Which had turned out to be impossible. “Ally had been working as a waitress to earn enough money to go to Nashville and have a singing career,” he said. Wildly enthusiastic about everything, she’d sucked him in like a crazy breath of fresh air from the only life he’d been living at the time—the hospital. She’d done everything big—live, laugh, love. And God, that had been his undoing, her abundant passion. He’d fallen for her, hook, line, and sinker. “When she found out she was pregnant, things changed.”
“Did she stay in Lucky Harbor to be with you?”
“For a little while.” Josh had thought Ally would come to love him, too, but love hadn’t been the draw for her. She’d liked the idea of being a doctor’s wife and had figured it’d pay off better than being a singer. “She was going to have a perfect life,” he said, “but she figured out pretty quickly that I was about as far from perfect as one could get. Not to mention already married—to my job.”
Grace’s eyes flashed with fire again, but when she finally spoke, her voice was gentle. “So what happened?”
“Toby was born. I caught him, actually, held him in my hands and cut the cord.” His heart still caught at the memory, every single time. One minute he’d been living the selfish life that came with his job, the life he’d always wanted. And the next, he’d been holding this gloppy, squirming, pissed-off little rug rat. He’d held Toby in his hands, stared down into his own dark eyes, and had felt something open wide deep inside him.
Then Toby had yawned and gone to sleep on him. “He changed my entire life.” Ally’s too, but in a different way. She hated the 24/7 care the baby demanded. She hated the changes in her body. She hated that Josh was gone so much working. “One day I came home after a brutal double shift, and Ally handed me Toby. Said he was changed and fed. Then she grabbed her keys and her purse and walked out the door.”
She hadn’t looked back, not once in the past five years.
Grace looked horrified. “So she left you alone with Toby? She just walked away from you?”
“I really was a pretty crappy partner,” he said. “I was at work all the time. And she wasn’t cut out for the domesticated sort of home life a baby required.”
“But to just leave you and Toby. That must have been awful for you.”
“I didn’t have much time to dwell. A month later, a drunk driver hit my dad’s car head-on and killed both him and my mom. And then Anna came to live with me too.”
“Oh my God, Josh.”
He shrugged. Yeah, those first two years with Toby and Anna and his work had been a deep, dark hell. He didn’t like to remember the terror of having a baby, of dealing with Anna’s injuries, not to mention her mental state—which hadn’t been anything close to the downright sunny nature she displayed now in comparison.
Grace was quiet a moment. “Did you know I’ve never even so much as had a dog?”
He smiled, rubbing his jaw against her hair, loving that she wasn’t going to shower him with sympathy that he didn’t want. “That fact wasn’t on your dog flyer.”
She let out a low laugh. “My parents were too busy trying to save the world to have pets. I’m surprised they made time to adopt me. I have this recurring nightmare where I’ve turned into a rocket scientist and my ass has gone flat.”
He laughed, and the hand he had low on her spine slid down a little, giving her a quick squeeze. “It’s perfect.”
She smiled up at him.
“I like your laugh,” she said.
“Maybe it’s the hand on your ass that you like.”
“Why, Dr. Scott, are you flirting with me?”
“Desperately,” he said. “Is it working?”
She laughed. “Depends on the end goal. And also, if it matches my end goal.”
“Maybe you should spell yours out for me. Slowly and in great detail.”
She smiled, a demure little smile that belied the heat in her eyes, and hell if the woman didn’t turn him completely upside down and sideways.
And turn him on…
Then she went up on her very tiptoes and leaned in, her lips brushing his earlobe as she did what he’d suggested, telling him in detail exactly what her end goal was.
He nodded solemnly, memorizing everything, every last little detail, before taking her hand and heading up the stairs.
Chocolate is better than sex. It can’t make you pregnant, and it’s always good.
Grace had to take three steps for every one of Josh’s much longer strides, but she was laughing as she did. “Gee, Dr. Scott, in a hurry?”
He didn’t bother to answer her, just continued to steer them across the sand with the single-minded purpose of a man on a mission. She laughed again, and he tossed a look over his shoulder at her that had her swallowing the amusement and shivering in anticipation.
All her life she’d done what was expected, taken the “right” path. But Lucky Harbor, and her time in it, was supposed to be different.
She’d made it different. She’d made it hers. She’d never forget it.
Or him. “Where are we going?” she asked.
“Somewhere more secluded than this.”
“And the hurry?” she asked.
“I want to get you alone before you forget any of your end game or we’re interrupted again.”
“No worries,” she said. “I was very serious about my end game.”
Their eyes caught. “Thought you don’t do serious,” he said. “You do fun.”
“Is that what you’re looking for tonight?”
His gaze was fathomless. “It’s a start.”
She quivered. “I need to tell Mallory and Amy I’m leaving. Give me a minute?”
“I’ll get the car.”
Grace found Amy and Matt sitting at a booth sharing a pitcher of beer and trying to swallow each other’s tongues. Since Mallory and Ty were still on the dance floor doing the same thing, Grace texted them both without disturbing them. This had the additional benefit of not having to explain that she intended to go do the same thing that they were doing.
Heading toward the lot, she walked past a bunch of tables, all filled with people enjoying the night. Something niggled at her, and she turned back, realizing that one of the people was Devon.
With a girl who wasn’t Anna.
Grace stared at him in shock. “What are you doing?”
Devon turned away, pulling the girl with him into the shadows, and in another heartbeat they were gone, vanishing into the night.
Grace wondered if Anna was here as well, but she hadn’t seen her all night. It’d probably be impossible to maneuver around the crowded pier and the beach in her chair. Not only was the girl missing out on the festival, but also her boyfriend was a rat-fink bastard. Grace turned to walk away and plowed into a brick wall.
A brick wall that was Josh’s chest.
“Hey,” he said, catching her. “I got held up.” He took a second look at her. “What’s wrong?”
She couldn’t tell him, not here. He and Anna rarely saw eye to eye on anything, especially Devon, which was mostly due to his fiercely protective instincts, not to mention the fact that Devon was a complete ass. If Grace gave Josh proof of that right now, she wasn’t sure exactly what he’d do, but he’d do something.
And then there was how Anna would feel to not be the first to hear about Devon’s indiscretions. “Nothing’s wrong,” she said.
Josh didn’t buy it, but he didn’t push either. He obviously had other things on his mind at the moment. Such as getting her alone.
On the way to the car, they were stopped multiple times by people wanting to tell Josh their ailments. Everyone wanted to talk to him, to let him know that their throat hurt, or that they were feeling better, or that they planned on calling his office for an appointment next week.
“How do you do it?” she marveled. “How do you keep track of everyone’s various ailments and quirks and needs?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ve always had a good memory. My brain retains everything, even really stupid, useless stuff.”
“Yeah?” she asked. “Everything?”
“What was I wearing that day you hired me?”
“White lace panties.”
She laughed. “What?”
“You were all wet from the water. Your dress was sheer.”
“That’s not your brain’s memory,” she said. “That’s your penis’s.”
He grinned and leaned in to nip at her bottom lip. “I love it when you say penis in that prim schoolteacher tone, like you’re saying a forbidden word in public.”
She felt herself blush. “What would you rather I call it?”
His eyes darkened. “We’ll go over our body parts, and what they like to be called, in great detail tonight. But we have to get out of here first. The key is lack of eye contact. Don’t look at anyone. I don’t care if it’s God himself, just keep moving, got it?”
“I like that. More of that,” he said.
“Um, excuse me, Grace?” It was Mindy, who owned the florist shop that Grace delivered for. She sent both Josh and Grace a shy smile. “I hope I’m not interrupting…”
The look on Josh’s face was resigned, but to his credit he did make respectful eye contact. “It’s okay,” he said.
Mindy relaxed slightly. “It’s just that I haven’t been sleeping.”
Josh let out a breath. “I have office hours tomorrow,” he said. “From eight to—”
“Actually”—she turned to Grace—“it’s you I need to talk to. I need some bookkeeping help. I heard you’re the one in town to go to for this sort of thing. You helped Lucille, Anderson, and Amy, right?”