“Let me guess,” she said. “You’d be happy to take it off my hands?”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

“For the record, I never throw money away,” she said, but she slid her hand into the hidden pocket of her wrap, pulling out her emergency twenty, which hadn’t fallen out in the bar. Of course not. It’d had to have been the knife. She gave a mental grimace and handed Eddie the cash.

“Thanks, darlin’.” He slipped the twenty away before kissing her on each cheek. “I’ve got today’s newspaper, can I repay you by giving you your horoscope?”

“Don’t bother. I’m sure mine says ‘please just don’t kill anyone today.’”

He laughed softly. “And it’s no secret who you’d kill either. He’s smart as hell, our boy. Intuitive too and a gifted investigator. He takes care of his own. He’d take a bullet for you—we both know that. But one thing he’s not good at is admitting his feelings.”

“Who?”

He gave her a don’t-be-stupid look.

“Archer?” she asked.

“Well who else do you let drive you crazy?” he asked.

Good point.

He patted her on the arm. “Just remember, there’s not a lot of softness in his life, or room for weakness—of which you’re definitely one. He has absolutely no idea what to do with you, and as an action guy, that’s confusing to him. So maybe think about taking it easy on him. Even just a little bit.”

She sighed and then opened her mouth to say that she and Archer never went easy on each other but the old man had vanished back down his alley, leaving her alone in the night.

The theme song of her life.

She went to pull out her phone to call an Uber and then remembered she’d handed her cell to Spence to hold for her during the distraction. Spence, who was in all likelihood still sitting at the bar. “Dammit.” She headed back across the courtyard and let herself into the pub again.

Spence was indeed at the far right side of the bar, at the area Finn always held open for their gang. But that wasn’t what caught and held her attention. Nope, that honor went to the other side where Archer sat talking to some beautiful woman who was clearly coming on to him, leaning in, a perfectly manicured hand on his biceps. She was smiling with lots of white, straight teeth, her hair carefully tousled in a way that said it was possible she’d just gotten out of bed and wasn’t all that opposed to going back.

Rolling her eyes, Elle headed toward Spence. Pru was with him, as were Willa and Haley. Willa ran South Bark, a one-stop pet shop across the courtyard from the pub. Haley worked at the second-floor optometrist’s office and was currently single, but she and one of Finn’s waitresses had been flirting for several weeks now and everyone had fingers crossed that it’d turn into something good.

Spence slid Elle’s phone across the bar top toward her and then, when he caught the look on her face, passed his glass over as well.

“Jameson?” she asked.

“Only the best for you,” he said, watching with quiet amusement as she tossed it back and then coughed. “Easy, tiger.”

Turning her back on the sight of Archer and the woman, the both of them flirting freely now, she nodded a thanks to Finn, who brought her another drink.

“She came on to him if it helps any,” Willa said, always the peacemaker of the group. Willa had the heart of a saint.

Elle did not. “I couldn’t care less.”

“Uh-huh,” Spence said.

Why were all men assholes? “You know what?” she asked, setting her glass down. “I’m out.”

“Aw, come on.” Spence grabbed her hand. “Stay. I’ll even let you try to kick my ass in darts.”

She pointed at him. “I own you in darts. But no. Not tonight.”

“It’s only ten o’clock.”

“I have to get up early for class and work.”

“Adulting means you get to do whatever you want,” Spence said.

He only said that because he’d sold his start-up two years back for an undisclosed sum, a.k.a. big bucks, and he no longer had to be on the hamster wheel. Instead he bought shit to amuse himself—like this building—and did whatever suited him, which lately had been walking dogs for Willa’s shop. Elle knew he only did so because women were suckers for a man walking their pet. “No, adulting is like”—she searched for the right words—“looking both ways before you cross the street and then getting hit by an airplane.”

He laughed and she started to walk off, but at the last minute she couldn’t help herself. She once again glanced at the other end of the bar where Archer and the woman sat laughing, and she knew she wasn’t smart enough to “go easy” on him or leave well enough alone.

“Elle,” Willa said from behind her. “Honey, maybe whatever you’re planning isn’t a great idea.”

No kidding. “I’m not planning anything,” she said. “I’m being . . . spontaneous.”

“But you’re never spontaneous,” Pru said. “You make a Pinterest board before you change your lip gloss color.”

Dammit. True story. “Hey, that was a secret board that I let you on because you wanted to compare colors. And I know what I’m doing here.”

“But do you really though?” Spence asked.

Ignoring them, Elle headed toward Archer, unsure of exactly what was bothering her so much about the way he was letting that woman come on to him. Okay, that was a lie. She knew exactly what was bothering her and it was the fact that he never flirted with her. Absurd. Ridiculous. Asinine . . .

And yet did she stop? No, she did not. She kept heading right for them, leaning in between them to pat Archer on the shoulder. “Hey, nice to see you out and about,” she said, all friendly-like. “Your full body rash must be all cleared up then . . . ?” She trailed off, letting her gaze run over him from head to toe, lingering quite by accident on his crotch because as it turned out, Trudy was right. He did indeed have an impressive-looking package.

Archer gave a slow shake of his head, a small almost smile playing about his lips. “Nice to see you, Candy,” he said calmly, the jackass.

She sent him an eat-shit-and-die look, and in return he smiled a full two hundred watts.

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