Page 28

Author: Jill Shalvis

It was too early for the lunch crowd so they had the place to themselves, except for a janitor working his way across the floor with a mop.

“Smells like a mess hall,” Ty said.

“I bet the food was better at mess hall.”

“I bet not.”

He was sitting close, his warm thigh against hers beneath the table. He wore jeans that were battered to a velvety softness and a midnight blue button-down with the sleeves shoved up to his elbows.

He looked edible.

And she was afraid he was here to tell her his time was up, that he was leaving. “You want anything?” she asked. “Coffee? Tea? Pancakes?” Me…“They have great pancakes—”

“Nothing. Mallory—”

“A sandwich,” she said desperately. “How about a sandwich? Hell, I could use a sandwich myself.” She hopped up, but he grabbed her wrist.

Fine. She could handle this, whatever this was, and slowly sat back down, braced for a good-bye. Dammit.

He was looking at her in that way he had, steady, calm. “You okay? You seem jumpy.”

“Just say it,” she said. “Say good-bye already. I can’t imagine it’s that hard for you.”

His brows went up. “You think I’m here to say good-bye? And that it wouldn’t be hard for me to do?”

“Would it?”

He stared at her, his eyes fathomless, giving nothing away. “I’m not here to say good-bye. Not yet anyway.”

“Oh.” She nodded, knowing she should be relieved, but she wasn’t. Tension had gripped her in its hard fist, and she let out a slow, purposeful breath. “I think I need a favor from you, Ty. When it is time to go, I want you to just do it. Don’t say good-bye. Just go.”

“You want me to just leave without a word.”

“Yes.” Her throat was tight. Her heart was tight too. “That would be best, I think.” She stood and started to walk away.

“I wanted to apologize for last night,” he said, catching her hand. “I was an ass.”

She softened, and with a gentle squeeze of his fingers, sank back into her chair. “Well, maybe ass is a bit harsh. I was thinking more along the lines of a scared-y cat.”

He let out a rough laugh. “Yeah. That too.”

“I understand, you know.”

“You shouldn’t,” he said.

“Why? Because I’ve never faced anything that haunts me?”

His gaze never left hers. “I’m sorry about Karen,” he said. “And you’re right. You’re stronger than anyone I know. But I meant you shouldn’t understand, because you deserve better from me.”

Before she could respond to that, the elevator music being piped into the dining area cut off and was replaced by an authoritative male voice. “Code Red.”

Mallory jumped up. Code Red meant there was a fire, and personnel were to report in immediately. Today was a scheduled drill but she’d expected it later in the day. “You’re either about to be evacuated,” she told Ty, “or it’s going to be a few minutes before you can leave.” She slapped her employee card on the table. “When the drill’s over, help yourself to something to eat.”

“Code Red,” the voice repeated. “All personnel respond immediately. Code Red. Repeat, Code Red.”

Her life had great timing.

Chapter 14

When the going gets tough, the tough eat chocolate.

With the hospital in temporary lockdown, Ty leaned back and waited. From where he sat, he could see out the cafeteria and across the reception area to the front door of the hospital. In less than four minutes, firefighters and other emergency personnel came pouring in.

A drill, he thought, since no one was being evacuated. Ten minutes later, the hospital employees reappeared, though Mallory didn’t.

“You want something to eat?” the cook called out to Ty.

He realized he was starving. He stood and walked over to the cook’s station and eyed all the various ingredients. A few more people came in behind him. Two women in scrubs took one look at him and began whispering between themselves.

“Quesadilla?” the cook asked. “Or maybe a grilled turkey and cheese? A burger? I have a hell of a Cobb salad today, but that’s not going to fill up a big guy like you.”

“Burger,” Ty decided. If the plane crash hadn’t killed him, or the second-story jump, then a little cholesterol couldn’t touch him.

The women behind him were still murmuring. “In the Vets’ Hall,” one of them whispered, “where anyone could have seen them.”

“How do you know that?” the other whispered back.

“Sheryl told Cissy who told Gail. It’s really unlike her. I mean, you’d expect it of any of the other Quinns but not her…”

The cook slid Ty an apologetic glance as she flipped his burger. “Cheese?”

He nodded.

The whispers continued. “…thought she’d be more careful with her image, what with the HSC at stake and all. She’s still short a lot of money and needs everyone’s support.”

“Do you think they did it in one of the closets here?”

Ty had never given a shit about image, and he didn’t think Mallory did either, but this was really pissing him off. He turned to face the two nosy old bats.

They both gasped and immediately busied themselves with their trays. He stared at them long and hard, but neither of them spoke.

So he did. “Mind your own business.”

They didn’t make eye contact and he turned back to the cook, who handed him his plate. She gestured to the card he still held in his hand, the one Mallory had left him. “Just swipe it,” she said, indicating the machine alongside the register. “Mallory’s card will get you anything you want on her account. Should I add a drink? Chips?”

Mallory had given him her employee pass. She was still trying to take care of him. He wasn’t used to that. Shaking his head, he pulled out cash.


He gave the cook a look that had her quickly making his change. Extremely aware of the two women behind him boring holes in his back with their beady eyes, he took his burger and headed back to his table.

The two women bought their food and walked past him, giving him several long side glances that told him that all he’d done was make things worse.

And what the hell did he think he was doing anyway, messing around in Mallory’s life? He was leaving soon but Lucky Harbor was her home, her world. He ate, feeling confused and uncertain, two entirely foreign emotions for him. He’d actually believed that he was the one giving here, that he was the experienced one imparting a little wildness and the dubious honor of his worldly ways. How fucking magnanimous of him.

Especially since the truth was that Mallory had done all the giving, completely schooling him in warmth, compassion, and strength. In the process, with nothing more than her soft voice and a backbone of steel, she’d wrapped him around her pinkie.

Christ, he really was such an asshole. He cleared his plate and headed out, slowing at the front entrance. There was a box there, similar to a mailbox where people could drop donations for the Health Services Clinic. He’d given money for the Vets’ program, which wouldn’t help if Mallory couldn’t get the support for the HSC to remain open. He stared at the box and knew exactly what he was going to do to give back to the woman who’d given him so much.

On Mallory’s drive home, she stopped at Eat Me. Grace had sent a text that said there was an emergency.

Mallory went running in and found Grace and Amy waiting for her with a box.

A shoe box.

“Bad girl shoes,” Amy said, pushing the box toward her. “Happy birthday.”

“My birthday was last month.”

“Merry early Christmas.”

“Oh no,” Mallory said. “These meetings are always about me. It’s one of you guys’ turns.”

“Nope,” Grace said. “We can only concentrate on one of us at a time.”

“Then let it be Amy,” Mallory said.

“Yeah,” Jan said from where she was watching TV at the other end of the counter. “She’s screwed up. She’s got that big, sexy, forest ranger sniffing around her, and all she does is give him dirty looks.”

“Hey,” Amy said. “That is none of your business.”

Jan cackled.

“Not talking about it,” Amy said firmly, and nudged the shoe box toward Mallory again.

Because they both looked so excited, Mallory relented and opened the box to find a beautiful pair of black, strappy, four-inch heels that were dainty and flirty and pretty much screamed sex. “Oh,” she breathed and kicked off the athletic shoes she’d worked in all day, replacing them with the heels.

Two counter stools over, Mr. Wykowski put a hand to his chest and said “wow.”

“Heart pains?” Mallory asked in concern, rushing over there in her scrubs and bad girl heels.

“No,” he said. “Not heart pains.”

“Where does it hurt?”

He was staring at her heels. “Considerably lower.”

Amy snorted. Mallory went back to her stool.

Grace was grinning. “See? Use them wisely. They have the power.”


“Bad girl power,” Amy said. “Go forth and be bad.”

The next day Ty brought Ryan dinner. Ryan was living in a halfway house outside of town, in a place that Mallory had arranged for him to stay in through HSC.

It was infinitely better, and safer, than living on the streets.

After they ate, Ryan asked Ty for a ride, directing him to HSC.

“What’s up here tonight?” Ty asked.

“A meeting.”

The sign on the front door explained what kind of meeting:


Someone had attached a sticky note that said: EMPHASIS ON THE A, PEOPLE!

Ty didn’t know whether to be amused that only in Lucky Harbor would the extra note be necessary, or appalled that the town was trusted with the anonymous at all.