“Someone who?” Archer asked. “How and where?”
“I don’t know.” She paused. “But it escalated last night. Someone must’ve followed me back to the house where I’m renting a room. Because after I went out this morning, apparently they questioned my landlady and scared her to death. They told her I was trouble and that it would spread to her if she wasn’t careful.”
“Was she hurt?” Elle asked.
“No.” A note of amusement came into Morgan’s voice. “She has her husband’s beloved golf clubs in the foyer. She pulled out the nine iron and waved it around like a baseball bat. When they didn’t take her seriously, she swung at one of them. Connected too, sending him flying into her shoe rack.” She pulled out a cell phone and placed it on Archer’s desk. “The guy lost this. Ran out without it.”
Archer pulled out an evidence bag, nudged the phone into it with a pen, and called someone. Two seconds later, Trev strode into the office.
Archer handed him the bag with the phone. “Need everything you can get off this.”
Trev saluted him, winked at Elle, and walked out.
“You can’t stay there anymore,” Elle said to Morgan. “You can’t risk letting your past get your landlady hurt.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Morgan asked, eyes flashing. She nodded to the suitcase on the floor. “I already left.”
“Neither of you can stay in your own apartments,” Archer said. “Elle’s place was broken into as well,” he informed Morgan.
Morgan blinked, the flash of temper in her gaze gone now as she turned to Elle. “Were you hurt?” she whispered.
“I wasn’t home.” Elle blew out a breath and softened her voice. “We both got lucky. But Morgan, that luck won’t last forever, not as long as you’re still standing with one foot in that door.”
Elle just looked at her.
“I’m not,” she repeated and then sighed. “But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I didn’t come here to bring you trouble. I thought it was all behind me.”
“It’s never all behind you,” Elle said with a grim finality that had Archer taking a longer look at her. He could see volumes of regret and tempered pain in the depths of her eyes. He’d had no idea how much of the past she still held deep, how much she held herself accountable for.
“New plan,” Archer said. “Until we’ve got this handled, you both stay with me.”
“Demanding much?” Morgan asked.
Elle’s mouth twitched. “He actually thinks he just asked nicely instead of telling us.”
“Huh,” Morgan said. “Cute.”
Elle actually smiled.
“Glad to see you two bonding,” Archer said. “But let’s get this handled once and for all.”
Elle turned to look at Morgan and he watched some silent sister communication going on. Then Morgan stood up. “I’ll give you two a moment,” she said and got to the door before turning back. “And really, I never meant to do this to you again. Either of you,” she said right to Elle, and then she was gone.
Elle stood up to follow her but Archer beat her to the door and put a hand on it, holding it closed.
She dropped her forehead to the wood.
Letting out a breath, he pressed up against her back, stroked the hair away from the nape of her neck, and brushed his mouth across her sweet skin. “Don’t blame yourself,” he whispered. “This isn’t on you.”
“Maybe not,” she murmured. “But I turned her away when she needed me. That makes me someone I don’t like very much right now.”
Pulling her around to face him, he slid an arm around her waist, his other hand along her jaw and into her hair to hold her head for a soft kiss. “That’s okay, Elle. I like you enough for the both of us.”
She rolled her eyes. “You like me because I tried to get naked with you.”
“I do like that, a lot.” He let a smile free. “And maybe you’ve got your pic in the dictionary under obstinate, stubborn, and mule-headed, but you’re also there under resilient, resourceful, and pretty fucking amazing.”
She stared up at him, looking surprised and . . . a lot less wary. Too bad what he was going to say next would probably ruin that. “So here’s how we’re going to play this,” he said. “You’re going to let me help you. In return, I’ll let you help me when I need it. And I will need it, Elle. That’s how this thing between us works, give and take. So let’s skip the freak-out from you that you’re doing all the taking because you’re not. You never would. You hear me?”
She just stared at him.
“Going to need you to say it, Elle.”
“I know,” he said. “Now say it. Say that you’re going to let me help you.”
She blew out a sigh. “I’m going to let you help me. Dammit.”
He smiled. “Are you angry? Because we do some of our best naked work when you’re angry.”
She pointed at him.
She rolled her eyes and slid out from between him and the door. “And don’t think I didn’t notice how you managed to get me and Morgan to both stay with you,” she said. “Which puts her and me under the same roof for the first time in a very long time. You’re going to owe me for that.”
“Sex or chocolate?” he asked, and to his surprise, she appeared to give it serious thought.
“What kind of chocolate?” she asked.
He smiled. “Shouldn’t you ask what kind of sex?”
She grabbed the front of his shirt. “Maybe I want both.” Then she shocked the hell out of him by kissing him hard and quick, and then she was gone.
Trev came back into the room. “You bribe your woman with chocolate?”
“And sex,” Archer said seriously. “Don’t forget the sex.”
Back at Archer’s that night, Elle tossed Morgan a blanket and watched as she settled herself onto one long length of Archer’s huge L-shaped couch.
“He’s really quite a catch, you know,” Morgan said. “You two could probably make it work if you wanted.”