Page 19

AJ, of course. He saw everything, always, and he certainly saw right through her. She wasn’t sure if she was annoyed or secretly thrilled when he broke away from Remy and caught her before she vanished.

“Hey,” he said, hand on her arm, turning her to face him. He looked her over very carefully, taking in the mess that was her Styx tank, her jeans with all the questionable stains on them, and her battered, mud-covered boots.

“Don’t touch,” she warned. “I’m disgusting.”

Reaching out, he pulled something from her hair. She didn’t want to know what.

There was something in his gaze. A seriousness, and … irritation? Well, that wasn’t exactly new, so she shouldn’t be surprised that she’d managed to piss him off without trying. She looked around for a distraction but no one was paying them any attention, especially Wyatt, who had Emily in a clutch, kissing her, slow and lingering, with as much eye contact as lip contact.

Something deep in Darcy sighed. “Well,” she said, “this has been fun but I’m going to go hazmat myself now.”

“In a minute.” Holding her still, AJ met her gaze.

Annoyingly breathless, she tried to disappear. “I don’t have time for this, AJ.”

“You have a damn minute.” He reeled her back in, smoothed the hair away from her face, and peered into it. “You okay?”

And just like that, she came undone. She always did when he looked at her like this, his eyes dark and assessing. Controlled and, yeah, still cranky but also … warm. Caring. There was never any doubt of that, though she was hard-pressed to understand why.

She knew exactly how hard she was to care about. “I’m good,” she managed.

He shook his head, not buying what she was selling.

“I ran a puppy training class with Adam,” she said. “I’m covered in mud, questionable muck, and most definitely puppy pee, and I ache from head to toe, especially the head part. And now that you know everything there is to know, I’m going to the shower and I’m not coming out until next week. When I do come out, I’m going to hunt down my purse, which I think I just dropped by the front door, grab some Advil, and go straight to bed. If that meets with your approval, of course.”

And then, without waiting for his response, she took the stairs and escaped into her bathroom, where she locked the door, stripped, and cranked the hot water.

Just before she stepped in there was a knock. Only one person would dare, and she didn’t have the energy to deal with him. “Go away.”

“Open up.”

AJ, of course, and he didn’t sound any happier than he’d been a minute ago. Well, he could join her damn club now, couldn’t he? She shook her head, realized he couldn’t see her, and cleared her throat. “Why?”

“I’ve got Gummy Bears.”

She wrapped herself in a towel and cracked open the door. He stuck his foot in, muscled the door open, and strode in.

“Hey!” She tightened her grip on the towel and glared at him. “And where are the Gummy Bears?”

“I lied.” His face was quiet, calm. Almost blank. Which, as she was beginning to learn when it came to AJ, meant he was feeling the exact opposite, proven when he turned his hand up, palm out, revealing a bottle of Oxycontin.


“I found your purse for you,” he said. “No, you didn’t have any Advil in it. Just this.”

She stared at the bottle.

“You told me you were done with the painkillers months ago.”

She blinked in surprise, both at the question and at the tone in his voice. Cold. Angry. “Yeah,” she said carefully. “And I am.”

After as many surgeries as she’d had, she’d gotten a little too attached to her painkillers. In fact, she couldn’t sleep without them.

And since she’d given them up two months, one week, and four days ago—not that she was counting—she hadn’t slept since.

The last refill on her prescription had come due yesterday, and in a moment of panic she’d refilled it just to have it. Sort of like a security blanket. She got that it made no sense to anyone but her. But nor was it anyone’s business except her own. “How is this any of your business?”

He didn’t answer.

She didn’t need him to; the answer was painfully obvious.

He thought she had a problem.

“Not that this is any of your concern,” she said, trying hard to control her anger, “but I have them for comfort, basically. I’m not taking them.”

He just looked at her, face blank.

“Look,” she said. “Count them if you need to. Or don’t. I don’t care what you think.” Unlike him, she didn’t have a blank face, which infuriated her. She snatched the bottle from his palm and tossed it to the counter. Only she missed and the bottle hit the mirror and ricocheted off, nearly beaning AJ in the head. Would have nailed him if he hadn’t caught it in midair.

“Do you know why I keep these?” she asked.

“To hit people in the head?”

“Get out.”


Nope. She didn’t look at him, because if she saw pity she’d have to kill him. She took the bottle for the second time and gave him a nudge that was much more like a big, fat shove, knowing that when he indeed moved, it was only because he allowed it. Then, to make herself feel better, she slammed the door on his nose.