“Keep up?” Grace asked.
“Yeah. At first, I just took people’s cash or checks and shoved the receipts into my purse or pockets or wherever.”
She was talking about her accounting, Grace realized with horror. She might not be a bean counter anymore, but she still had a healthy respect for the process. “You said at first. What are you doing now?”
“Well, I decided I was being irresponsible,” Amy said, “so I started a file.”
“That’s not a file,” Grace said. “That’s a box.”
“Yeah, whatever. A box worked better.” Amy pushed it toward her. “For you.”
Grace opened the box. It was full of…everything. There were napkins with numbers and dates scrawled on them, little pieces of paper with more numbers and dates, bigger pieces of paper, receipts, some folded, some crumpled, some not. Grace lifted a round cotton pad with a number scratched onto it in what looked like eyeliner and stared at Amy in disbelief.
Amy shrugged. “So bookkeeping isn’t my thing. It’s yours, right?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose.”
“And?” Amy looked at her expectantly.
“You going to help me or what?”
“How?” Grace asked in disbelief. “By getting you a bigger box?”
“No, by keeping track of my shit.” Amy waved her hand. “You know, create a system so I don’t look like just another idiot with a box come tax time.”
Grace looked at Mallory, who laughed. “Better do it,” she told Grace. “Before the IRS takes her away.”
Grace pulled the box near her and sighed. “Fine. I’ll do the damn books. But it’s going to cost you.”
“Chocolate cupcakes. Tara’s cupcakes.” Tara was Grace’s landlord at the B&B, and there was little that compared to the exquisiteness of Tara’s baking. Not that Grace could afford her.
“Done,” Amy said. “But I’m going to pay you as well, so be sure to bill me.”
“On what, a napkin?”
Over chocolate cupcakes—not Tara’s, unfortunately—they discussed the latest and newest. Amy was moving in with her sexy forest ranger, Matt Bowers. Mallory was planning to elope with Ty, a local flight paramedic, to a beach somewhere in the South Pacific—though she wanted a big reception here in Lucky Harbor when they got back. And Grace told them about dog walking for Josh, laughing a little because dog walking hardly compared to relationships. “I didn’t realize it would be an ongoing thing,” she said. “But the good doctor has this odd ability to get his way.”
“Yeah, you know who else is like that?” Amy asked. “All men. Is his pug’s name really Tank?”
“His sister brought the puppy home for the kid,” Mallory said, knowing much more about Josh than any of them since she and Josh worked together at the hospital. “Without asking, I should add. It’s Anna’s life mission to drive Josh insane.”
“Why?” Grace asked.
“I don’t know. I think she’s trying to make him pay for her being in a wheelchair, which of course isn’t his fault. Between her, Toby, and the hospital board all up Josh’s ass about selling them the controlling percentage of his practice, he’s got to be close to losing it completely.”
Actually, every time Grace had seen Josh, he seemed perfectly calm, perfectly in control, and perfectly…yum.
If not entirely too exhausted. “Why would he sell the controlling percentage of his practice?” Grace asked.
“People don’t realize how much work a sole practice is,” Mallory said. “If something happens to a patient, it’s his fault. If a billing error’s made and a procedure’s wrongly claimed, that’s fraud—also his fault. The list is endless, and he’s responsible for all of it. That doesn’t even count the med school loans, the license requirements, insurance bills, office costs, support systems…” She shrugged. “People think doctors have it easy, but they don’t. Josh inherited the practice from his late father, but his first love is the ER. If he sold, he could spend more time there. Or with Toby.”
“Then he should sell,” Grace said.
“Not that easy,” Mallory said. “His father was very popular around here, and he built that practice out of love. People come from all over to go see Dr. Weston Scott’s son, out of loyalty and affection. It’s a huge obligation on Josh’s shoulders.”
Grace nodded. Oh boy, did she understand family obligation. Hers was to become Someone Important. Instead she was walking dogs and delivering flowers and kissing sexy doctors named Josh…She realized conversation had lagged and that Amy and Mallory were staring at her. “What?”
“You tell us what,” Mallory said. “Miss Staring-Dreamily-Off-into-Space.”
“I wasn’t,” Grace said. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s something,” Amy said.
“Oh, it’s something all right,” Lucille said helpfully, getting out of the booth to their right. “She left out the kiss.” She pulled out her cell phone. “Here.”
Oh boy, Grace thought. Déjà vu.
And indeed, Lucille produced the infamous Facebook pic.
Mallory’s and Amy’s eyes cut straight to Grace, and she grimaced. “Okay, so I maybe left a teensy little part out,” she admitted.
Amy took Lucille’s phone and cocked her head sideways. “What are you wearing? That’s one hell of a tiny frigging bikini. I had no idea pink polka dots were your thing.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Grace snatched the phone and handed it back to Lucille. “It was you. You posted this thing.”
“Well of course I did. It’s been a slow week. Nothing exciting—until you kissed the town’s favorite bachelor.” Lucille winked, snagged a cupcake, and went on her way.
Intending to do the same, Grace slid her purse on her shoulder and picked up Amy’s box of receipts. “It’s getting late.” She made a move to slide out of the booth but Amy blocked her exit with one very wicked-looking kickass boot.
“Fine.” Grace sagged back. “We kissed, okay? No big deal. And I didn’t tell you guys because I didn’t want you to make a bigger deal out of it than it is.”
“You kissed the hottest doctor in town,” Mallory said in disbelief. “Maybe the hottest doctor ever, and you don’t think it’s a big deal?”
“He kissed me,” Grace corrected, grabbing another cupcake since her exit was blocked. “And are you sure he’s the hottest doctor ever? I mean, you’ve seen Grey’s Anatomy, right?”
“Ever,” Mallory maintained, and shrugged helplessly when both Amy and Grace stared at her. “So sue me, I have a thing for late-bloomer nerds.”
Grace choked on her cupcake and it almost came out her nose. “Late-bloomer nerd? Are you kidding me?” Josh was six foot four and solidly built. He had melted dark chocolate eyes and a smile that did more for her than the cupcake she was eating, and a way of moving his big, gorgeous self that always made her clothes want to fall right off. “Nothing about him says nerd.” Nothing.
“Well, I went to school with him,” Mallory said, carefully peeling her cupcake out of its baking paper. “He hit high school at like five-five and was the scrawniest thing you’ve ever seen. He wore glasses and still couldn’t see worth shit. Oh, and he was head of the science club and got beat up by the football players unless he did their homework.”
“Damn,” Amy said, sounding impressed. “He sure turned things around for himself. I bet he enjoys his reunions, being a big-shot doctor and everything. Not to mention he looks like he could kick some serious ass if he wanted.”
“He kicks serious ass every single day,” Mallory said. “By saving lives. He raised his sister. He’s raising his son.”
“Speaking of which,” Grace said, “what happened to Toby’s mom?”
Mallory did a palms-up. “She wasn’t from around here and she didn’t stick. That’s all anyone really knows. Josh doesn’t talk about it.” She’d finished her cupcake and licked some chocolate off her thumb before concentrating on Grace. “I know you planned to just blow through Lucky Harbor and ended up staying longer than you meant to. And we’re glad about that, so very glad.” She said this with fierce affection, reaching for Grace’s hand. “Because the three of us, we give each other something.”
“A hard time?” Grace asked.
“Hope,” Mallory said. “And courage. You wanted the courage to add some badly needed fun to your life. The kiss with Josh sounds like a good start to me. That’s all I’m saying. So don’t sweep it under the rug as a fluke or try to forget about it. Enjoy it.”
Grace blew out a breath. “Well, sure, cloud the issue with logic.”
Mallory smiled. “We made a pact to change our lives, and that’s what we’re doing. All of us. No man left behind.”
Grace was incredibly touched by the “we.” She’d never had siblings. Her parents had given her everything they had but they weren’t warm and fuzzy by nature. She’d had girlfriends, but they were always schoolmates or coworkers. Her relationships had always been born of circumstance.
This wasn’t the case with Amy and Mallory. They were the real deal, and better than any sisters she might have spent her childhood wishing for.
Mallory pointed at her. “I mean it!”
Grace ignored her suddenly thick throat. “It’s hard to take you seriously when you have a chocolate mustache.”
Mallory swiped it off with her forearm. “And it’s not like I saw this life of mine coming down the pike, you know. Opening up a Health Services Center, falling in love…I mean, I am so not sitting in a European sidewalk café right now, rearranging my desperately alluring miniskirt and thinking about whether it’s too early to ring up U2 or go shopping.” She grinned. “That was my secret high school fantasy. But I wouldn’t trade this for the world.” She looked at Amy. “And you changed your life too. Tell her.”