He couldn’t. Staying would be a mistake. “Mallory—”
She covered his mouth with her fingers, then took his hand in hers, drawing him back into her bedroom and into her bed, and into her warm, soft heart.
Exercise is a dirty word. Every time I hear it
I wash my mouth out with chocolate.
The next day Ty and Matt spent time in the gym, then Matt went home with Ty to pick up the Jimmy. Matt took one look around the cleaned-up garage. “You’re leaving.”
“Always was.” Ty held out the Jimmy’s keys but Matt didn’t take them.
“The lease on this place is paid up until summer,” Ty said. “Use it if you want. And I want you to take the tools.”
“I’ll keep them for you. You’ll be back.”
Ty looked at him, and Matt shook his head. “Christ,” he said on a disgusted sigh. “Tell me you’re not just going to vanish on her and not come back at all. You’re not that big a dick, right?”
“You want to test drive this thing or what?”
“So you are that big a dick.”
“Look, she made me promise not to say good-bye.”
“And you believed her?” Matt asked. “Shit, and I thought I was stupid with women.”
“You are.” Ty tossed him the keys at him, leaving Matt no choice but to catch them.
They took the Jimmy out on a test drive. Matt drove like a guy who knew the roads intimately, down-shifting into the hairpin turns, accelerating out of them. He took them along a two-lane, narrow, curvy highway that led almost straight up. On either side were steep, unforgiving, isolated peaks, so lush—thanks to a wet spring—that they resembled a South American rainforest.
When the road ended, Matt cranked the Jimmy into four-wheel drive and kept going, making his own trail.
“You know where you’re headed, City Boy?” Ty asked.
Matt sent him a long look. “What, you think you can find your way around these mountains?”
“I could find my way around on Mars,” Ty assured him. “Though if you get us dead out here, I’ll follow you to the depths of hell and kill you again.”
“Told you, not everyone’s going to die on you. I’m sure as hell not.”
“See that you don’t.”
Matt drove on, until eventually they came to a plateau. The three-hundred-and-sixty degree vista was staggering. The jagged mountain peaks were still tipped in white. The lower ranges were covered in a thick blanket of green. And to their immediate west, the Pacific shimmered brilliantly.
“Beaut Point,” Matt said.
The plateau was about the size of a football field, giving a very decent view of the ocean smashing into a valley of rocks hundreds of feet below. “Good spot,” Ty said.
“I chase a lot of stupid teenagers off this ledge. They come four-wheeling up here in daddy’s truck to get laid. Then the geniuses get lost, and I end up having to save their miserable asses.”
“Beats scooping gangbangers off the streets of Chicago any day of the week,” Matt agreed. “And I imagine it’s also a hell of a lot more fun than Afghanistan or Iraq this time of year.”
Ty looked over at him. “Don’t forget South America. My favorite.”
Matt smiled. “Nothing compares to Chicago in high summer in full tactical gear.”
“Sure. If being a pussy means staying in Paradise over leaving for a stupid adrenaline rush in some godforsaken Third World country.”
Ty shook his head and stared out at “Paradise.”
“Ever climb?” Matt asked.
“Only when I have to.”
Matt gestured with his chin out to a sharp outcropping at least three miles across the way. “Widow’s Peak. Climbed it last weekend. It’s a get-your-head-on-straight kind of spot.”
“Was your head crooked?” Ty asked.
“Yeah, actually. But today I figured that was you.”
“My head’s on perfectly straight, thanks.”
“Huh,” Matt said.
Ty looked at him. “Okay, let’s save some time here. Why don’t you just tell me whatever it is that you’re fishing for?”
“All right,” Matt said. “Someone stole some samples out of the Health Services Clinic from right beneath Mallory’s nose.”
Ty’s gut tightened. “Today? Was she hurt?”
Matt was watching him carefully. “Yesterday. And no.”
“What was taken?”
“Pain meds. She doesn’t know when it happened, actually. She says it could have been at a couple of different points during the day.”
Ty went still, remembering last night, remembering the look on Mallory’s face when she’d seen the empty bottle fall out of his jeans pocket.
She’d known then, and she hadn’t said a word. Had she thought he’d taken the pills? He tried to think of a reason that she wouldn’t have mentioned the missing meds that didn’t involve her thinking it was him. But with a grim, sinking feeling in his gut, he realized he couldn’t. “Is she taking shit for it?”
“You could say that, yeah. As of right this minute, HSC is shut down, and if it gets out why, it’s going to stay that way.”
“She doesn’t deserve the blame.”
“She accepted the blame.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“I’m on the hospital board. Look,” he said at Ty’s dark expression, “at this point only we board members know. They want her to turn in a list of who was at HSC during the hours that the meds went missing. She’s objecting because it’s supposed to be anonymous. That put her job in the ER at risk as well as at HSC.”
Ty let out a breath and closed his eyes. “Oh, Christ.”
“I was in there yesterday afternoon.” He opened his eyes and looked at Matt. “I was at HSC.”
“Did you do it?” Matt asked mildly. “Did you lift the drugs?”
“Didn’t figure you for being stupid,” Matt said, watching as Ty pulled out his phone and hit a number. “And we don’t get reception out here. No one does. Listen, this gets a little worse. Jane, her boss, rode her hard about this, and…”
“Mallory walked off her job. She quit.”
Ty held his hands out. “Keys.”
“I’m driving back.” He needed to see Mallory. Now. Yesterday.
“Why are you driving back?” Matt wanted to know.
“Because we’re in a hurry, and you drive like a girl.”
Halfway back to town, Ty finally got phone reception and hit Mallory’s number. While it rang in his ear, Matt tsked. “You need a blue tooth,” he said. “Or you’re going to get a ticket.”
Ty ignored him, thinking pick up, pick up…but Mallory didn’t. “She’s probably at home, phone dead.”
And he didn’t have her house number.
Matt shook his head. “Nope, she’s not at home.”
Ty looked at him.
“Oh, did you want to know where she is?” When Ty just narrowed his eyes, Matt smiled. “Yeah, you want to know. She’s at the diner. I was there earlier, heard Amy take a call from her. Something about a chocoholic meeting.”
There was something in Matt’s voice when he said Amy’s name, and needing a distraction, Ty slid him a glance. “So what’s with you and the pretty waitress?”
“There’s a whole lot of tension between you two for nothing.”
Matt pleaded the Fifth.
“You screw something up?”
Matt’s sunglasses were mirrored, giving nothing away. He was not answering, which was the same thing as saying yeah, he’d screwed something up. “What did you do?” Ty asked.
Yeah, right. They came into town and bypassed the road to Matt’s house.
“Hey,” Matt said.
“Hang on, coming in hot.” Ty pulled up to the diner with a screech of tires.
Matt let go of the dash and looked at him.
Ty shrugged. “Maybe misery loves company.”
“You mean maybe misery loves to watch other people fuck up.”
“I’m not going to fuck anything up.”
Ty shook his head and went into the diner, which had been decorated for spring. There were brightly colored papier-maché flowers and animals hanging from the ceiling tiles, and streamers around the windows. It didn’t much match the 50s décor but it was definitely eye-popping.
The place was full with the dinner crowd, the noise level high. Ty recognized just about everyone there, which meant he’d been here far too long. He could see Jan hustling a large tray to a table. And there was Ryan in a far corner with two guys from NA. Blue-haired Lucille was there too, with a group of other blue-haired, nosy old bats. Ty shifted past the small group of people waiting to be seated because he could see Mallory at the counter. Grace was on one side of her, with Amy on the other side of the counter.
Ty came up behind Mallory, who was staring down at a cake that said “Happy Birthday Anderson” as Amy lit the candles.
All around them were the general, noisy sounds of a diner. Dishes clanking, voices raised in conversation, laughter—each table or group involved in their own world. This particular little world, of the three women, was exclusive, and not a one of them was paying their surroundings any attention.
Mallory, the woman who’d claimed to have given up chocolate, licked her lips. “We should skip the candles,” she said to Amy. “You have a full house right now. You’re too busy for this.”
“Oh no,” Amy said. “We agreed. When bad shit happens, we meet. We eat.” She lit the last candle and handed each of them a fork. “I’ve already called Tara and told her that Anderson’s cake met a tragic demise.”