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He always seemed to just accept her as she was. He wasn’t going to ever try to change her. Or send her away when she didn’t react as he wanted. He wasn’t going to turn his back on her.

Reject her.

It was both wondrous and empowering knowing that he stood at her back no matter what.

Smiling, she tossed back the covers and—in her mind—she leapt to her feet. In reality, she got out of bed like an old lady and carefully stretched to avoid a cramp. “Really over that,” she said.

She gave herself three minutes in the hot water with AJ’s soap.

She could’ve taken an hour.

Especially if he’d been in here with her. He had a way of making her feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, exquisitely female and desirable and … beautiful. With nothing more than a look or a few words, he could take away all her self-doubt in her mind and make her feel good about herself.

But there was something more going on here, something far bigger. For as long as she could remember she’d traveled around experiencing things most people never got to. It had been great, but she’d never really felt entirely secure or particularly safe, not like she did here. With AJ. She hadn’t even realized she’d needed to feel either of those things.

“You’ve got it bad,” she muttered, and dried off with his towel, getting another thrill because it was still damp from his body.

The rain had stopped when she walked into the wellness center.

Ariana stood behind the desk looking over her schedule for the day. She glanced over at Darcy, went still for a beat, and then nodded.


“It agrees with you.”

“What does?”


Darcy waited for the panic to hit, but it didn’t. “Where is he?”

“In his office. He’s—”

“Getting ready for a meeting,” Darcy said, heading down the hallway. “I know, thanks.” She wanted to catch him alone for a minute before Trent and Summer arrived. Well, okay, she wanted to throw herself at him and kiss him. And then she wanted to tell him that she loved him, too. And then … She glanced at her phone, wondering if they had time to pull an Adam and Holly and steal a few moments in a closet—

“So where’s your lovely girlfriend?” a woman’s voice asked from inside AJ’s office. “Or maybe you’ve made Darcy your fiancée by now?”

Summer, Darcy realized. She and Trent must’ve already arrived. She couldn’t see through the big glass window that opened from AJ’s office to the gym because his shutters were closed.

“Trust me.” This was Trent. “Making that woman your wife would be the best thing you could ever do for yourself.”

Darcy felt the warmth of pleasure at his words. They thought she’d be good for AJ. And she was, she told herself. She wasn’t like Kayla. She wasn’t lost in her own head, unable to love. Not anymore. She made him laugh, made him happy. And damn, that realization felt good. So good.

Summer hummed her agreement with Trent. “That’s because I’m the best thing that ever happened to you,” she said.

“You absolutely are,” Trent agreed. “AJ, we’ve had many talks about you. And Darcy, too. You should know, it was mostly your lovely other half that actually sealed the deal for you. It’s one thing to know that you’re a great physical therapist and philanthropist, but it’s another to learn you’re a good enough man to catch and hold on to a woman like that. I hope she’s around today, I’d like to see her after we get our financial details handled. I want to thank her again for talking to Summer, for being such an important part of our decision.”

Darcy glowed a little bit more and took a step to make her presence known but just then AJ spoke and she stopped short.

“I’m glad you were so impressed by her,” he said. “She impresses the hell out of me daily. But I’ve got to be honest with you. We’re not a couple, at least not how you think.”

Darcy couldn’t move. She was rooted to the spot.

“I didn’t realize your decision hinged on her,” AJ went on. “The truth is, when you saw us in Boise, Darcy was there as a job, as a favor to me.”

There was a beat of shocked silence, both in the office and in Darcy’s heart.

“But, AJ, I saw you two,” Summer said. “I saw how you looked at each other. It was so natural, like it was meant to be.”

“I’m sorry,” AJ said. “The truth is she wasn’t even the patient I wanted you to meet.”

Darcy staggered back a step on that one, like he’d slapped her in the face. And though he was simply telling the truth, it felt like a shocking, slicing rejection, the second in as many days. And she actually looked down at herself, because surely with this much pain she was bleeding out all over the floor.

Nope. No blood. She wasn’t dying. Yay.

So many things burst through her. Anger. Sadness. Humiliation. All of them racing for the lead.

Anger won.

Before she’d even realized she’d moved, she was on the go, practically running back down the hallway to the front.

Ariana looked up and frowned. “You okay?”

No. No, she wasn’t even in the vicinity of okay. She swiped at her eyes, startled to realize she was crying.

You hurt everyone you claim to love, Xander had said.

It’s not what you think between us, AJ had said. She was there as a job … She wasn’t even the patient I wanted you to meet …