A mission-gone-wrong ended Tyler Rexall’s career as a Navy SEAL platoon leader. With his dreams all swirling down the drain, Tyler doesn’t expect the dog foisted on him by a pretty young acquaintance to alter his life for the better. But he’s in for an unexpected awakening.
You’ll always be a SEAL, man.
The words of Tyler’s closes friend, Lt. Sam Sasseville, echoed in his head. He could still feel Sam’s firm grip on his hand, still see the compassion and grief welling in the Echo platoon leader’s dark green eyes. Tyler’s throat closed up as he fought the urge to bellow like a wounded bear.
The unexpected jangle of the doorbell startled him into losing his balance again.
He cast around for his crutch, found it, and hobbled toward the foyer. Who could this be? Not the pastor from New Life Church, he hoped. As much as he respected the man, he didn’t need him dropping by on a daily basis. A glance through the parlor windows showed a black SUV in the driveway with a dog in the back. Who the hell? That was not the pastor’s car.
Unlocking the door, he cracked it open. The pretty redhead he’d noticed at Food Lion yesterday stood on the doorstep and looking about as comfortable as a worm in hot ashes. She sent him a forced smile that made her look suddenly familiar.
“Yes?” he prompted.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” Her husky voice sounded oddly familiar and extremely nervous.
“Not really,” he clipped with no patience for a guessing game.
“Katie Crowley,” she said, extending a dainty-looking hand. “We went to high school together.”
Katie Crowley. The name struck a familiar note. He pinned the crutch under his arm in order to return her handshake when the vision of a chubby redhead with glasses and braces flashed through his mind’s eye.
“Oh yeah,” he said, stunned despite his preoccupation that she’d transfigured into such a pretty thing. Her slim hand felt a little moist, confirming her nervousness, but not at all unpleasant to hold onto.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, pulling it back to gesture at the back of her SUV, “but I’ve got a problem. See that dog?”
“Yeah.” It appeared to be some kind of shepherd mix, ugly as hell, staring at them from the interior of a crate.
“I need a temporary home for him.”
He set his jaw, but she plowed on.
“See, I own a kennel and a dog school, but I don’t have room for him. He’s housebroken and quiet and not an ounce of trouble. If you could just watch him for ten days, I’ll take him off your hands then.” She sucked her full lower lip into her mouth and regarded him hopefully.
Tyler considered her. Her jewel-like eyes and that galaxy of freckles on her face made her interesting to look at. Her eyebrows, darker than her apple-red hair flexed in an earnest appeal.
“Please?” she added before he could tell her no. “I have all of his food and everything. He’s really no trouble. It’s just ten days,” she repeated. Then she licked her lips in a way that made his groin tingle in an automatic and unexpected way.
Tyler cleared his throat. The setup here was so bizarre he briefly wondered if he might be hallucinating, except he’d stopped using pain meds a long time ago.
“I can’t take care of a dog.” His refusal came out in a defensive snarl.
“Why not?” She appeared genuinely mystified.
He displayed the crutched. Duh! “I can’t hold a leash.”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter.” With a toss of her bright head, she obliterated his excuse. “Your yard is fenced,” she pointed out. “Just keep him back there with you for a while and he won’t try to leave. It’s the shepherd in him.” She started backing down the steps, clearly taking his silence as assent, and going to fetch the dog.
“Wait,” he snapped, growing more flustered by the second that this woman was ignoring him. “I never said I’d watch him for you.”
“I know.” She paused one step down to look up at him, her blue-green eyes as pretty as springtime. “But I need you to, for old time’s sake.”
What the fuck? He barely even remembered her.
“I’ll be right back. You’re going to love him.” And then she was jogging toward her car. His gaze fell to her bare, shapely legs, and his protest sputtered. September had yet to bring in cooler weather and she was still wearing summer shorts.
He watched her heave open the back end of her vehicle, pop open the crate, and call the dog out. Tyler took one look at the silver and beige speckle-coated canine and amended his earlier opinion. The dog wasn’t really ugly. He was hideous—more like a dingo than a dog. Fighting the urge to back up and shut the door in Katie Crowley’s face, he watched her snap a leash onto its collar and lead him toward the house.
Did she not even notice he was missing a foot?