Page 42

Author: Jill Shalvis

Amy nodded and again hugged a trembling Riley, then watched her get back into Matt’s truck like she was going to the guillotine. She got one last unreadable look from Matt, and then they were gone.

Amy swiped her nose and stood there in the lot and called Mallory. “I’m sorry, Mal. I have no right, but I’m going to ask you for a favor.”

“Yes,” Mallory said.

“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask.”

“The answer’s still yes.”

Amy’s throat burned. “That’s like a blank check. Didn’t anyone ever tell you to keep your guard up when someone’s going to ask something of you?”

“That’s the thing,” Mallory said. “You’re not supposed to have a guard with good friends.”

Her heart swelled, feeling too big for her chest. “Dammit, Mallory.”

“Part of the pact. Are you learning nothing from those good girl lessons?”

In spite of herself, Amy’s eyes filled, and she sniffed. Shit.

“Are you crying?” Mallory asked.

“No, I have something in my eye.”

Mallory laughed. “You’re such a cute sap. Who knew? What’s the favor? Like I said, anything. Well, unless you want Ty. I’m afraid I can’t share him. Not even for you, babe. He’s all mine.”

Amy choked out a laugh. “Keep him, you deserve him.”

“I do.” Mallory let out a dreamy sigh, then got to business. “Okay, so spit it out. I have to get to the clinic. I’m running a thing tonight.”

“Riley stole your money,” Amy said.

“I know.”

“What? How do you know?”

“I might have been born here in Lucky Harbor,” Mallory said, “but I wasn’t born yesterday. What can I do to help Little Sticky Fingers? I’m thinking she had a damn good reason for that level of desperation.”

“She does,” Amy said grimly. “Matt has the jar with the cash. He has Riley, too. They’re heading to see Sawyer now.”

“Oh, boy. Poor kid.”

“I know…” Amy knew both Mallory and Jan had the right to press charges against Riley. Amy wouldn’t interfere there, but she could try to soften Riley’s way. “Do you think that if charges are pressed, you’d be willing to let her make restitution?”

“Absolutely,” Mallory said. “And if you want it to be painful, I just opened a Parents’ Night Out at the clinic. Starts tonight, in fact. Parents get to drop off their kids for a free night of babysitting. I’m short babysitters. Can’t think of a more fitting punishment for a teenager to face than babysitting little kids, can you?”

Amy found a laugh in the day after all. “You’re amazing, you know that?”

“I do know it,” Mallory said. “But I’ll be sure to put out a press release.”

Amy barely made it through the rest of her shift. She played phone tag with both Matt and Sawyer, but didn’t connect with either, until just as she was getting off work, Sawyer came by.

“Mallory didn’t press charges,” he told her. “Jan might have, but Matt managed to convince her that the girl would be paying restitution and making it right. I guess he called Mallory, who suggested Riley be forced to volunteer weekends at the health services clinic for the next three months.”

Not for the first time that day, Amy felt swamped with love for Mallory. Restitution, and Riley would stay in Lucky Harbor for a while longer. “So where is Riley now?”

“Working her first shift,” he said. “I dropped her off with Mallory.” He laughed ruefully. “I don’t know who I feel more sorry for, Riley or the kids.”

When he’d left, Amy looked down at her phone. No message from Matt. She supposed she hadn’t expected one.

But she’d wanted one.

She drove to the HSC. Mallory met her in the foyer of the building, holding a Nerf bow-and-arrow set. “I’d hoped you’d show up—” She broke off to whirl around and shoot a soft Nerf at a boy tiptoeing up behind her. He had his own Nerf bow-and-arrow set slung over his shoulder, but Mallory was faster, and her arrow nailed him in the chest.

With a wide grin, he spun in dramatic, action-adventure fashion before throwing himself to the ground. He spasmed once, twice, and then a third time, drawing out his “death scene” by finally plopping back and lying still.

“Nice,” Mallory told him. She looked at Amy. “You look like you need a brownie, bad.”

“Or a hammer upside the head.”

Mallory’s eyes filled with sympathy. “Aw, look at you, showing all your feelings. No more good girl lessons for you. You’ve graduated. I’m so proud.”

Grace popped her head out of one of the rooms. “The babies,” she declared with exhaustion, “are asleep. They all zonked out like a charm.”

“Maybe you should get a job as a nanny,” Mallory suggested, loading another arrow as she eyed the hallway with a narrowed eye.

But the boy who’d come around the corner was already locked and loaded and got her in the arm. She sighed. “Hit,” she said, and lay down on the floor.

“You’re supposed to fall,” the boy complained, looking greatly disappointed.

Grace continued the conversation through this chaos as if Mallory weren’t prone on the floor. “There’s not enough money in the world for me to take a nanny job. Are you kidding? Me and kids do not mix.” She grabbed Mallory’s bow and arrows and shot a second kid busily sneaking into the foyer. “Hey, Amy,” she said as three more boys appeared. “You going to pitch in or what?”

“She came to check on Riley,” Mallory said, sitting up.

“Hey,” the first boy said. “You’re supposed to stay dead.”

“If I stay dead, who’ll hand out snacks?”

The boy thought about this for a moment and nodded. “Plus, now I can shoot you again.”

“Not if I shoot you first,” Mallory said, making him laugh and run off. She stood and brushed herself off. “Riley’s doing okay,” she said to Amy. “She’s quiet, reflective I think, but okay.”

Relief filled Amy. “I’m so sorry about the money.”

“We did this already. You didn’t take it.”

“No, but—”

“Hush,” Mallory said, and when she told people to hush, they generally hushed.

Amy tried, she really did, and for about five seconds she managed. But in the end, she wasn’t much for remaining quiet when she had something to say. “I brought Riley into the diner. I’m the one who got her the job.”

“Yes,” Mallory said. “And Matt’s the one who brought her to you. Is he here saying he’s sorry for that? Is he apologizing for what Riley did?”

Matt wasn’t doing much talking, period. Amy was painfully aware of her silent phone in her pocket. “It wasn’t his fault.”


Amy let out a breath. “Fine, I get it. It’s not my fault either.”

Mallory smiled and hugged her. “I love you, Aimes, but you sure do like to carry that chip on your shoulder, don’t ya?”

“I do not.” But she did. She so did.

“Riley said she made you and Matt break up,” Grace said.

“No,” Mallory said. “That wasn’t her fault.”

“Was it yours?” Grace asked Amy.

Amy sighed. “Very possibly.”

“Honey, do you remember when I was so stubborn about falling in love with Ty?”

“You mean do I remember when you wore those five-inch stilettos to get his attention and then ended up giving Mr. Wykowski a heart attack?”

Mallory grimaced. “Heartburn.”

“And a boner,” Grace added with a shudder.

“Hello,” Mallory said. “I have a point here. It hurts to love.”

“Well that’s no newsflash,” Grace said.

“It is if you let me finish my damn sentence,” Mallory said. “It hurts even more if you love someone and don’t let that person know how you feel.” She gave Amy a long, meaningful look.

“Okay, wait a minute,” Amy said. “I never said I love Matt.” Her heart raced just from saying the words out loud. “In fact, that’s ridiculous. Totally ridiculous. One hundred percent totally ridiculous.”

Grace shook her head. “Party foul. Two too many uses of ridiculous.” She looked at Mallory. “She’s in love all right.”

“You know what? You’ve both taken a few too many Nerf arrows to the heart,” Amy said, backing to the door. “I just came to check on Riley, that’s it. I wanted to make sure she was okay, that you were okay,” she said, pointing at Mallory. “And that everything was—”

“Okay,” Mallory finished for her. “It is.” She snagged Amy’s hand and tugged her down the hall, cracking open a door.

Riley sat on a rug in the middle of a room, surrounded by toys and four little kids. Two were climbing on her, one was playing with her hair, and the last one was attempting to tie her shoelaces together.

They were all laughing, including Riley.

Amy looked at her and felt a clutch in her heart. She was still so furious at her for taking that money. Furious and sad and… messed up. Why had she so blindly trusted her? Had she so immersed herself in Lucky Harbor that she’d let her guard down? Apparently so. She’d let Riley in. She’d let Matt in.

And gotten her heart stomped but good.

Mallory touched her shoulder to Amy’s. “She’s going to stay at the new women’s shelter until Sawyer finds the guy who’s been harassing her and puts an end to it. Just like you wanted.”

No, what Amy had wanted was for everything to go back to how it’d been before.

Too late for that.