Author: Jill Shalvis

Leah wanted Jack dunked too. She wound up and threw the ball. No one was more surprised than her when it found its target, and with a loud splash, Jack hit the water.


Leah took a lot of fist bumps and pats on the back, and then, before Jack could get out of the tank, she hightailed it out of there, racing back to Dee’s booth. Breathless, she scooped up her purse. “Gotta go, Dee.”


“I know.” Dee grinned. “You’d better run fast, honey. He was all-state track, remember?”


No one knew better than Leah just how fast Jack could be when he put his mind to something. She headed straight for Ali’s booth, where she found Ali and Luke kissing. And not just any little kiss either, but a full-bodied lip-lock. She waited, glancing at her watch, tapping her foot. Finally, she tossed up her hands. “Hello! On a schedule here.”


Ali tore her mouth from Luke’s and grinned at Leah. “You’re not on a schedule. You’re running scared because you dunked Jack.”


“Oh and nice job, Ace,” Luke said, an arm slung around Ali. “You can play on our baseball team anytime.”


“Really?” Leah asked, pleased.


“Hell no,” Luke said.


Leah sighed and turned to go, and she ran smack into a brick wall.


A brick wall that was Jack’s wet chest. Big hands closed on her arms and held her there. “Going somewhere?” he asked smoothly.


She gulped. “Well, I have to—”


“Later,” he said and tugged her along with him.


Both Ali and Luke grinned and waved good-bye. Big, fat lots of help there. “Hey.” Leah tried to dig her heels in, but Jack was determined. And she already knew that trying to deter a determined Jack was about as easy as trying to stop a train in its tracks. “Jack—”


“Shh.”


Oh no. He didn’t just— But before she could even finish that thought, Jack had pulled her down a set of stairs and onto the beach. He was a sight, standing in front of her with his board shorts riding low on his hips, making him look dangerous, alluring, and hotter than sin as he tugged her under the pier.


“Jack—”


He pressed her up against a pylon. Water slapped against the wood and on the rocky shore. Somewhere a seagull squawked, and another answered.


All of that barely registered, nothing mattered except Jack’s hot, hard body up against hers. “You’re all wet,” she complained, feeling her sundress getting soaked from his drenched board shorts.


“Whose fault is that? You were playing with me.” His mouth was near her ear, and he nipped at it. “Dangerous.” He sank his teeth into the column of her throat, and she gasped.


“You c-can’t take it personally,” she managed. “It was for a good cause.”


“Yeah? What cause was that?”


Yeah, Leah, what cause was that? “Well…it made me happy,” she said.


Lifting his head, he met her gaze. “I’ve got other ways to make you happy.” Proving it, he threaded his hand through her hair and tilted her head back for his kiss. Parting her lips, he slowly stroked her tongue with his own until she couldn’t remember her own name. And then he kissed her some more, until all her bones were gone, and certainly her resistance.


From up above, the sounds of the fair drifted down to them, music, laughter… It surrounded them like a bubble, their own intimate bubble, and as Jack groaned and tightened his grip on her, she knew she was in trouble. “Okay,” she murmured, all hot and damp and ready. “But we have to be quick.”


He pressed a kiss to her temple and sucked in some air. “We’re not doing it beneath the pier, Leah.”


“Dammit, you always do that. You get me all revved up and say no. You can’t just leave me like this.”


“I never say no,” he said, his thumb rasping over a nipple. “And I can’t leave you like what?”


She arched into his touch. “All hot and bothered. It’s rude, Jack.”


He laughed softly against her hair and slid his free hand down her body. “Just how hot and bothered are we talking?” That hand snaked beneath her sundress. Up the inside of her thigh.


“Very hot and very b-bothered— God!” she stuttered when his fingers slipped into her panties.


He let out a low groan, a sexy sound that pushed her to the very edge. “You remember what I told you, Leah?”


“Um—” She gasped when he nuzzled the sweet spot beneath her ear at the same time his fingers grazed over her heated, wet flesh. “I’m not sure—”


He stopped stroking her.


She wanted to cry. “Jack—”


“Think about it.”


She was thinking about his fingers, those work-roughened, callused fingers that were driving her slowly out of her mind. “You said it was dangerous to play with you—” One of those fingers slid into her, and her knees buckled.


“And yet it didn’t stop you,” he said against her collarbone, nipping her.


Oh God, those fingers. “Oh, Jack. Please—”


He dragged his mouth back to hers and took her lips on the exact right side of rough as he worked her with his fingers until she was grinding against him, panting for air. “Jack.” Her toes were curling. “Jack, we have to stop, I’m going to—”


“Come,” he murmured, absolutely not stopping. “I want to feel you come for me.” He kissed her again, absorbing her cry as she burst, shuddering wildly in his arms.


“I never get tired of that,” he said, slowing his fingers, softening his hold, bringing her down gently until she sagged against his chest.


She could feel him hard against her and reached for him just as he pulled his hand away and stepped back. While she stared up at him in a dazed afterglow, he lifted his fingers to his mouth and sucked them clean.


Her knees wobbled.


He gave her a smile that was so wicked she nearly came again, and then he was gone.


Leah sagged against the pylon, still trying to catch her balance in a world that was spinning more and more out of control every day.


She’d assumed they were done with this. Apparently not. In any case, whatever they were—or weren’t—Jack knew her body even better than she did.


And, she was pretty sure, he also knew her thoughts. Which meant that he knew her feelings were becoming real. She thought maybe his feelings were just as real, but the problem with that was she’d had her shot at his heart. A long time ago. She’d had her shot, and she’d blown it.


Jack had a lot of really great qualities. He was smart, and loving, and strong of both mind and body. He would do anything for someone he cared about.


Anything.


Including going along with a hare-brained plan like pretending to be in a relationship just to please his ill mom. But unlike her, Jack actually learned from his mistakes and rarely, if ever, repeated them.


Which meant that for him, loving her was off the table.


This left her hanging out here with these emotions all on her own. And it was time to face the facts. There were emotions, lots of them, because she’d gone and broken yet another promise to him. She wasn’t pretending.


This was real, and she was hurt.


Chapter 23


After the arts and crafts fair, when everything had been broken down and hauled off, Jack ended up at the Love Shack with Ben.


Ben ordered while Jack checked his email and then stared down in shock at the forwarded message from Ronald.


DNA results had come in, adding a hard fact to the arson case. The DNA from the cigarette butts found near the convenience store and Town Hall fires matched. The same person had stood within watching distance of the fires and…watched? Unfortunately there was no known ID or record, which meant that their arsonist was either new…or smart enough to not have gotten caught.


Yet.


Ben came back to the table with a basket of chili fries and two beers, and Jack didn’t even look up. “Must be good porn,” Ben said.


“It’s work. DNA came back on the cigarette butts found at two of the three questionable fires.”


“And?”


“Smoked by the same person.”


“Son of a bitch.”


“We’ll nail him.”


“We?” Ben asked. “You on the arson team now?”


Jack shrugged. “I’ve been working with Ronald. I like this end of things.” He paused. “A lot.”


“You going to give up firefighting?” Ben asked. “The job you were pretty much born to do?”


“Actually,” Jack said. “I think I was born to do this.”


Ben looked at him for a long beat and nodded. “Then do it.”


“You’re relieved,” Jack said, surprised.


“Fuck, yeah. Don’t get me wrong, taking over as deputy fire chief and fire marshal is going to be hell on wheels, and in some ways much harder than the firefighting, but…”


“But what?” Then he read Ben’s expression and leaned back, shaking his head. “Jesus, not you too. I’m not going to die on the job. Tens of thousands of firefighters are on the job at any given moment and most of them manage to stay very alive.”


“Your dad didn’t.”


“I’m not my dad.”


“You’re kidding me, right?” Ben asked. “’Cause the apple’s practically still on the tree, man.”


“Look who’s talking,” Jack said. “Your job takes you to third-world hellholes for months at a time. When you’re gone, the rest of us can only hold our breath until we see or hear from you again.”


Ben lifted a shoulder. “Guess you’re not the only one influenced by your dad’s hero complex.”


“Yeah.” Jack nodded. “But I’m making this choice to get off the front line based on my own needs for the future. It has nothing to do with my dad’s influence or memory.”


“Nothing wrong with that. What does Leah think of your new job?”


“Haven’t told her yet.”

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