He was back at his table with the guys before Mallory recovered. “He’s mine,” she said, sounding shell shocked. “Can you believe it?”
Grace was fanning herself. “Does he always kiss you like that?”
“That?” Mallory asked, still looking dazed. “That was just the appetizer on the Ty menu of kisses.”
“You are one lucky woman,” Grace said.
Mallory grinned. “I am, aren’t I?”
Amy’s gaze was still locked in on Matt. He was as fixated on her.
The music was loud, the sounds in the bar joyous and rambunctious. There was dancing, and after a few minutes, Ty came back and stole Mallory away. Several other guys lined up to ask Grace to dance, and someone asked Amy as well.
But she didn’t want to dance with a stranger.
She didn’t want to dance at all.
What she wanted felt complicated and scary, but hell, baby steps, right? Right. So she got up and walked to where Matt and Josh were sitting. Both men smiled at her, but she had eyes only for Matt. He was still in his uniform, hair mussed, eyes shadowed and brooding. He’d gotten some sun today, but he looked weary to the bone.
Clearly it’d been a long day.
But there was something about this quiet, brooding Matt that got to her. He was so… real. Everything he was, everything down to the bone, was genuine.
And he’d come here instead of to the diner. To avoid her? Something settled in her gut. Disappointment. Regret. Worry. She tried to gauge his thoughts but couldn’t. He wasn’t drinking; the only thing in front of him was a soda, no doubt his beloved Dr. Pepper.
Maybe he was still working…
Josh stood up and took her hand. “You owe me a dance.”
She laughed. “I do not.”
“Okay, I owe you a dance. For all that great service you always give me at the diner, complete with such sweet smiles.”
She gave him a long look. She wasn’t known for her sweet smiles. They all knew that she wasn’t known for her sweet anything.
But he flashed her a grin and smoothly pulled her onto the dance floor before she could protest. “Look at you,” she said, surprised. “You can move.”
“You know it,” he said, dancing with the kind of abandon only a big white guy with absolutely no sense of shame could pull off.
She had to laugh, and then again when he moved in close and purposely bumped his very nice body up against hers, his hands on her hips. “Josh,” she said, smiling up at him, “why are you flirting with me?”
He grinned. “Because it’s pissing off Matt.”
She glanced over at Matt, still at the table, still nursing his soda, staring at them with an unreadable look on his face. “Nothing pisses Matt off,” she said. “He doesn’t let anything get to him.”
Josh chuckled and leaned in closer. “Don’t let his cool exterior fool you. He lets plenty eat at him. He’s just good at hiding it.”
“Well, then you’re mistaken about his feelings for me,” Amy said. “He won’t care that we’re dancing.”
“Hmm,” Josh said, noncommittally. The music slowed, and he pulled her close so that she felt his chest rumble with his own amusement. “What’s he doing now?” he asked.
Amy took a peek, and her heart skipped a beat at the sight of Matt, still slouched in his chair. “Just watching.”
“Watching, and getting more and more irritated with me, I’d bet.” Josh sounded quite pleased at the thought. “He cares, Amy, big time.”
“And you’re doing this why?”
“Because I’m banking on the fact that you care, too.”
The song ended, and Josh gave her a hug, and then ambled off toward the bar. When she walked past Matt’s table to get to hers, he stood up.
“Hey,” she said, her heart taking a good hard leap just before she realized he wasn’t looking at her. He was on his cell phone. “Sorry,” she mouthed.
He shook his head, silently telling her it wasn’t her fault, but he didn’t stop. Instead, he headed straight for the door.
She stared after him. There was no denying it. She’d hoped to see him tonight, maybe talk. And if he hadn’t looked so… well, distant, she might have also thought about stealing a kiss.
Yeah, that’s what she really wanted. She could admit it to herself. She wanted his arms around her. She wanted his warm eyes looking into hers, making her feel like the only woman on earth, like only he could do.
She wanted to taste him, have him taste her. She’d wanted to slide her fingers into his silky hair and feel his warm strength surround her, making her feel safe.
And instead, he’d walked away from her without looking back. And though she’d done just that too many times in her life to count, she hadn’t realized how bad it sucked to be on the receiving end until now.
Chocolate. It isn’t just for breakfast anymore.
Matt moved out of The Love Shack and into the night. As he got behind the wheel of his truck, Josh opened the passenger door and took the shotgun position without a word.
“Hell no,” Matt said. “You’re walking.”
Josh chuckled but locked his door and buckled in. “Man, you are so gone over her. You ran out of there like a scared little girl and nearly forgot your wing man.”
“You suck as a wing man. And I was heading out because I got a call. Climber down.”
Josh’s smile faded. “Injuries?”
“Bad. That’s all I know.”
“You had a beer,” Matt said.
“Never got a chance to even take a sip, so I’m good.”
Matt nodded and hit the gas, heading toward Widow’s Peak while Josh pulled up a GPS of the area.
“I know exactly where we’re going,” Matt said grimly. “The guys we chased off of the face last week went back tonight for a moonlight hike.”
Matt turned off the highway and spared Josh a glance. “And since when are you Fred Astaire?”
Josh shrugged. “Pretty girl in my arms. What’s not to like?”
Matt ground his teeth. Amy was a pretty girl. She was his pretty girl.
Except she wasn’t.
He’d caught the look she’d given him tonight as he’d left. In spite of the fact that he’d been an asshole, she was concerned. Worried.
When she looked at him like that, all sweet eyed and tenderhearted, it did something to him. She’d looked at him like she wanted to take care of him, like she wanted to make it all better for him, and for a beat, he’d wanted her to do just that.
Which was not going to happen. He didn’t need anyone to take care of him.
“And you told me to find a woman,” Josh said. “Remember? You said—”
“Not that woman.”
“Well you should have been more specific,” Josh said in such a reasonable tone that Matt wanted to wipe the floor with his face.
Knowing it, Josh laughed softly, which Matt ignored because his phone was going crazy. First dispatch checking his ETA, then his boss wondering what the fuck a group of climbers were doing on Widow’s Peak at ten o’clock at night, in an area supposedly closed off to the public.
Matt would like to know the same thing.
“Did you get an injury update?” Josh asked when he’d hung up.
“No one’s on scene yet. S&R are en route, too.” Matt took the fire road that would bring them to the same midpoint where they’d found the climbers before. Once again, they had to hike the last quarter mile in, this time in the dark.
At the cliff’s edge, two guys were huddled, glancing anxiously down. A third had attempted to climb over to rescue the fourth and had gotten stuck, terrified, about ten feet down.
Much farther down, thirty feet or so, was the fourth, lying still on a ledge.
Search and rescue arrived just as Matt and Josh did. Everyone mobilized quickly, and in ten minutes, they had the first climber up. He had no injuries. Ten minutes more and they had the still-unconscious Trevor on a stretcher belaying him up with ropes, where he was then immediately airlifted out with Josh on board, looking grim.
Matt headed back to his truck alone and drove to the station, where he wrote up his report before heading to the hospital. He was furious, at himself. He’d known those kids would be trouble and should have found a way to keep them off the mountain.
Unfortunately, the update on Trevor wasn’t good. He was in critical care, and his very connected father was already making noises about suing the state, the county, the forest service, and Matt as well. Everyone and anyone over his son’s injuries.
The North District station was going to have a battle on its hands, and for Matt, it felt like Chicago all over again.
He grabbed an hour of sleep and by dawn was heading out with Sawyer to talk to the three uninjured climbers. Each of them vehemently denied that drugs or booze had been involved in the previous night’s climb.
Matt could only hope that the tests run on Trevor proved otherwise. He and Sawyer had just pulled away from the last climber’s house when Matt’s boss called, reaming him for the entire fiasco from start to finish.
“What?” Sawyer asked when Matt hung up and swore. “The kid take a turn for the worse?”
“No,” Matt said. “In fact, he woke up long enough to claim that none of them touched the gate, that they honestly believed the trail was open.”
“Gets worse,” Matt said. “He also says that I put my hands on him that day I chased him off the peak. That I pushed him.”
“Little dick syndrome,” Sawyer said. “Fucking punks.”
“Yes but he’s also a punk with a lawyer, who’s already all over it.”
“Fine,” Sawyer said. “You have Josh as a witness that you didn’t touch any of them.”