Page 16

Silence. Because why argue the truth?

Zoe looked uncomfortable.

Not AJ. In fact, Darcy had never seen the guy look uncomfortable, ever. It didn’t matter what he was doing, calmly digging into her knotted muscles while she swore and cursed at him, plowing his way across the football field with the guys, or running the wellness center and all the people in it with his endless, legendary calm—he never looked anything less than completely confident.

She could hate him for that alone.

AJ took another sip from his coffee while with his other hand he turned off the burner under the bacon pan, expertly flicked the pieces onto a plate layered with paper towels, and walked the plate to the table.

“Coffee?” Zoe asked Darcy. “I made you decaffeinated in the hopes you’d sleep better.”

“Did you serve AJ decaffeinated?”

“Hell no,” AJ said. “Coffee without caffeine is like sex without a woman.” His phone went off. He looked at the screen and then moved to the door. “Gotta go.”

“But you didn’t get to eat,” Zoe said.

“Next time.” He glanced back at Darcy. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

“I don’t go back on my word,” she said. And plus now she owed him, which really chapped her hide.

Zoe shifted uneasily. “Listen, there’s got to be someone else who could do this for you, AJ. Maybe someone who …” She broke off and glanced guiltily at Darcy.

“Maybe someone who what?” Darcy asked, eyes narrowed.

Zoe winced. “Maybe someone better suited to handle the social pressure of representing AJ’s work.”

Darcy sucked in a breath and tried to act like that didn’t hurt more than her aching leg.

“Honey, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings,” Zoe rushed on when Darcy stared at her. “But this is really important to him and you’re good at lots of things, but social stuff isn’t one of them. And then there’s the problem that the two of you don’t exactly see eye to eye.”

They saw eye to eye just fine, Darcy thought grimly. And for three glorious minutes they’d once seen lips to lips, but hey, he hadn’t wanted her and she could deal with that. Someday. When she was old and gray and no longer had estrogen in her body. Maybe. “I am a representation of his work,” she said.

AJ, clearly knowing better than to get in the middle of a sister “discussion,” remained silent. If he had any reservations about bringing her, he kept them close to his vest.

Like he did just about everything—except for how he felt about her. He’d made that pretty damn clear. Whatever. She’d deal with that, too.


AJ left Zoe and Darcy’s house and told himself things were all good. Darcy was going to go to Boise with him.

Sure they’d be trapped together for the long car ride, but he couldn’t obsess about it.

Nor would he obsess about what Darcy had been wearing when she’d stumbled into her kitchen fresh out of bed—a thin cotton cami and holy shit short shorts.

He shook the memory off with shocking difficulty and pulled up to the small ranch house where he’d grown up. The neighborhood hadn’t changed much. Still a hardworking, blue-collar street, the vehicles were mostly Americanmade trucks better cared for than the yards.

AJ’s dad had renovated the house a decade back during one long summer with AJ’s help.

They’d nearly killed each other, several times over.

Retired Navy Captain James Mitchell Colten hadn’t softened much over the years. If anything, the opposite had happened. Back when AJ had been a little kid missing his mom after she’d died, his dad hadn’t known what to do with him. So he’d gone with what he knew and had treated AJ like one of his good little soldiers. Except AJ hadn’t exactly been good.

There’d been a lot of pretty rough years with badass ’tude going head-to-head with badder-ass ’tude. Because in Captain Colten’s house, talking back hadn’t been tolerated.

Suck it up, soldier.

That had been his dad’s favorite line, but in hindsight AJ knew the guy had done the best he could. AJ had done his best, too. And because he’d never been good at following orders and the chain of command, he’d not gone the career Navy route as his dad had wanted.

And still hated.

But they’d gotten better at compromise with time. Or maybe AJ had just come to understand his dad and the man’s need for rules. After all, without them, chaos reigned.

He had his own rules, and for the most part he abided by them. The lone exception had been almost taking advantage of what Darcy had offered that dark night eight months ago.

He let himself into his dad’s house and wasn’t too surprised to find him already up, showered, and dressed. Years ago he’d been as tall as AJ, though age had robbed him of a few inches. Age had also softened much of his bulky muscles, but he still could kick ass when he wanted. He stood staring down at a pan full of frying sausage.

Not turkey sausage, either.

“Dad,” AJ said. “The doctor was clear about your cholesterol—”

“It’s all new age bullshit. A man can’t live without sausage.”

“Actually,” AJ said, “a man could live a lot longer without sausage.”

His dad glowered at him and jabbed a fork in his direction. “I’ve put in my time. If I want to go to the big buffet in the sky by way of sausage, I’m entitled. Besides, there’s nothing else good to eat for breakfast.”