A crash sounded outside Arden Forbes’s door before a curse loud enough to wake everyone within a three-mile radius echoed through his nearly empty hallways. Arden turned, ready to take action, when the voice became clearer.
“Dammit, stop!” the voice shouted on the other side of Arden’s oversize front door.
The tension left Arden when he realized it was Declan, his oldest brother—and the man didn’t appear to be in a good mood. Arden was tempted to stand there for a while to see how irritated his brother might become, but his curiosity about all the noise won out over his desire to torture his oldest sibling.
Swinging open his front door, Arden looked around in confusion. The flowerpot his mother had given him as a housewarming gift was now shattered across his porch. Declan wore a scowl as his fingers held tightly to a leash—attached to a very large German shepherd, who gazed up at Arden with perfectly innocent chocolate eyes.
“Find a new friend?” Arden asked with a chuckle.
Declan grumbled as he stepped forward. Arden could either get out of his brother’s way or the two of them were going to crash into each other with the force of a sonic boom. Sometimes that was fun—but tonight, Arden was tired. He’d been grading papers for the past few hours, and that was after a daily double of football practice.
Though he and Declan were about the same height and build, both of them standing at about six foot three with shoulders made for tackle football, and had features that were too similar to make them anything other than brothers, that’s where their similarities stopped.
Arden was the most laid-back of all his brothers, not easily rattled. Hell, as a schoolteacher, it was necessary for him to have a calm demeanor. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have lasted a single year, let alone ten.
While Arden was the most relaxed of the siblings, the same certainly couldn’t be said about Declan. Since the time they’d been teenagers, there had been a dangerous glint in Declan’s eyes that tended to make people steer clear of him. Arden wasn’t even sure if his brother was aware of it.
“He’s not mine,” Declan said as he tugged on the leash and the dog obediently followed him inside.
“Looks like yours,” Arden pointed out.
“He’s yours,” he said.
Arden was perfectly aware his brother was a man of few words, but he waited a moment for Declan to continue. When he didn’t, Arden decided he’d better nip this in the bud real quick.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Arden said as he led his brother into his oversize gourmet kitchen. What had he been thinking, buying a six-thousand-square-foot house? Maybe it was the urge to start a family, or maybe he was just insane. Hell if he really knew. It was probably his other brother’s fault. Kian had made the idea of a big house and family seem pretty damn appealing. “Most people just bring a toaster or something as a housewarming present,” he said as he moved to his fancy new espresso maker and pushed a few buttons, inhaling as the scent of dark roast invaded his senses.
“It’s eight at night. A bit late for caffeine, isn’t it?” Declan asked.
“Nah, it’s never too late for coffee,” Arden assured him. He finished making his java, throwing in a generous dose of sweet cream, his guilty pleasure, before he moved over to the kitchen island and sat on a stool. “Really—what’s up with the dog?”
Declan sighed before moving to the refrigerator and pulling out a bottle of beer, twisting off the top as he sidled over to the island and sat across from Arden. He took a long swallow before he looked up.
“You have a problem at your school,” Declan declared.
“Yeah, don’t all schools?” Arden said. “I don’t know what that has to do with the dog.”
“We have intel there’s a drug ring going on there,” Declan told him. The fire in his brother’s eyes most likely matched his own at that moment.
“No way,” Arden said. “There’s no damn way.”
“We don’t have hard proof, and we don’t know who’s running it, but we need info and we need it fast,” Declan told him. “We need someone on the inside.”
“Where did you come up with the information?” Arden asked.
“You know there are things I can’t tell you,” Declan said.
Arden let out a frustrated breath. “You want me to help you, but you won’t give me anything to go off of,” he pointed out.
“I shouldn’t even be involving you in this, but I trust you implicitly, and I know you’ll want answers, as will the entire town,” Declan said.
They stared each other down for several moments, seeing who would blink first. Finally Arden sighed, though he wasn’t happy about it.
“I’ll see what I can find out,” Arden assured his brother.
He’d been a history teacher at Edmonds High School for the past ten years, and he loved his job. He didn’t have to work for barely any money; he did it because the kids mattered to him—his community mattered. There was no way he was letting some twisted drug lord screw with his school . . . in his town.
“And now you have Max to help you,” Declan said.
“Explain,” Arden told him. He knew Declan had a plan, and since it involved his school, he was a lot more willing to listen.
“Max is officially retired. He was injured in a drug raid last year and isn’t moving as quickly as he used to. He’s served his community well and deserves to live out his golden years, or whatever the hell that Jeannette—the lady I got him from—said,” Declan explained. “But he’s not ready to be off the job yet. He’s brilliant and can smell drugs from a mile away. He’s also loyal. His handler got killed the same time Max was injured last year.”
“Oh man, I’m sorry,” Arden said, now understanding that lost look in the dog’s eyes. His partner and best friend was gone. That sucked.
“Jeannette told me she hadn’t seen him respond in such a positive way since the accident until the day I walked in. I think he was meant to be in our family,” Declan said, oddly mushy for his tough-as-nails brother.
“So what does this have to do with me?” Arden asked.
“He’s yours now. You take him to school, keep him with you at all times. He’ll solve this case without the kids having to be aware of what’s going on,” Declan told him.
Arden looked at the dog. Max stared back. There was almost a challenge in the canine’s expressive eyes. He was taunting Arden, maybe even assessing him. Suddenly Arden felt as if he were in a job interview—and coming up short.
“I give him back when this is done?” Arden asked.
Declan smiled, knowing he’d gotten his way. “We’ll talk about it then.”
“Declan . . .” Arden’s voice trailed off as he glared at his brother.
“I’ll get Max’s stuff. You and him need bonding time before school on Monday.”
With that, his brother walked from the house. Arden would normally follow his brother and give a hand, but instead he found himself locking eyes with Max.
“This is going to be fun, isn’t it?” he complained.
Arden would have sworn on a stack of Bibles the damn dog’s lip quirked up and he winked at him. The gauntlet was being thrown down. If it hadn’t been for the very real possibility drugs were being sifted through his school, Arden might have felt like laughing at the dog. But tonight, mirth was the furthest thing from his mind.
He and this dog appeared to have a crisis to solve, whether Arden wanted to be a part of it or not. Max continued staring at him, and Arden was finally the one to break, looking away as Declan came back into the room.
“You will take the mutt when this is over,” Arden said, hearing what sounded like a grumble coming from the otherwise quiet dog.
“Yeah, yeah,” Declan said. “Gotta run. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”
And with that, Arden’s traitorous brother left.
This was going to be a long weekend. He refused to look at the dog again as he set up his food and water bowls. Those eyes were far too knowing for him. Kids he could handle, but apparently animals were out of his comfort zone.