He heard her blow out a breath. “Sure. I know that.”

“Then stop worrying.”

“Who me? Worry? Ha.”

He smiled, and let her hear it in his voice. “You have other things to concentrate on. Like Not-Abigail, who’ll be here before you know it. So stop giving Nick gray hairs and relax. If he knows you’ve been wasting your time worrying about me, he’ll try to kick my ass, and then I’ll have to kick his ass, and it’ll be a whole ass-kicking thing, and you’ll get pissed.”

“Okay, fine. You’re fine, we’re all fine. I’ll just go back to the kitchen, where I’ll be barefoot and pregnant and a useless piece of fluff.”

Annie had never, ever, not once, been a piece of fluff, and as a result, he and his brothers had their lives to show for it. He laughed. “You promise?”

She disconnected, and he grinned. She was no longer worried, she was pissy. He texted Nick.

Mission accomplished.

As he slipped his phone away, he looked up with a frown, realizing Harley had been gone for at least five minutes. He scanned the trail as far as he could see, which wasn’t far with the overgrown landscape blocking the way. He listened but heard nothing more than the usual Sierra sounds.

A pinecone falling a hundred feet from a tree, then hitting the ground.

Squirrels chattering.

The rush of a creek not far off.

But no footsteps indicating Harley’s movements, no rustling of her clothing.

Nothing. More than nothing, an utter lack of a sense of her existence at all.

She was gone.

Fuck. He whipped out his cell and called hers, but it switched right over to voice mail. Either she’d turned it off or hit IGNORE. Both options sucked.

It took him a surprising and uncomfortable quarter of a mile before he came around a corner and caught up with her.

She’d been hauling ass, hoping to lose him. In spite of the quickly cooling afternoon, a few damp tendrils of hair were stuck to her face, and she was breathing hard. Her eyes were flashing with heat and not the good kind.

He understood that perfectly. He felt the heat of a rare temper himself. “How was your phone call?”

She had the good grace to blush. “Great. Fine.”

“You could have just told me you didn’t want me to come with you, Harley.”

“Helloooo, I did!”

“Is my company that bad?”

She hesitated, and her gaze skittered away. He might have conceded the battle right then and there, and faced the fact that she’d really rather be alone-except for one thing.

Actually, two.

The pulse at the base of her neck was tattooing a frantic beat.

And her ni**les were hard.

Since he doubted very much she was cold after that run she’d just taken, he got his first flash of satisfaction for the day.

Harley knew that TJ was a tracker at heart. What she hadn’t known was just how good he was. It’d taken him less than five minutes to find her, and when he did, she’d nearly swallowed her tongue. She was trying to be cool, when in reality, she was sweating, huffing for breath, and very close to nervous laughter. “It actually took you longer to catch up with me than I thought it would,” she said. “You must be losing your touch.”

“You lied to me.”

Oh boy. His eyes were glittering dangerously, which seemed in direct opposition to the slight quirk of his mouth, as if she was amusing him almost against his will. “I omitted,” she corrected. “Big difference. Though to be honest, I was thinking about lying to you. I was thinking about telling you that I hurt my ankle and that I needed you to go back down and get help.”

“You’d do that?”

“Yes, but Cam said that wouldn’t work. I called him to complain about you, but he wasn’t too sympathetic. He said there was a pool going, to see who would kill who first. I put a ten in on me. Killing you.”

She had no idea why she was baiting him. Except it was giving her a rush she hadn’t felt in a long time.

“I wouldn’t have left you,” he said. “I’d have carried you out.”

“Yeah, that was con number one.”

“What were the others?”

“Having you hold me again.”

“Again? What-” He gritted his teeth as his cell phone vibrated. “Search and Rescue.” He looked at her as he dropped his pack. “I have to take this.”

“So take it.”

“If you take off on me, I’ll find you and I’ll-”

She arched a brow, having no idea why the words sent a dark thrill through her instead of sparking her temper. Probably the aforementioned lack of orgasms. “And?”

“And…Jesus. Just stay,” he commanded. “Or I’ll…something.”

It was a desperate, empty threat, and worse, they both knew it.

TJ had to move back down the steep, narrow path about fifty yards to get clear enough reception for his cell conversation. The Search and Rescue team was shorthanded, so he agreed to be on call for the next two days. He then made his way back to where he’d left Harley, holding his breath.

She’d dropped her pack and was sitting on a rock, eating an apple. She laughed at the expression on his face.


He supposed it shouldn’t turn him on to be standing there while she mocked him, but it was Harley. She’d been turning him on, upside down, and every other possible way for so damn long, he was at a loss as to whether he wanted to strangle her or kiss her.