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Retreat then.

“What happened to your jaw?” she asked, voice quiet. “You’ve got a bruise.”

“Nothing,” he said. “It’s nothing.”

Her eyes showed concern for him but at his words, she turned back to the water. “You were right about something,” she said quietly, radiating sadness.

“What’s that?”

“I’m good at pushing people away.”

He hated that he’d ever said such a thing to her. Hated even more that she believed it. “Darcy—”

“No.” She stood, climbed off the rock, and stepped to the water’s edge, all without looking at him. “I’m not in the mood to talk. I’m going for a moonlight swim.”

“The air’s too cold.”

“The water will keep me warm.” She kicked off her battered sneakers.


She stepped into the springs and the water swirled around her ankles. “Mmm, perfect.” She stepped out a little bit farther, hands on her hips, in a big old coat that, if AJ wasn’t mistaken, was a hand-me-down from Wyatt.

“Xander was out of line,” he said. “You don’t hurt everyone you love.”

“Don’t I? Seems like something I’m really good at.” She slid out of the coat and tossed it at his feet. Beneath she was in jeans and a sweatshirt. She stripped off both, leaving her in a Rolling Stones tank that had been washed so many times it was sheer, and a pair of pale blue panties so teeny tiny they barely covered her.

Hottest thing he’d ever seen.


While he went from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye, he tried to speak normally even though he was suffering severe blood loss to the brain. “This is a bad idea.”

“Yes.” She tugged an elastic hair band from around her wrist and, reaching up, quickly and easily contained her hair in a knot on top of her head. “I’m often one big, bad idea.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I’m glad you feel that way.” And then she pulled off her top. She’d slid her thumbs into the sides of her undies to tug them down when he strode forward and wrapped his hands around her wrist. “Darcy—”

“If you don’t want this,” she said, “if you don’t want me, I will hurt you.”

He took one of her hands and pressed it against his erection. “Does that feel like I don’t want you?”

Humming her approval low in her throat, she let her fingers do the talking, stroking the length of him until the denim nearly cut off his circulation. “How long have you been in this condition?” she asked.

“Around you, I’m always in this condition.”

Slowly she shook her head. Denial, because she didn’t believe, which was his own fault. He’d fought so that she wouldn’t see it. Not his smartest move.

“We going skinny-dipping, Darcy?”

“I’m not sure there’s a ‘we.’”

He wasn’t sure, either, but he knew he wanted there to be. “Try me.”

She glanced at him, let her gaze run over him. “You’re wearing too many clothes to go skinny-dipping.”

He yanked his sweatshirt over his head and tossed it to the shore. Then he kicked off his shoes and socks and shoved down his jeans, leaving him in knit boxers that did nothing at all to hide how much he wanted her.

She stared into his eyes for a long beat and then took a good long look at him in clear appreciation. She smiled, but instead of stepping close, she took a big step back into the water.

And then another.

And then she turned and dove in.

Holy shit. He moved to the edge and stared at where she’d disappeared. One. Two … “Goddamnit,” he said, and dove in after her.

He caught her around the middle and hauled them both above the surface. It was deep enough here that he had to work to keep afloat. To keep them both afloat because she was completely wrapped around him, not helping at all. “You’re as crazy as I am,” she said, sounding as if she liked that, a lot.

“You’ve discovered my secret,” he managed. “And Jesus, the air’s fucking cold.”

“You did tell me to ice. I’ll use the air.”

“Yeah, I told you to ice. I didn’t need to ice.”

Her hands slid down his chest and lower, cupping him in her hands. “Aw,” she murmured. “Is he going to shrink now?”

“Not with your hands on him.”

She gave him a stroke just the way he liked it. “You have my full attention,” he said.

“I have this fantasy.”

“Okay, now you really have my full attention.”

“I fantasize about doing it in the rain,” she said, her hands still on him, making it all but impossible to think.

“But this, in the springs,” she said, “would be almost as good.”

He was starting to get a little breathless, both holding on to her and having to kick to keep them both above water, and then there were her very busy, very naughty hands shoving down his underwear.

“Enjoying yourself?” he asked.

Her eyes were still solemn, still radiating her sadness, but she flashed him a small smile that stopped his heart. “Very much,” she said, her hands full of him.

Very full.

“Paybacks are a bitch,” he managed.

“Promises, promises.” She gave him a nudge and then another, back toward shore. When the water hit his calves, she fought out of his hold and pushed him again. He went down to his ass and she dropped to her knees.