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“Sounds like you’ve got us all figured out,” AJ said.

“Yep.” Every single one of them but him. “Zoe’s not here.”

“I came for you.”

Her heart had started a heavy thumping the moment he showed up. He wore faded Levi’s and an untucked buttondown, and she thought no one wore clothes quite the way he did.

And he thinks you’re a druggie.

“Wanted to make sure we’re on for the morning,” he said.

“You mean am I still going to show myself off to your money guy?”

His expression didn’t change. He was one of the few people she couldn’t easily rattle. She didn’t know what to make of that. Never had. “Said I would. I don’t go back on my word, AJ.” She rewarded Oreo with a cookie. “Now let’s work on come,” she said. She stepped back to the edge of the grass. “Okay, Oreo. Come.”

Oreo sat.

AJ crouched on the balls of his feet and whistled. “Come,” he said.

Oreo ran to him, tail wagging, tongue lolling, staring adoringly up into AJ’s face.

AJ rubbed Oreo up and down until the dog was nothing but a puddle of boneless goo.

Darcy tried not to be jealous and failed yet again. “So is that all you wanted to know?”

“For now.”

“You mean there’ll be more later?”

AJ met Darcy’s eyes. He looked grim. Resigned. “To be determined,” he said.

His frustration didn’t give her near the satisfaction she’d thought it would. Because if he had to spend the long car ride with her, she had to spend it with him as well.

It would be a miracle if they both survived.

“Be ready to go by seven a.m.,” he said, and left.

Oreo cried.

Darcy sighed. “You’ll get over him,” she told the dog. All she needed to do was the same.


At seven the next morning, AJ stood outside Darcy’s house in a freezing mist, leaning against his truck. He knew better than to rush a woman, but they really needed to get going to allow for any unplanned incidents on the road.

Although considering Darcy was one really big Unplanned Incident, it probably wouldn’t matter when they left.

He was in for a rough time today and he knew it. If there’d been any other way—any other way at all—he’d have taken it. But he needed her.

He’d been raised to show no weaknesses, and that usually worked for him. But when it came to anything having to do with one Darcy Stone, he instantly went off axis.

The front door of the Victorian opened and Darcy stepped out wearing a formfitting, thigh-length sweater, leggings, and boots. Zoe stood in the doorway looking worried.

“Let’s get this drama-free adventure over with, shall we?” Darcy asked.

“She hasn’t had caffeine yet,” Zoe warned.

AJ looked Darcy over. “You think caffeine’s going to help?”

Zoe laughed, blew him a kiss, laid one on Darcy’s cheek, and vanished back inside.

Darcy went on the move, walking with an uneven gait, signaling that she was tired, possibly to the point of exhaustion.

She still wasn’t sleeping. Why, if she was still taking pain pills, wasn’t she sleeping?

As she stepped off the porch it began to sleet in earnest, and she looked up at the sky, a slow smile crowding the exhaustion away from her face.

She loved the rain, always had.

Pushing off the truck, he strode forward to take the duffel bag from her. “You’re not supposed to carry anything over five pounds,” he reminded her.

Her sleepy gaze locked onto his and he felt both a stirring and a discomfort.

Yeah. He had a hell of a long day ahead of him.

“It’s been eleven months,” she said.

Eleven months and two weeks. He took a step closer, ordering himself not to breathe her in, but damn he loved the way she smelled. He shouldered her bag and held out his hand for the purse hanging off her other side.

She relinquished her purse without a word.

Another sign that something was wrong. He’d expected her to be pissy, but it wasn’t temper he saw.

“Hey,” he said, moving closer, bending to see into her face. “You okay?”

“Terrific, never better.” She hit the first step and her leg buckled.

It was instinct for him to reach for her, but at his movement her head whipped around like Carrie in the horror film and she gave him a back off or die look.

He lifted his hands.

She put earbuds into her ears and hit play on her iPod. Then she very carefully gripped the railing on the porch and took the second step.

Killing him. He looked at the time on his phone and eyed the distance to his truck, torn between keeping his big trap shut and mentioning that not only were they in a hurry, but a fall on the slippery steps would be bad. “I’ll carry you,” he said.

She pretended she couldn’t hear him over her music and made it to the third step, completely drenched now. Her hair loved this weather as much as she did, the curls rioting around her face.

Two more steps.

AJ watched, holding his breath, hands itching to help. Jesus. How did Wyatt and Zoe do this every single day?

When she nearly bought it on the last step, he had to shove his hands in his pockets to keep them off her.

She held still a moment, fighting for balance—which she won. And the cocky smile she sent him over her shoulder was worth every second of the torture.

“Did it,” she said, clearly proud of herself. “And this time I didn’t eat dirt.”