Page 28

“Wait here,” he commanded, giving her another reason to be mad at him—he was bossy as hell.

He led her to a seating area in the lobby. He dropped their two bags at her feet, and strode off to the check-in desk.

In charge of his orbit, and hers.

You’re just here because you know you owe the man this much at least, for all he’s done for you. All she had to do was survive a few hours more and then hopefully she’d be in her own hotel room watching some good TV for the night, and then in the morning it would be back to The Real World, Sunshine Edition.

Two long, denim-clad legs appeared in her field of vision and she looked up … and up, because damn, AJ had a long, built body.

He held out a room card.

She narrowed her eyes. “We’re not sharing a room.”

“Oh hell no,” he said. “I want to be able to sleep with both eyes closed.”

She snorted and pushed to her feet, gritting her teeth at the usual burn of pain slicing down her body.

AJ didn’t rush her, just gave her the moment she needed. He did however take her bag, shouldering it along with his, gesturing with his chin to the bank of elevators.

At her floor he stepped off along with her and she found herself holding her breath as he walked her to her room. In front of her door he waited while she used her room card. He dropped her duffel bag just inside for her without stepping a foot into the room. She felt a ping of … something. Maybe irritation that it was so easy for him to walk away from her. In any case, her inner bitch took over and she slipped out of his jacket—slowly—and handed it back to him.

For the briefest of beats his gaze skimmed over her body and a muscle in his jaw bunched.

Good enough. Feeling better now, she smiled.

“Lobby in a half hour,” he said. “Rest for a bit, whatever you need to do.”

She saluted him, and he shook his head and strode off.

Blowing out a breath, she watched him go.

“Staring at my ass isn’t resting,” he said without looking back.

Dammit. She slammed her door, pretty sure she could still hear him chuckling. She hated when he got the last word.

A half hour later she’d showered, had contorted into a pretzel to treat her new tat with the required ointment, and dressed in a killer black dress she’d commandeered from Zoe’s closet. The FMPs were her own, though she hadn’t worn them in eleven months, hadn’t worn any heels at all. She pulled them from her bag and hugged them close. “Missed you, my precious.”

But her feet were sending serious doubt vibes.

“Look,” she told them. “I need them tonight, okay?”

Her feet had no response.

Whatever. Surely she could manage for a half hour without wanting to go crying to her mama. She needed the extra height advantage. At five foot seven, the four-inch heels would put her on much more even ground with AJ and provide some desperately needed feminine power and sass.

She really needed sass. Especially since she was up against one undisputed truth—she couldn’t change someone’s mind about her.

She’d learned that early, along with the fact that she couldn’t make someone love her, so hell if she’d try. It had never worked growing up, and she’d learned it didn’t matter anyway. There’d been a one-strike rule at their house. If you screwed something up, you were done.

Granted, they’d lived in some seriously badass places. Liberia, Bolivia, Jordan, Hungary, Indonesia. The rule had been simple—fit in and blend. Or get in trouble and get sent to a boarding school in Switzerland until the next transfer.

Her siblings had gotten the hang of fitting in; they’d been naturals. And as a reward, both Zoe and Wyatt had gotten to go visit their grandparents in Sunshine much more often than Darcy.

But whatever. It was long ago over and done, and she was who she was: a little cynical, a little snarky, and a whole lot hard to love.

She got that about herself, she really did. She just didn’t like to be reminded of it.

Slipping into the heels, she stared at herself in the mirror over the dresser.

As good as it got, she decided.

She grabbed her little clutch, shoved her phone and pepper spray in it—always prepared—and left her room.

She pushed the button for the elevator, and when the doors opened she gasped.

AJ stood inside in a suit and tie, and holy sweet baby Jesus, who knew? She’d seen him in jeans, she’d seen him in sweats, she’d seen him in basketball shorts, and once, years ago, she’d seen him in the buff when they’d all gone skinny-dipping up at the lake.

But she’d never seen him in a suit. He looked …



And just like that, her little pep talk and resolve not to care whether he liked her or not flew right out the window.


AJ held the door open for Darcy, doing his best to keep his tongue in his mouth, but he wasn’t sure he quite managed.

“Thanks,” she said, brushing up against his arm and shoulder as she stepped into the elevator.

His free hand came out to stabilize her, a purely instinctual move. He didn’t give a thought to the fact that she hated to be helped because he couldn’t give a thought to anything.

Holy. Shit. Hotness.

Her little black dress—emphasis on little—just about killed him. The bodice was short, snug, and, at first glance, modest.

Second glance, not so much.

She bent over and fiddled with her heels, which had a strap around her ankle and screamed SEX. So did the way the hem of her dress rose up on her thighs, high enough that his eyes nearly popped right out of his head. “What are you doing?” he managed.