The corner of Archer’s mouth quirked, like maybe he could read her mind. But he didn’t say a word, instead seeming perfectly content to stand there all badass and wait her out. And she knew from experience that he could wait her out until the end of time.
“Long morning already?” she asked, caving and speaking first.
He was big and bad and tough, and he irritated her by just breathing. But when push came to shove, she cared about him and the guys who worked for him. Most of the jobs he took on were routine—civil, corporate, and insurance investigations, surveillance, fraud, corporate background checks—but some weren’t routine at all. Forensic investigations, the occasional big-bond bounty hunting, government contract work . . . all with the potential to be life threatening.
The security contract he held on this building was surely tame and mild in comparison and also a favor to his best friend, Spence—and no, it didn’t escape her that they shared a best friend. She mostly ignored it. “We have a problem,” she said.
He arched a brow, the equivalent of a long-winded query from anyone else.
She rolled her eyes and found herself in a defensive pose, hands on hips. “The emergency exit signs—”
“Already taken care of,” he said.
“Okay, but Mr. Nottingham—”
“Also taken care of.”
She took a deep, purposefully calming breath. It was hard to look right at him because he was very tall. At five foot seven, she was nowhere close to petite but even she barely came up to his shoulders. She hated that he had such a height advantage during their arguments. And this was going to be an argument.
“So what happened?” she asked. “Why did the lights go out like that, all at once?”
He didn’t repeat himself and tired of the macho show, she poked him in the chest with her finger. His pec didn’t give at all. Stupid muscles. “Listen,” she said. “I’ve got pissed-off tenants, a man in the hospital, and a signed contract from you guaranteeing the safety of the people in this building. So I’m going to need you to do more than stand there all tall, dark, and silently brooding on this one, Archer, and tell me what the hell is going on, preferably using more than one word at a time.”
His piercing eyes flashed a disturbingly intense combination of green and light brown, reflecting the fact that he’d seen the worst of the worst and was capable of fighting it with his bare hands. She got that the edge of danger and testosterone coming off him in waves attracted women in droves, but she wasn’t one of them.
Or she tried very hard not to be.
She didn’t do dangerous men. Nope, only the safe, respectable guy need apply. Not that anyone had applied in a very long time . . .
“You want to be careful how you speak to me, Elle.”
The man was impenetrable. A virtual island. And he didn’t like being questioned, she knew that much. But she also knew the only way to deal with him was to hold her own so she just looked at him.
He looked very slightly amused. “Last fall I told you that you had a squirrel colony going on in the roof,” he said. “I told you that you needed to hire someone to block off the holes left behind by woodpeckers from the year before or you were going to have problems. You assured me you’d handled it.”
“Yes,” she said. “Because the landscapers assured me they did.”
“Either they blew you off or they didn’t do it correctly. An entire colony of squirrels moved into the walls and had a party. Last night they hit the electrical room, where they ate through some wires.”
Well, hell. No wonder he was giving her bad ’tude. He was right. This wasn’t on him at all.
It was on her. “What happened to the squirrels?”
“Probably dead in the walls.”
“Are you telling me I killed squirrels?”
This got her a small smile. “What do you think the landscapers would’ve done?”
“Okay,” she said, letting out a long exhale. “Thanks for the explanation.” She turned to go.
A hand caught her, fingers wrapping around her elbow and pulling her back around.
“What?” she asked.
This got her another brow arch. When he used his words, his voice was deep, scratchy, and rolled over her like a wave. “Waiting for my apology.”
“Sure,” she said agreeably. “When hell freezes over.” She lifted her chin, grateful for her four-inch heels so she could almost, kind of, not quite look him in the eyes. “I’m in charge of this building, Archer, which means I’m in charge of everything that happens in it. I’m also in charge of everyone who works for this building.”
He cocked his head, looking amused. “You want to be the boss of me, Elle?” he asked softly.
“I am the boss of you.”
He smiled and her breath caught. Damn, stupid, sexy smile of his anyway, and he knew it too. And then there was The Body. Yes, she thought of it in capital letters; it deserved the respect. “If you don’t want to be walking funny tomorrow,” she said, “you’ll let me go.”
Complete bravado and they both knew it. She’d only been at this job for a year and it’d come as a surprise to her that he’d been in the building at all. An unfortunate coincidence. Before that it’d been years since they’d had any contact, but she still knew enough to get that no one got the better of him.
He did as she asked and let go of her, but not before pausing for a long beat first—just making sure they both knew who was in control here, and it wasn’t her.
No one did intimidation like Archer, and in his line of work he could be in a coma and still intimidate everyone in the room.
He had muscles on top of muscles but didn’t look beefed up like a body builder. Instead his body seemed lean and seriously badass, with caramel skin that strayed from light to golden to mocha latte depending on what the season was, giving him a look of indeterminable origin.
It worked for him, allowing him to fit into just about any situation. Handy on the job, she knew. But it annoyed her now. She moved clear, not liking the way her entire body went on a high-level alert in his presence, every inch of her seeming to hum beneath the surface.
It was always a hell of a lot safer to ignore him—and dislike him—from a good distance away.