She stared up at the fierce look of protectiveness in his features and felt her heart clutch. She needed to lighten this mood of his and fast, or she wasn’t going to be responsible for jumping him. “I’m fucking perfect,” she said.
It worked. He flashed a smile. “I really like it when you say ‘fuck.’”
Ali found Aubrey at her desk in Town Hall, typing away on her computer, her brow furrowed.
“Does everyone always work on the weekends?” Ali asked.
“Just the lucky ones.” Aubrey looked up and took in Ali’s hair with assessing eyes. “You’re supposed to use that anti-frizz every day.”
Ali ran a hand down her hair and grimaced. “I forgot today. Listen, I have a question.”
“No, I’m not still doing my boss.”
“I actually wasn’t going to ask that. Although I’m kinda wondering why you still work for him.”
It was Aubrey’s turn to grimace. “It’s a good job,” she said. “And I can resist him.” Though she didn’t really look one hundred percent sure. “Listen, I’m pretty busy, so…”
“Is there anyone else?”
Ali moved closer and leaned in. “I’m wondering if there’s anyone else that Teddy’s seeing. Other than you and Melissa.”
Aubrey looked at her for a long time. “You have someone particular in mind?”
Aubrey arched a perfectly waxed brow and looked like she might have something to say, but Gus walked by with a mop.
Aubrey and Ali remained quiet until the hallway was empty again.
“We can’t talk here,” Aubrey said.
“I know. Just tell me you know something.”
“Would you be willing to call me if that changes?”
“You mean if the couch gets put into use again, something like that?” Aubrey asked.
Aubrey went pensive, then sighed. “Damn, I really liked this job.”
Luke drove into town and found Sawyer at his desk, head down on his arms. “Bad day?”
“Some high school punks drove all the way up to Mt. Hood—three hours each way—loaded up fifteen truckloads of snow, drove it all the way back into town, and packed in all the doors to the school last night. Not yesterday afternoon. Not after dinner. At three a.m. Summer school detention had to be cancelled today.”
“Could be worse,” Luke said.
Sawyer lifted his head and blinked bleary-eyed at Luke. “I’m afraid to ask.”
“I think Bree Medina stole the fifty grand.”
Sawyer stared at him and then silently handed Luke his empty coffee mug.
Luke took it, walked down the hall to the service table, filled it with straight, hair-raising black, and brought it back to Sawyer’s office.
Sawyer drank, winced, and then drank some more. Eyes far more sharp now, he looked at Luke. “What the fuck?”
Luke opened his mouth, but Sawyer stood up. “No, wait. Not here.”
They headed out in Sawyer’s utility vehicle while Luke gave him the rundown.
“Jesus,” Sawyer said and called the mayor. “Hey, Tony. Yeah, we did get a great turnout at the ground-breaking ceremony earlier. Listen, what’s Bree up to? She busy?” he paused, listening. “I just wanted to talk to her about redecorating my office…I understand. Tell her I hope her mom’s feeling better real soon.” He slid his phone away. “Bree’s gone to her mom’s place in Ocean Shores for a few days.”
“Ocean Shores,” Luke repeated. “Her mom lives in Ocean Shores. Where the next closest nail salon is. We should…”
Sawyer pulled over and used his smartphone to find the number and make the call. When he hung up, he looked at Luke. “Bree is a client there, and they said she has gotten blue, starred nail tips before.” He pulled back onto the street, made a few turns, and stopped about halfway down a street, pointing to a duplex on the corner. “Marshall’s new place.”
There was no activity.
Sawyer turned off his vehicle. “Marshall cancelled a meeting with me, said he wasn’t feeling good. Think that’s a coincidence?”
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Luke said.
“So what are we doing?” Luke asked.
“You forget what a stakeout looks like?”
“No.” Luke slouched in his seat. “But a heads up would’ve been nice. We don’t have any food.”
Sawyer leaned forward and opened his glove box. Inside was a treasure trove of candy bars and other crap food.
“Nice,” Luke said, helping himself.
Half an hour later, the mail carrier worked her way down the street. Two minutes after that, Marshall’s front door opened. Teddy appeared in boxers and an opened bathrobe.
“He’s dressed like he’s sick,” Sawyer said.
Or like someone who’d just gotten laid. “Only pussies wear bathrobes.”
“I have a bathrobe. The wife bought it for me.”
Luke looked at him. “Chloe bought you a bathrobe?”
“It’s from her day spa.”
“You ever wear it?”
“I stand by my point.”
Teddy stepped outside. Before he got anywhere, a man’s necktie came around his neck from behind.
In Sawyer’s vehicle, both he and Luke tensed for action, but then the shadowy figure behind Ted materialized into the shape of a woman. She wore a black leather bustier, matching thong, and thigh-high, stiletto boots.
Bree Medina, the mayor’s wife, the one supposedly visiting her sick mom. She slapped Teddy’s ass and then pulled him back inside by the tie.
The door slammed shut.
“Jesus,” Sawyer said, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “I don’t think I can unsee that…”
That evening, Ali stood at the work table in the garage, completely lost in the cool, wet clay. In the zone, she worked and shaped, using her sensory skills instead of her brain so she could just be.
She heard the truck pull into the driveway, so when someone came up behind her, she knew it was Luke. He didn’t touch her, but she doubted a piece of paper could fit between them. “You want to play Ghost?” she murmured.
He stepped into her, brushing up against her so that she could feel his erection. “Do I feel like a ghost to you?” he softly asked.
She faced him and felt her heart tug at the sight of him soaking up the sight of her. “I need a shower,” she said, gesturing to the front of her, which was a mess.
“Funny, so do I.”
Don’t get sidetracked by his hunkiness, she told herself. He was hiding it pretty well, but he was pissed at something. Her gut tightened a little bit, and maybe her heart too. He let her see the real man, something she knew he shared with few others. “You okay?”
“I was with Sawyer. We saw Bree at Marshall’s new place.”
She could tell that there was a whole lot more to this story. “And?”
“And it was a…compromising situation.”
“Compromising how?” she asked.
She looked up into his face. “Just tell me, Luke. Were they naked, rolling around on fifty thousand dollars in cash?”
“Not quite naked, and no cash. But Bree was…taking charge. I’m pretty sure Marshall is tied up with his own necktie about now.”
Her jaw dropped. “Seriously?”
He lifted a hand, like Boy Scout’s honor. Except there was no way Luke Hanover had ever been a Boy Scout.
She drew a breath. “So we’ve linked the mayor’s wife and the town clerk to an illicit—and what might or might not be a BDSM—affair.” She shuddered. “It has a high ick factor, but it’s not necessarily illegal.”
“True,” he agreed. “We’ve got to smoke out the money.”
“If she’s got it,” Luke said, “she’s hiding it somewhere. Not in a bank account, but somewhere accessible. Holding it over Marshall’s head.” He stepped close, crowding her. “All we have to do is catch her with it.”
“Oh, well, if that’s all.”
He gently pulled her in.
“Careful,” she warned, “I’m covered in clay.”
“Ali, the police are going to announce there’s an arrest imminent.”
She went still even as her heart began to pound. “They’ve already done that,” she said.
“Yes, except this time they’re going to leak that it isn’t you.”
She let out a breath. “Okay. I like the sound of that. Keep going.”
“Bree’s under surveillance,” he said.
“You think she’s going to move the money.”
“I know it,” he said. “It’s what I would do if I’d just gone from scot-free and in the clear to guilty as hell. I’d get rid of the evidence.” He stroked the hair back from her eyes, letting his fingers linger on her.
Yesterday, she would have been touched by the sweet gesture. But right now, sad and aching for him, it just hurt—hurt and pissed her off. He’d stood by her, believed in her when others hadn’t, let her stay when all he wanted was to be alone—and yet he was leaving tomorrow. And as attentive and wonderful as he’d been, he hadn’t said one word about seeing her again. In sudden overload, she poked his chest with a clay-covered finger.
“Hey,” he said.
She did it again, getting clay on his white T-shirt.
“Ali.” He caught her wrist when she went to poke him a third time. “Stop.”
“Right. I’ll just stop. Stop caring about you…” Stop wanting you, stop loving you. Except she couldn’t seem to manage any of that. Once again, she was going down with the sinking ship that was her heart.