Maybe because he wasn’t yelling at her.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“Buying a few sweet treats.” Her heart sped into a too-swift rhythm. I will not come on to him. “How did you find me?”

“Should I, uh, call the cops?” the server said from behind her.

Frost appeared in Hector’s eyes, a snowstorm of menace. “You think AIR doesn’t monitor that tunnel? You think they’d place a hatch in town and not watch it? You were tailed the second you hit the alley, and I was notified.”

The crack house, she thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why hadn’t she considered the possibility of cameras and alarms? Had she wanted to be caught? And why hadn’t she sensed the tail?

“That’ll be, uh, twenty-one seventy,” the server said now.

The frost thickened in Hector’s eyes, his spine stiffened.

Nibbling on her bottom lip, she dug her ultra-thin money card from her pocket, flashed it in front of the scanner and added a twenty-dollar tip.

A bright smile full of yellowing teeth. “Thank you, thank you so much.”

“Welcome.” She grabbed the box and returned her attention to Hector.

He hadn’t moved from his command post at the entrance, probably assuming she wouldn’t try to fight her way out, or that she would plead for mercy he wouldn’t show. As if! She raised her chin. “You kicking me out of the program or what?”

If he does, I will have failed Ava. Her stomach somersaulted, acid tumbling around like clothes in an enzyme washer. I can’t fail Ava.

He popped his jaw before reaching back and shoving open the door. With a tilt of his chin, he motioned her out. Well, well. He must not want a witness to what would happen next.

The acid burned a path up her chest. Still, Noelle strapped an imaginary iron rod to her back and marched into the night. She didn’t look back to be sure Hector followed, and she didn’t wait for him, either. She headed back the same way she’d come, not bothering to move out of the way as pedestrians approached; she simply barreled past them.

The streetlamps suddenly seemed too bright, the roaring car engines and inane chatter too loud.

Hector caught up with her quickly enough, his booted feet stomping into the concrete. “I take my job seriously, you know,” he began.

O-kay. Not the direction she’d anticipated. “Why?”

A crackling pause. “Did you really just ask me why?”

“Yes.” Not to be facetious or anything, but because she was curious about him.

“I stop predatory aliens from hurting others,” he gritted out. “I save lives.”

And didn’t that just make him even sexier? she thought with a wistful sigh.

“Why do you want to be an agent?” he asked. “And don’t give me that bullshit about wanting to shoot people legally.”

So Jaxon had told him about that.

Hector went on, “I believed it before, but I’ve seen the way you push yourself.”

He’d seen—and been impressed? She wouldn’t get her hopes up on that front. “To be honest, I just want to spent more time with Ava.” No reason to lie. If AIR had decided to can her, she would be canned, no matter what she said.

A beat of silence. Most likely her bluntness had stunned him. That happened a lot. With her family, her friends, everyone but Ava. “Well,” he finally said, “your reason sucks, and it won’t get you anywhere.”

“Why would a girl like me want or need to get anywhere?” she asked, only the slightest trace of bitterness escaping.

“That girl like me crap. You’ve got determination and drive, and you should be proud of it, not masking it with sarcasm.”

Hector Dean had just … praised her. She was dreaming. She had to be dreaming. “Are you saying I’d … make a good agent?”

Another beat of silence, as if he had to gather his thoughts. And that was answer enough, wasn’t it.

Knew better than to ask. Also, good thing she hadn’t gotten her hopes up.

“I’m saying you need to think long and hard about whether or not you’re right for this,” he said. “It’s hard and it’s dirty.”

Even as she fought the urge to punch him in the face for implying she couldn’t handle something like that, she forced her voice to go low and husky. “Hmm, hard and dirty. Just how I like my sex.”

He tripped over nothing and, scowling, hurried to right himself. “A few weeks ago, we found a storage unit with three otherworlder females trapped inside. They had been taken as prisoners, were malnourished, and near death. Is that something you can handle?”

Yeah, she could. She could handle anything. Rather than answer him, however, she asked a question of her own. “What happened to them?”

“We set them free, got them medical care. Now they’re on the mend, both mentally and physically.”

Ire rose on behalf of the females. “You catch whoever put them there?”

“Not yet, but we will.”

The words held a promise, a vow to avenge the weak. His sexiness factor jacked up a few more notches, and she shivered. “You really love your job. I mean, you more than take it seriously.”

“Of course.” He sound astonished that she’d think otherwise. “It’s my life,” he added.

Like Ava was hers. Fancy that—they had something in common. Both of them cared about something more than they cared about themselves. I will not admire him.

They turned a corner. A split second later, Hector slammed his shoulder into hers, shoving her into a shadowed brick wall in an abandoned alley. Gasping in astonishment, the touch catching her off guard, she lost her hold on the candy box. Splat. The bottom busted and the contents spilled out onto dirty concrete.

Oh, gross. There went Ava’s surprise.

“Hey! That was uncalled for, you—”

A growling Hector got in her face, putting them nose-to-nose. He glared down at her as the heat of his breath fanned against her, caressing her despite his obvious anger. “You should be kicked out for this little adventure. If I had my way, you would be kicked out, effective immediately.”

And I should knee you in the balls. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” she snapped, keeping her knee to herself. She hadn’t been this close to a man in a long time. And that the one so close to her was Hector, a brute who shouldn’t appeal to her but did … her stomach fluttered with hot flames of arousal. Her nipples tightened beneath the fabric of her bra, abrading deliciously.

He pressed closer to her, caging her completely.

Suddenly she had trouble catching her breath. Her gaze lowered to his mouth, and her survivalist fantasy came roaring back to life. Just then, Hector was the epitome of danger, a man who saved the day and demanded his due. A man who took what he wanted, damn the consequences.

What would he taste like? How would his strong body feel moving on—in—hers?

His pupils flared, black overshadowing gold. Had she somehow given her thoughts away?

“You disobeyed orders, Noelle. You put the entire camp in jeopardy. How is that not doing anything wrong?”

A spark of anger ignited, burning away the fear of being found out, but somehow increasing the arousal. “I get the order thing, but how did I jeopardize the camp?” I want to bite him. Claw him. The good kind of biting and clawing.

“What if an enemy had seen you exit that hatch? He could next blow up the buildings around it, then sneak through the tunnel, no one the wiser, everyone too consumed with the outside chaos. Should I go on?”

The anger drained, a guilty flush heating her cheeks. I want him to bite and claw me. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she said, and she meant it.

He slapped his hands at her temples, and pressed the rest of the way in, his lower body brushing against hers. For the second time in her life, she felt small and feminine. “You play the role of airhead damn well, but I’ve got your number now, honey.”

Panic momentarily overshadowed her desire and guilt. “And what’s my number?” He couldn’t know. He just couldn’t. She didn’t want him to know. “One eight hundred LOVE BUNNY?”

She’d always taken a perverse kind of pleasure in throwing fuel on the she’s so silly expectation. And yes, that pleasure was a double-edged sword because no one ever saw the real Noelle. No one ever experienced pride for her or in her. No one ever laughed with her. Always they laughed at her.

Time and time again, she could have proven everyone wrong, could have laughed at them. One thought had always stopped her: What if they didn’t like the real Noelle, either?

What if Hector had learned all about her, as he claimed, but found her lacking anyway?

“The others think you lucked out tonight,” he said on a ragged exhalation, “but in all the years of camp, you’re the only trainee to ever successfully sneak away. I think you knew to look for that hatch. I think you knew exactly what you were doing.”

He suspected, but he didn’t know. Part of her was relieved. The other part of her was disappointed. “Poor Hector, thinking he’s right when he’s so obviously wrong. Didn’t Jaxon tell you all about my life choices? About how childish I am. How frivolous. Of course I didn’t know what I was doing. I dropped a bracelet and crawled to get it.” A high-pitched giggle. “That’s how I found the hatch.”

His eyelids slitted, the long length of his lashes fusing together. Such pretty lashes, she mused. Better suited for a woman, and yet, they were gorgeous on him. Perfect.

“Jaxon didn’t tell us shit. We like to form our own opinions. And you didn’t bring any bracelets to camp. Try again.”

Double shocker. Jaxon had kept his mouth closed, and Hector had noticed her lack of jewelry. That meant he’d paid attention, studied her. I just plain want him. Really, truly want him.

“My big, bad instructor thinks he’s got me all figured out, huh?” She’d meant to taunt him. The huskiness of her voice merely revealed a lingering craving for him. She’d probably been on low simmer for him since the moment she’d met him.

Probably? Ha! She just hadn’t recognized the signs properly. Now … there was no denying what she felt.

Ava would want me to have him, she told herself. Dibs or no dibs.

The truth slipped from her on a whisper, a deliberate provocation. “Stop thinking about what we could be doing right now? Stop waiting for you to bend down and feed me your tongue?”

“Shit,” he cursed quietly, punching the wall with a hard fist. Dust plumed. “Don’t talk like that.”

“Like what?” Hector … close … tongue … Unable to stop herself, Noelle blatantly arched her hips and rubbed her core against him. A moan left her. Sweet insanity, he had an erection.

“Like I’m already inside you.” A groan—but he didn’t pull away from her.

“Well, if you don’t want to be, all you have to do is resist me,” she taunted. Have to kiss him … She slid her hands up his chest, his muscles jolting in greeting. Heat radiated from him, wrapping around her. Still he didn’t pull away. “Are you scared I might get to you?”

His breath shallowed, sawing in and out of his nose, and his gaze lowered to her mouth. “Scared,” he parroted, as though in a trance.

Doubtful. Nothing would scare the intractable Hector, she would bet. “Give me a taste, then, and we’ll both walk away happy,” she said, licking her lips, playing along. “There’s nothing scary about that.”

They met in the middle. The moment of contact, the gentle tasting she’d imagined spun out of control. Swept up on a tide of sensation, she ate at his mouth, sucked on his tongue. He flavor was as decadent as his scent, fresh, wild, and stormy, passion spiced with apples.

Though he seemed as wrapped up in the moment as she was, the flicks of his tongue were hesitant at first. But when he decided to go all in, he really went all in. He became the aggressor, taking over, dominating.

He kicked her legs apart and held her up, off her feet, using his lower body to press her into the wall. Her nails scraped along the stubble on his jaw, then his scalp, angling his head for better, deeper contact.

He growled at her, demanding she accept his domination. She liked that. The muscles in his neck pulled tight just before he arced away from her, letting her slide, slide. Then he slammed forward and pushed his thick erection between the vee of her legs once more, this time as forcefully as he could, catching her before her feet could touch the ground.

She trembled violently, gasped, utterly lost in him. Lost in the electric connection.

He arched back and slammed forward again, then again, forcing his cock against her with so much vigor she though he might break the thing in half. Either he liked things rough, or was too wrapped in his own desire to care about any injury to his shaft. Naughty girl that she was, she liked that, too.

Knowing Hector wanted her as fervently as she wanted him caused the ache inside her to intensify, and moisture to dampen her panties. More, need more. She climbed him like a mountain, winding her legs around his waist, making the rub between them constant.

Another slam, and she nearly erupted. The sensation … so strong … so wonderfully overwhelming.

“Please.” Her nails dug deeper into his scalp as she kissed him with all the passion trapped inside her. Passion she’d long denied herself. Passion she hadn’t known she was capable of feeling.