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Trent returned the wave and went into his own room.

Finally. AJ shut the door and thunked his head against it.

“You’re going to knock something loose,” Darcy said. “And you’re on the wrong side of the door.”

He thunked his head a few more times.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Darcy asked.

“Many, many things.” He turned to face her. “Trent told his wife about us and Summer wants to meet you. We’re having breakfast with them in the morning before they head off to their first team-building event.”

She just gaped at him. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“Okay,” she finally said. “Here’s what we’re going to do, you’re going to leave and I’m going to pretend you didn’t come back.”

“We’ve got to do this, Darcy.”

“We? We’re not a we!”

“You let them think we’re a we,” he said. “So, for better or worse, we’re a we.”

“Oh my God.” She walked over to the door and thunked her head on it.

“What are you doing?”

“Seeing if this works.” She straightened, her hand to her head. “It doesn’t, by the way. You should’ve told Trent I’ve maxed out on the amount of time I can be in your presence and be nice.”

“Yeah, that was on the tip of my tongue.” He shook his head. “You’re right, this is impossible. Forget it. I’ll just tell him it was all a lie and—”

“Wait.” She hesitated, her eyes suddenly worried. “Do you think that’ll change his mind about you?”

“No one wants to invest in a liar, Darcy.”

“Dammit!” She shoved her fingers into her hair, making the curls a little crazier than usual, and that was saying something. “Okay, whatever,” she said. “Breakfast. But I want real bacon, AJ. None of this fake shit you’re always trying to push on me.”

“Turkey bacon isn’t fake,” he said. “It’s just healthier.”

“Well, I want unhealthy bacon, okay? And you’re buying. We eat, then we go.”


“Fine.” She pointed to the door. “See you in the morning.” Without waiting for him to leave, she moved to the dresser and picked up a tube of some sort of ointment.

When it slipped from her fingers, he scooped it up for her and looked at it. It was what you used on a new tattoo. “Where is it?”


He gave her a get real look.

“My back.”

He pointed to the bed. “Sit,” he said, and nudged her to the bed. “I didn’t notice it when you dropped your towel.”

“Because that’s not what you were looking at.”

True. Sitting behind her, he lifted her shirt and took in the new tattoo.

I am the hero of my story, I don’t need to be saved.

The words ran in a perfectly straight, beautifully scripted line alongside her spine. Not on her surgery scar, but alongside it. “Xander’s work,” he said.

“Yes,” she replied stiffly, clearly braced for something but hell if he knew what.

“Why not right on the scar?” he asked, feeling a little tense himself.

He couldn’t help it. He had a history with scars and the mental anguish they could cause. He’d been in love with Kayla for three years during his stint in the military. They’d gotten lucky to be stationed together and he’d thought they’d spend the rest of their lives together.

Halfway through their tour of duty, she’d nearly been killed in an explosion that had rocked her Humvee halfway to Mars. She’d been one of the lucky ones and had survived, though she’d suffered burns to her throat and chest. They’d left scars.

Battle scars, he’d thought at the time. Proof that she was still alive. At least that’s how he’d seen them.

Not Kayla. She’d always been beautiful, model beautiful, and as it turned out, she’d believed her beauty was only skin-deep. When her first reconstructive surgery didn’t eradicate the scars, and the second and third surgeries didn’t either, she’d gone off the deep end and dumped him. She refused to be loved.

Especially by a man who’d fallen in love with her when she’d still been stunning—even though he’d thought her all the more beautiful for the imperfections. She’d been unable to believe him. Unable and unwilling.

And their relationship had detonated.

It had been five years now, and he’d be the first to admit that for at least half of that time he’d stayed out of relationships with other women in the hopes that Kayla would let him back in.

She had, but it had been a disaster of such epic proportions that he’d been the one to walk away that time.

Which was a big part of what held him back from Darcy, if he was being honest with himself. Darcy didn’t see herself as lovable either, though with her it had little to do with the visible scars on the outside and everything to do with her scars on the inside.

Her fucking parents, of course, who’d taught her that she wasn’t worth a thing.

“I wasn’t trying to erase my scars,” Darcy said now. “I didn’t get the tattoo over them on purpose.”

He lifted his gaze and found her twisted around to look at him. “Why?” he asked, hearing that his voice sounded tight. Grim.