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Walking the length of the group to grab Apollo, Tyler said, “Why don’t you guys take the dogs for a run around the fence perimeter, and the fastest team without cutting corners”—Tyler gave Hank a warning look, as the kid liked to cheat if he got the chance—“gets an extra privilege.”

The group of teenagers and dogs took off like a flash, and Tyler finally gave into the groan of pain he’d been holding in. As soon as they went into class, he was going to take some Tylenol and ice his back.

Not exactly a stellar start to the day.

“Yo!” Sparks called from behind him, drawing him out of his pity party.

“What’s up?”

“How come I saw Kline hauling Mendez out of here?”

“Because I kicked him out. The little prick attacked Lucky and me.” The kids were coming back at full speed with Dwayne in the front, a wide grin on his face. His dog Charlie’s lips flapped up like a set of wings as he ran. The hound mix was all wrinkles and ears, but he was going to make a fantastic search-and-rescue dog.

Dwayne whipped past them, followed closely by Olsen and his Border collie mix, Rambo. The rest of the group stampeded past, and Tyler hollered, “Harlow wins. Now get your dogs some water and head inside. Go straight to study hall; I’ll be there in a few minutes. If I arrive and any of you are not there, it’s gonna be a bad day for you, too.”

Once the kids were out of earshot, Sparks gave him a raised eyebrow. “You okay?”

“I’m fine except I had a buck-fifty kid ram me right in the middle of my spine.”

“Didn’t you cuff him after he attacked the dog?” Sparks asked.

“Yeah . . . He got back up and used his head.”

He could tell Sparks wanted to laugh; his mouth was doing that twitchy thing. “Well, the good news is he’s gone, and the better news is we got a new transfer who can take over Lucky’s training. I think he’s going to work out.”

“It’s my job to place the dogs with the kids.” Although, maybe if he’d done a better job reading Mendez, Lucky wouldn’t have been kicked.

“Whoa, easy, I am not trying to take your job, but I think you’re going to mesh well with this kid. Judge Haskins just faxed me his file, and I thought you might like to read it.”

Tyler took the file, holding the dogs’ leashes in one hand so he could open it. Jeremiah Walton. Age: Fourteen. Charges: Vandalism and destruction of property.

Tyler turned over the page to read the crime report, his eyes narrowing. His mom’s husband, Neil Kenetti, had been beating her, and when Jeremiah tried to step in, Neil knocked him around. Afraid he would kill them, Jeremiah ran outside and took a baseball bat to Neil’s car and then several cars down the block, setting off alarms all over the neighborhood. Neil started to chase Jeremiah down the street, and when people came out asking what was going on, Neil took off.

“Why didn’t the kid call the cops? Or go to a neighbor’s house and have them call?”

“Check the address. It’s one of those neighborhoods where people don’t want to get involved . . . unless it somehow affects them. And he didn’t have a cell phone.”

“Still, why the hell is he being charged with anything?”

“Because the mom wouldn’t testify against her new husband, and several of the neighbors’ cars had minor damage.”

Tyler’s hands clenched around the file as he nodded. His mom had never been beaten, but she’d been taken advantage of before his dad had come into the picture. He’d been too young to help, to know what was going on, but if anyone had laid a hand on her . . .

For some reason, Dani’s pretty face flashed through his mind. He could never imagine fierce, protective Dani letting anyone hurt her, let alone Noah.

“You’re right. I want him.”

Sparks slapped him on the back. “I thought you might.”

Sparks started to turn away, but before he even knew what he wanted to ask, Tyler blurted, “Were you ever freaked about hooking up with Violet? I mean, once you found out she was raising her brother and sister?”

Sparks paused and seemed to consider his answer. “Yeah, I had reservations. I mean, Violet is essentially a single mom. It’s a big commitment, because if things go south, it’s not just the two of you, but also the kid you have to consider.”

Tyler nodded. It was exactly what he’d thought. There was no way around it; no matter how much he may be attracted to Dani, she was in the small percentage of women who were off limits.

“Why do you ask?”

Tyler just shrugged off Sparks’s question. “You know, just curious is all.”