accommodating little citizen you’ve become.”

Sidney felt the blood drain from her face.

Lieutenant Cruz noted the exchange with interest. “If not for her, I doubt we’d have been able to get near that dog,” he defended.

Bill didn’t care for the mild reprimand, or the reminder that he’d been intimidated by Blue. “I’ll call you later,” he said to Sidney, as if they were still involved. She would have laughed at his ridiculous posturing if the situation weren’t so tense.

“Ladies,” Lieutenant Cruz said, leaving Detective Lacy and Gina to their work. He didn’t bother to say goodbye to Bill, but neither did Sidney.

“You dated that guy?” he asked as soon as they were out of earshot.

“Is that pertinent to the case, Lieutenant?”

“Marc. And probably not.”

Annoyed with all men in general, she turned to glare at him. Then she sucked in a breath, because he was standing very close.

His eyes trailed down her body. “Did he hurt you?”

She pressed her back against the side of her truck, anxious to put space between them. “No. I was like this before.”

He must have accepted her answer, because he stepped back. “Meet you over there,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away.

Pacific Pet Hotel was a small white stucco building on Oceanside Boulevard, in an industrial area populated with offices, warehouses and construction supply companies. It was a convenient location for dropping the pooch off on the way to work, or while heading out of town.

Marc let Sidney attend her duties while he cased the perimeter of the building. Other than a few glass shards, and the stainless steel bowls she’d used to offer the dog food, he didn’t find anything noteworthy.

Standing on the blacktop parking lot with the hot sun beating down on his head, staring out at the desolate landscape, he began to sweat. He’d already discarded his jacket and loosened his tie. Beads of perspiration dried on the back of his neck before they could trickle.

Studying the area, he analyzed her description of the dog’s physical condition. His paws were wet, she’d said. The San Luis Rey River was at least a mile to the north, through a thicket of weeds, sagebrush and eucalyptus trees.

Wet paws after that journey? Not bloody likely.

Another detail of her account bothered him. He knew damned well she hadn’t heard the dog’s name on the news. He’d watched the only televised segment himself, with his usual disdain for Crystal Dunn’s salacious reporting style. Crystal would sell her soul for a story, and she wasn’t above making one up, so it wouldn’t have surprised him if she’d let the dog’s name slip. But she hadn’t. He was sure of it.

Whistling a vague tune, he wandered out back to see what the strangely sexy Miss Morrow was up to.

She was hosing down outdoor kennels. Dogs of various breeds and sizes were barking happily, pacing in runs, leaping up and down, or putting their faces in full bowls of food or water. Her short black hair clung to her forehead, and a damp spot was visible between her shoulder blades. This was not a woman afraid of hard work, he thought with reluctant admiration.

Definitely not his type.

Neither did she seem a likely murder suspect. As she worked, she chatted with the dogs around her, taking the time to give each one a piece of her undivided attention. She was unusual, no doubt about that, but she was also kind.

The kennel area was small, well-maintained and clean. The dogs didn’t appear to be wasting away or suffering unduly, not that he was any expert in the care of animals. When she turned to wheel a loaded cart of empty dishes back inside, she startled, noticed him standing there for the first time.

The precariously loaded tray wobbled, and several stainless steel bowls came crashing down. As he bent to help her pick them up, his fingertips grazed across hers when they reached for the same bowl.

She froze. Having taken off her gloves, for reasons unknown, the contact with her bare skin seemed to jolt her.

To be honest, he wasn’t immune to it, either. The quick flash of heat, and matching spark in her eyes, made sensual awareness sizzle down his spine. Never had he experienced such a strong reaction to a fleeting, purely innocent touch.

Maybe that was why she wore latex-the slightest brush against her flesh had the power to bring a man to his knees. He’d figured her for an extreme germaphobe, an obsessive-compulsive, or just a kooky, off-center chick.

“Sorry,” he said, because she seemed affronted. She thought he’d done it on purpose, he realized. Straightening, he set the bowl atop the cart.

Without a word, she pushed the cart into the back door of the facility and dumped the dishes into an industrial-size sink. Grabbing a pair of yellow rubber gloves from a drawer, she shoved her trembling hands into them and hit the faucet handle.

“Do you know Candace Hegel?”

“No,” she said, adding a stingy amount of dish soap to the rising water.

“What about the dog? Did he come here for boarding?”


“How can you be so sure?”

“I know my clients.”

“You remember every dog who’s ever come in here?”

“I’d remember that one,” she said, shutting off the faucet.

He conceded her point. “The news report didn’t give his name.”

She began scrubbing furiously, drawing his attention to the way her breasts moved beneath the soft cotton T- shirt. “That dog is a blue roan. It’s an obvious choice.”

With some effort, he lifted his eyes to her face. “What’s a blue roan?”

“The color of his coat. It’s like calling a black dog ‘Blackie.’ An easy guess.”

Marc was annoyed with himself for asking an important question while he was distracted. He couldn’t tell if she was lying. “Do you know something you’re not telling me?” he asked, crowding her a little. Sure enough, that got her attention.

“Back off,” she said, narrowing her eyes.

He didn’t move. “I’d be a fool not to consider your behavior suspicious.”

She was breathing heavily, from the exertion of her duties, which she performed with brisk efficiency, and the implied threat in his words. But what he saw in her smoky-gray eyes wasn’t just guilt or fear. It was desire.

As her chest rose again, his gaze dropped to her breasts, and the hard points of her nipples, jutting against the soft cloth.

In that moment, he felt very masculine and very powerful.

“Oh, get over yourself, Lieutenant,” she said, disgusted, shoving away from the sink. “Just because I look like-” she gestured to herself “-this, and you look like-” she waved her hand at him “-that, you think I’m going to fall all over you?”

He opened his mouth to protest then closed it.

“Go dominate one of your dumb blondes,” she added, leaving him standing there.

Marc couldn’t decide what astounded him more: her low assessment of her own attributes, or her scathingly accurate critique of his.

Following her, he started to ask how she knew him before he realized it was an admission. Shaking his head, he tried to get back on track. “Why do you wear those gloves?”

“Because I work with animals,” she said. “It’s very unsanitary not to.” Proving it, she removed a litter box from a roomy cat cage.

“You weren’t wearing them outside.”

“I don’t wear them when I hose down kennels. Water is clean enough.”

“Maybe I’ll ask Dr. Vincent,” he said softly.

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