“I’m losing patience,” Thing One said. “Where the fuck is she?”
“Under my desk,” she said, and Thing One laughed.
When Elle didn’t, he sighed. “Shit. You’re just crazy enough to be telling the truth.” He peered around her desk and when he dropped his gaze from hers for a second to take a peek, she hit him over the head with the stapler as hard as she could, connecting with a gratifying thunk.
He went down like a stone.
Thing Two narrowed his eyes. “Hey! You can’t do that.”
She readjusted her now sweaty grip on the stapler, preparing for a round with this guy as he started toward her all good and pissed off. That made two of them, she thought, just as her office door flew open with enough force to bang against the wall and embed the handle in the drywall. Damn. That was going to be costly to fix.
There was a blur of movement and Thing Two took a roundhouse kick from Archer and flew back eight feet, hitting the far wall of the office with a satisfying splat before sliding down to the floor.
“Stay down,” Archer told him, and he turned to Thing One, his eyes flat and hard and scary as hell as he gave the guy a “come here” gesture with his hands.
Thing One rushed him but Archer did a quick, sharp movement with a bent arm and an elbow. Thing One expelled a breath of air and hit the floor.
He didn’t get up.
Archer turned back to Thing Two, kicking him over so that he was facedown, putting a knee in his back to cuff him with some plexicuffs he pulled from one of the pockets in his cargos.
Thing One got the same treatment, and then Archer rose to his feet and leveled that sharp, intense gaze on her. “You okay?”
Here was the thing. She’d been born okay, and she’d had things under control. Mostly. Her point being that she’d made it through relatively unscathed, but at Archer’s three words uttered with calm steel, are you okay, she felt her throat close up.
With the same swiftness he’d used to take in her office with one sweeping glance when he’d first crashed into it during her fight, he grasped her impending meltdown. Reaching out, he snagged her by the front of her dress and hauled her into his very capable arms.
And although she was her own woman who stood on her own two feet, who fought her battles for herself and usually won them too, sometimes being alone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. So she fisted her hands in his shirt, buried her face in his throat, and held on tight.
The police came quickly and arrested the two men, taking statements from everyone involved. The story they got from the suspects was questionable at best, leaving Elle with more questions than answers.
In the middle of the chaos, Archer tugged her to a quiet corner and met her gaze. “Do you need a doctor?”
“The cops already asked me but I’m fine.”
“Elle.” He slid a big palm to her stomach. “I’m going to ask you again. Do you need a doctor?”
“No. No,” she repeated when he just looked at her. “I’m really okay.” Maybe pregnant, but okay. At least physically. In truth, she hadn’t really let herself think about the implications of being a few days late. Not yet.
Managing to slip away a few minutes later, she walked down the stairs to the courtyard, her goal being a moment alone before she hunted down Morgan for some answers.
The fountain water was shimmering beneath the bright sun as she passed by. Several people were milling around, including a young couple holding hands and laughing as the guy teasingly held up a quarter to toss in.
“You sure you’re ready for true love?” the girl asked him.
He gave her a goofy smile.
Elle tried to picture Archer giving her that same goofy smile and couldn’t.
And then Archer himself was suddenly right there, pulling her around to face him. The dark mirrored lenses of his sunglasses glinting in the bright daylight. “Where are you going?” he asked, his gaze roaming over her face, which was stinging like a son of a bitch. “I wanted to treat your cut and ice your face.”
“I was going to do that.” And she would. Right after she fortified herself, shored up the brick walls around her trembling foundation. She was thinking some of Tina’s muffins would be a really great start.
Archer stroked the hair from her face, looking over her features, his own tight. “Are you dizzy?” he asked. “Do you feel sick? How many of me do you see?”
“No, no, and the one of you is more than I need at the moment,” she said, pushing his hand away. “And stop looking at me like you’re itching to toss me over your shoulder and drag me back to your cave.”
“I’m more likely to toss you over my knee,” he said, his voice sounding amused now.
An older woman standing near them gasped and glared at him.
Elle realized that given what her face looked like, she probably thought Archer had already beaten her, and she found a smile on this shitty day.
Archer didn’t look amused in the slightest. “We’re just messing around,” he said to the woman.
“Males your age have no manners,” she said. “In my day, women were wooed with flowers and handwritten love letters. Now it’s all chains and whips and handcuffs.” She pointed a bony finger in Archer’s face. “You men wouldn’t be so amused by the whole BDSM trend if we were the ones holding the floggers!”
And with that, she huffed off.
“She actually thought I was going to beat your ass,” he said, sounding shocked. “She took one look at me and laid judgment.”
She laughed. “Oh, put on your big-boy panties and deal with it.”
He shook his head and looked into her eyes. “And you. You’ve got a black eye coming on and you’re laughing. Why aren’t you upset?”
“I am. But I held my own and that felt good.” She flashed a smile. “Thanks for the stapler-to-the-head tip.”
He let out a reluctant smile. “You’re pretty amazing, you know that?”
“Amazing enough to buy me muffins?”
“Tell me you want more from me than that,” he said.
They’d just been joking but suddenly she could tell he wasn’t and her smile faded. “Can we just start with the muffins?”