooded eyes narrowed and his mouth set in a stubborn line, Tyler rolled his shoulders and decided to try something a little different.

“Who’s the boss, you or him?”

“Shit, I’m the boss.”

Tyler nearly rolled his eyes at the kid’s bravado. “You think so, huh? Fine.” Waving his hand out, he said, “Then I want you to teach the rest of us how to train a dog.”

Mendez’s hard expression slipped a bit, but Tyler just took Apollo and went to stand next to Hank Osbourne, one of the youngest kids at Alpha Dog. The teenager was staring at Mendez with what appeared to be exasperation.

At least Tyler wasn’t the only one fed up with the little punk.

“Okay, Mendez, show us something.”

The hotshot actually swaggered as he and Lucky got into position. Lucky, a muscular boxer mix, had a strong, dominant personality, but he was trainable. Tyler had high hopes for the dog, which was why he’d paired him with Mendez.

But if the kid didn’t get his shit together, he was going to find himself back in juvie, serving out his sentence there for trying to steal a car.

“Lucky, sit,” Mendez said. There was no treat or ball in the hand he held above Lucky’s head, not that the dog was watching him. He was actually looking at Tyler as if to say, Is this kid for real?

Several snickers throughout the group of boys rose up, and Mendez jerked his head toward them, scowling.

“Sit, you stupid dog.”

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