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“It’s the only thing I haven’t marathoned yet.” She turned off the TV and looked him over, her smile fading a little bit. “You okay? You look a little singed around the edges.”

“Work,” he said and scrubbed a hand down his face. “It was a long night.”

“Everyone else okay?”

“Yeah. Well, maybe not the bad guy. He wasn’t feeling like going to jail.”

She was wide-eyed. “So he . . . ?”

“Tried to blow me and Lucas up with a hand grenade. But all he got was a Dumpster. Oh, and himself.”

“Oh my God,” she said, looking horrified.

“Like I said, it was an interesting night.”

Her eyes narrowed and she stepped closer, putting her hands on him, looking at his shirt. “Is that . . . blood?”

He looked down at his front. His black T-shirt had stuck to him where he’d bled like a stuck pig. Shit. “It’s nothing, just a scratch.”

Going pale, she began pushing up his shirt.

“Really,” he said. “All I needed was a Band-Aid, but—”

“Off,” she demanded, and who was he to argue with a bossy woman who wanted his clothes off?

He carefully slid his arm through and pulled the shirt over his head. In the next minute, he found himself being pushed to sit in a kitchen chair with a warm, sexy woman bent over him. “Oh my God, how many stitches?”

“Not too many,” he said.

“You went to the ER and they left you all covered in blood like this?”

Before he could answer, she was cleaning the blood off and fussing over him.

“Sloppy nursing,” she said.

“Yeah, well, Lucas isn’t exactly gentle and nurturing.”

Her head snapped up. “Lucas? Your coworker Lucas? He stitched you up?”

“Good as new.”

She was looking at him like she’d grown a second head. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with a hospital?”

“Don’t like them,” he said. “But hey, Lucas was a medic. He’s always stitching one of us up. He’s good.”

She shook her head, muttering something to herself about stubborn alphas. Their gazes met, and as if she could read his mind about why exactly he didn’t like hospitals, her eyes suddenly softened as she continued cleaning him up.

The kitchen was warm, and so were her hands, and he was tired. So tired. Leaning back in the chair, he closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of her standing so close, her warm breath on his neck, the scent of her, which his body now responded to like Pavlov’s dogs.

When she was finished, she bent low and kissed his skin just above the white gauze holding him together. He opened his eyes and met hers.

“Better?” she asked.

He put his hand over hers. “Much.”

“So now what?” she asked quietly. “What do you need right now?”

That was easy. “You.”

Her breath caught. “Okay. Come on then.” She held out a hand and led him to her bed. And maybe, a part of him hoped, into her heart, as well.

Chapter 23


The next night was Molly’s birthday party at O’Riley’s. Kylie was happy to take a night off from thinking about her life to celebrate. Finn and Sean decorated the pub, something they did for everyone’s birthday, which meant they all did a lot of celebrating.

Tonight’s Wild West theme was Kylie’s favorite. It wasn’t much of a stretch for the pub, which had whiskey barrel tables and a bar crafted from repurposed longhouse-style doors. Adding to the effect were the hanging brass lantern lights and the horse-chewed fence baseboards.

Everyone dressed the part. The girls had met up at lunch and hit their favorite costume shop around the corner. Kylie hadn’t had the time so she’d just added a hat and boots to her jeans and plaid button-down, and called it good.

The birthday girl was dressed to the hilt as a lady of the night and was the center of attention, which she seemed to enjoy.

“You beat me to that one,” Tina said about Molly’s costume. Tina was wearing something that was probably supposed to be a lady of the night but instead more resembled Little Bo Peep—if Little Bo Peep had been six feet tall, mahogany-skinned, and gorgeous. “I’m trying not to hate you.”

“Hey, I’m not getting any, okay?” Molly said, adjusting her corset. “I thought I’d up my game tonight.”

“I’ll up your game, baby,” said a guy on the other end of the bar.

The guy’s buddy shook his head. “Man, are you nuts? That’s Joe’s baby sister.”

The first guy went pale, stammered an apology, and nearly ran out of the pub.

“Dammit, Joe!” Molly yelled.

Joe, across the room and involved in a mean game of darts with Caleb, Spence, and Lucas, looked over. “What?” he yelled back.

“Stop ruining my sex life!” his sister yelled.

With a grimace, Joe put his fingers in his ears and turned away.

Molly rolled her eyes. “He’s not going to stop. He’s giving me anxiety. I need some action. My lady bits need some action, people!” she said. “Someone needs to man up!”

“Thought you were going to try online dating,” Elle said.

“I did. But it turns out there are a lot of frogs out there.” Molly looked around the pub a little wistfully. “I mean, it’s not like I’m asking for too much. All I want is a six-foot-plus guy who’s funny, smart, respectful, outgoing, well dressed, loyal, honest, hardworking, and obsessed with me. Oh, and he should have great stubble too. Or a beard.”

Elle snorted. “Well, if that’s all.”

“Hey,” Molly said, pointing at Elle without taking her eyes off the crowd. “You don’t get to judge. You’re wearing a diamond ring that could blind the whole city.”

They all looked at the ring Archer had put on Elle’s finger. It could indeed light up all of San Francisco. Maybe the entire state of California.

“I know diamonds are supposed to be a girl’s best friend,” Willa said, “but then leggings happened. Leggings are the new diamonds.” She looked at Tina with her perfect hair and makeup and sighed. “The fact that you wear extensions and false eyelashes astounds me because I can’t even be bothered to put on real pants.”

“Girls, that’s just sad,” Tina said. “You gotta use it or lose it.”

“I’m going to really hope that’s not true,” Molly said.

“Well, no matter what happens, pizza will always be there for you,” Tina said. “Through thick and thin, in crust we trust.”

They all drank to that and then the chitchat turned to Haley, who’d had a blind date the night before. “How did it go?” Willa wanted to know. She had a vested interest since she’d set Haley up with a girlfriend of hers.

“Well,” Haley said, playing with the condensation on her glass of wine. “Sober-me and drunk-me are no longer on speaking terms.”

“Dammit,” Willa said. “It didn’t work out?”

“I didn’t say that.” Haley looked at Tina. “Use it or lose it, right?”

They high-fived.

Kylie’s gaze crept back to Joe, still across the room in a game of darts with Spence and Lucas. Given their intensity, it had to be a pretty serious game, which was in complete opposition to the fact that they’d all dressed for the Western theme.