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In hindsight, she had no one to blame but herself. If she hadn’t added on the ridiculous endearment, AJ would’ve been on her side.

Instead he smiled. And it was his badass smile, too, the one that usually melted all the bones in her legs. Not so much right now though. Right now that smile struck fear right through her heart.

With his arm still slung around her shoulders, he squeezed, brushing his mouth to her temple. “No worries,” he said. “Since I know how much you love trust exercises, we’ll stay. Just for you. Babe.”

Well, shit.

Note to self: Not ready to play with AJ.


Ten minutes later Darcy found herself in a ballroom with fifty of Trent’s employees and some of their friends and family as well. They were all divided into pairs—she with AJ, of course—and each twosome stood facing each other.

“Greetings, everyone!” the emcee at the front of the large room said into a microphone. “Now, I want you all to take a look at your partner for the day.”

Darcy looked into AJ’s eyes and found trouble. Dammit, he was enjoying this.

“Take a good look,” the emcee said. “Because this might not be the partner you win with.” He grinned. “Yeah, you’ll have a chance to switch. So if the boss paired you up, or if you’re with your work teammate and you don’t want to be, or if your significant other sucks at games … or maybe you simply like change, no worries. Things are going to get interesting.”

This didn’t sound interesting to Darcy at all. It sounded terrifying. The only thing worse than having to do this with AJ would be having to do this with a perfect stranger.

“Now, I’m going to ask you to answer some questions,” the emcee said. “To start, keep in mind that not everyone will have to answer every question—it’s just the luck of the draw. Hope you’re feeling lucky. Oh, and one final thing: The winning pair gets a thousand bucks.”

The room ooh’d and aah’d—Darcy included. Her half of a thousand bucks would make a nice chunk that she could use to buy service dogs and also help Zoe get ahead of the house expenses for a change.

“Ready to get going?” the emcee asked. “Good. You’re already facing your partner, right? Reach out to put your palms to your partner’s.”

AJ held up his hands and Darcy set hers against them. His were much bigger than hers, warm and callused, and gave her a little shiver.

Okay, maybe not so little.

“Lean toward each other,” the emcee said.

They both leaned in, their faces close enough that she could see the gold flecks in those hazel eyes dance. Close enough that if she wanted to, she could press her jaw to his scruffy one. Close enough to catch the scent of his skin, which somehow made her … ache.

She decided to attribute this stupid phenomenon to sleeping with him, which, FYI, had felt more intimate than … sex. But being in bed with a man all night long had most definitely brought back memories of sex. Granted, they were distant memories. In any case, she told herself this was all just a simple biological response, nothing more.

If only he hadn’t kissed her.

But the truth was, she couldn’t one hundred percent blame him for that. And them being here, doing this, that was all on her.

“Lean even closer,” the emcee said. He paused while everyone did this. “Move your feet farther back. A little farther … Good. Now even more.”

Some groaning from the room. Some laughing. Definite discussion.

AJ didn’t speak, just moved his feet farther away and leaned into Darcy.

She did the same, perfectly aware that he was taking on all of her weight and yet—clearly in deference to her disabilities—keeping most of his own on himself. “I can do this,” she whispered.

“You are doing this,” he said, refusing to admit he was handicapping her.

Next to them Summer was laughing as she and Trent worked on their balance. On the other side of them, two guys leaned on each other, laughing a bit, goofing off. One of them fell and hit the floor, much to the delight of his partner.

“Someone’s thinking about his hot date this weekend,” the emcee said. “Concentrate, people. There’s a thousand bucks on the line here. Now everyone move a little bit farther back, and … hold it. Good.”

Good? Darcy was on the balls of her feet, balanced only because AJ had her balanced. She was breathing heavy, sweating, and he stood there looking utterly at ease.

“Stare into each other’s eyes,” the emcee said, “and know that the person you’re looking at is all that’s keeping you from face-planting.” He paused and chuckled, the diabolical bastard. “Now’s probably not a good time to air out any dirty laundry, like who left the printer out of paper, or the toilet seat up, or who’s a bed hog.”

AJ arched a brow at Darcy, silently reminding her which of them was the bed hog. She couldn’t help it; she laughed.

His gaze dropped to her mouth, which suddenly had trouble dragging air into her lungs.

“So of course that’s why we’re going to do exactly that,” the emcee said. “While you’re dependent on each other for not hitting your face on the floor, one of you is going to admit your deepest fear.”

Everyone stared at their partners. No one spoke. Darcy’s heart pounded. “I don’t have fears,” she said.

AJ smiled.

The emcee said, “If you’re having problems figuring out who’s going to answer this round, let me help. Most people’s gut reaction is that they don’t have any fears to admit.”