“Absolutely,” she promised as they walked out together.

“Is Gina working today?” Lieutenant Cruz asked Detective Lacy.


“Why don’t you go sweet-talk her into meeting us over there?”

“You don’t want help with the dog?” she asked with a slight smile.

“Why would I?” he returned.

“Whatever you say, Marcos,” she said, punching him lightly on the shoulder before she ambled away. Sidney watched her go, feeling a spark of envy for the basic human ability to touch another person in kindness, humor or affection.

Detective Lacy’s tone was teasing, but something about what she said bothered him. “Marcos? Is that your real name?”

“Just Marc,” he replied as he held open the door for her. Ever-cognizant of his proximity, she moved by him carefully, resisting the urge to tell him to call her by her first name, as well. She didn’t want to remind him of her embarrassing refusal to shake his hand upon their initial introduction.

As they approached the back of her truck, he didn’t make direct eye contact with the dog or do anything else cornered animals considered threatening, but Blue let out a series of rapid barks, gnashing at the grate.

Lieutenant Cruz didn’t even flinch. “Friendly, isn’t he?”

She smiled at his dry humor. “Don’t you like dogs?”

“They don’t like me,” he corrected.

When she laughed, he turned his head to study her face. He was attracted to her, she realized in a flash of intuition that was more feminine than supernatural. Something must be wrong with him. Men were always put off by her aversion to physical contact.

“As much as I’d like to wrestle him out of there and into my own vehicle-” he gestured to a champagne-colored Audi with all-leather interior “-I think he’s more comfortable with you. If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” she said. “Where to?”

“Vincent Veterinary Clinic. You can follow me.”

“I know where it is,” she said, finding the situation highly ironic.

She was accompanying Lieutenant Cruz, the first man she wanted to touch her in ages, to see Dr. Vincent, the last man who had.

Chapter 2

Vincent Veterinary Clinic was less than a mile from Pacific Pet Hotel. Sidney often took dogs and cats there if they became sick while boarding. In turn, Dr. Vincent recommended her facility to clients, so the business relationship between them was mutually beneficial.

If only the personal relationship had been.

Lieutenant Cruz and Detective Lacy met her there, along with another young woman in a white van that said LabTech on the side. While Lacy helped her unload some kind of specialized equipment, Sidney studied the easy interactions between the two women.

Detective Lacy was petite and compact, with shoulder-length strawberry-blond hair and a smattering of freckles across her nose. The lab tech was taller, but curvy. Her dark hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail and her uniform neatly pressed.

Both of them were pretty, smart-looking and confident. Sidney didn’t need to glance in her rearview mirror to know that she didn’t match up.

She got out of her dusty pickup, a flustered breath ruffling her bangs, and climbed into the back to get Blue. Lieutenant Cruz watched her from a safe distance, and the dog came out readily, allowing her to slip a nylon leash over his head. When he saw Lieutenant Cruz, he growled.

“Easy, Blue,” she chided, hopping off the tailgate.

“How did you know his name?” he asked.

Sidney fumbled for an explanation. “I must have heard it on the news.”

His gaze caressed her face, reading the lie more easily than she’d told it.

“Sidney!” Bill exclaimed from the open doorway, saving her from any more awkward questions. “What are you doing here?”

Bill Vincent was tall and handsome, about ten years older than Sidney, with thinning blond hair and a whipcord build he kept in shape by bicycling on the weekends. He looked casual in a short-sleeved shirt and tan slacks, and he smiled, as if pleased to see her.

Blue lunged at him, barking.

“Whoa,” he said with a jittery laugh. “You’ve got a live one there.”

“Hush,” Sidney ordered.

Blue sat.

“We’ll have to sedate him,” Bill remarked to Lieutenant Cruz. Because no introductions were made, Sidney surmised that the two men were already acquainted. Judging by the way they were staring each other down, they weren’t friendly.

Sidney was surprised. Bill was an easygoing, sociable kind of guy, especially with people he considered influential. He went out of his way to ingratiate himself to others.

“I’d like to get a blood sample first,” Lieutenant Cruz said. “In case he’s already been drugged.”

Bill’s lips thinned. “Are you volunteering to hold him for me, Lieutenant?”

“I’ll hold him,” Sidney offered, knowing it was the only way to get the job done. “He was acting sluggish when I first found him.”

“Sluggish?” Bill eyed the dog warily. “He’s certainly up and at ’em right now.” Seeing the stubborn tilt of her chin, he said, “Come on in,” making a show of checking the time on his watch. Either he billed the police department for emergency hours, or he was implying that he had better things to do.

“I’m Gina, by the way,” the lab tech offered.

“Sidney,” she replied, using Blue as a convenient excuse not to offer her hand. Bending down beside him, she hooked her left arm around his neck, securing his head against her chest. With her right thumb, she held off the vein in his forearm. It was the basic position for drawing blood, and she had a good grip on him, but as soon as Bill came close, the dog exploded.

“That’s it,” he said, backing away. “I’d like to keep my face intact, if you don’t mind.”

Sidney fought the urge to smile. Bill’s face was a matter of great importance to him.

“Let Gina try,” Lacy suggested. “The dog doesn’t seem to like men.”

Bill handed off the syringe. “It’s your funeral.”

“He won’t bite you,” Sidney said to Gina reassuringly.

“How do you know?”

“She just does,” Bill said, rolling his eyes heavenward. “She always does.”

Sidney ignored him in favor of rearranging her hold on Blue, murmuring words to comfort him. When Gina kneeled to get the sample, he was docile as a lamb.

“Good dog,” she praised, patting him on the head.

Gina gave the dog his sedative as well, a quick injection to the flank. Blue tensed at the sharp sting, but took the pain with neither a whimper nor complaint. In moments, he was weaving on his feet. Soon, he laid his head down and slept.

“That went well,” Gina said, smiling at her.

When Sidney smiled back, Lacy stepped between them.

“Thanks for the help,” she said, indicating her presence was no longer necessary.

Feeling rebuffed, Sidney glanced at Lieutenant Cruz. Again, he was watching her. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to follow you. To check out…your place.”

“Okay,” she mumbled, unable to think of a reason to refuse.

“Doing investigative work now, Sidney?” Bill asked, looking back and forth between them. “What an

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