“She believe you?” Grace asked.
“She’s smarter than that.” Amy looked at Mallory. “But she understood the emergency and is making another cake. The important thing is that we get Mallory through this situation.”
Mallory sighed and thunked her forehead to the table.
Amy quickly slid the cake over a little bit, probably so Mallory’s hair wouldn’t catch fire. “So did you really tell Jane to stuff herself?”
“Yes.” Mallory’s voice was muffled, and Grace tsked sympathetically and stroked Mallory’s hair.
“But that’s not why I’m out of a job,” Mallory said. “It’s because I yelled it, and everyone heard. Bill said sometimes he wished Jane would stuff it, too, but we have to learn to not compound our errors. He was working up to firing me. He had no choice, really. And that’s when I sort of lost it. I told him to stuff it, too, and left.”
“Wow,” Grace said. “When you decide to go bad, you go all the way.”
Mallory let out a combination laugh/sob.
“What are your plans now?” Amy asked her. “Beg for your job back?”
“I’m thinking I’ll end up working for some quiet little doctor’s office somewhere and try to go back to behaving like myself.” Mallory scooped up some cake and stuffed it into her mouth. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Tough,” Ty said.
She jerked upright and whirled on her stool to face him. She had chocolate on her lips but she pointed her fork at him like she was a queen on her throne. “You need to stop doing that.”
“You’d wither up and die of boredom in a quiet little doctor’s office,” he said.
She stared up at him, her eyes shining brilliantly. Everyone was looking at them, of course. Well, except Amy, who was looking at Matt. Matt had taken a seat at the counter to watch the circus.
Ty narrowed his eyes at everyone.
No one took the hint to give him and Mallory some privacy. Of course not. It used to be one gaze from him could terrorize people. But it hadn’t worked for him in Lucky Harbor, not once. Giving up, he gestured to the candles as the little flames seemed to gather in strength. “You should blow those out,” he said.
Amy blew out the candles. Grace feigned interest in a menu. Their ears were cocked.
Resigned at having an audience, Ty looked at Mallory. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Which?” she asked.
Jesus. There was more than one thing? The candles flickered back to life on the cake, which he ignored. “Let’s start with the missing drugs.”
“Because I know that you didn’t take them.” Mallory eyed the cake. “You used trick candles?” she asked Amy.
“Yeah,” she said. “They were from Lance’s birthday party. His brother’s idea. Tucker has a warped sense of humor. They’re all I had.”
“Excuse me,” Lucille said, hopping off her stool and scooting close. “But I couldn’t help but overhear. Missing drugs?”
“This isn’t an open-to-the-public conversation, Lucille,” Mallory said.
“But who would take drugs from the HSC?” the older woman asked. “A teenager? A drug dealer? One of your crazy siblings?”
Mallory pinched the bridge of her nose. “You’re just as crazy as Tammy and Joe, and you know it.”
Lucille blinked. “Are you sassing me?”
“Yes,” Mallory said. “Apparently it’s my new thing. Push me, and I’ll even yell at you. Also a new thing. Now stay out of my business; I’m trying to have a private conversation here.” She grimaced. “Please,” she added politely.
Lucille blinked, then smiled. “Well, there it is. Been waiting a long time to see that.”
“I always say please.”
“Not that. Your backbone. You have one, and it looks great on you, my dear.”
Mallory just stared at her, then at Ty. But he was still a little stunned at what she’d said before.
I know you didn’t take them.
Somehow, in spite of his best efforts to hold back, Mallory knew him, she knew who he was, inside and out, and accepted him. As is.
And she’d believed in him, no questions asked.
This didn’t help her now, he knew. Because someone had taken the meds under her watch. It could have been anyone. Only Mallory knew the truth, and Ty knew by just looking at her that she did know. She knew who it was, and she didn’t want to say.
Even now she was trying to save someone.
It slayed him. She slayed him. “If you know I wasn’t the one who took the pills,” he said, “then why didn’t you turn over the list of people who’d been inside the building?”
For some reason, this pissed her off. He watched as temper ignited in her eyes. Standing up, she stabbed him in the chest with her finger hard enough to make him wince. “Do you think you’re the only one I care about?” she demanded.
“No,” she assured him. “You are not.”
She was as mad as he’d ever seen her, in sky blue scrubs with a long-sleeved T-shirt beneath—his shirt, if he wasn’t mistaken. There was a mysterious lump of things in her pockets and someone had drawn a red heart on one of her white tennis shoes. She still had chocolate on one corner of her mouth, her hair was completely out of control, and she was ready to take down anyone who got in her path.
She’d never looked more beautiful. “Mallory.” He knew how much her job meant to her. How much the HSC meant. How much Lucky Harbor meant.
He was leaving, but she wasn’t. Her life was here, and in that moment, he made his decision, knowing he could live with it. “I took advantage of you,” he said, making sure to speak loud enough for all the eavesdroppers to hear. “Complete advantage.”
Two stools over, Matt groaned. “Man, don’t. Don’t do it.”
Mallory hadn’t taken her eyes off Ty, and she was still pissed. “What are you doing?”
“Attempting to tell what happened,” he said carefully.
“Now you all just hold it right there.” Mrs. Burland was suddenly right there, pointing at Ty with her cane, almost sticking it up his nose. “Yeah, you little punk-ass,” she said. “I’m talking to you.”
Little punk ass? He was a foot and a half taller than her and outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds. He stared down at her in shock.
Everyone in the place sucked in a breath and did the same.
Except Matt. He grinned wide. “Little punk ass,” he repeated slowly, rolling the words off his tongue in delight. “I like it.”
Ty gave him a look that didn’t appear to bother Matt at all. It’d been a hell of a long time since anyone had gotten in Ty’s face, even longer since he’d been called a little punk ass, and by the looks of her, Mrs. Burland wasn’t done with him yet.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
“I’m trying to have a conversation,” he said. “A private one.”
Lucille leaned in. “There’s no such thing in Lucky Harbor,” she said helpfully.
Clearly tired of the interruptions, Mrs. Burland slammed her cane onto the floor three times in a row, until all eyes were back on her. She glared at Ty. “You have no right to confess to a crime you didn’t commit.”
Apparently, as well as being curmudgeonly and grumpy and mean as a snake, Mrs. Burland was also sharp as a tack. “Stay out of it,” he said.
“You’re trying to be the big hero,” Mrs. Burland told him. “You think she’s protecting someone, and you don’t want her hurt.”
Mallory turned to him. “Is that what you’re doing?”
Ty opened his mouth but Mrs. Burland rose up to her full four feet eight inches and said, “It was me. I took the meds.” She eyeballed the entire crowd. “Not a teenager. Not a drug dealer. Not any of the crazy Quinns. And not this—” She gestured toward Ty, and her mouth tightened disfavorably. “Man. He might be guilty of plenty, not the least of which is messing with your reputation, Mallory Quinn—not that you seem to mind—but he didn’t take the pills. That was me.”
“No.” A young woman stood up from a table across the room. Ty recognized her as Deena, the clerk at the grocery store. “I was at the HSC yesterday,” she said. “For birth control pills. I took the Oxycontin.”
“That’s a lie.” This was from Ryan, at the far end of the counter. “We all know I have a problem. I took the pills.”
Mallory’s mouth fell open.
Nothing surprised Ty, but even he could admit to being shocked. The entire town was rallying around Mallory in the only way they knew how. He’d never seen anything like it.
Amy banged a wooden spoon on the counter to get everyone’s attention. “Hey, I was there, too. I took the pills.” Her eyes locked on Matt’s, whose jaw bunched and ticked.
Mallory gaped at Amy. “You were not there—”
“Oh no you all don’t!” Mrs. Burland yelled. “Listen you…you egocentric, self-absorbed, narcissistic group of insane people. Don’t make me smack all of you!” And with that, she pulled a small box from her pocket.
A sample of Oxycontin.
“See?” she said triumphantly. “I have them. I have them all. I took them because I thought they were Probiotics for my constipation. They’re the same color box. My insurance is crap, and even if it wasn’t, I hate to wait in line at the pharmacy. I’ve spent the past decade waiting in stupid lines. A line to see the doctor. A line to wait for meds. Hell, I even had to wait in line to go to the bathroom a minute ago. I’m over it, and I’m over all of you.”
“You don’t need Probiotics,” Lucille said. “All you need are prunes and a blender.”
“You got Mallory fired?” Amy asked Mrs. Burland.