And the three of them walked out the door and around the block.
Mallory went home. She parked, watered Mrs. Tyler’s flowers, her grandma’s flowers, and then unlocked her front door. She glanced at the little foyer desk—as she had every time since Ty had shown her a whole new use for it—and sighed. There was chocolate cake in her immediate future. If she wasn’t going to have wild, high-calorie-burning sex, she was going to have to resort to some exercise.
“I hear you.” She fed Sweet Pea and then changed, forcing herself to the pier for a run.
The quarter of a mile down to the end nearly killed her so she walked back, holding the stitch in her side. When she came up on the ice cream stand, she slowed even more. Lance wasn’t working today but his older brother Tucker was.
“Hey Cutie,” Tucker called out. “I’ve got a chocolate double with your name on it. Literally. We just created a new list of specials. Number one is The Good Girl Gone Bad.”
She gave him a long, dark look and he laughed. “Come on,” he said. “It’s funny.”
Maybe to someone whose name wasn’t Mallory Quinn.
More than her next breath. “No.”
He leaned out the window, all lean, easy grace as he took in her sweaty appearance. “Wow, turning down ice cream. And you’re running.” His smile spread. “You’re on a diet, aren’t you?”
She blew out a breath. “Just trying to get some exercise and be healthy.”
“You look good to me,” he said.
Aw. That was nice. She was thinking maybe he’d be a nice addition to the Mr. Wrong list, but then he said, “And whatshisface should tell you that in every attic he gets you into.”
“Okay, first of all, it’s a storage area!” And dammit. She was going to have to move. She went back to running. Without her ice cream.
It was the hardest thing she’d ever done.
She went home and glared at her foyer desk. “Somehow,” she told it, “this is your fault.”
The table had nothing to say in its defense.
“Fine. It’s not your fault. It’s Ty’s.” Her body ached for him, but it was more than that. Her mind ached for him, too.
Shaking her head at herself, she showered, got caught up in a Charmed season six marathon, and then headed over to Eat Me at the appointed time for a meeting of the Chocoholics.
As she entered Eat Me, the comforting sounds of people talking and laughing washed over her, as did scents of foods that made her stomach growl.
She’d skipped dinner. Tonight was very different from their first impromptu meeting. For one, there was no storm. It was fifty degrees outside, clear, and the air was scented with late spring.
For another, it wasn’t midnight so the place wasn’t deserted. She slipped onto the stool next to Grace and eyed the empty spot in front of her. “You refraining tonight?”
“Waiting on you.”
Amy appeared, holding a cake and three forks.
Mallory grabbed one and dug in, guilt free since she’d run.
“No less than five customers have already tried to buy this cake,” Amy said. “So you are welcome.” She had to come and go at first as the diner emptied out. Then she stood on her side of the counter inhaling her third of the small cake. “God,” she said on a moan. “Heaven on earth.”
“Amazing,” Grace admitted.
Mallory couldn’t speak. She was too busy stuffing her face.
Amy swallowed and licked chocolate off her lips. “I’m calling this meeting to order. Mallory, you’re first up.”
“Nope. Not my turn.”
“We’ve told you, you’re first until we fix you.” Grace smiled. “So spill. Tell us all.”
Mallory sighed. “I’d rather talk about Amy and Sexy Forest Ranger Matt.”
Grace went brows up at this and looked at Amy. “You putting out forest fires with that hot ranger who keeps coming in here for pie?”
“We have good pie,” Amy said.
“There’s all kinds of pie,” Grace said.
Mallory nearly snorted cake out her nose, and Amy gave her a dirty look.
“This is not about me,” she said haughtily and pointed her fork at Mallory.
Mallory stuffed in some cake.
“Uh oh,” Grace said. “I’m sensing some slow down in Mission: Bad Girl.”
“I wore the shoes,” Mallory said. “And it was fun.”
“Um, honey, from all accounts, you had more than some fun,” Grace said, licking her fork.
“FB.” Grace turned to Amy. “And thanks for the Facebook tip, by the way. It’s a little addictive.”
“You can’t believe everything you read on there.” Mallory sank onto her stool a little bit. “It’s only a small percentage of the truth.”
“Is that right?” Grace asked. “So what percentage of that picture with you and Ty looking cozy would you say is the truth?”
Mallory blew out a sigh and stabbed into the cake for another big bite. “We weren’t…cozy. Then.”
Grace grinned. “He’s got that look. That big, sexy, I-know-how-to-please-a-woman-in-bed look.”
Mallory propped up her head with her hand. With her other, she shoveled in more cake. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Yeah, but see, we do,” Amy said.
“I broke it off,” Mallory said and sighed when they gasped. “I told you, I’m not hard-wired for this bad girl stuff. Every time we were together I would find myself…” She closed her eyes. “Falling.”
Grace reached for her hand and squeezed it.
Amy pushed the cake closer to Mallory.
“Thanks.” Mallory shook her head. “I couldn’t keep things light. He’s just…” She sighed. “Too yummy.”
“He was swimming the other day,” Grace said. “In the ocean. I was sitting on the beach pouting after spending gas money to get to Seattle for interviews that went nowhere. Anyway, he swam for like two hours straight. Didn’t know anyone but a Navy SEAL could do that. Did you know a Navy SEAL can find or hunt down anyone or anything?”
“So?” Amy said.
“So, I bet a guy like that could locate a clit without any problems.”
Both Amy and Grace looked at Mallory expectantly. Mallory choked on her cake, and was still choking when someone came up behind her and patted her on the back.
She knew that touch. Intimately. Whipping around, she came face to face with Ty. Her heart clutched at the sight of him. Traitorous heart. And she couldn’t help but wonder, had he been a SEAL? It made perfect sense. He’d sure had absolutely no problem finding her clit…
His gaze met hers for an unfathomably long beat, and as always, just at the sight of him, she got a little thrill. And also as always, he looked bigger than life, and a whole lot more than she could handle. But there was something different about him tonight. Tonight he seemed weary and a little rough around the edges, and her heart clenched again.
God, she’d missed him.
She didn’t understand it, but he’d never looked more appealing. Or real. She wanted to take his hand in hers and kiss away his problems. Hold him.
She wanted to hold a caged lion.
It made no sense but it was the truth. She knew he was leaving, and he’d be taking a big piece of her heart along with him when he did, but that was a done deal. She also knew something else—that she wanted whatever he had to give her in the meantime. Because with him, she wasn’t a caretaker. She wasn’t a sister. She wasn’t thinking, planning, overseeing.
She was just Mallory. And she felt…alive. So damn alive.
His eyes smiled. He touched the corner of her upper lip, then sucked on his finger. “Mmm,” he said. “Chocolate.”
Amy’s jaw dropped open. Grace fanned herself. Ty looked at them, and they suddenly got very busy. Though Amy did give Mallory a “see, meeting interrupted again” look before she went off to serve a customer, and Grace remembered something she had to go do.
Which didn’t stop everyone else in the diner from staring at them. “Oh good Lord,” Mallory said. “Come on.” She took the caged lion’s hand and led him outside.
The stars were out in force tonight, like scattered diamonds on the night sky. The waves crashed up against the shore. They walked along the pier, past the dark arcade and the closed ice cream shop. Past everything until there was nothing but empty pier ahead and the black ocean. There Mallory stopped and leaned over the railing. “I’m sorry about the other day,” she said quietly, facing the water. “I mean, I started this thing between us. I laid out the rules. So I had no right to change them on you without saying so, and then hold it against you.”
He didn’t say anything, and she turned to him, searching his impassive face, hoping to see understanding. Forgiveness. Or at the very least, a sign that he understood.
She got none of that, and her heart sank.
After a minute, he mirrored her pose, leaning on the railing to stare out at the water. “I grew up with military parents,” he said. “I went into the military. And when I got out, I went to work for a private contractor to the government, doing…more military-like work. It’s my job, it’s my life. It’s who I am.”
She nodded. “I know.”
“It requires things of me,” he said. “Being alone, being the protector, keeping myself protected.” He lifted a shoulder. “I don’t know how to be anyone else.”
“I don’t want you to be anyone else, Ty. Ever. I like who you are.”
He was quiet, absorbing that. “Frances is my boss. She’s…proprietary.”
To say the least. But he wasn’t giving her all of it. “You’ve been with her. Sexually.”
“Yes,” he said, bluntly honest as always. “Before I worked for her, a very long time ago. It’s over.”