“None of us could bring ourselves to do it, to hit her, you know, so we called in the girls. Phoenix was already here, but Siren and Kitten came to help.”

Phoenix, as delicate and fragile in appearance as Ava, yet she was the one who’d stepped in at the last moment to finish pulverizing Noelle’s ribcage. Siren was plain, average—until she opened her mouth. Girl had the voice of an angelic choir, and listening to her was embarrassingly orgasmic.

Kitten, despite her feline grace, was pretty in the same hardass way as Hector. Tattooed, intense, with no apparent softness.

“Let me guess,” Hector said. “Kitten wanted a go at her first.”

How had he known?

“Bingo. Kit asked her how she’d smuggled the maid in—the second time. Don’t know if you were here for that. Anyway, Noelle said she’d used the tunnel. So Kit went off on this tangent about how, if Noelle had used the tunnel, none of us were alerted, yada yada, and roughed our girl Noelle up a bit. Noelle babbled about being willing to do anything to stop the abuse, even showing Kit her tits. Vulgar language out of that candy apple mouth and spoken in that I’m-already-in-bed-and-without-my-panties voice …” Dallas moaned, as if in pain.

Hector gripped the arm of the couch, his knuckles bleaching. Then he stiffened and pried his fingers from the furniture. Breathing deeply, he settled his hands in his lap.

Such a strong reaction confused her, made her wonder what the hell was going on inside that head of his.

“You know what’s really interesting, though,” Dallas went on when he’d collected himself from the hormone high. “Even when Siren and Phoenix got in on the action, Noelle never cried. Never got winded or acted as if she were hurt in any way. I’ll show you the video feed. This’ll only be my eighteenth time to watch it.”

“No!” Hector shouted, then more calmly added, “No, thanks. I’m too into the game, and I, uh, need something stronger than beer.” He gave his bottle to a still-scowling Jaxon, pushed to a stand, and turned.

That’s when he spotted her. His eyes widened, his nostrils flared, and the gold in his eyes blazed.

Oh, was she in trouble now.

NOELLE WAVED WITH ONLY the slightest hesitation, as if she wasn’t reeling from the sight of him. As if she wasn’t irritated for missing him all these many weeks while he wasn’t even interested in watching her outsmart three of his coworkers.

Not that he would realize she’d outsmarted The Estrogen Brigade. Come on—use the tunnel again? Please. But because Noelle had offered a plausible explanation, Kitten had locked on that, never even considering there could have been another way. Same with the others.

Hector stood there a minute, popping his jaw. Rather than rat her out, as she halfway expected, he stalked from the living room, out the front door, and to her side.

He didn’t speak as he grabbed her by the forearm—when had he pulled on gloves?—and tugged her away from the building.

Another shocker: he didn’t haul her ass back to the bunkhouse.

Her heart drummed in her chest, and if she’d been a normal human being, that probably would have hurt the shit out of her battered ribs, was probably damaging her in ways she didn’t know, but honestly? She didn’t care. He smelled delicious, like he had that night in the alley, all earth and sky, fresh, wild, and untamable.

His skin was warm through the soft fabric, warmer than anyone else who’d ever touched her, and the intensity of that heat affected her, reaching those deadened receptors and forcing them to take notice.

After bypassing all of the lamps, he released her and rounded on her, getting in her face. He was scowling. She thought he was going to erupt into a tangent about sneaking from her quarters, but he merely stared down at her, silent.

She could still feel him, she mused, rubbing at her wrist.

He relaxed, but only for a second. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, spying on us?” The gold in his eyes no longer blazed. They’d frosted over. “You should be in bed—I mean, you should be lying down, recovering.”

He was so close, finally within reach. Every thread of her annoyance faded. She quivered with excitement. “I wasn’t spying. I was eavesdropping.” Was her voice as breathless to him as it was to her?

“There has to be, since I was doing one and not the other.” She raised her chin, and the tips of their noses brushed.

Flickers of the blaze returned, melting some of the ice. He jerked backward, ensuring there would be no more contact. But he didn’t stalk away, leaving her alone. He massaged his left hand up and down his right arm.

Was he glowing through the gloves? She couldn’t quite tell.

He was glowing, then. He was also a liar. Glow-in-the-dark lotion possessed a very distinct odor—an odor that did not cling to him. Also, if your goal was to glow in the dark, why cover up when you succeeded?

Ponder it later. The answer didn’t matter, anyway. He was Hector, beautiful, strong, intense Hector, and she was finally alone with him. No telling how long he would—or wouldn’t—stick around.

“What kind of damage did Kitten do to you?” he suddenly demanded.

Was he simply curious, or did he actually care? “Well, I think I’m bleeding internally and I’ll be lucky to live through the night, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Horror bathed his features. “You’re going to a medic. Now. Don’t you dare think about protesting, either.”

Chuckling, she dodged before he could clasp on to her. Or swoop her up, whichever he’d been planning. “No. I’m fine. Really.” His show of concern delighted her. Meant he cared, as she’d hoped. Even if the caring was only for a subordinate. “She hit me a few times, but it’s nothing I haven’t experienced before.”

He stood there, a muscle ticking in his jaw. “Before.” A menacing growl. “Who hit you before?”

What would he do if she told him? Hurt the offenders in turn? God, she liked that idea. Liked the thought of him rampaging in her defense. Ava was the only one who’d ever had her back. “I’ve been in more fights than I can remember, so I’m afraid I can’t give you any names.”

A pause as he absorbed her claim, relaxed.

“Unless I’m in front of my computer, and open my People To One Day Destroy file,” she added.

He shook his head in exasperation. “So. How did you do it?”

Confused now, she merely blinked up at him. “Do what?”

“Sneak in the maid. You didn’t use the tunnel.”

Her eyes widened. “How do you know? I totally could have.”

He snapped his teeth at her. “How?”

She should lie. If he turned her in …

He won’t turn you in.

How do you know? You heard him with Dallas—she’s still here, he said. He’s had it out for you since the beginning and wants you gone.

Great, now she was talking to herself. “I overheard Dallas on the phone with you,” she admitted, watching his expression. There was no flash of surprise or pride. No flash of anything. “You guys were talking about how an Arcadian had popped into several different hospital rooms, snagged a few ladies, and popped out with no one the wiser.”

I’m not disappointed. “I have an Arcadian on my payroll and made a call.”

Still he didn’t react—but he did step closer to her. His night-wild scent enveloped her, seeping into her pores, forcing all of her thoughts on him—on getting even closer to him.

“Are you going to tattle on me?” she asked.

There were several beats of hesitation before he said, “No,” the admission seeming to astonish him.

Relief cascaded through her. She wouldn’t ask why. He might change his mind, the contrary brute. “So … any luck on your case?”

An abrupt shake of his head. He opened his mouth, and she suspected—hoped—he meant to tell her more about it, maybe even ask her opinion or thoughts, but he didn’t.

“Where have you been?” she asked, putting them on the right track. “You were supposed to come back at the first of the month.” Not that she’d asked around or anything.

“I was taking care of a few things.” His eyelids narrowed to tiny slits. “And the few things aren’t any of your business, so don’t ask.”

His lack of answer sent her mind into a tailspin. Had he been holed up with some skank he considered his intellectual equal? Working on that case and injured? Sick? “Do you want to know what I’ve been doing?” A husky note had entered her voice.

He stiffened. “I know what you’ve been doing. Causing trouble.”

Not. Disappointed. The men in her life never took her seriously, so why should Hector be any different? Even though he saw a bit deeper than everyone else. “We’ve interacted so little, and yet you already know me so well. I’m impressed. Really.”

He didn’t take the bait. “Tell me something, Noelle.” So seductively uttered, as if he were already in bed and crooking his finger at her. The change in him was breathtaking.

“All right,” she managed without trembling. Much. “What did you mean that day? When you said I was Ava’s?”

“Oh, that.” She waved a dismissive hand through the air. “Ava called dibs.”

His brow did that arching thing again. “Explain.”

“Short and sweet answer is, she gets to have sex with you and I don’t.” Was that a … pout in her voice? God, it was.

Breath hissed between Hector’s teeth, all hint of seduction gone. “I won’t be having sex with either of you.”

Ouch. Such certainty on his part. That annoyed her so much, she forced herself to airily say, “Well, of course you won’t be having sex with me. I just told you, I don’t have dibs on you. I have dibs on someone else.”

“Who do you have dibs on?” he asked quietly. Savagely.

Jealously? “The very gorgeous Dallas. I just hope he doesn’t mind sharing me. I have an assembly line of men waiting for their turn with me.”

One step, two, Hector closed the rest of the distance between them, in her face once more. “Have you slept with him?” Still he used that quiet tone. Quiet, yet somehow lethal, cutting. “Is that who you were waiting for at the cabin?”

She wasn’t afraid of Hector, but she found herself backing away, anyway, until the cold brick-climbing wall stopped her. He was just so big, so masculine, unlike any man she’d ever met. She wasn’t exactly sure how to handle him. And he hadn’t responded to her lie about the assembly line.

He braced his hands beside her temples, effectively caging her in. God, she loved when he did that. Warm breath trekked down her cheeks, scented with mint. The lamps were a good distance away, yet she could see him perfectly, his face bathed in golds and whites.

“I thought you knew what I’d been up to. Therefore, you should know the answers to your questions already.”

He was jealous. The knowledge filled her with such joy, the truth instantly spilled out of her. “No to both. I was waiting for you.”

Another round of silence, this one overflowing with promise. And yet his anger never faded.

“Let me give you a tip,” he said in that cutting tone. “Sleep with your instructors, and lose the respect of your peers.”

She ran her tongue over her lips, her own sense of anger growing. “What makes you think I care about respect? I’m so dumb I wouldn’t know the difference, anyway. Right?” Oops. Some of her bitterness had escaped.

“You’re not dumb. You might be the smartest person I’ve ever met.”

“You continually convince people to believe what you want them to believe. That isn’t accidental.”

He so deserved a reward. She decided to press, to see how far he’d go with her. “What about one agent dating another agent, huh? Like, say, you and me. Is that acceptable?”

There. The reason she was here. She wanted to know where they stood, if the desire was mutual. He’d been jealous, yes, but you couldn’t base a relationship on jealousy alone.

Now you’re thinking about doing the relationship thing with him?

He glared down at her with an emotion she couldn’t read. Something hot, though … not anger, not any longer. “You’re not an agent.”

“I will be.” Truth. She would continue to work hard, to push herself, and one day she would carry a badge. Save lives.

“When you’re an agent you can date whoever the hell you want,” he said with a potent mix of hope and loathing. “Anyone except me. I don’t date women, Noelle. Ever.”

Her breaths came fast and shallow, yet every single one brushed her pebbled nipples against his chest. The friction speared lance after lance of pleasure through her. Hot, tingling, all-consuming.

“Men, then?” No, please, no.