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Which had hurt her for no logical reason. What, like her bad break had to be shared by him? Like she expected him to fall on the sword of resignation in her honor?

Come on.

There had been that one voicemail he’d left on her phone—God, three months ago. It had been in the middle of the night and he’d obviously been drunk, his words slurred and incomprehensible. And then a female voice had said his name with enough innuendo and invitation to melt paint off a car door.

So, no, there had been no contact.

“Are you hungry?” she asked when the dog didn’t run away.

With slow movements, she went back to the car, got her bag, and brought it with her across the street to the broken sidewalk. Grabbing a Fiber One bar and her bottle of Poland Spring, she got down on her haunches and made what she hoped were encouraging noises.

The dog was slow on the limping approach, its head low, that swollen ear as flat back as it could get, one front paw obviously injured. The animal’s ribs were so stark under its thin coat and skin that she couldn’t bear to focus on them.

“Here,” she said, breaking off some of the breakfast bar.

She tossed the piece right in front of the dog, and it eyed her with suspicion as it dropped its nose and sniffed. The first piece was taken slowly. The second went down a little faster. The third?


She fed the dog the bar, bringing him or her ever nearer by pitching the pieces closer and closer. When she turned to get the Poland Spring opened, she lost ground, the animal flinching back and costing her a couple of feet.

Pouring a stream of fresh, clean water in her palm, she waited.

When the dog finally gave in to its thirst and she felt the first tentative brush of a rasping tongue, tears came to her eyes.

It had been months and months since she had cried. Not since that horrible stretch when the infection had really gotten its grip on her, the Grim Reaper’s deadly handshake trying to pull her into her grave. She had had to choose. Did she live or did she languish? Did she fight and claw her way back . . . or did she give up?

“How about I help you?” she whispered as she sniffed hard. “I won’t hurt you. I promise . . . I won’t hurt you.”

New Brunswick Firehouse No. 499

Hurst and Benedict Avenues

Goddamn, he hurt all over, Danny thought as he parked his truck behind the stationhouse and contemplated getting out and signing in for his shift.

Seemed like it was about three hundred and seventy-five miles to the back door. In reality? Probably only thirty feet. But when your head was thumping, your back had turned into a solid during your seven-minute commute, and the healed breaks in both your thigh bones and that fucking left calf of yours were aching because rain was coming, anything more than an inch and a half felt like a marathon.

As he opened the driver’s-side door, his shoulder let out a holler and he thought fondly of his new girlfriend. It had been a mere six hours since he’d seen her last—or maybe less than that? And he was starved for more of their connection.

On that note, he shoved his hand into the duffel bag on his passenger seat and fished around. When his palm hit what he was looking for, he smiled and pulled out a bottle of Motrin the size of his head. Across the front of the label, in black Sharpie, was written “BETTY FUCKING MAGUIRE.”

Yup, he was dating a bottle of ibuprofen.

Popping the lid off, he thought once again that this was, in fact, the healthiest relationship he had ever been in. Betty never let him down, was always available, and improved his life immeasurably. Still, he was jealous over her, and unwilling to share her with anybody—not that she ever complained that he was a smothering sonofabitch.

Shaking out six capsules, he took them on a oner, washing them down with some still-hot Dunkin’.

Looking at the back door to the stationhouse again, he breathed in. Someone was cooking bacon and eggs. He hoped it wasn’t Duff. The bastard always under-did the former and hard-tack’d the latter—and for a guy who liked super-crispy and sunny-side up that was more tragedy than Danny could handle on a Monday morning.

To kill some time, he took out his Marlboros and lit one. Soon as he’d gotten out of rehab last spring, he’d taken the habit up again with a vengeance—but yet again, Betty didn’t mind the secondhand smoke, and now that he essentially had no roommates, there was nobody around to complain about the ashtrays.


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