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.
He’ll recognize my skill. He’ll realize I’m an asset.
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.”
The ticking increased in speed. “Go on.”
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.”
Silence. Heavy, oppressive silence.
“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.
“Noelle,” he snapped. “Answer me.”
“I thought you knew what I’d been up to. Therefore, you should know the answers to your questions already.”
“Don’t play. Talk.”
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.”
Shocking. “What makes you say that?”
“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.