Jack rolled out of bed as well, showered, and then hit the road. He’d hired a day nurse for his mom, both to keep her company and to make sure she was getting everything she needed, especially when Jack was on shift and couldn’t help her himself.
But when he stopped by his childhood home on the way to the station, Dee was already up and dressed and sitting at her kitchen table.
Kevin bounded into the room and would’ve taken a flying leap at her, but Jack grabbed his collar just in time.
“Gak,” Kevin said, eyes bulging, tongue hanging out.
Ben stood behind the stove cooking a big spread of bacon, eggs, and french toast. “I thought you were home, still in bed,” Jack said.
“You thought wrong.”
Kevin, desperate to get at Dee, whined.
“Sit,” Jack told him.
Kevin barked. His bark was loud enough to pierce eardrums, and everyone in the room winced.
“Not bark,” Jack said. “Sit.”
Kevin offered a paw.
Jesus. “Kevin. Sit.”
Kevin turned in three circles and plopped down to the floor, which shook like an earthquake under the one-hundred-and-fifty-plus pounds.
Dee laughed. “Such a sweet boy.”
Kevin smiled at her.
“Sweet, my ass,” Jack muttered.
Ben began loading a mountain of food onto a plate, which he then brought to Dee.
Dee, who always ate less than a bird whenever Jack had tried to feed her, beamed at Ben. “Thanks, sweetheart.” She gestured to Kevin, who all but scrambled his circuits trying to get up at the speed of light. Like a cat on linoleum, his paws fought for purchase as he raced to her side.
“Now you be a very good boy,” Dee said to him, patting him on the head, which was level with hers. “Be a very good boy and sit for me. Can you do that, Kevin? Can you sit for me?”
Kevin sent her an adoring smile and sat.
Jack shook his head. “Fucker.”
“Such a good boy,” Dee cooed. “So much better than my potty-mouthed son.”
“He’s not a good boy,” Jack told her. “He’s a menace to society.”
Kevin sent Jack a glare of reproach.
“What are you doing here?” Jack asked Ben.
“It was your turn to stock the fridge.”
By “fridge,” Ben meant Jack’s fridge, as Ben didn’t use his own. “Yeah? So?”
“So you bought beer, cookie dough, and peanut butter and jelly.”
“Oh, Jack,” Dee admonished.
“Hey,” he said in his defense, “I got the basic necessities.”
Ben shook his head. “No wonder you’re single,” he said in the tone that they both knew would rile Dee up, which in turn would effectively get Jack in trouble. Ben’s favorite thing to do.
“He’s not single,” Dee corrected. “He’s got Leah.”
“Right,” Ben said dryly. “Almost forgot.”
Jack gave him a look. This didn’t appear to bother Ben in the slightest. “So where’s Carrie?”
“I don’t need a nurse this week,” Dee said. “I didn’t want to waste your money, so she took on another patient.”
“Mom, forget the money. I want you taken care of when I’m working.”
Dee pointed at Ben.
Ben saluted her with his spatula.
Jack slid a look to Ben. He knew his cousin felt he owed Dee his life—multiple times over—for taking him in and keeping him on the straight and narrow.
Not that she’d always managed to keep Ben on the straight and narrow, but he’d turned out okay. If you counted being a little off your rocker okay…
“I’m fine,” Dee said again. “Or I would be if I wasn’t worried about you.”
“Me?” Jack asked. “What about me? I’m fine too.”
Ben, flipping a piece of french toast, gave a snort that made Jack feel twelve again and defensive as hell. “What?”
“Nothing. It’s just that you’re awfully cranky for someone who’s fine,” Ben said lightly.
“I’m not cranky.”
Dee’s smile faded a little bit. “Are you cranky?” she asked Jack. “Why would you be cranky? I saw Leah yesterday afternoon, and she said things were great. You didn’t mess things up with her since then, did you?”
Of course he had, thank you very much. Jack sighed and looked to Ben.
Ben just raised a brow, the asshole. “It’s six in the morning,” Jack said as evenly as he could. “How much could I have messed anything up?”
Concern filled Dee’s gaze. “Oh, Jack,” she murmured. “Was it your phone?”
“You know,” she said, waving a hand. “Your phone. I read in Cosmo that if a woman looks in her man’s phone and he has anyone in his contacts with only a first initial, that means it’s a…” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Booty call. Grounds for a breakup. As is having eight contacts with the name Brandy, because chances are that they’re exotic dancers you’ve met on business trips.”
Ben pointed at a stunned Jack with a spatula. “No matter how much your girl presses you about your Brandys, deny everything until death.”
Dee waved an irritated hand in Ben’s direction. “You’re not taking me seriously.”
“Mom, I didn’t mess anything up.”
“Then where is she?”
“No, the Tooth Fairy,” Dee said, making Ben grin again. “Where is Leah, Jack?”
Probably concocting some new way to make his life a living hell, he thought darkly. Oh wait, she’d already done that. Ever since the kiss on the beach—kisses plural, as in many, many amazing kisses—he’d done nothing but think of her plastered up against him, or better yet, beneath him, soft and wet, sighing his name in pleasure…
And yet there was his mom, looking at him with those eagle eyes of hers, the ones that could always tell when he’d messed something up, so he ruthlessly clamped down on the fantasy and shrugged. “It’s six a.m.,” he repeated.
“So she’s baking?”
Right. She’d be baking. He nodded.
Dee relaxed and went back to eating. She had color in her cheeks and looked happy. Jack would like to say that he’d put that happy look on her face, but he hadn’t. Ben had, with his food.
And Leah, with her lie.
Ben was making another plate, loading it full for himself, and Jack snatched it.
Ben muttered “fucker” beneath his breath, which Dee either didn’t catch or ignored. “You going to be around today?” he asked Ben.
“I don’t need a babysitter, Jack,” Dee said.
Jack didn’t take his eyes off Ben.
“She’s got an appointment day after tomorrow at ten,” Jack said.
“I can drive myself,” Dee said.
Ben nodded again affably. “But you’ll let me take you.”
“Of course you are,” Ben said smoothly. “But this isn’t for you. It’s for your idiot son. We don’t want him worrying like a little girl while he’s on the job.”
Dee relaxed. “Of course not. But you have a life too, Benjamin.”
Ben lifted a shoulder. “I’m…in flux.”
Ben didn’t talk much about his job. Being a civil engineer sounded innocuous but it wasn’t the way Ben did it. His last job, where he’d gone into Iraq for the DOJ to design and build water systems for some of the war-torn towns, had obviously gotten to him, big time. Usually when he was in Lucky Harbor he went back to his woodworking, and actually he was a hell of a furniture maker when he wanted to be. But he hadn’t picked up so much as a single tool since he’d been back.
So yeah, he was in flux. He lived in flux.
Luckily, he never spent much of his income so he had some flexibility. Others in Lucky Harbor hadn’t been so lucky. The economic downturn had been hard on many of the businesses, and there were a lot of properties in trouble and on the market.
But things were starting to turn around. A few new businesses were coming in, and some of the properties were being built up and renovated, when the historical society loosened their bulldog grip on the regulations and permits.
There’d been some noise from the biggest developer sniffing around, a Mr. Rinaldi out of L.A., who was snatching up as many of the available properties as possible. He had three or four in escrow at the moment, including Elsie’s bakery. He’d promised the current residents that nothing would change, but the rumor was that he planned on getting a whole strip of buildings on commercial row and running the town.
There were mixed feelings about this. Any commerce was good. It brought in money and kept people employed. But Lucky Harbor residents were used to being a tight-knit community, and there were fears that this was going to change.
Jack didn’t care about that, but he did care about the bakery, so he hoped Mr. Rinaldi’s word was good.
“What’s that, honey?” Dee asked.
“I didn’t say anything,” Jack said.
“Yeah, you did,” Ben said. “You mumbled something about the bakery.”
Dee smiled. “He’s got his girlfriend on his mind.”
Jack put his empty plate in the sink, kissed his mom, and left, ignoring Ben’s knowing smirk.
Leah’s breath caught as Jack’s body pressed into hers. His hands stroked up her sides and then his thumbs were brushing over her nipples. Moaning, she arched closer as he kissed her long and deep, grinding his lower body into hers. He was hard, so deliciously hard, and she ached for him. Tangling her hands in his hair, she kissed him deeper until he groaned her name.
Oh, how she liked the sound of her name on his lips.
Then his clever fingers found their way into her panties, and he let out another groan before breaking the kiss and nipping at her ear. “Jesus, Leah. You’ve got to remove your hand.”