“Shelby?” he said blankly.
Holly shoved a wayward strand of brown hair off her forehead. “John Garrett’s wife. She owns the bakery a few blocks from here. Oh, and she’s pregnant!” Holly beamed at him. “Isn’t that amazing? They just found out last week.”
“For God’s sake, sweetheart, leave the Lieutenant alone,” came Carson’s drawl. “I told you not to scare him off.”
Holly linked her arm through Becker’s as she led him into the living room, where Carson was sitting on the couch with a beer in his hands. “He’s not scared of me,” she said with a grin. “Right, Thomas?”
“Becker,” Carson corrected.
Holly pursed her lips. “You don’t like Thomas?” she said curiously.
He shifted awkwardly. “I like it.” He shrugged. “People have just always called me Becker most of my life. I don’t know who started it, but it stuck.”
“Well, I like the name Thomas,” she answered. “It sounds very dignified.” She let go of his arm and gestured to the couch. “Sit down. I’ll bring out a sample for you.”
“A sample?” Becker asked in a low voice as Holly bounded toward a doorway he assumed led into the kitchen. He sat on the long beige couch and accepted the beer bottle Carson offered him.
“She’s trying out a new recipe,” Carson explained. “Holly’s a chef.”
At Carson’s explanation, Becker nodded, suddenly noticing the intoxicating aroma wafting in from the kitchen. Garlic, tomatoes, and a mixture of herbs. It smelled like heaven. Tasted like heaven too, he found out, after Holly returned a moment later with a small plate loaded with what looked like veal covered in a creamy tomato sauce and practically forced him to take a bite.
“This is amazing,” Becker said, eyeing her with awe. “You’re really good.”
“Thanks.” She took his empty plate. “I’m going to finish experimenting. You boys be good.”
Holly left the room again, leaving the two men alone. Becker’s gaze drifted toward the television screen. The Padres game was at the bottom of the eighth, with the Padres leading by two runs, but he wasn’t interested. He’d never been much of a baseball fan. Football was his sport of choice.
“So,” Carson said, after the silence between them dragged on for far too long, “Not to be rude or anything, but what the hell are you doing here? We’ve known each other for seven months and you haven’t once acted like you were into making friends.”
Becker respected the other man’s frankness. It was probably what made him offer a frank answer of his own. “I’ve been an ass to you guys, haven’t I?”
Carson’s blue eyes flickered with amusement. “Yep.”
“I’m sorry.” He raised his bottle and took a long sip of beer. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not very good at socializing.”
“I’ve noticed,” Carson said dryly. He suddenly grinned. “But neither was Will at first, and I managed to draw him out of that prickly shell of his. I have faith in you too, Lieutenant.”
“Quit calling me that. We’re not on a mission.”
“Sorry, it’s a habit.” Carson sipped his own beer, turning his gaze away from the screen and studying Becker. “So, why were you stir crazy? Did you get in a fight with that sexy-as-sin redhead you were with the other day?”
“Not really.” He gave a noncommittal shrug.
“Then why the hell aren’t you with her?”
Holly suddenly poked her head into the living room. “With who?” she said, looking super interested. “Are you gossiping? If so, I want to know everything.”
“I’m giving the Lieutenant love advice, babe. Mind your own business.”
“Oh God,” she said with a groan. “Thomas, don’t listen to him. He’s terrible at giving advice.”
Becker found himself grinning as Holly bounced back into the room, her green eyes flashing with curiosity. She flopped down on the armchair across from the couch, leaned forward and narrowed her eyes at Becker. “Okay, tell me everything. I’m much better at this kind of thing. Who is she?”
Discomfort tugged at his gut. He shot Carson a save-me look, but the younger man just shrugged as if to say, There’s no stopping it now. Finally he turned back to Holly and said, “Jane.”
Leaning back in the chair, Holly crossed her arms over her chest. “Jane. All right. What’s the problem with Jane?”
“There’s no problem. She’s…great.” He swallowed. “More than great, actually.”
“Is she reluctant to get involved? Because that’s what happened to Will.” Holly offered a wide smile. “Luckily, I stepped in and saved the day, and now Will and Mac are happily married.”
Carson set down his beer and pointed a finger at Holly. “Oh no. No, no, no, you are not doing it again.” He shook his head at Becker. “She pretended to be Will’s girlfriend to make Mackenzie jealous. Oh, and she let him kiss her.”
“For show,” Holly emphasized. “And it worked, didn’t it?”
Carson growled. “What’s next? You going to hire yourself out for weddings and bar mitzvahs?”
Despite the bickering and totally weird subject matter, Becker found himself extremely amused by Carson and his girlfriend. He could tell they were madly in love, even when they were grumbling at each other. And Holly reminded him a lot of Jane. Her sass, the stubborn tilt of her chin. At the thought of Jane, Becker’s chest tightened. Damn it, why couldn’t he stop thinking about her?
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