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The front door squeaked as it opened and Jack glanced back, but couldn’t make out his friend’s face in the shadows. A tall man stood silently in the doorway, the light behind him. Jack’s tight grip on Lacey’s shoulders relaxed. Good. He needed another male on his side and Alex Kinton took shit from no one.

Lacey pushed around Jack and stuck out her chin. “I’m so sorry. He dragged me here. I don’t want to burst into your home. I didn’t know—”

“It’s all right. If I needed it, he’d do the same for me.” Alex’s gravelly voice cut her off. The man sounded like he hadn’t spoken in a week.

Her mouth closed abruptly. Alex’s tone and words were firm.

Heavy silence floated in the nippy air, and Jack crossed his fingers that she’d listen.

“OK. If you don’t mind…” Her voice lost its muster.

Alex took a step back, indicating for them to enter. Jack gave Lacey a small push on her back. She reluctantly stepped forward.

Lacey tried to cover her hesitation. Glancing up she got a good look at the man. Drop-dead handsome was her first impression. Emotionless and shuttered was the second. Jack had told her that he and Alex Kinton had been in the same college fraternity and that they’d stayed tight over the years. She gave a weak smile and stepped self-consciously past the big silent man into the house.

Behind her, the men shook hands and slapped each other on the shoulder. Lacey turned in time to see Alex smile, but it was more of an automatic movement of his lips than a smile. Maybe they were imposing on him. She glanced at Jack, who was genuinely delighted to see his friend.

“Damn. It’s good to see you. How’s it goin’?”

“It’s goin’.”

Male bonding.

Jack steered Lacey into the kitchen area. It looked like a female didn’t live in the house. Everything was bare. Counters uncluttered. The absolute basics for furniture. Nothing on the walls. The only personal items she spotted were photos on the fridge. She stepped closer and saw Alex with another man. It had to be a brother. There was too much resemblance with the dark hair and light eyes. Both Alex and the other man had wide grins, but the brother had a bit of a blank look in his gaze. Lacey didn’t see any pictures of women.

“Are you guys hungry?”

The last thing Lacey wanted to do was to take food from this man, but she was starving. She and Jack had made a mad dash through a department store for clothing because he’d refused to take her home. They hadn’t stopped for food.

“God, yes.” Jack apparently didn’t mind eating his friend out of his house.

“The fridge is pretty empty. How ’bout I grab some Chinese?”

Lacey’s stomach growled loudly in response and both men looked at her. Jack with a grin and Alex expressionless.

“I think that’s a yes.” Jack put a proprietary hand on her shoulder, which she promptly shook off. She saw a faint glimmer of amusement flash across Alex’s face.

“Fine. I’ll go grab something.” He met Lacey’s eyes for the first time. “There’s a blue guest room down the hall on the right. There’s an adjoining bath if you want a shower or something.” His gaze brushed her from head to toe and then dismissed her as he left the house.

She felt like he’d found her lacking, and she touched a self-conscious hand to her hair. Her last shower had been before last night’s gala. She’d changed out of her ripped dress into new clothing at the mall, but Alex had looked at her like she wore nasty scrubs from an autopsy.

After Alex left, Lacey stared at the door, looking like a wounded kitten to Jack.

“He hates me.”

“He doesn’t know you.”

“I know. But he didn’t even give me a chance to talk with him first.”

“He talked to you more than he’s talked to any woman in the last year.”

“What?” She blinked.

Jack shrugged. “He’s kind of a loner. He used to be a federal marshal but left the job a while back. I drag him out for beer and a game about once a month.”

“Not married?”

“Divorced. Alex tried to make it work, but it was too much after his brother died.”

“His brother died? Is this him?” Lacey pointed at the picture and Jack nodded.

“He was mentally handicapped. Drowned. Actually was murdered by one of his caretakers.”

“Holy shit.” Lacey couldn’t imagine. “He seems so…”

“Quiet? Reserved?”

She shook her head. “Unhappy.”

Jack pictured Alex’s cool eyes. “He’s been like that since the death. It’s been a few years and he’s never been quite the same.

Lacey stood at the fridge studying the photos. Jack saw her gaze linger on one of Alex and him.

“Let’s find your room.”

She followed him down the hall. He pushed open the first door on the right and found a room painted blue.

Jack dropped the Macy’s shopping bag on the floor and sat heavily on the twin bed. He twisted his back. He’d been tense all day and finally felt like the knots were loosening in his spine. “Alex’s got an impressive security system and probably has a gun in every drawer. This place is like a fortress. He likes to be prepared for anything.”

“A regular Boy Scout.” Lacey sat at a small desk and tentatively peeked in the top drawer. “Looks like he missed a drawer.”