“Yes, technically,” Spence allowed. “But we both know that Archer answers to no one but himself and he certainly doesn’t consider you his boss.”
She smiled and mainlined some more tea, the nectar of the Gods as far as she was concerned. “His problem, not mine.”
Spence sighed and stood. “He’s not going to enjoy you going off on him this early half-cocked, Elle.”
“Ask me if I care.”
“I care,” Spence said. “It’s too early to help you bury his body.”
Elle snorted. Her and Archer’s . . . antagonistic relationship was well documented. Archer thought he ran the world, including her.
But no one ran her world except her. “If everyone would just do what they were supposed to and stay out of my way . . .” she said, trailing off because Spence was no longer listening to her. Instead he was staring pensively out the window, prompting her to his side to see what had caught his interest.
A woman stood in front of the fountain courtyard below, staring into the water.
“Oh for God’s sake,” Elle said. “Would you just ask her out already? What’s wrong with you? You’ve never been shy before. Go work it.” She gave him a little nudge. “Hot genius mechanical engineers slash geeks are in right now.”
Spence didn’t respond and Elle rolled her eyes. “How come men are all idiots?”
This got his attention and he snorted. “Because women don’t come with instruction manuals.” Pushing away from the window, he eyeballed Elle carefully. “You good now?” he asked. “All murderous urges gone? Because I’ve gotta go.”
“Right,” she said with a nod. “Can’t let anyone know you’re Batman.”
When he was gone, Elle finished her tea, applied some lip gloss—for herself, mind you, not for Archer—and left her office, taking her time walking the open hallway. She loved this building and never got tired of admiring the unique architecture of the old place, the corbeled brick and exposed iron trusses, the long picture windows of each unit, the cobblestone courtyard below with the huge fountain where idiots came from all over the city and beyond to toss their money and wish for love.
She was on the second floor, far north corner, from which if she pressed her nose up against her window, and if there wasn’t any fog, she could see down the hill to the Marina Green and the bay, and a very tiny slice of the Golden Gate Bridge.
She tried to play it cool, but even after a whole year it was a thrill to live in the heart of San Francisco like this. Although she hadn’t grown up far from here, it’d been a world away.
Around her the building was still. It was early so nothing was stirring.
As she passed the stairwell, the door opened and Trudy, the woman in charge of housekeeping services, came through. “Elle,” she said in surprise. “Need anything, honey?”
“Nope, I’m good.” Good and mad but though she adored Trudy, the woman couldn’t keep a secret to save her life. “Just taking in the nice morning.”
“Oh, that’s a disappointment. I thought maybe you were looking for that hottie with the nice package, the one who runs the investigation firm down the hall.”
Elle nearly choked on her tea. “Nice package?”
“Well, honey, I’m old, not dead.”
Elle watched the woman walk away and shook her head. She moved down the hall and stopped in front of the door with a discreet sign: HUNT INVESTIGATIONS.
The investigative and elite security firm worked cases for criminal investigations and insurance fraud, amongst others, carried by Archer’s reputation, no ads or marketing required. Basically they were finders and fixers, independent contractors for hire, and not necessarily tied by the same red tape as the law.
Which worked for Archer. Rules had never been his thing.
She opened the door and let herself into the reception area, which was much bigger than hers. Clean, masculine lines. Large furniture. Wide-open space. A glass partition separated the front from the inner offices.
The check-in counter was empty. The receptionist wasn’t in yet; it was too early for Mollie.
But not for the other employees. Past the glass Elle could see part of the inner office. A group of men, five of them, entered from a private entrance. They’d clearly just come back from some sort of job that had required them to be locked and loaded, since they looked like a SWAT team.
Elle literally stopped short. And if she was being honest, her heart stopped too because sweet baby Jesus. The lot of them stood there stripping off weapons and shirts so that all she could see was a mass of mind-blowing bodies, sweaty and tatted and in all varieties of skin colors.
It was a cornucopia of smutty goodness and she couldn’t tear her eyes away. In fact, she couldn’t speak either, mostly because her tongue had hit the floor. Worse, her feet took advantage of the state of her frozen brain, moving her to the interior door, where she practically pressed her face up against the glass.
Someone must have seen her because they buzzed her in. They all knew her. After all, her job required her to work closely with the security firm, and therein lay her deepest, darkest problem.
Working closely with Archer Hunt was dangerous in oh so many, many ways, not the least of which was their history, something she did her best to never think about.
She was greeted with a variety of “Hey, Elle” and “Mornin’,” and then they all went their separate ways, leaving her alone with their fearless leader.
It’d been a long time since they’d let themselves be alone. In fact, she’d always actively sought out ways to not be alone with him and given how successful she’d been, she could only figure he’d been doing the same.
Not looking particularly bothered by this unexpected development, Archer met her gaze straight on. He hadn’t unloaded his weapons or his shirt and stood there in full utility combat gear, complete with a Glock on one hip, a Taser on the other, and two pistols strapped to his legs. His Army hat was backward on his head. The handle of a butterfly knife stuck out of a pocket in his cargoes, and he had two sets of cuffs and a stun gun strapped to his belt. An urban warrior, wired for sound with a two-way and a Kevlar strapped across his chest and back, telling Elle that wherever they’d been, he hadn’t just come back from Disneyland.
She managed to be both horrified and turned on at the same time, but if life had taught her one thing the hard way, it was how to hide her thoughts and emotions. So she carefully rolled up her tongue.