Author: Jill Shalvis

Jack was a firefighter and ran the local fire station. He was still in uniform, complete with the radio at his hip, and he carried a bag of food. They’d been best friends, brothers really, since the summer after sixth grade—which meant there were no formalities.

“You’re an asshole,” Jack said.

Guy code for good to see you, man.

Jack came to San Francisco at least once a month, almost always staying with Luke. They’d seen each other two weeks ago, when Jack had come down to go sailing on a friend’s boat. “Right back atcha,” Luke said. “How’s your mom?”

Dee Harper was fighting breast cancer and, by all counts, winning the war but it was costing her. And Jack as well.

“She’s doing better, much better,” Jack said, and started to walk right on in, but Luke shoulder-checked him.

“What?” Jack asked.

Luke took the food. “Thanks for dinner. Add it to my tab.” Before he could shut the door, Jack stuck his steel-toe, big-ass boot out, blocking it.

“The size of your tab could feed a third-world country,” Jack said.

Actually, the reverse was true, but Jack had a selective memory when it suited him. He also had the whole laid-back ski bum vibe going, but the truth was, beneath the deceptive playfulness, Jack Harper was anything but laid back and easygoing. Maybe he made his way through women like some men went through socks, but he worked every bit as hard as he played.

Luke peeked in the bag. “Orange chicken and spicy beef?”

“And fried rice, just in case the main course doesn’t clog our arteries properly.” Jack was trying to see past Luke into the house, his sharp eyes missing nothing. “Damn. They really did make a fucking mess.”

“What did you know about the missing fifty K?”

“I’m too hungry to talk; I’m wasting away as we stand here. I need to eat. In front of the game.”

“The game’s not on.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“It’s not on in here,” Luke said.

“The game’s always on at your place.”

Down the hall, the shower went on, and Jack’s brow went up.

Luke blew out a breath. “Ali Winters.”

“She’s here?” He grinned. “You were holding out on me.” He pushed past Luke and headed into the messy living room. He shoved the cushions back onto the couch and then dropped onto it in a big, lazy sprawl. “Where’s the remote? I’ve only got half an hour before I have to be back at the station.”

“You’re not staying.”

“Aw, come on. It’s been forever since I’ve gotten to see you be an idiot with a woman. Don’t ruin my fun.”

“I’m not an idiot with women.”

“You’re a complete idiot with women, and I’ll prove it: Tina Rawlings.”

“Tina Rawlings was when we were sixteen,” Luke said.

“Yeah, you had sex with her at the lagoon and got caught by her boyfriend. He beat the shit out of you.”

“Because he and his entire baseball team jumped me.”

“Bowling team,” Jack corrected. “It was the bowling team, and I could’ve taken them with one arm tied behind my back.”

“Hey,” Luke said, “some of us didn’t get our growth spurt until college.”

Jack laughed. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, man. So you and Ali…?”


“Sure? Because I don’t think you have to worry about the bowling team these days. You’re not in bad shape.”

“I’m not getting involved.” How many times was he going to have to say that? He’d come to Lucky Harbor to lose himself for a little while. Not to share the place with a woman who made him ache like crazy and had the singular ability to make him want to both howl at the moon and run like hell.

The phone rang, and Luke stared at it like it was a striking cobra.

“You going to get that?” Jack asked.

“Fuck no.”

The machine clicked on, and a woman’s voice said, “Ali-gator? Just checking in on you—”

“You still have an actual answering machine?” Jack asked. “Man, it might be time to upgrade the place from the 1980s…”

Luke strode to the machine and picked up the phone. “Ali’s in the shower, Mrs. Winters.”

“Luke!” She sounded pleased to hear his voice. “You were going to call me Mimi, remember?”

He let out a breath. “Right. Mimi…”

Jack went brows up again. Luke ignored him. “I’ll have her call you,” he said to Mimi.

“You’re a sweetheart, Luke. Thank you.”

“Wow,” Jack said when he’d hung up. “Look at you, not getting involved.”

Luke flipped him off and snatched the remote from Jack’s hand.

“Figured you’d want the 4-1-1,” Jack said. “If you kick me out now, you won’t get to hear it. But hey, if you’re not getting involved…”

“Tell me.”

Jack grinned. “Lucky for you, I work with a bunch of little girls.”

“You work with a bunch of firefighters.”

“Who all gossip like girls. The money’s still missing, as you know, and actually there’s a reward going out on it, but Ali isn’t the only one they hauled in. They questioned Ted Marshall further. And also Melissa Mann. You remember her, right? She said—”

“That Marshall was screwing her and he can’t remember if he locked the drawer with the money,” Luke said.

“Damn, you stole my thunder. Seems Golden Boy’s keeping secrets. Melissa said the police searched the office and came up with a woman’s toe ring deep in the couch that doesn’t belong to her.”

“Or Ali,” Luke said.

“Okay,” Jack said, irritated now. “If you already know everything, why did you ask?”

“Because gossip is usually based in fact,” Luke said. “Got anything else? Maybe something on the admin, Aubrey?”

“Nothing on Aubrey. But Melissa did say she believed that Teddy and Ali were just roommates. Which means Ted had a good thing going. They’re going to question everyone who was in the office on the night of the auction, but there’s a few problems.”


“Teddy isn’t talking about any other possible indiscretions. And apparently that whole wing of the building was a revolving door. Several people were back there using the quiet hallway for phone calls, and people were going through on bathroom runs. The janitor had a thing with the caterer in the treasurer’s office, one door down from Marshall’s office. Reportedly even the mayor’s wife was seen slipping out of the hallway storage closet just past the bathroom. Go Mr. Mayor.”

Luke stared at him. “Are you telling me that place saw more action than the rest of us saw all year?”

“Speak for yourself.” But Jack’s grin faded. “The fact is Ali’s the one who got caught with evidence. And there’s a lot of pressure on Sawyer to make an arrest. She’s also the only one with an obvious motive.”

“Circumstantial evidence,” Luke said. “And people don’t need a motive to steal cash.”

“She stole a ceramic pot because she’d made it for her boyfriend who’d just dumped her by text,” Jack pointed out. “Hello motive.”

“She didn’t know there was evidence to a crime in it.”

“We both know that’s weak, Luke.”

“I know. And I know something else too, it’s not Marshall either. Yeah, he’s into politics, but he’s a piggybacker, not a big-plan sort of guy. He doesn’t have the stones for this.”

“So…what? He was framed?”

“I’d bet on it,” Luke said. “And somehow Ali got caught in the middle—” He broke off at the sound of bare feet padding down the hall.

Ali appeared. She’d showered and changed faster than any woman Luke had ever known. She was in sweats and makeup-free, wet hair piled up on top of her head, with wavy tendrils framing her face. She headed straight to the kitchen and headed back with a carton of ice cream from Lance’s shop.

Luke felt a small smile play around his mouth as she ate right out of the container with a wooden spoon. Ali Winters might be down, but she wasn’t out for the count.

She scooped another big bite, and her expression finally relaxed. Until she saw the mess of the house. That wiped the smile right off her face. “Oh no. Oh Luke, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s seen worse.”

“This is true.” Jack rose off the couch. “Way worse. We were what you might call wayward teenagers.”

Jack had the same height as Luke, but more bulk to his muscle tone. Of the two of them, Jack also possessed the charm, which had gotten him out of more trouble than Luke had ever managed to get into. Jack flashed all one thousand watts of that charm at Ali now.

“Jack Harper. I’ve seen you around, but we’ve never been introduced,” he said, holding out his hand to Ali, smiling his “reassuring” smile. It was number three in his arsenal, behind his “you can’t resist me” and “I want you” smiles. “I’m the best friend, by the way. The better-looking, far more fascinating one, I should add.”

“Ali Winters,” she said, looking a little dazzled, which made Luke roll his eyes. “Nice to meet you.” She glanced at the mess again, but Luke stepped in her way.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Jack said.

“I’m sorry,” she said, glancing at Luke. “I can’t say the same.”

“Not surprised,” Jack said. “Luke’s not exactly a big talker.”

“No,” Ali said faintly, a slight blush coming to her cheeks. “He’s not.”