With clear relief, Elsie lay back and closed her eyes.
Leah craned her neck and stared up at Jack. “What are you doing? What’s going on?”
She broke off when Max jerked suddenly to his feet. “Look at the time!” he said, his voice unnaturally jovial. “I’ve got to go.”
Leah stood up and stepped into his path, halting him, eyes narrowed. “You smell like cigarettes.”
“Since when is smoking a crime?”
“Oh my God,” she breathed. “It was you.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Except maybe try to scare off the new developer from buying up the buildings for sale in town. What I can’t figure out is why you were so upset when my grandma convinced Mr. Lyons to pull out of escrow.”
Max sighed deeply. “It’s complicated.”
“Why?” she pressed.
“Because Vince Rinaldi is your brother?” Jack filled in helpfully.
Max looked at him and nodded. “My half brother, actually.” He turned back to Leah. “So if what you’re really doing is accusing me of setting those fires and then nearly killing you and your granny today out of greed, be very careful, missy.”
“You should go, Max,” Jack said.
“But—” Leah broke off when Jack slid her a look, and waited with what looked like barely restrained frustration as Max walked out of the hospital room.
Tim was going as well, apparently without a single word, until Jack stepped in his path. “Leaving?” he asked the younger firefighter softly.
“Yeah,” Tim said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Being the big hero really takes it out of a guy.”
“Wait.” Leah paled suddenly and put a hand to her head. “I remember you being there today,” she said slowly. “You were in full firefighter gear.”
Tim laughed. “You were out cold, Leah. You don’t know what or who you saw.” He started to brush past them, but Jack blocked him.
“Hold on,” Jack said.
“You grimaced when you stood up. You hurt?”
“My shins,” Tim said. “From running.”
“A stress fracture, actually.”
Jack nodded. “It’s because you don’t roll your ankles inward enough. Instead you hit the ground with the outside edges of your feet. Walking or running like that puts a lot of pressure on your legs.”
“Okay,” Tim said, trying to get around Jack. “That was real informative, thanks.”
Jack blocked his path. “Tell me again how it is that you just happened to be at the bakery?”
“I was hungry. The place was still closed, which was weird. I just happened to be there at the right time to help.”
“In full gear.”
“No. Yes.” He laughed a little. “Just my mask. You’re trying to trip me up. I was at the front, and then the back.” He glanced at his watch. “Seriously. Gotta go.”
Sneaky. And cocky. He didn’t think he could get caught. Jack leaned in and sniffed at him. “Why do you smell like cigarettes?”
“Dude, that was Max. You getting senile, old man?”
“No, it’s you. You stink.”
“Aw, you smell good too, LT. Like a fire. It’s sexy as hell.”
“Thought you quit smoking.”
Tim gave up the pretense with easy grace and a shrug. “I quit every day. It doesn’t always take.”
“Use the damn patches.”
“Says the nonsmoker.” Tim’s affable smile faded. “Doing my best, man.”
Jack poked his index finger against Tim’s pec pocket and cellophane crinkled.
Tim knocked Jack’s hand away. “Knock it off. It’s none of your business what I do when we’re off the clock.”
“We’re never off the clock.”
“Yeah,” Tim said. “As proven by my actions today.” He’d been wearing his cockiness like a shield, but there was something new there now, hovering just behind it. An edge of fear.
“Jack?” Leah asked behind him, uncertain. “What’s going on?”
Jack held Tim’s gaze. “So are we going to do this easy or hard?”
Tim just stared at him, his mouth a little tight now.
Great. The hard way then. “Tim and I are going to go outside and talk.”
Leah opened her mouth, glanced at Tim, and then shut it again, giving him a nod that he hoped like hell meant she’d stay put.
Less than a minute later, with her head still spinning and her brain not firing on all circuits, Leah heard a shout in the hallway and then a thump. She let go of her grandma’s hand and rushed to the door to find Jack holding a struggling Tim against the wall. They were surrounded by hospital staff, including Dr. Josh Scott and an ER nurse who was on the phone presumably to 9-1-1 because she had one finger in her ear and was yelling about location.
But though it was chaos, Jack’s movements were sure and controlled as he contained Tim. “It’s over, Tim,” he said. “It’s done.”
“I want my lawyer,” Tim yelled, still struggling. “You can’t pin the fires on me, and you sure as hell can’t pin the carbon monoxide poisoning on me either. That ancient gas heater they have in there must be faulty.”
“No one ever said it was the heater, Tim,” Jack said. “But I’m sure that if you’re right, a court of your peers will find it interesting that you knew exactly where the leak was.”
Tim went still, then dropped his forehead to the wall, no longer fighting. “You fucker,” he said. “You think you’re better than the rest of us because your dad was some sort of hero. Well, I’m a hero too. I’ve saved countless people. In that apartment building fire, Sam would have died if I hadn’t gotten him out of there. And then the auto parts store fire. Christ, that was beautiful… No one would have gotten there in time to save anyone if I hadn’t called it in.”
Jack let out a breath. Unbelievable. “Are you kidding me? If you’d managed to start that fire, do you know what would have happened in combination with the gas leak? The whole fucking street would have blown up. People would have died, Tim.”
“I wouldn’t have let that happen.” Tim shook his head, eyes flashing temper. “You should have just let me train to follow in your footsteps. Or let me have a shot at Leah. You have it all, and you wouldn’t share. I deserve everything you have, I’m just as good. Hell, I’m better.”
Jack stared at him, stunned by the sick and twisted hero complex. “You should shut up now,” he said. “Wait for your lawyer. You’re going to need him.”
Tim turned his head, pressing his cheek to the wall as his gaze locked with Leah still standing in the doorway. “She was next. Your woman was next.”
Leah staggered back into her grandma’s hospital room and sat heavily in the chair by the bed.
“Leah,” her grandma murmured. “Are you okay, honey?”
Before she could answer, Jack strode into the room and tugged her up to her feet and into his arms, as if he needed to hold her every bit as much as she needed to be held by him.
“Yes, Grandma,” Leah murmured, gripping him tight, proud that her voice didn’t wobble. She tightened her grip and breathed in the safeness and solidity that was Jack. “I’m okay.”
Leah was trying to sleep and having no luck when she felt someone slip into bed behind her. Warm, strong arms came around her.
“Jack,” she murmured. “You came.”
He kissed her shoulder, her neck. “Not yet. You first.”
She smiled, then moaned when his hand slid beneath the covers and under the T-shirt she wore. It was his; she’d stolen it years ago and worn it so often it was threadbare.
Jack cupped her bare breast and let out a low, inherently male sound of approval, when she arched into his touch. He didn’t say anything but she could feel the tension in him.
Immediately after Tim’s arrest, he’d had to go back to the scene. They’d gotten word through Luke that Max and his half brother weren’t involved with any of the arsons and cleared as suspects. Max had slunk out of town.
Tim wasn’t going to get so lucky. He’d smoked the cigarettes left outside the fire sites as he’d waited for his opportunities. He wore the same size shoes as the footprints found. And, according to what he’d admitted in interrogation, he’d done it all solely for the glory of being a hero.
Leah had been checked out by Dr. Scott—at Jack’s insistence, she’d discovered—and then had stayed with Elsie until visiting hours had ended. She’d called Rafe to say she needed a few extra days. Then Ali had taken her home, where she’d showered, crawled into bed, and…stared at the ceiling.
“You okay?” she asked Jack now.
“Tim’s being held on evidence that we presented to the judge.”
Not an answer to her question. She couldn’t imagine how hard it had been, arresting one of their own, and she glanced over her shoulder at him, finding his face shadowed with exhaustion and worry. His hands were touching as much of her as he could reach, gently roaming over every inch of her. “Are you wearing my shirt?”
“Maybe,” she said.
When he spoke again, there was a whisper of a smile in his voice. “You stole my shirt.”
“Maybe.” She tried to turn over, but his arms tightened on her and he buried his face in her hair. “Talked to Dr. Scott,” he finally said, his lips brushing the curve of her ear as he spoke. “You were treated for mild shock. How are you feeling?”
He was still touching her. His fingers brushed the front of her panties and she forgot the question.
His front was plastered to her back. She fought the urge to turn and burrow into him, to inhale his scene and hold on forever. “I just can’t believe it was Tim,” she whispered with a shudder.
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