“You’re not taking any chances with me yadda yadda,” she said impatiently, taking the earpiece. “I’ve heard the spiel before. I’m not a special snowflake, Archer. If I was, I wouldn’t be here—you wouldn’t allow it.”
All true. But he could no more curb his insane need to keep her protected and safe than he could stop breathing. It’d always been like that for him with her.
She put in the earpiece and give him a little nod.
“Okay,” he said. “So—”
“I’ve read the file you emailed me,” she interrupted. “I’m going in as Candy Cunningham, the girl Chuck swiped for and thinks is tonight’s hookup. I’m to get in, ID him, hold his attention until you guys do your thing with the laptop that’s hopefully in his briefcase, and then get out.”
“And get out fast, Elle. I don’t want him to know you’re—”
“Not Candy,” she said. “I think I know what I’m doing by now. You ready to do this or do you need to freshen up your lipstick?”
Since she was now wired for sound and so was Archer, he heard the snickers and snorts from his men in his ear. He didn’t bother to respond. He could and did demand their respect. But he was under no such illusions when it came to controlling Elle.
They took the elevator in silence. Elle stared at the doors. Archer stared at Elle. He had no idea how the dress was containing her full breasts with that low, plunging vee. Every move she made, they strained to escape.
What felt like a year later, the elevator doors finally opened. He caught Elle’s hand and waited until she met his gaze. “You’ve got fifteen minutes to gain his attention or walk out,” he said. “After that we go to Plan B.”
“A plan that doesn’t involve you.”
“In that dress, she’s only going to need one minute,” Joe said in Archer’s ear from his vantage point in the courtyard.
“I’d put money down on fifteen seconds,” Reyes said.
“Shut it,” Archer said.
Radio silence followed this directive.
Elle snorted and walked off, her heels clicking over the cobblestones as she passed the fountain in the center of the courtyard and entered the pub.
Archer took a moment to shake it off—around her he had to do that a helluva lot—and followed. He was going in as a patron and would be guarding her sexy ass.
O’Riley’s was one-half bar, one-half seated dining. The walls were dark wood that gave an old-world feel to the place. Brass lanterns hung from the rafters and rustic baseboards finished the look that said sit your tired ass down, order good food and spirits, and be merry.
Catching sight of Elle heading toward the bar wasn’t difficult, people parted like the Red Sea for her, making room. She settled herself on a barstool right next to Chuck Smithson and nodded to the bartender.
“Nonalcoholic,” Archer murmured.
Finn, also wired, nodded even though they’d already gone through all this. On the job there was never any alcohol allowed.
Elle waited for her drink and then took a sip, all without looking at their guy.
Chuck sat on the stool next to her. He was five foot four, wiry, and with his wrinkled academic-looking clothes and thick black-rimmed glasses he was either a hipster wannabe or making a play for imitating a slightly grown-up Harry Potter. His feet didn’t touch the floor, instead they were hooked into a rung of the barstool, his messenger bag settled between his boots. He’d swiveled to watch, actually stare, at Elle, and when she slowly turned as if eyeing the room, he straightened, pushed his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose and sent her a hopeful smile.
She gave him one in return, a sugary sweet smile that Archer sure as hell had never seen aimed his way before and which had Chuck nearly falling off his stool.
“Man, she’s something,” Joe whispered in their ears.
“You’re drooling,” Max said.
“We’re all drooling,” Lucas said. “She’s a walking boner.”
“Silence,” Archer ordered quietly and they all shut the hell up.
Still looking sweet and somehow demure despite the sexy-as-hell getup, Elle leaned into Chuck. Archer watched closely, fascinated because he knew she could pick a pocket in a few seconds flat right in front of his eyes and he wouldn’t even see it.
“Chuck?” Elle whispered.
Her pic had been on her bio but the guy swallowed hard and nodded, his eyes lit like he’d just discovered it was Christmas morning. “Candy?”
Elle bit her lower lip, managing to look a little shy. “Would you mind showing me your ID?” she asked. “You wouldn’t believe the number of creepers I have to weed through.”
“I bet,” Chuck said sympathetically. “It’s because you’re so beautiful.”
This guy was eating out of the palm of her hand. She wasn’t even going to have to use her skills. Archer found himself smiling at her cleverness and shaking his head in awe. He loved watching her in action, which he didn’t get to see often.
She hadn’t made a secret of the fact that she didn’t like him all that much. Not that he blamed her. She associated him with a very bad part of her past, plus he knew she thought he was too bossy and a control freak—both of which happened to be true.
But it took one to know one.
Chuck hopped of his stool and pulled a wallet from his back pocket.
Elle, smart enough to kick off her high heels to cut her own height down before standing up too, gathered her shoes by the strap, hanging them off a finger. She then leaned into Chuck to look at his ID, letting her hair fall into his face and, Archer was pretty sure, also letting her breast brush against the guy’s arm.
Chuck swallowed hard, blinking when Elle lifted her beaming face to his. “Nice to meet you, Chuck Smithson,” she said.
“ID confirmation,” Max said into his comms from where he sat at the bar two spots over, appearing to be lost in the basketball game on the TV behind the bar. “I’m in place to move in.”
Now all Elle had to do was keep Chuck distracted from his messenger bag while he did.
“Can we dance?” Elle asked, shy. Timid.
Archer didn’t have a type when it came to women. He liked them in all shapes and sizes and in a wide variety of personalities. But shy and timid had never done much for him.