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Joe was finishing getting dressed. He grabbed his keys. “I’m going to the office to do a search on that number and get an address.”

“Great idea.” She slid her purse over her shoulder. “I’m going with you.”

“It’s the middle of the night.”

She just looked at him and he blew out a breath and lifted his hands. “Fine,” he said.

“Fine.”

Half an hour later they were in his office and had the address of Wood Specialties, located on a houseboat in the marina. They also had a name for the guy who owned it.

Kevin Baker.

Kylie sat down hard in Joe’s office chair.

Joe was watching her carefully. “You know him?”

“I used to,” she said. “He’s one of my mom’s old boyfriends. One of the few I actually liked. He was nice to me. And he liked my grandpa. He did a little work for him now and then, although he took off right around the time of the fire.”

Joe took his eyes off his computer screen and looked at her. “And you didn’t think he should be on the list of suspects?”

“No, I didn’t,” she said a little testily, hugging herself. “I never would’ve considered Kevin for taking the penguin. He wasn’t an apprentice. And out of all of my mom’s boyfriends, he was my favorite. He’s a nice guy and the only one who bothered to be even halfway nice to the daughter of his crazy girlfriend.”

Joe blew out a breath, which spoke volumes. They both knew she hadn’t had a lot of nice guys in her life who’d put her first. And she had the feeling that Joe believed they were about to ruin the memory of one of the few. “It’s not him,” she said. “No way.”

“Maybe not,” Joe said. “But it’s time for a whole new list called The Boyfriends, and Kevin goes right to the top. He’s a woodworker?”

“Kind of, but he preferred painting. He wasn’t great at either.”

Joe was quiet for a second. “That first night after I agreed to help you, I got ahold of the official notes on the fire. I talked to the arson detective who’d worked the case.”

She stared at him. “Why?”

“You’d asked for my help,” he said. “I never go into anything unprepared.”

“No, I mean why didn’t you tell me?” she asked. “Or share the notes?”

“Because there wasn’t anything in there that you didn’t already know.” He paused. “And I thought reading about it all over again would upset you.”

She took that in for a moment and nodded.

“Kylie.”

She met his gaze.

“You weren’t in any way blamed for the fire.”

“Only because there wasn’t enough evidence.”

He shook his head. “You’re not at fault.”

“You don’t know that. It could’ve been my fault.”

“It wasn’t,” he said firmly, calmly.

Something about his unwavering belief in her while still holding back his heart made her mad. “How do you know?”

“Because I know you,” he said. “Maybe even better than anyone else.”

Seeing as this was very likely true, she didn’t respond. And also because she wanted to say, If you know me so well, why won’t you let yourself love me? But that was way too desperate and needy and she was done with that. “What do you think you know about me?”

He gave a small smile. “That you’re crazy stubborn, crazy smart, and crazy careful.” His smile widened. “You’re also crazy OCD when it comes to your work. No way did you leave the soldering iron on. Someone else must’ve come along after you and done it. You had nothing to do with that fire and I’m betting that when we get to the bottom of this, I’ll be able to prove it to you once and for all. Now tell me everything else you know about Kevin.”

“He never really got anywhere with his art,” she said. “He ended up working for an art dealer and learning the ropes. Haven’t heard about him for a while, but last I did, he was working independently for several galleries across the country. I need to talk to him.” She stood up and headed to the door.

He caught her by her purse strap.

“You’re not leaving me behind,” she said tightly, knowing that’s exactly what he wanted to do. “I’m going to see him.”

“I get it,” he said. “And I’m with you. But not at two in the morning. It doesn’t feel safe. We need a plan and backup.”

She crossed her arms, both believing him and also doubting him. “We never needed backup before.”

“We were never close before. And this feels close. And dangerous.” He put his hands on her arms, bending a little to look into her eyes. “Putting you in danger is unacceptable to me. We’re going to wait until morning, when we’ve made a plan and thought it all through.”

All of that made sense but he’d shown his hand earlier. He intended to cut her out of this. Back when she’d been little and her mom had dug her heels in about something or another, being totally unreasonable—as Joe was being now—she’d learned there was only one way to handle the situation. Play dead. So she nodded and bit back her argument. “Okay,” she said. “Fine.”

Joe, not nearly as easy a mark as her mom, went brows up at her way-too-easy acquiesce. “Okay, fine?” he repeated.

She didn’t respond, just freed herself and headed to the door. On the way, she slid a look at Joe’s desk and couch, and sensual erotic memories of being on them with Joe flashed bright in her mind. And in her heart. She hardened that heart and walked out the door.

Joe followed, and if he was plagued by those same memories, he kept it to himself pretty well. Did he even remember? She glanced back at him and found his eyes dilated to almost black.

Yeah, he remembered. He drove her home and she was out of his truck and heading to her front door almost before he parked.

When he caught up with her, clearly planning on going inside with her, she sent him a long oh hell no look.

“I’m going to make sure you get inside safely,” he said.

“I always do.”

Joe didn’t bend on this. “You’ve been rattling cages and looking under rocks. I’m going to walk you inside your damn apartment, Kylie.”

She lifted her hands, giving the unspoken message of fine, but you’re still an asshole.

And given his sigh, he got that message loud and clear.

“So, what time?” she asked.

“What time what?”

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “What time are we going to talk to Kevin?”

“I’ll check with the guys and let you know.” He walked her in and checked her place. And then turned to her, most likely to state his case on staying, but before he could, she opened the front door in silent invitation.

He ran a hand over his jaw. He hadn’t shaved that morning and she was viscerally reminded of the night before, his lips touching her in intimate places, the brush of his stubble against her skin. In fact, she still had the slightest of whisper burn on her inner thighs and she wrapped her arms around herself to control the tremor.

And to keep herself from stopping him from leaving at all.

“Kylie—”

“No,” she said and let out a rough laugh because damn if just the sound of her name on his lips didn’t make her want to cave. With another mirthless laugh aimed directly at herself, she nudged the door open wide.

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