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“It’s okay,” Dani said. The dog quieted, but Dani took comfort in her protectiveness.

When Noah ignored his hand, Tyler took it in stride. “The puppy I brought to see you got a new home, and so did his brother, Zeus. They were adopted by a couple of kids with special needs, and the puppies are going to help them. Isn’t that great?”

Noah nodded, and in a flash, he was headed back to the playground equipment.

“Well, he’s obviously really broken up about not seeing the puppy,” Tyler joked.

“Yeah, kids tend to have a short attention span.”

“You don’t say?”

“Oh yes.” Dani ran over and picked up a cigarette butt just before Noah bent over. “And they’re quick.”

“Do you mind if I introduce myself to your dogs?”

Dani lifted Noah up and came over. “Sure, the big cautious one is Shasta, and the pug is Bella. They’re fine. Shasta just gets a little protective of Noah.”

“Good with other dogs?” Tyler held his hand out to her dogs, and Shasta sniffed him excitedly.

“They both love other dogs, although Bella can get a little bossy.” Noah struggled in her arms, wanting back down.

“You like to be the boss, huh?” Tyler cupped the sides of Bella’s face and scrunched up his own, making Dani laugh. She liked that he was a dog person; so many people didn’t get her love of animals.

Duke and the girls sniffed at each other as Tyler stood up, and she noticed him wince. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, my knee just aches sometimes,” he said.

“What happened?”

“I was shot.”

Dani was just letting Noah back down, and her gaze jerked up to his. “Shot?”

Tyler chuckled. “What did you think I did before Alpha Dog?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I knew you were in the military, but I never imagined that you . . . ” She trailed off, unsure of what else to say.

“It was just part of the gig.”

Dani studied him and saw the pain in his eyes, knowing there was more to the story, but it wasn’t her place to ask.

Tyler looked away, putting Duke into a down-stay, and Dani, realizing that she’d stared at him too long, jerked her gaze away to find Noah back on the play structure, heading toward the highest area.

Panic seized her, tightening her chest. “Noah, no! Come back down, please.”

The toddler paused for half a second and glanced at her before he kept crawling up. Fear and anger bubbled within her as she ran toward the structure, taking the steps at full speed. She stepped onto the top of the first level just as Noah reached out for the large pole.


Her son jumped at her harsh tone, and all she could do was watch in horror as her baby pitched forward off the structure toward the ground.

TYLER SAW THE kid lose his balance as if in slow motion, his little arms flapping in the air like a bird. Tyler didn’t even realize he was moving until he caught Noah in his arms, bringing the kid in close to his chest. The blood pounded in his ears as his adrenaline rushed through, and he barely registered Dani’s terrified cries, he was so focused on the trembling kid in his arms.

“Oh my God, Noah!” Dani was suddenly in front of him, tears streaming down her pale

cheeks as she reached for her son.

Tyler passed Noah over, and Dani squeezed him, burying her face into his neck as she sobbed. Noah burst into loud wails as Dani rocked him in her arms, murmuring soothingly.

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