The next day, my phone jolted me out of a deep sleep. I looked at the clock. Four thirty in the morning? What the hell?

"Hello," I said groggily, pressing the answer button.

"Honey?" It was Maggie.

"Hey, Mags, what's up?" I asked, concerned now.

"Honey, I'm taking you up on your offer to work the kitchen today. Norm was up all night pukin' his guts up–sorry for the TMI–and there's no way he can go into the diner. If you decide you don't wanna do it, that's okay. But, if so, we're gonna have to put a closed sign on the door."

I paused very momentarily, knowing that closing the diner for even one day was going to take money out of their pocket. Their children were grown, but I had heard Maggie mentioning to a friend that she and Norm had been working their butts off the last couple years to make up for the retirement they hadn't put away while their kids were in college. "Of course I'll do it, Maggie."

She let out a breath. "Okay, great. Thanks so much, hon. I'll see you there shortly?"

"Yeah, and give Norm my best."

"Will do, honey, thanks."

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I hung up. I was going to be cooking for people today. I sat there for a couple minutes, but didn't feel anxious about it–other than the nervousness of being able to keep up with the orders that came in. Maybe it was because I had gotten my feet wet cooking for Archer, or maybe it was just because I was in a better place now concerning my emotions and fears. In any case, I didn't have time to sit here thinking about it all day. I needed to get to the diner and start getting the kitchen ready.

I took a quick shower, pulled on my uniform, dried my hair and pulled it back into a low bun, making sure all my hair was contained. I took Phoebe out and then fed her, and rushed out the door.

Ten minutes later, I was walking into the diner, Maggie obviously having just gotten there minutes before me.

"I'll help you set up," she said. "It's pretty straightforward though. If you feel comfortable making eggs, a few omelets, bacon, and pancakes, you'll be fine. Nothing we serve is too complicated."

I nodded. "I think I'll be fine, Maggie. Just let the customers know that this is my first day, and hopefully they'll tolerate their meal being a few minutes later than they're used to." I smiled.

"I'll take care of them." She smiled back.

We got busy taking all the omelet ingredients out of the refrigerator and putting them in the containers at the back of the counter behind the grill for easy access. Maggie beat several cartons of eggs and put them in containers in the refrigerator under the counter so that would be ready for me to pour straight on the grill as well. Half an hour later, and I felt like all my ingredients were prepared. Maggie went to start brewing coffee and to turn the sign around on the door from 'closed,' to 'open.'

The bell started ringing over the door a few minutes later as the first customers started coming in.

I spent the morning making omelets, frying rashers of bacon and hash browns, and pouring Norm's pancake batter onto the griddle. A few times I fell behind just a little bit, but overall, for my first time in this particular kitchen, and cooking for large amounts of people on a timeframe, I felt great about the job I'd done. I could tell Maggie was pleased too, by all the winks and smiles she shot me through the open window. "Doing a bang up job, honey," she called.

When things started to slow down a bit, I started putting my own twist on a few of the dishes–a little garlic in the eggs I used for the omelets, a splash of cream in the scrambled eggs, buttermilk instead of water in the pancake batter–things my dad had taught me.

As I was cleaning up the kitchen in preparation for lunch, I whipped up my special potato salad with bacon, and a roasted pepper pasta salad that had been a favorite in our deli. I smiled as I did it, my heart rejoicing in the fact that this wasn't a sad task, but rather something that kept my dad's memory alive.

Lunch went even better than breakfast as I had a full handle on the kitchen now and how all the appliances worked.

Maggie told everyone about the two salad "specials" and by twelve thirty, both batches were completely gone.

"Rave reviews on those salads, honey," Maggie said, smiling. "Think you'd like to whip up a few more batches for tomorrow?"

I grinned. "Sure thing," I said happily.

By three o'clock, when the diner closed for the day, Maggie and I were exhausted, but high-fived each other, laughing. I was tired, but happy and satisfied.

"Need me again tomorrow?"

"I hope not. Hopefully Norm's on the mend, but I'll let you know." She winked at me. "You did a real fine job back there." She looked thoughtful. "Even when Norm's back, think you'd be interested in making some of those salads as a regular item?"

I smiled. "I'd love to."

I left the diner smiling happily and headed to my car. As I was almost there, a police cruiser pulled into the parking space next to mine, Travis inside.

I stood next to my own car, not getting in, waiting for Travis to turn his cruiser off and get out.

He walked over to me, a smile on his face that looked less than genuine.

"Hey, Bree."

"Hi, Travis." I smiled.

"Is it true?"

The smile disappeared from my face. "Is what true?" I said, figuring I knew exactly what he was asking about.

"That Archer is more than a friend to you?" He leaned his ass against my car and crossed his arms in front of him, his eyes trained on me.

I sighed, looking down for a minute and then back up to Travis. "Yes, Travis, it's true." I put my weight on one hip, feeling slightly uncomfortable in front of this man whom I had kissed. "In fact, I'm, um, seeing him."

He laughed. "Seeing him? How's that?" He looked truly confused.

I was instantly angry, as I stood up straighter. "How's that? Because he's a good man–he's smart and sweet and… why am I explaining this? Look, Travis, the truth is… I like him, and, I wasn't trying to lead you on by going out with you. But I wasn't really sure at that point what was going on with me and Archer. And now I am. And so I hope you understand when I tell you that I don't want to see anyone else. Just him. Just Archer."

His eyes narrowed on me, anger flashing across his face. But just as quickly, he schooled his expression and shrugged. "Listen, I'm not happy about this. I'm interested in you, so, yeah, this pretty much sucks to hear." He pursed his lips. "But, listen, if you've found a way to communicate with Archer, how can I be angry about that? That kid's had a hard enough time of it. I'm not too selfish to see that he deserves some happiness. So… I wish you two the best, Bree. Really."

I let out a breath, deciding to ignore his "kid" comment about Archer and remind him that Archer was actually a couple months older than him. I let that go and said, "Thanks, Travis. I appreciate that a lot. Friends?" I smiled at him.

He groaned. "Ouch. Friend-zoned." But then he smiled and it looked genuine. "Yeah, friends."

I grinned at him and exhaled. "Okay, good."

We smiled at each other for a second, and then he tilted his head to the side looking as if he was thinking. "Listen, Bree, this whole situation has kind of made me realize that I've been an a*shole not trying harder to be a friend to Archer. Maybe I dismissed him too quickly, thinking his silence meant he wasn't interested in being friends. Maybe it was me who just didn't try hard enough."

I nodded, excited. "Yes, he just really wants to be treated like a normal person, Travis. And no one in town seems to do that. They all just ignore him, pretend he doesn't exist." I frowned.

He nodded, studying me. "You're a good person, Bree. I'm going to drive out there later this week and say hi to him."

I grinned. "That would be great, Travis. I think he might like that."

"Okay." he smiled. "Now I'm going to go drown my sorrows in Maggie's cherry pie."

"Diner's closed," I said, giving him a mock sad face and then smiling.

He smiled back. "Yeah, but Maggie's still in there and when she gets a look at my face, she'll dish me up a piece." He winked. "Have a good day, okay?"

I laughed slightly. "You too, Travis." I got in my car and drove home, singing along with the radio the whole way.

An hour later, I was showered and in a pair of dark, fitted jeans and a light blue t-shirt with my hair hanging long and loose. Ten minutes after that, I pulled up in front of Archer's gate with Phoebe in my basket. I opened the gate which was left open a crack, and set Phoebe down to go find her friends.

I leaned my bike against Archer's fence and started walking down his long driveway, just as he appeared around the side of his house, wearing ripped jeans and work boots and nothing else. His chest was slightly shiny with perspiration and he used his arm to wipe it across his forehead. Obviously, he had been on one of his many projects again.

My tummy dipped at the sight of that beautiful body and I thought about how I wanted to see all of it–every bit. Soon? Hopefully soon.

He grinned at me and started walking faster and a flock of butterflies took up flight between my ribs. I started hurrying toward him too.

When I had almost reached him, I ran the last little ways and flew at him as he caught me and lifted me in his arms, me laughing happily as he spun around and laughed silently up at me.

I leaned my head down and kissed him hard, getting lost in the sweet cinnamon flavor of his mouth, mixed with that singular flavor that was only him. I kissed him all over his face, smiling and loving the slightly salty taste of his skin.

He gazed up at me in that way that made me feel cherished. His expression was simultaneously wondrous and joyful. I realized that I put that expression on this beautiful man's face. My heart melted and my tummy clenched again. I rubbed my thumb over his cheekbone and gazed down at him from where he held me above him. "I missed you today," I said.

He smiled at me and his eyes told me everything that his hands couldn't as he held me close to him. He brought his lips to mine again and kissed me deeply.

After a few minutes, I came up for air. "You really got a hold of the kissing thing quickly, didn't you?" I winked at him and he chuckled silently, his chest vibrating against mine.

He let me down and signed, You're extra happy today.

I nodded as we walked toward his house. We went into his kitchen where he poured both of us glasses of water while I told him all about cooking at the diner.

He drank his water, watching me chatter away, obviously finding pleasure in my happiness. Sweet man. His throat moved with each swallow of his water, his scar stretching as he drank. I stopped talking and leaned forward and kissed it, thinking momentarily about what he had told me yesterday about Victoria Hale, the evil bitch. What kind of horrible demon did you have to be to do what she had done to Archer, ensuring his handicap was one he'd have to live with forever, ultimately isolating him and making him feel damaged and limited. I wasn't a violent person, but when I thought about it, I felt like I could easily inflict physical pain on her and not feel the slightest bit of guilt.

I wrapped my arms around Archer's waist and put my head against his chest, listening to his heart beat. I turned my face into his warm skin and nuzzled my nose against it, inhaling his musky scent. I darted my tongue out to taste him and felt him harden against my stomach. I pressed into him, squeezing him tighter, and he shivered slightly.

He threaded his fingers through my hair until I moaned, my eyes fluttering closed. I opened them to look up at him and he was gazing down at me with that same look of awe that made my heart beat out of time in my chest. For several seconds, we just looked at each other before he brought his lips to mine and his tongue entered my mouth, warm and wet, sliding deliciously over my own. Sparks shot downward, and I pressed into Archer's erection harder to get relief from the intense throbbing that had started between my legs. But that only made it worse. "Archer…" I breathed out, breaking free from his kiss.

He brought his arms from around me and his eyes seared into mine, the look on his face somehow both nervous and hungry. I know you like my hands in your hair. Show me other ways you like to be touched. Teach me what you like, he said.

As his hands made the words slowly, my breath hitched and more moisture flowed between my legs. As erotic as his question was, I felt slightly unsure too. No one had ever asked me anything like that–and I didn't know exactly what to do, where to begin. I swallowed heavily.

Without looking away from my eyes, Archer walked me backwards to his couch and laid me down gently. I blinked up at him and bit my lip. Standing above me like that, his erection tenting the front of his jeans, he looked like every fantasy I'd ever had come true. Only my imagination had been lacking because I had never thought to add the look of awe and lust clouding my fantasy's beautiful features. I had never thought to give him those gorgeous whiskey-colored eyes with the fringe of dark lashes. I couldn't have known that Archer Hale existed somewhere in this crazy, crowded world, and that he had been made just for me.

And in that moment, I knew. I was falling in love with the beautiful, silent man staring down at me. If I hadn't already fallen.

He sat down on the couch next to me and leaned in and kissed me sweetly and then leaned back, running his hands through my hair again until I moaned. I loved that. If Archer simply ran his fingertips over my scalp all night long, that might be enough for me–might. Okay, it wouldn't be. But it still felt great. I smiled up at him and he looked at me questioningly.

"My neck," I whispered. "I like my neck kissed."

He leaned in immediately and ran his soft lips over the skin there. I arched my head back and sighed, using my own fingers to run through his soft, thick hair.

He experimented with sucking gently on the skin at my neck and feathering his lips over the skin there, and I told him with my moans what I liked best. And just like Archer, he was good at everything he did–learning quickly and easily how to make me pant and writhe beneath him.

With my arousal, I got bolder, pushing his head lower, to my breasts. He understood immediately and leaned back and cupped his hands over them, feeling their weight.

His eyes shot to mine, shining with lust, and then moved back to my body as he lifted my shirt and pulled it over my head. He ran his eyes over me, lying there in my simple, white lace bra, and he inhaled sharply.

I reached up and unhooked it and let it fall to the side. Archer's eyes widened slightly as he stared at my breasts. Under other circumstances, I might have felt uncomfortable, but the blatant lust shining in his eyes, and the look of appreciation on his face was so intense that I glowed under his scrutiny.

You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, he said, and I smiled a small smile at him.

"You can kiss me there, Archer," I whispered, wanting to feel his warm, wet mouth sucking on my nipples so badly I ached.

His eyes flared, and he leaned in immediately as if it was exactly what he'd wanted to do and had just been waiting for my direction.

I gasped and moaned as he used his tongue to taste and lick one nipple, and then the next. My blood was roaring through my veins, and I couldn't help it when my hips thrust upwards, seeking relief from the deep throb that was beating between my legs, begging to be filled.

Archer continued to tease and suck my nipples until I was moaning with a combination of ecstasy and agony.

"Archer," I panted out. "It's too much. You have to stop."

He brought his head up and looked at me with a small frown. Not good? He asked.

I laughed, a small, tortured sound. "No, too good," I said, biting my lip.

He tilted his head, studying me, and then nodded. You need relief, he said. Show me how to do it with my hand.

I blinked at him. "Okay," I whispered. I realized that I was still using my voice, instead of my hands, even though there was now room between us, and brought them from around his waist to sign, Take my jeans off?

He immediately turned to unbutton and unzip my jeans, and then stood to pull them down my legs. His erection still filled his jeans. He must need some relief too. I wanted him inside of me desperately, but I knew it would be his first time. I thought we should build up to that. There was no rush.

He returned to where he had been sitting next to me and looked at me questioningly again. I took his hand and put it slightly under the waistband of my underwear. I could feel that they were already drenched.

He reached down tentatively and when his fingers reached my folds and slid into my wetness, I moaned and leaned my head back, one leg falling to the side, against the couch back, to give him better access. His fingers sliding over me and slightly inside felt so good.

After a minute, he moved down my body and slid my underwear off and gently positioned my leg against the couch back again. He moved up and used his finger to trace my lips and now watched as he did it. I was open and exposed to him in the most intimate way possible. But strangely, I didn't feel shy. When his finger hit my swollen bundle of nerves, I gasped and moaned and pressed toward his fingers. His eyes flared, and he circled his finger around it as I moaned and moved my head from side to side on the couch cushion. I felt the blood now pulsing at a slow simmer, begin to boil. "Faster, please," I begged.

Archer sped up, his finger making tight circles on my pulsing * as he moved it in response to my cries and moans. He had gotten me so worked up, it only took minutes before my body tightened and then released gloriously in a shower of pleasure so intense that I screamed out Archer's name, arching my back upwards and then collapsing on the couch.

When I opened my eyes, Archer was staring at me, his lips parted slightly and that same mixture of adoration and lust on his face.

He moved up the couch and kissed me tenderly, nipping at my lips teasingly. I could feel the smile on his mouth and I smiled against his lips.

But then when I wiggled slightly, he inhaled suddenly, and I remembered that he was probably in a needy situation now too.

Without speaking, I pushed him back and nudged him gently with my hands until he was sitting on the couch, leaning against the back. His eyes watched me the whole time, waiting to see what I was doing. I stood up and shimmied my underwear up my legs so that I wouldn't trip myself with them down around my ankles.

I kneeled down in front of him and unbuttoned his jeans, glancing up at him. His eyes watched me eagerly. He literally had no idea what I was doing. Oh my God. I knew Archer had been isolated here on this property, but I wondered if his uncle had ever talked to him about sex… I wondered how much he knew about the things men and women did in the bedroom. Or the living room couch.

I pulled his jeans down and his cock sprang free. I stared at it for a second, my lips parting. He definitely wasn't lacking in that department. Just like the rest of him, it was large and beautiful. And it looked painfully hard, the head purple and engorged.

I looked up at him and he was watching me, uncertainty now clouding his features. You're beautiful, I signed, and he visibly relaxed.

I leaned forward and licked the swollen tip of him lightly and he jolted and sucked in a breath. I looked up at him with satisfaction and his eyes were large, his pupils dilated even further.

I leaned forward again and licked up the back of his cock, from the base to the tip and then circled my tongue around the tip again. His breathing grew ragged and I could hear him drawing in big gulps of air.

I put my mouth over the head and used my fist to hold the base of his cock as I sucked him as far back into my throat as I could. I brought my mouth up and down on him for a couple strokes and when I leaned back to see if he liked what I was doing, he pressed himself toward me, begging me with his eyes to keep going. I smiled slightly and then put my mouth back on him.

He brought his hands up to my head and started threading his fingers through my hair again as I moved up and down on his hard length.

After less than a minute, I felt him grow even bigger and harder in my mouth and his panting got louder as he began to thrust toward my face. Just a few strokes and he froze, his thick, salty essence bursting into my mouth. I swallowed it and then swirled my tongue over the head of his cock one final time before coming up and looking up at him.

His hand was in his own hair now, gripping the strands right above his forehead and he was looking down at me like he had just discovered the Holy Grail. I smiled up at him smugly. Good? I signed.

He just nodded his head, that same awe-filled expression on his face. I leaned up and planted myself on his lap, kissing his mouth. He kissed me deeply for several minutes and then leaned back.

Will you do that again?

I let out a small laugh. Yes. Not like, now, I grinned, but yes. I will.

I kissed him again and then got up off his lap, pulling my clothes back on as Archer hiked his jeans up over his narrow hips. I had seen most of him now, but not completely. I couldn't wait to see him bare all over. I couldn't wait to feel him skin to skin as he moved inside of me. I shivered. Even though I had had an orgasm less than fifteen minutes before, I felt warmth spreading through my veins.

I moved back onto his lap and kissed his neck lightly, darting my tongue out to taste the saltiness there. He had been working in the yard earlier, sweating lightly, but everything about him was delicious to me. I inhaled deeply as his arms came around me, holding me tightly to him. I felt safe and protected and I was bursting with happiness.

After a minute, I brought my head up and asked, Archer, your uncle, did he teach you about… sex? I flushed slightly, not wanting to embarrass him. What a strange situation it was to be sitting on the lap of the sexiest guy I had ever known, a beautiful twenty-three year old man and asking him if he knew what sex was. Not that I was overly worried about him in that department–evidently he was a quick study and an A plus pupil. I figured he knew the reproductive aspects of sex–I assumed he took biology. But did he know anything of the variety of things men and women did together?

Archer shrugged. No. His mind didn't really work that way. He always seemed to be working out some problem in his head–or protecting our property. I asked him about it once when I was thirteen or so and he gave me a couple magazines. He looked away, looking slightly uncomfortable. There were some articles in them… and I got the gist of it. He frowned, studying me for a minute. Does it bother you that I've never…

Before he could finish, I was shaking my head. No, Archer. You're the sexiest man I've ever known. Even that day that you stopped in the parking lot to help me, I was drawn to you then. Even with the crazy beard and the long hair. I grinned and he smiled back.

I think we're pretty good together, don't you? I teased, kissing his neck.

He smiled a genuine smile this time and nodded back, kissing me on my lips.

We stayed this way for a few minutes, just kissing lightly and holding each other, me nuzzling his delicious-smelling neck. I could have stayed there all day.

I lifted my head when I remembered the conversation I'd had with Travis. Hey, I saw Travis in town today and he asked me about coming out here to see you. Archer furrowed his brows but didn't say anything. I didn't mention the fact that I'd gone on one date with Travis. It hadn't meant anything anyway, and I'd never had feelings for him so why bring it up now?

Anyway, I went on, he said he felt badly that he didn't have more of a relationship with you. Archer raised one eyebrow, but continued to listen. He said he was gonna come out here this week to visit.

Archer looked dubious. What? I asked. You don't like him?

I moved off his lap, next to him on the couch so that we could use our hands to talk more easily. In the short time that I'd known him, we had gotten really good at speaking sign language together, using a type of short hand for words that we both understood, only spelling out portions of words, things like that. It now took us about half the time to make a statement as it would have a couple weeks earlier.

Archer was significantly better on his own than he had been when I had first signed with him, picking up things from me as we went along. After all, I had spoken it all my life. It was my second language. He had only learned it from a book and this was the first time he was putting it to actual use. Just a couple weeks before, he had spelled out things that he didn't have the sign for–now that wasn't the case anymore.

No, not really, he said. He messes with people, Bree. His jaw tensed with some memory or another as he stared off into space. I haven't even seen him in a couple years–except driving around town in his police car.

I studied him. Well, I think he's changed. He's a really nice guy, actually. Maybe you could give him a chance when he comes here? Wouldn't it be nice to have some family in town that you actually have a relationship with? I thought how I'd do anything to have even one person to call family–and how I'd do whatever I could to foster a relationship if I had the opportunity. And I wanted that for Archer. I hated the thought of him out here all alone all the time, except for me. I wanted friends for him, family… I wanted him to be happy, to be a part of the community.

Archer still looked dubious, but he took in what I'm sure was a hopeful expression on my face and asked, You want me to give him a chance?

I nodded slowly, yes.

He kept looking at me for a minute. Okay, then, I will, he said simply.

I cupped my hand on his cheek, leaning in and kissing his soft lips. "I know that isn't easy for you. Thank you," I said, speaking with my voice right against his lips.

He nodded his head, pulling me into him again and holding me against him tightly.

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