Page 12

Author: Jill Shalvis

“I don’t have any money,” she finally said.

“You’re not going to need any.”

This produced another long, unblinking stare.

In the silence, his own belly grumbled. “Let’s go.”

Her eyes swiveled to the diner on the pier’s corner. “What kind of place is called Eat Me?” she asked, unwittingly cementing what he’d suspected all along.

If she hadn’t known the name of the only diner in Lucky Harbor, she hadn’t come from town. She didn’t belong here any more than she’d belonged out on the mountain. And he knew what that likely meant, he’d seen it all too often in Chicago. Homeless teens, a rising phenomenon that no one had yet come up with a solution for. She was either a runaway, abandoned, or a juvenile delinquent dodging the authorities. “The food’s good,” he said. “And I’m starving. So are you.”

The girl seemed to fold in on herself. “I’m not cleaned up good enough for a fancy place like that.”

Eat Me was just about the furthest thing from fancy he’d ever seen, but he gave her a cursory once-over. “You look fine.”


“Now, Riley.”

She slammed out of his truck and grabbed her backpack, hugging it tight to herself.

Matt almost told her to stop abusing his door but he thought back to all the times his dad had yelled at him for doing the same thing and kept his mouth shut. He refused to turn into his father. Not that there was anything wrong with his dad’s parenting skills, but it was unnerving to hear himself become that guy.

As he opened the diner’s door for her, he said, “The waitress is a friend of mine. Be nice.”

“Friend or friend?”

Ignoring that, he nudged her to a booth, not happy that under the harsh fluorescent lighting, he could see a fist-sized bruise on her jaw.

Amy was several tables down, serving from a large tray and clearly babying her wrapped wrist. She was wearing a black sundress with her kick-ass boots, topped off by the ever-present pink Eat Me apron. Just looking at her short-circuited his brain.

She turned her head and met his gaze, revealing nothing. She was good at that, too good. But two minutes later, she came by their booth with two sodas, and Matt smiled at her.

Amy didn’t return the smile but her gaze dropped to his mouth, and he knew she was thinking of their last kiss up against her door.

Worked for him, since he’d pretty much done nothing but.

Riley picked up the tension between them, Matt’s smile and Amy’s lack of, and cracked a small snarky smile. “Thought you said she was your girlfriend,” she said to Matt. “She doesn’t appear to like you much.”

Amy gave Matt a long look.

Matt didn’t bother to sigh. “Thanks,” he said to Riley. “Thanks a lot.”

The girl flashed her first real smile.

Not Amy. Her eyes narrowed in on Riley like a hawk. “Hey, you’re the one who was watching me through the bushes on the mountain.”

Chapter 7

Chocolate does a body good.

Amy couldn’t believe it. She stared at the teenager who was still wearing the blue sweatshirt. Her face was dirtier than it’d been the other day, and her eyes were bright with false bravado and pride. Behind that lurked fear, plain and simple. There was a bruise on her jaw, too. Someone had hit her, and at that knowledge, Amy’s gut squeezed.

“Amy, this is Riley. Riley, Amy.” Matt met Amy’s gaze. “Riley’s hungry, and I’m my usual starving.”

“No problem.” Amy set a menu in front of the squirming, skinny Riley. She hadn’t bothered to bring one to Matt. He knew everything they served.

Matt tapped on Riley’s menu. “Whatever you want.” Then he rose, and moving with his usual quick efficiency, took Amy’s arm in a firm grip. “A minute?”

She opened her mouth to tell him she was swamped, but he met her gaze and she saw something in his—exhaustion. She let him direct her into the back hallway just outside the bathrooms. “You okay?” she asked.

There was a beat of surprise from him, then finally, he nodded. He was either fine or he didn’t want to discuss it. “What is she doing here with you?”

He didn’t answer the question, and by the way he was looking at her, she knew that wasn’t what he’d brought her back here to discuss. She had no idea what that might be.

“I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.

Not expecting that, or the punch of emotion the words brought, Amy stared into his light brown eyes. He hadn’t even touched her, and that now familiar zing ran through her, from the very roots of her hair to her toes, and then straight back to every erogenous zone she owned—of which there appeared to be more than she remembered.

Not appearing to be bothered by the zing in the least, Matt put his hands on her hips and gently bumped her back a step, up against the wall.

Not only wasn’t he bothered, she could feel that he liked the zing.

A lot.

There was nobody else in the hallway, so when he leaned in and kissed her, no one heard her soft murmur of surprise.

And arousal.

He gave her no tongue, nothing but his firm, warm lips, but the kiss wasn’t sweet, not by a long shot. Nope, this kiss had purpose, and that purpose was to remind her exactly how explosive their chemistry was. In that moment, there was nowhere else she’d rather be, and she showed him by pressing close and deepening the kiss.

There wasn’t much give to Supervisory Forest Ranger Matthew Bowers’s body, not a single inch—except for his mouth, his very giving mouth. Not until her knees had dissolved and she was grasping his uniform shirt in her sweaty fists to keep herself upright did he break free, pulling back just enough to meet her gaze. He murmured something that sounded like “every fucking time,” then gave a low laugh and shook his head, as if he couldn’t quite believe it either. Once more he brushed his mouth across hers, a lighter caress this time, slowing the pumping blood slightly.

And then as if nothing had just happened, he spoke. “Found the girl in an illegal campsite. I think she’s living out there. Has an ID that claims she’s eighteen. I want to have Sawyer run the address and check her out, but first I want to feed her.”

Aw. Aw, dammit. How the hell was she supposed to keep her distance when he kissed like that and had a soft spot for a teen in trouble? “She’s not from around here?”

“I don’t know. She lied to me about camping with her family, and now she’s saying she’s here in town visiting friends, but she’s lying about that, too. I’d like to take her back to where she belongs, if I could figure out where exactly that is.”

Amy grimaced.


“Not everyone lives a fairy-tale home life,” she said, painfully aware of what the girl might be trying to stay away from.

Matt’s eyes and mouth were grim, suggesting that he understood that all too well, perhaps more than Amy gave him credit for. “Yeah,” he said. “I know. I thought maybe you could help me figure her out a little.”

Amy went still, staring up at him. He looked at her right back. Steadily.

He wasn’t kidding. “Oh no,” she said. “No, no, no.”

“Why not?”

“Because what do I know about teenage girls?”

“You remember being one, right?”

Yes, far more than she wanted to admit. Like Riley, she’d ended up on her own at too young of an age. Looking back, it was a miracle that she’d made it relatively unscathed, not to mention alive. “I really don’t have time for—”

“Just soften her up a little,” he said. “I want to help her but she’s not overly fond of me, and I think she might be in some sort of trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“I don’t know.” He ran a hand over his face, as if he was bone-tired and barely keeping himself awake. And hell if that didn’t soften her, too.

“Just get what you can out of her,” he said, sensing her capitulation, not too tired to press his advantage. “That’s all. A few minutes.”

“And why me exactly?”

He ran a callused finger along her temple, making her shiver. “Because you have a way with people.”

She choked out a laugh. Her way with people was usually to piss them off. “If I’m your best bet, you’re the one in trouble.”

He gave her a searing look that promised he was not only in trouble, he was trouble, and that he’d be worth every second of it. But his next words quickly doused any inner fire.

“I think she’s been abused,” he said quietly. “She doesn’t like to be touched. And when I brought her here to feed her, she assumed I’d demand sex as payment.”

Amy’s gut clenched hard, but she nodded and then tried to move past him to go back to the dining area. Matt wrapped his fingers around her wrist, stopping her. “Hey.” He dipped down a little to see directly into her eyes. “You okay?”

“Of course.” Wasn’t she always? She tugged, giving him a level look when he didn’t immediately let go. Her patented “don’t make me kick your ass” look. “I have to get back to work. Jan doesn’t pay me to stand around and kiss her customers.”

That alleviated some of the strain from his eyes, and he smiled. The kind of smile that made her want to kiss him some more. “You kiss a lot of customers?”

She gave him a push. He knew damn well he was the only one. And despite what she’d said about needing to get back to work, she didn’t go directly back to her tables. She took a moment and a deep breath. There was a lot going through her. She’d been serving a big table when that first prickle of awareness had raced up her spine, settling at the base of her neck, followed by a rush of warmth, and she’d known.

Matt had come into the diner.

Nothing unusual, really. He came in a lot. Tonight he’d been later than usual, which meant he’d had an especially long day. Shaking it off, she moved to the drink dispenser to get him another soda.