“Tried, you mean.”
Luke let out a low laugh, then sucked in a breath of pain. “Oh, Christ, don’t make me laugh.” He inhaled very carefully, then let it back out again. “I did try. And she let me think I was getting away with it too.”
“She loves you.”
Luke’s gaze touched over Ali again. “Yeah.” His own miracle. “Go figure.”
“With all that bad ’tude and surly grumpiness,” Jack said, “what’s not to love?” He paused. “You love her back?”
“More than my own life.”
“Which became pretty clear when you put your body between mine and a bullet,” Ali said groggily, lifting her head. Her eyes locked on Luke’s, searching.
He could see the worry, the strain, the fear in every line of her face. “I’m okay,” he said, and then turned to Jack. “Right?”
“Well, your MLB pitching career is over, and PT is going to be a bitch,” Jack said, “but your arm and shoulder will eventually be okay. As for your psyche, that’s a whole different ball game. Oh and some other good news—Ben’s coming back. Unlike you, he’s all in one piece, no bullet holes.” He rose, stretched, and then bumped his fist very gently to Luke’s hand sticking out of the bandages. Walking around the bed, he kissed Ali on the top of her head before walking out of the room.
Ali never took her eyes off of Luke. The night had been the longest of her entire life—being held at the station while Luke had been here, then sitting in that OR waiting room with Jack, pacing through the hours.
If Luke had gone to San Francisco when he’d planned on going, this wouldn’t have happened. But he’d stayed to help straighten out her life, and it had nearly cost him his.
“Stop,” he said, voice gravelly. Tired. His eyes were knowing. “Stop blaming yourself.”
Her throat burned so much that she couldn’t speak. “You took a damn bullet for me, Luke.”
He lifted his good hand and cupped her face. “I’d do anything for you, Ali.”
That was becoming quite clear, and she leaned over him, very, very serious. “Anything?”
“Then love me,” she whispered.
He slid his fingers into her hair, stroking it from her face. “Done,” he said softly.
She was quite certain her heart couldn’t swell any more without bursting a rib. “I want one more thing.”
He let out a small smile. “You mean other than my life and also my heart and soul?”
She didn’t return the smile, couldn’t. “Let me love you back.”
His smile faded. “Ali—”
“I don’t care that you’ll be in San Francisco. I don’t. Hell, I’d move there if you wanted me too. I love you, Luke. I have from that very first moment you looked at me like I was a crazy, naked woman in your house.”
“You were a crazy, naked woman in my house.” He stroked a finger over her temple, down her jaw. “You need to think about this, Ali. Loving me isn’t a day in the park. I’m stubborn and like to be right. I rarely make my bed. I can never find my fucking keys. And last but not least, I love you so hard it hurts. I might die of it, actually, which makes me a short-term bet at best.”
With her heart in her throat, she had to both laugh and cry as she dropped her hand to his good shoulder. “I already know you’re stubborn as a mule. And I can let you be right—half the time.”
She felt his smile and lifted her head. “And an unmade bed works for me,” she said softly, “because then we can just get back into it whenever we want without worrying about messing it up.”
She felt his hand fist on the back of her shirt, holding her close. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said fiercely. “The very best.” Then he nudged her in closer for a kiss—
Ali broke away from Luke and turned. In the open doorway, peeking around the curtain, was Sawyer and the mayor.
“Luke,” Sawyer said, nodding. “Ali.”
The mayor, somber, greeted them as well.
Ali had seen both men briefly in the station last night, though neither had spoken to her. Sawyer had had his hands full with the night’s activities. Tony—no doubt called when Bree had been brought in, still sobbing about how she’d been framed by her “own stupid life”—had looked exhausted and solemn.
Which was how they both looked now.
“Wanted to make sure you were still kicking,” Sawyer said to Luke.
A very small smile curved Luke’s lips. “Been through worse.”
“I imagine you have. Couldn’t have figured this one out so fast without you.”
“It was Ali,” Luke said.
Sawyer nodded. “I know. I also know you missed your review. I called Commander O’Neil. They’re proceeding without you, but your job’s safe and intact.” He met Ali’s gaze then. “You’re a social media sensation this morning.”
Oh boy. “You mean like Hapless Florist Nearly Screws Up Investigation?”
He smiled. “I believe they said something about Calamity Jane meets Annie Oakley…”
Ali groaned. Luke tried to laugh but choked it off with a sound of pain that had Ali whipping back to him.
“We’ll make this short,” the mayor said. “Obviously, I’m horrified at the part Bree played in this.”
He was careful not to claim her as his wife, Ali couldn’t help but notice. Probably Bree’s days with that title were severely numbered.
Tony looked at Ali. “I wanted to do this right away.” He pulled out his phone and accessed a video.
It was the senior center, the room Ali used as a classroom. All the seniors were there, crowded close to the screen, a sea of wrinkled, anxious faces.
“We never should have doubted you, Ali,” Mr. Wykowski said.
“And we love and admire you,” Lucille said.
“Stay,” Mr. Elroy said.
“Please,” Mr. Lyons said.
Mrs. Burland was sitting there tight lipped. Lucille smacked her in the arm. Mrs. Burland glared at her, and then into the camera she said, “I know you’re smarter than to let a bunch of nosy-bodies chase you away, Ali Winters.”
Edward’s face appeared. “You’re special,” he said. “Special and amazing.”
“So special and amazing that I’m gifting you the first and last month’s lease money for the shop Russell vacated,” Mr. Lyons said. “And now for the reward money…”
The video pulled back to get all of them in the same shot. They held a huge mock-up of a check in the amount of five thousand dollars, written to…her.
Tony slid his phone away and pulled out a piece of paper.
“The reward money,” Tony said.
“Oh,” she breathed, stunned. She looked up at the mayor. “But I can’t accept this. Luke—”
“It’s all yours,” Luke said.
Ali stared down at the check in shock. “It’s so pretty,” she whispered reverently.
Sawyer laughed, and both he and the mayor left.
“Wow,” Ali said with a shake of her head. “I feel like I won the lottery.”
“That’s not all you won,” Luke said.
She leaned in and kissed him. “A trip to Disneyland?” she teased.
“If you want,” he said seriously, “but not what I was thinking.”
“Some lease money for my flower shop?” she asked, waving the check.
“Most definitely, but still not quite it. Keep going, Ali. You’re getting warmer.”
“Need a hint?”
“Please,” she said.
He tightened his grip on her. “Me. Us.” He kissed her. “This.”
She couldn’t breathe again, but this time it was because hope and love and affection were tangled in her throat, vying for space. “We’re an us?”
“Yes,” he said, “which is a much better deal for me than you, so be sure—”
She put a finger against his lips. “I’m sure. In fact, I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.”
Two weeks later, Ali picked up a tray of tea and coffee with hands that weren’t quite steady. “I’m so nervous.”
Luke, still wearing a sling but getting more and more movement back every day, leaned in and kissed her. “You’ll nail this.”
“Like she did you,” Leah quipped. She picked up the second tray, filled with the pastry goodies she’d made for the grand opening of the new flower shop.
She’d signed the lease and was officially in the space next to the bakery again.
It was all she’d ever wanted.
Half the town was here for the opening party, and the other half was on their way.
“She can nail me any time,” Luke said, and snatched a custard puff from Leah’s tray and stuffed it in his mouth. He gave Ali one more quick kiss, tasting like vanilla.
She hummed her pleasure. Just looking up in his warm, blue eyes quelled her nerves. He was her rock.
And she was his, she marveled. He believed in her, trusted her, needed her. Wanted her.
He’d gone to San Francisco for the Reyes review, but he was still on medical leave, so he’d come right back to Lucky Harbor. Sawyer had offered him a job, and he was going to take it. Ali was over the moon that he was staying here in Lucky Harbor.
Catching her looking at him, he gestured for her to set the tray down, then nudged her closer with his good arm. Lowering his head, he pressed his mouth to her ear. “I’m never going to get tired of finding you looking at me that way. Like you have to have me right now.”
She laughed, then looked around to make sure Leah wasn’t too close. “I just had you,” she whispered. Right before they arrived here, in fact. “And I wasn’t looking at you like that. If you must know, I was thinking I can’t believe you’re mine.”