Claire caught Dillon watching her, his blue eyes cool. Analytical. She frowned and looked away. Maybe he'd learned to study people who came into his bar, sized them up for potential troublemakers. But something told her his brain stored information as efficiently as Maggie, her legal assistant at the firm, filed court papers. He may run a bar and grill now, but he hadn't always.
She began to second-guess her actions. Had she made a mistake trusting him? After all, what did she really know about the guy?
"I appreciate what you're doing for me," he said.
The weariness had crept back into his voice. She slanted him another quick look. His features were no less taut, his gaze just as direct. But the premonition that she might have misjudged him was gone. He had to be exhausted. Returning her attention to the road, she said, "Actually, we're doing each other a favor."
"How is that?"
"With you around, Janey won't have a reason to send me on anymore errands involving eligible men." Though Claire couldn't dismiss the fact that the man sitting next to her seemed just as eligible and far too good looking. She could only be thankful they both had a common goal. "While you and I are concentrating on the race, my friend can have her little fantasies."
"All completely innocent, of course."
Something in his tone drew her gaze. Her pulse surged. There was nothing innocent in those eyes. "Of course." She forced herself to look away, blinked, and realized she was about to miss their turn-off. Muttering a silent oath, she pumped the brakes and made a left onto a snow-covered gravel drive. A few moments later, Sommer Kennels came into view.
The single-story log cabin nestled in the trees, snowshoes hanging from a wide covered porch and a pair of moose antlers mounted over the rough-cut front door, a scene Claire had come to think of as home. Half a dozen other buildings of varying sizes and materials, used for storage and protecting equipment from the weather, spread out over five acres. The cookhouse, the only other log structure, stood between the cabin and the puppy pen.
She pulled up next to the dog yard and shut off the engine. "Here we are."
A cacophony of yips and howls and excited barking greeted them as forty-two huskies strained against their stake chains. Singer's distinctive melody rose above the others, the happy brown and black husky's masked face tipped skyward, while his brother Riley looked on, grinning. Handsome stood on the flat roof of his house, his white chest proud against his long black body, symmetrical brows lifted above blue eyes, his long tail curled in a pleased wave. The Ford swayed on its springs as Dillon's dogs shifted in back and added their own voices to the growing bedlam.
The cabin door banged open and a skinny, dark-haired boy, his parka more off than on, bounded down the steps toward them. "Auntie Claire's back!" he shouted.
Claire smiled. "That's Janey and Matt's eight-year-old son, Andy. I'm not really his aunt, but since Janey and I are like sisters..." She pointed to the petite, slender woman in jeans and an insulated vest over an eye-popping red sweater, short brunette hair winging from her ruddy face as she rushed after the boy, waving a comb. "There's Janey."
A broad-chested man in faded yellow coveralls and a dingy purple cap emerged from the cookhouse and shouted, "Pipe down over there!" The noise level in the kennel yard dropped to a smattering of whines and low grumbling.
"And that's her husband, Matt."
The driver's-side door flew open and Andy hopped onto the truck's running board, using the steering wheel for a handhold. "Hi!" he said, loud enough to make Claire wince. "My name's Andy!"
Before Claire could ask the boy to lower his voice, Dillon slid his arm across the back of the seat, brushing her shoulders and sending a current jagging through her that left her utterly tongue-tied.
He extended his other arm in front of her. "Nice to meet you, Andy. My name's Dillon."
Andy thrust his hand in Dillon's much larger one and pumped it twice, a look of self-importance on his young face. "Nice to meet you too."
Dillon drew back, though his arm remained draped across the seat, maintaining gentle pressure against Claire's shoulders. She found the gesture, and his nearness, unsettling and would have gotten out of the truck had it not been for Andy still swinging from the steering wheel.
"Andrew Sommer, get down from there and comb your hair," Janey scolded, coming up behind her son.
"No arguing, young man." Janey glanced inside the cab. Her hazel eyes focused on Dillon and widened, her brows disappearing beneath feathered bangs. "Oh. You're not Lucas."
Dillon smiled. "No, ma'am." He cocked his head and met Claire's gaze, his face inches from hers, the bold glint in his eyes wicked. Claire's throat went dry. "I'm not married, either."
Heat rocketed up Claire's neck and into her cheeks. For long seconds she stared at him, flabbergasted. When she finally looked away, her gaze collided with Janey's. She wasn't sure which was worse, Dillon's smug audacity or the wedding bells she saw in her friend's eyes.
"What's going on?" Matt asked, coming to stand behind his wife. He stroked his beard and looked at Dillon. "Who's Claire's friend?"
"I'm not sure," Janey answered, her pert mouth curving in a mischievous grin. "But I can't wait to find out."
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