Page 25

Author: Jill Shalvis

“It’s true.”

Tara nodded. “You’re resilient,” Tara agreed. “But we still worry.”

“Not necessary.”

Together through the window they watched Sawyer, though Chloe was probably the only one whose good parts twitched at the way his uniform fit his big body.

“Let’s go home,” Maddie said after a few minutes, slipping an arm around each sister.

Tara nodded.

“I’ll meet you there,” Chloe said.

“’Kay.” Maddie squeezed them both, then kissed Chloe’s cheek. “Love you.”

“You too,” Chloe said, and though she didn’t take her eyes off Sawyer, she still felt it when Maddie rolled her eyes at Tara.

Tara didn’t hug Chloe, waiting instead until Chloe looked at her. “And you love me, too, right?”

“Sure,” Chloe said. Hello, wasn’t that implied?

“One of these days,” Tara grumbled, “you’re going to say it to me, and I’m going to be too old to hear you.”

“You’re too old now.”

Tara sighed. “See you at the inn.”

“Mm-hmm.” Chloe could see inside the ambulance. Mitch’s arm was being wrapped, with Sawyer watching closely. When Mitch shifted as if to run, Sawyer put a hand on his shoulder.

He had big hands. Capable of subduing suspects. Equally capable of taking her straight to ecstasy. He was also of the show-don’t-tell persuasion, which she appreciated.

“Hey,” Amy called out to Chloe as she strode by, her thin but toned arms straining under the weight of a heavily loaded tray. “No drooling on the glass!”

Sawyer drove himself to the ER. He’d sliced one palm and also had a cut above his left eye. Regulations required him to go for a hepatitis shot and to get checked out whenever blood was shed.

It took less than an hour. No stitches, just another boatload of paperwork. He was just walking out of the ER when a Vespa pulled up. He watched as Chloe parked illegally and walked to the entrance, stopping when she caught sight of him standing there beneath the overhang.

“Hey,” he said. “What are you—” He was deeply startled and stunned when she wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight.

When she’d interfered at the café, fear and fury had fought for equal space in his brain. With the fear for her safety gone, it left more room for the temper.

“I just heard you were hurt,” she said.

“I’m fine. Chloe—”

She reached up and touched the bandage over his brow.

He grabbed her wrist. “We need to talk.”

“Okay, so I butted in and I shouldn’t have.”

“Damn right you shouldn’t have.”

She glanced up at him, eyes fierce. “He was hurting her. And I was closer.” Her eyes settled on the bandage over his brow. “I’m sorry you got hurt.”

“It’s nothing. You’re the one who could have gotten hurt.”

“You had a gun.”

He gaped at her. “The diner was full. I couldn’t pull my gun. There are rules, protocols—”

“He was hurting Amy!” She looked at his cut and frowned.

“I’m fine.” If this whole thing wasn’t an example of their basic differences, he didn’t know what was. He’d never actually had to choose between his job and a woman before, and he never wanted to. He closed his eyes and found that his temper couldn’t hold up against the feeling of her warm and safe in his arms.

“I was scared,” she murmured.

“You’re safe now.”

“Not for myself! For you!” She took a breath. “But it’s your job. I get that, because your job is a part of you. No one gets that more than me.”

He’d lost his last girlfriend because of his job. And the one before that, too, now that he thought about it. He’d figured no woman could get it, but he’d forgotten.

Chloe wasn’t just any woman.

“I imagine it takes some time to learn to deal with the worry,” she said.

He felt an ironic smile twist his lips. “Want a lesson on how to deal with someone in your life who makes you worry?”

She stared at him. Then smiled. “Do you worry about me a lot?”

“Twenty-four seven.”

Her smile warmed. “We could start a club.” She found the bandage on his palm, and taking his hand in hers, turned it over to inspect it.

“Just a scratch,” he said.

Chloe nodded, then kissed the skin just above the bandage. He’d known that she enjoyed baiting him. That she’d also enjoyed driving him nuts. That she was sexually attracted to him.

All those things were mutual.

But this…this felt like more. It felt like a level of caring he hadn’t realized existed.

For either of them.

After the brief ER visit, Sawyer went back to the station to finish up the paperwork before finally dragging his sorry ass toward home.

He probably shouldn’t go so far as to call the house he’d purchased earlier in the year home. He actually wasn’t sure why he’d bought it in the first place, other than Jax had been on his ass to buy instead of rent for years now.

Sawyer had liked renting, liked not being responsible. But now that he’d gone and put his name on the dotted line of a mortgage, he was getting used to it. Plus he had to admit, owning a house gave him an air of unexpected stability, even respectability. It took him one more step away from that reckless guy he’d nearly turned out to be. Like Mitch. Like Todd. Like the thug his father had been so damn sure he’d end up being, rotting in jail somewhere.

But Sawyer hadn’t. He’d turned himself around. And he’d bought a fucking house to prove it.

The place needed work. A lot of work, actually. The house was older, built in the 1970s. The color scheme was early Partridge family. A month ago, he’d bought paint for the living room, dining room, and kitchen, and it’d been sitting in his garage ever since. His garage. Christ. At least he didn’t have a white picket fence and two-point-four kids.

When he’d first told his dad that he’d bought the house, the old man had frowned. “You gonna keep it up?”

No, he’d just spent $250,000 to let the thing rot away. Grimacing, Sawyer ignored his still pea green walls and went straight to the kitchen. The refrigerator held beer, a questionable gallon of milk, something that had maybe once upon a time been cheese, and a leftover…something.

Stomach growling, he took a beer, pulled out his cell phone, and called the diner, surprised when he heard “Eat Me” in Amy’s usual brisk cheer.

“Amy, it’s Sawyer,” he said. “You should have gone home after this evening.”

“Are you kidding? Retelling my near-miss is making me some serious bank in tips today. You need a late dinner, Sheriff?”

“Yeah. You have anyone making deliveries tonight?”

“For you, yes. Let me guess—a bacon blue burger, extra blue, side of fries, and a dinner salad with no tomatoes, because tomatoes are a vegetable and despite the fact that you’re six feet three of pure man, you eat like a little boy.”

“Hey,” he said. “Salad’s a vegetable.”

“Iceberg lettuce is a single step up from water. Doesn’t count.”

“Good, then forget the salad,” Sawyer said. “And make it two burgers and double the fries.”

While he waited for his dinner, he went into the garage and eyeballed the buckets of paint. “Fuckers,” he said to them, but picked one up and carried it into the dining room. “You ready?” he asked his walls.

They didn’t have an opinion.

He’d taken a second beer and rolled two very nice plain “ecru” stripes when the doorbell rang. He answered while reaching into his pocket for money to pay the delivery kid.

But it wasn’t a delivery kid at all.

It was Chloe, wearing a short denim skirt, emphasis on short, and a black angora sweater that was slipping off one shoulder, revealing a little black strap of something silky. And holy smoking hell, was she a sight for sore eyes.

“Hey,” she said.

Ever since their little playtime in his shower, their encounters together had vacillated between awkwardness and their usual lust-filled animosity. Right now it was a little of both. He cleared his throat. “Hey.”

“I forgot to say thanks at the hospital earlier, for getting my Vespa back to me.”

“Thanks for not dying on me in my shower.”

She snorted. “You’re just glad you didn’t have to explain that to Tara.”

He felt his brows knit together and his stomach clench.

“I’m kidding.” She flashed a smile. “Gonna have to lighten up, Sheriff, otherwise life sucks golf balls.” Looking like sin on a stick, she held up two large bags from the diner. “I went back to the diner to get dinner to go for Maddie and Tara and found Amy bagging your order. She got someone else to deliver to the inn and sent me here with enough food for two normal guys. Or for one starving sheriff.” She tried to come in, but he stopped her forward progress.

“Inhaler?” he asked.

“In my pocket, Sheriff. Sir.” She added a salute. “Can I come in now?”

This was a very bad idea, of course, but she simply pushed past him, her sweet little ass moving seductively in that skirt as she walked through his nearly empty living room and into the dining room.

She looked at the few swipes he’d taken with the roller. “Coming right along, are we?”

“Been busy.”

She’d been busy, too, he knew. Everyone and their mother in Lucky Harbor had felt free to keep him up-to-date on her every move. She’d been taking care of Lance, working at various hotel spas in the state, giving geriatric yoga classes at Matt’s studio to Lucille and her cronies, and planning a sunroom renovation at the inn for a day spa.

And if she’d trespassed, done any B&E, or anything else illegal, he hadn’t caught wind of it. Or maybe she’d laid low. No doubt she still had that rowdy untethered spirit that he was so inexplicably attracted to. But she’d changed over the last few months. Not settled down—not in any way, shape, or form, but she’d done something else, something better.