Or… he could have stopped to tie his shoe. Or stretched. Or decided to pull out his phone and end things with Nicola right there. There was no guarantee that fate wouldn’t have intervened in a dozen other ways than that stupid dog.
On the nineteenth photo in the slideshow, he saw Autumn. On the edge of the frame, lying on the ground, a paramedic bent over her. She hadn’t mentioned getting hurt, and he frowned, zooming in on the photo and trying to see her injury.
“Hey.” Nate appeared in the doorway. “Lunch is here. And we have that call with Benta at two.”
Declan nodded. “Give me a second.” The next picture was an aerial shot of the crash, the plane dominating the shot, him and Autumn gone by the time the photo was taken. He frowned, remembering his own trajectory, then examined the aerial photo closer, zooming in on the dog’s yard, the gate still open in the pic.
What had prompted Autumn to open the dog’s gate? Why would someone do that? He knew that dog, had run by it a dozen times before. He had always thought it was dangerous, as—he assumed—she had as well. For a woman so obsessed with safety, the prudent thing would have been to lock the gate tighter, not let the damn thing out. They were both lucky it had been friendly and not the snarling attack dog it always appeared to be.
He found her sister’s house on the map, the crash in between the dog’s gate and her split-level ranch. He frowned. Had Autumn been on her way back, or on her way out? If she’d been on her way home… he ran his fingers along the path, her journey to release the dog one that would have taken her a few minutes.
Technically, if she hadn’t detoured to release the Great Dane, she herself could have been passing by the Highlander, directly in the path of the plane.
She was so convinced that she had saved his life, but was it possible that letting out the dog had also saved hers?
Eleven hours of design work, and his back was screaming in protest. Declan leaned back, then threw the ball forward, watching as it hit the garage door and bounced back, ricocheting off the driveway and into his hand. He repeated the motion, shuffling left to catch the bounce. He thought of his dining room table, covered with their marked-up plans, and groaned. They had at least another two hours of work before they could call this a day. Still, despite the long hours and hellacious reworks, it was exciting work—fueled by Nate’s exuberance for the project. Thanks to Bridget’s sleuthing, they now knew the full scope of Benta Aldrete’s purposes for the space—an erotic playground for her family’s online sexual matchmaking enterprise. It had certainly amped up the entertainment factor in their sketches, as well as decimated any chances of Nate losing interest in their client. Still, Benta Aldrete had shown an incredible ability to resist his charms, a stonewall that was only encouraging the man.
They were both going through a rough streak. It’d been three days since he had fallen into Autumn Jones’ bed and she hadn’t so much as blinked in his direction. No glimpses of her at Starbucks, no blonde hair flashing through his peripheral vision… nothing.
“Just give up and call her.” Nate tilted back in a lawn chair, a bright green Gatorade bottle in hand.
“Nah.” Declan scooped down to catch a low bounce. He couldn’t call her. She should be calling him. She owed him an apology. Blinded by a buzz and the impact of her beauty, he’d been pretty cool over her delusion of guardian angelship. That allowance hadn’t given her free rein to plow over any boundaries and elbow her way into his personal space with three earpiece-wearing strangers. He shook his head. “She’s too invasive for me.”
“She’s been crazy, man. You can’t suddenly be surprised at that.” Nate swatted at a wandering fly. “Let’s discuss the bigger situation.”
“Which is what?” Declan turned and tossed him the ball without warning, Nate dropping the bottle to catch it.
“That you didn’t deliver the dick properly. Three days without her calling you?” He lifted one eyebrow. “That’s a sign.”
Declan held up his hand for the ball, shaking off the insult with a smile. Autumn Jones may be stubborn as hell when it came to apologizing, but there was no way that a disappointing night in bed was the cause for her silence. That bed had almost caught on fire from their chemistry. He tried to push away the memory of her body, curving and flexing beneath his, her soft moans and gasps… hell, his back still carried the marks of her nails. She’d been a sexual animal, which had been an unexpected surprise, one he hadn’t been able to get out of his head. Distracted at the thought, he missed the ball when Nate threw it back.