After making sure the small dogs were getting along all right, Max pulled the elastic from his hair and tipped his head back. He closed his eyes and inhaled the pungent smell of cut grass and dog poop. He thanked life for giving him the freedom to enjoy a summer day like this, instead of being cooped up indoors like that uptight suit who had freaked out at him earlier. Nobody should have to endure life shut up in a cage.
Don’t judge, Max. The suit is probably happy in his work.
Zoe gave a sharp bark, and Ragnarok softly growled. Max checked on the other three, all happily playing chase with Dash, then looked around for the source of the dogs’ warning.
A man stood by the fence, watching the animals play. Max popped his eyes wide as he recognized the dude who’d charged from the apartment building into the dog pack. He still wore the suit, but his tie was gone and he’d slung his jacket over one shoulder. His wavy brown hair was ruffled by the breeze, and he appeared considerably more relaxed than when Max had first seen him.
“Hey, man, you following me?” Max gave a small wave.
The executive glanced at him, then did a classic double take. “You again!”
“Go to a dog park, you’re likely to find me on any given day.” He rose and walked over to the fence to offer his hand to shake. “Max Thompson.”
The man stared a moment before taking it. Maybe he was afraid it was covered with dog slobber. “Grant Edgerton.”
His faint British accent sent a little tingle through Max. He never could resist a man with crisp consonants. “Sorry about earlier. Were you late for something?”
Edgerton nodded. “To put it mildly, and I apologize for not watching where I was going.”
Maybe not such an ass after all. Anyone could have a bad day or a bad moment. Max glanced at the dogs now chasing a ball that Dash’s owner threw for them. “So you actually like dogs.”
“Sure. Especially big breeds like your boxer there. I had a golden growing up. But I can’t have a dog now. I work too many hours.”
“That’s what people like me are for,” Max pointed out. “Making sure no one is deprived the company of a pet just because they have a high-pressure job. Most of my clients are gone ten hours or more a day. I don’t just give the dogs potty breaks. I keep them exercised and happy.”
Edgerton rested his hands on top of the fence; manicured, soft hands Max had noticed when they shook. “Your clients must live nearby.”
“All of mine are in the Rosewood Arms. I’d just finished getting the dogs organized when you barreled into us.” Max smiled to show he meant no criticism.
“That’s my building! I’m surprised I’ve never seen you.”
“You probably aren’t usually at home in the middle of the day.”
“True. I wouldn’t have been there today if I hadn’t forgotten…” Edgerton waved a hand, dismissing his explanation. “Never mind. I don’t want to think about it. Someone told me recently that I should play hooky today. I’m taking that advice.”
“Sounds like a wise man.” Max laughed. “And you chose to go to a dog park for your day off?”
“Guess I have dogs on my mind after this morning. They are awfully cute.” He nodded toward the small dogs, who had collapsed to lie panting in the grass, then looked at the boxer. “And this boy is a real beauty. What’s his name?”
“Ragnarok. His owner knows just enough Norse mythology to think it’s a cool name, but apparently doesn’t realize Ragnarok is a prophecy, not a god.”
“You know your folklore.” Edgerton’s blue eyes crinkled at the corners. With the furrow in his forehead smoothed out, he was even better looking than Max had first thought—and that was saying a lot.
For a second, their gazes locked, and possibilities swarmed like a cloud of gnats in the air. Signals passed back and forth, the sort Max was well used to decoding as sexual interest. Then Edgerton broke contact. “Guess I should be going.”
“You’re playing hooky. There’s no place you have to be.” Max wasn’t ready for this chance meeting to end. He’d lure Edgerton with the promise of fun like a dog treat. “You could come in and hang with me and the dogs for a while. If you behave, I might even let you scoop poop.”
A whoop of laughter shook the man, and he shed about a decade’s worth of worry from that handsome face. “All right. You had me at feces.” He went to the gate and lifted the latch to enter.
Bet, Silly, and Cujo came running, and Max called them away from giving the stranger an overzealous greeting. Only Zoe seemed less than excited and flopped over on her side in the sunshine. Edgerton demonstrated enough experience with animals to know he shouldn’t extend a hand to pat them.
Once they’d sniffed his pants legs thoroughly, the trio lost interest and tore off. Ragnarok bowed his head, inviting the man to pat him, and Edgerton obliged. “Doesn’t he get to play?”
“Not in here, and I can’t release the little ones in the big dog area. But don’t feel bad for him. His mom gives him a run after she gets home.”
Max returned to the bench, and Edgerton sat beside him—close on the small seat, so their legs touched slightly.
“I had no idea there were this many pets in my building. I might have seen that pug in the elevator before, but none of the others. I haven’t bothered to get to know my neighbors.”
Because you’re a workaholic, Max guessed. “City life. It can be hard to get close to anyone.”
Edgerton stopped scratching between Ragnarok’s ears. The boxer pushed his head against his hand to get him working again. Edgerton looked at Max. “You seem like the type who knows his neighbors right down to their birthdays. You probably greet everyone by name.”
“Names, maybe. Birthdays, no.”
“I should be more like that. I just never think of it. My mind is always thinking ahead to what I have to do next.” He palmed his forehead. “And I can’t believe I’m talking about myself to someone I don’t even know.”
“Strangers are friends who haven’t met yet,” Max quoted. “Today we met. Now we can become friends.”
He meant it, but he couldn’t resist shading the word “friends” with another meaning. A late-afternoon hookup with sexy Grant Edgerton after he’d returned the dogs? Max wouldn’t mind that at all.