CHAPTER ONE

It took my friends approximately two days to blame my termination on the fact that I was single. It took roughly two hours after that realization to decide that they would remedy my perpetual singleness by signing me up to an online dating service. I agreed with a healthy dose of cynicism, and because they would have done it anyway. My reluctance was immaterial.

To my dismay, they refused to show me what they had put on my profile, but they assured me it was nothing embarrassing or exaggerated. Whatever they had written must have worked, though, because before two weeks had passed, I was being set up on a blind date. My friends, being in favour of cruel and unusual punishment, refused to tell me anything about my blind date, save his name, Tyson McAvoy, and that I should dress casually for the date at Romeo's, a family restaurant in the middle of town.

The three day wait for the date was terrifying and nerve-wracking. I'd been on dates, plenty of them, but never a blind one with so little information. I rocked up to the restaurant a bundle of anxiety and anticipation. The woman behind the counter smiled at me and said, "He's over there, in the corner," when I asked her if a Tyson McAvoy had come in. I felt momentary friendliness towards my unknown date. He'd had had the foresight to give his name at the counter, and saved me the trouble of asking around.

I made my way to the corner, feeling my nerves rising. I could see Tyson from here, though he was partially in shadow. I could make out his height, though; his leg was stretched out underneath the table, his foot poking out from under my chair, all the way on the other side. In fact, when he stood up to greet me, he seemed to be all leg. Then I looked up, and realized a more accurate assessment would have been: he's all muscle.

My date was brushing six foot three, with broad shoulders and a leanly but definitively muscled figure which was made plainly obvious by his form-fitting, navy dress shirt that was rolled up to the elbows. It was extremely flattering. He had dark hair that was, presumably, styled to look so messy.

Before my assessment was even completed, I was feeling like a couch potato. He was a god. He had a rough quality about him, like he'd been chiseled and hewn into existence; stubble lined his jaw, not much, but he pulled it off spectacularly. I was suddenly acutely aware that my jeans fit just a little too snugly, and my sweater was not as flattering as it had once been. His eyes were dark and somewhat brooding, but they crinkled in the corners when he smiled at me and held out a hand.

"Charlotte, I'm assuming?" he asked, a light and joking tone in his voice.

I fought down a blush, and took his hand, trying not to notice how it completely dwarfed my own. It was warm. "Charli is just fine," I said, smiling back. "Tyson?"

"I prefer Ty," he replied easily, shaking my hand and releasing it. Before I could move, he took three quick strides and pulled my chair out. I grinned like an excited little child and sat down, hoping my cheeks weren't red. Ty sat down a few seconds later, his back against the wall. He smiled at me, placed his elbows on the table and interlaced his fingers.

"So," he said. "Tell me about yourself."

I thought it was a pretty big ask, because I had twenty-two years to tell, so I shrugged and told him the most pertinent things about myself: "I'm twenty-two, only child, ex-editorial assistant at an editorial company, I have a German shepherd named Duke and my favourite ice-cream is that rainbow one which doesn't really have a flavour but it's…anyway," I finished, embarrassed.

Ty laughed quietly. I smiled nervously. "Your turn," I said.

"I'm twenty-six, I work at a bakery and I have two Great Danes, Spike and Adonis. I wasn't told anything about you."

My eyebrows rose. "Really? My friends took a vow of silence! All they told me was your name."

Tyson smiled. "Mine didn't mention that you're beautiful."

I blushed then, despite my best efforts, and stammered, "I – well – you – I mean – thank," I took a deep breath. "You're not too bad yourself," I said, after a terribly awkward moment of silence.

"Thank you," Ty replied, grinning widely. He had a nice smile; it made a dimple on his right cheek show up.

I groped for a subject change. "Is there anything I should know?" I asked teasingly. "Any psycho exes?"

Tyson smile faded and hi mouth twitched slightly. "I was in the army, and I went to Afghanistan."

I found this a strange leap from psycho exes, but was too put off by his closed expression to pry any further. I floundered for a different topic and managed to come up with: "And now you're a baker. Mind explaining that leap in profession, because I'm not following?"

Ty laughed, loudly and fully this time, and I almost melted. "It's not anything exciting or dramatic," he warned me. "My parents owned a bakery when I was growing up. So," his mouth tightened. "When I got back, I just naturally gravitated towards a profession that I knew."

"My parents were vets," I said, "Which probably explains why I love animals so much. I'd have gotten Duke a friend but my landlord only allows one pet. He says Duke is pushing it."

"My landlord doesn't care much about anything," Ty said, sheepishly. "As long as I pay the rent, he doesn't bother me." Ty cleared his throat awkwardly, and said quietly, "I'm the only one living in my building. It's pretty, um, low class. Bakers don't get paid very much. I hope that's not a deal breaker," he said, good-humoredly.

I laughed. "No way! I'm living off my friends at the moment, until I get another job. I've got nothing against shoddy living arrangements."

Ty breathed a melodramatic sigh of relief. "Oh, good. Now I have a chance at a second date!"

I laughed, loudly, attracting the attention of a few close-by patrons. "Let's wait until after dinner before we arrange any more dates," I joked.

Almost as if I had summoned him (and my laughter may have) the waiter materialized before us. "Hi there!" he said, chipper. "I'm Luke. Are you ready to order?"

The menus lay face-down on the table, untouched by either of us. I quickly snatched one up and glanced down at it, immediately spying exactly what I wanted.

I turned to Luke. "Can I have a steak burger and chips, medium-rare, with a Coke, please?"

Luke scribbled down my order, muttering the order back to himself, and I glanced at Ty. He was watching me with an unreadable expression on his face. I blushed under the scrutiny. He was probably thinking that my taste for steak was the reason for my ill-fitting jeans.

Then Ty grinned, and turned to Luke. "I'll have the same, please, but with extra tomato."

Luke nodded, scribbling furiously, and melted away. Ty turned to me, an eyebrow quirking.

"Steak burgers?"

I nodded, refusing to be cowed. "Yes," I said. "If it weren't for steak, I'd be a vegetarian." I considered for a moment. "And ribs, and sweet and sour pork." I laughed. "On second thought, there's no way I could be a vegetarian."

Ty looked at me for a long moment. "I don't know about you, but that second date is looking like a done deal to me."

I laughed, too loudly, and stifled my laughter as the closest diners swiveled in their chairs to send me disapproving glances. I turned to Ty, who was looking a bit like a deer caught in headlights.

"You'd think this was a high class restaurant, the way they're carrying on," I muttered darkly. Ty's eyes darted around once or twice more before he smiled.

"Yeah," he agreed, easing back into his chair.

In the twenty minutes before our meal came, Ty asked me the one question I had been dreading.

"So, you said you were an ex-editorial assistant," he said, grinning when I groaned. "Did you quit?"

I shook my head slowly, looking down at my plate in shame.

"You were fired?" he asked incredulous.

I laughed nervously. "Ha. About that…" My sheepish grin widened as realization crossed his face.

"What did you do?" he asked me, leaning forward.

I frowned. "Who said I did anything?"

"Please," he said, smirking. "You don't just get fired for no reason. Was it bad?" he asked.

I laughed, shaking my head. "Not really." I paused. "Well, it was, I guess."

"So?" Ty asked, "What did you do?"

I cleared my throat, embarrassed. "It's not that exciting, I promise. I just…well, I switched a few things around in the print folio."

Ty's mouth fell open. "What?" he asked. "Wait, tell it to me from the beginning."

I sighed. "A story came across my desk, and I was just meant to pass it on to the next editor, right? But it seemed like a good story and I just, y'know, read it through once or twice. Then I sent it on its way. Thing is, the editor-in-chief thought it was too deep for a columnist and she scrapped it."

Ty made a noise of comprehension. "And you didn't agree?"

"No!" I said fiercely. "It was an excellent piece. So I…well, I took the story and I snuck into my boss' office and switched it with some fluff piece."

"Did the story get printed?" Ty asked.

"No," I said, biting my lip. "She caught me coming out of her office. She wanted to fire me for "breaking in" to her office, but her, uh, daughter – my immediate boss – said she was the one who persuaded me to do it."

Ty whistled. "That was nice of her."

I nodded emphatically. "She wanted to keep the article, too. Her mother couldn't very well fire her, so she just fired me anyway and washed her hands of the matter."

"Wow," Ty said, shocked. "Rude."

"Tell me about it." I'd have said more, but our meals arrived and we spent the next fifteen minutes appreciating our meals. Well, Ty spent fifteen minutes appreciating his; my appreciation lasted quite a bit longer. He waited patiently for me to finish though, asking me only questions to which I could reply with a nod or a shake of the head.

When I was finished, a waiter came and took our plates, asking if we wanted dessert. Ty refused and, out of consideration, I echoed his refusal. The waiter brought us the bill instead and Ty, continuing his theme of being a perfect gentleman, produced a card and declared that he would be paying for the meal. He ignored my protests.

I gave in eventually, partly because I was flattered by his chivalry, but mostly because I was pretty much completely broke. Ty gave the bill back to the nearest waiter, with a hefty tip for Luke, and then asked me, somewhat tentatively: "So, did you have a good night?"

I smiled, bashfully and with no small measure of sincerity. "Yes," I replied. "I, um, I've been on a few dates before and this was…well, it was the best by far."

Ty smiled broadly, just as the waiter came back with his card. "I suppose we should be heading off," he said, checking his watch. I checked my own, startled that we'd been in the restaurant almost two hours, and it was getting late. I grabbed my sweater, which I had discarded almost an hour ago, and moved out onto the sidewalk.

"We should do this again," I remarked, when we stopped outside.

Ty seemed to be relieved and yet nervous about the idea. "Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yeah!" I replied. I blinked, surprised by my own intensity. "I, uh, I know this great place," I said, putting into words an idea I'd had between the meal and the bill, when Ty had mentioned wishing his dogs weren't so cooped up in his apartment.

Ty's eyebrow shot up. "Yeah?"

I nodded. "I think Spike and Adonis will like it too." Laughing at Ty's confused look, I elaborated. "It's a dog park, a few blocks down from my place. It's open every day. I was thinking, next Saturday we could go down there for the day and, uh, introduce our dogs?"

Ty looked strangely blank for a moment, and then he brightened, grinning so widely I though his face might crack. "Really?" he asked. "You want to go to a dog park?" He looked so delighted by the idea that I couldn't help but laugh.

"I thought it'd be fun."

"Yes," Ty agreed. "Yes, let's do it."