Until right that minute. Even knowing it was a damn act, knowing that Elle didn’t have a shy or timid bone in her body, he wanted to go over there, haul her in tight, and comfort her. It was such a shocking urge he nearly missed what came next.
“Uh.” Chuck blinked up at Elle, still several inches shorter than she. “I’m not much of a dancer—”
“Oh, no worries,” she said sweetly, “everyone’s got a dancer deep inside him.”
“Please?” she asked softly, batting those baby blues.
Chuck downed his drink. “For liquid courage,” he said, gesturing to Finn for another.
“Make it a double,” Archer instructed Finn.
“I’ll lead,” Elle promised Chuck as he tossed back the second drink. Winding an arm in one of his, she pulled him away from the bar.
“But my stuff . . .” Twisting back, he eyed his messenger bag on the floor.
“It’s safe here.” Elle looked at Finn behind the bar. “Right?”
“Absolutely,” Finn said.
But nothing. The poor dumb fucker never knew what hit him. As Elle led him by the balls to the dance floor, keeping Chuck’s back to the bar, Joe moved in, smoothly grabbed the briefcase, and vanished.
On the small, crowded dance floor, Elle began to move, shimmying that body of hers, dazzling Chuck—and every other man in the place—into an openmouthed stupor.
Not Archer. No, he was in heart failure because if she wasn’t careful she was going to come right out of that dress. “Joe, report,” he said, rubbing his left eye, which had started to twitch.
“We’re an inch from a nipple-gate situation,” Max said in a reverent, hopeful whisper.
Archer made a mental note to kill him later. “Joe.”
“Need three more minutes.”
Shit. The seconds crawled by, while on the dance floor Chuck had moved up against Elle and was grinning ear to ear as he tried to keep up with her.
As if anyone could.
“Done,” Joe finally said, and Archer breathed for the first time in the longest three minutes of his life.
“Copied the hard drive,” Joe said, and then in the next beat Archer watched as he smoothly replaced the messenger bag beneath Chuck’s barstool.
Not two seconds later Chuck turned from the dance floor, his gaze seeking and finding his messenger bag, still under his barstool.
“All done, boss,” Joe said. “Oh and the guy’s got a handful of different IDs on him as well as the laptop. Scanned everything.”
Score. “Elle,” Archer said. “Make your exit.”
The music was loud, so was the pub. People were having a great time. And apparently Chuck was one of them because his liquid courage had clearly kicked in. Some confidence too because he kept trying to get his hands all over Elle as they moved together to the beat.
“You’re so pretty!” Chuck yelled up to Elle’s face.
“No, I mean like . . . porn pretty!” He was still yelling. “I’m kind of a connoisseur, so I’d know! Have you ever thought about it? You’d make millions!” He grinned. “Usually when I get drunk, I talk loud, like really loud! But I’m not doing that now because you don’t even look scared!”
“You ever miss being a cop in moments like this?” Max asked conversationally in Archer’s ear. “Cuz then you could go arrest that fucker.”
No, Archer didn’t miss being a cop. As for what he did miss from that old life—his dad for one, no matter how hard-assed the guy had been—he’d shoved it deep and moved on. The real question was why the hell was Elle still dancing? He’d given her orders to move out. Making his way through the crowd, he hit the dance floor and tapped Chuck on the shoulder.
The guy turned and looked up, up, up into Archer’s face. “Erm—” he squeaked out. With a gulp, he relinquished his hold on Elle like she was a hot potato and scampered off like a rat into the night. After stopping for his messenger bag, of course.
Elle bent to slip back into her heels.
Apparently she needed the armor with Archer. Slipping an arm around her waist to give her the support she needed to buckle herself into the FMPs, he waited until she straightened then said, “What the fuck was that?”
“Me doing my job,” she said in a duh voice.
“Since when is dirty dancing with a felon your job?”
She narrowed her fierce eyes. “You told me to get close to him. You told me to ID him and then keep him distracted, whatever it takes.”
“Okay, no,” he said. “I absolutely did not say whatever it takes.”
She glared up at him.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing.” Her voice was ice.
“Oh boy,” Joe muttered in Archer’s ear. “When a woman says ‘nothing’ in that tone, it most definitely means something and you should be wearing a cup to finish that conversation. Just sayin’.”
Archer put a finger to his eye before it twitched right out of his head. “I told you to make your exit,” he said to Elle with what he thought was remarkable calm while ignoring Joe, who was a dead man walking anyway. “When I tell you something, Elle, I expect you to listen.”
He heard a collective sucking in of air through his comms and ignored that too.
“Wow,” Elle finally said.
“Okay,” Max piped up. “I have a girlfriend now so I know this one. When Rory says ‘wow’ like that, it’s not a compliment. It means she’s thinking long and hard on how and when I’ll pay for my stupidity.”
“Agreed,” Joe said. “She’s simply expressing amazement that a man can be such an idiot. Abort mission, boss. I repeat. Abort. Mission.”
Shit. Archer ripped out his earpiece and then did the same to Elle’s, stuffing both in his pocket.
She shrugged and walked away, leaving him on the dance floor. Watching her go, an odd feeling cranked over in his chest. Irritation, he decided. Frustration. The woman got to him like no one else.
And yet he’d kept tabs on her, watching her back. He couldn’t explain why, but apparently old habits died hard.
Did she ever think about that night? She’d never made a single reference to it, not once. And he’d never brought it up, not wanting to bring her back to a bad place.