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“She’s not in today,” AJ said, deadpan.

Zoe laughed.

And Darcy sighed. But then her sister handed her the Gummy Bears, which went a long way toward soothing her rumpled feathers.

“You’ve been here for two weeks without getting fired,” Zoe said. “Impressive.”

She was referring, of course, to the three days Darcy had worked at the local bar before being shown the door. “Hey,” she said. “Putting false engagement rings in women’s drinks as an early present from Santa was funny.”

“Not to their boyfriends,” Zoe said, and then stage-whispered, “and please don’t try to punk AJ, okay? He means a lot to me, so if he kills you, it’ll be all sorts of awkward.”

“I won’t go up for murder,” AJ said. “They’d never find the body.”

AJ humor. Darcy rolled her eyes. “Thanks for the goodies,” she said to Zoe. “But I’m sure you have to go now.”

“I’ve got a few minutes.”

Great. Darcy looked at AJ. “Tell her I’m too busy to socialize. And you’re too busy, too. Ronan’s waiting.”

As if on cue, Ronan sat up from where he’d been doing sit-ups and looked over.

“Hey, Ronan,” Zoe called out with a warm smile. “How’s your mom?”

“Done with chemo and looking better.”

Zoe’s smile brightened. “Oh, I’m so glad!”

Sunshine was too damn small, Darcy thought. Not only did everyone know everyone, but no one had ever learned to mind their own business. Darcy started to move back to her computer but AJ stepped in her way, ducking down a little to look into her eyes.

“Ice the leg,” he said, and without waiting for a response, headed toward Ronan.

Damn, the man had a way of moving, his body shifting with barely sheathed loose-limbed power and grace, and both Darcy and Zoe watched him go.

“He’s got such an edible butt,” Zoe whispered. “Do you think he knows it?”

“I don’t think he cares.” Besides, his being hot didn’t change the fact that he was a bigger problem for her than Johnny could even think about being. Johnny was just an asshole. AJ was … well, she wasn’t sure what. Dangerous as hell to her well-being, for starters.

“So why do you do it?” Zoe asked her.

Darcy tore her gaze away from AJ’s ass. “Do what?”

Zoe took her big-sister status very seriously. But then again, in spite of the fact that there were only a few years between them, Zoe had always been more maternal toward Darcy than their actual mom ever had.

“Bait him,” Zoe said. “He’s great guy. He’s smart, hardworking, self-made …”

“Maybe you should date him.”

Zoe laughed. “We’re not suited.”

“Because?” Darcy asked.

“Well … he’s a bit alpha.”

Yeah. Just a bit.

“We’d butt heads,” Zoe said. “But I’ve always thought that maybe you two might …”

“A minute ago you were worried he might kill me.”

“Well, sleeping with him might go a long way toward making sure he wouldn’t.”

Darcy snorted. “Go away, Z.”

“In a minute. He did so much for you after your accident.”

This was absolutely true. Darcy had had five surgeries, and once she’d been okayed for physical therapy, AJ had taken over her care. He’d been a drill sergeant but he’d also saved her life. She knew it. He knew it.

And wasn’t that just the problem. She hated knowing that she hadn’t been able to save herself, that she’d needed help. “You’re right,” she agreed softly. “He’s done a lot for me.”

“I mean look at you, Darce. You’re walking.”

A miracle. Darcy got that. She was grateful for that, so very grateful he’d gotten her out of a wheelchair and onto her own feet again. Sure, she’d never win a track meet and she was always going to be somewhat unstable on her own two legs—especially the right one which still enjoyed buckling on her at the worst of times—but yeah. AJ would forever be a hero for what he’d done for her.

Which wasn’t to say she liked him.

In fact, during her PT she’d actually hated him. She’d dreamed nightly about strangling him, drowning him …

Very satisfying dreams, too.

And if there’d been a few others, some that had involved a different kind of altercation altogether between them, of the naked and sweaty variety, well, those were her little secrets.

Across the large room, past all the exercise equipment to the mirrored wall, Ronan lay flat on his back now, working with a large rubber band around his ankles, doing strengthening exercises.

On his knees at his side, AJ guided him, and wrong as it might be, the sight of the two built guys working so hard together made her pulse race just a little bit.

During a quick beat of rest for Ronan, AJ glanced over the carved muscles of his shoulder to meet Darcy’s gaze.

She stopped breathing.

At her side, so did Zoe. “I just don’t get why you’re so hard on him,” her sister said.

“Actually, I think you’ve got that backward.” He was hard on her.

Very hard.

And she resented that. It was almost as if he expected her to soften her edges, to be something she wasn’t—like maybe one of those soft, sweet, bendy yoga instructors he was fond of dating. But though Darcy was working on herself, she was never going to be soft and sweet.