One pissed-off goddess who he absolutely wouldn’t mind having his baby.

“Are you actually telling me you’d want kids?” she asked in disbelief. “And be careful here, Archer, because you’ve very purposely perpetuated the image of impenetrable badass. You’re an island and you don’t need anyone, you never have. In fact, it’s taken you by my calculations eleven years to want . . .”

“A relationship,” he supplied helpfully.

“Yes,” she said. “That. Eleven years, Archer. So I’m not sure how I’m supposed to believe that you see yourself with a white picket fence, the same woman every night, and . . .” She appeared to struggle for what might be worse than a white picket fence and the same woman every night. “And a tricycle in the front yard!” she came up with triumphantly. “Because honestly, you just don’t fit the profile.”

He realized he was going to have to give her something to get anything in return. “I agree,” he said. “I’ve led the life I’ve wanted and it’s been a selfish lifestyle, not leaving much room for a relationship.”

“Convenient.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “It has been. When I left the force, I did so with the knowledge that I’d be walking the line between right and legal. I also knew I’d be cutting myself off from a family who wouldn’t understand what I was doing, or why. I did it knowing I’d be alone because I couldn’t ask anyone else to get on board with it all, and I was good with that.”

She stared at him. “But . . . ? Because I sense a big one.”

“But,” he said, “although I would’ve sworn that everything in my life was just as I wanted it . . . something’s been missing.”

She hadn’t blinked. Hell, he wasn’t sure she was breathing. “I’m not ready for this conversation. I’m still mad at you. If you want to discuss that, I’m totally game.”

“Let’s do it,” he said.

“You’ve been meddling in my life this whole time, keeping tabs on me like I was your responsibility.”

“The college thing doesn’t count,” he said.

She stilled and the room temperature dropped twenty degrees. “What?” she asked very quietly.

Oh shit. “What?” he repeated, taking a step back, both mentally and physically. “You know what? It’s late. You’re tired. So am I. We’ll just circle back to this another time—”

She picked up a pillow from the couch and chucked it at his head with deadly accuracy.

His own fault. He’d been teaching her all year how to play darts in the pub and she was a quick learner.

“You got me my job and into college?” she asked in an outside voice.

Note to self: never speak first. “I wrote a letter of recommendation,” he said. “That’s all. I knew someone on the admission committee.”

She stared at him for a full minute and then backed to the couch and sat. She blindly reached out for another pillow and he stepped toward her, intending to grab it and ward off another attack but she pressed it to her stomach and huddled into herself a little.

Blowing out a breath, he sank next to her. “You weren’t given any breaks growing up. I hated that for you. Everything I did, I only wanted to help.”

“Helping would have been calling me and asking if I wanted the assist,” she said. “Instead you’ve been acting like a puppet master, directing my life. I hate that, Archer.”

He took the pillow from her and put his hands on her arms, turning her to face him. “I’m not a puppet master. I didn’t direct you in any way. I just . . .” He shook his head. “Gave you a helping hand when you needed one.”

“But it wasn’t help I wanted from you. I wanted—”

“What?” he asked when she broke off. “You wanted what from me?” Say it . . .

But she only shook her head.

He sighed. “Look, you didn’t need my help. But you had no one else. I just wanted to make sure you were safe. And protected.”

“Because that’s what you do, right?” she asked. “You keep people safe and protected.”

“Well, yeah,” he said, not sure they were having the same conversation.

She shook her head. “See, that makes me a job to you. And that’s the one thing I never wanted to be, Archer.”

He stepped into her path, pulling her in until they were toe-to-toe. “I need you to listen to me,” he said. “Can you do that?”

“Depends on the level of bullshit you’re going to try and feed me.”

A rough laugh escaped him and he dropped his forehead to hers, taking it as a very good sign when she didn’t try to knee him in the ’nads or gouge his eyes out. “No bullshit,” he said quietly, willing her to really hear him. Risking his life, he stepped even closer because the only thing he had going for him was their sheer physical chemistry. And yeah, he was enough of a dick to use that if he had to. Anything to make sure she heard what he had to say. He waited until she met his gaze, and even then he nearly drowned in the blue depths.

“That night,” he told her, “there was just something about you. You came onto my radar and”—he shook his head—“you stayed there. I was worried about you staying safe.” And alive . . . “I don’t have a lot of nesting instincts, Elle, but you brought out the ones I had. I wanted to put you in a hot shower, wrap you up in a blanket, and feed you.” His smile was wry. “And then I wanted to make you sleep and watch over you while you did.”

“You did all that,” she reminded him. “You took me to the urgent care and then brought me home with you like I was a half-drowned puppy. You fed me and put me to bed. Alone,” she added. “Even though I asked if you expected to be paid with sex.” She shook her head. “You laughed. I was serious and you laughed at me.”

“Elle, you were bleeding, drenched from the rain, and wearing only shorts and a tank top and no shoes. Trust me, I wasn’t laughing. I was pissed off at the life you’d been forced to lead. You’d seen shit you should never have seen. You’d done shit you never should have had to do. I wanted to kick someone’s ass for that. Still do.”

She stared at him and maybe it was his imagination but she looked a little less mad. “In the morning you fed me again,” she said. “Scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast.”

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