Andrew shoved the stump of his leg into the prosthesis, pulled up the gator and the sleeve, and pushed to his feet. Rosie stirred, her tag clinking against the loop on her collar. In the dark, he saw the pleading in her soft brown eyes, the glint of moonlight on her golden fur.
“What do you say, girl? Should we go for a walk?”
Rosie yipped, her tail slapping the floor. She didn’t get up yet. She waited. Part of her training—anticipating Andrew’s needs and following orders. Rosie wasn’t an ordinary dog. When he let her be herself, back home, she sure seemed it. Rosie’s job was to be there for him. Andrew felt like shit for it in the beginning, until he realized he needed her, just as much as she needed him. Or maybe that was wishful thinking on his part. Damn it, he loved the girl.
He grabbed the leash, still on the cushion beside him from earlier, and dangled it. Rosie took the hint. Her nails clacked over the linoleum on her way over, her tail making slow, happy swipes. She licked his hand, then nuzzled her head at his fingers, and Andrew clipped the leash to her collar. Grabbing a bag and a bottle of water for the walk had become second nature since he got Rosie, who was also his first pet. Not even a goldfish or a worm in his past.
Rosie, eager to get going, let out a louder-than-necessary bark in the hall. Andrew cringed. This place had a strict “no pets allowed” policy, however the owner made an exception for him, as a fellow veteran. They fought in different wars but the respect, honor, and inexorable bond between two people who saw the kind of things civvies could never understand.
Then it happened. The click of a lock. Creak of a door. A shaft of dim light speared the space between the door and the darkness inside the apartment. He knew who lived there. He had known for months, though he never actually saw her coming or going until yesterday.
Sawyer’s face peeped through the crack, her sleep-rumpled cheeks and hair familiar to him. He’d never seen her this way before. Though not a stranger to sleeplessness, he recognized it in others. They looked like they’d been asleep for a century and just rolled out of hibernation mode, when in fact, their eyes were shut but no sleep came.
“Hey,” he said, keeping the Golden Retriever’s leash tight. Some people had dog fears. “Sorry if she woke you.”
Sawyer blinked, her soulful brown eyes hazed in confusion and shot through with red. Then she said, “You know there’s a no pet rule here, right?”
“Special permission,” he said. “You know, just in case my iron lung collapses.”
For a second, it seemed she bought it. Her brows sank above a glare. “Iron lungs don’t go inside people’s bodies.”
“You got me.” Andrew surprised himself. He didn’t joke. Not with anyone. There was something about Sawyer that brought out a side of him long buried. “I’m an undercover cop and Rosie’s my drug-sniffing dog.”
Sawyer’s pretty lips twitch into a smile, the first one he had seen on her. “Where’s your badge?”
“I’m off duty.” Rosie’s tail thwapped his leg. “I’m just taking her for a walk. Want to join us?” The words were out of his mouth before he realized.
Her dark eyes shot wide, a thread of something there he couldn’t quite read. Fear? Longing? Hope? “I should probably get back to bed,” she said, and Rosie interrupted her with an argument of her own. She pulled on the leash, almost dragging Andrew to Sawyer, then gave Sawyer’s hand the same treatment she had given him on the day he met the dog, eight months ago.
Which told Andrew two things: the first, Sawyer was in pain, which he already knew, but this pain ran deeper than he suspected, and second, Sawyer probably needed Rosie more than he did.
Rosie pressed her head under Sawyer’s hand, forcing her to scratch behind the ear. When she got what she wanted, the traitor dog slumped against Sawyer’s leg, and Andrew noticed it was bare. Miles and miles of smooth, light tan skin, to the hem of her shorts. And hell, they were short shorts. Barely shorts. A little strip of fabric, a couple stitches of thread, and some elastic holding it all in place. Andrew glanced up and caught the wary look in her eyes.
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