“I do. Get me out of here so I can go fix this.”

Spence was out front in Archer’s truck as planned. There were three additional faces pressed against the back passenger window. Not planned.

“No,” Archer said.

The back window rolled down and all three faces started talking at once.

“We can help,” Pru said.

“You might need us to plead your case,” Willa said.

“Because you’re alpha,” Kylie explained. “Alphas suck at apologies.”

“Besides we always do this as a group,” Willa said. “It’s our thing.”

“How?” Archer asked. “How is this our thing?”

“Remember Finn groveling to Pru on the roof?” she asked. “We were all there. And then when Willa had to grovel to Keane at his house on Christmas Eve? We were there too. See? It’s our thing.”

Too tired to argue, Archer sank gratefully onto the passenger seat and let out a careful breath.

“You need a nap first, old man?” Spence asked.

He could nap when he was dead. He slid a long look at Spence, who grinned.

“Just saying, you look a little rough. Maybe you want to wait until—”

“No,” Archer said. “Elle’s waited long enough for me to get my head out of my ass.”

From the backseat, Willa clapped her hands and bounced up and down. “Are you going to grovel? You’re going to, right? I want to see it!”

“Do you need some groveling tips?” Kylie asked.

Since it hurt like hell to crane his neck, he had to be happy with sending them both dirty looks via the rearview mirror.

Kylie held up a sleeping Vinnie. “Look,” she said. “A puppy.”

Willa snorted at this attempt at distraction and took Vinnie to cuddle him close.

“Where to?” Spence asked.

They all stared at each other, making Archer realize that they actually really didn’t know where Elle was.

“She’s not at her office,” Spence said.

“Nor at home,” Kylie said. “I went by there.”

Archer leaned back and closed his eyes to think. Clearly she’d wanted to be alone. Why? To lick her wounds. She’d never liked an audience when she was hurting or feeling vulnerable. He had no doubt that wherever she was, she was holed up by herself, thinking too hard. Which would lead to bad memories from the past, their past, probably all the way back to when this whole thing had started, and just like that he knew. “I know where she is,” he said, straightening in his seat. “But I’ve got a detour to make first.”

Half an hour later, just as the sun was setting, Archer directed Spence to the park where he’d first met Elle that long ago fateful night.

“There,” Willa said as they parked, pointing to the battered playground that included monkey bars, a swing set, and a slide attached to a jungle gym. The grass had died long ago, if there’d ever been any in the first place, leaving overgrown weeds.

A figure sat on one of those two swings, a curvy, beautiful blonde overdressed for the neighborhood. Possibly the first person to ever sit on one of those swings in four-inch heels.

It was almost funny to him that he’d warned himself not to fall for her because his life was so dangerous, when the truth was that her life had sometimes been much more dangerous than his.

His heart had been sitting heavily in his gut ever since he’d realized she’d taken off on him and it didn’t go back to its designated spot in his chest now either. She’d had a messed-up childhood but in spite of that, or maybe because of it, she’d become the most amazing woman he’d ever met. He’d tried to tell himself that she wasn’t for him, that she deserved far better, and that was all still true.

But he didn’t want to let her go.

He got out of the truck and turned back when he heard everyone else shift to get out as well. “Stay,” he said.

“But—”

“But—”

“But—”

He held up his good hand. “I’ve got this.”

“You sure?” Willa asked doubtfully.

No. And actually, he’d never been less sure of anything in his life. “I have to do this alone.”

They all nodded reluctantly.

“I’ll call you when I need a ride back,” he said.

“It’s kinda cute that he thinks we’re leaving, isn’t it?” Willa asked Spence.

“Yeah, but is it cute or delusional?” Spence asked.

“Both,” Pru said. “With more than a touch of ego.”

Taking in a deep breath, Archer turned and walked across the sand pit and grass, heading toward the swings.

 

Elle saw him coming and braced herself. She’d come out here to remember. To think. To put things in perspective, but although she’d been here a while, she hadn’t been succeeding at any of it. Not until Archer had shown up with the cavalry, whom he’d apparently told to stay put.

And of course they had.

They loved him. They’d do anything for him, including—she thought a little darkly—help him find her.

She couldn’t be mad. She’d needed this, needed him to come after her.

She had to admit to herself she was impressed that he’d located her. But then again, when Archer wanted something, he was doggedly determined, and against all the odds, he wanted her. She knew that much. Just as she knew she’d run scared. It’d never been about her doubting him. It was her doubting herself. She had no track record at this love game and it terrified her how much power her feelings for Archer held over her.

He didn’t attempt to get on the swing next to her but sat on the bench facing her, looking pale and shaky, making her heart squeeze.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“No. My arm and shoulder are on fire and my balance is shit.” He paused and let out a low laugh. “But just the sight of you has me finally breathing again, so there’s that. Will you sit with me, Elle? And notice that I asked, because you like to be asked, not told. See? Learning new tricks.”

She smiled at that, but he didn’t. “We need to talk, Elle.”

Her smile faded. Nothing good had ever come from those four words. “I don’t have anything to say.”

“That’s okay, I do.” He patted the bench with his good hand.

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