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Dumbly, she shook her head.

His eyes softened and he gently he stroked his thumb over her bottom lip. “And FYI? Gib’s an idiot.”

She’d forgotten all about Gib, and she bit her lower lip as she stared up at the man who’d made her forget everything but his very talented mouth. And sexy body. And knowing hands . . . “I think I need you to go now,” she murmured.

Again he just looked at her before turning slowly away from her and heading to her front door. His movements were different from his usual decisive, calculated ones and she wondered if he was even halfway as discombobulated as she was. “You’re going home, right?” she asked. “To bed, since you have to be at work so early?”

He paused and then kept walking.

“Dammit, Joe. After all that, you’re really going to leave me here and check out another apprentice without me.”

When he turned to her this time, he was back in control. “You’ve got a time frame now,” he reminded her. “Less than two weeks.”

“But you have to be up early. You have to be at work at four a.m.”

His mouth curved in a small smile. “Don’t worry. I’m a big boy.”

Of that she had no doubt. “I’m coming with. I can help.”

“Look,” he said. “No offense, but I’ll be faster alone. I’ll call you—”

“No way. Just give me a minute.” She started to dash into her bedroom to get a few things she thought she might need, but pivoted first and snatched his keys from his fingers.

“That’s not going to stop me,” he said mildly.

“No, but here’s something that might. If you don’t take me, I’m not going to work on Molly’s mirror.”

He rubbed the back of his neck and tipped his head down, staring at his shoes. Whether to keep from strangling her or just to count to ten, she had no idea. She raced into her room, shoved some stuff from her closet into her bag, and then was back in a flash. “Love you,” she told Vinnie. “Be a good boy. Don’t wait up. I’ll be home late.”

Two minutes later they were in Joe’s truck. His breathing was relaxed and deep. His eyes were vigilant. He was back to his regular cool and calm.

She was not. “Where are we going?”

“The Castro.”

He parked just off Market Street. When he got out of the truck, so did she, pausing at the rainbow-colored crosswalk to look at him. “You’re not going to tell me to stay in the car?” she asked.

“Why, when you’re going with me anyway?”

Good point. And look at him with the learning curve. They headed up a steep walkway to a narrow six-story building. Inside the lobby, Joe pushed the elevator button. The elevator didn’t come.

Fine with Kylie. She hated elevators. Correction—she was terrified of elevators. Well, not of elevators, necessarily, but of any small, enclosed space. She was a terrible claustrophobic. “We should just walk up,” she suggested, trying to hide her panic.

“It’s six flights,” he said and looked at her boots.

They were work boots. Heavy, steel-toed. Great in the shop, not great for going up six flights. “I don’t mind,” she said quickly. “I need the extra steps today anyway.”

Of course just then the elevator doors opened and Joe held the door for her, gesturing for her to go first.

Great. “This is a really bad idea,” she muttered but stepped onto the elevator, albeit with the same enthusiasm she would’ve walked to the guillotine.

The doors slid closed with an audible click, like the last nail on her coffin might sound.

And then, just like that, they were enclosed in the tiny space together. Joe was looking amused, his blue eyes on her, warm but curious. “You okay?” he asked.

“Sure. Yes. Yep,” she said, popping the p sound.

“Maybe one more and I’ll believe you.”

She opened her mouth—to say what exactly, they’d never know, because suddenly the elevator lurched and went on the move. At a snail’s pace. “Seriously? I could’ve climbed the stairs backward faster than this.”

But then, as if the elevator had heard her, the elevator jerked and . . . screeched to a halt.

“Oh shit,” she gasped before she could stop herself. One time she’d been sitting on a bench in her building’s courtyard in front of the fountain when a spider had dropped out of a potted tree and landed next to her. She’d literally shot up into the air using only the muscles of her butt cheeks and had come down into the lap of the perfect stranger sitting next to her.

What happened in the elevator was pretty much the same. One second she was standing on her own two feet. The next she’d leapt at Joe.

His hard arms closed around her and he put his jaw to hers. “If you wanted another kiss, all you had to do was say so.”

“I’m begging you not to talk,” she moaned and dropped her forehead to his chest. “Just get me out of here.”

He paused and she felt him looking down at her. “You’re claustrophobic.”

“Maybe. Just a little tiny bit.” But she was also a big girl, so she pried herself away from him and turned to stare at the doors, willing them to open.

She half expected Joe to make a joke or laugh at her. Instead she felt his bigger, much warmer hand slide into hers. Not proud, her dignity long gone, she held on like he was her personal life buoy.

“One sec,” he said calmly and opened the control panel to take a look.

She lifted her head. “Do you know how to fix elevators?” she asked hopefully.

“I could probably figure it out.”

He could probably figure it out . . . “Oh my God.” She squeezed her eyes shut and heard him laugh.

“It’s going to be okay, Kylie. Just hang on.”

She was pretty sure he didn’t mean that literally but she did just that, fisting her hands in his shirt and holding on. “This is all your fault,” she said tightly. “I really want to hit you right now.”

“Take a few deep breaths,” he said.

“Then can I hit you?”

He snorted and kept doing something in the electric panel.

“Doesn’t anything bother you?” she asked a little bitterly.

“Plenty.” He looked at her as if gauging the level of her panic. Apparently deciding it was extremely high, he said, “I go with the five-by-five rule. If it’s not going to matter in five years, I don’t spend more than five minutes upset by it.”

She tilted her head to his, startled to realize that since he’d bowed his, their mouths were nearly lined up.

All you have to do is not kiss him, she told herself. But she licked her suddenly dry lips, a gesture that had his eyes darkening and a very rough, very male sound coming from deep in his throat. He leaned in even closer, but just before their mouths touched, the elevator jerked and began its upward motion again.

Kylie let out a shaky breath and stepped back from Joe. “I told you this was a bad idea!”

“Yeah, that was close,” he said. “You almost kissed me again.”

“I meant getting on the elevator!” She glared at him. “And you kissed me that last time!”

“You were going on about a kiss being nice. But there was nothing nice about that kiss you planted on me in the alley. It was raw and sexy and dirty in the best possible way. You needed to be reminded of that.”

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