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She’d declined with a polite shake of her head and an unspoken fuck you.

And then she’d sat there in painted-on black jeans, kick-ass boots, and a Lynyrd Skynyrd tank, attitude personified.

When he pulled up in front of her house she slipped into her sweater and was out of the truck before it came to a full stop, her long legs striding away from him as fast as they would take her.

“Darcy—” He didn’t know what to say. Sorry I left your room so abruptly, I needed to process what the hell happened between us? No. Way too pussy. “I—”

It didn’t matter because she was out.

He threw the truck into park and started to get out to go after her—to say what, he still had no idea. All he knew was that he wasn’t done with this, with her.

Except apparently he was.

Because a guy rose from the bottom step of the porch where he’d been sitting, clearly waiting for her.


Darcy dropped her duffel bag and walked right into his arms.

AJ did his best not to react, swallowing the growl that rose in his throat as he peeled out of there like the hounds of hell were on his heels.

Clearly there was no need to worry about her. She was like a cat with nine lives. No matter what happened to her, no matter what she went through, she landed on her feet.

“You’re an idiot,” he said out loud.

When Xander went to lower Darcy to the ground, she winced in anticipation of the bolt of agony she knew would shoot up her legs per usual when she first put all her weight on them. But Xander was slow and careful, sweetly so.

“Okay?” he asked, hands still on her. “You don’t look okay. What happened?”

What happened? She’d gotten into the whole pretending to be in love with AJ thing, that’s what. And it had felt good. Right. And in turn, she’d felt … happy.

And it had scared the shit out of her, and when she got scared, she tended to self-destruct. “Nothing.”


Darcy turned from him and stared down the street where AJ’s truck had vanished.

He hadn’t been able to drive away fast enough.

Xander tugged lightly on a strand of her hair, waiting for her to look at him. “Do I need to kill him?” he asked seriously.

He was tall but lanky as a bean pole, and a good wind could knock him over. So she choked out a laugh and then to her horror, burst into tears.

“Oh shit,” Xander said, looking pained as he pulled her back into him. “Darcy, please don’t cry.”

“I’m not,” she said soggily. “I never cry.” And yet the waterworks continued.

“Shit,” he said again with more feeling this time, and sank back to the steps with her, holding her close while she bawled into his chest.

“It’s just allergies,” she finally managed to say.

“Right. Allergies.”

Behind them the front door opened and Zoe stood there looking stunned to see Darcy curled into a ball against Xander. “What happened?” she demanded. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Xander said in utter male confusion. “But I know it’s AJ’s fault.”

Zoe sank to the step next to them and put her hand on Darcy’s back. “Talk to me.”

But Darcy couldn’t talk. Because what could she possibly say? She’d finally started to feel again, for a man who’d been there, bought the T-shirt, and was over it?

“Soon as she dries up,” Xander said over Darcy’s head, “I’m going over there to kick his ass.”

“Yeah?” Zoe asked. “You might want to eat a cheeseburger first.”

Xander flipped her off and she rolled her eyes. “Get in line,” she said and stroked Darcy’s hair. “Do we need to call in the Coast Guard?”

That was Zoe. Pragmatic. Steady as a rock.


And to be fair, it wasn’t Zoe’s fault. She’d grown up a child of the world and then she’d nearly married a felon with a talent for telling really good fibs. So yeah, Zoe kept a pretty big chip on her shoulder, along with a damn tough hide that no mortal man had been able to break through in ages. She also had a hell of a bullshit meter, hard-earned.

Darcy sat up and scrubbed at her eyes. “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired.”

“Yeah?” Zoe asked, clearly not buying it. “Because the last time you cried was when you found out there wasn’t an Easter Bunny.”

“Well, that was pretty traumatic,” Darcy said in her defense. “Who was going to bring me candy?”

“You know damn well it was always me and Wyatt leaving you the candy.”

This was true. When they’d been traveling the world with their parents they’d never celebrated any American holiday. They’d never celebrated any holiday.

So naturally whenever they’d been here in Sunshine with their grandparents, they’d gone overboard. And when their grandparents had died within two years of each other a decade ago, Wyatt and Zoe had kept up the tradition as often as they were all together.

Which hadn’t been all that often.

Until recently.

“What’s this about AJ needing his ass kicked?” Zoe asked her.

“He doesn’t. If anyone needs their ass kicked, it’s me. At the very least I need my head examined for agreeing to go with him in the first place.”

“You two have a fight?” Zoe asked.