“Are we talking about me or you?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes as they crossed the courtyard and headed to the street, where she began to walk at a pace that amazed him given the height of her heels.
“You’re walking all the way home?” he asked.
“The girls and I ate pizza and brownies for lunch. I’ve got about two thousand calories to work off.”
He kept pace and she glanced up at him. “You my bodyguard?”
“You’re the one with a knife.”
She snorted. “You probably had more adventures today than I’ll have in a lifetime. Walking must seem tame to you.”
“Elle, you’re more of an adventure than anything that’s ever happened to me.”
She ignored this and made a few stops, one for some flowers, another for a loaf of fresh bread from a bakery, and then again for a bottle of wine, making him wonder if she was prepping for a date. He hoped not because he’d have to kill the guy.
“Having fun?” she asked dryly.
She laughed. “Liar. You’re not into fun.”
“I have my moments.”
She blushed, which he found both charming and adorable, although she recovered quickly.
“Hmm,” she said. “Because after breaking up two dates in a row, I’d have said you were actually a fun-sucker.”
“Elle, I didn’t want to mess up your fun either time. You think I don’t know how long it’s been since you let yourself have a life?”
She flushed and looked away.
He turned her face back to his. “But seeing you go out with other guys when we’re . . .”
She arched a brow. “Do tell.”
Shit. He’d walked right into that land mine. “I’m not going to apologize for a single thing I’ve done,” he said.
She wasn’t impressed. “Shock.”
“I’m not going apologize for the things I’ve done,” he repeated, “because I’d do all of it again if I had to in order to keep you safe.”
“You’re not paying attention, Archer. I’m not in danger these days. I don’t need you to keep me safe. I can take care of myself.”
“I know. And I get it,” he said. “You’re smart and strong. You’ve got it all handled. And okay, maybe I should’ve told you about the job—”
“Look, I have faults, okay? A helluva lot of them actually, but . . .”
“Don’t let me stop you,” she said. “But what?”
But . . . she was the most important person in his life. Without his family, she was basically his best friend, even when they went long stretches without communicating. But he’d never told her that because doing so would’ve made him feel . . . vulnerable.
And he didn’t do vulnerable.
Elle strode past him, nose in the air.
He followed her up the stairs. At her front door she turned and faced him. “I don’t need a boogeyman check.”
“Humor me,” he said.
“Actually, I think I’ve humored you long enough.” She turned to unlock her door and stilled.
He looked around her to see what had stopped her and saw that her door was ajar.
Someone had broken in.
Elle stood there in front of her opened door, barely registering, when Archer put a hand on her hip, firm and protective, pushing her behind him so that she couldn’t see past his broad shoulders. But she had no problem seeing the gun he’d pulled out of nowhere.
He nudged her to the side of the opened door, her back to the wall. “Stay here,” he said and then he vanished inside.
She stood there, torn between following him or doing as he’d asked, but in the end she decided that following him would make her the dumb chick in every horror movie ever filmed.
Someone had broken into her place.
It’d been a damn long time since fear had ruled her body, but it took over now like an old friend, as if no time had gone by, making her feel as if she was a kid in perpetual panic all over again.
Archer reappeared as silently and efficiently as he’d vanished, tucking his gun away behind him. “I don’t see anything out of place but I need you to come look to make sure.”
She nodded numbly and he took a second look at her, frowning as he slid his hand in hers. “Hey,” he said, pulling her into him. “You’re shaking.”
“No I’m not.”
“Okay,” he said gently, squeezing her. “Maybe it’s me.”
She let out a small mirthless laugh and followed him inside, still holding tightly to him. Her laptop was still on the table. Her TV hadn’t been disturbed. Nor anything else that she could tell. “I didn’t leave my front door unlocked,” she said.
He squeezed her waist, making her realize he was still holding her to his side. “You’d never have left it unlocked,” he said. “You’re too smart that. Not to mention anal.”
She choked out a laugh at the compliment and insult sandwiched together and knew by the way he smiled that he’d meant to get that reaction from her. “Should I call the police?” she asked.
An hour later the police had come and gone. Archer walked around checking the windows and then he grabbed her purse. “Okay, let’s go.”
“Go where?” Elle asked.
“To bed. You’re done in.”
“I don’t need my purse to walk down the hall and get into bed,” she said.
“That’s not the bed you’re going to.”
It took her a minute to respond, as her body and brain had two very different reactions to the thought of sleeping with him again. Her body wanted to jump up and down and pump a fist in anticipation. Her brain wanted to scream that she was in far more danger from Archer than anyone or anything else.
At least her heart was anyway . . . “This is a really bad idea,” she said.
“Because you’ll flash me your panty-melting smile and my clothes will fall off.”
This got her the wolf grin. “And?”
“And,” she said, “we’re no longer mutual orgasm givers.”