Okay, that didn’t seem nearly as intrusive as she’d imagined.
Finn brought them a tray of sliders and fries. They dug in for a few long minutes before Spence got a text. He snorted, responded, and put his phone away.
“What?” she asked.
He slid her a look and said nothing.
Annoying alphas. “What?”
“Caleb wants to know if he should bother trying again.”
“And you said?” she inquired, brow raised, not sure she knew what she wanted the answer to be.
“I said that we’re not in high school and he could figure it out for himself. Although I should’ve told him not to bother because you’re all sorts of screwed up.”
“Don’t start,” she said.
“Then you don’t start,” he said seriously, putting down a French fry—which meant he was very serious indeed. He blew out a sigh, muttered something about hating being forced to discuss feelings, and then looked at her. “Okay, so you’re you, which means you’re going to bury your heart deep and you’re going to continue to wear that ice shield you’re so fond of. Poor Archer probably doesn’t know what hit him.”
“Poor Archer?” she asked in disbelief. “Poor Archer is a big boy.” A very big boy . . . “He plays by his own rules and anyway neither of us even has a copy of the rules. So trust me, Spence, he’s not the one who’s going to get hurt here. He probably has them lined up.”
“Are you talking about other women?”
“No, I’m talking about kittens and rainbows!” she said, exasperated. “Yes, I’m talking about women!”
Spence blinked at her unusual vehemence. “Elle there’s been no other women for him, not in a long time. A year, in fact.”
She narrowed her gaze. “Did he tell you to tell me that?”
Spence laughed. “Yes, right after we talked about what to wear to the prom. Jesus. No, we don’t talk about this shit, thankfully.”
Elle sighed. “He said he wants to have something with me.”
“Something . . . like dinner?”
She had to laugh. “I think he meant more than dinner. I think he meant a relationship. Not that it matters.”
“Let me guess,” Spence said. “Because you don’t trust him.”
“He didn’t want me until I started going out with other men.”
It was Spence’s turn to laugh. “If you believe that then I’ve got some swampland to sell you. The truth is, you don’t trust him. Hell, you don’t trust anyone with your heart. And shit . . .” He pushed away the food in disgust. “Not only did you just trick me into a relationship conversation, but you just made me say heart. I hate you right now, but I’ve got one more thing to say and then I’m cutting out my tongue. I think you’re just looking for reasons to hold back. There.” He tossed up his hands and stood up. “I’ve done my Dr. Phil for the day. Hopefully for the year.” He pointed at her. “And if you tell anyone we had this conversation, I’ll deny it.”
When he was gone, she sat there thinking too hard.
You’re just looking for reasons to hold back.
Was that true? No. No, it couldn’t be. This was all about Archer and how screwed up he was. Not her. And that’s what she continued to tell herself the rest of that night as Archer didn’t come to take her out as promised. And she’d continue to tell herself as long as she needed to hear it.
Later that night Archer paced the ER waiting room restlessly until Mollie took his hand.
“Archer, sit,” she said softly. “Please.”
So he sat. For her. Joe had been jumped on what should’ve been a routine surveillance job. He’d been hit over the head with a baseball bat and hadn’t regained consciousness at the scene. Archer, the guys, and a teary Mollie had been huddled in the waiting room for well over an hour when Elle came in and sat at Archer’s side.
“Any word?” she asked quietly.
He no longer questioned how she seemed to know everything. Maybe Mollie had texted her. Or Spence, who’d called him a few minutes ago. Archer hadn’t been able to do anything but concentrate on Joe. He remained still, leaning back, eyes on the ceiling, exhausted to the bone, very aware of her gaze on him. “No word.”
Her hand settled on his arm, stroked up and down a few times and then her fingers entwined with his and she gently squeezed.
No empty platitudes, no promises of “it’ll be okay” or “don’t worry” because she knew more than anyone else just how not okay the world could be.
She just held on.
He appreciated that more than anything she could have done. He closed his eyes and after a few minutes she set her head on his shoulder. Her breast pressed against his arm and a fast tactile memory rose in his body—the feel of her smooth skin, her nipple pushing against the palm of his hand.
A strand of her silky blonde hair stuck to the stubble on his jaw. The scent, some complicated mix of feminine magic, made him want to inhale her. Maybe it was his sheer exhaustion that did him in but he turned his face and buried it in her hair. “I’m sorry about tonight.”
He knew she said that so easily because she honestly didn’t believe in them. He’d do better, but for now he’d believe in them enough for the both of them. And so they sat there like that, quiet, taking comfort in the moment—or at least he did—when the doctor appeared.
Everyone stood. Elle did too but she hung back a little bit as Archer and Mollie spoke with him.
The news was grim but not nearly as bad as it could’ve been. Concussion, brain swelling, but it was coming down on its own and he’d regained consciousness several times but was sleeping now. Mollie sagged in relief against him and Archer hugged her tight.
“I’m going to go see him,” Mollie said, and she followed the nurse back.
The tension in the waiting room drained considerably. Archer took in some deep breaths himself and watched Elle vanish into the little gift shop. Five minutes later she was back with a big bag of jelly beans.
“His favorite,” she said and Archer didn’t bother to ask how she knew that either.