“I didn’t get you the damn job,” he said. “I recommended you for it. And I did that because I could. Nothing more, nothing less.”
She looked at him, watching as he drove the incredibly busy streets with an ease she never could have managed. “I carry the knife because it’s handy.”
He shook his head. “It’s more than that.”
“Such a pretty liar.” He stopped for a red light and looked at her. “You want me to guess why you’re still carrying it after all these years?”
“Maybe you wanted to keep a piece of me,” he said.
He was teasing her. Of course since it was also the truth, she got annoyed all over again. “Or,” she said, “I want to be able to take a piece out of anyone I need to. Including you, if you get too close. Don’t think I won’t.”
This won her a small smile, like he understood her reasoning perfectly and he’d expected no less. “So you’re my body guard for the evening?” he asked.
“Just for the evening, and then we go back to World War III. But yeah, for tonight, I’ve got your back, whatever you need.” She realized her mistake the minute the words left her mouth.
And so did Archer as he sent her a gaze so sizzling she had to look down to make sure her clothes hadn’t melted off. Holy. Cow. Where had all that heat come from? “Well,” she finally managed. “Within reason, of course.”
“Look at you,” he murmured. “Always a ready answer for everything.”
Is that what he thought? “Have I ever gone back on my word with you?” she asked.
Another considering look. “No. Never. Are you trying to tell me something?”
Was she? She decided to stop talking before she got herself in trouble.
At her silence, he shook his head, a small smile playing on his lips as he continued to drive through the city, still easily navigating the anything but easy to navigate streets of downtown San Francisco.
“Since we’re in a momentary truce,” he said, breaking their silence. “You’re a knockout tonight.”
She looked at him but he was concentrating on the road. “Are you trying to soften me up?” she asked.
“Definitely,” he said. “But it’s also true.”
She was wearing one of her favorite dresses, now with his suit jacket around her shoulders. This left him in a button-down that along with his trousers fit him perfectly, emphasizing his broad shoulders and powerful long legs. His sleeves were rolled up. Tie loose. His hair was slightly mussed and he could clearly care less, which of course only made him all the more drop-dead sexy.
He made it hard for a girl to not fall head over heels. “You’re not looking too bad yourself,” she grudgingly admitted, telling herself not to read into his statement. Not that her body got the memo because it was humming with hyperawareness.
They didn’t speak again. The only reason she even knew where they were going was because she’d read the invitation that day in his office. And sure enough, ten minutes later they were in the financial district, parking in the underground parking lot of a beautiful brick and glass building.
“The restaurant that’s hosting the party is up on the top floor,” he said as he opened his door. He turned back to her, maybe to ask her to stay while he checked to see if they were even welcome, but she slipped out of the truck too quickly for that. “Guarding your body,” she reminded him.
“Within reason,” he said, mocking her, but then he surprised her by taking her hand.
Which she allowed only because of their truce. They took the elevator up with another couple who were lip locked for the entire ride. And not just lip locked but hand and leg locked too, really going to town, running their hands over each other like they were searching for ticks. They got off on the floor before the restaurant and she let out the laugh she’d been barely holding on to and met Archer’s gaze. His mouth was curved into a smile but his eyes were dark and heated. She felt an answering heat in the pit of her belly.
Just before the door closed, the couple stumbled back into the elevator, looking sheepish.
“Sorry,” the woman said. “We missed our floor.”
Elle bit her lower lip rather than laugh again. She could appreciate that they’d gotten lost in their lust. Appreciate it and maybe even envy it a little. Because that had never happened to her. She couldn’t imagine getting so lost in someone as to lose track of her surroundings. She was just too aware of herself and others.
Still, she was overheated when the elevator doors opened and Archer put his big warm hand low on her back to guide her off. He glanced at her, letting his gaze linger. “You’re all flushed.” He paused. “Envious?”
“No.” She added a scoff. “He probably leaves the lid up and snores.”
He looked like maybe he wanted to say something to that but the hostess asked him how she could help him.
“I’m here for the Hunt retirement party,” he said.
She thumbed through her iPad. “I’m sorry but that was cancelled.”
Archer was hard to rattle but he looked stunned. “Do you know why?”
“Uh . . .” The hostess swiped around on her screen for another moment. “There’s only one note here—the retiree decided against a big shindig and cancelled. He had a much smaller dinner party a week ago instead.”
Archer, still as stone, didn’t answer. Elle slipped her hand in his. “Thank you,” she said to the hostess and she tugged Archer aside so the woman could help the next people in line.
“I’m sorry,” Elle murmured. “He didn’t tell you?”
“No. I think he cancelled because he didn’t have any family who RSVP’d.” He paused. “Because I’m his only family and I’m an asshole.”
She shook her head. “No. Archer—”
He made a rough sound and turned back to the elevator. This time there were no lovebirds and Archer didn’t speak. Neither did she. The energy was completely different. In the truck, he took out his phone and made a call. To his dad, she assumed, listening to the phone ringing.
At the beep, Archer pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dad,” he said. “I’m sorry. I should have RSVP’d. Hell, I should’ve called, okay? But I’m calling now.” He hesitated and then ended the call and tossed the phone aside.