Trudy loved Spence. Trudy also knew Spence didn’t cook—unless popping a Hot Pocket into the microwave counted—and she knew his tastes. He wasn’t fond of vegetables aside from corn on the cob, hated anything green unless it was a gummy bear, and basically had the appetite of a tween.
“My point,” Spence said, watching Caleb shopping his fridge shelves, “is that you’re not being hounded by the press.”
Caleb shrugged. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t stupid enough to talk to them in the first place. Nor do I have a tragic background or fumble the ball with the ladies.”
Spence scowled and slouched further in his chair. “I thought I was doing a friend a favor.”
Caleb pulled out some Tupperware, and when he moaned, Spence knew he’d found Trudy’s homemade lasagna. “Oh my God,” the guy said. “I want to marry Trudy.”
“She’s twenty years too old for you and she’s currently married for the third, or maybe it’s the fourth, time—to her ex-husband. Luis would kick your ass.”
“I don’t even care.” Caleb was eating right out of the container. “And we have no friends to do favors for, remember? Not real ones, you know that. Or you should by now.”
“I have friends.”
“Yeah. Me, and Archer and Finn and Willa.” Caleb cocked his head and gave it some thought. “Oh, and possibly Elle, though I’m still not convinced she’s human.”
“No one’s convinced Elle’s human.” Spence shrugged. “But you guys are all I need.”
Caleb jabbed his fork in Spence’s direction. “If that was true, you wouldn’t be moping around like you have since you sold your start-up. Or maybe it’s since Clarissa.”
Getting up because the lasagna sounded good, Spence snatched the Tupperware from Caleb. “I don’t mope.”
“Like a baby wanting its mama.” Undeterred, Caleb turned back to the fridge to see what else he could mooch. “I take it you’re suddenly blocked on your drone project?”
“So you’re blocked. It happens.”
“When? When does it happen?” Spence asked. “Because more than anyone else I know, you’re a lot like me and you’re not blocked.”
“First of all, we’re not that much alike.”
Spence just looked at him.
“Okay, so we’re both smart and a little bit techy. Whatever. But on me, it’s sexier.”
Spence rolled his eyes.
“And second of all,” Caleb said, “I don’t get blocked as much as you because I get sex regularly. Sex is the answer, man.”
“Everything,” Caleb said. “Sex is always the answer. And I’m pretty sure you haven’t had any in way too long.”
All true, but he’d never been all that good at emotionless, unattached sex. Unfortunately, he was even worse at emotional sex.
Caleb didn’t seem bogged down by the same baggage. Spence was pretty sure the rugged cowboy look didn’t hurt much either. The guy was every bit as smart as Spence, but unlike Spence, he didn’t struggle in social situations. He could talk to a five-year-old throwing a tantrum in the courtyard, the geriatric blue-hairs who spent their mornings in the coffee shop, or anyone in between and they all unequivocally loved him.
Caleb’s phone buzzed. He pulled it out and frowned.
“What?” Spence asked.
“It’s Elle. Which isn’t fair. She told me to lose her number and yet she’s allowed to contact me—” He broke off as he read the text.
Caleb lifted his head. “There’s a woman? Why didn’t you say so? Now you can test my theory about the sexy times unblocking you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Elle said there’s a new woman in the building and that you’re going to be stupid about her and go for it, so I should babysit you so that you can’t,” Caleb said. “Except I’m all for you going for it.” He deleted Elle’s text. “Whoops.” He looked at Spence. “So. Is she hot?”
Spence shut the fridge and gave Caleb a nudge that might’ve been more like a shove to the door.
“Let me guess. Visit time’s over,” Caleb said dryly.
Spence opened the door.
“Fine.” In the hall between the front door and the elevator, Caleb turned back to him. “Do me a favor. Don’t give her an interview.” Then, cracking his own ass up, Caleb got on the elevator just as Joe came out the stairwell.
Joe looked surprised to see Spence just standing there in the hallway. “Hey. What’s up?”
Spence crossed his arms, no longer willing to even pretend to be having a good time. “You first.”
As a rule, Joe was unflappable. Impenetrable. A virtual stone when he wanted to be. Always cool under pressure and usually make-a-joke-in-every-situation, and yet he rocked back on his heels, his hands shoved in his front pockets. Uncomfortable.
“Talk,” Spence said.
“It’s . . . nothing.”
“Or . . .?”
Joe blew out a breath. “She wants me to run the new girl.”
No need to ask what “she.” Elle, of course, being mama bear. Joe had access to some serious search programs. Once Spence had searched himself on the system and had learned he’d skipped both first and second grades, going straight to third—which he’d actually had no memory of doing. He scrubbed a hand down his face. “Why didn’t she ask Archer to do it?”
“Because she knows Archer would’ve said no. He’s not afraid of her like the rest of us are.”
“You were Special Ops,” Spence said. “You still have all your skills. You could just stand up to her.”
“Look, no one says no to Elle, okay?”
“Well start,” Spence said.
Joe pulled his not-ringing phone from his pocket and stared at the dark screen like he wished a call would come through and save him from this conversation.
“You’re not going to research Colbie,” Spence said. “It’s no one’s business if she’s got secrets. And tell Elle that I’ll fire her nosy ass if she doesn’t chill.”
Joe grimaced. “Aw, man, I can’t tell her that. Why do you hate me?”
Spence shook his head. If Joe told Elle no, she’d just find another way. “Okay, new plan. Just find a way to put her off before you run her. Blame work, I don’t care.”
“I’ll try,” Joe said. “But it’s going to cost you too. Big.”
“You’re not going to fly one of my drones again,” Spence said. “We never found the two you lost.”
“Hey, those drones were faulty.”
Spence rolled his eyes.
“Fine. What I want is an entire tray of Trudy’s five-meat and cheese lasagna for myself.”
Joe was constantly hungry, and constantly on the hunt for food. The guy was built like an MMA fighter, lean, solid muscle. Spence had no idea where he put all the food. “Seriously, you’re a grown-ass man, one who’s been trained in a million different ways to kill someone. Why do you let Elle terrify you?”
Joe didn’t bite. He just pointed at Spence. “Forget it. Deal’s off.” And then he pivoted on his heel and headed back to the stairwell.
“Chickenshit,” Spence called.
“Sticks and stones, man. You’re on your own.”
Which meant leaving Elle sniffing around, butting in, because that’s what she did. Most of the time, Spence appreciated it. But for whatever reason, he didn’t want her snooping around in Colbie’s personal life. He wasn’t trying to be stupid, but it felt wrong. “I’ll pay you a thousand dollars to hold off checking into Colbie’s background for at least a week.”
Joe turned back, brows raised. “Okay, you have my full attention.”
“Are you serious? You’ll get Elle out of my hair for money?”
“Hell yeah.” Joe paused. “But when she finds out and kills me, I want an open casket. A week is all you want?”