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And her dignity.

Damn him all to hell. “Well,” she said, blowing out a breath and relaxing a bit. “This has been fun.”


She choked out a laugh. “You know, I’m always a little bit disappointed when someone calls someone a liar and their pants don’t catch on fire.”

His eyes smiled. “You want my pants to catch on fire?”

Not going there … “Any special reason why you were intimidating Xander back there?” she asked. “Or was it just for sport?”

AJ’s gaze slid away to take in the retreating man in question, who’d been stopped by Ariana to talk. “You think I intimidated him?”

“Like you, he’s hard to intimidate,” she said. “But unlike you, he’s afraid of me and my wrath so he backed off.”

“And you don’t think I’m afraid of you?” he asked.

Valid question. As far as she knew, just about everyone was afraid of her. Crazy Darcy. Bitchy Darcy. Wild Darcy. But she slowly shook her head. “I don’t think you’re afraid of anything,” she said.

The corners of his mouth curved as if her statement amused him, but also maybe wasn’t quite accurate. But she sincerely couldn’t imagine the big, built, ex-military man standing in front of her being afraid of a damn thing.

And anyway, why was he here talking to her? He rarely did unless he had to. “Did you need to talk to me about work?” she asked.

“No. Well, yes, kind of,” he said. “I’m going to Boise this weekend.”

“To meet up with your potential grant sponsor. I e-mailed you all the hotel and registration info, for both you and Seth. It’s a retreat weekend, did you know that? It’s some big team-building thing for all the guy’s employees. Be prepared for Seth to freak out when he sees how many people will be there.”

“Yeah, about that …” AJ rubbed a hand over the sexy scruff on his jaw and it made a sound that reminded her how it felt to have a man kiss her. All over.

Damn, she missed sex.

“Seth already freaked out,” AJ said.

“Uh-oh.” She tried to read him but he could be military stoic and impenetrable when he wanted, giving nothing away. “What happened?”

“He said that he can’t be on display.”

Ah. Now she knew why he was still standing there talking to her. “Sounds like a problem for you,” she said slowly.

“Yes. It is.”

She stared at him some more, thinking, Oh hell no. Then she said it out loud just in case her expression wasn’t clear enough. “Oh hell no, AJ.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You were thinking it,” she said, pointing at him. “You want me to go instead.”

“I do,” he said calmly.

She didn’t realize she was shaking her head in the negative until he spoke.

“You’ve got an amazing comeback story,” he said. “And since I was your PT, I can personally attest to your recovery and exactly how amazing it was.”

“You want to profit from that?”

“No,” he said, his voice still perfectly even, but something flashed in his eyes.



“I want others like you to profit from it,” he said. “With donations for grants, I can help more people when their insurance cuts them off before they’re ready to stop PT.”

Emotion swamped her, unexpected and hot. Shame. A man like AJ would never try to profit off another. Never. “I’m sorry,” she managed. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have said—”

“It’s just one night,” he said, clearly not wanting or needing her apology. “Just a dinner. I’ll help you through it.”


“You don’t want to be on display, either,” he said. “I get it.”

No, she didn’t want to be on display. So badly she didn’t. She still felt self-conscious when her sister and brother watched her walk, much less other people. And talking about her accident and the recovery? Her biggest nightmare.

And yet he wanted her to do exactly that, where so many strange sets of eyes would be on her.

Horror. “No—”

“I’ll pay you,” he said, still quiet, still calm in the face of her panic.

She just stared at him.

“Cash. A thousand bucks. That’s enough for what, three dogs?”

Her mouth fell open. “Yeah, but … why? Why would you pay me?”

“Because you have a cause, and I’m a sucker for a cause that involves anything with four legs.”

Oh, damn. Damn, that was a good answer.

He looked at the time on his phone. “I’ve gotta go. Think about it and let me know.”

And then he was gone.

One night, she told herself. One dinner. And in return, money for more dogs.

How hard could it be?

She was afraid she knew the answer to that question.

That night she lay facedown on the tattoo table, her Queen tank top rolled up to just beneath her breasts, holding her breath as Xander worked his magic.

“Breathe, sweetness,” he said.

“Can’t.” Her fingers were wrapped around the edges of the table so tight she was probably leaving permanent indentations. “Holy … crap,” she gasped. “Holy effing crap.”

He stopped the torture, aka the tattoo he was creating alongside the scar from her spinal surgery.