Chapter 1: Chapter One
A group of highly specialized people were brought together by the government to infiltrate and disable an enemy base.
However their mission was declared an act of war and the government disavowed all knowledge of the mission.
The team was convicted as criminals and sentenced to life in prison.
They escaped from military custody.
Now they survive on the fringes, working where they can and unable to go back to their previous lives, each of them hoping that someday, they will get their lives back.
“Something has got to be done, Phil,” Darcy said surveying the mangled engine that once powered the nursery’s irrigation system. “This has gone past the friendly warning stage and well into asshole territory.”
“Darcy’s right,” Maria said, hands on her hips, her brown eyes narrowed. Darcy recognized that look. That was pure Do Not Mess With Maria. It took a lot to get Maria pissed off, but when she was? Well. Jimmy from the gas station on the edge of town still avoided her after getting that particular look. “And you know that the police aren’t going to do anything apart from hem and haw.”
“Literally,” Darcy added, picking up a bit of metal and then dropping it back to the ground. “As in Dave will just say ‘Hem’ and then ‘Haw’ when told about this. The man has a very limited vocabulary.”
“He might take offense at your stereotyping him,” Phil said standing straight, hands loose at his sides. Honestly, the guy was just too much. In a good way. It had been an incredibly lucky day when their mayor had sidled over to Darcy after a town meeting and quietly recommended her "old friend" after Old Albert had retired. And while Darcy had been a little puzzled and put-off by the man's formal demeanor, Sadie had taken one look and hired him on the spot. It had been one of the only good bits of luck Green Thumb had managed in the last year. “But I take your point. I should have been here-“
“What?” Darcy said side-eyeing her security guard. “When? When you were making sure that the York brothers didn’t drive off without paying or while you were making sure Jane didn’t die when her ventilation fan conked out?” She shook her head. “You’re a badass dude, but you can’t be everywhere at once. So don’t you dare blame yourself for this.”
“Darcy’s right,” Sadie, Darcy’s grandmother, said. “We did not hire you with the intention of you having to defend us singlehandedly against every bit of bad luck. You chased off the fellows who were messing around in the greenhouse just yesterday, so cut yourself some slack.”
Maria nodded in agreement when Phil looked over. He gave them both a tight nod.
“Thank you. The fact remains that we need to be more pro-active about this,” Phil said. “What did Ms. Fontaine say when you spoke to her earlier?”
Darcy sighed and turned to head back to the main house. Spring evenings settled in slowly in central Florida and the sky was just turning a deep ocean blue.
“Val said there wasn’t much she could do,” Darcy said looking out over the plant nursery that she’d grown up on and the old house she’d grown up in. The paint was beginning to peel on the eastern side and the winding drive that led up to the nursery could use a re-pavement, but the canopy of trees was still lush and green, and the new coat of paint on the shop made it shine. “Legally, Connor is well within his dumbass rights to buy up as much land as he wants.”
“Surely it isn’t legal to threaten people?” Maria asked drily.
Darcy snorted and gave her adopted cousin and nursery’s site manager an eyeroll. “It’s not.”
“He’s been very careful to distance himself from any of the illegal activities,” Phil said. “Any offers he’s made to people have all been in plain sight with credible eyewitnesses. Very clever.”
“Oh, the guy’s smart,” Darcy said. “I’ll give him that. He’s just a jerk in every other respect.”
“He won’t stop until your family sells,” Phil said.
“Which we will not be doing,” Darcy growled through clenched teeth, her fierce love of the place swelling up inside of her. “I will go Scarlett O’Hara on his ass if I have to. He’s not getting this land.”
Sadie smiled fondly at her. “I’ve taught you well, my little steel magnolia.”
“I was born in Indiana,” Phil commented mildly.
“We know. You’ve been forgiven for that,” Maria said deliberately letting a bit of drawl come through.
Darcy snickered. Maria had started work at Green Thumb when Darcy was a senior in high school. Her ability at making things grow, along with her complete and utter acceptance of all things Lewis made her an honorary member of the family.
“On that note,” Sadie said. “I’m going for my walk.”
“Really?” Darcy asked concerned. “Are you sure that’s…” She shook her head. “Know what? Never mind. Have a nice walk.”
“Don’t worry so much, sweetie. Gives you wrinkles.” She kissed Darcy’s cheek, smiling fondly. Darcy bit her lip at the dark circles prominent under her grandmother’s eyes. As frustrating and hard as this was for her, she knew it was that much harder for her Grandmother. A woman who’d poured most of her adult life into these fields and this business. “Stop fretting, Phillip. We’ll figure this out.”
“Yes ma’am,” Phil said giving her a small smile.
Darcy was unable to shake off the uneasy feeling in her stomach as she watched Sadie set off on her evening stroll along the edge of the field, a freshly rolled cigarette in her hand. Sadie had walked along the edge of the Lewis property every night since she moved here back in the early 60s with Darcy’s grandfather. The only exceptions had been the night she gave birth to Darcy’s father, the night Darcy was born, and the night that Darcy’s parents died and Sadie had driven up to Atlanta to get Darcy and bring her back home.
Connor Dewsey and his hired goons were not driving her off this land. No chance in hell was Darcy going to let that happen.
“Look, shoot me down if this is taking things too far and I’m being a big worrywart, but Val also mentioned calling in some old friends of hers. Back from when she was all military-lady. The Avengers? I think that’s what they were called,” Darcy said. She looked over at Phil. “She said they were your friends, too. Once upon a time.”
In the last six months that Phil had been working for Green Thumb Nurseries, Darcy had only seen him look apprehensive twice. The first time was when he was handed a homemade mojito, the second was when old man Turner showed up to pick up his mulch and had forgotten his pants. Again.
If the slow blink and slight hesitation in his walk were anything to go by, this marked the third.
“Ah,” was all he said though.
Darcy and Maria exchanged a look.
“Care to elaborate?” Maria asked, her eyebrow quirked.
“Not at present,” Phil said, calmly drifting to a stop near where the path split off between the main house, the green house, and the little shop that also functioned as the office. “But if Ms. Fontaine is considering calling them in, then she’s worried that things are going to escalate.”
“Escalate how?” Darcy asked. From where she was standing, things were pretty escalated.
Phil didn’t answer, which just freaked Darcy out and she had to count to fifteen in Pig Latin before saying, “Thanks, dude. I’m feeling totally reassured now. I’m going to go make sure Jane’s still alive.”
“I’m going to check on the greenhouse,” Maria said adjusting her baseball cap and tucking her ponytail through the back.
“I’ll come with before my evening patrol,” Phil said.
“See you both at oh twenty-three hundred o’clock,” Darcy said.
Maria chuckled while Phil said, “That isn’t actually a time, you know.”
“Semantics,” Darcy said waving a hand in the air before heading towards the small lab on the other side of the house.
As she walked along the edge of the field, Darcy drew in a deep breath, and let herself just feel for a minute. Pride at what her family had built, duty to protect it, frustration at how everything seemed to just be going wrong, and finally, fear that she couldn’t fix this. Couldn’t make it better. It was a weight that she welcomed because it meant something. And while this burden was heavy, it was one she was proud to shoulder, but damn, it was still heavy.
She breathed in and let her shoulders slump and reached her hands out to trail along the lavender plants the bordered the path to the small lab. She held her fingers to her nose to smell the fresh scent left on her skin.
In all honesty, she hadn’t really planned on still being at the nursery a year and a half after she’d graduated with her BA in Political Science. A subject no one else in the family had attempted. When she’d told Sadie her major, Sadie had stared at her and then laughed while saying, “Well, if you’re going to buck family tradition, commit.”
“Not that I’m not happy to be here,” she muttered. “Just…” She blew out a breath. “God, so much for not spending the summer here.”
Darcy had promised herself that she’d work at the nursery and figure out what the hell she wanted to do with the rest of her life and then try out something new over the summer. Her projects at the nursery had been running smoothly for ages and Maria and Sadie truly had everything in hand.
“Connor freakin’ Dewsey, you ass,” she said loudly, her voice bouncing off the wall of the lab. The second she’d seen the damaged seedlings two mornings ago and then the irrigation system tonight…
Darcy reflected on the stack of grad school brochures and volunteer opportunities collecting dust on her desk and all the bookmarked links in her browser. There were so many possibilities, and the part of her that wasn't pondering homicide-by-shovel on Connor was itching to get started on something... else.
Just as well I didn’t start applying anywhere, she thought glumly. Immediately feeling guilty for feeling glum, she shook her head. This is your family, don’t be selfish, Lewis.
It wasn’t like she even knew what she was restless for. She had no idea if grad school was even the answer. She just knew that there was something just out of reach and if she could put her hands on it, everything would settle into place.
Maybe you’re PMS-ing, a snarky voice said in her head.
“I’m not PMS-ing,” she muttered. “I’m just antsy. And anxious. Not hormonal.”
Although maybe she was. It had been a stupidly long time since Darren the Graphic Artist and his talented hands and terrible conversation skills.
Darcy rolled her eyes. “Stop whining and deal with the problem at hand. Worry about your future and sex life later.”
When she got to the front door she could just see Jane switching her glare from her notebook to her slides. Darcy shook her head, entered in the passcode on the keypad and opened the door. Jane. Predictable, predictable, Jane.
“You still breathing noxious fumes?” she asked going inside.
“Not since Phil got the shaft properly situated,” Jane said, not even looking up from the microscope in front of her. Darcy liked Jane. Like, really liked Jane. She had this ability to just immerse herself into her work that Darcy found awesome. They’d been thrown together as roommates in college, even though Jane was working on her Masters and Darcy was in her undergrad. Through a shared love of Pop-Tarts, bad sci-fi, and libraries they’d totally hit it off and had been really sad to leave each other when Darcy graduated. But Jane emailed Darcy six months ago looking for a lab and access to plants and Darcy had told her to come on down and be part of the family.
“That’s what she said,” Darcy smarmed. Jane threw her a Look. Darcy just waggled her eyebrows and threw herself onto the second lab stool, which creaked dangerously under said treatment.
“How’s the irrigation system?” Jane asked, absently scooting back from her table and shifting her slides a few inches away from Darcy.
“Borked,” Darcy said with a sigh.
“Is that the technical term?”
“No. I think the technical term is ‘completely fucked’,” Darcy said leaning against the newly cleared lab table, and letting more than a little morose into her voice. She could be more open with Jane than she could with Maria, Sadie and Phil. As much as Green Thumb was Jane's PhD project, if pushed, she could probably track down new lab space. Her Gran and Maria, though. Well, yeah she couldn't really picture either of them anywhere other than Green Thumb. She didn't want to either. But, whatever. Jane was a better pity-party sounding board, if just because her brain was really still on plant mitochondria, and she probably wasn't really paying attention. “I don’t know how we’re going to get it fixed. It’s not like we’ve got the money. Or the manpower.”
“I could look at it?” Jane asked looking extremely unsure. Though, bless her, completely sincere.
Darcy shot up an eyebrow and wagged a finger at her. “Do you know anything about engines?”
“Stick to the plant genes,” Darcy said. “But thanks.”
Jane shook her head. “I’m really sorry, Darcy. I’ve tried to see if the university will help out, but they, um…”
“Something like that,” Jane said. “I keep getting the impression they were glad to get rid of me.” She frowned at her notes. “I don’t think they believe in my work.”
(Which, yeah, Darcy really didn't understand what could be controversial about plant research. Weren't plants kind of sorted? It wasn't like Jane was trying to discover new and different uses of marijuana. Actually, Darcy didn't really understand much of Jane's research at all, so maybe her bosses didn't either. Still, screw Jane's bosses. Jane was awesome.)
“Well, they’ll eat their snooty hats when your stuff turns out to revolutionize farming across the world. Don’t worry about it, science-girl,” Darcy said giving Jane a smile that she only half-felt and echoed Sadie’s earlier words, “We’ll figure this out.”
Jane opened her mouth to say something, but a hoarse cry came from outside the lab.
Darcy and Jane froze, staring at each other.
There was only one person who could scream like that, and everything in Darcy went cold.
“Gran!” Darcy yelled before bolting for the door.
Frantic, Darcy dashed into the yard, looking first left, then right. In the distance, Sadie was struggling with a figure in black, smacking hard at narrow shoulders, and generally screaming herself hoarse. Darcy took off towards them at a dead run. The attacker was grabbing at Sadie’s flailing hands, seemingly in an attempt to subdue her. The figure finally caught Sadie's forearm, and swung her to the ground with a hard jerk.
“Gran!” Darcy shouted and pulled out the taser she had taken to keeping in her pocket. “Back off, asshole!”
“Darcy!” Phil’s voice came from too far away and Darcy knew what she had to do, once she was close enough, she pulled the trigger.
The prongs shot out from the taser and hit the bastard directly in the kidneys. He grunted and let go of Sadie, who did her best to kick him in the shin. Then he grabbed the sparking prongs and pulled them out of his side and turned and ran.
That should have taken him down, Darcy thought absently, but pushed the thought to the side. She had better things to worry about than the fleeing man; Darcy dropped to beside her grandmother as Phil shot past them in pursuit of the man in black. Jane and Maria joined Darcy on the ground.
“Gran?” Darcy asked frantically, her heart beating fast and her hands shaking. “Oh, God. Are you okay?”
Sadie nodded, flapping a hand to get the girls out of her space a bit, her face pale in the late evening light. “Just…winded, baby. He was…lurking…by the lab. Sonofabitch.”
She moved to get up, but Darcy kept her still on the ground for a moment longer.
“Easy, easy,” Darcy said swallowing angry and scared tears. “Just give it a sec. For me?”
“Okay. Okay, baby,” Sadie said as she closed her eyes and leaned into Darcy. Darcy felt her eyes burn. An irrigation system was one thing, but this was her Gran. That asshole'd put hands on her Gran.
“Let’s get you inside, Sadie,” Maria said gently, breaking the moment and letting both shaken women pull themselves together a bit. The three women helped Sadie to her feet, keeping hands on her as Sadie limped in between them towards the house.
Phil joined them as they reached the door, a light sheen of sweat on his forehead. Darcy knew what he was going to say before he even opened his mouth. The lack of black-clad asshole and the perfectly prim frown of annoyance said everything. “I lost him. Mrs. Lewis, are you all right?”
“Fine as frog’s hair, Phillip,” Sadie said when she was clearly not. Darcy frowned and wrapped her fingers around her wrist, using the distraction of steering her towards the kitchen to check her pulse. Sadie's color hadn’t come back and, yeah, just like Darcy thought, her pulse was far too high. Sadie's hands shook as she pulled out her silver cigarette case.
“Was this the escalation you were referring to?” Maria asked, her voice tight and prissy, which totally meant she was ready to start kicking things. Phil just nodded.
It was actually Maria's reaction that made up Darcy's mind. Her cousin was a lot of things, and most of those fell under the heading of "unflappable". Maria'd taken her adoption, old man Turner's nudity, and pretty much every trial that'd ever been thrown at her with grace, aplomb, and a practicality that bordered on terrifying. To see her this shaken...
Shit. This changed everything. Darcy felt sick. This wasn’t just some asshole being dumb, this was personal. Hell, this was criminal.
“I’m calling Val,” Darcy said, her voice steadier than she felt. “We’re getting these Avengers in here pronto.”
Darcy’s eyes met Maria’s who paused briefly and then nodded. Darcy then moved her gaze to Jane who was handing Sadie a glass of water. Jane nodded vehemently.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but if they’re on our side, bring them in,” Jane said, her hand bracing Sadie's arm.
Darcy then turned to Maria who looked thoughtful, but nodded eventually.
“Phil?” Darcy asked, saving him for last. He had experience with these people, and if he thought they could help, even a little, it was settled. “You know them, should we do it?”
Phil stared back steadily at her and then nodded. “Yes. Call them in.”
“Good,” Sadie said decisively. Then she poked both Darcy and Maria in the stomachs. “Now, who the hell are they?”
Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton, former agent for the United States Government, had a plan.
It wasn’t an elaborate plan. It consisted of nothing more than ‘keep your head down and don't get caught.’ Simple in its terms, difficult in its execution. It meant that he'd spent the last six months doing odd jobs and blending into the background. It also meant he had no idea why he was sitting in a tree. Next to a boathouse. In Florida.
Actually, that wasn’t true. Phil Coulson had gone to the wall for Clint, too many times to blow off. Besides, when Cap had called, Clint had been North Dakota, and spring in Florida over North Dakota snowmelt was a no-brainer.
Ears open and eyes moving, Clint let his mind slip back to the last time he'd seen Phil; the day his country had declared him a traitor. He normally had an excellent memory, but for once in his life, they were clouded by emotions making his memories a series of images blurred by rage, grief, and disbelief. The dark panel of the wood behind the judge. The weight of his uniform. Stark's conspicuous absence. Steve and Thor, tall and angry, all the more intimidating in their silence. Natasha, a slim line between him and the others, her bored annoyance terrifying and heartbreaking. The defeated curve of Bruce's back when the sentence had been read.
Clint hadn't even been able to look at Phil, sitting in the front row, his own face impassive, even belying the passion he used to defend the team.
Mostly, he remembered the weird feeling of almost-relief when the whole sham ended with the judge's monotone declaring the whole lot guilty.
Clint blinked out of the memory, once again thanking god that Stark had seen the writing on the wall, first by avoiding the trial, then the arrest, then breaking all their asses out from various and far-flung federal prisons. He'd been the last of the group to be 'liberated', so by the time he'd been handed a drop-bag with a few thousand dollars, a few id's, a burn phone with six numbers, and his good leather jacket, all he'd had to do was disappear. Which he did; because he was good at it. Circus living, had assured he could live pretty much anywhere, and do all types of odd jobs. And he had, all the while missing being a part of a team of people that had taken him seriously. Taken him seriously. As a person and not just a skill set.
But then Cap called him with info that Phil needed help. So…here he was. In Florida. Jesus.
He’d arrived the night before, parked his truck in a grove half a mile away, and scouted a secure observation point.
One thing was very clear; the small city of Palmetto Springs in central Florida was not Miami. Sure there were sand and palm trees, but there were also pines, live oaks, bugs, and serious lack of beaches and bikinis. Clint decided to just be thankful they were in the middle of nowhere, and not stuck in Disney World.
That place gave him the creeps.
He shifted slightly in his tree, and scanned the immediate terrain. Steve, Natasha, Thor and Bruce had slipped in earlier, and he could see them moving around through the grimy boathouse windows. It had been nearly six months since he'd seen them all together, and he was having a really hard time not storming the place and doing something stupid like giving them all hugs, masculinity and pride be damned. Especially since Stark wasn't around. Though, Clint had no idea if Tony was even going to show.
Probably will if only to be an ass, Clint thought. I just hope he brings the good stuff.
On the lam and Tony Stark still had access to the best scotch. Some guys.
Clint lifted his head at the sound of a car turning down the dirt track masquerading as a road to the lake. Not thirty seconds later, a large blue Cadillac convertible rumbled into view. Clint grinned brightly.
“I knew she got the car,” he said under his breath, nearly laughing. The Caddy rolled to the stop and a gorgeous woman in a steel gray suit got out. “Hello, ma’am,” he muttered lowly, with more than a little appreciation.
Valentina de la Fontaine, the ex-girlfriend of Clint’s late boss, looked incredible. Clint shook his head. If only Commander Fury could see you now. In the middle of Florida, getting jobs for his wayward team.
The only time Clint had seen Commander Nick Fury grin while he was yelling was when he was with Val. She was a tiny thing, with big, warm eyes and smile that could go from sexy to sharp in a heartbeat. Smart, capable, strong, beautiful…the whole package. Not to mention she had better aim than most of the guys he’d worked with. Her knowledge of weaponry was unbelievable. He never knew what it was that made her quit the program. One day she was there, the next day she wasn’t and Fury was both furious and sad and that made him even scarier than usual.
Clint had heard she’d moved back to her hometown. She looked damn good. What a hell of a reunion this was going to be.
God, what the hell was he doing here?
He hadn’t seen anyone in the team since they’d split up, apart from Bruce. They’d met up in Missouri by accident, shared an uncomfortable beer and went their separate ways. Which had hurt. They’d always gotten along Before.
Before the verdict. Before Fury had been killed. Before. When they’d been a team that shouldn’t have worked, shouldn’t have been so much…fun to be a part of. He’d honestly thought Fury had lost his mind when he’d brought everyone together. No way in hell was the group ever going to work together.
But they did. And they did it well.
Then Fury was dead, they were framed for it, tried, convicted, and on the run. Fuck.
Clint shoved that to the back of his mind as another car made the turn off the main road and trundled into view. This one was an old, red Ford pickup. Practically an antique, but still running, and well from the sound of it. It pulled to a stop next to the Caddy, and a gorgeous pin-up of a girl hopped out of the driver’s side.
Clint blinked. Took in the hour-glass figure, gorgeous legs poking out of denim shorts, and blinked again.
Below him, the woman pushed her sunglasses up on her head, pulled her wavy, brunette hair away from her face, and Clint’s mouth went dry as she smiled at Val. The girl’s mouth was a work of art and Clint had to swallow hard. He watched the two women hug each other.
Shaking off that view, he shifted his gaze, grinning as Coulson slid into view, helping an older woman with platinum blonde hair out of the truck.
“Always the gentleman,” Clint muttered.
No sooner had he finished speaking, Clint watched Phil's lips move and suddenly the women, plus Phil, were all staring in his direction.
“Thanks, sir,” Clint muttered before dropping out of the tree. He bent his knees as he landed, and walked lazily towards the group, letting his eyes scan the horizon.
“Oh my God, seriously?” the curvy brunette exclaimed, her voice strong and clear as Clint walked over to them. “Are they all ninjas?”
“Yes,” Coulson said, his eyes still on Clint. “In their own ways.”
“We learned from the best,” Clint said, stopping next to Coulson's elbow. Gave him a polite nod. “Sir.”
The two men stared at each other for a few moments, and then shook hands.
“Good to see you, sir,” Clint said, letting his voice warm. Because it was. More than he really wanted to admit.
“Well, I feel all warm and fuzzy now,” the brunette said looking between Clint and Coulson.
“Darcy, hush,” the older blonde show-whispered, her eyes dancing. She was digging out a lighter for the cigarillo dangling from the corner of her lip. She took a second to light it, and take a deep drag before blowing it out and continuing. “They’re clearly having a moment which we should respect.”
“We could leave you gentlemen alone, if you’d prefer,” Val said, her lips curving into a smirk and raising an eyebrow. “After all a reunion between former colleagues is a beautiful thing.”
“Especially if they start kissing,” the brunette said. “Feel free to start kissing.”
Coulson’s mouth twitched and Clint bit off a laugh. Yeah, he liked them already.
“Interesting group of people you’re running with these days, sir,” Clint said, wry amusement bleeding into his tone.
“You truly don’t know the half of it,” Coulson said, eyes projecting fondness. Then he turned his head towards Clint, his business face sliding on. “Everyone else here?”
“Everyone except Stark,” Clint said, feeling his back straighten into a simulation of parade rest. He looked over at Val. “Ma’am. I always wondered what happened to that Caddie.”
Val smiled, throwing a glance that was equal measures fond and evil over her shoulder at the car. “It’s been in good hands, I promise you, Agent Barton.”
“It’s just Clint these days, ma’am,” he said.
“And I’m only called ma’am when I’m in court,” Val said patting his arm.
“Shall we go inside?” Coulson said gesturing to the other two women who were watching everyone with identical scrutinizing looks.
“Definitely,” the brunette said. “I’ve moved past ‘Intrigued City’ and am well on my way to ‘WTF Town.”
Coulson gave her a smile and Clint raised a brow. Yeah, he liked this girl. Which was new. He didn’t tend to like people at first sight.
You’re too used to judging people by their dossiers, Hawkeye, he told himself. Out in the real world, people just like each other. Don’t make it so complicated.
As a group, they headed towards the boathouse, Clint giving a final scan of the surrounding areas; he smirked when he saw Coulson do the same thing.
“Old habits, sir?” Clint asked.
“Hardest to break,” Coulson said. Clint grinned and he followed Coulson inside.
Darcy glanced around the old boathouse as she entered. It had been the first place she could think of when Val'd asked her for a meeting place. It was on the edge of the national park, and no one but a few local families had come here for years. It was quiet, private, and inaccessible, barring the old track outside, or tromping through quite a bit of swamp. From the smell of tree-guy, he'd probably stomped through the bog -–or ninja'd his way through – before climbing up that oak. Not that tree-guy smelled bad. Okay, yeah, definitely not somewhere she wanted to go right now, even if he'd looked really hot jumping out of that tree. And male-posturing with Phil. Darcy drew in a quick breath, letting the familiar smell of weathered wood and lake water settle her a bit, before eyeing up the crew in front of her.
She had to give Val one thing, she knew some terribly attractive people; and that wasn’t counting the ninja with the biceps from the tree.
“Ma’am,” a very tall blond man said to Val, his nice smile bringing to mind all sorts of wholesome things. “It’s very good to see you.”
“Thank you, Captain Rogers,” she said shaking his hand. “It’s good to see all of you.”
Darcy pressed her arm to Sadie’s. Her Gran was still pretty shaky on her feet, and while the woman was too proud to use the cane Maria'd fished out of the attic, she definitely needed support. Quietly, she glanced around at the people lounging around the room, all in various states of alert. Apart from the blond talking to Val, there was another blond guy – one who looked like he might be even taller than the first – leaning against the far wall. A still and striking young woman with copper hair was doing something... interesting with a piece of old driftwood, and a man with fluffy brown hair, who looked like he’d be better suited to a classroom than a boathouse, was absently staring out the window.
“Shall I do a quick introduction?” Val asked her blond.
He nodded. “That might be easiest.”
“Very well,” Val turned to Darcy and Sadie. “Ladies, these are the Avengers. They were a specialized covert team brought together to perform a task for the government. This gracious young man here is Captain Steve Rogers. The other young man over there is Thor.” Val smiled. “I won’t ask for your full name.”
“You are most kind, madam.” Then Thor grinned, making Darcy feel a little faint and Sadie mutter a ‘Goodness gracious’ under her breath.
Holy Hannah, Darcy thought watching Thor’s arms flex and his smile practically light up the place. He doesn’t need another name. The name of a lightning god suits him. Sweet damn.
“This is Natasha Romanova,” Val indicated; the woman in question inclined her head slightly, but Darcy noticed a quick glance at Phil. Plus, his hands twitched and Darcy totally knew there was a story there. Awesome.
“And the gentleman in the corner is Dr. Bruce Banner.” Dr. Banner gave an awkward wave.
“A doctor of what?” Sadie asked. “Better tell me now or I’m liable to start asking embarrassing questions.”
“Ah, not that kind of doctor, I’m afraid,” he said with a very sweet smile and shrugging a little. “I’m a biochemist by training.”
“You’ll love Jane, then,” Darcy said. “She’s a bio-geneticist.”
“You have a bio-geneticist?” Natasha asked, eyeing Darcy with something like suspicion. “I thought you sold flowers?”
“Amongst many other things, Miss Romanova,” Sadie said. “Green Thumb Nursery also has a functioning lab on its premises. It’s not unheard of in this state for students to do their research away from the university in a more informal setting, close to their subject of study.”
“Oh, and last but not least, the young man we met outside,” Val said. “Clint Barton.”
Darcy turned her head to see the ninja from the tree situated in the corner closest to a window and door. He touched his fingers to his brow and gave a small salute, with the hint of a smirk on his face. Dammit. Smirking men who jump out of trees were not fair. They just weren't fair.
“Everyone may I introduce, Sadie and Darcy Lewis, the current owners of the Green Thumb Nursery,” Val said.
“Call me Sadie,” ‘Sadie’ said smiling at everyone. “I still look around for my mother-in-law when someone says Mrs. Lewis.”
“I believe you all already know Mr. Coulson,” Val continued.
“Good to see you, sir,” Steve said to Phil with an amount of gravitas that really made Darcy want to know more.
“Son of Coul.” This was said with a great smile from Thor and Darcy was so using that later. Anything that made Phil's face do that extra-stony-but-amused thing was worth putting in the mental vault.
“Well, I suppose we should tell you all why we’ve asked you here,” Val said.
“You said something about threats?” Steve said all business as he looked at Darcy and Sadie.
“Well, to set the stage, a few months ago we were approached by Connor Dewsey, a local boy turned property developer,” Sadie said, pulling out her cigarette case and offering it to everyone. No one accepted. “He offered to buy my land. We refused and thought that was the end of it.”
“Spoiler alert – it wasn’t,” Darcy said, frowning and crossing her arms.
“He kept coming back and coming back, offering us ridiculous sums of money that we are positive he does not have access to and we kept turning him down,” Sadie said. She paused. “You have to understand. The Lewis land has been in the Lewis family for generations. Darcy here, and her cousin, Maria back at the nursery, are the last of the Lewis family. And while I do not expect the girls to keep the land, I certainly do not wish to sell the land that we have worked so hard on, just so that Dewsey boy can turn it into a heartless sub-division.”
“Aren’t you…” Steve trailed off.
“Oh, I’m not a Lewis by blood. I married into the Lewis clan,” Sadie dismissed, waving her cigarillo in his direction. “I was Sadie Darcy before I was Sadie Lewis.”
“Hence the name,” Darcy said waving her hand. She'd always loved that her father had done that.
“And you know that’s what he wants to do?” Natasha asked. “He wants to build a sub-division?”
“Definitely,” Darcy nodded. “About fifty years ago, we had a sinkhole appear on the back of our property. That sinkhole taps right into the Florida Aquifer, which means we’ve got the best access to water for miles. Of course, Connor wants our land. He’ll be able to market the sub-division as some kind of idyllic Florida Springs. ‘Come here and have fresh water, right from the source!’ The jerk.”
“So, you’ve said no,” Dr. Banner said. “I’m guessing he doesn’t like that answer?”
“He really, really doesn’t,” Darcy shook her head.
“Especially since he’s somehow managed to convince a number of other people in the community to sell ,” Val said. She put her hand on Darcy’s arm when it looked like she was going to argue. “Which isn’t illegal, Miss Thing. And no, I can’t do anything to his dumb butt, even if I am the mayor.”
Darcy sighed and slumped. What good was it to have friends in high places if they wouldn't shirk their oath of office and do you favors. Stupid Val being awesome and incorruptible. “That is so not fair. I thought being mayor meant you got to make unreasonable demands on your citizens.”
“I think that’s called fascism,” Dr. Banner said, his voice dry and more than a little amused. Well, at least she was giving the new guys a chuckle or two.
Sadie opened her mouth to say something but Clint said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and held up a hand. He looked at Steve. “Stark’s coming.”
Steve nodded, his shoulders tensing.
Darcy shot Clint an incredulous stare. She didn't hear a damn thing, and who was this 'Stark' person? The only Stark she knew was that famous dude with the money and the tech stuff. There was another member of the group? Yeesh, where were they all staying? This many new people in town was going to cause a ruckus. Palmetto Springs was decently sized, but newcomers and tourists were not very common. Mildred over at the Sleep-n-Stay would probably have a lot to say about this group. Thor would be fearing for his rear end by the end of the night. "Are you half bat?"
He shook his head. “Half bloodhound.”
She grinned, and felt something tug at her insides when he grinned back.
Oh, hello, she thought, and yeah, that grin may have notched up from silly to stupid.
“Are you two finished?” Sadie asked giving her granddaughter an amused look. “Or are we waiting for someone else to arrive?”
“We may as well—“ Steve was cut off by the sound of an engine pulling up to the boathouse very quickly and then being shut off. Steve sighed, looking more than a little put-upon. It was not a good look for him. “It appears the last member of our team is here. So, if you wouldn’t mind…”
The door to the boathouse banged opened, and Tony Stark stepped in, radiating confidence, wealth, and boredom in equal measures. Clint shook his head. A year living rough and the man looked like he'd strolled off a men’s wear catalog. To be fair, he probably had stashes of cash all over the world. Possibly even central Florida.
“Well, thank you, captain for inviting me to the armpit of crazy town, USA,” Stark boomed. Clint saw Darcy’s eyes narrow and let himself grin. “Why oh why are we here? Oh, wait, it’s Phil! Hey, Phil. So this is where you escaped to.”
“Mr. Stark,” Coulson said, voice impassive. It was a tone only reserved for generals and Tony Stark.
“Wow, I just got chills,” Stark said. “I’d forgotten how much I’d missed the sound of your dulcet monotone. So, what’s the story?”
He looked at Darcy and Sadie. Blinked. Then looked back at Steve.
“Really?” he asked, incredulous. “We’re helping the helpless now? Let me guess. Big bad dudes want their land and they’re not letting it go without a fight?”
“Tony, come on, don’t,” Bruce sighed, shaking his head.
“Oh, Cap got you, too?” Tony asked. “Nice. Did he get all puppy-dog eyed? It’s bad enough that I can’t, you know, have access to my company and have to accept handouts on the down low. But having to come all the way to Florida for it? I mean, Miami, sure. South Beach is always a hoot. But central Florida? Really? And meet with random unhappy people to see if I want to solve their problems for them? Not really in my five year plan.”
“No one is making you stay, Stark,” Steve said straightening up and Clint was reminded just how big the other guy was. Phil shifted, hands loose at his side, while Natasha had tensed up. Darcy Lewis looked about ready to explode.
This was really beating the heck out of North Dakota.
“Look, this was fun when it was, I don’t know, another country that we were bringing down,” Tony said. “But being reduced to this small-time stuff is the final kick in the head. What a waste of time.”
“Hey!” Darcy shouted. Everyone looked over at her, Clint saw her hands clenched into fists at her side.
“Now, look here,” she said. “We called you on you because we were told by an extremely reliable source that you guys could help us. But if this case is too small for you, then fine. Say so. But don’t you dare stand there and belittle my family’s legacy, Tony mother-fuckin’ Stark. It may not build skyscrapers in New York, but Green Thumb is mine and we’ve worked hard for it and now it’s in trouble and I want to fix it and that means outside help. Which I was told was you guys. But, if it’s not.”
She shrugged and went on, “Whatever.” She took a step forward, poking Stark in the chest. Hard. “But if you do want to help us, then help us. Check your manpain at the door, suit up and help us. Or get the hell out.”
It was utterly quiet in the boathouse when Darcy finished. Clint felt the corners of his mouth lift upwards when Tony’s wide eyes narrowed. Instantly a bright, genuine smile flashed over his face, and he morphed effortlessly into the human being Clint knew he actually was.
“Well, I’m in,” Tony said, and shot a curious look over at Steve. “When do we start?”
Darcy’s jaw dropped. “Are you kidding me?” Clint sympathized. Tony was such a bastard to new people. She turned to Coulson. “Did he just test me?”
“He does it to everyone,” Natasha said before shrugging. “Don’t take it personally.”
Darcy’s eyes widened and she turned to Tony. “Do not pull that shit again.”
“Darcy,” Mrs. Lewis said putting her hand on Darcy’s arm. “I’m sure it wasn’t a test. And if it was-” She looked straight into Tony’s eyes. “I’m sure Mr. Stark is too much of a gentleman to do it again.”
“Mr. Stark definitely is,” Stark said putting his hand on his heart, going so far as to lower his eyes and look up at her through his eyelashes. Clint rolled his eyes just as Mrs. Lewis snorted.
“I had a son, cutie-pie,” she said, smiling in amusement and flicking the ash off her cigarette. “And I know that particular look. Never kid a kidder.”
Stark just smirked and shot Mrs. Lewis a lewd wink. The resulting laugh was loud in the small space.
“What made you decide to call in outside help?” Natasha asked getting everyone back on track. “Did something happen?”
“A part from a number of our independent suppliers pulling out without any warning?” Darcy asked, still glowering at Stark. “And someone taking a blunt instrument to our irrigation system?” She took a deep breath, and wrapped her arms around herself. Clint absolutely did not like what that body language implied. “Someone attacked Gran the other night.”
Sadie patted her granddaughter's arm and made eye-contact with everyone, one by one. "We – Phillip, Maria, Darcy, and I – had been talking outside after closing. I left them to go take my evening stroll. As I approached the lab, I saw a figure all in black lurking near one of the windows.” She looked sheepish. “I’m afraid I did the silly thing and rushed at him, yelling.”
“Jane and I ran outside,” Darcy said quietly, her hand tightening over Sadie's. It warmed Clint to see such obvious affection between the two women. His family situation had been anything but pleasant, and he was glad to see that wasn't the case for Mrs. Lewis and Darcy. "We saw her struggling with someone. He threw her on the ground. I heard Phil coming up behind us.”
Darcy’s voice had gone terribly serious and she was looking at her grandmother with a pained expression that Clint really wanted to erase.
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry,” Steve said concerned, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yes,” Sadie said waving a slightly shaky hand in the air. “Darcy tased him and he ran off.”
Clint frowned. “Are you sure she tased him? He shouldn’t be able to run if she tased him.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Darcy said her voice firm. “I got him. But he was wearing some kind of vest and the prongs didn’t actually touch skin.”
“So whoever it was knew that you might be around and that you’d be armed,” Natasha mused, eyes distant as she thought it through. “Who knows that you have a taser?”
Darcy twisted her lips to the side and Sadie coughed delicately and smirked widely.
“It is entirely possible that the entire county knows that Miss Lewis owns a taser,” Coulson said, his voice about five degrees drier than normal. Which, honestly was a trick.
Everyone but Val and Sadie eyed Darcy and she glared back. “What? It was self-defense; the guy was being a jackass! He would not take no for an answer and kept groping my ass. How was I supposed to know he was an undercover cop?”
Clint blinked and gave himself a moment. He really, really liked this girl.
“You tased a cop?” Tony clapped delightedly and bounced on his toes. “Oh, we are definitely helping these people out.”
“In purely practical terms,” Steve said rolling his eyes. “What would you like us to do?”
“I know that I’m in the minority here, but I truly believe that Connor will eventually let go of this idea of his and leave us alone,” Sadie said. “However, our sales have suffered due to lack of supplies and now our own crops are in danger due to the broken irrigation system. Ideally…” She took a deep breath and looked at Darcy.
“We’d really like someone to watch our backs,” Darcy said looking Steve in the eyes. “That’s what we’d like.”
“I think we can do that,” Steve said nodding.
And there’s the earnest Steve Roger’s smile and comfort, Clint thought. Nice.
“I think we can go one better,” Tony said, making a face that Clint recognized. It was one that generally preceded hour of swearing (Stark), holding of tools (Bruce), and a power outtage or twelve. “I’ve never tried my hand at irrigation, I wonder what I can come up with.”
“Now, hold your horses, sweetpea,” Sadie said holding up a hand and looking mildly alarmed. “We should probably emphasize that we are broke. We’ve had to let go of most of our staff and do not have the money for a new system.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Thor said. “Items can always be acquired.”
Clint stifled a snort.
“And that doesn’t sound illegal at all,” Darcy said.
“Coming from the girl who tased a cop?” Tony asked, eyebrow ticking up.
“Touché,” Darcy nodded, smirking. “But no means no, no matter who the hell you are.”
“Wise words,” Natasha said and Clint had a brief flash of fear at what she and Darcy might be capable of if they put their minds together. He wasn’t sure what Darcy’s skill-set was, but he suspected she was lethal in her own way.
“So, does this mean you’re interested in the job?” Val asked everyone.
“Well, I’m fairly sure I can make time for some do-gooding in my rather packed schedule of evading the authorities,” Tony said. “Cap?”
“It would be a pleasure to help you,” Steve said while Natasha, Bruce and Thor nodded.
“Beats North Dakota,” Clint said.
Both Coulson and Darcy threw him a look. He returned it with a smirk.
“Thank you,” Sadie said, her voice sincere and her hand clasped with Darcy’s. “I mean that. Thank you so much.”
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Natasha said.
“You’ve already given me a bit of a little bit of hope, honey,” Sadie said while Natasha blinked at the endearment. “That goes a very long way.” She checked her watch. “And we’ve got to get back, Darcy. I don’t want your cousin to have to deal with the afternoon crowd on her own.”
“Maria would never forgive me if I let her manage the Junior League alone,” Darcy agreed, and let go of Sadie’s hand to hook it on her elbow. “Those ladies are vicious.”
Coulson opened the door to the boathouse, letting the ladies - including Val - walk out before him. Darcy turned around and said, “We do breakfast, by the way. And there’s plenty of room on the property if you need places to crash.”
“Thanks, Miss Lewis,” Steve said with a smile, his eyes warm and a far cry from that defeated look Clint remembered in the courtroom.
“Oh, God, it’s Darcy,” she said with a wave of her hand.
“In that case, it’s Steve,” he said his smile growing brighter. Clint side-eyed him and squashed the urge to punch his team mate. He should not want to punch Steve. Steve was not punchable
Darcy winked at them all and gave Clint a tiny salute before guiding Mrs. Lewis towards the pickup truck.
Coulson moved to follow them, but paused in the doorway. When he turned back, his face was solemn and tone serious.
“This was not how I imagined seeing you all would go,” he said. “But thank you for coming.”
“We owe you, sir,” Natasha shrugged. “How could we not?”
Clint felt the truthful weight of Natasha’s words settle in the air and he just gave Coulson a nod. Which was returned before he left the boathouse.
Clint watched everyone look around at each other in an awkward silence.
“So…who needs a drink?” Tony said. “I saw a great dive bar on my way in and I am dying for a something extremely strong and bad for me.”
There was general assent and they headed out of the boathouse; Clint still wondering what the fuck he was doing here, but not about to miss a thing.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
The next morning, Clint pulled his junker up to the house situated just behind the Green Thumb Nursery and gave it a onceover. It was solid; a two-story with a wraparound porch, definitely needed a paint job, but the wisteria creeping up the side gave it a lived in, rather than derelict feel.
Ready to start a recon of the property, he got out of the truck breathing in something sweet and flowery. He turned his head and saw the Confederate jasmine making its way around a nearby fence.
“Homey,” he said under his breath and then grabbed his toolbox out of the bed of the truck and walked up to the door. He knocked, only having to wait a few seconds before it was yanked open.
Darcy stared at him. He stared back. She blinked first, then said, “I liked what you did with the whole jumping out the tree thing. Are you here to be handy or for breakfast?”
It took him a second to respond because he was totally caught by the fact that she was wearing a t-shirt with butterflies on it and glasses with thick rims and the combined effect was unexpectedly sexy. Who the hell knew butterflies could be sexy? Though, to be fair, they were stretched over a pretty impressive chest, and eyes up, soldier.
“Uh, both?” he finally managed when he realized he’d been staring at Darcy’s shirt for too long. “I can be handy first, if you’d like.” He hefted his toolbox. The same toolbox he’d had since he was seventeen, adding and replacing tools over the years.
“Awesome, what do you know about pipes?” she asked.
“Stuff goes through them,” he offered. Her eyes narrowed and he fought the urge to grin. “I’m kidding. I know about pipes. Is something clogged?”
“Something like that,” she said. She reached out and grabbed his hand and pulled him inside. “The upstairs bathroom. It’s been doing this on a regular basis for about three weeks now.”
Clint barely had time to register the feel of her hand in his before he was inside the house and she dropped his hand. It was only years of training that stopped him from flinching and striking out when she’d taken it. Which would have been bad. Not to mention, didn’t she know better than to just grab a strange man’s hand? Not the safest thing to do.
But, God she smelled great.
“So, does your toolbox have a name?” she asked as they went up the stairs.
Clint distracted himself from the sight of her ass in those jeans (Was that a patch in the shape of a frog sewn onto the back pocket? Frogs should not be hot.) by eying the photos lining the staircase. Photos of people he absolutely didn't recognize were interspersed with school shots of Darcy.
“Your tool box,” she said. “Does it have a name? Like on the Gilmore Girls. Luke’s toolbox had a name.”
“I don’t know what any of that meant, but no, my toolbox does not have a name,” he replied.
“It should,” she said glancing down at him and then the toolbox. “It kinda looks like a Marvin.”
“Marvin. You’re assuming that my toolbox is a guy,” he said following her into a bathroom at the top of the stairs. He shot a quick look down each side of the hall. The right had two doors and the left had one.
“Well, yeah,” she said rolling her eyes. “It’s a toolbox.”
“Isn’t that gender-stereotyping?” he asked setting Marv-his toolbox down.
“Are you saying that your toolbox is a girl?” she asked looking innocent. The thing she did with her lips and teeth completely destroyed the effect.
Clint opened his mouth and then realized precisely what he was defending and just said, “Where’s the pipe?”
“Under the sink,” she said starting to grin.
Darcy leaned against the door jamb and watched Clint get down on the floor to look under the sink. After meeting with everyone at the boathouse, Phil had given them the low-down on the team down to their very lengthy list of badass skills. While she still wasn’t quite sure how she felt about letting a virtual stranger mess with her pipes (“Give him house repairs to do and he’ll be a happy man,” Phil had said), it had been the fondness in Phil's voice that made Darcy want to give them all a chance. And possibly a hug.
She eyed Clint’s arms. I bet he gives great hugs, Darcy thought.
He ducked his head back out. “Bucket? I gotta take the u-bend off and I don’t want water everywhere.”
“Oh. Right.” She went out to the hall closet and grabbed a plastic basin. “How’s this?”
“Perfect,” he said before going back under the sink.
His shirt pulled up a little when he stretched out on his back and Darcy kind of wanted to do things to his skin with her tongue.
Jesus, God. Inappropriate much? she admonished herself, zoning out slightly as Clint started grunting and doing something with a wrench. What is wrong with you?
A serious lack of anything physical? she told herself. It’s been a while. She thought back to her last relationship. It had ended over a year ago. Clint grunted some more, and the bit of skin flexed into some kind of definition. Darcy swallowed. A very long while.
“Found what was blocking it,” he said doing something that did amazing things to his forearms. He sat up and handed her a wet necklace with a locket on the end.
“It’s Gran’s,” Darcy said gingerly taking the necklace. “She loses it once a year, freaks out, and makes us look for it everywhere. The sink is a first though, I have to say.”
“Does she forget other stuff?”
“No, no, it’s not like that, she’s not losing it,” Darcy said shaking her head. “She’s got a bit of a shaky heart, though.”
Sadie hadn’t even mentioned that she’d lost it. God. Just how out of touch was everyone? This necklace was so special to her and she’d just…kept quiet. Sadie never kept quiet. Darcy ran her finger over the front of the locket, smoothing away the grimy water.
She must have looked sad, because he cleared his throat and said, “Um, we’re gonna figure this out. We’ll, uh, get the bad guys and stuff.”
She looked up and he looked uncomfortable sitting on the bright pink bathmat on her bathroom floor. She smiled. “Is this you being reassuring?”
“Yeah?” he said. “Sorry, I’m not very good at it.”
“Oh, you’re okay. You mean it at least,” she said, genuinely touched.
“Of course I mean it,” he said straightening up and looking offended.
“Wow. Between you and Captain Rogers there’s going to be no shortage of chivalry, is there?”
“Just doing our jobs, ma’am,” Clint said tipping an invisible cowboy hat at her.
Darcy laughed long and hard while Clint watched her with a baffled grin. “Oh, my God. This is going to be awesome. I love it. It’s totally going to work out. Jesus, you guys are great.” She wiped under her eyes, adjusting her glasses which Clint seemed to find fascinating, judging by how intently he watched her. A set of butterflies fluttered briefly in her stomach at the attention.
Knock it off, she thought. He just made you laugh. You’ve laughed before.
But not like that. Not in a while, a voice taunted.
She turned when she heard the door downstairs open and Thor and Steve’s voices drifted up to them. The smell of toast and bacon wafted up and Darcy took a deep breath. A low rumbling sound had her turn back to Clint who had a sheepish look on his face.
“Hungry?” she asked with a grin.
The big table in the kitchen had every sauce known to man in the center, including a massive bottle of syrup. A big window box of herbs rested just outside the open kitchen window and, from where he leaned against the end of the counter, Clint wondered if the fresh scent that kept wafting in was due to it. Carole King was singing on the radio and it felt remarkably…easy. Yeah, that was the word. The room just felt easy-going and comfortable.
Which was really weird, if just because he’d never shared a comfortable meal with any of his (ex) teammates before. Good? Sure. Snarky? Definitely. But never comfortable. If nothing else, Stark – who’s life goal seemed to be chaos – usually said something stupid and got stuff thrown at him. Who knew the secret to avoiding that was a pile of French toast, a watch kit, and a waffle-maker that shorted out after the fifth batch.
He glanced quickly over his teammates and was worried to see signs of strain and exhaustion on most of their faces. This was the first time he'd really been able to get a good look at his team. The bar had been pretty dim the night before, and they'd all stumbled out and scattered before he could do much in the way of assessment. But here in the sunny kitchen, he really didn't like what he saw. Bruce obviously hadn’t been sleeping or eating. It was good to see him wolfing down a pile of hash browns. Thor looked a little paler than usual, but cheerful as he tried to get the little female scientist talking about her work (which went over everyone’s head, apart from Bruce, who kept asking questions). And Cap… Well, Cap had looked exhausted and beaten down yesterday, but not so much now that he had a wall of food on his plate.
Clint watched appreciatively as Sadie flipped a perfect, golden egg-white’s omelet in her skillet and set it on a waiting plate.
“Whose is that?” Clint asked around a bite of bacon.
“Mine,” Coulson said coming in the back door and taking a place at the counter, next to Clint. Sadie smiled at him and set his plate down in front of him.
“Thank you, Mrs. Lewis,” he said.
“You’re very welcome, Phillip,” she said with a pat on his arm. The little boy smile that Phil gave in return made Clint freeze, fork headed to his mouth. Had Phil been adopted? Was that why everyone was so nice to each other? Could Clint get adopted? The food was incredible.
“Here you go,” Darcy said handing Coulson a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce while continuing to munch on her waffle. Her tongue licked at her thumb capturing a stray bit of syrup and Clint’s thoughts stuttered.
“Thanks.” Clint then watched Coulson douse his omelet with sauce and Clint started to grin.
So very Phil. A bland egg-white omelet with hot sauce. That summed him up. Mild-mannered and polite until pissed off and then someone got a paperclip in in their brain. Man, Belarus had been fun.
He glanced over at Natasha and saw that she was doing her best to not appear like she was watching, but most definitely was watching.
Clint allowed himself an internal smirk as he shoveled pancake into his mouth. He’d weirdly missed the strange little spy mating dance those two’d started back Before. Not really - because he’d never been very invested in love stories not his own – but kind of. He liked Phil, and he liked Natasha. Plus, they were the only people he knew who could communicate entirely by eyebrow and placid expressions. Whatever. They’d figure it out, or they wouldn’t.
“This is the best breakfast I’ve had in years, Mrs. Lewis,” Steve said, a study in earnest from behind his wall of breakfast food. “You didn’t have to go to all this trouble.”
“Thank you, sweetie and what trouble?” Sadie said, dropping another serving of home fries on Clint’s plate, thereby earning a spot on his list of favorite people. “I like to cook and you all clearly like to eat. The perfect arrangement. Who wants more bacon?”
Everyone raised their hands.
After bacon was distributed, Sadie sat down between Darcy and Maria and made the same kind of pleased hum that Darcy made when she ate a bite of waffle. Clint really wanted to be adopted. These people were great.
“What’s on everyone’s to-do list today?” Sadie asked cheerfully. She nudged Darcy. “Darcy-girl?”
She shrugged. “Usual watering duties and minding the shop stuff.”
“Same here,” Maria said over her glass of orange juice. “I can show Stark the irrigation system first.”
Tony nodded vigorously, his mouth stuffed with egg and toast.
“Why don’t we split up?” Steve suggested, working on his third helping of waffles. “Bruce, you stick with Tony. Keep an eye on the northern side of the property, though. There looks to be a gap in some of the trees.” He turned to Natasha. “Customers?”
“I’ll keep my eyes open,” she replied with a nod.
“You’ll be able to spot anyone out of the ordinary,” Phil said. “I’ll give you a quick tour before we open.”
Clint felt a thrill as Steve turned to him. “Can you check out the house?”
“On it, Cap,” Clint said. He looked at Darcy who was watching everyone with big eyes, her cup of coffee cradled in her hands. “Show me the rest?”
“Yeah, sure,” she said. “I’ve got gutters from hell, if you’re interested?”
“I can do gutters,” Clint said. Nice. He’d wanted to get up high. He needed to gauge out sightline and check out that crow’s nest he thought he’d seen driving in.
“It’s where his mind tends to hang out,” Thor said with a grin. Dr. Foster snickered next to him and then looked appalled at herself. Darcy laughed at her shocked expression.
Steve smiled and shook his head. “Thor, see what you can do with the lab.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Thor said nodding.
“That leaves little old me,” Sadie said batting her eyes at Steve. “Please tell me you’re good at heavy lifting? I’ve got all sorts of re-arranging that needs doing.”
“I’m at your disposal, ma’am,” Steve said smiling at her. Clint kept his snicker to himself. Steve always had a soft spot for nice old ladies that liked him to lift things. Plus, being helpful looked good on him. It gave him a bit of his old shine back.
Darcy groaned. “Dangerous thing to say, dude. She only looks sweet and docile.”
“Hush, child.” Sadie lifted her chin. “I’m merely providing a cover for our esteemed captain while he organizes his operation.”
Steve grimaced. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to overstep. This is your place-“
“Yes, it is,” Sadie said gently, handing him the last of the bacon. “But, you know more about being on the offensive than we do. So, do what you need to, Steven. We’ll do what we can to help, right girls?”
Darcy and Maria nodded.
“You just tell us what you want or need,” Sadie said with a smile for everyone. “Speaking of, who wants the last waffle?”
After breakfast, Darcy headed outside, Clint trailing behind her. It was kind of embarrassing how pleased she was he’d been ‘assigned’ to her for the day. Not that she minded. Dude was cute, handy, and there was the distinct possibility he’d strip down in the mid-day heat. “I think there’s something wrong with the gutters and possibly the roof.”
“I’ll take a look,” he said brushing past her towards the porch.
“Oh, great. Well, the ladder’s in the-“ Darcy trailed off as Clint jumped up and grabbed hold of the side of the porch. He pulled himself up and onto the porch roof in what was, Darcy was sure, the most beautiful pull-up ever performed by anyone ever. Absently, she thanked the universe for short sleeves and Clint’s dedication to physical fitness while he pulled that truly spectacular rear out of view and onto the roof proper.
“Oh, or no ladder, okay. Wow,” Darcy said, her mind trying to process the insanely hot thing she’d seen. She swallowed hard and absently fanned herself. “Were you in the circus of something?”
“Yep,” he said. She backed up and could see him looking at the shingles and spotting a section that was going bald. “You guys have a bad storm recently? ‘Cause I think you’ve got some shingles missing.”
“It’s Florida. The entire spring and summer is one long storm,” she said. “And really? A circus? Cool. Did you do trapezes or something?”
“Archery, mostly,” he said, poking at the shingles with his boot. “Do you have a hardware store in town?”
“Yeah, a couple. And hunh,” she grunted, plopping down on a bench where she could keep an eye on him. And archery. Okay, that went a long way in explaining the arms. And back. Probably not butt though. “Yeah, I can see how that archery could come in handy. I think.”
“We came through central Florida once,” he said, squatting near the gutters and poking at something inside. “I’d never seen so many mosquitoes in my life.”
“They’re something of a feature down here,” she nodded, idly wondering how much rust and how many holes he was finding. “How did you get from the circus to looking at my gutters?”
Clint chuckled. “I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”
Ooh, snark, Darcy thought. Good. Not just a nice body. “Okay. You can totally stay and fix my house now.”
“Did I pass some sort of test?”
Yeah, Darcy thought. You kind of did.
“Let’s just say that any man who can quote Bugs Bunny automatically gets a free pass in my book and is free to fix my gutters,” she said still grinning. “What’s wrong with them?”
He smirked down at her. “Your gutters are blown. You need new ones. You’ve also got some patchy spots in your shingles. You’re going to need to replace those, too.”
“Yeah, that’s gonna happen,” she sighed, dropping her head back, wallowing slightly in the painful rush of helplessness his words created. There was a reason she’d been avoiding calling Merle and Bunny’s gutter service. Goddamn Connor Dewsey. Stupid lack of Lotto winnings. Resigned, she tilted her eyes back towards Clint. “Can you do anything in the meantime? Something that doesn’t cost any money?”
“I can clean the gutters and probably shore up the roof,” he said. “And Thor might be able to find something really cheap to replace them with. That’s kind of what he does, finds things.”
“He finds stuff that falls off trucks, doesn’t he?”
Clint laughed. “He’d say that it flies off, but yeah. Something like that.”
He edged back to the side of the house, felt around the edge until it didn't buckle, then freaking flipped himself over and off. From the second story. Right. So the circus thing wasn't a lie. Good to know. He landed and met Darcy’s amused eyes.
“You’re fun,” she said nodding thoughtfully and looking him over. “I can tell.”
“And you just come right out and tell it like it is, don’t you?” he said coming closer.
“I’m kind of blunt,” she said shrugging.
“Yeah, I noticed that yesterday,” he said a smirk making that mouth of his do nice things.
“Oh, yeah,” she said wincing and feeling guilty for being such a loudmouth. “Look, I’m still really sorry about the manpain thing. I mean, if there’s anyone who deserves to be suffering from inner angst and railing at the universe, it’s you guys. I was out of line.”
“Yeah, but Stark started it,” he shrugged, then swept a hand around the collected buildings. “This is your place and you’re doing you best to take care of that, I respect that.”
“Thank you,” she said feeling warm and absurdly reassured that he got it. And just look at him, being all vigilant. Like how he's taking her seriously, and that she can still tell he's paying attention to the property and not focusing entirely on her, and how that might be rude in another situation, he's there to help protect her and Gran and that's kind of headily awesome, and maybe that's contributing to her desire to lick him? Stop that! Stay on target! she berated herself.
“Plus anyone who can call Tony out automatically gets a free pass in my book,” he said with a smirk. “Kind of like you and the Looney Tunes thing.”
“Sweet,” she said cheerfully. “I’m very good at saying things without thinking. I’ve kind of turned it into an art form.”
He smiled and she smiled and oh, God, what was she doing? Was she flirting? Over her lack of mouth-filter and cartoons? Well, she’d flirted over dumber things. Plus he was stupidly hot and he was going to fix her gutters. That shouldn’t be a turn on, and yet she could feel her cheeks heating up.
“Let me, uh, show you the rest of the place,” Darcy said looking away to hide her flaming cheeks.
The Green Thumb was bigger than he'd expected. Clint had the basics and dimensions of the property memorized before he'd put foot to Floridian soil, but knowing and seeing was a different thing. And seeing. Well, as impressive as the fields were, the property was in pretty tough shape. Clint mentally sighed, tightening his fingers into a quick grip, one of the only tells he allowed himself. The more he saw of the operational areas, the more he was starting to understand how dire the women's straits were.
The roof was a mess. Definitely something that should have been addressed months earlier, and if Darcy's rambling was to be believed, the money Sadie'd set aside for it had ended up getting poured into ventilation repair, or new seedlings, or one of fifteen other projects that had broken and needed fixing. All of them small annoyances that had built up into a pretty ugly and telling picture.
He shook his head, remembering the volume of scrap Stark and Banner had piled next to the office. The remains of Green Thumb's irrigation engine, according to Darcy.
They didn't deserve this. Darcy didn't deserve this.
And yeah, he was completely screwed. Because Darcy? Darcy was amazing. Gorgeous (that mouth), funny (again, that mouth), and sharp as one of Tasha's knives.
Damn, did being a fugitive of the US Government suck. The fact that he felt so strongly about it surprised him. A year ago, he wouldn’t have let this make such an impact. Do the job. Get out. That’s what he did. Since when did he care how a small business in Florida took care of itself? But she cared. He glanced at her as she smiled and waved at an older couple over by the birdbaths. She cared and that was just...something to see.
"So. You know about us? Federal warrants and the like?" Cuz, yeah. Subtle wasn't him without a bow and a mission.
Darcy nodded, stepping around a groove in the path. “Val gave us the Cliff’s Notes version. Phil elaborated. It sounds like you got a bad rap and that’s not cool.”
“So you just believe in me? Us?” He added quickly trying not to care about her answer. Because he was a lying liar who lied, especially in his own head. More to the point, why did he care so much what this girl thought about him? Maybe it's the glasses, he thought. Just be cool, man. Do not show your hand until you know the name of the game.
She shrugged, as she twisted her hair up revealing a creamy neck that Clint wanted to touch. “I believe in Val. And I believe in Phil. And if those two say you’re on the up and up, I’ll go with it.”
“Thanks. That means a lot, actually,” Clint said looking away to hide his relieved expression and quick, dumb grin.
“Don’t get your hopes up too much,” she said heading towards the greenhouses. “I mean, I am desperate. So, you know, you’re a desperate measure.”
Fair enough. Clint laughed, throwing his head back to take in the wide, blue of the mid-morning horizon. Mercy save him from honest women. “I’ve been called worse things.”
“I can only imagine,” she said giving him a grin and wink.
As they walked along, Clint took in the scenery.
The drive that led up to the nursery wound its way through a dense forest that had a natural mix of pine trees, cypress, dogwoods and cedars. The forest floor looked wet and green. The drive dead-ended at the nursery in a circular drive with a small parking lot to one side, the shop on the other and the main checkout stalls in the middle. A thick copse of crepe myrtles bracketed the parking lot. A row of red Radio Flyer wagons were lined up next to the checkout stalls, ready for use by customers who were cheerfully pulling them along paved sidewalks while browsing the flowers and plants. All in all, it was the picture of a busy, prosperous local business. It sucked that he knew better.
“We’ve got regulars,” Darcy explained, noticing his customer-watching. “They’ll come in, get what they need and then go. We get some tourists, too. They’ve usually gotten lost on the highway and think we’re an attraction. They hang around, look at everything and usually end up buying some strawberries or boiled peanuts to take with them.”
“Boiled peanuts?” Clint asked.
Darcy raised an eyebrow. “Am I going to have to educate you on the amazing delicacy that is the boiled peanut?”
“I’ve had them before, thanks,” Clint said. “Kinda salty, aren’t they?”
“Guess I don’t really have one.”
“Are you one of those guys who’s already started watching out for their cholesterol?” Darcy asked, a wide, wicked grin stretching over her face. “I know Phil is. We humor him when he asks for marg instead of butter for his corn on the cob.”
“He uses marg on his corn instead of butter?” Clint asked making a face, completely scandalized. Phil ate margarine? Okay, that was just... “That’s just wrong.”
“Thank you!” Darcy said lightly smacking his forearm in solidarity and making him chuckle. “Don’t get me started on his refusal to eat pie for breakfast.”
“It’s got fruit in it, what more do you need?” Clint said. “Does this mean you have pie in the kitchen right now?”
“Oh, you can so stay,” Darcy said laughing.
“Thanks, and you didn’t answer the question,” Clint said coming to a stop. He rearranged his face into his best Steve impression. “Is there pie on the premises?”
“Well, let’s see. If it’s a day that ends in ‘y’,” Darcy said thoughtfully. “Then yes. We have pie on the premises. We had a surplus of pecans.”
Clint shook his head. Oh, Dewsey was toast. Anyone who messed with pie makers deserved what they got. “Best job ever. Just give me some bad guys to chase and I’m a happy man.”
“So,” Maria said as she sat down in the old flowered armchair, her tone brisk and to the point. “What do we think?”
"Steven is a complete sweetheart." Sadie added from position on the loveseat. She was brushing Darcy's hair, an evening ritual that dated back as long as Darcy could remember. It was both soothing for them both and afforded them extra cuddle time. Darcy was always a fan of cuddle time. “And he managed to hold an entire conversation with Earl about fishing, so he’s got my vote.”
“Thor is very…tall,” Jane said from her usual curled up position on the other flowered armchair, looking more than a little puzzled. It was freaking adorable. “And kind of…charming?”
“Clint fixed the clogged pipe and found your necklace with his incredible, edible arms,” Darcy said, holding still while Sadie worked on a very stubborn knot.
Maria rolled her eyes, long used to Darcy’s fascination for good arms, and said dryly, “And Tony Stark is surprisingly handy with a wrench and Dr. Banner has lovely hair. Are we done perving?”
“Never,” Darcy and Sadie said together. Everyone cackled until Maria thumped her hand on the armrest of the chair to get everyone’s attention, but she was grinning as she did so.
“Right,” she said. “Physical attributes aside, what do we think?”
“I think that they all worked very hard today and we owe them a serious amount of gratitude for that fact alone,” Sadie said starting to braid Darcy’s hair. “Whether or not Connor Dewsey continues to bother us, I’m glad we called these folks down.”
Her face went distant and Darcy wondered if she’d noticed just how much was getting done with the extra hands. They’d let things get so bad… Darcy gave herself a mental shake.
“Me, too. We now have clean gutters, which is kinda awesome. And I saw Natasha helping out with some of the seedlings,” Darcy nodded. She tilted her head to the side. “Which reminds me - Phil looked good today. Sort of, I don’t know, less tense.”
“I noticed that, too,” Maria said looking thoughtful. “So, we’re in favor of letting them stay?”
Jane nodded, still looking a bit confused, but considerably more hopeful than she had in recent weeks. “I think I’m getting new equipment.”
“The roof is getting patched up tomorrow,” Darcy added.
“It felt good today, knowing that people had our backs,” Sadie said, “strong, able backs, I hasten to mention.”
“And I think we’ll have a working irrigation system by the end of the week,” Maria said nodding. “So, they stay?”
Everyone nodded and just like that some bit of tension that Darcy hadn’t realized she’d been shouldering drifted away. She breathed a deep sigh of relief and Sadie patted her head. Darcy leaned back and listened to Maria describe the new irrigation system Stark was proposing.
They drifted off to their respective rooms a couple of hours later, Maria and Sadie going to their bedrooms while Jane headed back to her lab. Honestly, since the ventilation had been fixed, it took a minor miracle, or a direct order from Sadie to get Jane out of there for any extent of time. She’d been putting in even more time with her thesis deadline coming up. Darcy shrugged her shoulders. She’d have to do something about that.
Once Darcy got to her room, she fought the urge to just fall face down onto her bed and instead changed out of her work clothes and into her pyjama pants and a camisole. Then she opened up a window and plopped on the window seat, looking out at the grounds below.
It had been a long, bizarre day and she needed to process.
She breathed deep and thought about how much better she felt compared to the other night when Gran was attacked.
“Way better,” she muttered. Who’d of thunk it, but a group of complete strangers had provided a bucketful of security that made her feel, well, safe. She let her head rest on the side of the window frame. It felt good. While part of her bristled at not being able to handle everything on her own, the rest of her just felt good.
She wasn’t sure how long she stared out, just letting her thoughts tumble over each other, until she was distracted by the sound of someone walking around in the crow’s nest above her. She looked up and grinned.
Clint hopped over the railing of the crow’s nest, surveying the property. He'd noticed it earlier while dredging the second floor eaves and gutters for gunk. It was perfect. 360 degree view of the surrounding area, a constant breeze that cooled and conducted sound, and enough of a sloping roof to keep off any surprise showers. Intently, he walked the entire circumference second floor roof before nodding. Definitely be able to spot anyone coming down the drive. Easy.
He went back to the front railing and looked west. When he heard a soft chuckle he looked down. Darcy sat in her windowsill looking up at him with an amused smirk.
Busted. He thought about just giving her a nod and back away, but she was smiling at him and he was a sucker for a pretty girl and moonlight. He eased himself over the railing and made his way down to her windowsill, which was wide enough for him to perch on. Once there he met her eyes.
“Hi,” he said cringing internally at his utter lack of smooth.
“Hi, yourself,” she said. “You’re really good at that. How do you make it look so freakin’ effortless?”
“I knew you were going to say that,” she smirked. “Do you miss the circus?”
“Not really,” he said. “I just need to move around.”
“Like a shark?”
“Only with less swimming.” He’d forgotten how much he enjoyed working towards something. Florida was just getting better and better.
Darcy nodded. “Fair enough. My granddad was like that, too. He was always on the move, fixing this or making that or talking to someone.”
She looked out at the property, giving Clint the chance to gaze at her profile. Her lips were full and strands of her hair fluttered around her face in the gentle, evening breeze and yeah. She was seriously pretty.
Not the time or place, soldier, he reminded himself.
“What about your folks?” he asked, desperate for something to talk about and naturally, picking a supremely unsexy topic. “You haven't mentioned them.”
“They died when I was eight,” Darcy said looking up into the night sky. “They were pretty cool from what I remember, but that’s not much and I sometimes wonder how reliable my memory is.”
Shit. He felt like a heel for even bringing it up and kicked himself mentally. There’s serious strength here, though, he thought. And you know how much of a sucker you are for a strong woman.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Mine died when I was five,” Clint said startling himself by actually telling her. Jesus. Where had that come from? He turned away and looked out over the yard, his heart beating quickly.
“I’m sorry,” Darcy said simply. He could feel her looking at him and it took all he had not to reach for her. “I take it you didn’t have a Sadie around afterwards?”
“’Fraid not,” he said. “Who knows what I might have been if I had. Fewer wrong turns at Albuquerque, I bet.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Darcy said with a grin. “She’s pretty big about learning from your own mistakes. Hence the grand car debacle of 1999.”
Clint looked at her. She shrugged. “I kind of let a friend drive my car and he totaled it.”
“Oh, yeah. So not a good year.”
Clint grinned at her and just simmered with attraction. Attraction to this funny, gorgeous, smart woman. Which was such a bad idea. He could not afford to bring someone into his crappy world. His, let’s face it, criminal world. Sitting on a windowsill on a sultry, Florida night in April talking to this girl might feel incredible, and it did, but it couldn’t go anywhere.
Clint really wanted it to go somewhere.
“You really going to sleep in the crow’s nest?” Darcy asked, head tilting.
“It’s nice up there,” he said. “It’s a good vantage point and there’s a bit of a breeze. Slept in worse places.”
“Highly classified places?”
“Man of mystery,” Darcy said smirking. “I like it. Very smexy.”
“Smexy?” He popped an eyebrow. This woman’s brain.
“It’s a word.”
She started to say something else but interrupted herself with a big yawn. “Oh, wow. Rude much? Sorry.”
“It’s been a long day and I bet you get up early,” Clint said reaching over and tapping her nose, because the alternative was to pull her to him and try out her bed (A bed that looked soft and had a comforter with sunflowers on it. Sunflowers. Christ.) “Go to bed.”
“Sir, yes sir,” she said sleepily. “Ooh, wait. You might want this later.”
She hopped back into her bedroom, something Clint knew he was going to replay later, given her lack of bra and Jesus. With effort, Clint turned away from the picture of Darcy, in shorts, bent over into her closet rummaging for something. Being a gentleman sucked legitimate balls. Clint stared out again over the nursery, hearing Darcy moving around her room. She came back with a small canvas bag that read ‘Green Thumb’ on the side.
“What’s this?” he asked taking the bag and looking inside, curiously.
“A care package or well, bag,” she said. “A Snickers bar, citronella candle – made by a local lady, very effective - and a bottle of water. All you need for an evening on a roof.”
“Wow,” he said, staring at the bag. “I’ve…never had a care package before.” He cringed internally. He really needed to stop confessing all of his pathetic secrets.
“Well, it’s high time you did,” Darcy said with a decisive nod, and a soft smile that, somehow, made her even more pretty. “Have a good night and please don’t fall off our roof.”
“I will and I won’t,” he said nodding back. He held up the bag. “Thanks.”
Clint turned and quickly headed back the way he came, before he did anything dumb, like kiss her.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
The next morning Darcy woke up and mumbled, “Did I honestly talk to that dude on my windowsill?”
She turned her head to look at the windowsill in question, snippets of their conversation floated through her mind. Darcy realized that she was smiling. Yep. She totally talked to that dude on her windowsill.
She snickered and then sighed twirling a section of her hair with her finger. It had been nice, more than nice, talking to him. There was a kind of - she fidgeted under her comforter, trying to figure out what it was she felt when she talked to him.
Tension! That was it! There was all this nice, lovely, warm tension.
She liked the tension. It was kind of, she started to grin, delicious.
“Ugh!” she said out loud. “He’s not a slice of pie! Stop objectifying him.” Amused with herself, she snickered again and rolled out of bed and got dressed for the day. She waged war on her hair with her hairbrush and a bottle of de-tangler, then gave up, put it into a messy bun and headed downstairs for breakfast.
After breakfast, she swung by Jane's lab. In the distance, Thor was working to fix a window that hadn't opened since the Carter administration, while Jane was glancing back and forth between her computer and Thor.
Jane was glancing between her computer and Thor. Who was not made of science. Or plant cells. And if the sex-eyes Thor was shooting at her friend were anything to go by... Well.
"Get it, Jane!" Darcy whistled under her breath before doing an about-face and heading back towards the house.
The sound of hammering rang out across the nursery and Darcy looked back towards the house, grinning when she saw the top of Clint’s head bobbing as he got to work on the shingles.
“There is something about a man doing stuff to your house,” Sadie said coming up behind Darcy.
Darcy bumped her hip against Sadie’s. “There sure is. And what have you got young Steve doing today?”
“Oh, I didn’t even have to say a word and he already started in on stocking up the mulch and hay bales.” They looked over and watched Steve carry a hay bale to the side of the store and set it down, then go back for another. Silently, Darcy thanked Steve's parents, dedication to physical fitness, and the great people at Hanes' t-shirts.
“Nice,” Darcy whistled. “Don’t work him too hard.”
Sadie just smiled and headed off to help the first customers of the day.
Darcy waved at Maria who gave her an absent nod. Tony Stark was flailing his arms and talking while Dr. Banner looked thoughtful and kept jotting down notes. Darcy was a little worried about how Maria would work with someone as volatile as Tony, but she didn’t have her cranky face on and Tony seemed excited and open. Maria hadn't said much about Tony - who'd demanded Darcy call him that after his fifth piece of toast - the night before, but from the way Maria was glaring, glowering, and rolling her eyes while he did something enthusiastic with tools, Darcy could draw her own conclusions. She wondered if she needed to play referee, but decided Bruce could probably handle things. She hoped. “I’m just gonna let them do their thing,” she muttered walking over to the tiny shop and grabbing her notebook from underneath the till.
She consulted her schedule and made some notes, then checked the time. Nine am. Everything was running on schedule and smoothly. Which made Darcy stop and look around for anything suspicious. Things felt too good. Too safe. Where was the shoe? That damn shoe that always dropped when things got too good? It was somewhere, Darcy knew it.
She scanned the nursery and saw Phil replenishing the marigold display with some new flats of flowers. Nearby, Natasha was contemplating the flowers flats with an odd expression.
“She has seen bedding plants before, hasn’t she?” Darcy muttered under her breath. She shook her head and went over to Phil.
“’Sup, dude?” she called.
“Darcy,” He nodded and set down his flat. For the seventy-billionth time since he'd started, Darcy wondered how he managed to haul plants and mulch and every other kind of smudge-y substance known to man without getting anything on his shirt. She knew Phil'd been up since five, and his shirt and pants looked like they'd just come back from the dry cleaners. Which Palmetto Springs didn't have.
“It’s Wednesday,” she said. “I’ve got three places to hit today. I should be back after lunch.”
“Who?” he asked.
“The Edisons, the Carters, and the Baileys.”
Phil nodded. “Fine. Take Barton with you.”
“Phil, I’ve been doing the pick-ups since I was sixteen,” she said putting her hands on her hips. “I can do this on my own.”
Secretly, she was only objecting on principle. Something about the way that Phil was being all protective made her feel like obeying instantly. Plus, you know. That shoe was lurking around somewhere.
“Not until we know what’s going on,” Phil said. The smile he sent her was gentle, and that, more than anything, took the wind completely out of her sails. “Steve is staying here with Sadie and Barton is good at blending into the background. Take him with you.”
Darcy sighed but didn’t feel like arguing. Plus, she’d been an idiot to say no to another pair of hands and a strong back. “Fine.” She turned and walked back to the house and yelled, “Hey, eagle eyes!”
There was a second and then Clint’s head appeared on the roof. “It’s actually Hawkeye.”
“What seriously?” Darcy asked. “You’re called Hawkeye?”
He shrugged. “Yep.”
“Well, Hawkeye, do you feel like helping me go collect flowers?” she asked.
“Is that a trick question?” He frowned and swiped his bare forearm across his forehead, rubbing away sweat and dirt and oh, God. Was that a toolbelt? Darcy could feel her face heating up as she stared at his waist and had a hard time focusing on his question, too distracted by the strip of skin above that toolbelt. Jesus. What did he say?
“What? No, no trick,” she said. “Phil would like you to accompany me whilst I go pick up flowers and other assorted produce.”
“Whilst?” he repeated. “Nice.”
“Dude, you’re the one who’s named after a James Fennimore Cooper character,” she said trying to drag her brain away from the gutter and toolbelts and their uses. “Don’t be making fun of my mad vocab.”
“I’m not… It’s not because of… Never mind.” His head disappeared and Darcy heard the sound of him hanging from the drainpipe and then dropping down. Mentally patting herself on the back, she grinned and headed toward the old truck.
She was just throwing her gardening gloves onto the dashboard when he appeared behind her.
“I’m not named after the guy in the book,” he said, pulling up the bottom of his shirt to wipe at his face and holy sculpted abs, Batman. That wasn’t fair.
Darcy averted her eyes and tried to focus on being snarky and not leer-y. “No? Are you named after Alan Alda?”
“Alan- no. I’m just good at seeing things,” he said looking awkward and like he didn’t know what to do with his hands. Darcy was so charmed, it was getting ridiculous.
“There’s more to that, isn’t there?” she asked tilting her head to the side.
“Isn’t there always?” he said, the corner of his mouth curving upwards, awkwardness gone, replaced with a sureness that made Darcy warm all over.
“Apparently there is around here,” she said. “I’m driving and hands off the music. Just sit there and look tough.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said giving her a smirk that most definitely did stuff to her stomach and knees.
Which I’m ignoring, she thought. That’s the last thing I need right now. Darcy slipped her iPod into the dock and pulled up her favorite driving playlist. Clint’s index finger started to tap on his thigh when Creedence came on and she nodded to herself. He was aware of the classics: always a good sign.
“So,” Darcy asked as she pulled out onto the highway. Her hands were sure and comfortable on the wheel, a sure sign of familiarity. And dammit. She looked ridiculously hot behind the wheel. “What's up with Phil and Natasha? Because I've known the man long enough to interpret stunned-puppy interest from his eyebrow expressions. Tell me there's a story there.”
Clint blinked. Okay, yeah, really not what he was expecting to talk about. Tasha? And Phil? Which, yeah, he knew, because he'd spent time with them, but how did she catch that one? He wasn't always convinced that he'd caught that one, let alone someone who hadn't known the both of them separately and together for way too long.
He may need to reassess Darcy’s observational skills.
“Not really,” he said rolling the window down. “He worked with us for a while.”
“He said he was your handler,” Darcy said, putting the truck into fifth gear and opening up the gas.
“He did?” he asked looking over.
Darcy shrugged, and shot him a truly wicked side-eye. “I may or may not have gotten pushy about it, but yeah, he freely offered the information up, if that’s what you’re really asking.”
Damn. This woman. Clint grinned, shrugging a shoulder. “It was, so thanks. And yeah. Phil was our handler. But there’s no story.”
“Really?” The look she gave him was so withering, he snickered. “And they call you Hawkeye. There is so much more going on there.”
“What?” He asked. “They worked together. It was completely professional.” Memories of the Prague op prodded him sharply. “Most of the time.”
“Ooh, ooh! Called it! Ha! Tell!” she shouted bouncing a little and smacking the back of her hand on his thigh.
He chuckled, relaxing into the seat. “I wasn’t actually there, but one day he was Agent Coulson and the next day he was Phil.”
“Heavy stuff,” Darcy said sarcastically. “I was hoping for something juicier.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” he said.
“It’s okay,” she said. “It looks like y’all will be around for a while, so I’ve got first row seats to the whole thing.”
Darcy pulled off the highway onto a thinner side road that looked like it'd been paved back in the 1950s and not touched since. Clint let his body move with the bumps. He glanced over but Darcy seemed to know precisely where every large pothole was and deftly avoided most of them; her hands steady and light on the big steering wheel.
Which, damn, was hot.
“Who’re we going to see?” he asked wanting more information on the situation he was tagging along on. He hated going into anything blind.
“The Edisons,” Darcy said. “They grow tomato plants that are gorgeous and the tomatoes are glorious.”
“Okay,” Clint said, scouting out the terrain, the steady voice in his mind picking out good trees and vantage points. “Why are we picking up their glorious tomatoes?”
“Well, when my granddaddy Fred, that’s Sadie’s husband, first started Green Thumb, he only sold what Sadie could grow back at the house,” Darcy said. “A few years in, one of the neighbors asked Fred if he wouldn’t mind taking some of their excess strawberries and sell them at the nursery. Fred said yes and they sold like hotcakes.”
Darcy gave Clint a grin. “So, Fred figured, why not ask the local growers, big and small, who grew plants and produce, if they’d like to sell their stuff at Green Thumb. Some said no, but a lot said yes.”
“Don’t most places get their stuff from outside growers?” Clint asked, curious. He had basically no eye when it came to plants barring basic knowledge of deadly ones, and really hadn't noticed that the field stock hadn't matched volume of merch in the store. If it wasn't a threat – and for a sniper spending six hours frozen on a patch of nettles was very much a threat – it generally didn't register.
“They do,” Darcy said. “The difference is that we didn’t just want the big guys who could keep us in petunias all year, we asked the smaller families, too. And whatever they sell, they keep.”
Clint raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Do you make a profit?”
“We break even,” Darcy said. “Look, someone stops at the nursery because they saw the sign for the fresh strawberries and peaches. They pick up the peaches and then they stay to browse and end up buying one of Sadie’s big planters. It all evens out. And it’s not about making a profit, it’s about keeping it local and helping out smaller family-run businesses get on their feet.”
“So, you’re a co-operative?” he asked.
“Nope. We’re not a co-op.” Darcy's face morphed into a truly magnificent pout.
“Do they pay you guys anything?”
“Ten percent of what they’ve sold per month,” Darcy said. “Which goes straight into the fund for outside growers.”
“So…you’re a co-op,” he repeated.
“No,” she said smacking his thigh again. “We’re Not a Co-op.”
He frowned. “Did I just hear capital letters?”
“Good boy, yes, you did.”
“Gotcha. Not a Co-op.”
“People get ansty when they hear that word,” Darcy explained. “So, I decided to just tell it like it isn’t.”
“I actually understand your reasoning,” he said. “So, your grandfather set this all up?”
“Well, he got the ball rolling; letting people sell at the nursery from time to time and getting the usual big suppliers,” Darcy said. “But the current set-up with the small-time growers is all me.”
“Really?” He stared at her profile.
“In high school,” she said. “It seemed like a good economics project and then I had so much fun with it, I kept going with it. It’s a well-oiled machine now.” She frowned. “Or it used it be.”
An urge build up inside his chest. The urge to do make whatever it was that made this girl frown go away; an urge that kept popping up. He’d never felt this invested before. There was just something about this girl.
“What happened?” he asked.
Darcy took a deep breath. “I can’t prove it. And to be honest, I wouldn’t know where to look, but I’m sure that Connor has managed to persuade people to drop out of the Not a Co-op. We’ve had four families all of a sudden decide that they weren’t interested anymore.” She pursed her lips. “And I’m worried about the Baileys. I think Mark is going to pull out.”
Her hands tightened on the steering wheel as she pulled onto a dirt road. “I just don’t know how he’s doing it.”
“Who?” Clint asked. “The Dewsey guy?”
“Yeah,” she said flatly. She parked and grinned. “And here we are.”
Clint looked around at the small one-story house with bright pink shutters and was that a lime green front door?
“Are those flamingoes?” he asked. He shook his head. Florida. “Actual plastic flamingoes?”
“Uh huh,” she said opening her door and hopping out. She smiled at him. “You still up for this?”
Clint looked over at her, taking in her bright smile and big eyes. “Absolutely,” he said honestly.
“Good,” she said. “Now, shake a tailfeather, Hawkeye.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said opening his own door and hopping out. Time to go be a different person.
Darcy slammed her door shut a little harder than necessary. It was entirely unfair to lock her in a truck with that man. Seriously. Shrugging off the tension on her shoulders, she turned and waved at the petite black woman, wearing a Miami Hurricanes baseball cap and a matching t-shirt, walking towards her down the front steps.
“Hey, Darcy-girl,” she called.
“Heya, Sybil,” Darcy called, Clint’s presence just behind her a nice comfort that she’d have to analyze later. “How’s it going?”
“Can’t complain,” Sybil said as they hugged briefly. “How’s Sadie? I heard there was some trouble out at your place the other night.”
“She’s fine,” Darcy said waving her hand. “A bit shaken up. And pissed off.”
“I bet. Trisha said they didn’t catch the guy.”
“You heard about it from Trisha? Hell, everyone’ll heard by now.” Darcy turned to Clint. “Trisha runs the diner on the edge of town. She plays the police radio instead of music for her customers.”
“Hard to dance to,” he said.
“Tell me about it,” Darcy said. “This is Sybil, by the way. Sybil, this is Clint.”
“Ma’am,” Clint said holding out his hand. Sybil shook it, a broad smile on her face.
“Charmed to my toes, young man,” she said. “Darcy, have you got yourself a handyman?”
“I prefer to think of him as a minion,” Darcy said. “Have you got some tomatoes for us?”
“I do, indeed,” Sybil said turning towards her small greenhouse, gesturing for Darcy and Clint to follow. “I’ve also got some cucumbers that just appeared overnight.”
“We’ll take ‘em.” She turned to say something to Clint but he winked at her and picked up the crate of bright, red tomatoes and headed back to the truck.
Sybil turned to her and said, “Nice arms.”
“Nice butt, too.”
“Aren't you married?”
“Still have a pulse and eyes,” Sybil said. Her smile faded. “But, seriously, honey. Is everything okay at the nursery?”
Darcy was a little taken aback at the concern in Sybil’s voice. “Yes, they’re fine. I mean… We’re making sure that they’re fine. Why?”
“Been hearing things,” Sybil said her eyes wandering over to Clint as he came back into the greenhouse to pick up the last crate. The two women followed him out the door. “Connor Dewsey stopped me in the grocery store the other day.”
Darcy felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up and she her stomach churned. She noticed that Clint was listening, too.
“What did he say?” Darcy asked hoping she came across as casual and disinterested. By the concerned look on Sybil’s look, it was obvious she failed.
“Well, at first it seemed like his usual, too-friendly prattle about taking part in that development scheme of his,” Sybil said. “But, then he started to talk crap.”
Darcy blinked at Sybil’s dark tone. “What kind of crap?”
“That Green Thumb was having troubles, and wasn’t I worried that I might be hitching myself to the wrong wagon,” Sybil said. She put her hands on her hips and pursed her hips. “He almost asked me outright if I thought it was a good idea to be doing business with you.”
“Do you?” Darcy asked, proud that her voice didn’t wobble like her insides were doing.
“Darcy. I baby-sat for your daddy when he was a little thing,” Sybil said. “I’ve been sending my vegetables off to Green Thumb for nigh on three decades now, and I have never had any reason to worry. Connor Dewsey is not going to frighten me off by acting the fool.”
“Thanks.” Relief poured through Darcy. “You know we’d tell you if there was even a hint that things were going bad?”
“Of course, I do,” Sybil said. “Basically, the boy was trying to rile me up and he succeeded, but not the way I think he’d intended.” She cocked her head to the side. “Is this about more than just him not getting you to sell your land?”
“Don’t think so,” Darcy replied, rubbing her fingers together and mentally asking forgiveness from the universe for lying to Sybil. Greater good, and all that. “But I’ll let you know.”
“Good,” Sybil said. “Now get on with you, sell my tomatoes and,” she leaned in, “you let me know how your minion makes out.”
Darcy actually felt herself blush and she laughed. “I’ll do that, Miss Sybil. You give Mr. Sybil a big ole kiss for me.”
“Count on it, honey. Nice to meet you, Clint.”
“Likewise, ma’am,” Clint said nodding his head before ducking into the passenger seat.
Darcy gave Sybil a hug and got back into the truck. They were quiet as Darcy drove them back to the highway.
“Nice looking tomatoes,” Clint said eventually.
“They taste amazing,” Darcy said, her mind going over what Sybil had said. “Sadie makes a gorgeous marinara with them sometimes.”
She wanted to ask him about what Sybil had just told her, but felt like that was too much, too soon. He’d only signed up to chase off bad guys, not be her own personal Agony Aunt.
“Sounds good,” Clint said. She could feel him watching her, but it didn’t feel intrusive. It felt…safe. Or something. “Who next?”
“The Carters,” she said. “They only joined a year ago. They’re both retired schoolteachers and needed something to do with all their spare time. So they make these little ivy topiaries. She grows the ivy and he makes the wire frames for the ivy to grow around.”
“What? Seriously?” He sounded so perplexed Darcy chuckled and for a moment the weight of Connor’s interference lifted.
“They look a lot cooler than they sound,” she said pulling into a small development.
The Carter’s little stucco house was situated at the end of a cul-de-sac and Darcy parked the truck just at the end of the driveway.
A half an hour later, Clint shook Mr. Carter’s hand while Darcy grinned at him from the driver’s seat.
“Yes sir,” Clint told Mr. Carter. “I’ll make sure to think about it. It’s a great idea.”
“Thanks, son,” Mr. Carter said beaming. “I think I can really capture something there.”
“You sure can,” Clint said getting in the truck. Darcy waved at Mr. Carter and drove off.
Only once they were on their way with a dozen little topiaries - ranging from hearts to small animals to one large set that resembled the solar system - safely stowed in the bed, let herself go. Laughing so hard she slumped over the wheel, it took her a couple minutes before she could pull herself together enough to say anything.
“Oh, my God,” she gasped. “Your face!”
“I…cannot believe I just discussed whether or not ivy was the appropriate medium to capture Andre Agassi’s win at Wimbledon,” Clint said looking poleaxed, his forehead furrowed and his eyes glazed. “That was… Wow.”
“How’s North Dakota looking now?” she asked still giggling as they stopped at the intersection.
He looked over at her and gave her a smile that made her stomach flutter and palms itch. “Definitely not as interesting as what I’m seeing now,” he said, still looking at her.
Darcy stared back and a heat just rushed through her, leaving her reeling and blinking. Oh. Oh. Oh, wow. Lust. Seriously, hard-core, lust. It ripped through her and she realized her chest was close to heaving, her breath was coming so fast. Freakin’ lust. Nothing else could explain the urge she had to just climb into his lap and put her mouth on his neck and start sucking. She wanted his hands on her butt and, and, and God. She just wanted.
She’d lusted after guys before, but this? This was more.
Clint stared at her and felt like he’d been hit in the back of the head. He knew she was attractive; he had eyes, for Christ’s sake. But this? This felt like more. And if the startled look in her eyes was any indication, she hadn’t been expecting it either.
She turned back to the road and he watched the movement of her throat as she swallowed hard. She pulled out onto the highway. “The Baileys are next,” she said, her voice going throaty and yes, yes, he was a terrible person because he was definitely imagining that voice in much dirtier situations. He really hoped she didn't shoot him a look over her shoulder soon. That'd be embarrassing. “I’m a little worried about them, actually.”
“Why?” he asked, his own voice coming out lower than usual. He cleared his throat. Focus, Barton.
“Well,” Darcy said straightening up. “Mark a buddy of Connor’s. Bro-solidarity.”
Ah. Clint nodded. “Ah.”
“You and Phil?”
“Once upon a time,” he said remembering their exploits in Toronto, Fez, and Brussels.
“Did it ever involve making out?” she asked innocently batting her eyes at him.
Clint snorted. “That is definitely top secret material.”
“Sorry, sweetheart.” He paused. Darcy’s hands on the steering wheel twitched. Crap. The endearment had just slipped out. He chanced a glance in her direction and she just looked thoughtful. He shrugged mentally. He already knew he wanted her, preferably somewhere where he could take his time and touch every single inch of her body. Shit.
Ease up, man, he thought. She’s in a tough spot and just because you want to go horizontal doesn’t mean she does. Just be what she needs, which is a stand-up guy.
And that brought to mind all sorts of things he could do with her standing up and god damn it. What was with him? He didn’t usually think this much. Because this was a job and he should not be wanting to throw her down and take his time. He really needed to figure out if he could afford to let this go somewhere.
He blamed her.
And himself for being such a moron.
“Anything in particular I should look for with these people?” he asked, moving the subject back to the Bailey's. As much as he'd definitely like to jump down that rabbit hole, he needed more info on Dewsey and how he worked. To get that, he needed more intel on Mark. Sometimes, the best way to understand your enemy was understanding their associates. He needed his head in the game, dammit.
“Not that I can think of,” she said frowning. “Anything hinky, I guess.”
“It’s a word.”
“It’s a good one.”
Clint turned to hide a smile and watch the scenery of central Florida pass outside his window. Darcy soon pulled them off the main highway into another sub-division.
“Tara Bailey does dried flowers,” Darcy said. “You know, baby’s breath and hydrangea bunches.”
“People want dried flowers?” Clint asked.
“Sure,” Darcy said with a shrug. “If done right, they’re really nice.”
“Take your word for it,” he said eyeing the house Darcy pulled up to. It was a nice-looking split-level house with a well-tended front yard. A blue Ford Taurus was parked in the driveway. It was the picture of normality. Idly, Clint decided he liked Green Thumb with it's rambling buildings, missing singles, and peeling paint a lot better. Suburbs were boring.
A tall woman wearing a long, linen dress came out of the garage. She looked worried. Clint let himself out of the truck and rushed to hold Darcy's door for her. The woman's hands were twisting on a long, thin chain, and it didn't take a genius to figure out what was about to go down. He leaned into Darcy, using the door thing as cover.
“Careful,” he muttered under his breath to Darcy. She gave him a puzzled look, but nodded.
“Hi, there, Darcy,” the woman said. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Usual pick-up, Tara,” Darcy said with a smile and steady voice. “How’re you doing?”
“Oh, fair to middling,” Tara said smiling and twisting her hands harder. “Thing is though, hun. I don’t have any flowers for you. I’ve had to cut back now that the boys are on the baseball team. All that to-ing and fro-ing.” She laughed. “Look at me! The stereotypical soccer-mom.”
Clint mentally rolled his eyes. He’d forgotten that the average person couldn’t lie for shit. It made him almost long for the days of having to work at figuring people out. Almost.
Darcy shook her head. “Oh, don’t you worry about it, Tara. I just wished you’d said something.”
“Well, Mark was supposed to have called you,” Tara said rolling her eyes. “But you know how men are.” Her eyes widened and she darted a look at Clint. “Oh, no offense!”
Jesus. This was getting sad.
“None taken,” Clint said.
“Tara, honestly,” Darcy said sounding sincere. “It’s no big deal. Let me know when you feel like starting back up and we’ll go from there.”
Tara blinked quickly. “Oh, but I thought.” She snapped her mouth shut.
Wait for it. Clint tensed, flexing his fingers.
“You thought what?” Darcy asked.
“Well, it’s only… I had heard that y’all were thinking of closing down,” Tara said.
And there it was. Next to him, Darcy’s face went blank, then smoothed into a fake smile. “Who told you that, Tara? We’re doing just fine.”
“Oh, heavens, I don’t know who said it,” Tara said quickly. “I just heard it somewhere. Maybe it was something Mark said, I don’t know. But that’s great! I hope you all keep going.” She glanced at her watch. “Dear me, I have got to get going. Darcy, I’m so--”
“Don’t worry about it,” Darcy said smiling so tightly Clint felt a sympathetic ache on his own face. “You take care.”
“You, too, hun,” Tara said turning back to her house. “Bye now!”
“Bye!” Darcy called out cheerfully. She turned on her heel and went back to the truck, Clint right behind her.
She turned the key, waited for the engine to turn over, and took off down the street, her jaw set and her hands tight on the wheel. If she gritted her teeth any harder she'd crack something. Something Clint'd learned from sad, stupid experience.
“Let it out,” he said to her.
“Let what out?”
“What you’re angry at.”
“I’m not angry,” she said tossing her head. “I’m not angry at all.”
“Nope. I am really, really fucking furious,” she said calmly. “Someone is badmouthing my family’s business and I’m beginning to think that there is a lot more at stake than Connor Dewsey’s hurt feelings because we wouldn’t sell to him. This is a small town, you know. Word travels, dude. It travels far and fast and--”
She took a breath that hitched in her throat and Clint frowned and felt his fingers twitch. He really, really wanted his bow. And 400 yards or less clearance between him and Connor Dewsey.
“I just…” She rolled to a stop at the stop sign and leaned forward, pressing her forehead to the steering wheel. Strands of hair that had come loose from her bun fell forward, framing her face. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, but firm. “This is my project. I put this together. And it works. It provides extra money for people who need it, and sets Green Thumb apart from the chains.”
She took another deep breath and Clint couldn’t stop himself. He reached over and settled his hand on her neck and massaged her muscles slowly. She sighed and he watched her eyes close.
“But it’s more than that,” he said. “Isn’t it?”
A moment passed before she nodded.
“It’s what I do,” she said, voice still low. “I plan. I organize. I bring it all together and make sure that it’s all working. I can just see how it should all flow together, how the variables need to be handled and then make it just work." She paused, turning her head to stare up at him. Trying to make him see. "Gran says I get it from Grandad. I can just see all the little things that could help or stop a project and I just go with it. I’m freakin’ Tim Gunn. I make it work.”
Clint nodded. He got it. By attacking Green Thumb, Dewsey was attacking her. This was her, seventy miles into enemy territory in a rainstorm knowing that despite the rain and the cold and the ridiculously stupid gusts of wind the shot was perfect. Yeah, he knew exactly what she was talking about.
“And God. This was working.” She leaned back then. Clint's hand went with her, still settled at her nape. She raised her hands to cover her eyes, took a deep breath, and dragged her hands down her face, then dropping them back on the wheel. She shook her head once. “Sybil made enough last year to take herself and Mr. Sybil on a vacation to New York to see their daughter. This works.”
“I get you,” he said. “I do.”
“Yeah?” she asked, tilting her neck harder into his hand, face vulnerable and open in a way that just about broke his heart.
She stared at him while he continued rubbing small circles on her neck. His thumb brushed the back of her earlobe, and she shivered. Clint smiled, low and sweet. Yeah. Yeah, this was right, and good. And right there, in the old red Ford, idling in the empty 4-way stop, Clint made his choice.
He was in this. With her. For as long and as far
"C'mon." He squeezed her neck once. Letting the moment go. "We've got places to be."
She bit her lip. Nodded, and took a deep breath before turning back to the road.
“We’re going to help you fix this, Darcy,” he said, watching her shift into first and checking the lack of oncoming traffic. “I promise.”
“We don’t even know what ‘this’ is, you know,” she said, stepping on the gas, moving them away from the intersection and the heavy feeling of the last few minutes. “It may be nothing more than an overreaction to a bruised ego. The thing the other night with Sadie might not even be related.”
“You really think that?” he asked.
She paused. “No. I think something’s going on and it’s freaking me right the hell out.”
“I hear you. And this isn’t the first time I haven’t been sure who I was aiming at,” he said.
“Do I want to know?” she asked giving him a very decent side-eye.
They drove back to the nursery. As they reached her drive, she said, voice quiet and achingly sincere, “Thanks for coming.”
“No problem at all,” he told her.
Dinner that night was a mess of roasted vegetables, Sadie’s perfect mashed potatoes and a massive pile of fried catfish and mullet, courtesy of Val’s personal assistant. Susan Tedeschi’s sultry voice spilled through the open kitchen window and blended with the sounds of the early evening.
“Her dad owns the restaurant in the middle of town,” Val was telling Steve as everyone gathered on the veranda, plates piled high and clutching various drinks.
“Smells fishy,” Darcy said before biting into a hushpuppy.
“Because it is?” Bruce asked looking adorable and confused which, after a conversation about the average circumference of chrysanthemums, was apparently a default setting.
“No,” Jane said shaking her head and slathering her hushpuppy with butter. “That’s the name of the restaurant. Smells Fishy.”
Bruce thought about that for a moment and then nodded. “Good name.”
Darcy grinned at him, but let her expression drift to contemplative as she let her gaze settle onto Clint. He was perched on a porch rail, trying to sort out how to not drop his plate and cut his food at the same time. Eventually, he used the side of his fork. His groan was loud and sincere in the humid evening air.
“I know, right?” she said. “Best thing to ever grace your tastebuds.”
Clint just nodded, too busy chowing down to answer. Darcy went back to her dinner and looked around the porch at everyone.
“Where’s Tony?” she asked Maria sitting on the step beside her, the hum of conversation a comforting backdrop behind her.
Maria rolled her eyes and popped a piece of fish into her mouth. After chewing she said, “He stormed off in a creative huff muttering something about creating the shiniest goddamn irrigation system known to man.”
“And why was he in a huff?” Darcy asked reaching for the tartar sauce.
“I may have said something about him being wholly unqualified to create anything agricultural,” Maria said smirking around her cornbread.
Darcy groaned. “Oh, God. You found someone to snark with, didn’t you? Just refrain from actual blood spillage, all right?”
“I make no promises,” Maria said with a shrug.
Darcy ate some more catfish and then caught Jane just staring at Thor who was debating with Bruce over the oxygen intake of live oaks versus pine trees. Jane’s jaw was practically around her ankles and she looked over at Darcy at one point and just blinked.
Jane was so freakin’ cute when she was confused. Darcy just grinned at her.
Sadie, Val, and Steve were discussing some of the nursery’s regular customers. Steve was curious about Randy Simmons, the octogenarian who was buying them out of ferns.
Phil and Natasha looked relaxed as they ate on the old glider. Darcy wasn’t sure what they were discussing, but Natasha looked thoughtful. As if she knew Darcy was watching her (which she probably did), she turned to her.
“We found some tire treads on the edge of your property,” she said neatly spearing a piece of catfish on her fork. “New. SUV, most likely. Ring any bells?”
Darcy narrowed her eyes, trying to remember who drove what in town. “A lot of people drive SUVs around here.”
“New ones?” Natasha tilted her head, expression direct and curious.
“Hmm,” Darcy said picking at her catfish. “I know someone who might be able to afford them.”
“Innocent until proven guilty, Darcy,” Val sing-songed, pointing the index finger of the hand holding her sweet tea. “Think outside the box and don’t just assume.”
Darcy stuck her tongue out at her and Steve laughed at her. “Impatient?” he asked.
“I know that patience is a virtue and all,” Darcy said. “But us Lewis women aren’t very good with that.”
“Patience?” Bruce asked.
“Virtues,” Sadie answered winking at him.
Everyone laughed and for a moment, Darcy felt warm and safe and just plain, protected. Where had these people been all her life? She’d known these people for less than two days and was easier in their company than people she’d lived with. Admittedly, her college roommates generally sucked - barring Jane - but still. She caught Sadie’s eyes and when her Gran smiled at her, Darcy knew she’d been having the same train of thought.
And, of course, reality hated everyone associated with Green Thumb because mid-bask, Clint raised his head, face serious and body language tense. “Someone’s coming,” he said sharply looking down the drive.
Clint set his plate down, winked at Darcy, and then walked to the other side of the porch, out of sight of everyone. The now familiar creak of the gutter as he pulled himself up echoed around the porch.
“Did that young man just climb up the side of my house?” Sadie asked, giving the side of the porch a look that was half incredulous and half impressed.
“He’s really good at it,” Darcy said. “He’s also sleeping in the crow’s nest.”
“And we know this how, young lady?” Sadie asked.
“I gave him one of Miranda’s candles,” Darcy said.
Jane frowned. “Is that a euphemism?”
“It should be.” Maria shrugged a shoulder and popped the end of a hush-puppy in her mouth. The weirdo always saved them till last. “They’d probably sell better.”
“This is the best dinner I’ve had in a long time,” Dr. Banner said obliviously. “Seriously, these potatoes are incredible.”
Natasha smirked while Steve and Phil chuckled and surreptitiously arranged themselves amongst everyone.
A shiny, white Chevy Blazer with tinted windows pulled up the drive.
“Son of a bitch,” Darcy muttered. “What is he doing here?”
“Dewsey?” Natasha asked seemingly without moving her lips.
“In the flesh,” Sadie said standing up, every inch the polite southern matriarch. Five bucks says she offers the bastard food, Darcy thought fondly.
Darcy stayed where she was on the porch step, but set her plate down. It was probably a bad idea to have projectiles actually in her hands during this conversation. Jane scooted over so that her thigh pressed against Darcy’s. Darcy bumped her a little with her shoulder and Jane bumped her back.
“Got my back, hard science?” she murmured.
“You know it, soft science,” Jane murmured back, tucking her chin over Darcy’s shoulder and shooting Dewsey her meanest glare. Fortunately, it mostly came across as annoyed confusion. Jane was many things, but intimidating was not one. Which was probably for the best.
“You two are hilarious,” Val said brushing past them to stand beside Sadie, her Damn-Straight-I’m-the-Mayor smile already on her face. Maria followed her and leaned against the porch rail just behind Darcy.
The driver’s side door opened and out stepped Connor.
Darcy was always taken aback by the man. She always expected him to be more like his father; big and broad-shouldered and heavy-set. But Connor was none of those things. Thin, and almost slight. He had the broad shoulders, but they tapered down to a smaller frame. His eyes were small and his features soft.
“Evening, Mrs. Lewis, Madam Mayor,” he said coming around the side of the truck. Darcy looked around for more of his buddies, but he appeared to be alone. Which. Yeah, she didn’t know. None of this was adding up right, including this visit. “I’m interrupting your dinner, I do apologize.”
Darcy frowned. That was the other thing about him: his voice was too soft-spoken, too controlled. It was like he was saving up his energy for something, but never quite tipping his hand as to what.
“Oh, that’s all right, Mr. Dewsey,” Sadie said giving him a friendly smile. “You’re welcome to join us. We’ve got some extra.”
Called it, Darcy thought and rolled her eyes. Jane lightly kicked her foot.
“That’s real nice of you, ma’am,” Connor said, casting his eyes over the people on the porch. “But I don’t want to impose. I just wanted to see how you were faring. I’d heard that you all had an incident the other evening.”
Okay, fuck him. “Incident, my lily-white ass,” Darcy muttered.
“Shush,” Maria whispered, nudging her with a foot.
“Oh, well, that’s awful sweet of you,” Sadie said. She sighed and put her hand on her chest. “It was a bit of a shock, but the scoundrel ran off. Hopefully, he won’t return.”
“’Scoundrel’?” Jane raised an eyebrow.
“Sadie’s been reading Harlequins again,” Darcy said under her breath and clutched Jane’s arm a little tighter.
“I concur, Mrs. Lewis,” Connor said nodding his head, all manners and sympathy. “Must have been some sort of drifter.” He eyed the front porch again. “But again, forgive me, you’ve got guests.”
“Just some friends from out of town who’ve stopped by to help out around the place,” Sadie said turning to smile at the porch. She winked at Steve who, to Darcy’s surprise, winked back and saluted. “It’s always good to have some extra hands and strong backs in the spring.”
“I’m sure,” Connor said. He adopted the fakest, smarmiest look and added, “You know, if the place ever gets to be too much for you, I hope you’ll think of my offer. It’s still open to you.”
“Son of a --“ Darcy saw red. He was dead. She was in the process of getting her feet under her to storm over and go twelve-kinds of ungracious on Connor’s stupid face when Maria’s foot kicked her, hard, and Jane’s elbow connected. She wheezed, but stayed seated.
“Thank you, son,” Sadie said, her smile still fixed in place, but a hint of steel entered her voice. “But as I told you before, this land has been in our family for generations. I’m not looking to sell anytime soon.”
“Surely you, of all people, can understand the weight of a family legacy?” Val asked Connor. Darcy mentally fist-pumped the air. Burn!
“Oh, I can at that,” Connor said, his smile tight. He looked over at Darcy. “I hear your little market is chugging right along.”
“Yep,” Darcy said through a shit-eating grin. “Chugging just like the little engine that could.”
Connor chuckled and nodded his head. “Good to hear. Although, I understand that Tara Bailey won’t be participating anymore.”
And how did you hear about that? Darcy thought, proud that she didn’t actually roll her eyes. But all she said was, “Well, she’s got some other things that are taking priority at the moment.” Darcy shrugged as though it was not a big deal, all the while mindful of Jane’s elbow digging into her side and Maria’s foot wedged under her butt. No wonder she got on well with wanted criminals. All her friends were violent.
“Well, the boys are on the soccer team, so I’m sure she just doesn’t have time.” Connor said.
“Now, how about that?” Darcy said tilting her head to the side. “That’s almost precisely what Tara said to me. Hunh.”
Connor’s smile went strained. “How about that?” he repeated. Then he gave a little shake of his head. “Well, I won’t take up anymore of your time. Mrs. Lewis, you take care, you hear? Madam Mayor, I’ll see you at the council meeting later this week.”
“Looking forward to it,” Val said looking amused.
“Say hello to your family for me,” Sadie said giving him a little wave of her fingers.
“Sure thing,” Connor said. He gave the group on the porch a last look and then he was back in his car and heading down the drive.
A collective sigh of relief came out of everyone and Darcy rolled her shoulders.
“Could you please remove your foot from my ass, now?” Darcy asked, leaning back to look up at Maria. Who said family never did anything for ya? Sometimes a boot in the ass did work. Maria just smirked, flicked her on the nose, and went back to her hushpuppy.
“That was not the same type of tire tread that we found,” Natasha piped up, breaking the otherwise odd silence. Phil, a respectable three inches to her right, shook his head, and made thoughtful eyebrows. It was adorable. Seriously, these two were like her own personal Austen novel brought to life. Though, probably with more stabbings.
“No, it wasn’t,” Phil said.
“We could have this all wrong,” Sadie settling back into her rocking chair, and taking a quick sip of her drink. “Maybe the damage isn’t down to Connor.”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Lewis,” Steve said. “He was here for a reason. If only to see for himself how you are.”
“Maybe we need to look take a closer look at him,” Natasha said, frowning into the distance. This time, Phil nodded.
Val held up a hand. “No plotting until the mayor has left the building, if you don’t mind.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, ma’am,” Natasha said her lips curving into a smile. Darcy grinned and noticed that Phil was hiding a smile of his own.
That seemed to signal a lull in the plotting, so everyone – Darcy included – went back to their food. Darcy was swirling the ice in her glass when the soft tread of Clint’s boots caught her attention. Huh. She hadn’t even heard the drain pipe creak.
“Didn’t see anyone else,” Clint said picking up his plate. “‘Course the trees provide a good cover.”
“Perimeter check at twenty-two hundred?” Phil asked him.
“Always,” Clint said, Natasha nodded, too.
“Later,” Sadie said to them. “And not until you’ve eaten all your vegetables.”
“Yes, ma’am,” came from all over the porch.
They really had to stop the group-burst of laughter. It was getting embarrassing.
After dinner and the traditional evening chat with the ladies, Darcy headed up to the bathroom to take a shower. She sudsed up her hair with her favorite bergamot shampoo and stood under the spray of water and decidedly didn’t think about anything, and just let the water fall down on her head and shoulders.
Once she was done, pulled on her pyjamas and flopped down onto her window seat.
That had been a day and a half. Jesus.
Maria said the irrigation system looked like it was taking shape and that made Darcy happy. Jane was being bewildered with her god-like helper and considering she hadn’t kicked him out of her lab that meant promising things. Sadie had her own man-servant in the shape of Steve and Darcy…
“Fuck, he was really, really nice,” she grumbled. “Why was he so nice? Nice and hot. Not fair, man.”
And what were you thinking, spilling your metaphorical guts to the guy? she asked herself. I mean, the whole wanting to lick his neck and suck on his tongue is understandable. The dude’s hot. But the true confessions thing was not cool. You dork.
She groaned and thudded her head against the window frame.
He didn’t act all appalled, though, she told herself. And he did that hand thing on my neck and that was kinda nice. He just makes me feel…
“Safe,” she said out loud. She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. “And really horny.” She blinked. “That’s new.”
She opened the window, leaned her head out and breathed in. The jasmine hit her nose first, followed but the scent of the fresh mulch Steve had bagged earlier. She let the smells and sounds of home sink in, letting them wrap around her like a giant, comfy blanket. Closed her eyes then, and let her thoughts swirl and tumble around.
This was immediately interrupted by the itch on her scalp that meant someone was watching her. Her eyes popped open and looked straight up. She was rewarded with the sight of Clint’s head peering over the side of the crow’s nest. He was smiling, his hair sticking straight out, looking completely adorable. The jerk.
“Evenin’,” she called up.
“How’s it goin?” he asked, his voice pitched low, but audible, even over the cicadas.
Darcy shrugged off the shiver caused by the sound of his voice. “You guys finished your reconnoiter?”
“Yep. What are you doing?”
“Thinking,” she said with a sigh.
“Don’t hurt yourself.”
Darcy chuckled. “So, what was it you were aiming at him?”
There was a pause and a telling blink. “I’m sorry?”
“Please.” Darcy rolled her eyes and shifted around so she could look at him without straining her neck. “You didn’t go all secret agent man and not have some kind of weapon at the ready.”
She could hear his sigh from all the way on top of the house. “Fine. You really want to know. I’ll show you.”
He made a move to vault over the side and she held up her hand. “Whoa, there, circus boy. I’ll come up.”
“There’s a way up here?” he asked, looking more than a little surprised.
“Of course there’s another way up there,” she said making a face at him. “Honestly. Stay put.”
Even in the darkening light, she could see him sketch a salute. “Smart ass,” she muttered under her breath.
“Cleverest part of my anatomy,” he called down to her.
Darcy snorted and ducked back into her room, then breezed out and towards the end of the hallway. Once she got to the end, she pulled down the stairs to the attic and quickly and quietly clambered up them.
Sadie smiled to herself as she watched Darcy’s climb, then still smiling, she went back to her room.
Clint felt anxious as he waited for Darcy to come up to the crow’s nest. Anxious and not a little curious. He scanned the small enclosure trying to find the opening that had to be there for her to come through.
“Curious,” he muttered defensively. “Not eager.”
And certainly not ‘smitten’ like Natasha had called him earlier. She was one to talk, of course. Don’t think Clint hadn’t seen her disappear towards Phil’s little trailer on the edge of the property.
He smirked in the direction of said trailer and shook his head. Actually, he was totally smitten, the feel of her skin under his hand from earlier hadn't gone away, but damned if he was going to let Natasha get away with calling him that. But then was drawn back to a small section of the floor that was slowly rising up. Clint walked over and helped Darcy pull up the small trapdoor.
“Nice,” he said looking down at her and attic below. “I really didn’t know that was here.”
“My great granddad had a thing for being able to see people coming,” Darcy said accepting his hand and letting him help her up onto the roof. “There’s a really small seam that you can press on this side.” She showed him the small release. “That way if you need the bathroom, you can just come on down and not, you know, over the side.”
Clint stared at her. “I would never-“
“Thank God,” she said smiling. “You’d douse the daisies and they don’t react well to basic liquids.”
Clint laughed and shook his head. “Right. Got it. No peeing over the side.”
“If you don’t mind,” she said still smiling. “Now, show me your weapon. And that came out way dirtier than I wanted it to.”
“Not the dirtiest I’ve heard,” he said going over to pick up his bow, feelings of pride sparking in his chest as he handled the weapon. It was one of the things he knew he did well, had always done well. It felt like he was exposing the most important part of him.
“You saying I should work on my innuendo?” she asked following him.
“I worked with Marines for a stretch,” he said turning back to her. “You’ll have to work hard to beat those guys. And here. This is what I was aiming at the guy.”
Darcy stared at his compound bow like she'd never seen one before. Though, Clint allowed, she probably hadn't. They weren't a very common modern weapon, outside of hunting circles, and the Lewis women tended more towards the plant side of the spectrum. Though, he wouldn't put it passed Sadie - or Darcy - to be good with a shot gun.
“Wow,” she said. “I… Is this a result of the whole circus-thing?”
He nodded. “Clint Barton - the Amazing Marksman, at your service.” His voice was just shy of sarcastic and it showed judging by the quick glance she gave him.
Be fucking cool, soldier, he ordered himself, suspecting that was a futile order at this point.
“I have to say, this is not what I was expecting,” she said leaning forward a bit to take a closer look. “I had pictured a rifle or an Uzi or something.”
“No Uzi,” he said. “But I do have a rifle.”
“Nice,” she said. She bit her lip. “I also have to say that I’m having a hard time deciding if I should break out with all the Legolas, Robin Hood, and Katniss Everdeen jokes.”
“I’ve heard most of them already.”
“I bet. Well, I’d sure hate to be using recycled material, so I’ll just let the teasing go.” She met his eyes. “For now.”
“I appreciate the sacrifice.”
“As you should,” she said with a sniff. Then she frowned. She reached out a hand and let the tip of her index finger trail down the bow string. Clint tensed, a chill making its way down his spine, as though she was stroking his skin. Which made a sort of weird sense; the bow was as much an extension of himself as his own arm.
“I’m sorry I dumped all that on you earlier,” she said still frowning. “In the car. I’m not usually that…whiny.”
“You weren’t whining,” he said shaking his head. “And don’t be sorry. I just want to help.”
“You are,” she said looking up at him, her finger still touching the bow string. “All of you, I mean. You’re here and that’s helping. So…thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” he said feeling a mix of protectiveness and desire flood his body.
“I should,” she said jerking her head towards the trapdoor.
Clint nodded. “Yeah. More pick-ups tomorrow?” Yeah. Go. Before I kiss you.
“Maybe,” she said. “If Miss Pearl calls. She does roses. But I’ve got to do the books in the morning.”
“I’m going to finish up on the shingles,” he said trying to get his brain back on the practical things and not what her skin would feel like. “Then I think Steve and I are going to work on that old shed.”
“You don’t have to fix the shed,” Darcy said rolling her eyes.
“It’s leaning to the right.”
“It hasn’t fallen over yet.”
“Because the wisteria is holding it up.”
“Your point being?”
Clint chuckled. “I guess I don’t have one, but Steve wants to make sure it’s safe for use.”
“Well, have fun with that,” she said turning to go back down through the attic. “I honestly have no idea what you might find in there.”
“If I find cool stuff, do I get to keep it?” he asked.
“I do abide by the strict law of Finder’s Keeper, Losers Weepers.” She turned back to him and studied him for a moment. He kept still hoping she’d find what she was looking for. God, he really hoped he was what she was looking for.
You’re still a wanted man, Agent Barton, a voice sneered. Don’t go thinking you aren’t.
He ignored the voice and just stayed still and silent, letting her look her fill.
“Good night,” she said at last, having come to some kind of internal decision. She pointed at the unopened canvas bag on the ground behind him. “Light that sucker up and don’t let the bed bugs bite.” She paused, one foot on the ladder, and frowned. “What the hell are you sleeping on?”
He shrugged. “I’ve got a sleeping bag.”
“Comfy,” she said. “Well, sleep tight, Link.”
Clint rolled his eyes. “Really? You’re going to go with the Zelda reference?”
She just grinned up at him and then was gone, pulling the trap door as she went.
He stared at the section of the floor for a moment, then took a seat against railing and opened the bag. He pulled out the candle and lit it, the scent of citronella tickling his nose.
“Don’t go getting attached, asshole,” he muttered looking up at the sky. “Just keep her safe.”
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Darcy woke up the next morning to the sound of someone hammering away on the roof.
“Seriously?” she said out loud to her ceiling. She rolled out of bed and opened her window, stuck her head out and looked up.
“Seriously?” she shouted. The hammering stopped and Clint’s head appeared over the side.
“Morning, star shine!” he called down to her.
“Dude. Seriously?” she said blaming the early hour for her adverb redundancy.
“Your grandmother made cinnamon rolls,” he said grinning. “That deserves a functioning set of shingles on a roof.”
“I can’t tell if you’re sweet or annoying,” she said.
“There’s a fine distinction,” he said with a nod.
She rolled her eyes. “Go hammer something and there had better be some cinnamon rolls left.”
He winked at her and then disappeared back onto the roof. "Dork," she muttered with a smile and feeling giddy.
After scarfing down one of the last cinnamon rolls and watching Tony Stark do something strange to the sprinkler system from a safe distance, Darcy headed into the shop.
“Morning, campers,” she said to Sadie, Maria and Natasha who were all in the process of arranging a display of hanging baskets and mixed potted plants.
“Morning, sweet girl,” Sadie said offering up her cheek for Darcy to kiss. “Sleep well?”
Darcy gave her a flamboyant smack of a kiss and said, “Very well, thank you. And yourself?”
“Like a baby,” Sadie said. She eyed Darcy’s mouth. “I see you found the cinnamon rolls?”
Darcy wiped off a stray smear of icing. “I could be in the Arctic and still find my way to your cinnamon rolls.”
Sadie beamed. “That’s my girl. Off to battle the big, scary numbers?”
“Yep,” Darcy said. “And they’re not scary. You just have to remember to keep your columns straight.”
Sadie waved a hand in the air. “Don’t bother explaining. Just leave me to my babies and have fun with your columns.”
“That’s what he said,” Darcy and Maria said at the same time. They pointed at each other and shouted. “Jinx! Buy me a Coke!” They glared at each other and then snickered.
“May I ask you a question?” Natasha asked Darcy.
“Is it why does she have to buy me a Coke?” Darcy asked.
“No. She clearly has to buy you a Coke to abide by the rules of the jinx,” Natasha said with a completely straight face. “I was wondering why you don’t seem to do much with the flowers.”
Darcy cringed while Maria snorted. “Because we were tired of hearing them scream in agony whenever she approached them.”
“It was the best thing for everyone involved,” Sadie added.
Natasha raised an eyebrow and looked at Darcy.
“Ever heard of someone having a black thumb?” Darcy said. “Well, I have a black thumb, hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, and shoulder. Plants and I just don’t mix.”
Natasha nodded. “I…see.”
“It’s not for lack of trying,” Sadie said wrapping her arms around Darcy’s shoulders.
“It’s just a complete and total lack of talent,” Darcy said with a sigh. “I’ll never forget those poor pansies I planted when I was twelve. I still dream about their little unhappy faces.”
Maria patted her head and Sadie hugged her. Natasha simply nodded and said, “I can see how that might be distressing.”
“You know who’s not all that bad at it?” Maria said going back to her large ceramic pot of gladioli. “Dr. Banner.”
“No!” Darcy said. “Really?”
Maria nodded her head at the window. “Check out the side display bed.”
Darcy went over and peered at the mess of marigolds, mums, and lamb’s ear. “Is that the Golden Spiral?”
“Yep,” Maria said grinning. “I heard him muttering number sequences as he planted.”
“Nice. Pretty,” Darcy said. “Not to mention educational.”
“It could be a new thing,” Sadie said. “Especially in the fall. A back to school set of displays.”
Maria nodded while Darcy just stared out the window. She twisted her lips to the side and sighed.
Darcy turned her head and met Sadie’s concerned face. She smiled. “Yeah, back to school beds sound awesome. I’d better get to those numbers and beat them into submission.”
“Give ‘em hell, baby,” Sadie said, her words light, but her tone was thoughtful.
Darcy skedaddled into the small back room before Sadie could ask her any questions and turned the office computer. She propped her chin in her hand and stared at the screen as the computer booted up.
She’s not dumb, Darcy thought. Pretty soon Sadie’s going to ask just what the heck is up with you.
The problem was Darcy wasn’t quite sure what her problem was. Hadn’t she always loved the nursery? Hadn’t it been amazing getting the Not a Co-op together? So, why in hell was everything feeling just so…same-y?
Maybe that’s it, she thought pulling the previous week's printouts to her and leafing through them lazily. Maybe you just need a new project. But what? You can’t very well start something new while the nursery is hurting like it is.
“Maybe I need to get laid,” she told the receipts. The image of Clint leaning in close with his hand on the back of her neck flashed in her mind. Her hands clenched around the white slips of paper as she imagined his lips actually making contact with hers and she had to close her eyes and breathe deeply to settle her insides that had begun to shiver and pulse.
“Sweet Jesus,” she said. “Maybe that’s the problem. Lack of sex.”
But deep down, while she knew she’d have to do something with all the lust she was building up in regards to the man currently fixing her gutters, whatever it was that was making her all hot and bothered wasn’t just limited to Clint.
“It’s not like there’s a shortage of drama around here,” she muttered as she opened up the accounting program. “Get your head in gear, girl. Angst later.”
She started to enter in the numbers and let the easy predictability of columns of numbers sweep her thoughts back into the little box labeled ‘Ugh’ in her mind.
After a couple of hours of adding, subtracting and totaling, she frowned.
“A definite decrease,” she said comparing this month’s income to last year’s. “Damn it.” She went over the numbers again and groaned. “Shit.”
“Are we in the red?” Maria’s voice came from the doorway behind her.
Darcy jumped and glared at her. “No. Not yet. Just slightly above breaking even. Which isn’t bad, but compared to last year?”
“Is pretty bad,” Maria said crossing her arms over her chest. “And while I have no doubt that Tony Stark can make anything out of nothing, if we don’t get that irrigation system up and running, we’re going to lose all our shrubs and saplings.”
“Shit,” Darcy said again. “Here’s hoping we don’t get any unexpected bills.”
“I don’t know. That’s why I qualified the statement with unexpected.”
“Go get some air,” Maria said pulling on a lock of Darcy’s hair. “This room has crap ventilation and you’re all flushed.”
“It’s called the female glow,” Darcy said standing up and stretching.
“No, it’s called sweat,” Maria called over her shoulder. “Go breathe, cuz.”
Darcy walked outside and breathed in the familiar smell of the nursery.
Darcy jumped at Steve’s voice coming from right beside her. “Holy schniekes! You are far too big to be that stealthy.”
“So, I’ve been told,” he said giving her a sheepish smile that made her want to scratch behind his ears. She didn’t because she figured that was equal parts rude and condescending. Steve went on, “How is Maria related to you? Sadie told me she only had the one son, but you call her ‘cuz’.”
Darcy shrugged. “Maria interviewed for the site supervisor job about five years ago and she just took to the place like a native. She’s family now.”
“So, not a blood relation?” Steve asked adjusting a massive bag of compost.
“Nope,” Darcy said. She tilted her head to the side. “Although, my granddad did have a brother that left home when he was really young and no one ever heard from him apart from the odd postcard. Who knows what he got up to? He could have totally been related to Maria’s folks somehow.”
Steve thought about that. “Fair enough. Oh, um, do you know where I can find a crowbar? Clint and I are tearing down that old shed.”
Darcy rolled her eyes. “I already told Clint that you guys don’t have to do that.”
“We know,” he said holding his hands out. “But it does need to be done and we’re happy to do it.”
“Fine!” she said. “Far be it for me to stand in the way of men and their need to tear down buildings. Tools are this way.”
She headed in the direction of the old shed that stood not too far from the house and caught sight of Clint hauling stuff out of the shed.
“How’s my roof?” she called out.
“Patched up,” he called back. “I found two tennis balls and a Frisbee up there, you know.”
“Yeah, I wondered about that,” she said. “The Frisbee got stuck first.”
“And then the two tennis balls when you threw them up after the Frisbee?” he asked smirking at her and being all dirty and sweaty and delicious right there next to her shed.
“Pretty much,” she said watching the flex of his arm muscles. Thank the good Lord for tanktops, she thought.
“What?” she said loudly turning her head to see Steve looking concerned.
“Um, crowbar?” he reminded her.
“Oh, right. This way.” She went to a newer-looking shed and pulled out her keys. She unlocked the padlock and gestured inside. “Help yourself.”
“Thank you,” Steve said with a smile that automatically made her smile back.
Then she shook her head and said, “That is the most lethal thing I’ve seen. The bad guys just fall over when you do that, don’t they?”
“Sadly no,” he said. “But not for lack of trying, I promise.”
Darcy laughed and patted his arm; she stepped away from the door and noticed Clint staring at her with a blank expression on his face.
“You all right there?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said distantly. He shook his head a little and then went back to the old shed.
Darcy narrowed her eyes in suspicion, but noticed that the Martinezs had just pulled up with a load of citrus.
It wasn’t jealousy, she told herself. No way the dude was jealous of you touching Steve. Do not go all eighth grade, you hear me?
She heard herself. It wasn’t like she had time for all that.
Actually. Scratch that. She totally had time to watch Clint as he and Steve systematically tore down the old storage shed using a crowbar and an incredible set of upper back and shoulder muscles.
Ogling the ex-secret-whatever-he-was while he helped to put her family home back together by day and kept watch over the property by night was not exactly a hardship on Darcy; nor was it that big of a deal. The dude had muscles and if he would persist in not wearing a shirt, well, things were going to be looked at.
No, what Darcy didn't have time for were the feelings. Gratitude for his help was to be expected. Appreciation of his handyman skills was par for the course.
It was the thrill and warmth that flooded her body whenever he came near her; that she didn't have time for.
Darcy turned her back on him and returned to her inventory of the Martinez’s stock.
I am getting this place back together. I am making sure that Connor Dewsey doesn't pull anymore of his tricks. I am never selling this land and I am keeping an eye on Gran, Darcy thought. I am NOT going to fall for a guy that sleeps on my roof, thinks target practice is fun and was once a circus performer and is now a wanted felon. Even if I totally believe that he's innocent. I'm not falling for him. I have NO time for it.
"Hey, Darcy," Clint called over.
"Yeah?" she called back, not looking at him and hating the way her stomach all of a sudden felt all tingly.
"Can I fix this?" he asked.
Darcy steeled herself and turned around to look at him and sighed in complete and utter resignation.
Clint was holding up an old slingshot that her grandfather had made when he was a boy. The rubber was worn and had come undone, but the wooden base looked intact. It was the expression on Clint's face that made her freakin' wibble. He looked so cheerful and steady and easy and warm and god damn it!
"It's all yours, sport," Darcy said.
Darcy grinned back. Then she walked calmly into the house and into the kitchen where she poured herself a large glass of water and drank it all.
“Oh, hell’s bells,” she said to the sink. She lifted her head and looked out of the kitchen window to see Clint chatting with Phil, while reattaching a length of rubber to the slingshot. “Oh, hell’s bells.”
She heard Sadie come into the kitchen and come up behind her to loop her arms around Darcy’s waist.
“What’s going on, honey-bun?” Sadie asked.
“I think I’m in trouble,” Darcy said faintly.
“Goodness, the boy’s gotten you pregnant already?” Sadie asked mildly.
“Gran!” Darcy yelped and turned around to stare at Sadie.
“What? You said you were in trouble,” she said her eyes wide and so not as guileless as she wanted Darcy to believe.
“I meant the general kind of trouble. You know inner angsty kind of trouble,” Darcy said. “Not the knocked-up kind of trouble. God.”
“It was a valid question, sweetie,” Sadie said starting to grin. “He looks like a virile type.”
Darcy clapped her hands over her eyes. “Oh my God. Please don’t say that again.”
“Darcy, sweetie,” Sadie said pulling her hands off her face. “You’re wonderful and I love you, but stop being such a prude. Now, you didn’t actually answer my question…”
“No! No one has gotten me pregnant,” Darcy said just as Steve walked in the kitchen, an empty pitcher in his hands.
“Uh, just, um returning this,” he said his face red as a tomato. He put the pitcher down on the table and practically ran out the door.
Darcy and Sadie stared at the space where he’d been and then at each other. They burst into giggles.
“It should not be that easy to make a man blush,” Sadie said. “Or be that much fun.”
“You are a bad, bad lady,” Darcy said leaning into Sadie.
“I’m sixty-seven years old,” she said. “I’m due a little badness in my life. Now, what’s troubling you?”
Darcy sighed. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”
“No, sweetie, you’re not,” Sadie said. “You’ve had ants in your pants for a few weeks now. Even before all the trouble started. Now, talk.”
“Gran, don’t worry about it.”
“Fine! Fine,” Darcy said. She made a face. “I like a boy. No, wait. He’s a man. I like a man, Gran.”
Sadie snickered and said, “Honey, I knew that. If it helps, the man likes you back. And he seems to be a good man, so see where it takes you.”
“But,” Darcy flapped her hands a little. “It’s only been two days. I shouldn’t be this into him this soon.”
“Says who?” Sadie said. “There’s not exactly a schedule you’re supposed to follow when there are feelings involved. Sometimes it’s instantaneous.”
“Was it like that for you and Granddad?” she asked.
“Oh, no. Not at all,” she said shaking her head. “It took oh, let’s see…around twenty-four hours for it to hit me.”
“Nice,” Darcy said with a laugh. She rested her head on Sadie’s shoulder. “So you don’t mind that I’ve got the hots for a criminal?”
“I assume you’re referring to his buns, because that’s the only thing about him that’s criminal,” Sadie said.
“Oh, my God! Stop that!” Darcy said laughing.
“Honey, the day I cannot appreciate a fine backside is the day I depart from this earth,” Sadie said. “And while I know that letting yourself like somebody is a tough thing, especially for a Lewis woman, there’s something else going on in that clever little mind of yours.”
Darcy sighed again. “I don’t know what it is, Gran. It’s like I’ve got this itch and I can’t figure out how to scratch it. Like there’s something I’m supposed to be doing and I don’t know what it is.”
“You were happy getting the program together,” Sadie mused. “Are you missing that?”
“Maybe.” Darcy thought for a second. “I love it here, you know.”
“Oh, honey, I know that,” Sadie said wrapping her arms around Darcy who hugged her back. “But the Green Thumb is not the be all, end all. If there’s something, someone, or some place that you’ve got to get to, I will never stand in your way. You hear me?”
“I hear you,” Darcy said squeezing Sadie tightly.
“And I know a surefire way to take care of that itch in the meantime,” Sadie said waggling her eyebrows.
Darcy snickered and some of the weight and guilt she'd been feeling for the better part of a month just lifted straight off her shoulders. “I love you, Gran.”
“Love you, too honey.”
Clint glanced at the house for the tenth time in about as many minutes.
He had no idea what it was that sent Darcy striding into the house like an army was after her and that was half an hour ago and she still hadn’t come out yet.
He was doubly confused when Steve had wandered into the house and then back out at a fast clip mumbling something about Darcy being ‘a little upset’.
And fine. Substitute ‘worried’ for ‘confused’ and that was Clint at the moment.
He glanced back up at the house and had to grin at the picture Darcy and her grandmother made coming out of the house, arms wrapped around each other’s waist and big grins on their faces. Sadie gave Darcy a big smacking kiss on her cheek and then turned her head and gave Clint a wink that made him blink and blush a little at the same time.
Sadie laughed. “Oh, I love it. Two in one day. I’m going to go find that lovely Dr. Banner and see if I can ruffle his feathers, too.”
Darcy gave her a little push. “Such a bad lady. Begone with you.”
Sadie strolled off giving Darcy and Clint a little wave of her hand. Clint watched Darcy twist her lips and stare down at the ground. He fought the urge to shuffle his feet.
“I like your grandmother,” Clint said awkwardly.
“She’s kind of amazing,” Darcy said smiling at him and inducing that warm feeling in his chest. “I can only hope I’m as awesome when I’m her age.”
“You’re pretty awesome now,” he told her.
She blinked at him and then turned her head, pink filling her cheeks and god damn he liked that he made her feel something. Something nice and good and fuck, he was so fucked.
He cleared his throat. “Are you okay?”
“Me? Oh, yeah. Peachy as well as keen,” she said still not meeting his eyes.
“Steve said you were upset?” he tried again. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Believe me, you’ve done enough,” Darcy said shaking her head.
“Sorry?” His stomach bottomed out. This was his fault?
“No.” She made a face and huffed. “I just mean…” She bit her lip and finally met his eyes. “You’re pretty darn awesome yourself, okay?”
She sounded so impatient and worried, it took all the restraint he had to not smile like an idiot and pull her into his arms. So, he just nodded and said, “Thanks.”
Darcy studied him for a minute, looked away and then stepped in close. Her lips pressed against his cheek so quickly and lightly, if he hadn’t been watching her with wide eyes, he might have missed the kiss completely.
“Gotta go,” she said as she pulled away. “That inventory won’t order itself.”
Then she was gone, disappearing into the shop, leaving Clint standing there with what was probably the stupidest, gobsmacked look on his face.
And he couldn’t care less.
“Green Thumb Nursery,” Darcy said absently as she picked up the phone in the office, her mind still on the finances on her computer screen.
“I’ve got roses, Darcy. Too many roses. They’re going to eat my house. You’ve got to come and get them,” a throaty voice said over the phone.
“Hey, there, Miss Pearl,” Darcy said smiling. “I didn’t know that roses had teeth.”
“These do,” Miss Pearl said, humor underlying her words. “Now come out here and take them off my hands.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Darcy said checking the time. Four o’clock. Plenty of time. “I’ll be there in a jiffy.”
“Thank you, dear,” Miss Pearl said. Then she hung up.
Darcy chuckled. Miss Pearl was well into her eighties, but her knowledge and way with roses was unparalleled.
After running into the house to grab the keys to the truck, she spotted Phil and Natasha walking up the drive. They looked determined.
“You two look you’re on a mission,” Darcy said. “Or you just got back from one.”
“The latter,” Phil said. “We’ve been to Dewsey’s.”
Darcy’s eyes widened. “Really? During the day? Are you nuts? Not that I doubt your combined badassery, but wow.”
“It was surprisingly easy,” Natasha said. “He really needs to invest in a better security system.”
“Did you find anything?” Darcy asked.
“Possibly,” Phil said. “We need to talk to Tony.” He spotted the keys in her hand. “Where are you going?”
“The hammock. Miss Pearl called. She’s got roses,” Darcy said.
“Barton,” Darcy finished for him. “On my way to get him. Don’t do any more plotting until we get back.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Phil said. “And be careful.”
Darcy saluted him and went to find Clint.
Clint rolled the wheelbarrow to the dumpster behind the greenhouse and threw a bunch of stuff from the shed in.
“Don’t forget the one for wood is on the other side,” Darcy’s voice said from a few feet away. He looked over and smiled.
“Already did that batch,” he said. “What’s up?”
“Field trip,” she said holding her keys up.
“Awesome.” He threw the last bit of trash away. “Let me wash off a little.”
“The spigot’s around the side,” she said. “This way.”
He followed her around the greenhouse, his eyes inevitably falling to watch the way her body moved as she walked. His palms itched to just hold her, run his hands along her sides and then thread through that riot of hair on her head.
He let out a sigh of relief when the cold water out of the spigot hit his hands and he ducked his head under the water and let it cool his skin and his thoughts. He turned the water off and lifted his head to see Darcy staring at him, her lips parted just a little and a hungry look in her eyes.
Good, he thought with satisfaction. Glad to know I’m not going to be the only one who’s a slave to whatever the hell is going on here.
“So, um, roses,” Darcy said shaking out of her daze a little. She turned on her heel. “Miss Pearl called and we need to go get her roses before they take over. You like roses?”
The walk to the truck was quiet, as was the first ten minutes as they drove down the same old highway as yesterday. They approached the turn-off that had led them to Sybil and her tomatoes, but Darcy kept going. The scenery started to change, becoming thicker and greener. Clint rolled down his window and sucked in a breath at the muggy air that enveloped him.
“Jesus,” he said.
“Welcome to the Florida hammock,” Darcy said.
“Yeah,” he said taking in the vines of kudzu and thick old cypresses that clumped together in large islands in the midst of the black, muddy swamp. He saw what he thought was a log suddenly move into the water with a small splash. “Fuck.”
“That was Clyde,” Darcy said grinning. “Or possibly Earl.”
“You name all the alligators?” he asked.
“Only the ones that are nice to me by keeping their distance,” she said. “Kinda overwhelming, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Haven’t felt this kind of humidity since-“
He stopped talking. Partly due to that confidentiality clause in his contract and partly because he didn’t want to taint the lush green of the hammock with a time and place that was decidedly bleak and bloodier than he wanted to recollect.
“You okay over there?” she asked softly.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. He grimaced. “Actually, no. Not really. It doesn’t bother you?”
“What? Your super-secret past?” she asked. “Everyone’s got things they can’t talk about.”
“Yeah, but most people’s don’t involve a body count and a criminal record,” he said flatly.
“True, but you’re not a criminal,” she said.
“I notice you didn’t refute the body count,” he said wondering what the hell he was doing pushing the issue.
“No, I didn’t,” she said slowly.
“So, it doesn’t bother you?” he asked again. “The fact that there’s currently guy with a crossbow and a rifle sleeping on top of your house.”
“Well, it’s a little unnerving, but no,” she said. “You’re like, defending the keep. That’s… That’s awesome. Not bothersome.” She paused. “You see what I did there?”
“Very nice wordplay,” he said. She flashed him a smug little smile that he wanted to kiss off her mouth.
“So, who’re we going to see?” he asked looking to get his head back in the game.
“Miss Pearl,” she said. “Her roses are amazing and smell like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Don’t you grow your own roses?” he asked. “I thought I saw a row out by the greenhouse.”
“We do the usual varieties. But Miss Pearl does her own hybrids. The colors are beyond gorgeous.”
They pulled into a small drive with coral pillars on either side. A flat pond gleamed just next to the house and Clint spotted another gator sunning itself on the far side of the pond.
“Who’s that?” he asked pointing at the gator.
“Phyllis,” Darcy said. “And she’s probably got babies swimming in the pond, so don’t go near her.”
“How do you live here?” he asked his voice rising a bit.
Darcy grinned. “It’s home.”
The simple answer threw Clint a little. He couldn’t remember ever being able to say the same about anywhere he’d lived. The circus had been a place to live, the barracks, a place to sleep. But a home? He’d always thought that was something used in stories. However, glancing over at Darcy’s face with her wide eyes and easy smile, he started to wonder.
“Problem?” she asked pulling to a stop and looking at him witching her.
“Not from where I’m sitting,” he said. She rolled her eyes, but blushed and he had to grin as he got out of the car.
A striking woman in a large, floppy straw hat stood on the porch.
“Afternoon, Darcy,” she called out.
“Afternoon, Miss Pearl,” Darcy called back.
“I see you have a fellow,” she said eyeing Clint. “Good arms. Can he fish?”
“Can you fish?” Darcy asked him.
“Haven’t ever tried, to be honest,” Clint said.
Darcy gave a sigh and looked back at Miss Pearl who was shaking her head in disappointment. “Educate him, dear,” Miss Pearl told her.
“Oh, I will,” Darcy said nodding. “Which ones do you want us to take today?”
“Well, the Purple Passion is looking rather fine, as is the Yellow Sunrise,” Miss Pearl said coming down her front porch. Clint followed the two ladies over to the garden where a dozen rose bushes stood, already potted up with information tags on them.
The scent of the roses made Clint take a step back. “Whoa,” he said under his breath.
“They can be a bit overpowering to a novice,” Miss Pearl said patting his arm. “Watch out for those thorns, dear.”
“Yes ma’am.” Clint picked up the closest bush and headed back to the truck. After depositing the bush in the bed, close to the back of the cab, he hopped off and headed back to the ladies. He slowed down when he caught sight of Darcy leaning forward to smell a pale pink rose. The rose matched the color of her cheeks and she smiled at something Miss Pearl was saying and Clint felt everything inside of him lurch and warm up. Her head lifted and she spotted him. The smile she gave him was a blend of humor and familiarity and Clint realized, once again, just how done for he was. Completely, totally done for over this girl.
Well. There we go, he thought with cheerful resignation. You’ve never been good at staying away from things that have a massive potential for backfiring. Just go with it, man.
Something had happened to Clint between getting into the truck back at the nursery and putting the rose bush in the truck and Darcy really wanted to know what it was. Because instead of being on just this side of guarded, he had relaxed and kept giving her glances that warmed her face.
She considered asking what had happened, but decided that she rather liked the half smile he was currently wearing.
After saying good-bye to Miss Pearl and giving Phyllis a nod and best wishes for her gator babies, they headed back the way they came.
Darcy rolled her window down and tilted her head to the side, the air flowing over her face and sending strands of her hair flying.
She glanced over and saw Clint with his arm propped up in the open window, his eyes on her.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said slowly.
Darcy shot him another look. “No, seriously, what?”
“Nothing! Can’t a guy stare at a pretty girl?” he asked.
“Oh, my God, wow,” she said laughing. “What’s with you?”
“Just trying out some of my material,” he said. “It’s pretty rusty, I’ve got to warn you.”
“Material? As in lines?” Darcy asked. “You’re trying out some of your old moves on me. Why?”
“’Cause I’m trying to pick you up.”
“What?” She looked over at him in disbelief. Who was this guy and what happened to the laconic tree-ninja dude? Not that she minded the concept of him putting the moves on her. At all.
“Look, it’s going to happen. I want it to happen, so I’m not going to fight it. I mean, I could. There’s a million and one reasons why this isn’t a good idea,” he said matter of factly.
“Thanks.” Darcy gave him a look.
“Oh, nothing to do with you,” he said sounding reassuring. “It’s all me, I promise. The sheer amount of issues I’ve got could fill the back of this pick-up three times over.”
“Okay,” she said. “I can understand that. You’ve been under a lot of stress recently. What with the whole running from the law thing.”
“Exactly. But, I like you and talking to you is the most fun I’ve had in a very, very long time,” he said. “But, if you’d rather I didn’t…”
“Whoa, totally didn’t say that,” Darcy said looking over at him. “Do your worst, Hawkeye.”
He grinned and opened his mouth, but closed it and abruptly looked behind them. “Darcy, hang on.”
Darcy looked at the rearview mirror to see a black SUV pull up sharply behind them and smash into the back of her truck. Rose petals flew as the bushes fell over in the bed.
“Son of a bitch!” Darcy said as they flew forward and then back into their seats, the seatbelts doing their thing.
“Speed up, baby,” Clint said still looking behind them.
Darcy pressed down on the accelerator and they took off as best as the truck could manage. She did her best to maneuver along the old dirt highway, dodging the worst of the potholes, the SUV behind them not quite as lucky. But it had more horses under the hood and was soon caught up and hitting them from behind again.
“Shit! Who the fuck are they?” Darcy cried out, her jaw aching from where she bit down hard.
“Same guys who attacked your gran, I bet,” Clint said. “Keep going and keep the speed up.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Darcy said through gritted teeth, pressing down on the accelerator again.
“You know this area?” he asked opening the glove compartment and rifling around.
“Like the back of my hand,” she said her eyes darting from the rearview mirror to him and back to the road.
“Take us into the swamp,” he said. “Somewhere that we can get out of easily, but where there’s a bit of open space.”
“O-kay,” she said. “What are we going to do about them?”
“I’m gonna make them crash,” he said dropping some stones and random bits of stuff he found on the floor of the truck.
“With what?” she asked her voice going shrill. “A Jedi mind trick?”
He pulled the slingshot he’d found earlier out of his back pocket. “Nope. With my kickass aim.”
“Oh, holy fuck,” she said. “Right. Hang on.”
With a hard turn of the wheel, Darcy pulled the truck onto the old dirt road that ran along the perimeter of the swamp. “We’re going to hit the lake in about a quarter of a mile. Will that work for what you want?”
“Absolutely perfect, baby,” he said rolling his window down completely. “Keep it steady for a second.”
“Steady, sure,” she said, then sucked in a breath when he levered his upper body out of the window and aimed the slingshot at the truck. He let go and Darcy could see an impressive crack appear in the windshield on the driver’s side. “Holy shit!”
He took aim again and a crack appeared on the other side. Darcy laughed out loud as the SUV swerved behind them. Then it gunned its engine and Darcy gritted her teeth as it hit her bumper hard.
“Assholes!” she shouted.
Clint took aim again and the SUV’s windshield shattered into tiny pieces that fell into the cab of the SUV. It swerved hard again.
“Oh, my God!” she said. “What? How?”
“Pressure points,” he said grabbing another stone. “Everything’s got them.”
He moved to go out the window again, but Darcy grabbed his shirt and pulled him back inside. A big leafy branch scraped the side of the truck. He looked over at her.
She shrugged. “Not much else to do around here when you’re a kid but explore the roads.” She noticed the branch hit the SUV behind them spraying the inside with leaves. “These guys are so not local.”
He grinned at her and then went back out the window. “Where’s that lake you promised me?” he called firing stone after stone into the front of the SUV.
“Thirty seconds,” she said glimpsing the white reflective surface of the lake through the trees ahead. “There’s a hard turn to the left.”
“Tell me when,” he said.
The turn appeared and Darcy counted down in her head. “Now!” she shouted as she turned.
Clint let the last stone go and it hit the SUV’s driver hand on the wheel. He snatched his hand away from the wheel and SUV went straight past the turn and into the lake with a massive splash.
“Whoa,” Darcy said staring in the rearview mirror at the SUV that was slowly sinking into the lake. She could see some flailing bodies as they tried to escape through the windows.
“Not bad,” Clint said casually tucking the slingshot back into his pocket. “Get us out of here, sweetheart.”
“Yeah, okay,” she said dazedly, refocusing on the road ahead of her. Driving on some kind of autopilot, she got them away from the lake and back on to the main highway. They drove along for a while, Darcy trying to process the fact that not only had someone tried to run them off the road, Clint had managed to stop them and disable their vehicle with only a child’s toy.
It was probably that last thought that had her sharply pulling the truck off the road and onto the hard shoulder.
“Whoa,” Clint said looking at her. “You okay?”
Darcy stared out the windshield, her hands gripping the steering wheel tightly. “No. I can’t let go of the wheel.”
She felt Clint staring at her. “Okay. That’s okay. Let me put it in park though, all right?”
Darcy nodded and she watched his hand reach over and move the shift into park.
“Thanks,” she said. “Still can’t let go.”
“Okay,” he said scooting closer. He put one hand on the steering wheel and the other on her seat. His proximity did nothing to slow down her breath and heart rate and made her skin tingle. “Darcy. We’re okay, you know. You drove like a fucking ace back there. Seriously. I’m impressed.”
“Are you hoping that flattery is going to stop me from freaking out?” she asked.
“I thought I’d give it a try,” he said. “Otherwise, I’ll have to get physical.”
She laughed a touch hysterically. “Making me think of Olivia Newton-John isn’t going to help.”
“Your thought processes are absolutely fascinating,” he said. “Just…sit still. I’m going to try something.”
She opened her mouth to tell him that if he tickled her or something, she was going to scream, but her voice got caught in her throat when he leaned in and pressed his mouth to her hand, directly on her knuckles.
A whimper escaped from her as his mouth pressed gentle, sweet, light kisses to the top of her hands. He looked up at her and winked, then his mouth opened and he licked her index finger.
She shrieked and jumped. Her hands flew off the wheel and it was a serious credit to his reflexes that he ducked just in time to miss getting smacked in the face.
“You just licked me!” she said breathlessly.
“Told you I was gonna get physical,” he said shrugging.
She blinked and then laughed. He grinned at her and the adrenalin that had been coursing through her body since that goddamn SUV hit the truck surged again through her veins.
“You could totally kiss me now,” she said thoughtfully. “I want you to kiss me now. Right now. Before the rush wears off and we’ve got to be responsible and adult. But, I really want you to kiss me. Hard. Now. Could you do that?”
“God, yes,” he muttered before moving in.
His hand cupped the back of her head face and his mouth was on hers before she could draw another breath. It was hard and frantic and she gripped his wrists with her hands and instantly opened her mouth to him.
He groaned and his tongue slipped past her lips and tangled with hers. She fumbled with her seatbelt and got it undone. Then, she crawled over and straddled his lap. Clint’s hands immediately went to her butt and pulled her close and time seemed to just slow down. Her hands framed his face and her mouth moved over his. He groaned again and pressed his hips up against hers, Darcy gasped and ground down. The air was thick and muggy filled with the scent of roses. Darcy just let her mouth move to the side of his throat and licked at his salty skin. He groaned and pushed his hands through her hair, pulling her mouth back to his. He trailed calloused fingers down the side of her face and she shivered.
“So fucking gorgeous, baby,” he said into her mouth. “Jesus, Darcy.”
“Less talking, more kissing,” she said before sucking on his lower lip.
His hands squeezed her butt and then moved up her sides. She shivered as they brushed the curve of her breasts and she shifted her hips, rocking gently. They both groaned and Clint’s head dropped to her shoulder where he started to mouth at her neck.
Darcy let out a sound that was part gasp, part laugh and her head fell back while she kept her hips moving on his. She jumped when her phone in her back pocket went off.
“Wait,” she said. “I’m vibrating.”
“Tell me about it,” he said covering her mouth with his.
Darcy laughed and pulled away. “My phone, doofus.”
Clint just grinned and let her get her phone out of her pocket.
“What?” Darcy said.
“You’re late,” Phil said on the other line. “It usually takes you an hour to get out and back from Miss Pearl. Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine, Phil,” Darcy said smiling at Clint. “Just taking a tiny break. Some assholes tried to run us off the road and I--“
Darcy stopped talking, despite Phil’s voice rising and throwing a bunch of questions at her. She didn’t hear them. She just saw the rose bushes in the bed of the truck all jumbled up and petals everywhere. The phone slipped in her grasp.
“Darcy,” Clint’s voice sounded far away.
“Oh, God. Someone tried to run us off the road,” Darcy said faintly. She’d had people not like her before. She was too blunt to not have made a few people pissed off at her, but this? Someone had just tried to hurt her. To hurt Clint. To damage her. And for what? The nursery? Did Connor Dewsey hate her family that much? So much that he was willing to physically hurt her? Her heart pounded and she felt tears fill her eyes. Those poor roses. Oh, Miss Pearl would be so sad to see her babies all jumbled up.
Her eyes refocused and she realized the Phil was talking at her over the phone and Clint was staring at her, looking all concerned with his hand on the side of her face. She croaked out, “The roses! Miss Pearl’s roses! Someone tried to run us off the freakin’ road and they hurt the roses! What the fuck is going on?”
“I know, baby, I know,” he said, his thumb smoothing over the apple of her cheek. “But you’re okay, remember? You drove like a bat out of hell and we disabled them. We’re safe, okay? Can you give me the phone?”
Darcy nodded, her eyes still wide and slightly unseeing. She let him take the phone out of her hand.
“Phil, we’re okay,” Clint said still looking at Darcy. “Black SUV, two guys in black with sunglasses. Very slick. Definitely not local. They didn’t know the area at all. We managed to run them into the lake at the end of state road 44. Last I saw, they were trying to swim. But we’re fine.”
He leaned close to Darcy. “Do you hear me telling Phil we’re okay? I’m not lying. You don’t lie to Phil.”
“Because it saves time instead of wasting it,” she said nodding.
“Got it,” he said smiling. He went back to the phone. “We’re heading back now. Yeah? Yeah, send them. I’ll be surprised if they leave anything though. Yeah. Yeah, I will.”
He hung up the phone and slipped it back into her back pocket, caressing her butt as he did so. Despite herself, Darcy snickered.
“I’m having a crisis here and you’re copping a feel,” she said.
“You’ve got a fantastic ass,” he said seriously. “I can’t help myself.”
“You’re terrible,” she said pressing her forehead to his.
“Yes, I am,” he said softly lifting his chin to kiss her lips gently. She sighed against his mouth hand let him kiss her for a few moments, easing her into a soothed state and she scooted closer. He sucked in a breath when she rubbed against his half-hard erection.
“Sorry,” she said starting to smile.
“Don’t apologize. Feel free to do that again, actually.”
“We need to get back though, don’t we?”
“We do. Phil’s sending Thor and Steve out to take a look at the lake,” he said.
“Shouldn’t we stay, then?” she asked edging her way back into the driver’s seat. Clint shook his head.
“Cap can handle it. But, if these guys are as professional as I think they are, they won’t have left much behind. Let’s just get you back home.”
She nodded. “Okay. That’s okay. I want my gran. But we’re coming back to the whole using lines on me and the kissing thing.”
“Good,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
By the time Darcy got them back to the house, she felt like she was going to jump out of her skin. A good forty-eight percent of that was due to the car chase, the other fifty-two was definitely down to Clint’s mouth and hands, and how said mouth and hands had felt on her person.
She felt anxious and hot and desired and scared and nervous and she was being redundant because anxious and nervous were the same thing. Crap.
Never had contact with another person made her feel so…alive, and she rolled her eyes at the cliché. But there it was.
There’s a reason it’s a cliché, you know, she thought.
Fair point, she thought back.
“You doing okay over there?” Clint asked as they pulled to a stop.
“Just arguing with myself,” she told him waving a hand in the air.
“Me, of course.”
“I’m very persuasive,” she said.
“Oh, I know,” he said, his voice dropping a register and all the nervous/anxious/hot feelings flared up again inside her.
She squeezed her eyes shut. Focus on the nearly dying part! Worry about the kissage later! “Thank you,” she said.
“For what?” She opened her eyes and stared at him. “Um, how about for your mad aim? For talking me down? For kissing me into next Thursday?”
“You’re welcome, you’re welcome, and you really don’t need to thank me for that last one,” he said.
Darcy lifted her chin. “I was brought up to always give credit where credit is due and credit is seriously due.”
“Then you are extremely welcome and I live to serve,” he said his lips twitching.
The door to the house opened and Sadie stepped out. Darcy felt her face crumble and she got out of the truck, took four steps towards the house and let herself be wrapped up in Sadie’s arms. Darcy hugged her tight.
“I’m okay,” she said into Sadie’s shoulder, her voice breaking and squeezing her gran tighter.
“Shut up and let me cling,” Sadie murmured soothingly, despite the hitch in her voice. “Placate me later.”
“M’kay,” Darcy said closing her eyes. She stood there for a while in Sadie’s arms, listening to the sound of her own heartbeat even out. Eventually, she pulled back. “Honestly, we’re fine. But I think I need an iced tea, though. Stat.”
Sadie nodded, her eyes bright and shiny with held in tears. “There’s a fresh pitcher in the fridge.”
Darcy looked around for Clint and spotted him talking to Phil. He looked solid and strong and gorgeous. Oh, Darcy thought. Yeah. Him. I want this. I can make this work.
She was pulled out of her thoughts by Sadie squeezing her hands and said, “Go inside. I’ve got to hug that young man.”
“It’s a good experience,” Darcy said. Then like the fourteen year old she wasn’t, she blushed. Sadie arched an eyebrow.
“Well, well. Looks like someone’s taking care of that itch,” Sadie said pinching Darcy’s side.
“I’m going to go drink something cold,” Darcy said giving Sadie’s side its own pinch. She headed up the steps of the porch only to stop when she saw Clint freeze as Sadie hugged him. Darcy grinned, then called out, “Just go with it, Hawkeye.”
He blinked at her and then relaxed into Sadie’s embrace. Darcy kept grinning and then went on in to the kitchen.
“Thank you for saving my girl,” Sadie said to Clint when she pulled back.
“She did the hard part. With the driving,” Clint said clumsily, feeling beyond uncomfortable. He’d never done very well with displays of pure affection. Lust? No problem. Hugs? Not so much.
“All the same,” Sadie said firmly. “Thank you. Now come and have a beer.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Clint watched Sadie go inside, walking past Natasha who stood in the doorway. Clint nodded at her. She quirked an eyebrow at him and then went inside.
“How professional were they?” Phil asked.
“Usual guys in black with guns,” Clint said. “Henchmen ‘r us types.”
“Guns?” Phil asked going still.
“Yep. I didn’t say anything to Darcy, but they had them,” Clint said looking at the back of the truck and wincing at the sight of the roses strewn about the bed. “They never got close enough or a clear shot in, but they had them.”
“This has progressed beyond a local man upset about a deal going badly,” Phil said looking down the drive, his expression thoughtful and his eyes alert. “And I think we have a name. Stark is checking on something.”
Clint just nodded. Phil looked at him. Then he said, “You have lipgloss on your upper lip.”
Clint fought the urge to squirm and simply said, “I saw Natasha go into your trailer the other night.”
They stared at each other.
Then they turned in unison to go into the house, Phil letting Clint go inside first. Clint had a feeling he was getting the ‘hurt the girl and we hurt you’ speech in true Coulson fashion. Which was fine. Clint had been saving up his ‘hurt Natasha and I’ll sit and laugh while she tears you apart’ speech for years.
Ignoring the sound of Tony talking loudly in the living room, Clint walked into the kitchen where Sadie, Maria and Jane sat at the table while Bruce and Natasha leaned against the counters. Everyone was watching Darcy steadily down a large glass of iced tea. Clint took in both Sadie and Maria's tight expressions and was glad he was on their side.
“Is that spiked with something?” he asked Darcy nodding at her glass.
Still drinking, she shook her head. She took another few swallows and the lowered the glass to say, “That’s next. Beer’s in the fridge.”
She licked her lips and Clint went half-hard at the sight. He turned and opened the fridge, and grabbed a Dos Equis. He downed half the contents quickly while listening to Darcy tell the rest what had happened.
Jane shook her head. “God. Someone was nosing around the lab again.”
“Nosing?” Darcy asked.
Jane nodded. “Nosing. They were hanging around the back right window. And it wasn’t Thor. He has a very distinctive profile.”
“Oh, does he?” Darcy asked.
“Did you know his family managed orchards?” Jane said. “He has a remarkable amount of knowledge about optimum growing conditions.”
Jane's eyes seemed to light up as she talked. Clint tilted his head to the side. Huh. Thor and the scientist. Oddly enough, that sort of worked. Thor liked smart women who could talk circles around him. Interesting.
“Well, you two were right,” Tony said to Phil and Natasha as he walked into the kitchen. “Pepper’s looking into things.”
“Who’s Pepper?” Jane asked.
“My Girl Friday,” he said a dopey look coming over his face that Clint had to look away from.
“Wait,” Jane said. “Pepper. As in Pepper Potts, the current CEO of Stark Industries?”
“That’s the one,” Tony said smiling broadly.
“And she lets you call her your Girl Friday?” Maria asked.
“Only when she’s not in the room,” Tony said. He frowned. “Actually, don’t tell her I called her that. Anyway. That is definitely Hammer’s logo. Although what he’s doing in Florida is anyone’s guess.”
“Hammer? What Hammer?” Darcy asked.
“We found the card tucked into Dewsey’s desk, along with a bunch of real estate expo brochures,” Natasha said, “but it’s too much of a coincidence to be a random card.”
“Who?” Darcy asked.
Tony was nodding. “Hammer doesn’t just give those things out.”
“Hammer who? Explain!” Darcy said loudly rattling the ice in her empty glass. Clint opened the fridge again and pulled out a Corona. He popped the top and gave the bottle to her. She smiled at him gratefully and he winked at her. He looked back at the kitchen and saw both Tony and Natasha sporting eerily similar smirks on their faces. Clint stared back and casually drained his beer. Tasha’s smirk deepened.
“You two done?” Phil asked mildly. Clint nodded at him. “Stark, continue.”
“The Hammer in question is Justin Hammer,” Tony said picking up a can opener and absently fussing with it. “He’s not actually that bad of a business man, he just has appalling luck at getting things to go his way.”
“And that bad luck wouldn’t happen to be named Tony Stark, would it?” Natasha asked.
Tony grinned. “I can’t help it that my stuff’s better than his. He has no imagination and I do. I’ve also got better sense than he does.”
“That’s a frightening thought,” Darcy said. “You have awful common sense.”
“Hey, that irrigation system out there begs to differ,” Tony said jerking his thumb towards the window. “And I meant that he tends to partner up with less than savory sorts. Whereas I only surround myself with the best of the best.” He bowed in Phil and Natasha’s direction and held his fist up to Bruce. Bruce sighed and then participated in the fistbump. “Boom.”
“This is all well and good,” Sadie said, “but what the heck is he doing here? And why on earth is Connor Dewsey giving him the time of day?”
“No idea,” Tony said cheerfully. “That’s what I’ve got Pepper checking out. But if I had to guess…how valuable is your land?”
Sadie frowned. “Well, it’s not too shabby, and I can see why Connor wants it for his little development. We had it appraised not too long ago and really, the value isn’t going to blow anyone’s socks off.”
Tony nodded and turned to Jane. “How about you? How revolutionary are you?”
“Um. Well, when I’m done there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to produce a lot more crops in dire climates and potentially less space,” Jane said slowly, parsing out the words. “But my work is based on genetics. The very, very small changes we can make to things.”
“Franken-food,” Tony said with a smirk.
Jane glared. “Are you aware that the second pesticides were introduced to crops they were altered? Franken-food goes way back. Way before I came around.”
“You really don’t want to go down this particular road, Stark,” Darcy said lifting her beer to her mouth.
Tony held up his hands. “Hey, I am the last guy to quibble about change. How much will you get out of it?”
Jane looked confused. “Get what out of what?”
“He means money,” Maria told her. “Are there people ready to invest in it?”
“Oh. I don’t know? Probably?” Jane said. “My work is really in partnership with the university so they’ll have a large say in it.” She shrugged. “I’m kinda in this for the science. Not the money.”
Bruce held up his beer and Jane clinked her bottle against his. Tony sighed.
“I despair of this socially conscious generation, I really do,” he said. “But this answers the original question, Mrs. Lewis. I have no idea what Hammer’s doing in Florida, let alone why he’s messing with you. But whatever it is, it’s got to have a massive payout in the end. That and international recognition. He’s kind of addicted to the limelight.”
“Sounds familiar,” Maria said and held up her own bottle for Natasha to clink, both women looking smug.
“How much am I going to regret introducing you all to each other?” Phil asked mildly.
“Only slightly less than Belarus,” Natasha said her lips curving into a smile that Clint could swear she only ever gave to Phil. Sneaking another look at Darcy (and Jesus Christ he was really going to have to stop doing that) he nearly laughed at the way her wide eyes darted between Phil and Tasha.
“Anyway,” Tony said. “Pepper’s on the case and she’ll call back tomorrow.” He looked at Darcy. “She wants to talk to you, too.”
“Awesome?” Darcy said looking confused. “Why?”
Tony just winked at her and mimed locking his mouth shut. Clint shook his head. Such a drama queen. Darcy rolled her eyes.
“Well, that’s tomorrow,” Sadie said. “Dinner now. Y’all must be hungry and we’ve got chili and twice-baked potatoes. Who’s hungry?”
Everyone raised their hands.
Clint was halfway through his second bowl of chili when Steve and Thor came into the kitchen, the bottoms of their jeans were wet and they looked disappointed, although Thor’s face lit up when he spotted Jane. Clint held in a snicker as he watched the big man wander over close to her. He noticed Darcy grinning around her fork and Jane jumped, then glared at Darcy. Clint took another bite of chili and chuckled at the image of her kicking her friend under the table.
“What did you find?” Phil said standing at attention, Clint automatically mirroring the position.
“Not a whole lot,” Steve said. He looked over at Clint and grinned. “Nice shooting, Hawkeye. Thought you didn’t carry a gun?”
“I don’t,” he said.
“What’d you use?”
“Slingshot. Some rocks.”
Sadie’s fork dropped to her plate with a clang. She stared at Darcy, who swallowed her bite of potato, then said, “Did I not mention that part? He totally used a slingshot. Granddad’s old slingshot, actually.” She looked up over her shoulder at him. “You do realize that I have to call you Dennis the Menace now, don’t you?”
“You really don’t,” he told her.
“Oh, she really does,” Tasha said. The two women smirked at each other and Clint began to wonder just when his life had spun completely out of control.
The second you joined this team, he thought. And then again the second you crossed the Florida state line.
“Anyway,” Steve said grinning slightly, even though his voice was pure Captain Rogers. “You were right. Definitely professional, nothing was left and if it was it got washed away into the lake.” He pulled out a damp piece of paper. “I managed to get the VIN number though.”
“Probably bogus though,” Thor said already tucking into a huge bowl of chili. “Those are easy to fake these days.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Tony said taking the slip of paper and tapping into his phone, leaving his chili on the counter.
“What about the SUV?” Phil asked.
“Definitely the same tread you and Natasha found,” Steve said. “Brand new, still had that smell, despite the lake water. High end electronics system and GPS with the address of the nursery plotted in, which just proves they were looking for you.”
“Expensive?” Tony asked not looking away from his phone.
“Very,” Thor said. “That particular model isn’t available until next year.”
Tony made a face. “Which piles up the evidence of someone with money to spare, which is Justin. What about your boy? Could he afford to throw away a brand new SUV?”
Maria, Darcy and Sadie all shook their heads.
“The Dewseys have always gotten by on reputation as opposed to cash money,” Sadie said.
“There’s some family money and the two housing developments that old Mr. Dewsey built have done pretty well,” Darcy said.
“But there’s no way Connor is rolling in disposable income,” Maria said. “Especially not lately.”
“How did Connor even meet this guy in the first place?” Darcy asked.
“Hmmm,” was all Tony said. After that, everyone finished their dinner in thoughtful and tired silence. Clint eventually made his way upstairs and took a quick shower, the water only cutting out once when someone turned on the shower in the bathroom downstairs. Then he went up to the roof, grabbing his kit from where he’d stashed it in the attic.
He immediately checked the sights on his rifle and prepped his bow. He pulled out his sidearm and considered keeping it on him during the day. After everything was cleaned and ready, he stood in the shadows and looked out towards the highway. The night was still and muggy, the kind of heavy humidity that you only found in tropical places. He took a deep breath and recognized the scents of pine, honeysuckle and something else that was simply the land he was looking over.
Face it, he thought. You really don’t regret kissing her. Not in the slightest.
Maybe I should, he thought back.
He snorted. Yeah, right. The second his hands settled on her curves and his mouth had tasted hers, he knew he was done. This was it. He wanted her.
And not just because I want to take her to bed, he thought. I want all of it. I want to talk with her, see things with her, eat with her, just fucking be with her.
Oh yeah? the sarcastic voice in his head said. And how do you propose to do that? Still a criminal, man. And is she even interested in your sorry ass?
A knock came from the door to the attic and then it was being pushed up. He stood absolutely still and watched Darcy climb up onto the roof. She closed the door and faced him. He drank her in.
She wore a dark blue dress that emphasized her creamy complexion and her expression was steady with just a hint of a smile.
Looks like I’m going to get my answer, he thought as he took a step forward.
After dinner, Darcy had let Sadie, Maria and Jane fuss over her with hugs and Sadie brushed out her hair while Jane calculated the precise amount of force it must have taken for Clint to actually break the glass of the SUV’s windshield.
“Wow,” she’d said when she finished. “He is very skilled.”
Tell me about it, Darcy thought remembering his mouth moving over hers. She shivered a little. Maria noticed and arched an eyebrow while staring at Darcy’s neck. Darcy tried to arch one back, but really only managed to look ridiculous. Maria gave up and chuckled.
When Darcy went up to her bedroom, she went to the mirror and saw a nice rosy patch on her neck where Clint must have gotten a bit enthusiastic with his stubble.
“Worth it,” she said out loud.
She got into her pj’s and crawled beneath her covers. Then she stared up at the ceiling, far too wired to actually sleep. In fact, the anxious/hot/nervous feelings returned in full force and she couldn't stop her feet from jiggling. She lay in her bed for a full minute, awash with feelings and then she threw back the covers and got out.
She took off her pj’s and put on her favorite navy blue bra with the sheer sections and the little black bows as well as her black panties. Then she grabbed a sundress and pulled that over her head. She looked in the mirror and piled her hair on top of her head. She gave herself a once over and satisfied with her ‘battle dress’, she said outloud, "You are going to do this, Darcy Matilda." She nodded and then went up to the attic.
Which brought her to where she currently was, which was standing on the roof, five feet away from Clint who was looking at her like he was only just holding himself back from jumping her.
Which is a good sign, she thought. Now or never, Lewis.
“So, you know how you were talking about moves earlier?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said, looking tense and gorgeous.
She took a deep breath, thought about the way his hands had felt on her earlier, told the butterflies in her stomach to fuck off, and then she reached for the hem of her dress and pulled it up and off.
She raised her chin and met his eyes.
Then she frowned.
“Are you breathing?” she asked.
“Barely,” he said on an exhale. “Wow.”
“Well, you know, moves,” she said gesturing to her dress on the floor. “This is my move.”
“It’s a damn good move.” He swallowed hard and his hands clenched and unclenched. She was pretty sure he hadn’t blinked since she’d taken her dress off. Which was encouraging. If only he’d do something.
She fidgeted a little. “Are you planning on doing anything? I mean, I’m giving you like, the ultimate hint here.”
His eyes stopped their journey across her body and he said, “Darcy, are you absolutely sure? I’m not exactly the guy you bring home to your parents.”
She grinned. “Nope, you aren’t. But you are so the guy that you bring home to your grandmother. I want this.”
He still looked torn between wanting to reach for her and being noble. Darcy rolled her eyes.
“Dude. This is my best bra,” she said gesturing at her chest. “And a girl does not put on her best bra for a guy if she doesn’t want the guy to take it off her. I want you, Clint.”
“Good,” he said and then he was there, his hands on her body and his mouth moving hard on hers. She opened her mouth to him and pressed up against him, her hands moving over his chest and wanting to touch him everywhere. His hands curved around her waist and up her sides, just brushing the sides of her breasts, Darcy shivered.
“Sweet Jesus,” he muttered. He lifted a hand and did something to her hair and it fell down in waves. “Better.”
“Everyone’s a critic,” she said grinning up at him.
He grinned back and then took her mouth with his again, hard and hot but not close enough. She skimmed her hands up under his shirt and shuddered at the feel of him strong and alive against her palms. Then his shirt was up and off and her hands were attacking his belt. Darcy’s eyes fluttered closed though when his hands cupped her breasts.
“Oh, God,” she said, her head falling back while his hand massaged her over her bra. She whimpered when his thumbs traced around her nipples gently, and then more firmly. “Oh, God. More.”
“Yes,” he said. She whimpered again when his hands left her chest, but the whimper turned into a shriek when he scooped her up, her legs winding around his waist.
“Oh, my God,” she said laughing. “And where are you taking me?”
“Got a sleeping bag,” he said. “Sorry it’s not softer.”
“Don’t need soft,” she said putting her mouth next to his ear and sucking gently on the lobe. “I need hard.”
“Fuck,” he groaned before raising one hand up and tugging at her hair so that he could kiss her again while still holding her up. Darcy wouldn’t be able to remember just how he managed to get the sleeping bag rolled out and her flat on her back without taking his hands off her, but she chalked that up to some kind of incredible circus trick and considering it meant that all the warm, strong weight that was Clint was pressing down on her, she really didn’t mind.
“I want you inside me,” she said breathlessly. Clint made a noise like he was in pain.
“You gotta stop saying stuff like that,” he said tugging a cup of her bra down, baring her breast, “or else this is over a lot faster than I want it to be.”
Then his mouth was on her breast and his tongue was doing delicious things to her nipple and she couldn’t seem to stop her hips from rocking against his and her hands dug into his hair, holding him in place.
His other hand started to tug at the other cup, but she said, “wait”, and lifted her back enough so that she could undo her bra. Clint sat back on his haunches and watched her take the bra off and drop it on the roof next to her.
Darcy studied his face he looked at her and then started to smile. She stretched her arms up over her head, her chest pushing upwards, and said, “As you were, soldier.”
“Thank you,” he said solemnly before lowering his mouth to her breasts. He licked and suckled and massaged and did things that made her giggle and then gasp and then moan. At one point, she did all three and thought she was going to pass out from the pleasure.
She tugged at his head and kissed him fiercely. “I want you. Now.”
“Yeah,” he said still kissing her while his hands undid his pants. He cursed when he tried to kick his pants off while his boots were still on and Darcy laughed as he continued to curse, taking them off and throwing them to the side. But then he was gloriously naked and solid and she reached for him.
He looked her over again and tucking a finger on either side of her panties, he slowly slid them down her legs. Then he was on top of her, heavy and warm and--cursing again as he sat up and reached for his pants to grab his wallet.
“Oh, my God, you’re hilarious,” Darcy said laughing again when he came back with a condom.
“I blame you,” he said smiling at her and thrusting his hips shallowly against her. “One look at you naked and my brain's shot to hell and back. There’s gonna be nothing coherent left.”
“Good,” she said running her hands over the muscles of his back and down to cup his ass. “Now you know how I feel whenever you look at me.”
She bit her lip. She hadn’t planned on saying that. But Clint just smiled and leaned down and gently kissed her. Slowly, smoothly, coaxing her lips apart and easily sliding his tongue next to hers. Her hips picked up the rhythm his mouth was setting and electricity started to spark in her veins.
He pulled back just long enough to roll the condom over his erection and she shivered at the sight of him in the moonlight and then he was back, kissing her, his hands cupping her thighs and angling her just so.
Darcy arched her back as he slid in and they both moaned. Darcy hitched her leg higher against his side and he slid in even deeper and he grunted and pressed his forehead to hers as he thrust steadily in and out.
Her hands moved over his back, squeezing and cupping his neck, then smoothing back down and on a particularly good thrust, she dug her nails into his lower back. Clint groaned and picked up the pace. His hand lifted her hips up off the roof and Darcy’s eyes widened when he hit something wonderful inside.
“Fuck! Do that again,” she said beginning to pant. “Harder.”
“Yeah,” he said again and flexed his spine, rubbing against that something wonderful once more.
Darcy’s eyes closed and all it was all she could do to not fly apart as he moved against her. Her hands found purchase on his shoulders and the electricity was sizzling in her blood and she felt so hot and so alive and--
“Look at me, Darcy,” Clint said. Her eyes flew open and he smiled at her, sweat trickling down the side of his face. “Yeah. That’s it. Keep those eyes open, honey. I want to see you.”
“Oh, God,” she said and then she was coming, gasping as the electricity shot through every single nerve in her body, making her knees tremble and her fingers curl.
“God damn!” Clint managed before groaning and jerking his hips against her as he came.
They lay there, on Clint’s old sleeping bag, the Florida night sky, a deep, deep blue-black above them. Darcy trailed her hands down the length of Clint’s spine, through the sheen of perspiration. Clint could feel tiny tremors of aftershocks trembling in her body.
Not that he was doing much better. Jesus Christ. His whole body was one big livewire and he felt fucking light-headed. All logical thought had just vanished when he saw her take her dress off and fuck. Just. Fuck.
Clint lifted his head and looked at her, still breathing hard. Darcy grinned and leaned up to kiss his chin. He chuckled and kissed her nose. This girl. Jesus. He still wanted her. His mind had been blown to hell and back and he still just wanted her.
He lifted up and turned away to get rid of the condom and then lay back down next to her. Darcy stretched and rolled her eyes when he sucked in a breath as he watched her breasts move.
“I knew you were a boob man,” she said, her throat raspy from gasping so loudly before.
“Guilty,” he said reaching out a hand to trace a finger on the soft underside of her breast. She shivered and curled around him. He pulled her close, his arms wrapping around her.
She pressed her ear to his chest and he watched her chew on her bottom lip. Reaching up, he brushed her hair off her forehead.
“Out with it,” he said, knowing something was going on inside her head. “I can hear your brain working, so say whatever is on your mind.”
“Well, not to get completely stereotypical, but my practical-side won’t let me shut up,” Darcy said, her index finger running over his abdomen. “Was this a one-time thing?”
“No,” Clint said quickly pressing a kiss to her temple. “Not a one-time thing at all.”
“Oh, well, cool,” Darcy said curling around him even more. “So, we’ll figure out the whole ‘making it work’ thing later?”
“Aren’t you Tim Gunn?” he asked, skimming his hand down the curve of her back.
“I am indeed,” she said kissing his shoulder. “Awesome.”
She fell asleep a few moments later, but Clint stayed awake, listening to the night sounds.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
He woke up when she did, but didn’t stir. The sky was just turning light and he simply watched her slip her dress on over her naked body, her bra and panties in her hand. A smirk curved his lips as he watched her body move under the fabric.
He dragged his eyes up to see her grinning at him. “Busted,” Darcy sang softly.
“You’re fucking gorgeous,” he said. “Get used to it.”
She winked at him and disappeared into the attic.
He rolled over and continued to grin at the early morning sky feeling pretty damn awesome.
After a few minutes of beaming up at the rising sun, Clint got up and swung his way down to the ground, and then into the kitchen. Sadie was already at the stove with a stack of pancakes close by and bacon in the frying pan. The Pretenders sang softly in the background, the strum of Chrissie Hynde’s guitar blending cheerfully in with the sound of pancakes on the griddle.
“Good morning, Mrs. Lewis,” Clint said suddenly feeling a bit weird about having had sex with her granddaughter on the roof of her house.
“Good morning, sweetcheeks,” Sadie said with a grin. “You sit yourself down and eat up. Gonna need some sustenance to make it through the day.”
Holy shit, she knows, Clint thought taking a plateful of pancakes and bacon from her. He swallowed hard. “Um, thank you?”
“You’re welcome, dear,” Sadie said. “Make sure you eat all that bacon. You need all the protein you can get.”
Clint eyed his plate and then Sadie. Maybe she doesn’t know, he thought. Maybe she just suspects. This could be just a mind-game. He watched her flip pancakes on the griddle and shrugged. Always hated mind-games.
“Ma’am, I slept with your granddaughter last night,” he said deciding that blunt was always best and hoping to God Sadie thought so, too.
Sadie looked at him in surprise. “Oh, I know that, dear. I heard Darcy go up to the roof. Oddly enough, it’s a Lewis family tradition.”
“What is?” Clint asked taking a big bite of pancake, loaded with syrup and a bit of bacon.
“Seducing men on the roof of this house,” Sadie said grinning. “Where do you think Darcy’s father was conceived?”
It took some doing, but Clint managed to not choke on his food, but it was near thing. “Ma’am, they broke the mold with the two of you.”
“Oh, thank you,” Sadie said coming over and patting his shoulder. “You’re not so bad yourself.”
“I’ve got a criminal record,” he said quietly. “Most people find that a problem.”
Sadie shrugged. “Past is past. Besides, I’ve got my own record. I participated in too many demonstrations to not get arrested eventually. For that matter, Darcy’s got her own mug shot.”
“Tasing the cop?”
“The authorities were less than amused,” Sadie said wryly.
Clint grinned and looked over as both Maria and Darcy came into the kitchen chatting. Darcy’s eyes widened when she saw that Clint and her grandmother were the only people in the room.
“Hi?” she said her eyes darting back and forth between the two of them. “I’m totally not worried about this at all.”
“Darcy Matilda, have I ever beat up any of your boyfriends?” Sadie asked and this time, Clint did choke on his pancakes. He was pretty sure he’d never been anyone’s boyfriend.
“No, you just choke them to death,” Darcy said handing him a glass of orange juice. “Please don’t die. Death by pancake just isn’t that badass.”
“They’re worth it though,” he said after downing most of the orange juice. “Best pancakes I’ve ever had.”
“Brown noser,” Maria said pouring coffee into mugs and giving him a smirk.
“Hey, you always respect the person who wields the spatula,” Steve said as he came in the kitchen by way of the back door.
“True, true words,” Thor said, hot on his heels. He looked around and frowned. “Dr. Foster isn’t eating?”
Darcy took the cup of coffee Maria handed her and said, “She’s probably got her nose in her research. Say, why don’t you take her some food? I bet she’d appreciate it.”
Clint shook his head in disbelief at Darcy’s blatant attempt at matchmaking, but Thor’s eyes lit up and he said, “A truly good suggestion, Darcy. I’ll do just that.”
Sadie wordlessly handed him two covered plates. He grinned at her and went out the door.
“The word twitter-pated is coming to mind,” Steve said accepting his own plate of pancakes.
“They aren’t the only ones,” Maria said poking Darcy in the side. Darcy jumped while Clint grinned.
Steve looked over at him and said, “Wow. Already? Tony owes me fifty bucks. Thanks, Clint.”
“No problem, Cap,” Clint said nodding his head. Darcy stared at them.
“I truly have no idea how to react to this,” she said.
“I do,” Clint said grabbing her hand and pulling her into the seat next to him. “Eat some of your grandmother’s great pancakes, drink your coffee, and promise that you’ll make out with me at some point today.”
“Classy,” Darcy said, the statement echoed by Natasha who was smiling as she came inside, Phil close behind.
“I think that sounds like a lovely itinerary,” Sadie said handing Darcy a plate of pancakes.
“When did my life spiral out of control?” Darcy said shaking her head, but smiling at Clint. Clint could only smile back remembering his own thoughts the day before.
“Do I smell pancakes?” Bruce asked coming in the kitchen and adjusting his glasses.
After breakfast, Clint headed off to do Tony’s bidding while Darcy followed Maria out the truck to see what could be done with Miss Pearl’s roses.
Maria looked over at her and said, “I’ve got this, you know. You don’t have to do this. You know how you are with plants.”
“I know. You’ll stop me from doing something traumatic,” Darcy said pulling her gloves on. She knew didn’t have to, but she wanted to. No way was she going to not help out Miss Pearl’s roses.
She hopped up into the bed of the truck, Maria following her and patting her shoulder. They got to work separating the rose bushes out of their jumbled pile.
Pretty soon, they had them all lined up just behind the shop. Maria carefully went over each one, snipping at places that were too mangled. Darcy followed behind her filling their black, plastic pots with more soil.
Darcy stood up and looked them over. “They’ll be okay, won’t they?” she said.
“Nothing that a little soil and some water can’t fix,” Maria said.
“Not to mention your soft touch,” Darcy added.
Maria snorted but didn’t stop her gentle exploration of the roses.
A movement of hot pink caught Darcy’s eye and she turned to see Sadie coming around the corner of the shop, a lost expression on her face.
Darcy straightened while Maria shot to her feet. “What?” she said. “What is it?”
“A bill,” Sadie said faintly. “From our insurance company. They say they haven’t received our last six payments and they’re seeking legal action if we don’t pay them the lump sum within seven days.”
“What?” Maria said flatly while Darcy yelled, “Bullshit!”
“I just don’t…” Sadie held out the letter.
“That is not true,” Darcy said taking the letter from Sadie’s hands and reading it quickly. “No. No way. Lies.”
She thrust the letter at Maria and dashed into the shop. She grabbed her black ledger book and came back out, leafing frantically through the pages, panic rising sharp and sickening in her stomach. She stabbed her finger on the page, her lips trembling with outrage. “See! That’s last month’s payment. And see!” She leafed some more. “Month before that. I can keep going. Plus I’ve got the electronic version to back me up. We have made those payments!”
“Honey, I believe you,” Sadie said putting her hand on Darcy’s. “I do. Obviously, this is an error in their system, but we still have to respond to this.”
“Oh, I’ll respond to it.” Darcy reached for the letter.
Maria held it up above her head. “Are you going to yell at them?”
“No,” Sadie said starting to smile. “I’ll do it.”
The smile Sadie gave her was sad and just about broke Darcy’s heart. “Honey, I’ll call them. We’ll sort it out.” She sighed.
“Gran,” Darcy said stepping in close and slipping an arm around her waist. Maria came around to Sadie’s other side.
“Oh, girls,” Sadie said sounding older than Darcy had ever heard her sound before. “I know we’ll fix this. It’s just… On top of everything else… Oh, I don’t even know what I’m saying.”
“You’re saying that this is a pain but we can fix it and that this is just another speed bump on the road of life,” Maria said logically.
Sadie made a face. “That doesn’t sound like me.”
“How about we’re going to kick the ass of whoever it is that is making our lives hell and after we kick their ass, we’ll have a pitcher of margaritas each?” Maria offered again, this time adjusting her baseball cap with a decisive move.
Sadie nodded. “Much better. Right.” She took a deep breath. “Let me at ‘em.”
Maria handed her the letter, but Darcy got to it first.
“Darcy.” Sadie’s voice took on her don’t-mess-with-me tone
“Gran,” Darcy said matching her tone. “I’ll call them. The finances are my job and I will deal with it.”
“You’re going to yell at them,” Sadie said.
“I won’t,” Darcy said trying to look earnest. “I will be calm and cool and collected and butter won’t melt in my mouth.”
“In other words, you’re going to be nothing like yourself,” Maria said.
Darcy stuck her tongue out at her. She turned back to Sadie. “Gran. I’ve got this. You’ve got customers.”
She nodded at the shop and the people in line. Sadie jumped. “Oh, merciful heavens. That’s Teresa Campbell and her never-ending quest to buy us out of lavender.”
“Well, go talk her into some heather,” Maria said nudging her. “Darcy’s got this.”
“I’ve got this,” Darcy repeated. Sadie looked between the two and shook her head.
“Such good girls,” she said kissing them both on the cheek. Then she hurried off to work her sales magic.
Darcy and Maria watched her go, then looked at each other, and then down at the letter.
“If someone managed to erase our payments from the company’s records,” Maria said slowly.
“Or if they didn’t do that, but managed to send out a bogus letter,” Darcy added, her stomach churning.
“Then we’re dealing with someone capable of fraud,” Maria finished.
“Right,” Darcy said. She frowned. “Tony’s theory is sounding more and more credible. Connor’s a dick, but I don’t think he’s capable of something this big. And I don’t like the idea that someone this powerful is out there and is that dead set against us.”
“Me neither,” Maria said tapping her gloved hand against her thigh. They stared at the letter in Darcy’s hand.
“I’m going to go call these people,” Darcy said, doing her best to ignore the rolling of her stomach.
“Take notes,” Maria cautioned. “Get full names.”
“Oh, yeah,” Darcy said heading towards the shop, letter and ledger firmly in hand.
“Thank you very much,” Darcy said into the phone before hanging up rather viciously. She let out a sigh and slumped in her chair. The notes she’d just taken sat on the desk, a list of names next to them. She sighed again.
“Hey,” came from the doorway. Darcy spun around in her chair and, despite her frustration, laughed.
“What on earth has Tony got you doing?” she asked Clint who had dirt and grease streaked on his shirt and forearms.
“Fixing gears and attaching Lord knows what to bits of metal while I lay on my back in a field,” he said.
“Sounds enchanting,” she said.
“Done worse jobs,” he said with a shrug.
“Oh, I just bet,” she said grinning up at him, simply feeling happy to have him near and trying not to feel like a complete moron for doing so. She crooked her finger at him and he came inside the office, smirking just that little bit. He leaned in and pressed a lingering kiss to her temple and she sighed.
“I heard that you had to go medieval on the insurance company’s ass,” he said against her skin.
“Yeah,” she breathed. “I was a complete professional though. Could you move your mouth a little lower, please?”
He smirked and did; his mouth finding hers and parting her lips easily with his tongue. She slid her fingers through his hair and held on as the kiss deepened and her body filled with heat and desire. Despite what her libido was telling her, she let him ease the kiss back, before she gave in to her urges to grab him and have her wicked way with him on the desk. Her eyes opened slowly and she smiled at him.
“Thanks,” she said. “I needed that. Now, I need to go talk to Sadie. And possibly Tony.”
Clint nodded, looking flushed and turned on and not helping her self-control at all. “All part of the service. And Tony’s on his way back. Lunch?”
“Lunch,” Darcy said nodding and standing up. “And you definitely need to rinse off.”
“Guess you can’t join me,” he said sliding his hands around her waist.
The image of the two of them in a shower made her breath catch and she groaned before pulling his head down to hers and kissing him. He kissed her back, moving in close and backing her up against the desk.
“Gotta stop,” she said in between kisses. “Need to be responsible.”
Clint sighed and nodded, stepping back a bit. Darcy frowned. “Whoa, not that responsible. I’d planned on at least another five minutes of token protests before we actually went to the house.”
She fisted her hand in the front of his shirt and he laughed as she pulled him back to her.
After another five minutes and a few token protests had taken place, not to mention Clint getting to first base and making a valiant attempt to reach second, they stopped and left the office.
Maria was at the till and rolled her eyes at their rumpled clothes and their clasped hands.
“Sadie’s in the kitchen,” Maria said, “and Steve was looking for you, Clint.”
“I’ll go find him,” Clint said. He turned to Darcy and leaned in to kiss her neck. “Go kick ass.”
“Always,” Darcy said. She tilted her head to the side and watched him go. She sighed.
“Do I need to hose you down?” Maria asked holding up a plastic spray bottle filled with water.
“Possibly,” Darcy said still watching Clint as he walked out to the field. “He’s got the best ass, cuz. It’s kind of stupid how great it is. I mean, the form of it fits perfectly in my--”
Maria spritzed her with water.
Darcy was still giggling and wiping water off her face when Sadie arrived, a tray of iced teas and fruit in hand. Her gran just laughed. “Oh, honey. Do you need to take a cold shower?”
Darcy remembered her earlier fantasy of herself and Clint in the shower and blushed.
“Oh, goodness,” Sadie said.
“I think she’s in heat,” Maria said holding up the spray bottle again.
“Enough!” Darcy said holding up her hands. “Do you want to hear what I found out?”
“Yes,” Sadie said handing her a glass. “What did they say?”
Darcy took a long drink. “They say that they have records of receiving our payments, but their system is still saying that we owe them the last six. I spoke to five different people and none of them could explain it.”
“Of course, they can explain it,” Maria said. “Someone has hacked their system and they just don’t want to admit it.”
Darcy made a face. “Pretty much. They’re ‘looking into it.’ And they’ve asked me to email them our deposit numbers from the bank. Which I did.” She sighed and slumped against the display of gardening hats. “Someone really fucked up our insurance account. The only good thing is that I’ve been totally justified by keeping a hard copy all along.”
“All hail paper trails,” Maria said.
“Quite right,” Sadie said. “Is this something that Tony can help us with?”
“Clint said he was heading this way,” Darcy said. “Maybe he can go higher up than I could.”
“Speaking of,” Maria said looking out the shop door.
Tony appeared, looking as dirty and messy as Clint had.
“Well, I have achieved awesomeness. Again. I had no idea there was so much to explore with irrigation,” Tony said. He looked around the room. “What? Clint said bad things were going down. What now?”
Darcy handed him the letter and explained the last hour and a half to him. He grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and munched as she talked.
“Right,” he said. He checked his watch. “Time to call Pepper. Come with me and meet someone amazing. But don’t tell her I called her that. I don’t want her to start thinking she can do better than me.”
“Can she?” Darcy asked.
The grin Tony gave her was almost sad. “Of course, she can.”
Darcy stood off to the side as Tony set up his tablet on her desk. After he typed in a long code of numbers into a program, a few seconds passed and then a red-haired woman popped up on screen.
“Hi,” she said, a wry smile gracing her lovely features. “How’s Florida?”
“Hot. Muggy. Too many mosquitoes and strange locals,” Tony said.
“Hey!” Darcy said.
The woman on the screen laughed. “Such a charmer, really. I don’t know how you manage to exist day to day.”
“Helps that I’ve got, you know, you,” he said flippantly and ducking his head. Darcy couldn’t believe it. Tony Stark was smitten. It was adorable and slightly bewildering.
“Knock it off and introduce me,” the woman on the screen said, her cheeks lightly flushed.
“Pepper Potts, meet Darcy Lewis,” Tony said. “Go. Talk. Figure out how to rule the world and make me sorry I ever introduced you two. I’ve got to go make sure Cap and Barton aren’t wrecking my system.”
He strode out of the office and Darcy faced the screen. “Is he always that… That…”
“Active?” Pepper offered. “Yes. You don’t know how much he needed this.”
“Going to Florida. Helping you. Giving him something to focus on,” Pepper said. She sighed. “He’s not allowed to have any interaction with the company, as you can imagine. Which made him stir crazy.”
“Well, I have no idea what he’s doing in my field, but it looks awesome,” Darcy said sitting down at the desk. “And the others have been beyond amazing.”
Pepper smiled. “When I first heard about the Avengers project, I thought it was crazy. Or asking for trouble at the very least. But, they came together and it worked. Who knew that Fury could work miracles?”
“Fury?” Darcy frowned. “As in Val’s Fury? The military man she was with and who was killed in action?”
Pepper blinked and furrowed her brow. “Do you mean Val Fontaine? Yes. She and Commander Fury were together for quite some time. But, she left shortly before the Avengers project came together.” She paused, then continued in a quiet voice, “Commander Fury was the man who brought the Avengers together. He was the one who issued the command to go into enemy territory. And then he was killed in the explosion that took out the entire support base.”
“And since everything was so top secret, it’s no wonder that anyone knew anything, since everyone close to them was dead,” Darcy said slowly. “Apart from Phil.”
“Apart from Phil,” Pepper said. “But even he didn’t know everything and he was dragged across the coals, too.”
“Why didn’t Val tell me she was that close to them?” Darcy said to herself. “What is she up to?”
“Darcy?” Pepper asked, looking concerned. “Is more going on than your own situation?”
“I don’t know,” Darcy said. “Maybe. I need to talk to Val.” She looked at Pepper and was struck by how much she instantly trusted the woman. So she said, “If there is, I promise to tell you.”
Pepper smiled. “I appreciate that. Now, tell me your insurance situation. Tony mentioned something about fraud in his earlier message.”
Darcy explained what had gone on that morning and the letter from the insurance company and what they’d told her on the phone.
“That sounds very much like fraud,” Pepper mused. “Which you already figured out. I’ve got some contacts in that company, actually. I’ll see what I can find out. As for Justin Hammer, that is definitely up his street.” She picked up a tablet off her desk. “The man is in a terrible amount of debt. And I gather the people he owes money to aren’t the forgiving type.”
“Sucks to be him,” Darcy said. “But he really should have picked on somebody else.”
“Hear, hear,” Pepper said. She made a note on her tablet. “I’ll see what I can dig up. In the meantime…” She looked at Darcy and said, “I hear you like projects.”
Darcy was taken aback by the change in subject. “Umm, yes?”
“Don’t look so worried,” Pepper said. “Apparently your grandmother was talking to Tony and your technique with project management came up. I was just wondering what you were planning to do with that.”
“Oh, um,” Darcy tried not to wonder what her Gran had said to Tony. “Well, nothing at the moment. We’ve got to get the nursery back on its feet and deal with the bad guys.”
“Naturally. But after that? Any plans?”
“Why? Are you going to offer me a job?” Darcy asked laughing.
“In a manner of speaking.” Pepper pressed her lips together. “As you can imagine, I’m not really allowed to have anything to do with the team. The tablets Tony and I use to contact each other are extremely secure. But we have to be very careful. Which means I can’t do more for them, much as I’d like to.” She stared at Darcy. “Would you like to?”
Darcy was stunned. Was Pepper, the incredible, cool, gorgeous, brilliant Pepper Potts asking her if she wanted to be the Avengers's--
“You want me to be their handler?” Darcy squeaked out.
Pepper cocked her head to the side. “In a manner of speaking. It’s something that Tony and I have been discussing ever since the verdict came in. The team needs a manager. What do you think?”
Darcy couldn’t. She’d lost the ability to string thoughts together. Her vision blurred as her mind tried to come up with something coherent.
“Okay,” Pepper said leaning forward. “Forget the title. What do you think they should do?”
“What?” Darcy asked still shocked.
“The team,” Pepper said. “What do you think they should do? Should they just keep on hiding?”
“Ye-es,” Darcy said thinking, “and no. At least not like they have been.”
“What should they do?” Pepper asked.
“Well, they need to stay active,” Darcy said flatly. “That’s kinda obvious considering how they’ve taken to our little problems with such gusto.”
“They’re still criminals, though,” Pepper said matter-of-factly.
Darcy waved a hand in the air. “Please. Anyone who meets these guys will know in a second that’s all bullshit.”
“What should they do?” Pepper asked.
“Well, they need proper marketing,” Darcy said. “If people knew that the team could come in and help them out, they could be getting booked all over the place to do this stuff. They could really improve their image. Not to mention do good things for people.” Absently, she grabbed a pad off the coffee table and started to list things.
Pepper hmmed in agreement. “The trick would be to keep it small. Totally grassroots. Quiet.”
“But not too quiet,” Darcy said. “We want the word to get out that they are still doing what they were brought together to do. That they’re totally incapable of doing what they’ve been accused of. Stay word of mouth at first, then go viral with it eventually.”
She thought for a second. “And definitely keep the name.”
“The Avengers?” Pepper asked.
“They could shorten it, I suppose,” Darcy said thoughtfully, tapping her pencil on her chin.
“Like the A-Team?” Tony said behind her. Darcy looked over her shoulder to see him shake his head. “No way. Some punks in California are already calling themselves that. The name stays. It’s what we’re doing after all. It stays.”
“Such a rebel,” Pepper said, affection clearly warring with exasperation. Tony grinned and despite the fact that Pepper was a thousand miles away, Darcy could feel their connection humming in the room. She felt something rise up in her and really wanted to see Clint.
Because it wasn’t fair. These people had had this done to them. Labeled as criminals by the government they worked for, that had brought them together. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right.
I’m going to help them, Darcy thought, the itch under her skin disappearing. This is it. I’ve got to do this.
Pepper finally lowered her gaze from Tony’s and addressed Darcy. “I’ll look into the insurance company and see if I can find anything out.”
“Thank you,” Darcy said really meaning it. “And uh, thanks for the idea.”
“Anytime,” Pepper said. “Let me know how things go. Tony can give you this address.”
Darcy grinned and headed out of the office, lightly punching Tony on the shoulder. She ran into Sadie just outside the nursery shop.
“Well?” Sadie asked, her voice eager.
“Well, Pepper Potts is the most glamorous woman I’ve ever met, next to you and Val, and I think I’m going to put pictures of her up on my wall,” Darcy said.
“Sounds like a firecracker,” Sadie said. “Although I imagine she’d need to be to keep up with Tony. How’s the insurance situation?”
“Definitely fraud,” Darcy said. “She’s going to see what she can do on her end by speaking to the insurance company directly. We’ve got to talk to Val, though, in case we’ve got to go to court with it.”
“Already done,” Sadie said. “Val’s sharpening her claws as we speak.”
“Awesome.” Darcy hesitated, biting her lip, having a hard time containing her excitement about really helping the Avengers. Naturally, Sadie spotted it.
“There’s more?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.
“There’s more,” Darcy said slowly. “And it’s kinda about me. And those ants in my pants. I think I know how to make them go away.”
“Then we’d better get ourselves some iced tea and have a chat,” Sadie said linking her arm with Darcy’s. Darcy breathed a sigh of relief and leaned her head on Sadie’s shoulder as they went towards the house. Sadie was the best.
Clint followed Steve and Bruce into the shop to see Darcy and Sadie coming from the house, both with matching tired smiles on their faces and looking like they’d been crying.
“What?” he asked panicked. “What is it? Are you okay? What happened?”
Darcy and Sadie looked too amused for anything to be really wrong and he felt like an idiot for overreacting, but didn’t stop waiting for an explanation. I don’t even care if I look like sap, he thought. I’m fucking owning this.
“We’re okay, Hawkeye,” she said wiping under her eyes and adjusting her glasses. “Just crying ‘cause we can.”
“Darcy, stop that. Don’t tease him,” Sadie said resting her head on Darcy’s.
“But it’s so much fun,” Darcy said, her mouth curving into a smile that promised all sorts of wicked things. If her grandmother and Steve hadn’t been standing there, Clint would have crushed her to him and then carried her off to the roof.
“Did you get everything taken care of with the insurance company?” Steve asked, his voice breaking into Clint’s fantasy.
“Not exactly,” Darcy said. “But we’re getting there. I think Tony has a plan.”
Steve shook his head. “No. Tony has ideas that get turned into plans by the rest of us.”
“It’s something of a system we’ve created,” Bruce added.
“And it worked the last time, as I recall,” Tony said coming out of the shop’s office.
“And look where that got us,” Steve said.
“I kinda like it here,” Clint said turning his face into the sun.
Darcy’s arm slipped around his waist and he dropped his arm across her shoulders.
“Cute. Anyway, team meeting!” Tony called. A pair of older ladies looking at the herbs looked over in surprise. “Not you,” Tony told them. “Unless you know something about velocity and making things go boom.”
The ladies stared back blankly and then one of them said, “Do bottle rockets in my back yard count?”
Tony grinned. “It certainly does.”
“Ignore him Mrs. Peyton,” Darcy called. “He’s just looking for attention.”
“Will do, dear,” Mrs. Peyton said. “By the way, we love the side lawn. We took pictures to show to the children. It’s a wonderful example of how to be creative with math. Very inspirational.”
“Thank you, Debbie,” Sadie said. “I’ll make sure the fellow who created that knows.”
The two ladies waved and went on their way. Everyone looked at Bruce. He shrugged. “It was fun.”
“Math through flowers, why not?” Tony said. “But, as I said, team meeting!”
“Kitchen’s the best place. Darcy, put the sign on the shop and grab Maria,” Sadie said.
“I’ll find Phil and Tasha,” Clint said pressing a kiss to Darcy’s head.
A few minutes later, everyone crowded into the kitchen.
“So! Justin Hammer is in debt up to his eyeballs. Debt to some very unsavory people,” Tony said. “Which means he is a desperate monkey these days and is looking for a way to get some money fast. He’s been looking into real estate.”
“In that case, I think that’s how he met Dewsey,” Phil said.
“Those real estate expo stubs,” Natasha said. “He’s been going to a lot of them.”
“Presumably to figure out how to market actual swampland,” Maria said, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully.
“But, this is all still speculation,” Jane said looking worried. “I mean, you guys don’t know for sure it’s this Hammer guy.”
“It is, I can feel it,” Tony said squinting his eyes.
“Like a disturbance in the force?” Darcy asked.
Tony pointed his finger at her as Maria asked, “Well, how do we get him out in the open?”
“Easy,” Steve said. He quirked his lips up into a smirk and looked at Tony. “We tell him we’ve got something he wants to see.”
“I’m not that kind of girl, captain,” Tony said, batting his eyes. “But he can take a look at irrigation system if he wants. It’s fantastic, by the way. Did I mention that it was fantastic? ‘Cause it is. I need twelve more hours and then it’s going to water the heck out of your plants.”
“Thank you, sweetie,” Sadie said with a smile. “But I don’t think this Hammer person of yours is interested in irrigation systems.”
“He has no vision,” Tony said waving a hand. “Still, you call your boy Connor and tell him that you’re interested in talking to his little friend with the goons and the very wet SUV. He’ll come right over.”
Sadie reached for the phone. “Call him now?”
“No! We’re not ready yet,” Tony said. He looked at Bruce and then at Thor and Steve.
Thor started to grin. “I know that look, my friend. How many do you want to build?”
“Just the one, I think,” Tony said. He turned to Clint. “Legolas?”
“Got enough, don’t worry,” Clint said.
“Would someone kindly explain what you guys are plotting?” Darcy asked.
The team started to grin and Clint felt a surge of adrenaline race through his system.
“You mentioned something about defending the keep?” Clint said to Darcy. “We’re going to defend the keep.”
Darcy studied him and then Tony and then Thor. She looked at Phil who nodded. She threw her hands in the air. “Well, what can we do?”
“We’re going to need some more wood,” Steve said. “We can use some of the old shed, but we’ll need some stronger pieces.”
“And straps of leather,” Thor said. “The thickest you can find.”
“I think I’ve got enough for my part,” Bruce said, “but a gallon of cat litter wouldn’t go amiss.”
“I sincerely hope you gentlemen aren’t planning on destroying my property,” Sadie said, her eyes sharp on everyone.
Steve stood up and put his hand on his chest. “Mrs. Lewis, I promise that we will clean up any mess we make and that we won’t damage any of your property.”
Sadie studied him for a moment and Clint wanted to smirk at the Cap finally getting his share of a side eye. Eventually Sadie nodded and said, “All right. Off with you all.”
“We’ll need to hit up a hardware store for that lumber of yours,” Clint said.
“I can take you into town,” Darcy said. She checked her watch. “It’s four o’clock. Are you going to have enough time?”
“Absolutely,” Tony said.
“I’ll go with you two. I remember the dimensions you need,” Steve said to Thor. He turned to Phil and Natasha. “Help Thor and Bruce with what they need. And Tony-“
“I’m finishing up in the field,” he said heading out the kitchen door. “And someone bring back some food. A lot of it! Kicking ass makes me hungry! In fact.” He stopped and dug his wallet out of his pocket and threw it at Darcy. “My treat.”
“Sweet. I’ll stop at Louisa’s and get some food,” Darcy said pocketing the wallet. “You guys need to try her burritos. You won’t ever go anywhere else. They ruin you for other food.”
“I’m going to call Val and give her an update,” Sadie said as everyone left the house.
Clint, Darcy and Steve headed towards her truck and Darcy pulled her keys out of her pocket, which Clint took easily from her.
“I’m driving,” Clint said. Darcy stopped and put her hands on her hips.
“Dude. My truck. I drive,” she said. He stepped in close, liking how she smirked even as he loomed over her.
“We’re taking Steve with us and I refuse to sit in the middle,” he said.
“Are you seriously going to get macho over sitting in the middle of the cab of my truck?” she asked giving him a truly withering look.
“Yes. Yes, I am,” he said nodding.
She narrowed her eyes at him and then sighed. “Just so you know, this is the ultimate test of trust,” she said. “The last guy I let drive my truck totaled it.”
“The car fiasco of 1999,” he said. “I remember. I’ll be good.”
“You two finished?” Steve asked looking amused from where he leaned against the truck.
“For now,” Darcy said brushing up against Clint as she moved past him, letting her chest graze his lower arm. Clint bit back a groan and followed her to the truck.
“Where am I going?” he asked once they were all inside, Darcy in the middle and fiddling with the radio.
“Town,” she said, stopping on some Bob Marley. “Take a right out of the drive and we’ll roll right into it.”
Clint did his best to focus on the road and not the press of Darcy next to him. She leaned into him, reaching into her back pocket and brushed against his arm. Again. He cleared his throat and gave her a warning look.
“Sorry,” she said sounding anything but, and pulling her phone out of her back pocket. She opened Tony’s wallet and exclaimed, “Sweet Mother of God! For a man on the run, Tony has a hell of a lot cash. Jesus. I’m getting all the burritos. Wow.”
“Nice of him to give you all that money,” Steve said.
Darcy shrugged. “I think Pepper told him to. She’s my new best friend and I would like to be her when I grow up.”
“Miss Potts is pretty classy,” Steve said.
“Nice legs,” Clint said. Darcy elbowed him and he grinned.
“No food for you,” she said dialing.
Clint slipped his hand off the steering wheel to rest it on her knee, his thumb rubbing tiny circles.
“Can I get a dozen tacos with everything? Then a dozen burritos with everything?” Darcy asked over the phone. Clint exchanged a look with Steve. A dozen burritos? “Actually, you know what? Better make that two dozen burritos with everything. I’ve got some big dudes with me. And then as many nachos as you can spare.” She paused. “No, this isn’t a prank call, Louisa. I stopped doing those when I was twelve. I promise to give you a massive tip. Thank you, wonderful lady! I’ll be there in twenty minutes or so.”
She hung up and noticed Clint and Steve were looking at her. “What? They’re really good burritos and don’t tell me that between you, Steve and Thor you can’t demolish half a dozen each if given half a chance?”
Clint looked at Steve who sighed. “She’s not wrong. Remember the pizza place in Buffalo?”
“I thought those guys were gonna give us a medal for eating all that food,” Clint said. “They probably still have a picture of us on a wall.”
“Really?” Darcy asked. “Where in Buffalo?”
“Somewhere near the bus station, I think. Why?” Steve asked.
“Just curious,” Darcy said shrugging and tapping her fingers on Clint’s wrist. “They might be good character witnesses.”
“What are you talking about?” Clint asked suspiciously. “And why do I get the impression that you’ve been plotting with Pepper Potts?”
He wasn’t reassured by the secretive smile she gave him. “’Cause I have and I’ll tell you all about it later. Do you guys want to go to Lowe’s, Home Depot, or Carl’s? FYI, Carl’s is better.”
“Carl’s it is, then,” Steve said.
Ten minutes later, Darcy stood off to the side while Steve and Clint debated on the merits of sheets of metal versus planks of wood, Carl standing beside them offering his opinion from time to time.
“Well, I’ll leave you guys to enjoy your hardware experience,” Darcy said edging towards the door. “I’m going to go get food.”
She gave them a wave that they barely returned and headed back into town. She breathed in the fresh scent of cilantro and cumin as she walked into Louisa’s restaurant.
“Hey, you,” Louisa said behind the counter. “Just who are you feeding out there? The FSU football team?”
“Not quite,” Darcy said laughing. “But I bet one of them was a linebacker at some point.”
“Shoulders?” Louisa asked perking up, her silver earrings in the shape of manatees tangling in her curly hair.
“Out to here,” Darcy said spreading her arms.
“Nice,” Louisa sighed. “It’ll be just another five minutes or so. Just chill and don’t bother the fish.”
Darcy rolled her eyes as she walked over to the huge aquarium in the corner. She watched the little blue starfish drift in the artificial current.
“Smells good,” a light, English voice said behind her. “Are the catfish tacos as good as they say?”
“Better,” Darcy said with a smile that dropped when she turned around to see a young woman in a military uniform standing a couple of feet away looking at a menu. Darcy quickly turned back to the fish, inwardly panicking.
Just because she’s military doesn’t mean she’s here for the team, Darcy thought frantically.
“I believe we may have some friends in common, Miss Lewis,” the woman said flipping the menu over to look at the cocktails.
Crap, Darcy thought.
“Oh?” she asked aiming for nonchalant, but the high pitch of her voice didn’t really help.
The young woman set the menu down and faced her. She was a few inches taller than Darcy and had clear, intelligent eyes. “Relax,” she said. “I’m on their side.”
“I’m supposed to just believe you?” Darcy asked quickly adding, “Not that I have any idea what you’re talking about.”
The woman visibly suppressed a smile. “I’m Peggy Carter and I know for a fact that there is a group of people staying on your property who are wanted for several crimes by the US government.”
“Wow,” Darcy said swallowing hard, but lifting her chin. “That’s a heck of a claim. How sure are you?”
“Incredibly sure,” Peggy Carter said. “However, as I said before, I’m a friend.” She hesitated then added, “But I do have a job to do. I’m afraid I’ll have to drop by your property sometime tomorrow to investigate.” She consulted her watch casually. “Sometime in the late afternoon, I imagine.”
She took a step towards Darcy. “The people I’ll be bringing with me won’t be as friendly as I am.”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” Darcy said quietly. “But if I did, I’d ask you how far this friendship extends?”
Peggy smiled and it reminded Darcy of the smile that Pepper gave Tony just an hour before: resigned, sad, and it just about broke Darcy’s heart. “As far as it can,” Peggy said. “Which isn’t far enough, I’m sad to say.”
“Right,” Darcy said feeling freaked out and, oddly enough, really wanted to talk more with this woman, but she was too worried about Clint and Steve to stay.
“Darcy! Food!” Louisa called out.
“Thanks!” Darcy called back. She held Peggy’s gaze a moment longer and then picked up her food and headed out the door.
She tossed the food bags behind the seat and did her best to not peel out of the parking lot. Steve and Clint were hauling bits of lumber and metal out of Carl’s when Darcy pulled up. She got out of the truck and watched them load up.
“Smells amazing,” Clint said coming in close to press a kiss to the side of her throat.
“It is amazing. Who’s Peggy Carter?” Darcy asked.
Clint froze and Steve dropped the plank of wood with a thud into the truck and looked at her. “Peggy’s here?”
“Yeah,” Darcy said. “Just met her in the restaurant. Says you guys have twenty-four hours before she brings in the big dogs. Who is she?”
“She’s… She’s…” Steve looked a little shell-shocked so Darcy turned to Clint.
“Sounds like she’s the officer in charge of bringing us in,” Clint told her. “Cap, we gotta get back to base.”
Steve nodded absently scanning the streets.
“Captain!” The edge in Clint’s voice made Darcy jump.
Steve came to. “Right. Let’s go.”
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
The ride back to the nursery was quiet and Clint kept one eye on Darcy and the other on Cap.
Clint shook his head. Could’ve been worse. They could have sent General Ross and his goons and no way would they have given the team any kind of a grace period.
“Who’s Peggy Carter?” Darcy asked him out of the corner of her mouth, clearly picking up on the tidal wave of tension rolling off of Steve.
“Captain Peggy Carter,” Clint muttered back. “Good officer. Transferred over from the RAF a few years back. She was never part of the Avengers mission, but she knew some of the details and was consulted from time to time.”
Clint glanced at Cap. “She was close to some of us more than others.”
Steve snorted and looked at Clint. “Subtle, Hawkeye.”
“Calling it like it is, Cap,” Clint said.
“You two were dating?” Darcy asked.
“No, no,” Steve said blushing and shifting in his seat. “We worked together. We… It, um… Look, it’s complicated.”
“Gotcha,” Darcy said. She twisted her lips to the side. “She, um, said she was a friend and that she wished that stretched further than it did.”
Steve turned his head to look out the window and didn’t say anything.
Clint frowned and gripped the steering wheel tighter. Typical, he thought. The second you think it’s safe and good, it all goes to shit.
He felt a slight pressure and looked down to see Darcy’s hand resting gently on his thigh. He glanced at her and she gave him a smile and a squeeze of her hand. He smiled back and covered her hand with his.
Well, he thought pulling onto the highway. It’s not completely shit.
They arrived back to the house just as Sadie was closing up the shop. Darcy lugged the food into the house and Clint and Steve went to find everyone else. They eventually gathered around the base of the irrigation system.
“What?” Tony said, on his back beneath the lower row of sprinklers, Thor nearby with the remains of a wheelbarrow. “What now?”
“We just ran into Captain Carter,” Clint said.
“What?” Thor asked, standing up, screwdriver held tightly in his hand. “She’s here?”
“Yeah, and she’s given us twenty-four hours to get things done and then she’s moving in,” he said.
“They have Carter looking for you?” Phil asked. He nodded. “She’s the best.”
“It is something of a compliment,” Natasha added, getting to her feet and dusting off her jeans. “It means they aren’t underestimating us.”
“Compliment or not,” Thor said. “We must finish this tomorrow.”
“Agreed,” Steve said nodding. “How’s it coming along?”
Thor grinned. “It’s our best one yet.”
Bruce chuckled and shook his head. “I still can’t believe this works.”
“Never doubt the classics, my friend,” Thor said clapping a hand on Bruce’s shoulder and making the man stumble a bit. “And with your compounds, it will be truly dangerous.”
“Amazing the things you can create with compost,” Bruce said lightly.
“Look, the deadline isn’t that big of a deal,” Tony said getting to his feet. “We knew this needed to get this done tomorrow, so that’s what we do. Doc, Thor, keep on keeping on.”
“Hey, Team Awesome!” Darcy shouted from the porch. “These burritos aren’t going to eat themselves.” She paused. “Actually they might. They’re so good they might attempt some kind of burrito cannibalism movement. Which is just too scary to consider, so get your butts over here.”
“I like that girl,” Tony said.
So do I, Clint thought as they walked towards the house. How the heck am I going to leave her?
As if reading his thoughts, Tasha flicked the back of his head with her fingers. He turned and glared, but she just said, “She’s not as fragile as you think she is. Go with your gut, Barton.”
“That’s annoying,” he told her.
“I know,” she said brushing past him to claim her share of the tacos, leaving Clint to grit his teeth and follow her in.
After dinner was demolished and Clint had done what he could to help Thor and Tony with their respective ‘projects’, he headed up to the roof to check on his weapons and get things ready. He spent a good thirty minutes cleaning and oiling and setting up. Then he looked around and realized that the only thing missing from his space was Darcy.
So he went to find her, lightly swinging from the edge of the roof onto her windowsill. The window was open so he swung inside, perching on her window. She looked up from her seat in the middle of her bed and smirked.
“What took you so long?” she asked flipping her hair over her shoulder, looking fresh and clean in a tanktop and baggy shorts.
He shrugged. “Had to clean my weapon.”
“Dirty.” She grinned and patted the bed next to her. “Come and veg with me while watching a classic.”
He noticed a laptop situated on chair next to her bed. The screen was paused and Clint squinted at it. “Is that Madonna?”
“It is.” She stretched out on her stomach and Clint gazed at the curves of her body as it moved. “I give you Desperately Seeking Susan, an awesome film that should be watched during times of great stress. Simply allow yourself to get into the groove and mock the clothes and be thankful you aren’t married to a man who sells hot tubs for a living.”
Clint took his boots off and joined her on the bed, stretching out beside her. “Sounds good.”
“Plus,” Darcy held up her finger, “you can see Rosanna Arquette’s side boob at one point.”
“Making it worth the price of admission,” Clint said kissing her bare shoulder. She smiled at him, bright and open and something in his chest tugged and he smiled back.
She reached out, tapped play, and the movie started up. Clint lay there on her bed watching a movie he hadn’t seen since it came out. He actually remembered sneaking into the movie theater with some of the other kids from the circus and enjoying being in a place with air conditioning and cushioned seats. This time it was different, with the warmth of Darcy next to him, her body shaking with laughter and poking his arm right before her favorite parts.
When the infamous side-boob scene came on, Darcy nodded approvingly and then looked over at him.
“Pretty racy for a PG-rated movie,” she said.
“Seen better,” he said deliberately eying her cleavage. She smacked the back of her hand on his shoulder. “What? I’m just sayin’. I had my mouth on those last night and it was as close to a religious experience as I’m ever going to have.”
Darcy’s eyes widened and then she did something amazing: she blushed and ducked her head, letting her hair cover her face.
“Whoa, whoa,” he said brushing her hair away from her face. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” He thought for a second. “Actually, I kind of did, but I can take it back.”
She lifted her head and pounced on him. He laughed and rolled to his back, Darcy on top of him. “Don’t you dare take it back,” she said poking his chest. “No one has ever said something that dirty to me before and I liked it, so no take-backs.”
“Good,” he said reaching up, his hands framing her face. “I meant it. Do you know how hard it’s been today? To not throw you over my shoulder and take you somewhere where I could make you scream?”
She stared at him again, her breath coming faster; his own breathing sped up in response.
“Well, in that case,” she said her fingers teasing the hem of her top. She paused and gave him an apologetic look. “I have to warn you. I’m not wearing one of my good bras.”
“Honey, they’re all good bras,” Clint said.
Darcy snorted. “While the double D part of me begs to differ, I appreciate the sentiment.” Then her shirt was up and off and she was kissing him.
It was slower than the night before. Clint took his time, kissing and touching all the parts of her he'd missed before. He moved down her body and spread her legs, while she clutched at his hair. He licked into her and did his level best to make her come with his tongue and his fingers. It was only when she was shaking and pulling at his shoulders, did he rise up, quickly get a condom on, and slide into her. He made a noise low in his throat and kissed her, her tongue seeking out every crevasse of his mouth.
She pushed at his shoulders and lifted her hips so he rolled to his back, Darcy perched on top of him. She sat up and his breath caught in his throat just looking at her. When she started to move, so fucking slowly, his breath came back to him and he smoothed his hands up her sides and cupped her breasts.
Her hips stuttered when he pinched her nipples and she narrowed her eyes at him, then ground down on him and shifted, taking him in even deeper. His eyes rolled back in his head. “Fuck, Darcy.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said picking up the pace and riding him, her hands pressed flat on his chest. “That’s it. Like that.”
He palmed the space between her breasts and moved his hand down, resting just above where they joined. His thumb brushed lightly on her clit and her head fell back as she came, her body flushing pink. Her hands curled on his chest, and her hips rolled sharply, triggering his own orgasm.
His hands gripped her waist tight and the groan that came out of his throat was so low and harsh it stung. She fell forward and her hair curtained their faces as she kissed him slow and sweet.
Later they stretched out naked on their sides and watched the end of the movie. Clint spooned up behind her, his hand smoothing over her stomach and the indent of her waist, and he knew he had to tell her what he’d been thinking all day.
“This isn’t a one-time thing,” he said, resting his chin on her shoulder. He felt her look over at him.
“Good,” she said snuggling into his body. “I like you too much for it to be a one-time thing.”
“Good.” He took a deep breath. Christ, why was telling her how he felt so fucking hard?
“What?” she asked turning on her side to face him. “What’s up?”
“So, look, I’ve been coasting,” he said after clearing his throat. “Just going with the flow because that’s what I do. I go where I’m told. But, not anymore.” He looked at her. “I’m going to figure out a way to stay. Here. In Florida.”
She blinked up at him. “Why?”
His heart crashed down to his gut.
She didn’t want him to stay. She didn’t want him. Oh, fuck that hurt. He thought he might throw up.
Which must have been visible on his face, because she gasped and said, “Oh, God! Not like that! No! Sorry!” She leaned up and framed his face with her hands and laughed. “Not like that. I just meant… Look. Wherever you go next? I’m coming with you.”
His heart had just crept back up to his chest with her apology, but her ‘I’m coming with you’ sent it crawling back down to his stomach.
“You’re what?” he asked.
“I’m your new handler,” she said smiling. “Road trip, baby!”
His brain shut down completely and knew he was missing something. “You’re what?”
She pushed at him, getting him back on his back and her on top, his hands settling one again on her hips.
“You guys are innocent. Everyone knows it.” He started to argue and she put her hand over his mouth. “Everyone knows it. Especially the people that framed you all. Now,” she flipped her hair over her shoulder, “I know nothing about launching an investigation, but I do know how to get people together and to spread the word on a very limited budget. So, congratulations! You are now part of a team that helps people!”
“What?” he asked. “I’m what?” Clint was lost, but felt sucked in by her enthusiasm in spite of himself.
“Look. You guys need to clear your name and prove that you’re innocent,” she said. “And the best way to prove that is to show what you’re capable of. The good you’re capable of. What better way to get people on your side than to do amazing things. Do you know how many people like me you guys could be helping?”
Clint frowned considering that no, he hadn’t really thought about it before.
“I mean, can you guys really keep doing what you’ve been doing?” she asked cupping his face. “Staying on the run? Drifting? And most importantly, staying apart?” She shook her head. “You guys need to be doing something and that something needs to be good.”
“Which is where you come in?” he asked slowly.
She shrugged, which did miraculous things to her body. “I just did a little bit of research before you came in; there are a lot of people out there who need help. And hey, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But wouldn’t you rather be helping people and following your mission statement instead of doing odd jobs in North Da-freaking-kota?”
“That kind of goes without saying,” Clint said, the idea of keeping busy and sticking with the team getting more and more attractive as he thought about it. He refocused on Darcy, looking at him patiently. “Does Sadie know about this?”
“Are you kidding? She’s already looking for a safe, reliable car for me,” she said sliding off his body and curling next to him.
“How much driving do you intend to do?” he asked, still thinking about logistics.
“However much it takes to get you guys out there and your names cleared,” she said.
He shook his head. “It’s too dangerous. I know you like your taser but you have no self-defense skills.”
“So teach me,” she said through a yawn. “Natasha’s already agreed to show me some moves and Val is going to teach me Shooting 101. I like learning, so teach me something.”
“I don’t know,” he said frowning.
She sat up again and faced him. “Dude. Do you want me around?”
“Yes,” he said automatically. “I do. A lot. More than I know how to deal with.”
“Well, likewise,” she said kissing his lips lightly. “Not to mention, I think I need to do this for you all. I want to do this for you all.”
A strange feeling filled Clint’s chest and it took him a moment to realize that it was hope. Or at the very least, something like hope. Not to mention gratitude for the woman in his arms.
“You realize that I’m going to be coming with you,” he murmured. “I’m not letting you roam the country all by yourself.”
“I know,” Darcy said sleepily settling back down by his side, movie forgotten as she curved around him. “Sadie’s looking for cars with seats that fold down in the back. And decent suspension.”
“Good woman,” Clint said smiling at the ceiling.
“The best,” Darcy said turning her face into his skin.
She was asleep within minutes, leaving Clint thinking about reliable cars and driving down unfamiliar roads with Darcy at his side.
There it is, man, he thought. That chance at that whole ‘home’ thing. Go for it, Hawkeye.
He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
“Enjoy,” Darcy told a customer as she handed them a bed of impatiens. She gave them tight smile and turned back to look at the nursery. Customers were dotted about, the Avengers blending in with them seamlessly. She could see Steve and Thor’s blond heads doing something near the greenhouse and Tony was still doing something out in the field.
It was only ten in the morning and they had decided at breakfast to not call Connor and tell him to get his scheming butt over to the nursery until later in the day. The anticipation of everything finally being over made her hands shake and she shoved them into the pockets of her jeans. She felt a little better when she saw Maria watering some of the bedding plants without her usual finesse, the water going everywhere but the flowers.
“I would really like this day to be over,” she muttered. She spotted Clint on the roof and sighed. “Well, I sort of want this day to be over.”
If everything went the way it was supposed to, then Connor would back off, Justin Hammer would back off, the Avengers would scatter into the wind before the troops rolled in, and Darcy would start her new project which she was calling Find the Avengers Good Work to do in Order to Help People and Clear Their Names.
She made a face; she really needed to work on that title.
A few hours later, everyone congregated in the shop, making the small space seem even smaller.
Before Tony handed Sadie the phone, he asked, “Are you ready for this? Can you be demure?”
“Sweetie,” Sadie said. “I know how to make a phone call and I know how to act. I was in all the local theatre group plays, including the lead role a few years back.”
“Playing who?” Steve asked.
“Fanny Brice in Funny Girl,” Darcy said grinning.
“I said ‘demure’ not fabulous,” Tony said.
Sadie took the phone from Tony and held it up to her ear. Darcy leaned forward, Clint’s hand coming to rest on her lower back.
“Hello? Is that Connor?” Sadie asked cheerfully. “It’s Sadie Lewis, dear. Why, I’m fine, fine. And you? How you doin’? Coping with this awful dry weather? Oh, I know it.”
Tony practically vibrated on his feet as Sadie chit-chatted and rolled his hands to get Sadie to move along. Phil nudged his shoulder and said quietly, “Don’t rush her. Chit-chat is a southern tradition. It would look suspicious if she didn’t.”
Tony glanced at him and then at Maria and Darcy who were nodding. He rolled his eyes.
“Oh, well, you tell your Aunt Mabel ‘hello’ for me,” Sadie said. “Now, Connor, the reason I called you up, well. If you wouldn’t mind doing me a big ole favor and telling your friend, Mr. Hammer, that I’ve got something on my property that I’m sure he’d really enjoy seeing.”
She waited and a big smile spread across her face. “Oh, Connor, honey, don’t play dumb, it doesn’t suit you. You just tell Mr. Hammer if he’d like to take a gander at what Mr. Stark has been up to, come on by this afternoon. After closing time, if you don’t mind. No need to provide more gossip to that old rumor mill.”
Her smile turned wicked and Darcy felt a little thrill trip up her spine.
“We’ll see you then. Bye now!” Sadie hung up the phone and handed it to Tony.
He took it and regarded her with utter reverence.
“You’re a goddess, Mrs. Lewis and I would very much like to buy you a drink when this is all over,” he said.
“Charmer,” she said smacking his shoulder lightly. “And they’ll be here at four on the dot.”
“Which is in half an hour, so we’d better get things in place,” Steve said. He looked at the rest of the team. “You know what to do.”
Everyone nodded and dispersed, Clint tugging on Darcy’s hair before he went up to the roof.
Darcy watched the last car of satisfied customers leave the parking lot and tried not to feel like she was going to burst from nerves. She hadn’t seen Clint or any of the others since the group had headed off to the battle stations. She saw Jane in the distance, standing in the door way of her lab. Darcy waved and Jane waved back and then disappeared back inside to man her own station.
Sadie and Maria locked up the shop and met Darcy in front of it. Phil and Natasha joined them, both looking minimalistic in their simple black shirts and black jeans. Darcy considered making a joke, but figured it probably wasn’t the best time.
“Here goes something,” Maria said looking around and putting her hands on her hips.
“Ladies, it’s going to be fine,” Tony said appearing from out of nowhere and dusting off his hands. “We’ll get the bad guys figured out and send them on their way and all will be well. Oh, and I fixed your irrigation system.”
“You did?” Sadie asked her eyes going misty and looking utterly touched.
“Said I would,” Tony said awkwardly and not looking anyone in the eyes. “Works better than new and runs off of solar power with a backup generator. It has three settings. Just keep the gears greased and it will last forever.”
“Thank you, Tony,” Sadie said smiling at him and taking his hand. “I mean that, thank you.”
“Hey, it was fun,” he said looking embarrassed. “Seen Cap anywhere?”
A low whistle came from next to the greenhouse.
“Ah, there he is,” Tony squinted at the odd pile of lumber. “Can’t believe he let Thor build another one of those things.”
“What has Dr. Banner been working on?” Maria asked. “Or should I not ask?”
Tony grinned. “It’s probably better to see it in action rather than explain it.”
Another whistle sounded out from the house.
“Someone’s coming,” Phil said, he and Natasha gave each other a glance and then split up.
“Dare I ask?” Sadie said watching Phil go behind the shop.
“Crowd control,” Tony said casually.
“And somehow I’m not reassured,” Darcy said, her nerves spiking as three black SUVs drove up.
“Overkill,” Tony said derisively. “An ostentatious show of force. When will the man learn that less is more?”
“Coming from you that’s a bit rich,” Maria said the instinct to tease Tony overriding any anxiety she might have.
“Yeah, but I do it with class,” Tony said smiling as Connor, another man wearing a gray suit and glasses and a whole bunch of goons in black got out of the SUVs. “Justin! Welcome to Florida! Enjoying your stay?”
“It’s lacking a few of the more metropolitan aspects that I enjoy,” the man in gray suit said with a smug smile. “But the locals more than make up for it.” He grinned at the ladies and Darcy fought the urge to kick him in the balls. “But what are you doing here, Stark? I mean, last I heard, you and that little boy band of yours were on the run. Why Florida?”
“First of all, there’s a woman on the team who could twist you into a pretzel without breaking a sweat and why not Florida?” Tony said smiling and spreading out his arms. “I’ve got time on my hands and it’s got some charming people. So! Let’s turn that question back to you! What are you doing here, Justin?”
Hammer opened his mouth, but Tony interrupted him to say, “It couldn’t have anything to do with all that money you owe to those gentlemen in New York, could it?”
Connor looked sharply at Justin who just laughed nervously and waved a hand at him. “No idea what he’s talking about. Stark, I’m just helping out a friend who’s been having some trouble making some folks see sense.”
Sadie straightened up. “I beg your pardon? Ladies, is he referring to us?”
“You know, I think he is referring to us,” Maria said narrowing her eyes at Hammer.
“And not very nicely,” Darcy said putting her hands on her hips. “You aren’t very nice. We don’t like not nice people.”
“We most certainly don’t,” Sadie said.
Hammer eyed them all and looked a little uneasy.
“They’re a force to be reckoned with,” Tony said happily. He turned to Connor. “You really shouldn’t have called this guy in. You’re way over your head and I suggest you go now.”
Connor eyed Tony and his gaze flickered over to Hammer who didn’t look at him, just nodded once. He shook his head. “I’m staying, Mr. Stark. Do your worst.”
Darcy snorted. Well, his funeral. “Bad decision, dude. Really bad decision.”
“Thanks, Darcy,” Tony said grinning at her. “By the way, remind me to talk to you about a new phone. You’re going to need one for that little road trip of yours.”
Darcy gave him a thumbs up.
“But first!” Tony shook his head. “As you ladies know, you have a conduit straight to the Florida Aquifer in your backyard.”
“We do indeed,” Sadie said.
Tony looked at Connor. “Which you knew too, and it was the main reason for wanting to buy the land. How did you put it, Darcy? ‘Come and get water straight from the source?’” He turned to Hammer and pointed a finger at him. “And you! You need money! What better way than to buy up land that has access to a pretty water source and hold somebody, possibly the government, most definitely land owners and developers, hostage.”
“What?” Connor said furiously turning to Justin.
Hammer shook his head and laughed. “That is…preposterous.”
“It really is,” Maria said sounding disgusted. “It’s kind of the oldest trick in the book. Was that the best you could do?”
“You have,” he waved a hand in the air, “no proof for any of that.”
“Sadly, you’re right,” Tony said sighing. “But, we do have proof of your fellas in black damaging property, attacking the lovely Mrs. Lewis over there, and trying to run Miss Lewis off the road. I’m pretty sure the bits of paint left on Miss Lewis’ truck will match the make of your ride over there.”
“Not to mention a little thing called insurance fraud,” Darcy added. “Companies don’t like it when you mess with their stuff.”
Hammer glared at Tony and then laughed. “Fine! Fine, you want me to admit to my dastardly plans? Okay, I will. It’s why I’m here. Met Connor here and heard about his plans and thought: hey, why the fuck not? I’ve got nothing to lose, so let’s see what I can do in Florida.”
“Jesus,” Connor said taking a step back and looking ill.
Whoa, news to him, Darcy thought. Sucker. Shoulda picked your friends with a bit more care, dumbass.
“I admit it wasn’t the most sterling of plans,” Hammer said, before grinning. “But hey? It led me here and to you. There’s an awful big price on your head.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and rolled on the balls of his feet. “All I need to do is make one little phone call and you are back in the slammer.” He turned to Darcy, Maria, and Sadie. “And then you ladies are arrested for harboring a criminal.”
Darcy actually growled and took a step forward, Maria grabbing her arm at the last minute.
“Feisty, nice,” Hammer said with a smirk. “But, naturally, it doesn’t have to go that way. You can always just sign on that little dotted line and we’ll get out of your hair. Or well, you’ll get out of our hair. And we’ll even pay you to do it.”
“Not a chance in Hades,” Sadie said her drawl and derision coming through. “You just try it you low-class, unimaginative hack.”
“Exactly how I’d put it,” Tony said. “I wouldn’t go calling the cops. They aren’t going to come.”
“How do you know?” Connor asked.
Tony looked taken aback. “I know everything.”
“You really don’t do subtle, do you?” Darcy asked.
“Too boring,” Tony said. “Look, gentlemen. Give it up. We don’t want to make you cry like babies.”
Hammer made a movement with his hand and one of the goons took a step forward. An arrow appeared out of nowhere, thudding into the ground in front of him. He jumped back.
Darcy’s eye widened and she grinned. “Oh, this is going to be way more fun than it should be.”
“Don’t do this, Justin,” Tony said seriously. “I outnumber you. I outsmart you. I out-pretty much everything-you. Go home. Work for the mob if you need money quick. They’re not as bad as you hear. Or hey, the government is always looking for a few good men, but don’t mess with us.”
“Sorry, Stark,” Hammer said. “Your head is worth more than I could make in a year and there are a lot of people out there who’d like it on a platter, so…”
He stepped back and gestured at his men to move forward. Darcy and her family moved back and Tony yelled, “Now!”
A yell came from near the greenhouse and a loud creak was heard, before a massive pile of compost hit three of the goons, causing them to cry out and fall back onto their SUV. It didn’t take them long to figure out that once the stuff was on them, they were stuck. Literally. As in they couldn’t move.
“Bruce is a freakin’ genius,” Maria said gripping Darcy’s arm tightly.
“Tell me about it,” Darcy cried grinning and watching the goons try to break free of the quickly solidifying compost mixture.
Phil and Natasha came out of nowhere and immediately disarmed and took out another four guys. Clint’s arrows kept coming and he pinned two guys to the SUV by their clothes.
Another yell came and a second barrage of compost hit the remaining guys; followed by another and another, until all the goons were knee deep in solid compost.
“It’s all natural,” Darcy yelled at them. “So you don’t need to worry about anything bad for you.”
Maria laughed and Darcy looped her arm with hers and watched as Connor ran back to his car, only to be stopped by two of Clint’s arrows pinning his arm to the car door by his jacket, followed by a pile of sticky compost.
“Shit!” Connor looked at Sadie. “Mrs. Lewis, I promise you, I had no idea this man was planning on using your land that way. I only wanted you to sell it so I could build on it.”
“I know, dear,” Sadie said sounding genuinely sorry for him. “But you still brought him in and let him hurt my property and try to hurt my family.” She shook her head. “We’re going to let the law deal with this, son. I’m sorry.”
Connor closed his eyes and slumped against the door, his head thudding on the window.
Hammer looked around at his men in various states of injury and glared at Tony; who just shrugged.
“I told you not to mess with us,” he said. He checked his watch. “And I do believe the cavalry will arriving momentarily, so we’ll vamoose and let them deal with you. Toodles!”
He turned to the ladies and smiled. “Ladies, it was a genuine pleasure and let me know if that irrigation system ever gives you any trouble.” He winked at Darcy. “You, I’ll be talking to. Soon.”
“Thanks, Tony,” she said while Maria held out a hand for him to shake. He gave Maria’s hand a smacking loud kiss and when Sadie gave him a hug that he returned it by picking her up off her feet.
The rest of the Avengers appeared one by one, Steve giving Darcy a big grin and getting a kiss on the cheek from Sadie. Natasha gave her a solemn nod and wink while Phil stood nearby, determinedly not looking at her. (Ouch, Darcy thought absently. Phil’s going to need pie after this.)
A familiar blue Cadillac pulled up and everyone looked over at Val as she got out. She eyed Hammer and Connor before shaking her head. Then she walked over to the group.
“I’m glad I caught you,” she said looked around the yard and then at Sadie. “I take it things have worked out?”
“Of course. They’re good people,” Sadie said, she checked her watch. “But they don’t have much time, Val.”
“I know.” Val sighed and then handed a flash drive to Steve. “This is for you.”
“What is it?” he asked taking the flash drive with a curious look.
“It’s everything that Commander Fury managed to send me before the end,” she said. She held up a hand when everyone exploded. “Wait. The only reason I didn’t hand this over when you went on trial was because of the note Nick sent with it.”
“He suspected the others, didn’t he?” Phil asked. “The council. He suspected that the team might be compromised and used for the wrong purposes.”
“But why?” Thor asked, his handsome face hard and hurt. “Why would they betray us like that?”
“I don’t know,” Tony said fiercely staring at the flash drive in Steve’s. “But I’m going to find out.” Natasha cleared her throat. He rolled his eyes. “We’re going to find out.” He looked at Darcy and pointed at her. “And she’s going to keep us busy and make sure we’ve got fans, aren’t you?”
“I love a good project,” she said shrugging her shoulders. “Just be ready to get your hands dirty again.”
“My favorite thing to do,” Tony said. “Let’s go, people. Big guys with guns are coming!”
She looked around for Clint as she heard Maria tell Bruce to send over as many ideas for the flower beds as he wanted.
Darcy finally spotted Clint and his duffle bag come around the side of the house.
She ran towards him and he grinned as she launched herself at him. He caught her and spun her around.
“Nice shooting,” she said breathlessly, her hands framing her face. “That was so cool. Think you can teach me how to do that sometime?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I can,” he said kissing her, his tongue sweeping into her mouth; her heart raced and her stomach fluttered. “Be seeing you?”
“Count on it, Hawkeye,” she said smiling and kissing him hard, putting everything she had into it. He groaned and kissed her back just as hard.
“God, I don’t want to leave you,” he said pressing his forehead to hers.
Darcy’s eyes stung with tears. She still couldn’t believe that it was over, they’d nailed the bad guys, and now he was leaving. “I know. Me neither,” she said. “Kiss me again.”
She did her best to catalog the feel of his hand on her face, the heat of his body against hers, and the scent and taste of him.
“Hawkeye! Gotta go!” Steve called out.
“Darcy,” he said looking torn as he pulled back and set her down on her feet.
“It’s going to be fine,” she said firmly, knowing that it would be and feeling it deep inside. “Just you wait.”
He nodded and kissed her quickly, then headed towards his old clunker, Steve already in the passenger seat.
Darcy waved and caught sight of Thor finishing off what looked like it had been an epic kiss with Jane. Jane was smiling and pushed at him a little to send him on his way, her face beet-red and her eyes shining.
Darcy stood looking down the road watching them leave, ignoring the sounds of Connor and Hammer bickering behind her. A sharp word from Val soon had them both shutting up. Sadie came up and slipped her arms over her shoulders.
“You’ll be seeing him soon,” she said her voice a comfort in Darcy's ear. “My brave girl, off to right some wrongs.”
“Oh, I know,” Darcy said around the lump in her throat. “Never really liked saying good-bye is all.”
“I know, honey,” Sadie said squeezing her tight.
They were still staring down the road when a convoy of military jeeps pulled up.
“Hi, Captain Carter!” Darcy said cheerfully and waving. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“It most certainly is,” Peggy said with a wry smile. She eyed the men covered in compost. “Dissatisfied customers?”
“Bite your tongue,” Sadie said. “Our customers are always happy with their purchases. These gentlemen are for you.”
“Oh?” Peggy said looking interested.
“You’ve got at least two counts of property damage, one count of bodily harm and one shiny slice of computer fraud,” Val said walking over. She smiled. “Captain.”
“Ma’am,” Peggy said with a nod. “Looks like I’m going to be busy for the next few days.”
“Hope it won’t take you away from anything terribly important?” Sadie asked.
Peggy smiled. “No, I shouldn’t think so. I’ve got time.”
Darcy grinned and hugged her grandmother even tighter.
“He sent you what?” Darcy asked Jane over the phone.
“He sent me a set of miniature apple trees that his family cultivates,” Jane said, her happiness and disbelief obvious in her voice. “You know, because I work with small stuff.”
“Thor does realize that apples don’t grow so well in Florida?” Darcy asked leaning against her slightly used Ford pickup truck.
“Yeah, but I can work with that,” Jane said. She lowered her voice. “I’m thinking of coming out there to meet up with you guys. New Mexico has some amazing stuff going on. In terms of crop genetics, of course.”
“Oh, of course. And yes. Come,” Darcy said. “You, Natasha, and I can drink tequila and watch the boys do heavy-lifting. It’ll be awesome.”
Jane snickered. “Oh, when you see Bruce, tell him thank you for the sketches.”
“For the fall displays in the flower beds,” Jane clarified. “They look really good and Maria’s already started planting.”
“Ooh, send pics, dude,” Darcy said.
“Naturally,” Jane said. Darcy heard a loud beep in the background. “Oh, that’s my program done. Talk to you later!”
“Give my love to everyone!” Darcy said.
She hung up and tapped a note onto her Stark Industries Exclusive phone, courtesy of one Pepper Potts, then closed her eyes and tilted her head back in the sun. The dry New Mexico breeze fluttered the hem of her dress around her knees as she waited near the bus station in the middle of nowhere.
Her eyes opened when she heard the rumble of a Greyhound bus. It came to a creaking stop and people started to exit the bus. An exhausted family of four got out, dragging their backpacks behind them, followed by a couple of elderly couples and some students.
Then Clint stepped out, his face sliding into a grin as he sauntered over to her.
“Hey,” he said dropping his duffle bag on the ground and pulling her into his arms. Darcy pressed her face into the junction of his neck and shoulders and kissed his skin, breathing in deep.
“Hey yourself, Hawkeye,” Darcy said, pulling her head back and meeting his eyes. “How’s it going?”
“Better now,” he said before lowering his head and kissing her. She pulled him closer and kissed him back, the kiss quickly turning intense and just shy of dirty.
“How was Colorado?” she managed when they came up for air.
“Too many trees and mountains and dumb, bad guys,” he said running his hands down her sides and lifting her up to press her against the side of her truck, her legs hooking around his hips and her skirt sliding up.
“Yeah, I heard all it took was Thor doing his looming thing to get them to scatter,” Darcy said looping her arms around his neck.
“Pretty much,” he said with a shrug. “But I got a chance to re-build a log cabin. That was cool.”
“My very own Bob Vila,” she said kissing the tip of his nose.
“You want me to grow a beard?” he asked.
“Naw,” she said nuzzling the side of his face, shivering at the feel of his stubble scraping against her cheek. “I like you all fresh-faced.”
He snorted. “So, where are we going and do I have time to get you naked before we get there?”
“Well, to answer the first part of your question,” she said. “We’re going to a town a little north of here that needs some big, strong people to scare off some oil prospectors from drilling into their heritage center.”
Clint smirked. “Admit it. You wanted to take this job so you could say that you took a left at Albuquerque.”
“A girl’s gotta have her priorities,” Darcy said shifting her hips and making him moan. “Oh, and in answer to the second part of the question?”
She put her mouth next to his ear. “We’re not due there until tomorrow afternoon and guess who’s booked a room in a motel fifteen minutes from here?”
He looked deep into her eyes and said, “That sounds like a plan.”
Darcy grinned. “I do like it when they come together.”