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About That Kiss:A Heartbreaker Bay Novel(5)

By:Jill Shalvis



When they finally got to the top they didn't stop, instead entering The  Presidio, a park where one could run along forested trails for miles.  Almost immediately the city vanished behind woods of thick eucalyptus  and, still goading each other, they went all out.

Spence was in excellent shape, but Joe trained for a living. Five miles  later Joe inched ahead of Spence and beat him back to their building,  gasping for breath, dripping sweat.

"You're insane," Spence managed, bent at the waist, hands on his knees. "You outrun your demons, I hope?"

"Can't run fast enough for that," Joe said.

Spence straightened with a frown. "See, something is wrong. Your dad? Molly?"

"No, they're both fine and so am I." Joe shook his head. He didn't know  what was up with him, other than a general restlessness. His dad was . .  . well, his dad.

"The job?" Spence asked.

Joe shook his head. His job was fulfilling and solid, and served the  additional purpose of giving him his daily adrenaline rush as needed.  "I'm fine," he repeated.

"Yeah, so you keep saying." Spence paused and then shook his head. "I'm  around. You know that, right? We're staying in San Francisco for the  next few months."

Not that long ago, Spence had fallen hard and fast for Colbie Albright, a  YA fantasy author based out of New York. They'd been splitting their  time between San Francisco and New York, but both preferred San  Francisco and resided on the private fifth floor penthouse suite of the  Pacific Pier Building where Joe worked.         

     



 

Colbie had been great for Spence, making him seem more human than he'd  ever been, and clearly far happier. Joe was glad for him, even if he  didn't completely understand the life Spence was making in the name of  love. It wasn't that he didn't understand the need or yearning to share  his life but that he didn't feel like he had anything to offer. As a  hardened soldier turned security expert, he knew how to protect, but  what else could he give to a woman? Teach her how to hold a gun? How to  incapacitate a man in one-point-five seconds? Hardly things a normal  person would want or need to know.

And he could give even less emotionally. After all he'd seen and done,  he wasn't even actually sure if he could open up or allow himself to be  vulnerable enough to sustain a serious relationship. And what woman  would want a guy who couldn't? But not sure if Spence would understand,  he simply nodded. "Thanks," he said, and he meant it.

They fist-bumped and went their separate ways. Joe headed home, showered, and then got to work at two minutes past seven a.m.

"You're two minutes late," his sister, Molly, informed him from behind  the front desk, where she ran the show at Hunt Investigations. She stood  up and moved to her credenza to grab her iPad.

Her limp was more pronounced today than usual, which meant she was in  pain, and an age-old guilt sliced through him. Not that he said a word.  She got mad whenever he brought it up, but even worse than that, the  last time he'd done so, she'd cried.

He hated when she cried. So they played a game he was very familiar with. A game called Ignore All The Feels.

"I'm aware that I'm late, thanks," he said. He was the older sibling by  three years, but twenty-seven-year-old Molly seemed to believe she was  in charge of him. Which was not how it really went.

They'd grown up hard and fast. In their neighborhood, they'd had no  choice. Their dad suffered with prolonged PTSD from serving in the Gulf  War. As a result, Joe had been in charge from a young age. Being poor as  dirt hadn't helped any. He'd gotten in with the wrong crowd early,  doing things he shouldn't have in order to keep a roof over their heads  and food in their bellies.

"Archer's pissed," Molly warned quietly.

Archer had a thing. Being on time meant you were already late. Being two  minutes late was unforgiveable. Joe lifted a bakery box. "I brought  bribes."

"Ooh, gimme," she said, using both hands to do the come here gesture.

Joe held out the box but didn't relinquish it when she tried to take it. "Pick one."

Again she tried to take the box, huffing out a breath when he held  tight. "Whatever happened to trust?" she asked, relenting and taking  only one doughnut.

"It's not about trust. It's about if I let my guard down, you'll chew my fingers off to get to all the other doughnuts."

"And?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Annnnnnd . . . you made me swear on Mom's grave that I wouldn't give you more than one doughnut per day."

"That was last week."

"Yeah. So?"

"So," she said. "I was PMS-ing last week and feeling fat. I need another doughnut, Joe."

He had looked death right in the eye more times than he could count but  Molly's tone was more terrifying than anything he'd ever faced. "You  said you'd kill me dead in my own bed if I caved to you," he reminded  her.

"That could still happen."

He stared her down, but she was a Malone through and through and she  wasn't playing. Between a rock and a hard place, he relented and let her  take a second doughnut. Because who was he kidding? He'd never been  able to tell her no.

"Thanks. And good luck," she said, mouth full, giving him a chin nod toward Archer's office. "He's waiting for you."

Great. Yet another battle to survive. Some days his life felt like a  real-life video game. He headed down the hall to Archer's office, where  Archer and his significant other, Elle, were on the couch, arguing.

"I need the remote to show you my PowerPoint presentation," Elle was saying.
         

     



 
Archer shook his head. "Told you I don't have it."

"You just don't want to suffer through my PowerPoint," Elle said.

Archer apparently pleaded the Fifth.

"You're sitting on it, aren't you?" she demanded.

Archer almost smiled. "Funny how all trust goes away when the remote's involved."

Elle sighed. "You're impossible."

"And irresistible," Archer said. "Don't forget irresistible."

"Hmm," Elle said.

Archer was grinning at her as Joe stepped inside the office to make his  presence known because if he gave them another minute, chances were that  they'd decide to settle this by getting naked. Yeah, they were polar  opposites and drove each other nuts, but they were also passionately in  love.

Which was great for them. Personally, he'd rather face battle. War he  knew how to handle. War had rules. You fought. You won, no matter the  cost.

Love didn't have rules. And as far as he could tell, you couldn't actually win at love.

He endured a blistering look from Archer that would've caused most  anyone else to lose the contents of their bladder. But Joe didn't scare  easily. Still, he stayed a good distance back from the couch and tossed  the box of doughnuts their way.

Archer caught it in midair and nodded.

Bribe accepted.

"Where's everyone else?" Joe asked, referring to the rest of the team of guys who worked at Hunt Investigations.

"I postponed the morning meeting," Archer said biting into a chocolate  glaze. "Which you would've known if you'd been here on the hour."

He was literally four minutes past the hour but he didn't try to defend himself. Archer hated excuses.

"Heading to work now," Elle said and walked to the door. "Oh, and do you  know why it's called man hours?" she asked, turning back. "Because a  woman does the job in twenty minutes." With that, she left.

With the box of doughnuts.

Damn. That'd teach Joe not to grab a doughnut when he had the chance.

"So what's going on with Kylie?" Archer asked.

Joe prided himself on always being prepared, but this caught him off guard. "Nothing," he said. "Why?"

"Nothing?"

Well, shit. Archer didn't do small talk. Which meant he knew something.

"Let me help you out here," Archer said easily. "There's rumor of some sort of kiss between you two. Does that sound familiar?"

Jesus. That kiss had been in the alley off the courtyard in the pitch  dark. They'd been alone, he was sure of it. "How the hell do you always  know everything?"

Archer shrugged. "One of life's little mysteries. Do we need to discuss the risks of hurting one of Elle's friends?"

"Hell no," Joe said, looking over his shoulder to make sure Elle had  really left. "Nothing personal, boss man, but your woman is crazy."

Archer smirked. "Man, if a woman hasn't shown you her crazy, she's just not that into you."

While Joe processed that, Archer went on. "I put you in charge of the  Rodriquez case," he said. "You've got Lucas riding shotgun. You've got  an opening to get into the family compound at ten for some  surveillance-the notes are in the file. Don't miss your window."

Joe nodded. Lucas, a good friend as well as a coworker, was always a  good choice. The guy was a sharp partner with even sharper skills, and  as badass as they came. Joe would use the couple of hours before their  meeting to catch up on the file, which was a probate case. Hunt  Investigations had been hired to gather evidence to prove assets were  being hidden from key family members. It was a large, dysfunctional  family and there was a web of civil cases going on because everyone was  suing everyone. It most likely wouldn't involve a threat to life or  limb-always a nice bonus. Leaving Archer's office, he headed down the  hall toward his own, texting Lucas as he went.

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