He laughed knowingly, the bastard, and she stomped off to the couch. He brought her a pillow and a blanket and then walked around the place turning off lights and checking the windows and doors while she lay still like a statue and pretended not to be straining there in the dark, strung tight and filled with tension.
“You going to be okay?” he asked quietly.
He paused for a long beat like he had something else to say, but in the end he didn’t, he simply turned and disappeared into his bedroom.
She fell asleep with shocking ease, but she didn’t stay that way. She was worried about who’d broken into her apartment. And still pissy about Archer directing her life for the past eleven years. And she was wondering about her sister . . . And then there was the elephant in the room. What if she was really pregnant, what then? Would she do better than her mom? God, she hoped so, but shuddered at the thought that she might not.
Shaking her head, she forced herself to relax, but talking about her past had dug up stuff best forgotten. Dreams haunted her, stupid memories long buried. Like the time when she’d been somewhere around five years old and her mom had vanished. She and Morgan had been alone for three days before child services found them and took them to foster care. They’d remained there until their mom bailed herself out and claimed them. That had happened twice more before she and Morgan had learned to evade social services entirely, but, at turns hot and sweaty and then freezing cold, she still tossed and turned at the barrage of unwelcome memories.
“Elle. Scoot over.”
She jerked in surprise to find the outline of Archer’s tall, built body standing over her.
“Shh,” he said gently and crouched down to her level. “Just me. Scoot.”
“Because you’re having bad dreams. I’ll beat them off for you.”
“I’ll hold you tight and not let anything get you.”
That sounded alarmingly perfect. “You’re not allowed to protect me anymore,” she said. “I already said so.”
“How about just until dawn then, just this one last time,” he said quietly, stroking the damp hair from her forehead. “For me.”
She huffed out a breath. “Well, if it’s for you . . .”
“Come here, Elle.”
Oh how she wanted to do just that. “Archer?” she whispered, heart in her throat.
“Do friends sometimes sleep together?”
He nudged her over so they were spooning, her back to his front. “When it’s you and me they do. Whatever you need, Elle. Always.”
Her throat tightened because in spite of the fact that he drove her crazy, she knew he meant it.
He pulled her in even tighter, warm and strong, and as those arms closed around her, she finally let go and slept like the dead.
Elle woke up still on the couch and wrapped around Archer like a pretzel. He was flat on his back, breathing slow and even and very deeply, assuring her he was still asleep.
So she very slowly opened her eyes and stared at him. Or at the part of him she could see, which was his stubbly jaw since she’d pressed her face into his throat at some point in the night. She was in the crook of one of his arms, pressed up against his side, a leg thrown over his like she owned him, an arm across his chest, her hand in his armpit.
That’s when she realized one of his arms was thrown out to the side of his body, the other had wrapped around her like Saran Wrap, his hand on her butt.
At the thought, her body gave a slight hopeful quiver. She told it to shut up. Not that there was anything wrong with having her merry way with a man, but she’d already been there done that with him more than she should have, and now she knew it was a one-way street to Hurtsville, guaranteed.
She pulled back very slightly to get a better look. He was no longer wearing a bandage over his knife wound, which was healing up nicely, but it still shocked her to see the red, puckered scar.
Nothing about him was safe.
Not that her life was all that much better, she had to admit.
The warm palm cupping her butt felt . . . sexy and just slightly possessive. And Team Stay Strong took a slight hit because she liked it, way too much. She looked into his face. It was rare to be able to study him so up close and personal without him blinding her with the sheer force field of his personality, and she soaked up the opportunity. He looked so relaxed, even carefree. Not to mention sexy as all hell without an ounce of effort. Men really sucked in that regard. They had no idea how good they had it, while she on the other hand, required at least an hour of prep time before she could be seen in public. And with that in mind, she began to slowly inch away from the hot man who’d kept her dreams at bay for her, slaying her dragons all night long.
But the second she moved, she felt the subtle change in his breathing that told her he was now awake.
And sure enough, he opened his eyes. “You okay?”
If she’d thought his middle-of-the-night voice had been dead sexy, it had nothing on his morning growl. “Yes, thanks to you.”
Their gazes met for a beat and, as if they were connected by some unseen force, they leaned toward each other and—
His cell phone buzzed from somewhere over her head.
“Duty calls,” she whispered.
He didn’t take his eyes off her as he reached past her for the phone. Saved by the bell . . . But then she took in his frown as he accessed a text.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Your sister needs to see us.”
Archer drove himself and Elle to his office and watched the two sisters interact with each other.
Or rather, not react.
They sat in the two chairs in his office right next to each other, but emotionally they might as well have been miles apart. He couldn’t read much in Morgan’s pouty silence but he read volumes in Elle.
She was holding it together, but it was an effort. He met her gaze and maybe he was crazy but the emotion he read in hers warmed him, filled his soul, dismissing all the secret, buried-deep doubts he’d ever had about being enough for her.
“I’ve got a couple problems,” Morgan said. “Two men have been going around to the places I’ve stayed over the years, asking where I am now. And there’s no good reason for that. I just wanted to ask you both, if you’re approached, to play dumb.”