She was on the second floor in the far north corner, from which if she pressed her nose up against her office window and if there wasn’t any fog, she could see down the hill to the Marina Green and the bay with a very tiny slice of the Golden Gate Bridge as well.
She tried to play it cool, but even after a whole year it was a thrill to live in the heart of the city. Although she hadn’t grown up far from here, it’d been a world away and at least ten rungs down on the social ladder.
It was still early enough that the place was quiet. As she passed the elevator, the doors opened and the woman in charge of housekeeping services came through pushing a large cart.
“Hey, honey,” Trudy said in her been-smoking-for-three-decades voice. “Need anything?”
“Nope, I’m good.” Good plus mad, but although she adored Trudy, the woman couldn’t keep a secret to save her life. “Just taking in the nice morning.”
“Oh, that’s a disappointment,” Trudy said. “I thought maybe you were looking for that hottie with the nice package, the one who runs the investigation firm down the hall.”
Elle nearly choked on her tea. “Nice package?”
“Well I’m old, not dead.” And with a wink, Trudy pushed her cart down the hall.
It was true that Archer was annoyingly hot, not that she cared. Hot was useless to her. She’d much rather have the things that had eluded her for most of her life—safety, security . . . stability.
Three things Archer had never been accused of.
At the other end of the hall, she stopped in front of the door with a discreet sign: Hunt Investigations.
The investigative and elite security firm was carried on Archer’s reputation alone, no ads or marketing required. Basically Archer and the men he employed were finders and fixers, independent contractors for hire, and not necessarily tied by the same red tape as the law.
Which worked for Archer. Rules had never been his thing.
She opened the door and let herself into the reception area, which was much bigger than hers. Clean, masculine lines. Large furniture. Wide open space. A glass partition separated the front from the inner offices.
The check-in counter was empty. The receptionist wasn’t in yet—it was too early for Mollie. But not for the other employees. Past the glass Elle could see part of the inner office. A group of men, five of them, entered by a private door. They’d clearly just come back from some sort of job that had required them to be locked and loaded since they currently looked like a SWAT team.
Elle literally stopped short. And if she was being honest, her heart stopped too because sweet baby Jesus. The lot of them stood there stripping off weapons and shirts so that all she could see was a mass of mind-blowing bodies, sweaty and tatted and in all varieties of skin colors.
It was a cornucopia of smutty goodness and she couldn’t tear her eyes away. In fact, she couldn’t speak either, mostly because her tongue had hit the floor. Her feet took advantage of her frozen brain, taking her to the interior door, where she wanted to press her face up against the glass.
Luckily, someone buzzed her in before she could. They all knew her. After all, her job required her to work closely with the security firm, and therein lay her deepest, darkest problem.
Working closely with Archer Hunt was dangerous in oh so many, many ways, not the least of which was their history, something she did her best to never think about.
She was greeted with variations on “Hey, Elle” and “Mornin’” and then they all went their separate ways, leaving her alone with their fearless leader.
It’d been a long time since they’d let themselves be alone. In fact, she always actively sought out ways to not be alone with him, and given how successful she’d been, she could only figure he’d been doing the same.
Not looking particularly bothered by this unexpected development, Archer met her gaze straight on. He hadn’t unloaded his weapons or his shirt and stood there in full utility combat gear, complete with a Glock on one hip, a stun gun on the other, and a pistol strapped to a thigh. His Army hat was backward on his head. The handle of a butterfly knife stuck out of a pocket in his cargoes and he had two sets of cuffs strapped to his belt. An urban warrior, wired for sound with a two-way and a Kevlar vest strapped across his chest and back, telling Elle that wherever they’d been, he hadn’t just come back from Disneyland.
She managed to be both horrified and turned on at the same time. But if life had taught her one thing the hard way, it was how to hide her thoughts and emotions, so she carefully rolled up her tongue.
The corner of Archer’s mouth quirked, like maybe he could read her mind. But he didn’t say a word, instead seeming perfectly content to stand there all badass and wait her out. And she knew from experience that he could wait her out, until the end of time if need be.
So of course, she caved and spoke first. “Long morning already?”
“Long night,” he said.
He was big and tough, and frustrating beyond measure for so many reasons, not the least of which was her very secret crush on him, uncomfortably balanced on the fact that she owed him her life.
Unconcerned with any of that, he began to unload his weapons. Most of the jobs he took on were routine: criminal, corporate, and insurance investigations along with elite security contracts, surveillance, fraud, and corporate background checks. But some weren’t routine at all, like the forensic investigations, the occasional big bond bounty hunting, government contract work . . . all with the potential to be dangerous if not life threatening.
In contrast, the security contract he held on this building surely seemed tame and mild in comparison, but she knew it was a favor to Spence.
“We have a problem,” she said.
He arched a brow, the equivalent of a long-winded query from anyone else.
She rolled her eyes and found herself in a defensive pose, hands on hips. “The emergency exit signs—”
“Already taken care of,” he said.
“Okay, but Mr. Nottingham—”
“Also taken care of.”
She took a deep, purposefully calming breath. It was hard to look right at him because he was very tall. At five foot seven, she was nowhere close to petite but even she barely came up to his shoulders. She hated that he had such a height advantage during their arguments. And this was going to be an argument.
“So what happened?” she asked. “Why did the lights go out like that, all at once?”