That was his first thought. The stride was neither purposeful nor effortlessly graceful enough, but it was the walk of a woman on a mission.
He turned to see Maya, his client, standing on the sidewalk. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
She smiled and came to lean against his car at his side, mocking his stance. “Just found out that Kyle’s out of town tonight, left on short notice. Thought you might want to know since I’d told you he’d be here tonight with his skank.”
“You could have called me with this info.”
She bumped her shoulder against his. “What would the fun have been in that?”
While he processed that statement and all she meant by it, his brain processed something else. Another set of heels coming his way, these ones everything that Maya’s hadn’t been.
She was holding a brown bag from his absolute favorite Thai take-out in all the land, making his mouth water. Or hell, maybe that was just Elle herself in a stark white blouse and a tight royal blue skirt hugging her sexy curves.
He had zero idea what she was doing and he’d found it best to not waste time wondering. Elle kept her own council. The question, as always, was did she come seeking a truce—or the next round of battle?
Elle slowed her steps at the sight of Archer and a woman leaning on his vehicle, standing closer than social niceties dictated. She’d learned early to be as sure and confident as she could, and if she couldn’t—then to fake it.
But sometimes faking it took a minute, such as now, when she was hit by two things. One, she shouldn’t have come. She’d given him up and she needed, intended, to stay strong on that.
And two, she hadn’t gone through normal social situations like a regular child. Hell, she’d never even been a child. Certain emotions had always had to take a backseat to survival so she’d never had to deal with them before.
Jealousy being one of them.
And it was absolutely jealousy feasting on her good sense as she took in the sight of Archer with yet another woman cozying up to him, probably in a trance under all the testosterone and pheromones that came off him in waves.
Yeah, it was a very good thing she’d given him up. She spun on a heel to walk away but Archer was faster.
He was always faster.
Snatching her by the wrist, he slowly reeled her in, taking advantage of her quick little stumble on her heels to haul her in close and wrap his arms around her.
“Hey, baby,” he said gruffly, his mouth at her jaw.
She froze in shock. Baby?
“So glad you finally made it,” he growled against her skin, causing a full body shiver. “What took you so long?”
It was a tough decision between kneeing him in the family jewels or jumping his sexy bones, but he took it out of her hands when he lifted her a little higher so that now her feet were entirely off the ground.
And then he kissed her.
At the first touch of his sexy, knowing, talented mouth on hers, all thought processes shut off. Her brain ceased to work. Not her body though. Nope, operating independently now, it wrapped itself around him as pleasure, sheer, unadulterated pleasure, infused every inch of her.
Archer tightened his grip and deepened their connection and she felt a hard tug on her heart. Somewhere far, far away, her brain clicked back on and understood that this was all for show, that for whatever reason they were in a distraction job and that worked because it meant that this wasn’t real. And that was perfect since with his tongue in her mouth and her tongue now rubbing up on his like a cat in heat, she couldn’t muster up a single objection. Instead she threw herself fully into her role of the protective, possessive girlfriend and wrapped her arms around him.
When the kiss ended and he pulled back, eyes hot, she smiled, hoping he couldn’t feel her knees knocking together. “Brought you dinner, sugar.”
He arched a brow, whether at her put-on heavy Southern accent or the nickname she had no idea. Sometimes on distractions she did this, pulled a persona out of her arsenal, and she knew damn well she was good enough at it to win an Academy Award.
“Look at you,” he said, amused, “being all domesticated and . . . sweet.”
Oh, he’d pay for that. She handed him the brown bag with one hand while her other slid from low on his spine southbound and right into his back pocket, where she pinched his ass.
He merely grinned at her. “Smells delicious. What do I owe you?”
“We’ll settle up.” More of a threat than a promise, and to make sure he knew it, she pinched him again. “Later.” Then she turned to the woman. “So who’s this?” she drawled.
“Maya Rodriguez,” Archer said. “My client. Maya, this is—”
“Candy,” Elle said. “Archer’s . . . fiancée. You aren’t by any chance hitting on another woman’s fiancé, are you?”
Archer choked on that one and Elle helpfully pounded him on the back hard enough to nearly crack a few ribs.
Maya shook her head. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that he was engaged. I was just”—she glanced at Archer—“hopeful, is all. You’re a lucky woman, Candy. Archer here’s the full package. Smart, dedicated . . .” She smiled. “Sexy.”
He smiled at her.
“Candy” resisted the urge to pinch him yet again.
“Family is very important to me,” Maya said. “In fact, family’s everything.” Her eyes went a little misty. “My father cheated on my mom for years. And now my ratfink bastard husband is doing the same. And I nearly . . .” She glanced at Archer, looking regretful. “Well, never mind. We have a daughter. I need to get it together for her sake.” She pulled out her phone and showed them the pic on her screen—an adorable-looking little girl with a sweet smile.
Well, hell. “She’s beautiful,” Elle said quietly.
Maya’s eyes were still misty. “I know. She’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. It’s something you can’t understand unless you have your own family, tight-knit like the two of you.” She smiled a little bit bittersweetly. “Don’t be like me, okay? Don’t fall into the pattern. Appreciate what you’ve got and fight for it.” She took another step back. “I’ve gotta go. But I sincerely hope the two of you have the real thing and that a silly, lonely woman making a play she shouldn’t have made can’t hurt what you have.”