The bottle had been empty for two months now, and he’d still give his left nut for a refill. He had two refills available to him; it said so right on the bottle. But since Ty had started to need to be numb—with a terrifying desperation—he’d quit cold turkey.
This didn’t help his leg. Rubbing it absently, he turned away from the mirror, having no idea why he was going to the auction.
Except he did. He was going because the entire town would be there, and in spite of himself, he was curious.
He wanted to see her again, his bossy, warm, sexy nurse.
Which was ridiculous. It’d been so dark the night of the storm that he honestly wasn’t sure he even knew what she looked like. But he knew he’d recognize her voice—that soft, warm voice. It was pretty much all he remembered of the entire evening, the way it’d soothed and calmed him.
Shaking his head, he strode through the bedroom, slipping keys and cash into his pockets, skipping the gun for the night although he’d miss the comforting weight of it. His cell phone was up to fifty-five missed calls now, which was a record. Giving in, he called voice mail and waited for the inevitable.
“Ty,” said a sexy female voice. “Call me.”
Frances St. Claire was the hottest redhead he’d ever seen and also the most ruthless. The messages went back a month or so.
“Ty,” she said on one of them. “Seriously. Call me.”
“Ty, I’m not fucking around. I need to hear from you.”
“Ty, Goddammit! Call me, you bastard!”
As the rest of the calls were all variations on the same theme, with slurs on Ty’s heritage and questionable moral compass, he hit delete, delete, delete…
There was no need to call her back. He knew exactly what she wanted. Him, back at work.
Which made two of them.
Mallory paced the lobby of Vets’ Hall in her little black dress and designer heels knock-offs, nodding to the occasional late straggler as they came in. From the large front gathering room, she could smell the delicious dinner that was being served and knew she should be in there. Eating. Smiling. Schmoozing. Getting people fired up for the auction and ready to spend their money.
But she was missing one thing. A date.
Her Mr. All Wrong hadn’t showed, not a big surprise. She hadn’t really expected him to come, but…hell. Amy had gotten her hopes up. And speaking of Amy, Mallory blinked in shock as the tall, poised, gorgeous woman stopped in front of her.
“Wow.” She’d never seen Amy with makeup, or in a dress for that matter, but tonight she was in both, in a killer slinky dress and some serious kick-ass gladiator style heels, both of which emphasized endless legs.
Amy shrugged. “The hospital thrift store.”
“Wow,” Mallory repeated. “You look like you belong in a super hero movie.”
“Yeah, yeah. Listen, I came out here to ask you if we need to review your mission tonight with Mr. Wrong.”
“Nope. Mission cancelled.”
“What? Where’s your date?”
“We both know that I didn’t really have a date.” Mallory shook her head. “You look so amazing. I hardly even recognize you.”
“Can’t judge a book by its cover,” Amy said casually. “Have you seen Grace? She didn’t know any guys in town, and there’s no one I’m interested in, so she’s my date tonight.”
In the time since Amy had shown up in Lucky Harbor, Mallory had never known her to go out on a date. Whenever Mallory asked about it, Amy shrugged and said the pickings were too slim. “Maybe I should be making you two a list of Mr. Rights,” Mallory said.
Amy snorted. “Been there, done that.”
Matt Bowers walked by and stopped to say hi to Mallory. She was used to seeing him in his ranger uniform, armed and in work mode. But tonight he was in an expensive dark suit, appearing just as comfortable in his own skin as always, and looking pretty damn fine while he was at it. He was six feet tall, built rangy and leanly muscled like the boxer he was on his off days. He had sun-kissed brown hair from long days on the mountain, light brown eyes, and an easy smile that he flashed at Mallory. “Hey,” he said.
She smiled. “Hey, back.”
Matt turned his attention politely to Amy, and then his eyes registered sudden surprise. “Amy?”
“Yeah, I know. I clean up okay.” Her voice was emotionless, her smile gone as she turned to Mallory. “See you in there.”
Matt’s gaze tracked Amy as she strode across the lobby and vanished inside. Yeah, he looked very fine tonight—and also just the slightest bit bewildered.
Mallory knew him to be a laid-back, easygoing guy. Sharp, quick-witted, and tough as hell. He had to be, given that he was an ex-cop and now worked as a district forest ranger supervisor. Nothing much ever seemed to get beneath his skin.
But Amy had. Interesting. This was definitely going on the list of topics to be discussed during their next little chocoholics meeting. “You forget to tip her at the diner or something?” she asked him.
“Or something,” Matt said. With a shake of his head, he walked off.
Mallory shrugged and took one more look around. At first, she’d been so busy setting up, and then greeting people, that she’d been far too nervous to think about what would happen if Mr. Wrong didn’t show up.
But she was thinking about it now, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant. She paced the length of the lobby again, stopping to look once more out the large windows into the parking lot. Argh. She strode back to the dining area and peeked in.
This was both good and bad news. Good, because there was lots of potential money in all those pockets.
Bad, because there was also a lot of potential humiliation in having to go in there alone after it’d been announced that she had a date.
Well, she’d survived worse, she assured herself. Far worse. Still, she managed to waste another five minutes going through the displays of the auction items for the umpteenth time, and as she had every single one of those times, she dawdled in front of one display in particular.
It was a small item, a silver charm bracelet. Each of its charms were unique to Lucky Harbor in some way: a tiny Victorian B&B, a miniature pier, and a gold pan from the gold rush days. So pretty.
Normally, the only jewelry Mallory wore was a small, delicate gold chain with an infinity charm that had been Karen’s. It had been all she ever needed, but this bracelet kept drawing her in, urging her to spend money she didn’t have.
“Not exactly practical for an ER nurse.”
Mallory turned and found Mrs. Burland standing behind her, leaning heavily on a cane, her features twisted into a smile, only named so because her teeth were bared. “Mrs. Burland. You’re feeling better?”
“Hell, no. My ankles are swollen, my fingers are numb, and I’m plugged up beyond any roto-rooter help.”
Mallory was well used to people telling her things that would never come up in normal conversations. “You need to stay hydrated. You taking your meds?”
“There was a mix-up at the pharmacy.”
“You need those meds,” Mallory said.
“I tried calling my doctor. He’s an idiot. And he’s twelve.”
Mrs. B’s doctor was Dr. Josh Scott. Josh was thirty-two, and one of the best MDs on the West Coast.
“Trades on his cute looks,” Mrs. Burland sniffed.
Mallory wouldn’t have described Josh as cute. Handsome, yes. Definitely striking as well, and…serious, even when he smiled. So serious that he always looked like he’d been to hell and back. And had learned plenty along the way.
None of which had anything to do with his ability to do his job. Josh worked his ass off. “You’re being very unfair to a man who’s given you your life back. I’ll check into the med issue for you first thing in the morning.”
“Yes, well, see that you do. Where’s your date?”
Mallory took a deep breath. “Well—”
“You’ve been stood up? A shame, since you’re dressed to put out.” Then the woman walked away.
Mallory went back to staring down at the bracelet. Mrs. B was right about one thing: it was totally impractical for anyone who had to be as practical as she did on a daily basis. The charms would snag on everything from patients’ leads to the bed rails.
“Sweetheart, what are you doing out here?”
Perfect. Her mother. Ella was in her Sunday best, a pale blue dress that set off the tan she’d gotten on the hospital’s upper deck during her breaks, where she sat reading romance novels and plotting her single daughter’s happily-ever-after. “Pretty,” Ella said of the bracelet, “but—”
“Impractical,” Mallory said. “I know.”
“Actually, I was going to say it’s the type of thing a boyfriend would buy you. You need a boyfriend, Mallory.”
Yeah, she’d just pick one up at the boyfriend store later.
“Where’s your date?”
Oh good, her favorite question.
“Oh, honey. Did you get stood up?”
Mallory made a show of looking very busy straightening out the description plaque with the bracelet display. “Maybe he’s just running a little late is all.”
“Well, that doesn’t bode well for the relationship.”
Yeah, and neither did the fact that they didn’t have a relationship. “You should have a date too, Mom.”
“Me?” Ella asked in obvious surprise. “Oh, no. I’m not ready for another man, you know that.”
Mallory did know that. Ella had been saying so for the past decade, ever since The Divorce, which Mallory—however twisted—still one-hundred-percent blamed herself for.
“You look a little peaked, sweetheart. Maybe you’re catching that nasty flu that’s going around.”
No, she was catching Stood-Up-Itis. “I’m good, Mom. No worries.”