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Page 33

“You’re not going to puke.”

“Because it’ll give us away?” she whispered.

“No, because these are new work boots I’m wearing and I like them. I’ve gotten them broken in just right.”

She might’ve told him what she thought of his boots and where he could put them but since she was no longer speaking to him as of right this very moment, she settled for flipping him off. She then squeezed her eyes shut to concentrate on swallowing compulsively in order to keep the bile down. She’d had popcorn and wine for dinner à la Olivia Pope and that wasn’t going to be pleasant. Be cool, she told herself. You are not going to throw up on the hot guy. But it was difficult to control herself while simultaneously trying to hyperventilate. Dammit. Damn him.

Except . . . this wasn’t Joe’s fault. She’d insisted on coming along. So damn her and her impulsiveness. And . . . dear God, were they running out of air in here? Yeah, they were. They were totally running out of air—

“Hey,” Joe murmured softly, running his hands up and down her arms. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”

“Yes, in a dark, teeny, tiny closet!” she hissed as panic gripped her, and oh perfect, now the walls were closing in on her as well.

“Shh,” Joe breathed, holding her upright because apparently her legs were done working. She lifted her head to his and he set a finger against her lips.

Yeah. She got it. Don’t make a sound. And preferably also don’t get sick . . . But seriously, the closet really was getting smaller by the second.

“I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” Joe whispered, his lips brushing her earlobe and making her shiver.

She really wanted to believe him, even tried to take solace in the fact that he hadn’t yet made any promises he hadn’t kept, but panic didn’t care about logic.

“Good,” he whispered against her ear. “You’re doing great. Now I’m just going to—”

She clutched at him as he started to shift away. “No,” she whispered.

“I have to take a look, Kylie, but I’m not leaving you. I wouldn’t leave you behind either. Ever.”

She met his gaze and nodded, and in the cramped space they had, he turned away from her to peek out the door.

Unable to refrain, she plastered herself up against him and dropped her forehead to his back as she held her breath. Next time she was going to listen to logic and consider staying in the truck.

Except she knew she wouldn’t. She knew that she’d choose the exact same thing again, which meant she had a lot more of her mother in her than she would’ve liked to admit.

“Ok,” Joe whispered. “Don’t freak.”

Oh, God. “Too late. What is it? What’s happening?”

“Rafael’s here.”

Oh shit. She’d not known Rafael real well. She remembered him as being in his forties and a terminal bachelor due to his curmudgeonly personality. Mostly he’d avoided her like the plague. At the time she’d thought maybe girls weren’t his thing, but it’d turned out that teenagers weren’t his thing.

“Apparently he also lives here,” Joe murmured. “He just opened the door at the end of the hallway and it’s a converted bedroom.” He paused and she didn’t think it could be for anything good. “We’re going to have hang here for a bit,” he finally said.

Nope, nothing good. She did love being right, but this one time she could’ve handled being oh-so-wrong. “How long is a bit?”

“Until he leaves or goes to sleep.”

“Oh my God.”

Joe sent her a considering look over his shoulder, the picture of unflappable, impenetrable, tough, stoic male. He was always like that, which was a good thing because she was about to make a caffeinated squirrel look mellow.

“Joe,” she said, her voice higher than usual as she worked hard at reining in her growing panic and keeping her voice down. “What if he finds us?

“He won’t.”

“But what if he does? What if we get caught?”

“I don’t usually get caught.”

She gripped the back of his shirt in two sweaty fists. “Usually?” she squeaked. “Usually? Oh my God.” Again she dropped her forehead to his back. She was starting to sweat in some very uncomfortable places.

“Deep breaths, Kylie.”

“I really hate it when people tell me that!”

Reaching back, he hooked an arm around her, holding her close to him. “I need you to relax.”

She let out a soundless half laugh, half sob. “Not my strong suit.”

“Work on it, because it gets worse.”

She lifted her head. “How? How can it possibly get worse?”

He pulled her in front of him so she could see out the crack in the door, which was a relief. And hold up, there was an additional benefit as well, one that just might have the power to take her mind off the fact that she was going to die in this closet. Because now Joe was pressed up behind her, up close and personal.

Very personal.

Suddenly she couldn’t concentrate on the fact that she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t concentrate on anything but the feel of his big, strong body perfectly aligned with hers.

Everywhere . . .

He’d offered her a physical relationship. She knew that she shouldn’t be intrigued but she was because the idea worked for her. It really did. Even just thinking about it put her body on high, hopeful alert. Doing her best to shake that off, she peered out the crack. She could see down the hallway into a room. Raymond, aka Rafael, stood there looking much as she remembered. Still rounder than he was tall, but older. He was frowning at his TV.

“He’s in for the night and—Shit.” He put a hand over her eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“Protecting you,” he whispered. “Rafael just stripped down to his twig and berries. I’m seeing things that I do not need to see.”

She grimaced at the mental visual. “Is he going to sleep?”

“No, he’s sitting on edge of his bed flipping through TV channels like it’s his job. Luckily he’s also half deaf, given the decibels he has the volume up to.” Still behind her, he brushed his lips along the column of her throat. “I liked you as a blonde,” he murmured. “I liked you dark, too. But I really like the red. It matches your temperament.” Every word had his mouth brushing against her bare skin and she felt his laugh when she elbowed him in the gut, not that she could possibly hurt him.

“I almost forgot I’m not speaking to you,” she said. But it was without a whole lot of heat because the feel of his mouth on her was making her shiver, and she learned something about herself that she hadn’t known. It turned out that she could feel only one overpowering sensation at a time. The terror and claustrophobia retreated enough to let in a wave of desire.

Which meant she’d lost her ever-loving mind. “Are you coming on to me in a closet on a stakeout?” she whispered incredulously.

“Do you want me to be?”

Of course she wanted him to be. But she also wanted him to work for it. “Keep going,” she said, “and I’ll let you know.”

There was a smile in his voice when he spoke, his mouth still at her ear. “Do you realize that every time I’ve tried to protect you, you’ve managed to hold your own? And damn if that’s not sexy as hell, Kylie.”

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