The only thing more shocking than that was that she knew she’d do the same for him . . .
She had no idea how many minutes later she jerked awake. The smell came to her first, charbroiled meat. The smoke came next. And then when she whipped her head around, she saw the flames shooting out of the barbeque.
She flew to her feet, stubbing her toe on the leg of the barbeque as she slammed the lid of it down and cranked the knobs to off before crouching low to turn off the gas below as well.
By the time she straightened, the flames had died.
And so had the black lumps that had been the steak and potatoes.
Dead. She’d killed them dead. Reaching out, she picked up one charred lump, burned her finger, and dropped it. With a sigh, she shoved her hair back from her sweaty face—the heat coming off the barbeque was surely giving her a sunburn—and whipped out her phone. “You suck,” she said to Joe.
“Only if you ask real nice,” he said.
Ungh! “I burned everything!”
“Did you trim the fat?” he asked. “Keep the flame on medium? Turn the steaks after three to four minutes? Immediately remove from the flames?”
No, no, no, and a solid no. She disconnected on him and went hands on hips, staring down at the mess. Then she whipped her phone back up and called her favorite Italian restaurant, which delivered. She placed an order, offering to double the tip if they rushed it.
By the time she’d cleaned up the barbeque mess and discarded the evidence, the food had arrived. The delivery guy had a ready smile that faltered at the sight of her. Not having time to give that a single thought, she paid him and went into the kitchen to dish everything out onto plates and set the table.
She’d just finished when Archer strode in. He tossed his keys to the counter and headed straight toward her, his nostrils flaring. “What’s that smell?”
She panicked. She’d lit the two candles she’d been able to find and she’d shut the patio door, but not before standing there like an idiot in the living room waving a magazine around, trying to get the burnt smell outside. “Um . . .”
“Italian,” he said with a smile, staring down at the table. “I thought so. Chicken Parmesan? Looks amazing.”
She took a breath and smiled with relief.
“I had no idea you could cook,” he said.
“Oh well, I—” She gasped when he curled an arm around her waist and tugged her into him.
He gave her a smacking kiss on the lips and then pulled back, cocking his head as he studied her.
“What?” she asked.
“Like the look.”
Pulling free, she turned to eyeball her reflection in his stainless-steel refrigerator and barely repressed a shocked shriek. Her hair had rioted and there were streaks of what looked suspiciously like charcoal across her jaw and cheek and forehead.
Archer came up behind her, leaving not even air between them, his hands on her hips, his jaw pressed to hers. He had to bend to do it too because she’d left her shoes on the patio.
Along with her brain, apparently.
“Barefoot in my kitchen,” he murmured, his hot mouth against her ear.
And maybe pregnant . . . She thought of the test kit she had in her purse. One of these days she was going to take it. Soon. “Don’t get used to it,” she managed.
“What, you being barefoot?”
“Me being a mess.”
He turned her to him and cupped her face, suddenly serious. “I’ve wanted in under your armor for a long time, Elle. Don’t deny me now.”
This just about undid her. It certainly left her speechless.
He smiled again, looking pleased with himself. “Can we eat now? I’m starving and your food looks amazing.”
She watched as he moved away from her to sprawl into a chair and dig in. Guilt consumed her. “So about the food—”
“Hang on a second,” he said around a huge bite, leaning back, his eyes closed. “I’m having a moment.”
“I skipped lunch,” he said. “And this is almost as good as an orgasm. Only almost because let’s face it, nothing’s as good as an orgasm.”
“I didn’t cook it,” she blurted out.
He flashed her a smile. “I know.”
She stared at him. “You knew the whole time?”
“Well yeah.” He was slathering a thick hunk of Italian bread with enough butter for a heart attack with one hand, spooning more chicken Parm onto his plate with his other. She had no idea how he ate the way he did and stayed so leanly muscled.
Bastard. “How?” she demanded. “How did you know?”
He slid her an amused glance. “My barbeque’s still smoking and smells like you torched it in a bonfire. You’ve got soot on your face and on your feet. The trash isn’t shut all the way and even from here I can see a take-out container near the top.”
“Do you have to be so observant?” she demanded.
“How else would I be able to keep up with you?” An arm snaked out and he yanked her onto his lap, where he buried his face in her hair. “You cared enough to want me fed. That turns me on about as much as you barefoot in my kitchen. Barefoot and—”
She put a finger over his lips. “Don’t say it.” She didn’t want to hear the word pregnant on his lips. Behind her hand, he was smiling. “You’re a very odd man,” she said.
“Have you taken a pregnancy test?” he asked around her finger.
“Take the test, Elle. We need to know.”
But it would change his actions, she thought with a catch in her gut. He’d stay with her out of even more obligation to her and—
“Stop.” He lifted her face to his as he read her thoughts, making sure she knew his. “Whatever we find out,” he said, “I’m here for you. Whether it’s just you, or you and our baby. Always. But it’s a fact that you’re getting the raw end of the deal.”
She shook her head. “Not true.”
He nipped the finger she still held to his mouth.
“Very odd man,” she repeated softly.
Not insulted in the least, he smiled and pulled her hand away from his mouth and then took that mouth on a leisurely tour up her throat, letting it make its way along her jaw to her ear.
“Here, Archer?” she asked breathlessly, tilting her head to give him better access as she eyeballed the table.