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Him being jealous, which was asinine. “Motive,” he said. Look at him showing off his lying skills . . .

“No,” she said. “In the past, Gib and I have never been a thing.”

She spoke with 100 percent honesty. But there’d been a hesitation there that told him he was definitely still missing a piece of this puzzle. “And how about the present or the future?”

She crossed her arms. “I don’t see how this is relative.”

Shit. She had a thing for Gib. He studied her for a minute. “I’m going to ask you that one again. You and Gib going to—”

“None of your business,” she said with surprising finality. “Drop it, please.”

That would certainly be the smart thing to do. “Fine. But he stays on the list.”

“Whatever. Now what?” she asked.

“You go to work, and so do I. I’ve got a surveillance job to get to.” To save time, he began to load up, sliding his comms case into one of his cargo pockets for later. He laced up his boots and unlocked his weapons safe to start strapping on weapons. Glock on his right hip. Knife clipped to the inside of a pocket. Cell phone in front pocket. Sig strapped to a leg. Giants cap on backward, flak vest strapped across his chest and back, and a fucking partridge in a pear tree.

He looked up and realized that Kylie’s eyes had darkened as she stared at him. He was male enough to smirk but smart enough to keep it on the inside. “I’ll get back to you once I make my way through this list. I’ll start tonight after work.”

“What? No,” she said. “I want to be involved. We’re partners in this.”

“I work alone, Kylie.”

He was surprised when she stared him down. “Not this time,” she said.


“Do you want that mirror for Molly or not?” she asked.

He felt the muscle in his jaw tick. She had balls, he’d give her that. Her courage was shockingly attractive too. “You know I do,” he said.

“Then I’ll see you later. Partner.”

Shit. He was so screwed.

Chapter 5


After the meeting with Joe, Kylie went to work, but for once her heart wasn’t into her dream job. Her thoughts were on her missing penguin. And also on how Joe had looked strapping on his weapons, because holy cow. For years she’d harbored her not-so-secret crush on Gib because he was handsome, steady, and—let’s face it—safe.

But Joe. Nothing about Joe said safe, and yet the inexplicable yearning she had for him said a good part of her didn’t care. She hadn’t taken many risks in her life, if any. That needed to change, and if that change included more time with Joe’s incredibly sexy mouth on hers, she was thinking that wouldn’t be a bad thing. His mouth. His body . . . And with that thought, she stupidly overmilled the tabletop she’d been working on for weeks. Trying to correct the mistake, she ended up with a huge splinter jammed in her right palm. “Dammit!”

She flipped off the machine and stared at her palm and then the wood, now rendered unusable.

Not good. Hand throbbing, she called her supply source to get more wood and received bad news. More mahogany lumber would put her overbudget. By hundreds of dollars. Worse, it would take two weeks to arrive.

The whole thing was a costly rookie mistake that would probably also cost her the client.

Both over herself and the day so far, she spent an hour trying to dig the splinter out with her left hand, which only made things worse. Finally, bloody and frustrated, she ran upstairs to Haley’s office.

“Help,” she said and held out her hand, palm up.

“Oh my God, what the hell did you do?” Haley asked. “Stab yourself with a pocketknife—repeatedly?”

“I was just trying to get out the splinter,” Kylie said.

“With what, your pocketknife?”

“Hey, I get a lot of splinters,” she said in self-defense. “And we have a saying in the shop. Mark ’em and take ’em out on our own time—after work. So I was in a hurry.”

“You’re all a bunch of barbarians,” Haley said and brought her into a patient room. She poured some sort of antiseptic over Kylie’s hand and then directed a mobile bright light over her entire palm and went to work with a set of tweezers.

“Ow!” Kylie said.

Haley snorted but didn’t stop working. “You’re okay stabbing yourself repeatedly with your pocketknife, but you’re flinching over my tweezers?”

Kylie sighed. “It’s different when someone else is the one poking around—Ouch!”

“Done.” Haley held up her tweezers, revealing a splinter a good inch long.


“Yeah, and you’re welcome,” Haley said. “You owe me a bag of Tina’s muffins.”

“Thought you were on some sort of ridiculously strict diet. Something about a bikini and summer season ahead . . .”

Haley sighed. “I just don’t know how I went from being sixteen years old and eating pasta for every meal and wearing a size zero to being twenty-six, drinking kale, and debating wearing a T-shirt to the pool.”

“Well, I think you look great,” Kylie said honestly.

Haley hugged her. “Thanks. And I’m over myself. I really do want—no, make that need—muffins.”

After Kylie was bandaged and had paid the bill in the form of the promised muffins, she was headed back to Reclaimed Woods via the courtyard when she was waylaid by a call from her mom. They talked every few weeks, with just long enough between calls to grow the fondness.

“Hey, baby, thanks for the birthday gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret and Charlotte Russe!” her mom said happily. “New fancy undies and club dresses, here I come! However did you know?”

Kylie had to laugh. “Because it’s all you ever want every year.”

“Well, it was very sweet. Thank you. How’s work? You with your cutie-pie boss yet?”

“Mom.” Kylie pinched the bridge of her nose. “No.”

“Good. I mean, he’s a decent guy, but he’s not The Guy. I know you don’t want to hear this from me, but you need someone who pulls you out of your shell.”

Kylie grimaced. “I’m not in a shell.”

“You’re so far in your shell, you can’t even see out of the shell.”

Kylie rolled her eyes. This was a common refrain between them. Her mom felt Kylie didn’t have enough fun in her life, and Kylie thought her mom could do with a little more life and a little less fun. “I’ve gotta get back to work.”

“See? All work. Come out with me sometime. We’ll have a drink, loosen you up a little bit, and find you someone to light you up.”

“Mom, a man isn’t going to solve all my problems.”

“Well, of course not, silly. But he’ll sure help you forget about them. Just think about it. Call me once in a while.”

Kylie sighed, shoved her phone away, and went back to work. Problem was, now she was short the wood she needed for her table, her hand hurt like a bitch, and she couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that though Joe had agreed to partner with her on this, he apparently planned to work his way down her list.

Without her.

She knew that was just his usual lone wolf mentality, but it felt a little bit like he’d told her that she wasn’t wanted. She’d hired him and he’d taken over, and it was yet another rejection.

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