She didn’t realize that Archer had parked until she felt his finger stroke a strand of hair from her temple, tucking it behind her ear.
Opening her eyes, she realized they were at the Pacific Pier Building.
“Hey,” he said quietly.
“Do you think family is everything?”
He let out a long exhale. “If you’re talking about the family we make and not the one we’re born into, then yes.”
Once in a while, he said something so profound she forgot she wanted to kill him the rest of the time.
Not true, a little voice said. Sometimes you still want to kiss him . . .
“You okay?” he asked. “I think I just lost you there for a minute.”
She managed a smile as she slid out of the truck. The temp had dropped at least ten degrees. “Come on, Archer. You should know by now. I’m always okay.”
Elle didn’t sleep well. She tossed and turned, and by the time she showered, she’d reaffirmed her promise to herself that she wasn’t going to let her feelings for Archer, confusing as they were, hold her back.
She took her online class in her office but kept tuning out the professor. She eyed the stack of things that had to be done at work later and sighed. She loved her job, she did, but some days the best thing she could say about it was that her chair spun.
Still, she gamely transitioned from class to the job, only to be stymied when she couldn’t log in on her work computer. Resetting the password only further frustrated her because the password had to include an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, and the blood of a virgin.
Over it, she stood. She needed a ’tude adjustment before she tossed her computer out the second-story window. Leaving her office, she took the elevator up, staring at her reflection in the metal doors, feeling . . . lonely.
Which was ridiculous. Her life was fine, good even. She didn’t need Archer, or any man actually. But she wanted one, even if only for a night. She wanted to be held, touched. Desired.
She had to use a special keycard to get the elevator to stop on the fifth floor, which everyone thought was paid storage, authorized personnel only.
It wasn’t paid storage.
It was a penthouse apartment, huge and rambling, with gorgeous, heart-stopping, three-hundred-and-sixty-degree views of the city.
He wasn’t home so she let herself in and walked to the tall windows to look out at the city below, determined to get her life back on track. The security and safety track. Happiness would be nice as well but beggars couldn’t be choosers.
She was still standing there when Spence, accompanied by his friend and former business partner Caleb, walked in. They were in running gear and all sweaty, talking about some computer program for one of their drones.
Spence looked up with a smile on his face that faded at whatever he found on hers. She had a great poker face when she wanted but at the moment she was feeling too raw to access it.
Not wanting to reveal the crazy in front of Caleb, she headed into Spence’s kitchen. His fridge was usually well stocked because he was always hungry and everyone knew it. Women loved to make food for him. Trudy was the worst culprit of them all. She constantly cooked for him so he didn’t have to lift a finger for himself.
Elle opened his fridge and found a container of perfect little mouth-size quiches. Setting it on the counter, she dug in.
“Help yourself,” Spence said dryly.
She didn’t answer; she just kept eating.
“You know, I might’ve been up here with a woman,” Spence said. “In a compromising situation.”
“Really?” Caleb asked. “Who?”
Spence shot him a dirty look. “Not the point.”
Caleb sent Elle a friendly smile. She actually liked the guy. She didn’t know what it was about him, but she didn’t seem to scare him off like she did most people. He was good-looking in a rugged cowboy sort of way, smart as hell, and always took the time to talk to her. He’d asked her out several times now but she’d always been busy.
Maybe it was time to change that.
“What?” he asked when he realized she was staring at him.
Spence winced. “Caleb, man, what have I told you? Never approach it when it’s angry. You have to wait until the steam stops coming out of her ears. And even then, you need a full-scale strategy. Never, ever, ever ask it a direct question.”
Elle rolled her eyes and kept eating.
Caleb didn’t look intimidated, which she realized she liked. A lot. She knew he had something like four or five older sisters. She supposed that had given him a certain immunity from the Fear of Women. “I’m not angry,” she said. At least not at that moment.
Caleb held her gaze. “You’re something,” he said perceptively. “I mean you look beautiful as always, but . . . off.” His warm chocolate brown eyes were sincere—he wasn’t playing with her. “You okay?”
She stopped chewing and actually felt her heart skip a beat, but hell no, she was not going to reveal that she felt alone. And lonely . . . She’d done enough revealing of herself lately, thank you very much. Been there, bought the T-shirt, and got sunburned anyway. “I’m okay. Really,” she said into his obvious doubt. “In fact . . . ask me again that thing you sometimes ask me.”
Caleb looked at Spence and then back to Elle, his gaze confused.
Men. “Ask me again,” she said meaningfully.
He blinked. “You mean . . .”
He swallowed hard. “You want to go out with me?”
He grinned. “Sweet. Now?”
“Well, you’re kind of sweaty right now so—”
“I can be showered and ready in five seconds,” he said without missing a beat, already heading to the door. “We could go out to breakfast.”
There was something to be said for a show of enthusiasm, but she had work. “How about dinner?” she suggested. “Tonight.”
“Oh,” he said and laughed a little. “Right. That’s better.”
Spence opened his mouth, caught Elle’s glare, and wisely shut it again.
Elle took another quiche, smiled at Caleb, and went to work, feeling much better about things.