Jan was there, checking the ice machine. “Look at you jump for him,” she murmured. “Never figured you for the kind to jump for a man.”
“I’m not jumping for anyone.”
Jan sent her a knowing smirk, which was both annoying and embarrassing. So she knew Matt would be thirsty after a long day and that he’d want a refill, so what? Matt was hugely popular in town. Everyone knew what he drank, and how much.
And yeah, okay, she’d followed him to the back when he’d wanted to talk. That had been business.
She shifted so that she could see him in the booth with the girl, soaking up the sight of him in his uniform, slightly dusty, a lot rumpled. Armed. Clearly weary, his long legs were sprawled out in front of him, his broad shoulders back against the booth. He’d probably been outside all day, his tanned features attested to that, but somehow he’d still smelled wonderful.
Which only annoyed and embarrassed her all the more, because she really needed to stop noticing how he smelled. Rolling her eyes at herself, she went to his table to take their order.
“I’ll have the usual,” Matt told her, and looked at the sullen teen across from him, who was meeting no one’s eye. “Riley?”
“I don’t care.”
Matt sighed and turned to Amy. “Make it two of the usual.”
“His usual,” Amy informed Riley, “is a double bacon blue burger, fries, non-stop refills of Dr. Pepper, and a piece of pie. And by piece, I mean a quarter of an entire pie. You up for all that?”
Riley’s mouth had fallen open, but she nodded.
Amy went back to the kitchen. Jan was there with Henry, their cook. Henry was ten years younger than Jan and born and bred in Lucky Harbor. He’d been a trucker for two decades before going to culinary school in Seattle. He claimed cooking had healed his soul. It certainly had healed Eat Me, which had been floundering since they’d lost their last cook, Tara Daniels, to the Lucky Harbor B&B.
Jan was at the pie case dividing the only remaining half of apple pie into three pieces. Amy stuck Matt’s order into Henry’s order wheel, then reached in past Jan and snagged the biggest piece of pie.
“Hey,” Jan said. “I was going to serve that piece.”
“There’s still two left.”
“Yeah, but you took the biggest one.”
“It’s for Matt,” Amy said. She grabbed the second-to-last piece as well. “And this is for the girl who’s with him.”
“Why is Matt’s piece the biggest one?”
“Because you cut it uneven.”
“Yes, but why is his piece the biggest?”
“He tips the best,” Amy said.
Jan stared at her, and then cackled, slapping her thigh in rare amusement. Henry joined her.
“Hey,” Amy said, insulted, “it’s true.” Well, at least partially true. Matt did tip better than any of her customers. “He likes the pie.”
“Girl,” Jan said, “he likes you.”
Amy ignored this, even as the words brought her a ridiculous shiver of pleasure. This was immediately followed by denial. Matt didn’t know her, not really. Sure, he was attracted to her. She got that, loud and clear. And that was 100 percent reciprocated. But as for him liking her? She’d never really cared what anyone thought of her before, so it was disconcerting to suddenly realize she cared now. She set the pieces of pie aside, pointed at Jan to leave them alone, then made two dinner salads.
“There aren’t any salads on his order,” Jan said.
“What, you writing a book tonight?”
Jan cocked a brow.
“The girl’s a runaway. She needs greens,” Amy said.
“Hey, I don’t care if she’s the president of the United States. Somebody better be paying for those salads.”
“You won’t be shorted,” Amy assured her and brought the salads to Matt’s table.
The expression on his face was priceless as he stared down at the plate, looking as if maybe he’d swallowed something sour. “I don’t like salads,” he finally said.
“Why not?” Amy asked.
His brow furrowed. “Because they’re green. I don’t like anything green.”
“Me either,” Riley said, and pushed her plate away.
Amy put her hands on her hips and faced Matt. “Salads are healthy. And,” she added with a meaningful look and a hitch of her chin towards Riley, “for people who aren’t eating regular meals every day, they can be a critical addition to a diet.”
Matt stared up at her, six feet plus of pure testosterone. She knew that, in general, he did as he wanted, and she figured he’d been doing so for a damn long time. But he’d asked for her help, and even if he hadn’t, she wanted this girl to eat a frigging salad. The silent battle of wills lasted for about five seconds, and then Matt gave a sigh, picked up his fork, and stabbed at the lettuce with little enthusiasm.
Amy turned to Riley, who was staring open mouthed at Matt, clearly shocked that he’d caved, that he was going to eat the salad just because Amy had asked. Or told.
“You, too,” Matt said to Riley, jabbing his fork in the direction of the girl’s salad.
“No buts,” Matt said. “Amy’s more stubborn than a mule. You’re best off just doing what she asks or it’s like beating your head against a brick wall.”
Amy opened her mouth but decided to let that one go.
Riley sized her up for a beat and then blew out an exaggerated breath that spoke volumes on what she thought of being told what to do. Still, she began eating her salad.
Satisfied, Amy leaned against the outside of the booth, grateful to take some of the weight off her feet for a minute. For all Riley’s bitching, she was inhaling the salad like she hadn’t eaten in days. And hell, maybe she hadn’t. “So where are you from?”
“Around,” Riley said.
Well if that wasn’t downright helpful. “You enjoy the mountains?”
“Yeah,” Riley said around a big bite of lettuce. She was carefully avoiding the cucumbers as if they were poisonous snakes.
So was Matt.
“I’m going back up there to do some more exploring tomorrow morning, since I don’t have to work until late afternoon,” Amy said. “How long did you say you were camped out there?”
Riley went still, obviously shutting down. “I didn’t say.”
Amy nodded and met Matt’s gaze, which was warm and fixed on her. She didn’t want to think about why that made her feel warm in return, so she left them and went back to the kitchen. When the food was ready, she brought out the order, setting down Riley’s plate first. “You might want to—”
Riley began inhaling the burger and fries with vigor.
“—Take it easy,” Amy continued. “Too much on an empty stomach isn’t good.”
Riley didn’t slow down.
Matt moved over and patted the place next to him, and Amy caught Jan’s eye to let her know she was taking a quick break before sitting. “You been on your own for a while,” Amy said.
“When I was living on my own,” Amy said, “it was a jar of peanut butter and raw ramen noodles for the week. Used to be able to get those for like nineteen cents each.”
Riley was halfway through her burger already. “On grocery Tuesdays, you can get other stuff cheap, too.”
“Grocery Tuesdays?” Matt asked.
Riley lowered her gaze and hunched over her food, like she’d accidentally imparted a state secret.
Amy’s throat tightened and she looked at Matt. “It’s when some of the grocery stores throw out their older stock to make room for the new stock.”
Matt’s gaze slid back to Riley, but he didn’t say anything more.
From the kitchen, Henry dinged the bell, signaling that Amy had another order ready. She sent Matt a did-the-best-I-could look and walked away. It was what she did with problems. Walk. Teenage life sucked? She walked. Her mom’s new husband giving her trouble? She walked. Her own guy trouble? She walked. It was her MO.
But this time, for the first time, she wasn’t proud of it.
Matt watched Amy go, something new unfurling in his gut as certain things began to click for him. She didn’t like being approached unexpectedly, or startled. She’d once survived on peanut butter and ramen. And she was slow to trust.
At some point in her life, things had been bad, possibly worse than he could imagine. It wasn’t any of his business, and it certainly wasn’t his job, but that didn’t stop him from aching for her and Riley both. Amy didn’t want his sympathy. He knew this. Riley didn’t want his sympathy either, but she was in trouble. He knew it deep in his gut. He’d like to help but he held no delusions on his ability to do that for either of them.
He didn’t have a great track record when it came to fixing people’s problems. In fact, he had a downright shitty record when it came right down to it. He turned his attention to Riley. Clearly she was on the run, maybe from someone abusive, or at the very least, she’d been sorely neglected. She’d practically licked her plate clean, eating everything except for the cucumbers. Couldn’t blame her there. “Better?”
She answered with a nod, though she did smile when Amy delivered the pie. The way to a woman’s heart… dessert. Good to know.
Riley waited until Amy moved onto another booth. “Your piece is bigger,” she said.
“So?” Matt said. “I’m bigger.”
“Yeah, that’s not why your piece is bigger.”
Matt ignored this. When they’d finished, he paid the bill. The salads hadn’t been on it, which meant that Amy intended to pay for them out of her own pocket, so he made sure his tip covered the cost plus, then led Riley back to the parking lot. He could feel her anxiety level rising. “You have two choices,” he said. “You can tell me where your friends live so I can drop you off there, or I can run your ID and figure out your secrets.”