Elle, Willa, Pru, and Kylie were eating muffins from Tina’s coffee shop. Once upon a time Tina had been Tim. Tim had made good muffins but Tina was happier than Tim had ever been, and that happiness had spread to her muffins. People came from far and wide for her muffins, which as far as Elle was concerned were the best on the planet.

Elle chowed down on a mini blueberry muffin while listening to Pru and Willa argue over the last lemon muffin in the bag.

“I only had two,” Pru said.

“I only had two too,” Willa said.

“Me too on the two,” Kylie said.

“But there were ten in the bag,” Pru said and added that up on her fingers. “Where’re the other three?”

They all turned and looked at Elle. She unapologetically popped in the last bite of her third muffin. “Hey, there is the quick and then there’s the hungry,” she said, getting down from the counter. “I’ve got to get back to work.”

Willa held out a hand to stop her. “Not so fast, missy. You’ve been lying low all week. We haven’t seen or heard a peep from you.”

“It’s been a busy one.”

“Uh-huh,” Willa said. “We’d sure love hear about your interesting date last weekend.”

Elle didn’t let her expression change because, much as she loved her friends, she didn’t intend to discuss what had happened between her and Archer.

Not when she didn’t have a handle on it herself.

Although you had quite a handle on him . . . And at that thought, images flooded her mind. Her on her knees. Archer wrapped around her like a glove, enclosing her in the heat and strength of his body. His hands holding her right where he wanted her, his fingers doing wicked things, his mouth at her ear urging her on.

Just thinking about it had her breath quickening. Other reactions happened too, nothing that should be happening in public under the razor-sharp scrutiny of her friends who could spot a lie or misdirect a mile away. But mostly she remembered the stay the hell away from me that she’d uttered. The last words she’d spoken to him. “You heard wrong,” she said. “That wasn’t a date between Archer and me, it was . . .”

Hell. A booty call. Exactly what she’d promised she wouldn’t be to him. But whatever, mistakes had been made and orgasms had happened. It was all just a singular momentary setback from her Archer-embargo.

Pru went brows up. “Archer? I was talking about Caleb. But do tell about Archer.”

Well crap. “He and I had a few things to discuss, is all. Business things. So we took it to my office. The end.”

Willa grinned. “I once jumped Keane’s bones in my office while all of you sat right here, and I too used the excuse of”—she used air quotes—“‘things to discuss.’”

Pru went wide-eyed. “Wait,” she said to Elle. “So you and Archer discussed things? Wow. We all knew it was only a matter of time before the tension between you two exploded but I thought we’d all hear the nuclear reaction, or at least smell the smoke.”

“Ha-ha,” Elle said, and then she blinked. “Wait. What do you mean you all knew it was only a matter of time?”

Everyone was suddenly very busy stirring her coffee or crumpling her napkin or anything other than answering that question.

“Hello?” Elle asked but then Spence walked in and distracted everyone. Elle hadn’t had a chance to confront him about Archer getting him to hire her. She wasn’t sure she was ready to have that conversation.

He had a large brown bag that smelled like more of Tina’s muffins and the conversation was momentarily put on hold while they practically jumped him.

“Back off,” he said, lifting the brown bag above all of their heads. “Mine.”

“Gimme,” Willa said.

He put a large hand on her head and held her off. “Get a hold of yourself, woman.”

“But they smell good!”

“Then go get your own,” he said.

“Did you know that Archer and Elle did the deed?” she asked, still eyeing his bag.

Archer was a stone when he wanted to be, giving little of himself away, but Spence . . . Spence was a mile-high, mile-long brick wall. A fortress. But at this question, he did a comical neck twist and stared at Elle.

Be calm, be calm . . . She sipped her tea to give herself a minute. But she clearly didn’t pull off the calm because Spence tossed his head back and laughed.

Elle crossed her arms. “You’re an ass.”

“Yes.” He was still grinning. “But come on, it’s been a long time coming.”

“That’s what we said!” Pru exclaimed.

Spence was still smiling at Elle, fully enjoying her discomfort. “So what do we know?” he asked the girls. “Facts only.”

They started talking at once and he held up a hand. They all promptly zipped it on command. Then he pointed at Willa.

“They were seen arguing,” Willa said. “In the courtyard. And then they moved to the alley.”

Elle stared at her. “How did you—”

Spence pointed at Pru, who continued where Willa left off by saying with glee, “They reportedly shoved each other up against the wall and went at each other.”

“That’s not fact,” Spence chided. “That’s speculation.”

“Okay, true,” Pru allowed. “But they definitely moved to the alley.”

“Oh!” Willa said. “And they broke her love seat! Luis dragged it to the Dumpster this morning.”

Elle felt her face flame.

“Hmm,” Spence said, stroking his chin, smiling at her. As their resident genius, nothing much got by him. Granted, he’d been adrift since selling his start-up last year, not yet having found his thing, but he was still present. As far as she knew, not one of them except herself—and undoubtedly Archer—knew Spence had bought this building. But sometimes he was too smart for his own good and she didn’t want to deal with his opinion of her and Archer because it didn’t matter. She and Archer weren’t a thing. Yes, they’d had a thing, a very momentary thing, but that was over now. Completely. One hundred percent.

At least, she was pretty sure that’s what she’d meant by stay the hell away from me. And anyway, he had. He’d vanished. And on that depressing thought, she headed to the door. “I’m out.”

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