Page 26


She was sexting with Xander.

The passenger door opened and Darcy went brows up at the sight of him holding her phone. “Learn anything?” she asked, struggling to get up into the cab of the truck.

AJ had his hand on the door handle to get out and go around to help her when she bared her teeth at him.

“Don’t you dare,” she said. A painfully long minute later, she finally relaxed into the seat, damp with perspiration and breathing heavily. “Not one word from the peanut gallery,” she panted.

He just handed her the Gummy Bears.

“Didn’t eat any, did you?” she asked.

“Never fear, your bag of citric acid, dyes, and sugars is intact.”

“Okay then.” Surprising him, she turned the radio back to hip-hop.

He didn’t question the good fortune. He just hoped it lasted.

It did, but only because she fell asleep. It had taken her a while to get comfortable though. She’d tossed and turned and tossed some more. Eventually she laid her head on the console between the two front seats and shifted around miserably.

Reaching behind them, he pulled out a pillow he’d packed for her. “Lift up,” he said.

She settled onto the pillow with a sigh and was gone in what appeared to be three seconds. Like completely out cold, limp, unmoving, breathing heavily and deeply.

Knowing how rare it was for her to get into a good sleep, he sighed a breath of relief for her. And because the sun had come out and was in her face, he lowered her visor.

Her face was relaxed and she looked … Damn. With her smart-ass mouth closed, she actually had a sort of girl-next-door innocence thing going, looking younger. And sweet.

Pain free.

Her arm slipped off the console. AJ carefully replaced it, and though she twitched, she didn’t awaken.

With her arms bared by her tank top, he could see a few of the scars on her exposed right shoulder and biceps where she’d been cut by the windshield on the night of the accident. They were fading and he was grateful for that. Not because they took away in the slightest from her natural beauty, but because he knew exactly what scars could do to a person, how the daily sight of them could make getting over what had happened to her even more difficult.

She shifted in her sleep, stretching one of her legs up on the dash. She’d long ago kicked off her boots and socks. Her toenails were painted sky blue alternating with bright pink. Her right foot was still badly scarred. It had a plate in it and had required a skin graft over the top.

She was lucky she hadn’t lost it.

In her sleep, she sighed. A sweet, endearing sound that softened him when he didn’t want to be softened. Didn’t want to think of her as anything other than the woman who drove him nuts. Didn’t want to entertain that they could have something more.

There were a lot of reasons for that, the biggest one being that he’d already been in love with a woman who’d been through a terrible tragedy, and she’d dumped him because she couldn’t believe herself lovable after.

He knew reckless Darcy wasn’t too far off the same mark as Kayla, and he didn’t plan to go there with another woman ever again.

“You’re thinking too loud,” Darcy murmured sleepily. She sat up and blinked at him, her eyes heavy-lidded. “You’re regretting bringing me.” She rubbed her eyes. “Buyer’s remorse, right? Don’t worry, it happens all the time.”

His gut took a hit, as did his heart. If he could, he’d have cheerily strangled her parents for putting her default setting at defensive and always braced for rejection.

How hard could it have possibly been to give her even a little bit of genuine love and attention, much less affection? Instead they’d treated her as an afterthought, proving to her time and time again that she was worth zip to them.

“I don’t do regrets,” he said.

She thought about that for a minute. “You’re not even a little bit worried about tonight?” she asked. “Or don’t you do worry either?”

“Oh, I worry,” he said.


You, he nearly said. Your pain, your recovery, your happiness, and why you still feel the need to carry around pain meds like a security blanket. “Plenty.”

“Such as … me behaving tonight?”

He didn’t answer on grounds that it might incriminate him.

She shook her head. “You really think I’d screw you over tonight. Good to know where you’re at, AJ. Thanks for the trust.”


“Oh no,” she said, her face to the window on her side, watching Idaho go by. “Don’t try to be nice now, you’ll ruin my mood. Just tell me flat-out what you need from me, okay? Tell me right now and then do me a favor and don’t talk to me again until we get there.”

“I need you to be available, receptive to questions, and …”

She turned her head and eyed him. “And?”

“Charming wouldn’t hurt.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You don’t think I can do charming?”

Honestly? He had his doubts.

She blew out a breath. “Whatever. So is that it, then? Be available, receptive to questions, and charming?”


“Fine.” She turned forward, expression resolute. “I’ll keep my part of the bargain. You just make sure you keep yours.”


She pointed at him. “No talking.”