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So it wasn’t often that Darcy saw either of them blowing off steam, and yet here they were, going a little nuts, letting their hair down with each other in a way she’d not been privy to. Something tightened in her gut at that. Yep. She was jealous of their easy friendship. Totally and completely jealous.

With the loud music and their even louder singing, AJ couldn’t have possibly heard her approach, but he suddenly looked up and locked eyes right on her.

Zoe turned and smiled in surprise. “Hey,” she said, breathless. “Hungry? I mean it’s turkey bacon and whole wheat pancakes because Mr. Won’t Pollute His Body With Crap here wouldn’t let me pull out the pork and white flour, but actually it all tastes pretty good.”

Darcy had never been picky when it came to food, especially food she didn’t have to cook. But suddenly she wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. “No, I’m good, but thanks.”

Oreo barked. He was feeling sorry for himself and the lack of bacon that had fallen into his mouth.

“You sure you’re not hungry?” Zoe asked Darcy, who understood her sister’s shock because she was almost always hungry.

She didn’t let herself look at the pancakes. “Nope.”

“I suppose that’s due to the empty bag of potato chips I found on the counter this morning,” Zoe said. “Middle-of-the-night munchies again?”

“Yep,” Darcy said, avoiding AJ’s steady gaze. God forbid he’d ever be tempted by something like trans fats. “A girl needs to keep her strength up.”

“I had carrots and celery cut up in the fridge,” Zoe said. “I thought you were going to try and go for healthy snacks on your middle-of-the-night prowls.”

“Hey, I dipped the chips into your cottage cheese,” Darcy said. “That’s healthy, right?”

Zoe didn’t look amused. In fact, she looked worried. “You’re not sleeping again.”

Again? Still …

“Honey, you need to try the things the doctors suggested,” Zoe said. “Yoga, and long, warm baths, and reading before bed to wear out your brain, something frothy and fun like a good, juicy romance.”

None of those things appealed. In fact, all of those things made her feel grumpy.

Or grumpier.

AJ didn’t say anything. He was like that. Quiet when it mattered. He knew when to push and he knew when to back off. He knew just about everything, damn him.

Which reminded her that she needed to give him an answer about Boise. Her belly quivered at the thought of going. She hated being the center of attention, but not nearly as much as she hated talking about her accident. Purposely recalling those long, terrifying months of not knowing when or if she’d ever walk again, or the equally long months that had followed, during which she’d worked her ass off every single day in PT with the man in front of her.

She hated the thought of facing any of it, and yet AJ needed her to do exactly that.

One dinner.

That’s all he’d asked. Actually, it’s all he’d ever asked of her. Well, that and her blood, sweat, and tears as he’d pushed, coaxed, and bullied her into walking again.

The house phone rang and Zoe flicked off the music and looked at the caller ID. “It’s work,” she said. “I’ll take it in the other room.” She grabbed the cordless receiver and moved into the living room.

Darcy took the few steps to the island and pilfered a piece of turkey bacon. Huh. Zoe had been right. It wasn’t bad. She might’ve even admitted so out loud except she was getting an odd vibe from AJ. “What?” she asked him.

“You’re … not dressed.”

She looked down at herself in her little cami and boxer set. Her nipples thrust against the thin material like they were trying to make a break for it.

Yikes. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Sorry. I smelled bacon.”

AJ gave a slow shake of his head. “Don’t be sorry. I’m not.”

Wait. Had he just … flirted with her? Unsure, she searched his features, but he was back to the food, flipping pancakes, eyes hooded from her.

Sensing the tension, Oreo hid behind Darcy’s legs and whined.

AJ set down the tongs in his hand and crouched low, whistling softly.

Unbelievably, Oreo wriggled so much his back end became a blur as he scooted to AJ and leaned into his touch.

Or maybe not so unbelievably. After all, Darcy knew the wonder of AJ’s calming touch firsthand. There’d been several times during a PT session when she’d gone off the rails. As in completely lost her collective shit.

Each time, AJ had crouched at her side and spoken to her in that soft but steely voice that could melt the North Pole, sliding his big, warm hand to the nape of her hot and sweaty neck, gently squeezing, rubbing away her stress, bringing on other emotions she didn’t want to face right now.

Or ever.

She turned to go. “Come on, Oreo. We’re out.”

Oreo didn’t come on. He stayed in the warm, strong circle of AJ’s arms.

Fine. She’d go without him.

“Running off?” AJ asked.

“Yeah. I’ve gotta …” She gestured vaguely behind her in a way that could have meant anything: taking a shower, watching paint dry, getting a lobotomy … because watching him stroke Oreo made her want to be stroked, too.

By him.

Oreo tilted his head up and sent AJ an adoring look.

“Benedict Arnold,” Darcy muttered to the dog—and her own libido. “Come.”