Ty was still balanced on the balls of his feet. He lowered his head and studied his shoes for a moment, then looked her right in the eyes. “Do you want to know the last thing I did as a SEAL trauma medic?” he asked, voice dangerously low. She wasn’t the only one pissed off and frustrated.
“I dragged my teammates out of the burning plane,” he told her. “Tommy was already dead, but the others, Brad, Kelly, and Trevor…” He closed his eyes. “I did everything I could, and they died anyway. Afterward, I couldn’t do it. I tried, but I couldn’t go back to being a first line trauma responder.”
Her gut wrenched for him. “Oh, Ty.”
“I was honorably discharged, and when I got work, it wasn’t as a medic. I turned down anything like that for four years. Four years, Mallory, where I didn’t so much as give out a Band-Aid.”
Until he’d come to Lucky Harbor. “Amy’s knife wound,” she whispered.
He nodded grimly. “The first time I’d opened a first-aid kit in all that time.”
And then today. Again, a situation that fell right on him, and he’d stepped into the responsibility as if into a pair of comfortable old shoes. She wondered if he realized that.
“My turn,” he said. “Your job? You lost your job?”
“Not lost. Quit.” She took a moment to study her own shoes now, until he wrapped his fingers around her ponytail and tugged.
She lifted her head and met his gaze. “Mallory,” he said softly. Pained. “Why?”
Why? A million reasons, none of which she wanted to say because suddenly, it was all too much. The job, the HSC, the diner, knowing how she felt about Ty and realizing he was going to leave anyway. Her head hurt, her cheek hurt. And her heart hurt, too. When her eyes filled, he made a low sound. Hard to tell if it was male horror or empathy. But then he wrapped his arms around her, and she planted her face in the crook of his neck.
She should have known he wouldn’t be uncomfortable with tears. He didn’t seem to be uncomfortable with much, when it came right down to it.
Except maybe his own emotions.
How had things gotten so out of control? All she’d wanted was to stretch her wings. Live for herself instead of for others. Try new things. She’d done that, and she’d loved it.
She loved him.
And therein lay her mistake. “The whole HSC drug fiasco is my fault,” she said into his chest. “No one else’s. I screwed up there.” She sucked in a breath as once again her eyes filled. “As for everything else, I always wanted to go a little crazy, but as it turns out, I’m not all that good at it,” she whispered.
He made a show of looking at the utter chaos of the diner. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think you’re better at it than you give yourself credit for.”
She choked out a laugh, realizing that no matter what she did, he had her back. He’d been there for her, one hundred percent. It was in his every look, touch, kiss. “I just wanted something for myself,” she said softly.
“And you deserve that,” he said with absolute conviction, warming her from the inside out. From the beginning, he’d treated her like someone special, from before they’d even known each other’s names. He’d shared his courage, his sense of adventure, his inner strength.
Once, she’d been a woman terribly out of balance with herself and her hopes and dreams. That had changed.
Because of him.
She was in balance now but even that wasn’t enough. Loving him wasn’t enough. It wasn’t going to get her what she wanted. Nothing was going to get her what she wanted—which was Ty. She really needed to cut her losses now before it got worse, but God. How could she? “Ty.”
He pulled back to look into her eyes, his own going very serious at the look in hers.
She cupped his face. “I’ve screwed up. I’m falling for you.” She gently kissed his gorgeous mouth so that he couldn’t say anything. “Don’t worry, I know you won’t let yourself do the same.” She kissed him again when he went to speak, because it was in his eyes. Sorrow. “I can’t do this anymore,” she whispered past a throat that felt like she’d swallowed cut glass. “I’m sorry.”
“Are you dumping me, Mallory?”
Was she? The truth was that he was the one going, and yet he hadn’t. She’d have to think about that later, but for now, for right now, what she had with him wasn’t enough for her. “You were never mine to dump,” she said.
Something crossed his normally stoic face, but he nodded and lifted a hand to her jaw, stroking his thumb over her lips in a gentle gesture that made her ache. She started to say something, she had no idea what, but someone tapped her on the shoulder. “Mallory Michelle Quinn.”
Only one person ever middle-named her. Her mom; just what she needed. She swiped at her eyes and turned, considering herself lucky to be so wet that no one could possibly tell if she was crying or not. “Mom, why are you here?”
“I heard about the diner. You’re hurt?”
“Now’s not a good time—” Mallory brushed her mom’s hand away. “Mom.”
“Don’t you ‘mom’ me! You have a cut on your cheek. And you let Jane fire you?”
“Okay, someone give me a microphone!” Mallory said as loud as she could. “Because I wasn’t fired, I quit. There’s a difference.”
Her mother stared at her for a long beat, during which Mallory did her best not to look as utterly heartbroken as she felt. Finally Ella nodded. “Well, I hope to hell you took Jane down a peg or two while you were at it.”
Shock had Mallory gaping. “You’re not upset?”
“She’s overworked you and taken advantage of your skills. The board’s already banding together to try to get you back. I suggest turning down their first offer. According to what I overheard, their second offer will be a much better deal.”
Mallory choked out a shocked breath. “Overheard?”
“Fine. I put a glass to the door of Bill’s office and listened in. But I’m not proud of it.” Ella hesitated. “What I am proud of is you. And Sawyer sent me over here to get you. He needs one last quick word from you for his report.”
Sawyer was already headed for her.
He gave her a look of frustration. “You okay?”
“Good, because so far I’ve heard twenty different versions of what’s going on. Tell me that you’re going to come up with the right one.”
She told him the entire story the best that she could, then turned to look for Ty and found her mom talking to him. Ella was animated, her hands moving, her mouth flapping, and Mallory’s stomach sank. From the looks of things, she could be reading him the riot act, or…hell. She couldn’t imagine. “I’ve got to go,” she said to Sawyer.
Her mother saw her coming and met her halfway. “He has a way of looking at you, honey. Like you mean something to him.”
Mallory shook her head. “What did you two talk about?”
“Are you asking if I accused him of destroying your reputation?” Ella looked over Mallory’s shoulder and found Ty watching them. She sent him a little finger wave.
He didn’t wave back but he did almost smile.
“You made it clear what you thought of my way of thinking,” Ella said to Mallory. “And you were right. I’ve been holding the reins too tight, depending on you to be the calm in the storm of this crazy family. That was unfair, maybe even cruel, and I was wrong. I never should have done it. Just as I never should have allowed you to blame yourself for Karen. Or my divorce. Or the general insanity of our family.”
“Hush, honey. I told him I’d make him dinner,” Ella said casually, almost as a throwaway remark, and stroked Mallory’s wet hair back from her face.
“He’s been good to you. I want to thank him. It’s simple etiquette.”
“You mean it’s simple curiosity,” Mallory said.
“Okay, that too.”
“Mom, we’re just…” God. Her heart hurt. “Friends.”
“Oh, please,” Ella said with a laugh. “I didn’t fall for that with Tammy when she brought Zach home, and I’m not going to fall for it with you. He said yes.”
“No, really,” Mallory said. “We’re not what you think we are. He said yes?”
“Sweetheart, you’re drenched and still shivering. You’re going to catch your death out here. Go home and take a hot shower, and put something on that cut on your cheek.” Ella hugged her tight, then pushed her toward her car.
Mallory took a last look at the scene. Ty was back to helping. He was hauling things out of the wrecked diner with Matt. Two extremely fine examples of what a good use of gorgeous male muscle could do.
“Mallory.” Josh gestured to Mrs. Burland, huddled on the sidewalk. “She’s refusing to go to the hospital but mostly, she’s just shaken up. If you’re leaving, maybe you could drive her home.”
Mallory ended up driving the entire senior posse home since Lucille was the only one of them still in possession of her license, and she was going into the hospital for X-rays. It took nearly an hour because each of them took forever to say their good-byes and get out of the car. When she’d finally gotten rid of them all, Mallory told herself to go home, but herself didn’t listen. She drove to Ty’s.
The garage was open, and he was beneath his precious Shelby.
She bet he’d never walked away from a car in his life.
Still working on adrenaline, frustration, and a pain so real it felt like maybe her heart had been split in two, she stormed up to the mechanic’s creeper and nudged at his exposed calf.
Okay, maybe it was more of a kick. “You told my mother she could cook you dinner?”
He rolled out from beneath the car, and arms still braced on the chassis above him, looked up at her. He wisely didn’t comment on what was surely a spectacularly bad hair day on her part. She’d been hit with the sprinklers, and then dust from the ceiling tiles, and the whole mess had dried naturally without any of her de-frizzing products that never really worked anyway.