She had a bad feeling about this. “And?”

“And suddenly this chopper is needed elsewhere. I think Archer shut us down.”

Whelp, that did it. She was going to have to find a way to look good in an orange jumpsuit after all because she was indeed going up for murder one.

Mike was a good sport about it, so good that when he brought her home, she let him kiss her goodnight. She stilled at the touch of his mouth, soft yet firm on hers, willing herself to get lost in the connection. His mouth was warm and very nice as it brushed over hers. He had some serious talent, but then again, players usually did. It was lovely and even caused a few little sparks as he shifted his nice, hard body into hers.

But no wildfire.

Dammit.

When Mike pulled back, there was nothing but good humor in his gaze. “Thanks for trying,” he said, and with a last brush of his mouth over her cheek, he was gone.

Elle watched him drive away and then pulled out her phone.

 

When Archer’s phone went off he was lying flat on a four-story roof in the Mission District. He had a pair of binoculars up to his face and was watching for a high dollar skip in the building across the street—most definitely not needing the chopper he’d called back.

He didn’t have to look at the phone to see who the text was from—it shook with the fury that could belong to only one woman.

Elle.

He ignored it while thoughts of her invaded his mind, as they’d been doing for so long now that he should’ve been used to it. He’d tried to train himself over the years to not think about her, and he’d mostly succeeded. Until last year when he’d found out she’d been let go from a job because she’d refused to sleep with her boss. That hadn’t been the official reason she’d been terminated; she’d been officially fired for accessing files above her authorization level and breaching her confidentiality contract when she’d allegedly “accidentally” forwarded company emails outside the company.

Technically true, but Archer knew the real story. After Elle had refused to sleep with her scumbag boss, he’d threatened to fire her. This hadn’t helped Elle’s lack of trust in authority figures in the least, and instead of going to HR, she’d taken matters into her own hands. As collateral and protection, she’d forwarded emails between the scumbag and his mistress . . . to his wife.

How did Archer know all this? Because he’d been watching over her. Yes, he’d invaded her privacy, and yes, he was clearly a very sick man. He didn’t care. He’d long ago realized he couldn’t help himself when it came to her.

Just like when Spence had first bought the Pacific Pier Building. It’d taken little to no effort to talk him into hiring Elle for the general manager position. After all, she really was excellent at her job.

He’d never told her about his involvement, nor did he plan on ever telling her. He valued his life more than that. Besides, he’d actually believed that after all that time of keeping his distance from her, he’d have no problem keeping his hands off her once she was in the building. He told himself he was giving her a real chance at living a full, happy life, including finding a man she could relax with, a man who hadn’t once seen her at her most vulnerable.

In truth, keeping his distance had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. He hated himself for desiring her as much as he did. Now and then. She’d been a kid for God’s sake. He’d had no business wanting her at all. It’d made him work doubly hard at keeping her safe over the years. Safe for life, he’d promised himself. She deserved that after such a rough start. So yeah, the illusion of distance had become his best friend.

At least until the other night when they’d been camping and Spence had called the girls in for the s’mores mission. Because the illusion of distance had shifted the second Elle had planted her warm mouth on his. And when he’d gotten a taste of her, he’d completely lost his fucking mind as well.

Elle had been right about one thing—that couldn’t happen again.

Giving in to his curiosity, he finally pulled out his phone and accessed his text.

Elle: I’m going to kiss you!

Archer: With tongue?

Elle: Kill you. I’m going to KILL you. Ducking autocorrect!

 

Archer found himself grinning like an idiot. He used his Bluetooth to call her and was still cracking up when she connected but didn’t speak. “Looking forward to this kiss,” he said.

“You really called me just to say that?” came her frosty voice. “Calls are only for when someone dies, Archer. And even that could come in a text.”

He heard a snort in his ear, cluing him into the fact that his guys could hear her through their comms. He sighed. “Did you need something, Elle?”

“To know when you’ll be home so I can kill you,” she said. “And that’s k-i-l-l, not k-i-s-s.”

More muffled snorts.

“Okay, great,” he said. “Thanks for narrowing that down.”

But she’d already disconnected.

And because their skip made an appearance just then, he did what he did best. He compartmentalized his life. He slid his phone away and got to work.

 

Elle told herself to just go to bed. It was ten p.m. and she could use the rest. She kicked off her boots but instead of lovingly putting them back in their place in her closet like she always did, she let them fall carelessly to the floor. She started to strip down but eyed her laptop as an idea came to her.

Maybe Archer was working, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t email him exactly what she thought of his butting his nose into her business and breaking up the first date she’d had in forever. She opened the laptop and went at it, her fingers working furiously, outlining in great detail what a dick he was.

At heart, she was a businesswoman. She knew the value of holding her cards close to the vest. She’d long ago taught herself patience and also the need for giving a decision a good, long thought process. Often she’d made herself sleep on especially difficult decisions before allowing herself to react. So normally she’d sit on this email until morning.

But not this time, she just couldn’t do it.

She hit send.

Then she calmly finished getting ready for bed, putting everything away, including the cowboy boots. She removed her makeup and moisturized. She flossed.

Then she got under her covers and . . . stared at the ceiling going over every scathing word of her email. She’d called him more than a few choice names and she’d ended it with “Don’t call me, don’t email me, don’t come to my office, don’t anything, not ever again.”

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