CHAPTER 22

Bree

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Over the next week we fell into an easy routine, so wrapped up in each other that I could barely wait to get off work, practically racing home to shower and grab Phoebe before heading straight to Archer's house. The smile that he greeted me with each day made me feel treasured as I ran into his arms, feeling in my head and my heart that I was finally home.

Not the place, but his arms. Archer's arms were my home–the only place I wanted to be, the place where I felt safe. The place where I felt loved.

We made love everywhere, spending long nights exploring each other's bodies and learning everything about what brought pleasure to the other. And just like Archer, he became a master in the fine art of lovemaking–leaving me languid and drugged with pleasure at the end of every interlude. Not only did he know how to make me wild with desire with his hands and his tongue and his impressive male parts, but he knew that when he scratched the backs of my knees with his short fingernails, I would purr like a cat, and that it relaxed me entirely when he ran his fingers through my hair. It was as if my body was his instrument and he learned to play it so perfectly that the melody vibrated within my very soul. Not only because of the pleasure he brought, but because he cared so much to know every little thing about me.

One day, he put a bowl of potato chips out while I was preparing us lunch and as I snacked on them, I noticed that they were all the folded ones that I loved, but usually had to hunt for.

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I looked down at the chips and then up at Archer, confused. "All these chips… they're all folded," I said, thinking I sounded crazy.

Aren't those the ones you like?

I nodded slowly, realizing that he had gone through several bags of chips to collect the ones I liked the best. And realizing that he had noticed that small fact about me at all, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. But that was just Archer. He wanted to please me, and he'd do anything in that effort.

Sometimes we would be doing something on his property when I would look over at him and see him looking at me with that lazy look on his face that meant that he was thinking about what he wanted to do to me in that moment, and I would become almost instantly wet and needy, my nipples pebbling beneath his silent stare.

And then he would either pick me up and carry me to his bed, or if we were so overcome, he would take me right where we were–on a blanket on the grass, the bright sunlight shining above us, or in the two-person hammock, or on the sandy shore of the lake.

After just such a session, as my body was still quivering with the orgasm he had just given me, I whispered breathlessly, "I dreamed this, Archer. I dreamed of you and me–just like this."

His eyes burned down into mine, and he leaned up and studied me for long minutes before he leaned down and kissed me so tenderly that I thought my heart would break.

I rolled him over in the wet sand, grinning against his mouth as he smiled too. And then we both stopped laughing as I lay my head on his chest and lived right there in that moment, thankful for the air in my lungs and the sunshine on my back, and the beautiful man in my arms. And his hands made letters on my skin and after a few minutes, I realized that he was spelling, My Bree… My Bree… again and again and again.

The weather was cool now and so after a little bit, we ran inside laughing and shivering and climbed in the shower to get all the sand off of us.

We curled up on his couch and he lit a fire in the fireplace, and we snuggled for a little while before I leaned back and looked at him.

Archer had this way of doing things that was so sexy and supremely male, it made my heart skip a beat at how naturally and unknowingly he did them. He would lean a hip against the counter in a certain way, or stand in a doorway holding on to the moulding above him as he watched me–things he had no idea affected me the way they did. It was just him being him, and somehow that made it even more appealing. There was no way I would tell him. I loved having that secret–I loved that those things were all mine, and I didn't want to affect his actions by making him aware of them. As for me, well, I was a total lost cause when it came to Archer Hale.

It made me wonder at the man he would have been if he hadn't been in that terrible accident, hadn't lost his voice… would he have been the quarterback of the football team? Gone to college? Run his own business? I had teased him once about being good at everything he did… and truly, he was. He just didn't see that. He didn't believe he had much of anything to offer.

He still hadn't opened up to me about the day that he lost his parents, and I hadn't asked him again. I wanted to know desperately what had happened to him, but I wanted to wait until he felt safe enough to tell me.

What are you thinking about? he asked, cocking one eyebrow up.

I smiled. You, I said. I was thinking about how I thank my lucky stars every day that I ended up here… right here, with you.

He smiled that sweet smile that made my stomach quiver and said, Me too. Then he frowned and looked away.

What? I asked, taking his chin and turning his face back to me.

Will you stay, Bree? He asked. Will you stay here with me? He looked like a little boy in that moment, and I realized how much he needed me to tell him that I wouldn't go away like everyone else in his life had.

I nodded my head. Yes, I said. Yes. I meant it with my whole heart. My life was here now–my life was this man. Whatever that meant–I wasn't going anywhere.

He looked in my eyes as if trying to decide if I was being completely honest and seemed to be satisfied with what he saw. He nodded and pulled me to him, holding me tight.

He hadn't told me he loved me, and I hadn't said it to him either. But in that moment, I realized I was in love with him. So deeply in love that it almost bubbled to the surface of my lips, and I had to physically clamp my mouth shut not to shout it. But somehow, I thought I needed to wait for him to say it. If he was falling in love with me, too, I wanted him to come to that realization on his own. Archer had lived a life so devoid of human kindness, of touch and attention. It had to be overwhelming for him. We hadn't discussed it, but I had watched his eyes as we did simple things over the past week, like lay on the couch and read, or eat a meal together, or walk on the shore of the lake, and it was as if he was trying to organize all the thoughts and feelings in his head–playing sixteen years of emotional catch up. Perhaps we should have talked about it, perhaps that would have helped him, but for some reason, we never did. Inside, it was my deepest hope that my love would be enough to heal his wounded heart.

After a minute he let go of me, and I sat up and looked at him. He had a small smile on his face. I have a favor to ask you, he said.

I furrowed my brows. Okay, I said, giving him a suspicious look.

Will you teach me how to drive?

How to… yes! Of course! You want to drive?

He nodded his head. My uncle had a pick-up truck. I keep it in a garage in town. They start it up every once in a while and drive it around. I always meant to sell it, but I just never got around to it, never really… knew exactly how I'd do that. But now maybe that's a good thing.

I was excited and I practically bounced up and down on the couch. This was the first real time that Archer had indicated on his own that he wanted to do something that would take him away from his own property–other than grocery shop.

Okay! When? I asked. I don't have to work tomorrow.

Okay then, tomorrow, he said, smiling and gathering me to him.

And so it came to be that Archer was behind the wheel of a big, piece of junk-looking pick-up truck, while I sat in the passenger seat, trying to teach him the rules of the road and how to operate a stick shift. We had chosen a large open space a couple miles down the highway, just off the lake.

"Smell that?" I asked. "That's the smell of burning clutch. Eeeeease off of it."

After about an hour of practice, Archer pretty much had it, with the exception of a few lurches, which had me stomping on my imaginary brake and laughing out loud.

He grinned over at me, his eyes roaming down to my bare legs. I followed his gaze and crossed my legs, hiking my skirt up just a little bit in the process and then glancing back up at him. His eyes were already dilating, making them dark and droop very slightly. Oh God, I loved that look. That look meant very, very good things for me.

"Driving is serious business, Archer," I said teasingly. "Letting your attention roam from the task at hand could be dangerous for everyone involved." I smiled prettily, tucking my hair behind my ear.

He raised his eyebrows, amusement filling his expression, and turned back to the front window. The truck moved forward, Archer speeding up and shifting into second gear easily. The dirt area we were in wasn't so large that Archer could practice fourth gear yet, but he moved to third gear and steered us in wide circles.

I crossed my legs in the other direction and ran a finger up my thigh, just stopping at the hem of my skirt. I glanced at Archer and his eyes were riveted on my finger. He glanced out the front window briefly and kept driving in wide circles.

I was distracting him, but there was no danger here.

I let my finger continue to trail up my thigh, hiking my skirt up now so that my pink, polka dot underwear were showing.

I glanced at Archer and his lips were parted slightly and his eyes were hungry as they watched to see what I would do next. Truth be told, I had never done anything like this before. But Archer brought things out in me that no one ever had–he made me feel sexy and experimental and safe. He made me feel more alive than I'd ever felt in all my life.

As I watched him, he swallowed heavily and glanced back at the front window before looking back at me.

I reached my fingers down the front of my underwear and leaned my head back on the seat, closing my eyes and moaning softly. I heard Archer's breath hitch in his throat.

I arched my hips up as my fingers slid further, finally reaching the slick wetness between my thighs. I brought some of it up to my small nub, waves of pleasure radiating out from my own touch. I moaned again and the truck lurched.

I used my finger to stroke myself, bursts of pure pleasure making me gasp out and press upward into my own hand.

Suddenly, I was jerked forward as the truck came to a sudden stop, Archer not even downshifting, just taking his foot off of the gas so that it lurched and stalled. My eyes flew open in time to see Archer pull the emergency brake up and push me gently backwards onto the seat as he crawled over me.

I gazed up at him as he moved me so that my head was at the passenger side door and he scooted back. The look on his face was tense and primal and it made my insides clench. He leaned down and kissed my belly as I tangled my fingers in his soft hair and moaned out.

He leaned up very briefly to bring my underwear down and I arched my hips up so that they slid over my ass and down my legs. My entire body was vibrating with need, an intense throb between my legs.

Archer leaned back and opened my thighs and gazed down at me for several seconds before leaning in to my sex and just breathing. I gasped at the feel of his nose rubbing over my * and his warm breath washing over my most sensitive parts. "Please," I moaned out, threading my fingers through his hair again.

Archer had pleasured me in so many ways over the past week, but this was something he hadn't done yet. I waited, holding my breath and when the first stroke of his tongue touched my folds, I pressed upwards, moaning softly. The pulsing in my * grew stronger, my excitement spiking upwards as he began circling the small nub with his tongue as I'd taught him to do with his fingers. He moved faster and faster, the warm, slick wetness of his tongue gliding over me and his warm breath coming out in pants against my folds as his hands gripped my thighs, holding me open to him. Oh God, it was exquisite. The beginnings of an orgasm shimmered around me in beautiful pulses of light right before I shattered completely, bucking upwards into Archer's mouth and crying out his name. "Archer, Archer, Oh God, Yes."

I came back to myself as I felt his warm breath against my belly and felt him smiling against my skin.

I smiled too, stroking his hair, still unable to form words.

All of a sudden, a loud knocking sounded on the window, and Archer and I both startled, panic washing through me. What the hell? I swung my legs down as Archer sat up, wiping his mouth on his shirt as I fumbled my underwear up my legs and smoothed my skirt down.

The windows were fogged up–thank God. Or maybe not. Oh no. Embarrassment washed over me as I looked at Archer, and he nodded and pointed to the hand window crank. I rolled it down, and Travis was standing there in his uniform, a tight look on his face as he bent down to the open window and peered in at us.

The smell of sex hung heavy in the air of the small cab. I closed my eyes very briefly, color filling my face, and then opened them. "Hi, Travis," I said, trying to smile, but grimacing instead.

Travis looked back and forth between me and Archer before his eyes landed on me, moved downward to my lap and swung back up to my eyes. "Bree," he said.

Neither one of us spoke for a second as his face got tighter. I looked forward, feeling like a little girl who was about to get expelled by the principal.

"I got a call about a stalled truck out here," he said. "I was right in the area, came to see if I could help."

I cleared my throat. "Oh, uh, well…" I glanced over at Archer and went silent for a second as I took him in–he was sitting casually, one hand resting on the steering wheel in front of him, looking like the cat that ate the canary. And in this case, I was definitely the canary.

A small, hysterical laugh bubbled up my throat, but I pulled it back and instead, narrowed my eyes at him. His smug look only increased. "I was giving Archer a driving lesson," I said, turning back to Travis.

Travis was silent for a second. "Uh huh. Does he have a learner's permit?" he asked, raising his eyebrows, knowing very well that he didn't.

I let out a breath. "Travis, we're out here in an open, dirt space. I'm not taking him on the road or anything."

"Doesn't matter. He still needs a learner's permit."

"Come on, Travis," I said softly, "he just wants to learn how to drive."

Travis's eyes narrowed and he spoke slowly. "He can do that, but he needs to follow the rules of society." He looked over at Archer. "Think you can do that, bro?" He raised one eyebrow.

I looked over at Archer and the smug look had been replaced by an angry one, his jaw clenched. He raised his hands and signed, You're an a*shole, Travis.

I laughed nervously and looked over at Travis. "He said, sure, no problem," I said. I heard Archer shift in his seat.

"Anyway," I went on, raising my voice. "We'll just be on our way now. Thanks for being understanding, Travis. We'll see what we can do about that learner's permit before any more lessons. I'll drive home, okay?" I smiled what I hoped was sweetly. This was a totally embarrassing situation, despite the fact that I was still pretty mad at Travis for what he had done to Archer with the whole strip-club scenario.

Travis stood back from the truck as I scooted over and climbed over Archer's big body. I felt Archer's hand on the back of my bare thigh as he moved under me and when I looked down at him, saw he was looking toward Travis. I huffed out a breath and plopped down on the seat, turning the key in the ignition.

I looked out the window at Travis as I shifted into gear and he had that same tense, slightly angry look on his face. Archer still had his head turned, looking at him too. I smiled tightly and pulled away.

When we got back on the road, I looked over at Archer. He looked back at me and we looked away again. After a second, I looked back over at him and his body was shaking in silent laughter. He grinned over at me and said, I like driving.

I laughed and shook my head. "Yeah, I bet you do." Then I punched him lightly on the arm and said, "I like it when you drive. But maybe we should drive in a more private location next time." I raised my eyebrows.

He laughed silently, his teeth flashing and those sexy creases forming in his cheeks.

I regarded Archer's beautiful profile as he stared happily out the front window. He was happy with what had happened between us, but happy about Travis catching us too. I bit my lip, thinking about those two and how Archer probably hadn't had a lot of cause to gloat over anything in his life. After a minute, I said, "Archer, I hope you know that you don't have to compete with Travis. I hope I made it clear that I chose you. Only you."

He looked over at me, his face going serious. He reached across the seat and grabbed my hand and squeezed it. He looked back out the window.

I squeezed his hand back and held it, driving with one hand the whole way back to his house.

The next day at work was one of the busiest I'd worked in a while. At about one thirty, when it was finally slowing down, Melanie and Liza came in, sitting down at the counter where they had been sitting the first time I met them. "Hey there!" I grinned when I spotted them.

They greeted me back, smiling big. "What's up, girlfriend?" Melanie asked.

I sagged against the counter. "Ugh. Day from," I brought my voice to a whisper, "hell. I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off."

"Yeah, it gets busier this time of year because all the people who worked on the other side of the lake all summer now spend more time here. Norm talked about hiring someone to work dinner shift and keep the diner open after three, but I guess they decided not to do that. Of course with all the expansion plans, no one knows what's going on, so who can blame them." She shrugged.

"Hmmm, I didn't know that," I said, frowning slightly.

Liza nodded and it snapped me back to reality. "So what can I get you girls?"

They both ordered burgers and iced tea, and I turned around to the iced tea machine behind me and started getting their drinks. A couple seconds later, I heard the bell on the door and a few more seconds after that, Melanie squeaked out, "Holy crap on a cracker," and Liza's voice behind me whispered, "Whoa."

I dropped a lemon in each glass. A hush seemed to fall over the place. What the heck?

My brows came down slightly, and I turned around on a small confused smile, wondering what was going on. And that's when I spotted him–Archer. I sucked in a breath, a grin immediately spreading over my face. His eyes were focused solely on me as he stood in the doorway, looking… oh God, he looked gorgeous. He had obviously bought himself some new clothes–jeans that fit him perfectly, showcasing his long muscular legs, and a simple, long sleeved, black pullover with a gray t-shirt just showing underneath the collar.

He was freshly shaven and his hair lay perfectly, even though he had gotten a kitchen-chair cut from a girl who was so turned on, she could barely see straight. I grinned bigger. He was here.

"Who is that?" I heard Mrs. Kenfield say loudly from a table by the door. She was about 1,000 years old, but still. Rude. Her grown granddaughter, Chrissy, shushed her and whispered loudly out of the side of her mouth, "That's Archer Hale, Grandma." And then more quietly, "Holy hell."

"The mute kid?" she asked, and Chrissy groaned and shot Archer an apologetic look before turning back to her grandma. But Archer wasn't looking at her anyway.

I put the iced teas I was holding down on the counter, my eyes never leaving Archer's and wiped my hands down the sides of my hips, my smile growing even bigger.

I walked around the counter and when I cleared the side of it, I increased speed, fast-walking the rest of the way to him and laughing out loud before I jumped into his arms. He picked me up, a relieved looking grin spreading over his handsome face before he put his nose into the crook of my neck and squeezed me tightly.

If there was ever a time to let someone know that they were wanted, this was it.

As I stood there holding onto him, it occurred to me that not all great acts of courage are obvious to those looking in from the outside. But I saw this moment for what it was–a boy who had never been made to feel that he was wanted anywhere, showing up and asking others to accept him. It made my heart soar with pride for the beautiful act of bravery that was Archer Hale stepping into this small town diner. 

You could have heard a pin drop around us. I didn't care. I laughed again and brought my head back, looking into his face. "You're here," I whispered.

He nodded, his eyes moving over my face, a gentle smile on his lips. He placed me down on the floor and said, I'm here for you.

I smiled. They were the same words he had said to me the day he met me outside the diner several weeks before.

"I'm here for you, too," I whispered, smiling again. I meant that in so many ways, I couldn't even begin to list them all.

We stared into each other's eyes for several long seconds as I realized that the diner was still quiet. I cleared my throat and looked around. People who had been staring at us, some with small smiles on their faces, others looking perplexed, looked back to what they had been doing. Chatter in the diner slowly started up again, and I knew exactly what the chatter was about.

I took Archer's hand and led him to the counter and went back around to the other side. Melanie and Liza looked over at him, replacing their still slightly shocked expressions with big smiles.

Melanie reached her hand out to him. "I'm Melanie. We've never properly met."

He took her hand and smiled just a little warily at her.

"Archer," I said, "that's Liza, Melanie's sister." Liza leaned forward and reached across Melanie to shake Archer's hand as well.

He nodded and then looked back at me. "Can you give me just a minute? I need to take care of a few customers and I'll be right back."

I handed him a menu, and he nodded as I went to deliver the food that had just come up at the window and refill a few drinks. When I got back, Liza and Melanie's food was up and so I grabbed it and set their burgers down in front of them, and then turned to Archer. Hungry? I signed.

No. I'm saving my appetite for dinner with a special girl, he grinned. Just… he looked around behind me at the soda machines.

Chocolate milk with a twisty straw? I asked, raising an eyebrow.

He chuckled silently. Coffee, he said, winking at me.

"God, that's sexy," Melanie said. "It's like you two are talking dirty right out in the open."

Archer smiled over at her and I laughed. I shook my head. "Maybe you two should learn sign so you can join us." I grinned.

Liza and Melanie laughed. I turned around and grabbed the coffee pot and poured Archer a cup, and then watched as he poured creamer in it.

Maggie came up next to me and put her hand out to Archer. "Hi there," she smiled, glancing over at me quickly, "I'm Maggie. Thanks for coming in."

Archer smiled shyly at her and shook her hand, signing to me, Please tell her I said it's nice to meet her.

I did and she smiled. "I met you many years ago, honey. Your mama used to bring you in here when you were a little thing." She looked off in the distance as if she was recalling. "That mama of yours was just the sweetest, prettiest thing. And oh, did she love you." She sighed, coming back to the present and smiling. "Well, anyway, I'm so glad you're here."

Archer listened to her, a small smile on his face, seeming to drink in her words. He nodded and Maggie went on, looking at me. "So, Archer, this girl here has worked a lot of overtime recently. I think she's earned an early day. Think you can come up with something to do with her?"

"Geez, Maggie, that sounds dirty." Liza snorted.

Archer tried not to smile and looked away, picking up his coffee cup as Maggie put her hands on her hips and glared at Liza as we laughed.

"It's your dirty mind that makes that sound dirty," she said, but there was a twinkle in her eye.

Archer looked at me. Think we can come up with something dirty to do this afternoon? he asked, grinning at me. I laughed and then bit my lip to stop myself.

"See!" Melanie said. "I knew you two were talking dirty. I’m totally learning sign language."

I grinned. "He just asked me if I'd like to go on a nice picnic," I said, deadpan.

"Right!" Liza said, laughing. "A naked picnic!"

I laughed and Maggie snorted, causing Archer to grin bigger. "You people aren't right. Now get outta here, you," Maggie said, nudging me.

"Okay, okay, but what about my sidework and the salads–"

"I got it," she said. "You can make the salads in the morning."

I looked at Archer. "Well, okay then! Let's go!"

He started taking some money out of his pocket for the coffee, but Maggie stopped him by putting her hand on his arm. "It's on the house," she said.

Archer paused, looking at me and then nodded okay.

"Okay," she said, smiling.

I came from around the counter, and we said goodbye to Melanie, Liza and Maggie, and then walked out the front door together.

When we got outside, I looked across the street and saw a familiar figure. Victoria Hale was just coming out of a store with an older woman with dark hair. I saw the moment she saw me and Archer–the temperature on that street seemed to drop about fifty degrees, and a chill moved through me. I wrapped my arms around Archer's waist and he smiled down at me, pulled me to him and kissed the side of my head, and as quickly as that, Victoria Hale ceased to exist.

Later that evening, Archer built a bonfire down on the lakeshore and we sat on old Adirondack chairs that he told me his uncle had built years ago. We brought a bottle of red wine and blankets with us as the weather was getting colder, especially in the evenings. Archer had a small glass of wine and I had a larger one and he nursed his like it was strong liquor. So many things that I took for granted were so new to him.

We sat in silence for a little bit, sipping the wine and just watching the fire blaze and jump. I felt happy and content, the wine moving through my blood. I leaned my head on the back of the wooden chair and looked over at his handsome profile, all alight in the glow of the fire. For a second he looked like a God, maybe of the Sun, all golden and beautiful, his own magnificence outdoing that of the dancing flames. I laughed slightly to myself–feeling drunk from half a glass of Merlot. Drunk on him, on this night, on fate, on bravery, on life. I stood up, the blanket on my lap falling to the chair, and I sat my wine down on the sand. I walked to him and sat on his lap and when he smiled, I took his face in my hands and simply gazed at him for a second before I brought my lips down on his, tasting red wine and Archer, a delicious ambrosia that made me moan and tilt my head so that he would take over the kiss and give me more of himself. He did, leaning into me and teasing my tongue with his as I adjusted myself on his lap and sighed into his mouth. He responded to my sigh, his tongue plunging slowly into my mouth, mimicking the sex act, and making my core pulse to life, almost instantly slick and wet, ready for him to fill me and satiate the deep need that was making me ache and squirm on his lap.

He smiled against my mouth–he knew exactly what he did to me and he liked it. It was so easy to get lost in him now, the way he paid attention, the way he looked at me as if he adored me, the way his intense sexiness was all natural and unabashed–he barely knew it existed. But he was learning, and in a way I felt the loss of the unsure man who looked to me to show him how to pleasure me, to tell him I wanted him at all. But the other part of me gloried in his newfound confidence, in the way he took charge of my body and made me weak with desire.

After a few minutes, I leaned back, both of us breathing harshly, catching our breath. I kissed him lightly one more time on his mouth. "You get me worked up too quickly," I said.

His hands came up. Is that a bad thing? he asked. He eyed me–it was an actual question, not rhetorical.

I ran my thumb over his bottom lip. "No," I whispered, shaking my head.

I caught sight of his scar in the dancing flames, the raised skin red in the firelight, the shiny skin golden, stretched. I leaned in and kissed it and he shuddered slightly, going still. I ran my tongue over it, feeling his body tense even more.

I whispered against his throat, "You're beautiful everywhere, Archer."

He let out a breath and leaned his head back very, very slightly, giving me more access, baring his scar to me, a beautiful act of trust.

"Tell me what happened," I whispered, rubbing my lips up and down the puckered skin, drawing in his scent. "Tell me all of it. I want to know you," I said, leaning back and looking up at him.

His expression was a mixture of tense and thoughtful as he looked down into my face. He let out a breath and brought his hands up. I felt… almost normal today. At the diner. He paused. I don't want to remember how I'm broken tonight, Bree. Please. I just want to hold you out here, and then I want to take you inside and make love to you. I know it's hard to understand, but please. Let me just enjoy you for now.

I studied him. I did understand. I had been there. I had tried so hard to get back to a place of normalcy after my dad died. I had tried so hard to stop missing exits on the highway that I'd taken a thousand times, tried so hard to stop zoning out at the grocery store, standing in front of the oranges, just staring into space, tried hard to feel something–anything that wasn't pure pain. And no matter who had asked me, no matter how much they'd loved me, I couldn't have talked about it until I was one hundred percent ready. Archer had lived with his own pain for a long, long time, and asking him to re-visit it on my time schedule would never be fair. I would wait. I would wait as long as he needed me to.

I smiled at him, smoothed his hair back from his forehead and kissed him gently again. When I leaned back, I said, "Remember how you told me that I did fight the night my dad was killed and I was attacked?"

He nodded, his eyes dark orbs in the dim light just beyond the reach of the firelight.

"Well so did you," I said quietly. "I don't know what happened, Archer, and I hope someday you'll tell me. But what I do know is that what this scar tells me is that you fought to live too," I ran my fingertip lightly up the ruined skin of his throat and felt him swallow thickly, "my wounded healer, my beautiful Archer."

His eyes glittered at me and after a few silent beats, he picked me up and placed me down for a few seconds as he dumped some sand on the fire. Then he picked me up again as I laughed and clung to him, and he carried me up the hill to his house and his bed.

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