“I feel all better,” Ty said, lying through his teeth. After this morning’s exercise, he hurt like hell.
Not fooled, Josh gave him a long look.
“I’m good for light duty.”
“Uh huh.” Josh leaned back in his chair and studied him. “Lighter duty than what, rappelling out of helicopters, rescuing dignitaries, etcetera?”
This was the problem with having your boss put you on leave until you were medically cleared. Thanks to Frances, Josh knew far too much about him. Ty blew out a breath. It wasn’t Josh’s fault. He was a good guy, and under different circumstances, would even be considered a friend.
If Ty had friends. He didn’t. He’d let his friends die on a mountaintop four years ago.
So what was Matt, a pesky little voice asked. Or Mallory? Accidents, he decided.
“Look,” Josh said, leaning forward, “you want out of here. I get that. You’re getting closer. But let’s give it another week, okay?”
Another fucking week. But reacting badly wasn’t going to help him. He’d use the week to finish Matt’s Jimmy. And the Shelby. He couldn’t leave without the Shelby. “Fine. But you tell her.”
“Frances?” Josh smiled grimly. “Gladly.”
When Ty got back to the house, his phone was blinking missed calls. He deleted them without a glance, then went to work on Matt’s Jimmy. Later he switched to his real love, the Shelby, stopping to look up some parts on the Internet. There he got distracted by an e-mail from Matt with a link.
He’d been tagged on Facebook. In fact, on the Lucky Harbor page there was an entire note on him, listing sightings and news. They called him Mysterious Cute Guy.
It was enough to give a guy nightmares.
Except he was already having nightmares…
He waited until hunger stopped him and drove into town. Lucky Harbor was nestled in a rocky cove, its architecture a quirky, eclectic mix of the old and new. The main drag was lined with Victorian buildings painted in bright colors, housing the requisite grocery store, post office, gas station, and hardware store. Then there was a turnoff to the beach itself, where a long pier jutted out into the water, lined with more shops, the arcade and Ferris wheel, and the diner.
Eat Me was like something from an out-of-time Mayberry, except in Mayberry he’d probably not have gotten laid at Vets’ Hall, in a storage attic above the entire town.
Noticing the brand new front door, he entered the diner and took a seat at the counter. Amy silently poured him a mug of coffee. This was routine; they’d been doing the same dance for months, rarely speaking. He really appreciated that in a waitress, and he liked her infinitely more than the eternally grumpy diner owner. Jan scared him, just a little bit.
Then Amy dropped the local paper in front of him and cocked a hip tableside.
Ty slowly pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head and gave her a level look. Her return look had bad attitude all over it. She wore a black tee with some Chinese symbol on the front and the requisite frilly pink apron that looked incongruous with her short denim skirt, boots, and general kick-ass attitude. She gestured with a short jerk of her chin to the paper, and he took a look.
The headline read: COUNTY HOSPITAL’S AUCTION—A HUGE SUCCESS.
So far so good, he thought, then read the first paragraph, which credited the success of the auction to the nurses, specifically Mallory Quinn, who along with her new boyfriend had gotten the entire Vets’ Hall on its feet by starting off the bidding with a bang.
Ty reread the article. New boyfriend? Mysterious Cute Guy? He graced Amy with his no-nonsense, don’t-fuck-with-me look. It had cowed many.
But Amy didn’t appear impressed or even particularly intimidated.
He set down the paper and pushed it away.
She pushed it back with a single finger.
“Do you have a point?” he asked.
“Several, actually. First, Mallory’s my friend. And I recently encouraged her to make a change in her life. You were that change. Don’t make me sorry.”
Ty wasn’t much used to threats, however sweetly uttered. Never had been. He’d been raised by two military parents who’d taken turns parenting him when one or the other had been on tour overseas. He’d been loved, but weaknesses had not been tolerated. Even his current job added up to a life lived by rules, discipline, sheer wits, and honor.
The honor part was troubling him now.
Somehow in spite of himself and his reclusiveness, he’d managed to find celebrity status in this crazy-ass, one-horse town, and even worse, there was Mallory, wanting him to take her for a walk on the wild side.
He’d done it anyway, fallen captive to those melted chocolate eyes, even knowing he planned on being out of Lucky Harbor any minute now. “She’s a big girl,” he finally said.
Amy stared at him for a long moment, then shook her head and walked away, muttering something beneath her breath about the entire male race being genetically flawed.
Ty was inclined to agree with her. He paid for his coffee and received another long, careful look from Amy.
As to whether he was going to heed the warning, the jury was still out. He went straight back to his big, empty house. Cranking the music to ear-splitting levels, he worked on the Shelby. He’d seen the car in the newspaper on his first day in Lucky Harbor had hadn’t been able to resist her.
He’d never been able to resist a sweetheart of a car.
Or, apparently, a sweetheart of a woman…
Mallory sat in a hospital board meeting surrounded by a bunch of administrators that included her boss and her mother, in what should have been the meeting of her life. Instead, her mind was a million miles away. Or more accurately, in a certain storage room.
Memories of that storage room, and what Ty had done to her in it, were making her warm. Very warm.
She still couldn’t believe how fast she’d gotten naked with him.
Well, not quite naked, she reminded herself. She’d been in such a hurry that she hadn’t even lost her panties, not completely.
Ty had simply slipped them aside with his fingers.
Just remembering made her damp all over again. God. She’d never gone up in flames so hard and fast in her entire life.
He’d taken her to heaven in seven minutes. A record for her. And she’d do it again, in a heartbeat.
That is, if the man who’d taken her to heaven hadn’t vanished from the auction without a word. That should teach her to have completely inappropriate sex with a man whose name she’d learned only twenty minutes earlier.
But all it’d really taught her was that she’d been missing out. Man, had she been missing out. Worse, she knew the magnitude of her attraction for him now, and she was afraid that the next time she saw him, she was going to shove him into the nearest closet for round two.
And round three.
Mallory took a moment to fantasize about that, about what she’d be wearing the next time. Maybe her little black dress again; he’d seemed to really like it. And maybe next time she’d leave the panties at home—
She blinked away the vision of Ty and her panties and came face to face with a not amused Jane.
“The amount?” Jane asked in a tone that said she’d repeated herself several times already.
“Eighteen thousand.” Mallory looked down at the check in her hands, a check she was incredibly proud of—the total of the proceeds from the auction. “You said the board would donate twenty-five percent of it to the Health Services Clinic.”
“There isn’t an HSC,” Jane said. “Not yet.”
Mallory bit back her retort, knowing better than to show weakness. “There will be. We’ve proven need.”
“Have we?” Jane asked.
“Yes.” Mallory forced herself to look the other board members in the eyes as she spoke, no matter how resistant they were. Dr. Scott was there, rumpled and gorgeous as usual. His eyes warmed when he met her gaze. No one else made eye contact. She took a big gulp of air. “The need is obvious. There’s nowhere else in the entire county providing drug programs, teen pregnancy counseling, women’s services, or an abuse hotline. We all know that. The ER is losing money because we’re taking on patients who’d be better served by a Health Clinic.”
“You mean people who can’t, or won’t, pay.” This from Bill Lawson, head of the board of directors. He was tall, lean, and fit, looking forty instead of his fifty-five. He had sharp eyes, a sharper mind, and was all about the bottom line. Always. He was listening though, and Mallory appreciated that. This was important to her, had been since Karen had died because she’d had no place to go and get the services she’d so desperately needed.
People rarely talked about Karen and what had happened to her. But Mallory hadn’t forgotten a thing, and she intended to make sure that no other scared eighteen-year-old girl ever felt the helplessness and terror that Karen had.
“We’ve run the numbers,” she said, talking directly to Bill now. The hospital, just outside of Lucky Harbor, serviced the entire county but was private, run by a board of directors who all tended to bow to Bill’s wishes. She needed his support. “A Health Services Clinic is eligible for programs and funding that the ER isn’t. I’ve written the grant requests. If you go with my proposed plan and allow use of the old west wing, then one hundred percent of the HSC revenue will go right back into the hospital’s pockets.”
“It would also mean that the full financial responsibility for the Health Services Clinic would be the hospital’s,” Bill pointed out.
He already knew this. He just didn’t like it. “Yes,” she agreed. “But with the grants and donations, HSC will run in the black, and in the long run, it’ll save your ER losses. We’ve got most of the first year’s funds already.”
“You’re short ten big ones.”
“True, but I won’t stop until we have the rest,” she promised. “This makes sense for our community, Bill, and it’s the right thing to do.” She paused, then admitted the rest. “I’m going to be a pain in your ass over this.”