At her tone, his piercing eyes flashed a disturbingly intense combination of green and light brown, reflecting the fact that he’d seen the worst of the worst and was capable of fighting it with his bare hands. She got that the edge of danger and testosterone coming off him in waves attracted the opposite sex like bees to honey but at the moment she’d like to stomp on his size thirteen Bates. Especially since he didn’t repeat himself, and tired of the macho show, she poked him in the chest with her finger. His pec didn’t give at all. Stupid muscles. “Listen,” she said. “I’ve got pissed-off tenants, a man in the hospital, and a signed contract from you guaranteeing the safety of the people in this building. So I’m going to need you to do more than stand there all tall, dark, and silently brooding on this one, Archer, and tell me what the hell is going on, preferably using more than one word at a time.”
“You want to be careful how you speak to me, Elle,” he said.
The man was impenetrable. A virtual island. And he didn’t like being questioned, she knew that much. But she also knew the only way to deal with him was to hold her own. He didn’t respect cowards. “Fine,” she said. “Will you pretty please tell me what the hell is going on?”
At that he looked very slightly amused, probably because she was the only one who ever dared to push him. “Last fall I told you that you had a squirrel colony going on in the roof,” he said. “I said that you needed to hire someone to block off the holes left behind by woodpeckers from the year before or you were going to have problems. You assured me you’d handled it.”
“Because the landscapers assured me they’d take care of it.”
He shrugged a broad shoulder. “Either they blew you off or they didn’t do it correctly. An entire colony of squirrels moved into the walls and had a party. Last night they hit the electrical room, where they ate through some wires.”
Well, hell. No wonder he was giving her bad ’tude. He was right. This wasn’t on him at all.
It was on her. “What happened to the squirrels?” she asked.
“Probably dead in the walls.”
She blinked. “Are you telling me I killed a bunch of squirrels?”
His mouth quirked. “What do you think the landscapers would’ve done? Sent them on a vacay to the Bahamas?”
“Okay,” she said, letting out a long exhale. “Thanks for the explanation.” She turned to go.
His hand caught her, long fingers wrapping around her elbow and causing all sorts of unwelcome sensations as he pulled her back around.
“What?” she asked.
“Waiting for my apology.”
“Sure,” she said agreeably. “When hell freezes over.” She lifted her chin, grateful for her four-inch heels so that she could almost, kind of, not quite look him in the eyes. “I’m in charge of this building, Archer, which means I’m in charge of everything that happens in it. I’m also in charge of everyone who works for this building.”
He cocked his head, looking amused again. “You want to be the boss of me, Elle?” he asked softly.
“I am the boss of you.”
Now he outright smiled and her breath caught. Damn, stupid, sexy smile. And then there was The Body. Yes, she thought of it in capital letters, it deserved the respect. “If you don’t want to be walking funny tomorrow,” she said, “you’ll stop invading my personal-space bubble.”
Complete bravado and they both knew it. She’d only been at this job for a year and it’d come as a surprise to her that he’d been in the building at all. An unfortunate coincidence. Before that it’d been years since they’d had any contact, but she still knew enough to get that no one got the better of him.
He was quick, light on his feet, and physically strong. But that wasn’t what made him so dangerous to her. No, it was his sharp intelligence, his quick wit, how he was willing to go as dark as he needed to in order to do what he thought was right.
And then there was the biggie—the way he had of making her feel shockingly alive.
He did as she asked and stepped back but not before pausing to make sure they both knew who was in control here, and it most definitely wasn’t her.
No one did intimidation like Archer, and in his line of work he could be in a coma and still intimidate everyone in the room. He had muscles on top of muscles but didn’t look beefed up like a body builder might. Instead his body seemed lean and seriously badass, with caramel skin that strayed from light to golden to mocha latte depending on what the season was, giving him a look of indeterminable origin.
It worked for him, allowing him to fit in to just about any situation. Handy on the job, she imagined. But with her he was careful. Distant. And yet she’d seen the way he sometimes looked at her, and on the rare occasion when he’d touched her, like when he guided her through a door with his hand low on her back, he let himself linger. There was always a shocking and baffling yearning beyond both the glances and the touches.
That, or it was all just wishful thinking.
Not that it mattered since he still held back with her. The problem was she yearned too. Yearned for him to see her as a woman, strong and capable enough to stand at his side.
But after what they’d been through, she knew that would never happen. She turned away, annoyed by how her entire body had gone on high alert as always, every inch of her seeming to hum beneath the surface.
She should have just emailed him.
He waited until she got to the door before he spoke, “I’ve got a job I need your help on.”
“No,” she said.
He just looked at her.
She took online college classes at the crack of dawn. Her job was demanding and took up a solid eight hours a day. At night she studied, fighting for her ever elusive accounting degree. Someday she was going to run her own accounting firm and be badass too, just in a different way than Archer. She was going to be a stable, respectable badass—in great shoes. But in the meantime, she worked herself half into the grave just to keep her head above water.
Problem was, school was expensive, very expensive. As was living in San Francisco. As were great shoes. Plus good jobs didn’t grow on trees. The one she’d had before this had turned out to be a nightmare. She felt lucky here, and although she was paid very decently, college was breaking her bank. To help fund herself, she took the occasional job with Archer when he needed a woman on a job. A distraction usually, but sometimes he prevailed on her other skills, skills she’d honed a lifetime ago.