Page 41

Author: Jill Shalvis

She grabbed an ancient looking folded-up tent and sleeping bag. He had no idea where she’d gotten them and didn’t want to ask, afraid he’d have to add to the list of things she’d stolen.

“I didn’t take them,” Riley said. “If that’s what you’re thinking. Some old guy out here gave them to me.”

Great. “You got anything else?” he asked.

“You see anything else?”

He ignored the belligerent tone because he recognized false bravado when he saw it. For the moment, he was willing to let her have that. It beat the shit out of tears any day of the week.

But it killed him that those two things, along with the backpack on his shoulder, were her entire worldly possessions. “My truck’s down the road.”


“So you’re going to walk there with me and get in it.”

“Why, so you can arrest me?”

“Just get moving, Riley.”

“I want to hold my backpack.”

“I’ve got it,” he said, patience wearing thin.

“I want—”

“Now, Riley.”

She hesitated, just long enough to make him wonder if he was going to have to force her. Finally she started walking—practically dragging her feet—but she was moving.

At his parking spot, she stared at his truck. “There’s no backseat for prisoners.”

“You’re not a prisoner.”

They tossed her tent and sleeping bag into the truck bed, and her gaze locked in on her backpack.

“No,” he said, and put it behind his seat.

“I didn’t ask anything.”

“Just making a blanket statement. Get in. Buckle up.”

“Where’s the handcuffs?”

Jesus. “Just get in the damn truck, Riley.”

Matt drove the sullen girl and her evidence back into town. Instead of heading to the sheriff’s station, however, he drove to the diner. He parked, pulled out his cell phone, and called Amy.

“You find her?” she asked breathlessly, as if she’d been waiting on tenterhooks for his call.

His gut twisted again. He didn’t want to give a shit. Not even a little bit.

But he did.

He was still angry, but he knew damn well how hard this was going to hit her. “Come out to the lot.”

There was a very loaded pause. “Are you going to arrest me for something?” she finally asked.

What the hell? Were all the females in his life crazy? “No,” he said with a calm he didn’t feel. “Why would I arrest you?”

“I don’t know. Why would you command me to the parking lot?”

He rubbed the ache between his eyes with a finger. “Just come out to the damn lot.” He paused. “Please.”

“That still needs work,” she said, “but I’ll be right there.”

Amy walked out to the lot, not at all sure what to expect. It sure as hell wasn’t to find Riley in Matt’s passenger seat. Amy had been sick with worry, but now a very bad feeling settled inside her to go with it. “You okay?” she asked the teen.

Riley nodded.

Matt had gotten out of the truck and gestured Amy to the back, where presumably he could speak without Riley overhearing. Amy knew whatever it was, she wasn’t going to like it.

“Problem,” Matt said.

Before Amy could respond, the passenger door opened, and Riley joined them, shoulders hunched, hands shoved in her front pockets. “It’s me,” she said, staring at her shoes. “I’m the problem.”

Amy looked at Matt, then back at Riley, her heart pounding dully in her ears. “Tell me.”

“He didn’t already do that?” Riley asked. “Text you on the way over here and let you know what happened?”

“No,” Amy said carefully. “Why would he do that?”

“Because you two are a thing.”

“No, we’re not,” Amy said, not looking at Matt. “Tell me what’s going on, Riley.”

Riley blinked. “Wait—What do you mean you’re not? You were.” She divided a confused look between them, and when neither of them responded to her, she seemed to deflate even more. “Because of me?”

“No,” Amy said, heart tight and heavy. “Now talk to me.”

“I did it,” Riley whispered. “I took the money.”

Amy felt the words lance right through her. She made a low, involuntary sound of shock and denial, and Riley spoke quickly. “I was going to pay it back, I swear!”

Amy reached out and grabbed the side of the truck. “You took the money.”

A big, silent presence at Amy’s side, Matt opened the truck bed and gestured for her to sit on the tailgate, which she did, staring at Riley.

Riley sat next to her and focused straight ahead. “I only did it because I had to pay Troy back, or he wasn’t ever going to leave me alone.”

“Troy,” Amy said quietly. “Your stepbrother?”

“Yes. Last year I had to change foster homes again. Troy was there. He said he’d be my brother.”

“Being in the same foster home doesn’t make him your brother in any sense of the word.”

“I know,” Riley said. “But he wanted to be related to someone. He called us brother and sister and said he’d take care of me. But then he…” She looked away. “He wanted payment. And not with money or anything.”

Amy felt sick. She knew this story and knew the ending. “Oh, Riley.” She hugged the girl, looking over her head to Matt.

He had his cop face on. No help there, which she could admit wasn’t a surprise. She’d led him to believe she trusted him, and then she’d held back. Riley had held back. He had good reason to be quite over them both.

“What happened next?” Amy asked Riley.

“I turned eighteen and was released from the system.” Her voice was muffled since she had her face down, pressed into Amy’s shoulder. “I left the house, but I needed money. Troy loaned me some. He said I had to pay it back, but I couldn’t get a job. No one was hiring. So I had to borrow some more from him.”

“Where was he getting his money?” Matt asked.

Riley lifted her head. “I don’t know. Finally I got work at a fast food place, but it didn’t pay enough for me to live and pay him back. He kept showing up and…” She closed her eyes. “The manager told him to leave me alone, and they fought. Troy broke the manager’s nose, and the next day I got fired.”

“Is that when you came to Lucky Harbor?” Matt asked.

She nodded. “I camped out, hoping Troy would forget about me. But he didn’t. He found me, and he wanted money.”

“So you stole it to give it to him,” Matt said. “Instead of coming to me or Amy and telling us the problem.”

Riley stared at him as if he’d grown a third eye. “You wouldn’t have believed me.” A tear slipped down her cheek, and she angrily swiped it away. “You don’t even like me.”

“Actually, I do like you,” Matt said. “I like you a lot. You’ve got grit and determination. You were picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and trying to make a go out of the cards you were dealt. I liked that a whole hell of a lot, too. And for the record? I’d have believed you, Riley. Remember that for next time.”

“But now… now you don’t trust me.”

“You’ve lied. And you’re right, like you or not, I don’t trust liars.”

Amy flinched. Lost in her own misery, Riley crumpled. “I’m sorry,” she said in a small, breathlessly rushed voice. “I thought I could do this and be free.” She stared down at her shoes, but her words were directed at Amy. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. You were the first person to ever believe in me, and if I could have, I’d have stayed forever. I’m really sorry.”

“I know,” Amy told her. “It’s okay. I—”

“No, it’s not okay.” Riley swiped at her nose with her arm. “Because now I made you and Matt break up. I messed everything up. I always do.”

“You are not responsible for me and Matt,” Amy said fiercely, throat burning. “You’re not taking the blame for that.” That was all on her…

“But the money…” Riley whispered.

“That,” Matt said, “you are going to take the blame for.”

For Amy, it was a terrible, gut-wrenching déjà vu. She’d always been the one to mess up. She was supposedly an adult now, but at the moment, watching Riley suffer through her own mistakes was bringing back those awful memories. Hardly able to breathe, she glanced at Matt.

Sympathy was the last thing she expected to see, but that’s what was on his face. He let out a breath, the kind a very frustrated man lets out when he’s been put in a bad situation by a female he cares about. And Amy’s heart hurt even worse.

Riley pulled her knees up and dropped her head to them, hunched into herself on the tailgate next to Amy, her face covered by her hair. “Why couldn’t you just let me go? I could have kept running. I could have—”

“No.” Matt crouched at her side, waiting until she lifted her tear-stained face and looked at him. “Listen to me,” he said. “You can get through this. You can get through anything and still make your life something. You hear me? All you have to do is want it bad enough. I believe in you, Riley. I believe you can do this, make this all okay.”

Amy’s heart rolled over and exposed its tender underbelly. She’d never seen anything quite so fierce and amazing as Matt telling Riley, a girl who’d done nothing but give him trouble, that he believed in her.

It gave her a terrible ache and miraculous hope at the same time.

Riley stared up at Matt, solemn, red eyed. And slowly nodded.

He gave her a nod right back, then rose to his full height and turned to Amy. “We need to go see Sawyer. It’ll be up to Mallory and Jan if they want to press charges. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it.”