“I hope we’re going to talk about guys,” Grace said, picking out a brownie. “I’m in the middle of a man drought, and I need a thrill. I plan to live vicariously through you two.”
“Ask Mallory here to set you up,” Amy said dryly.
“Actually,” Mallory said, ignoring the jab, “there’re plenty of single guys around here. My brother’s newly single. Again.”
“Yes but he’s a serial dater,” Amy said. “Even I know to stay away from serial daters.”
“Even you?” Mallory asked.
“I don’t date.” But she did, apparently, lust after sexy forest rangers who shared their tents and last Dr. Pepper.
Amy shrugged. “Not my thing.”
“Again,” Mallory said. “Why?”
“I don’t know. I guess because I haven’t had much time for that sort of thing.”
“That sort of thing?” Mallory repeated. “Honey, every woman has enough time for love. It’s what makes the world go round.”
“No, that’s chocolate. And of course you think love makes the world go round. You’re getting lucky every night with Ty.”
Mallory grinned. “True.” Her smile faded. “Tell me the truth—how bad did I screw up by sending Matt to the forest?”
“Yes!” Grace whooped and pumped her fist. When Amy and Mallory stared at her, she winced. “Sorry. It’s just that we’re really going to dissect Amy’s life instead of mine.” Happy, she stuffed a brownie in her mouth.
Mallory was looking expectantly at Amy, who gave in with a sigh. “It’s not your fault,” she admitted, digging into her own very large brownie. “I’m the idiot who got lost on the mountain. Matt helped me out. And then, because of a stupid tree, we ended up camping out overnight.”
They both gasped, Mallory in delight, Grace in horror. “With no electricity?”
Mallory laughed. “They spent the night together and that’s what you want to know? About the lack of electricity?”
“Hey,” Grace said, “a woman’s morning routine is complicated enough with electricity.”
“We didn’t sleep together,” Amy said, then grimaced. “Well, at least not until I fell down a ravine trying to find a place to pee in private, sprained my wrist, cut my leg, bruised my ass and my ego, and had to be rescued again.” She waved her bandaged wrist for their viewing pleasure.
Mallory’s eyes were wide. “You fell down a ravine going to pee, and he rescued you? Were your pants still around your ankles? Because that’s not a good look for anyone.”
“No,” Amy said. “My pants were not around my ankles. But your concern is touching.” She kicked Mallory, who was snorting with laughter. “And how would that have been funny?”
“Oh, trust me, it would have been. Come on, this is the stuff that chick flicks are made of—the classic meet-cute, you know? And a story for your kids someday.”
“There will be no kids!”
Mallory licked a brownie crumb from her finger. “I’d suggest that good girl lesson number five should be to keep your pants on during a first date, but the truth is I can’t really talk in that regard since I slept with Ty on our first date.”
“Actually,” Amy said, “technically, you slept with Ty before your first date. And fine, if you must know my pants weren’t down when I fell but they might have come down shortly thereafter.”
Grace and Mallory gasped in delighted tandem.
“Get your heads out of the gutter,” Amy said. “I had a cut on my leg, and he had to doctor me up.”
“Of course,” Grace said dryly, and then leaned forward, brownie forgotten. “What kind of undies were you wearing, a thong or granny panties?”
“What does that matter?”
“Oh, it matters,” Mallory said.
“I can’t remember,” Amy lied.
From the next booth over, a face popped up. It was Lucille, local art gallery owner and all-around gossip extraordinaire. She exited her booth and stood in front of the Chocoholics, a smile on her face. She wore eye-popping lime green sweats today with Skechers tennis shoes that gave her four-foot-nine-inch frame an extra few inches. Her steel-gray bun gave her a few more. She shoved a twenty into Amy’s now empty charity jar while sliding her dentures around some. “What’s this I hear about panties and Ranger Hot Buns?”
Both Mallory and Grace pointed at Amy like the Two Stooges.
Amy pulled the entire plate of brownies toward herself. “Good girl lesson number six—don’t be traitors.” She looked at Lucille. “I had a little trouble out on the trail and got some assistance. End of story. Nothing more to report.”
“But he rescued you from the latrine,” Lucille pressed. “I don’t suppose you have a pic?”
“No!” She didn’t need a picture. Everything that had happened, from being rescued to the feeling of lying in Matt’s arms, was engrained in her brain.
“Well, jeez,” Lucille said. “No need to get your panties in a twist.” She paused. “But if you did get your panties in a twist, what kind of panties would they be? You know, for accuracy in reporting’s sake?”
Amy narrowed her eyes at her, and Lucille backed away. “Oops, look at the time—I’ve gotta skedaddle.”
When she was gone, Mallory eyed the brownie plate.
Amy tightened her grip on it. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Forget the brownies. What happened with Ranger Hot Buns?” Grace demanded to know.
“We shared his tent,” Amy said. “Nothing happened.” Well, nothing except for some pretty amazing kisses…
“Let me get this straight,” Grace said in disbelief. “You slept with Matt Bowers, the hottest guy in town, and nothing happened? Are you kidding me? That’s a crappy story.”
“Matt’s pretty hot,” Mallory agreed. “But I wouldn’t say he’s the hottest guy in town. Because Ty’s pretty damn hot. I mean think about them, side by side…”
There was a beat of silence as the three of them thought about the incredible hotness that was Ty and Matt, side by side. Amy let the image sink in and shivered, which she covered by stuffing another big bite of brownie into her mouth. There were certain things she knew for sure. When in doubt, eat chocolate. When stressed, eat chocolate. When in doubt and stressed, eat chocolate. Especially when that doubt and stress were related to a man and her feelings for said man.
“Did you at least dream about all the things you would do to him?” Grace asked. “Cuz that’s what I’d have done.”
Hell, yes, Amy had dreamed about all the things she’d like to do to Matt. Repeatedly. Not the point. “Yesterday he found a homeless teen up where we camped and brought her here to the diner. We fed her and then took her to my place so she could have a bed and a hot shower.”
“We?” Mallory asked. “You took Matt home with you as well?”
“He showed up on his own. I found him outside my house keeping watch.” She shook her head. “Not sure what that was about, to be honest.”
“I bet he wanted to make sure you were okay,” Mallory said.
Amy laughed, and Mallory and Grace exchanged a telling glance. “I’m always okay,” Amy said. “Probably he didn’t trust me not to screw it up.”
“Honey.” Mallory covered Amy’s hand with her own. “Why wouldn’t Matt trust you?”
Because no one ever had. But that was before, she reminded herself, before she’d worked so hard at growing up and separating herself from the past. She needed to remember that.
Mallory squeezed her hand. “Can I ask you something?”
“No, you can’t have another brownie. They’re all mine now.”
Mallory smiled but shook her head. “Why would you give Riley a chance and not Matt?”
“What are you talking about? Matt’s never wanted a chance with me.”
“Oh, please.” Mallory gave her a get-real look. “The guy comes into the diner only when you’re working. He sits at your table, and he watches you the same way that Ty watches me.”
“Yeah, and how’s that?” Amy asked.
“Like you’re lunch.”
Amy squirmed a little bit because deep down she knew it was true. She’d caught him at it. It never failed to evoke a multitude of emotions, not the least of which was an undeniable lust in return, but also something deeper and far more complicated than sheer desire.
And that’s what made it so uncomfortable. That’s what scared her.
“So I’ll ask you again,” Mallory said quietly. “Why not give him a shot?”
It was a question for which Amy didn’t have the answer.
A balanced diet is a chocolate in each hand.
Matt knew he had a reputation for being laid-back and easygoing. He wasn’t sure that either of those things was exactly true, but part of the appearance came from being prepared for anything at any time.
This ability had been honed in the military and then on the streets of Chicago. If a guy could survive warfare and SWAT, he could survive anything. Certainly one willowy, enigmatic, tough-nut-to-crack brunette named Amy Michaels.
He wanted to see her again. He’d resisted for two days now, but then he caught sight of her at the front counter of the ranger station. His office was down a hallway so she hadn’t seen him, but he’d seen her just fine. After she left, his junior ranger manning the desk had said she’d asked for a map to Four Lakes.
Matt had known she’d gone back up to Sierra Meadows the other day. He’d seen her there, amongst the diamond rocks, sketching. It’d taken all he’d had to leave her to the privacy she’d obviously wanted.
But why was she suddenly out on the mountain on her days off, hiking alone? He didn’t know, but he wanted to, so he made it a point to patrol today instead of trying to conquer the mountain of paperwork in his office. Just as well since he’d been taking a ribbing all morning for a certain Facebook post that had gone up the other day, something about how he’d added two new duties to his job description: rescuing maidens and playing doctor.