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She tried to steer out of it but she couldn’t. In panic, she jerked the wheel to the right.

Her two right tires got caught in a rut on the side of the road and for a single, terrifying second, she wasn’t in control of the car. She heard a horrified cry—her own, she realized—and hit the brakes. But it was too late, her car hydroplaned on the still-wet highway.

“Steer into the swerve!” she yelled at herself. “Steer into the swerve!”

So she steered into the swerve. And right into the ditch, where her front end nose-dived and hit the embankment hard.

The airbag deployed and punched her in the face.

She came to fighting the now deflating airbag. When she managed to get out of the car, she shook her head. Her vision was blurry and when she tried to blink past that, she realized her face was wet. Oh hell no. She was not crying again. But when she swiped an arm over her face, she realized that was true. She wasn’t crying.

She was bleeding.

Call for help. That’s what she needed to do.

Her head hurt as she staggered around her car to the passenger side to look for her purse. She found it on the floor, contents scattered. She shuffled through a dog leash, a bottle of aspirin, another of her prescription meds that she still hadn’t touched, a tampon, her favorite berry lip gloss—There. There was her phone, way beneath the seat, and by the time she straightened, little black dots danced across her vision.

Sitting down hard, blinking past the dots, she stared at her car. Worried about all the movies she’d seen where cars exploded after impact, she moved to what she thought might be a safe distance and sat on a rock to catch her breath.

Very few cars went by. None stopped. Just as well, as she’d also seen a lot of movies where the lone girl on the side of the road meets up with a psycho dude with a machete.

Second note to self: Stop watching scary movies.

She needed to call for roadside assistance in a minute and get towed out of the ditch.

And maybe the guy would also tow her straight to a new life …


AJ was still talking with Trent and Summer about the terms of their partnership when Ariana texted:

Can you come up here a minute?

AJ stood up from his desk. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”

Trent looked at his watch. “We’ve got a lunch meeting with some business associates who might be interested in giving grants as well. Time is money, AJ.”

“I realize that. I only need a minute.” He went out to the front desk and found Ariana looking harried. She was on the phone and the computer, and two people were waiting to talk to her. “Where’s Darcy?” he asked.

She covered the mouthpiece on the phone. “Sick.”

AJ helped the two people waiting at the counter and then waited for Ariana to get off the phone. “She’s sick?”

She shrugged. “She was here for a few minutes. She went down the hall and then came back looking ill, saying she needed a minute. I offered to take her shift and she said she’d be back in a few hours. You screw something up?”

“I didn’t even see her.”

“Well, she definitely went down there.”

AJ turned and looked at the hallway as if that was going to help him.

Ariana sighed. “The two of you are driving me to chocolate.” She yanked open a drawer and pulled out a candy bar. “You see this? I stole it from Darcy’s stash. Like, seriously, stole it. And I think it’s messing with my karma, so you need to get this right with her so I can get back to my zen.”

Trent strode up, looking pissed. “AJ, we need to talk.”

“Yes, in a minute.” Unable to set aside his bad feeling on this, AJ pulled out his cell and called Darcy. She picked up on the third ring but didn’t speak.

He frowned. “Darcy?”


He could barely hear her so he turned up the volume as far as it would go. “You okay?”

There was a long pause. “I called in sick,” she finally said.

“I know. Do you need anything?”

“No thanks. I’ll be fine.”

And then she disconnected.

AJ frowned and stared at his phone. She hadn’t sounded fine. She’d sounded … upset.

The last he knew, she’d been in his bed practically purring. And not sick.

What was he missing?

He started with what he knew. He knew he’d slept with her last night, and though she hadn’t wanted to talk about Xander, they’d managed to exhaust each other out pretty good. He’d left her with a smile on her face, he knew that much. She’d come to work. She’d gone down the hallway to see him but hadn’t. And then she’d left sick.

Why? What could have happened? Maybe the Xander thing had hit her this morning harder than yesterday. He called her back but this time she sent him right to voice mail, and a bad feeling settled in his gut.

“I’m thinking if you’re having to run your own front desk,” Trent said, “I misjudged your business prowess.”

AJ turned to him. “I’ve got no problem taking a turn up front when I’m needed. But that’s not what this is.” He called Darcy’s house line with both Ariana and Trent staring at him; one with worry and the other with irritation.

No answer.

“You think there’s a problem?” Ariana asked.

“I don’t know.” AJ called Wyatt next. “Where’s Darcy?” he asked when Wyatt picked up.