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“Silly hound,” Olivia said, stroking Runner. Alexander bent down to rub the dog, meeting Olivia’s eyes. There was that spark again. Olivia didn’t know what to make of it. He wasn’t even touching her, but just being in the same room as him gave her an overwhelming feeling of contentment.

“Well, normally I like to make sure you’d be a good match before approving an adoption,” Olivia said, remembering she had a job to do. “But I think we’re all set here. And plus, I know where you work so I know where to find and hurt you if you ever mistreat Runner here.” She looked up, smirking.

“Good point.” Alexander grabbed a tennis ball and threw it across the room. Runner immediately ran to catch the ball, bringing it back to Alexander but refusing to drop it on the ground.

“Oh. Runner doesn’t understand fetch with just one ball. You’ll need more than one if you expect that hound to drop the one in his mouth,” Olivia explained.

Alexander smiled. “I think that can be arranged.”

After they were finished with the paperwork, Olivia walked Alexander and Runner outside. “Now,” she said, turning to face Alexander. “Runner needs lots of exercise so take him on your runs with you. He loves the dog park and…”

“I know, Olivia. He’ll be fine,” he said, brushing an errant curl behind her ear. “I’m going to take great care of our boy here.” He winked.

I can’t believe he referred to Runner as our boy! Olivia thought. Those two words were full of so much hope.

“And you have an open invitation to come and visit him anytime you want.”

“Good. I’m going to hold you to that,” she said, bending down and giving Runner one last kiss good-bye.

“You better,” he replied before walking down the street, leaving her standing outside the front door of the animal shelter.

“I’m falling in serious like with that man,” Olivia said to herself.

CHAPTER NINE

TOO MANY COINCIDENCES

LATER that evening, Olivia returned to her house. After her hectic weekend, she wanted to unwind and have some much needed time to herself. As she prepared her dinner of tofu stir-fry, she kept glancing at the flowers Alexander sent her over the weekend. Feeling bold, she picked up her cell phone and sent him a text.

Olivia: How’s Runner?

Across town, Alexander was speaking with his sister, Carol, on the phone in his home office about Simon’s arraignment.

“I don’t know, Alex. There’s something about this guy that seems off. I don’t want you to read too much into what I’m saying. It’s not her. She’s gone.”

“I know that, sis, but I’ve been spending time with her this weekend and there are just so many coincidences.” His voice dropped as he stared at the dark walls in his office. “Too many, really.”

“I understand that. The name. The age. Her background. Losing her parents. I understand everything you’ve told me. So tell me this. Why would Dad say she died at the hospital? And why would he change her name?”

Alexander knew all too well why his father would do such a thing. He was unaware of it at the time, as he had just turned nine, but now it made sense. In fact, he had helped people fake their own deaths too many times to count in order to protect them for their safety. And he also knew that if it was true and her identity was ever uncovered, he could lose her again. He vowed to make sure that did not happen.

Just then, a text from Olivia came through over his cell phone. A smile crept across his face when he saw it, eager to get off the phone with his sister so he could respond.

“Alex, are you listening to what I’m saying?” Carol brought him back from his thoughts about the beautiful woman that had been occupying his mind lately.

“Sorry Carol, what was that?”

“All I’m saying is that something’s not right about this Simon guy. His financials came back and he has no money. Nothing. He qualified for a Public Defender for crying out loud. But he’s got an attorney. An expensive one at that, too. And someone posted his bail, which was set at a quarter of a million dollars. I’m going to do some more snooping around, get in touch with the bail officer, and see who posted it. It’s just unusual is all.”

“Well, what do you want me to do?” Alexander was worried. What if Simon came back after Olivia? He was surprised to realize he had such strong feelings for her, even though he had only met her a few days ago. It was such a foreign idea to him. He never wanted to protect someone as fiercely as he wanted to protect her.

“I don’t know. He doesn’t have any criminal record. None at all. He has a clean work history, strong family ties in the area. No one had anything but exemplary things to say about him. So why did he attack the girl? And what did he mean about the job he had to do?”

“It is a bit worrisome,” Alexander admitted as he sat at his desk looking over the family photos adorning the walls, wondering if the little girl smiling next to him in most of them was the girl he met just a few days ago.

“Well, just keep an eye on her, Alex. That’s all you can do. I called her office earlier, but she wasn’t in. I’ll alert her when I speak with her about what she should do.”

“Thanks, sis. I must go. Love you.” Alexander hung up his office phone and turned to his cell, eager to reply to the beautiful Olivia.

As Olivia finished preparing her dinner, she heard her phone beep. Her heart immediately swelled when she saw the picture Alexander had sent of Runner. He looked so happy, curled up in a ball on a little doggie bed, surrounded by all his new toys.

She texted him back.

Olivia: He looks so happy.

Alexander: He is. But he misses you… So do I.

Olivia giggled at Alexander’s response.

Olivia: I miss you, too. And Runner. Give him a big hug and kiss from me.

Alexander: I will. Do you have a big hug and kiss for me? ;-)

Alexander Burnham just used the winky sign! Olivia exclaimed in her head. She grinned from ear to ear, unable to hide her enthusiasm for her growing attraction to that man. She looked down at her cell, eager to continue flirting via text, and typed out a quick response.

Olivia: Maybe. You’ll find out tomorrow.

Alexander: I’ll wait with bated breath. Have a wonderful evening, Miss Adler.

Olivia: You as well, Mr. Burnham.

Alexander enjoyed their text flirting, so he sent one last text before heading to the gym for his evening workout.

Alexander: I’ll see you in my dreams.

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