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AJ crouched in the space between the opened door and the driver’s seat, one hand on her steering wheel, the other on the back of her seat. It was a possessive stance and also a protective one, and her brain didn’t know how to process it.

“What’s wrong with taking the money?” he asked.

“Oh, please. I owed you a favor and we both know it. Just as we both know that me talking to Trent and Summer doesn’t come close to settling the score between us. Especially after—” Nope, she couldn’t say it, couldn’t go there.

AJ leaned in and gave a quick twist of her keys, turning off her car. Then he turned her face to him and she was surprised to find that his rare, almost nonexistent temper had kicked in.

“A deal is a deal,” he said. “I never go back on my word. And as for you owing me for your treatment, listen carefully because I’m only going to say this once. What we give each other? There’s no tab.”

“Exactly. So forget paying me. I’m not taking your money, not after we—” He arched a brow and she broke off. “You know,” she said.

“I do,” he agreed. “Do you?”

She put her hands to his chest and gave a little shove. He didn’t budge. “Dammit, AJ, I need to go.”

“I see what you’re doing with the dogs, helping people.”

“Yeah? So?”

“So you’re getting involved, Darcy. Invested in Sunshine. You want all of us to think you’re just blowing through, that you’re stuck here only until you’re good enough to fly the coup. But you know what I think?”

“Way too much of yourself, for one …”

“I think you’re enjoying having a home base for once,” he said, eyes serious. And still pissed. “I think you like having family, friends, people to care about—and in return, people who care about you. Yeah, I think you’re getting into it, feeling good. And maybe even happy. And since that probably scares the shit out of you, you’re one inch from destroying it all.”

Oh how she hated that he was right. About all of it. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?” he asked softly. “Are you telling me you aren’t chomping at the bit to get the hell out of here?”

“I never intended to stay in Sunshine and make roots.”

“But you did,” he said. “Can you really just uproot now and go?”


“Worst. Liar. Ever,” he said. He slid a hand to the nape of her neck, pulled her in, and kissed her.

And that was the thing about AJ. He could make her feel so many things. Angry. Frustrated. And in the case of right now, like the most incredibly sexy, fascinating woman on the entire planet. With words, a look, or even a single touch he could erase all the doubt in her mind and reinstate any confidence she’d ever lost. She’d never imagined a man being able to make her feel that way, but here he was. Ready, willing, and able.

The question was—was she ready, willing, and able?

She was trembling when he pulled back, and this time it had nothing to do with exhaustion. He stared at her and then gave her one last kiss and walked away.

When she turned forward to turn her car on again, she found the cash was in her lap.

She couldn’t sleep that night. At all. She was dead tired and achy, too, but her brain wouldn’t stop racing.

She was going to have no trouble finding a home for the husky, she had a lot of people on her waiting list. She thought about Ronan, AJ’s PTSD patient, who she knew desperately needed a dog’s help out in public, navigating crowds and social situations. She’d call him tomorrow.

Just before dawn Darcy gave up. She could take something to knock her out, but it wasn’t a foggy oblivion she wanted. No, she wanted a different type of oblivion altogether, one that involved a hard body and talented hands, both of which belonged to the one man who’d ever made her want to go back for seconds.

And thirds.

She took a shower, dressed, and then tiptoed past Zoe’s bedroom door, stilling with a grimace when Zoe called out to her.

“You okay?”

Darcy rolled her eyes and took a step back to the doorway. “Great.”

Zoe’s nightstand lamp went on and she sat up in bed looking sleepy.

“Didn’t mean to wake you,” Darcy said. “I’m just going out for some Gummy Bears.”

“At …” Zoe squinted at the clock. “Four thirty in the morning?”

“Hey, I don’t have control over my cravings.”

“Uh-huh. You do know that Gummy Bears aren’t what you really want, right?”

Darcy did her best to look innocent. She wasn’t ready to discuss what she wanted—which was to jump AJ’s bones.

“Is the pain that bad?”

“No. Well, I mean, yes, sometimes, but not as bad as you think. Honest, Z, I’m okay. I’ll be back in a little bit.”

“Want me to drive you?”

“No,” she said quickly. Too quickly, because Zoe went still and stared at her thoughtfully. “I’m fine in town.”

The highways were still another story entirely.

“I’ll take a rack of chocolate donuts,” Zoe said. “Unless, of course, you’re not really going for goodies but to AJ’s house.”

Darcy blinked. “That’s … ridiculous.” Wow, AJ was right, she was a terrible liar.