Hunter’s frosty slate-blue eyes were trained on the two men she’d interviewed. There was an utterly steely look in Hunter’s face. His lean, well-muscled—and protective—body was pressed against hers. And beneath his sophisticated hip-length leather jacket a hard object at his waist dug into her flank.

Alarms clanged in Carly’s head. She was aware she should recognize the article biting into her, but she couldn’t place it.

Hunter’s words reeked with cool authority as he addressed the men. “I think you two should take off,” he said, looking ready, able and more than willing to fight if need be.

Thad, one of her interviewees, took a step closer, his bad attitude reflected in his tone as he spoke to Hunter. “Who asked for your opinion?”

Wary readiness oozed from Hunter’s every pore. The two beefy young men looked as if they’d been in a brawl or two, or maybe fifty, but Hunter’s low voice remained smooth, without the tiniest hint of fear. In truth, Carly got the impression he was almost enjoying himself.

“No one asked,” Hunter said, with an undeniably dangerous edge to his tone. “But I’m giving my opinion anyway.”

Thad bristled, but Marcus, his graffiti-painting partner in crime, glanced at Hunter uneasily, as if sensing the new arrival wasn’t someone to mess with.

“Ease up, man. We’re good,” Marcus said to Hunter as he grabbed his friend by the sweatshirt and pulled him back a step. “We just wanted to tell Carly she left her recorder.”

“Yeah,” the other replied with an even worse attitude. “And we ain’t asking for your help.”

Carly’s stomach tipped under the tension of this testosterone-fest run amok, but the vicious surge of flight-or-fight response had finally ebbed, leaving communication possible.

“Hunter, back off. This is Thad and Marcus,” she said, nodding at each in turn. “I just finished interviewing them.”

Hunter looked down at her, his expression confirming that he thought she’d just crawled out of the deep end of crazy. She held out her hand toward Thad, waiting for her digital recorder. Clearly she was more distracted than she’d thought.

Thad, still glaring at Hunter, began to remove his hand from his pocket, and Hunter’s body instantly, reflexively, coiled protectively tighter. Damn, did the man ever ease up? The hard object at his left hip bit deeper into her flank, reminding her of its presence.

What the hell was that?

But focusing wasn’t easy with the feel of his body pressed against her, the smell of his woodsy cologne, and his hand curved around her hip.

As Thad placed the recorder in her hand, Carly said, “I’ll call next week to set up a time to finish.”

After a nod at Carly, Thad tossed Hunter a venomous look, and the two friends headed back down the alley toward the side door to the warehouse.

After a few seconds of watching them go, Hunter said, “You can’t be serious?”

“About what?”

“Interviewing them.”

“Why not?” Carly looked up at him, not sure if she wanted to kick his butt for insulting her tetchy interviewees or kiss him for taking them on while thinking they were a threat to her. Even with the touchy situation resolved, not a single one of his tensed muscles had relaxed—as if he didn’t quite trust it wouldn’t turn ugly. Of course, her senses were still very much in tune with every inch of his body.

And there were a lot of inches. All of them hard.

Her shoulder was jammed against a solid chest. The arm wrapped around her waist held his lean hip to hers, and his long, powerfully built thigh pressed against her leg. This was no laid-back, artsy type—her usual preference. There wasn’t a single soft spot on him. Every part was honed to perfection. And if his demeanor during a perceived threat was any indication, in a pinch his body could be used as a weapon...

With a clarity that smacked her system into heretofore unknown heart-rates, the identity of the object digging into her side suddenly became known. Ignoring the mutinous thrill, she whispered fiercely, “Is that a gun at your hip?”

It was a rhetorical question, because she knew the answer. How was she supposed to stop obsessing about the man when he showed up going all action-hero on her? And just which side of the law was he on?

Without blinking, he stared at her for a long moment, as if searching for the right way to respond. And then his lips twitched. “Perhaps I’m just happy to see you.”

After a split second of stunned adjustment, she rolled her eyes at the ridiculously old joke. “Only if there’s something seriously wrong with your anatomy.” A spark of amusement briefly lit his eyes, and she knew a comeback was forthcoming. “And forget trying to weasel your way out of my question by assuring me that there is nothing wrong with your anatomy.”