Page 24

Author: Jill Shalvis

The four guys stared at her like she was an alien, and then Mitch burst out laughing again as they took an empty table.

Amy was the waitress on shift, and she was new to Lucky Harbor. Mid-twenties, she was tall and leggy and tomboy pretty in low-riding cargos, a tank top, and some ass-kicking boots. She was standing behind the bakery counter, gazing at Mitch, clearly unhappy to see him. When she’d first come to town, he’d gotten a little aggressive in his attempt to date her, until she’d actually Maced him one night.

Still laughing, Mitch looked her over and winked lecherously.

Lucille pulled out her cell phone. Probably calling the police, Chloe thought. She wondered if Sawyer was on duty, and how he’d feel about having to face down these drunken idiots.

“Jan should have refused them service,” Tara murmured. Jan was the diner’s owner and had a zero monkey business tolerance. “They’re obviously intoxicated, and they’re making Maddie as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”

“I’m fine,” Maddie said. A lie. She was vibrating with nerves. Confrontations did that to her, for good reason. She’d once told Chloe that her ex-boyfriend had been a bully, much like Jamie and Mitch. Smooth and charming on the outside, mean as a snake on the inside.

From the kitchen, the cook dinged his bell. Someone’s food was ready, and Amy loaded up a tray. As she walked past the guys’ table, Mitch reached out and patted her ass. “Hey, baby. Miss me?”

Amy gave him an eat-shit-and-die look. “Get your hand off my ass.”

He laughed like a hyena. “Or what?”

Amy dumped the tray over his head. Soup rained down his hands and face, noodles clinging to his wet skin. “Jesus, that’s hot!” he yelled, pulling his shirt away from his body.

Amy glowered at the others as she bent to pick up the fallen dishes. Chloe got up to help her, as did a man from a table behind them.

“Hey, asshole!” Mitch bellowed at the man crouched next to Amy. “Back away from my girlfriend.”

Amy stood up. “Are you kidding me? Get out of here, Mitch.”

Eyes completely soulless, Mitch merely smiled. “Make me.”

Chapter 14

“They say money talks, but all mine

ever says is ‘good-bye, sucker.’”

Chloe Traeger

Earlier that morning, Sawyer had given some serious consideration to staying in bed. He was tired, and already knew his desk was nothing but a mountain of paperwork waiting for him. He hated paperwork with the same passion that he hated errands, cooking for himself, and mowing his dad’s lawn—which reminded him, he needed to go by there, as he’d been doing every few days.

For all the good it did him.

Hell, Sawyer wasn’t even sure the man was eating the food he brought. Nolan Thompson was probably tossing it out soon as Sawyer left, then ordering himself pizza.

Sawyer would’ve liked a pizza. He thought about it all day, and five minutes from going off duty and getting himself that loaded thick crust, the call came in—overly rowdy customers at the diner. He drove over there wondering what the odds were that he’d get pizza tonight after all.

Not good, he realized in the first two seconds of walking through the diner’s front door.

“Who the fuck called the pigs!” Mitch bellowed at the sight of Sawyer. Swinging out, Mitch punched his fist through the bakery display.

Glass shattered to the floor in a slow, musical wave.

He pulled back his arm for another swing, blood blooming brightly from shoulder to wrist as he snagged a surprised Amy around the neck and pressed her against him. “Who did it? Who called? You?” he demanded of Amy, giving her a shake. “You?”

“No,” Chloe said, rising from where she’d been crouched on the floor picking up fallen dishes. “I did it. I called the police. Don’t hurt her.”

“Chloe.” Without taking his eyes off Mitch, Sawyer gestured for her to sit back down. “Mitch, let her go.”

Mitch shook his head and tightened his grip on Amy.

“Amy didn’t do anything to you,” Chloe said to Mitch, not sitting down.

“Chloe, goddammit,” Sawyer said softly. “Sit.”

Mitch was glaring at Chloe, clearly wishing he had enough arms to grab her, too.

Lucille stood up next to Chloe. “Mitchell Tyson, if you hurt that girl, I’ll tell your mother. Do you hear me?”

Jesus Christ. Sawyer’s fingers itched for his gun, but he couldn’t pull it. The place was too crowded, each person being an unpredictable variable in this shitty situation.

And Chloe knew that, dammit. Anyone with any common sense would have just let him handle this. But he’d been in enough bad spots to know that common sense wouldn’t come into play, not during a time of panic.

And people were panicked, he could practically smell it. The most panicked of all was Mitch. Sawyer watched the blood run down Mitch’s arm and wrist to drip on the floor. With any luck, he’d pass out from blood loss. “Let her go, Mitch,” he said again.

“No way, man. I watch those cop shows. I know what happens to a guy like me.”

Sawyer would have liked to evacuate the diner quickly and quietly, but no one in Lucky Harbor did anything quickly or quietly. “Nothing’s going to happen to you if you let her go.” He took a few steps forward, stopping only when Mitch tightened his grip on Amy, cutting off her air supply.

Amy clawed desperately at Mitch’s bloody arm.

“Stop it,” Chloe yelled. “You’re strangling her. Stop it!”

Mitch eyed the front door, but Sawyer was blocking it. “Let her go,” Sawyer told him. “And I’ll let you walk free and clear.” He spoke the lie smoothly, without blinking an eye.

“Fine.” Mitch shoved Amy hard at Sawyer, but before he could make his escape, Chloe whirled and executed a badass roundhouse kick to Mitch’s family jewels.

Mitch let out an unholy scream but didn’t go down. He reached for Chloe, but Sawyer was already lunging forward. He vaulted the table between them, hitting Mitch in the middle of the back. They crashed into the center of Chloe’s table. The Formica table cracked and broke beneath them, sending them to the floor hard.

Sawyer pulled Mitch’s hands behind his back and cuffed him just as the front door opened.

Everyone craned their necks to see what now.

Matt Bowers walked in. Though he was wearing his forest ranger uniform and obviously armed, he was looking loose and relaxed, sipping on a Starbucks coffee. He took in the room with his sharp eyes, not missing a thing. “Aw,” he said to Sawyer, taking a slow sip of his coffee. “You get all the fun.”

Chloe, Maddie, and Tara helped Amy and Jan clean up the diner. Chloe did so with an ear half bent toward the action outside, where Sawyer had hauled Mitch.

The parking lot was cop central. Chloe could see Sawyer in profile, looking particularly badass in his uniform and various weaponry, his face the usual impassive blank as he directed Mitch toward the back of an ambulance. Odd how one man could evoke so many emotions within her. Lust? Oh yeah, much of the time. The urge to smack him upside the back of his head? Yep, that was often there, too. Affection? She’d have said no. He didn’t need her affection, everyone admired and loved Sawyer, who was just about the most composed, self-assured, capable man she’d ever met.

But there was something suspiciously close to affection filling her now, which had her shaking her head at herself.

Todd, Jamie, and their other pal were out there, seated on the curb being questioned. Inside the diner, things were nearly back to normal, but Chloe didn’t think she’d forget anytime soon the way Sawyer had looked facing Mitch. Her stoic sheriff had been steady and calm, his body at ease but ready for anything.

Willing to put his life on the line.

It’d been that willingness that had really brought home the realities of his job. He wasn’t playing at getting a thrill, the way she did when she went rock climbing or hang gliding.

His job was real. And potentially lethal.

There’d been that one horrible moment when Mitch’s arm had tightened over Amy’s throat and Amy had made that little involuntary squeak as she’d used up the last of her air. Terror. More than anyone, Chloe knew what that terror was like, and she’d never felt so helpless in her life, so she’d interfered. She’d just been so afraid that Sawyer’s help would come too late.

She’d made it worse, but Sawyer had handled it. He’d had an entire diner full of scared customers, and yet he’d resolved the situation with minimal damage.

Amy came up next to her at the window.

“You should go home,” Chloe said gently.

Clearly made of sterner stuff, Amy shook her head. “I’d rather be here and keep busy. Besides, the police said I’ll need to answer some questions for their report in a few minutes. I wanted to thank you for helping. We’ve got customers pouring in now. Lucille must have put it up on Facebook already.”

The cook’s bell dinged from the kitchen, and with a tight smile at Chloe, Amy moved off.

Chloe stayed at the window. Without looking, she knew when her sisters closed in and flanked her. A year and a half ago, they’d been complete strangers to each other. Now she could sense their presence without a single glance, just as she also knew that Tara was frowning in concern and Maddie was waiting for the right moment to hug her tight. That was Maddie’s thing, hugging. Kissing. Throwing the love around.

Chloe could appreciate that the three of them were very different, that they each had their own way of expressing their feelings, but she herself was of the show-don’t-tell school. She showed her feelings through actions, which she thought she’d done over and over again for her sisters by laying down roots here. It certainly hadn’t been for herself. At least not at first. “Close call,” she murmured.

“You’ve had a few of those in as many days now,” Tara said.

“I’m fine.”

“You always say that.”