Author: Jill Shalvis
All you need is love. But a little chocolate
now and then doesn’t hurt.
Lightning sent a jagged bolt across Ty Garrison’s closed lids. Thunder boomed and the earth shuddered, and he jerked straight up in bed, gasping as if he’d just run a marathon.
A dream, just the same goddamn four-year-old dream.
Sweating and trembling like a leaf, he scrubbed his hands over his face. Why couldn’t he dream about something good, like sex with triplets?
Shoving free of the covers, he limped naked to the window and yanked it open. The cool mist of the spring storm brushed his heated skin, and he fought the urge to close his eyes. If he did, he’d be back there.
But the memories came anyway.
“Landing in ten,” the pilot announced as the plane skimmed just beneath the storm raging through the night.
In eight, the plane began to vibrate.
In six, lightning cracked.
And then an explosion, one so violent it nearly blew out his eardrums.
Ty dropped his head back, letting the rain slash at his body through the open window. He could hear the Pacific Ocean pounding the surf below the cliffs. Scented with fragrant pines, the air smelled like Christmas in April, and he forced himself to draw a deep, shaky breath.
He was no longer a SEAL medic dragging his sorry ass out of a burning plane, choking on the knowledge that he was the only one still breathing, that he hadn’t been able to save a single soul. He was in Washington State, in the small beach town of Lucky Harbor. The ocean was in front of him, the Olympic Mountains at his back.
But hell if at the next bolt of lightning, he didn’t try to jump out of his own skin. Pissed at the weakness, Ty shut the window. He was never inhaling an entire pepperoni pizza before bed again.
Except he knew it wasn’t something as simple as pizza that made him dream badly. It was the edginess that came from being idle. His work was still special ops, but he hadn’t gone back to being a first responder trauma paramedic. Instead, he’d signed up as a private contractor to the government, which was a decent enough adrenaline rush. Plus it suited him—or it had until six months ago, when on an assignment he’d had to jump out a second story window to avoid being shot, and had reinjured his leg.
Stretching that leg now, he winced. He wanted to get back to his job. Needed to get back. But he also needed clearance from his doctor first. Pulling on a pair of jeans, he snagged a shirt off the back of a chair and left the room as the storm railed around outside. He made his way through the big and nearly empty house he’d rented for the duration, heading to the garage. A fast drive in the middle of the night would have to do, and maybe a quick stop at the all-night diner.
But this first.
Flipping on the lights, Ty sucked in a deep, calming breath of air heavy with the smells of motor oil, well-greased tools, and rubber tires. On the left sat a ’72 GMC Jimmy, a rebuild job he’d picked up on the fly. He didn’t need the money. As it turned out, special ops talents were well-compensated these days, but the repair work was a welcome diversion from his problems.
The ’68 Shelby Mustang on the right wasn’t a side job. She was his baby, and she was calling to him. He kicked the mechanic’s creeper from against the wall toward the classic muscle car. Lowering himself onto the cart with a grimace of pain, Ty rolled beneath the car, shoving down his problems, denying them, avoiding them.
Seeking his own calm in the storm.
Put the chocolate in the bag, and no one gets hurt.
The lightning flashed bright, momentarily blinding Mallory Quinn as she ran through the dark rainy night from her car to the front door of the diner.
On three Mississippi, thunder boomed and shook the ground. A vicious wind nearly blew her off her feet. She’d forgotten her umbrella that morning, which was just as well or she’d have taken off like Mary Poppins.
A second, brighter bolt of lightning sent jagged light across the sky, and Mallory gasped as everything momentarily lit up like day: the pier behind the diner, the churning ocean, the menacing sky.
All went dark again, and she burst breathlessly into the Eat Me Café feeling like the hounds of hell were on her very tired heels. Except she wasn’t wearing heels; she was in fake Uggs.
Lucky Harbor tended to roll up its sidewalks after ten o’clock, and tonight was no exception. The place was deserted except for a lone customer at the counter, and the waitress behind it. The waitress was a friend of Mallory’s. Smartass, cynical Amy Michaels, whose tall, leggy body was reminiscent of Xena, the warrior princess. This was convenient, since Amy had a kick-ass ’tude to life in general. Her dark hair was a little tousled as always, her even darker eyes showed amusement at Mallory’s wild entrance.
“Hey,” Mallory said, fighting the wind to close the door behind her.
“Looking a little spooked,” Amy said, wiping down the counter. “You reading Stephen King on the slow shifts again, Nurse Nightingale?”
Mallory drew a deep, shuddery breath and shook off the icy rain the best she could. Her day had started a million years ago at the crack of dawn when she’d left her house in her usual perpetual rush, without a jacket. One incredibly long ER shift and seventeen hours later, she was still in her scrubs with only a thin sweater over the top, everything now sticking to her like a second skin. She did not resemble a warrior princess. Maybe a drowned lady-in-waiting. “No Stephen,” she said. “I had to give him up. Last month’s reread of The Shining wrecked me.”
Amy nodded. “Emergency Dispatch tired of taking your ‘there’s a shadow outside my window’ calls?”
“Hey, that was one time.” Giving up squeezing the water out of her hair, Mallory ignored Amy’s knowing snicker. “And for your information, there really was a man outside my window.”
“Yeah. Seventy-year-old Mr. Wykowski, who’d gotten turned around on his walk around the block.”
This was unfortunately true. And while Mallory knew that Mr. Wykowski was a very nice man, he really did look a lot like Jack Nicholson had in The Shining. “That could have been a very bad situation.”
Amy shook her head as she filled napkin dispensers. “You live on Senior Drive. Your biggest ‘situation’ is if Dial-A-Ride doesn’t show up in time to pick everyone up to take them to Bingo Night.”
Also true. Mallory’s tiny ranch house was indeed surrounded by other tiny ranch houses filled with mostly seniors. But it wasn’t that bad. They were a sweet bunch and always had a coffee cake to share. Or a story about a various ailment or two. Or two hundred.
Mallory had inherited her house from her grandma, complete with a mortgage that she’d nearly had to give up her firstborn for. If she’d had a first born. But for that she’d like to be married, and to be married, she’d have to have a Mr. Right.
Except she’d been dumped by her last two Mr. Rights.
Wind and something heavy lashed at the windows of the diner. Mallory couldn’t believe it. Snow. “Wow, the temp must have just dropped. That came on fast.”
“It’s spring,” Amy said in disgust. “Why’s it frigging snowing in spring? I changed my winter tires already.”
The lone customer at the counter turned and eyed the view. “Crap. I don’t have winter tires either.” She looked to be in her mid-twenties and spoke with the clipped vowels that said northeast. If Amy was Xena, and Mallory the lady-in-waiting, then she was Blonde Barbie’s younger, prettier, far more natural sister. “I’m in a 1972 VW Bug,” she said.
As Mallory’s own tires were threadbare, she gnawed on her lower lip and looked out the window. Maybe if she left immediately, she’d be okay.
“We should wait it out,” Amy suggested. “It can’t possibly last.”
Mallory knew better, but it was her own fault. She’d been ignoring the forecast ever since last week, when the weather guy had promised ninety-degree temps and the day hadn’t gotten above fifty, leaving her to spend a very long day frozen in the ER. Her nipples still hadn’t forgiven her. “I don’t have time to wait it out.” She had a date with eight solid hours of sleep.
The VW driver was in a flimsy summer-weight skirt and two thin camisoles layered over each other. Mallory hadn’t been the only one caught by surprise. Though the woman didn’t look too concerned as she worked her way through a big, fat brownie that made Mallory’s mouth water.
“Sorry,” Amy said, reading her mind. “That was the last one.”
“Just as well.” Mallory wasn’t here for herself anyway. Dead on her feet, she’d only stopped as a favor for her mother. “I just need to pick up Joe’s cake.”
Joe was her baby brother and turning twenty-four tomorrow. The last thing he wanted was a family party, but work was slow for him at the welding shop, and flying to Vegas with his friends hadn’t panned out since he had no money.
So their mother had gotten involved and tasked Mallory with bringing a cake. Actually, Mallory had been tasked with making a cake, but she had a hard time not burning water so she was cheating. “Please tell me that no one from my crazy family has seen the cake so I can pretend I made it.”
Amy tsked. “The good girl of Lucky Harbor, lying to her mother. Shame on you.”
This was the ongoing town joke, “good girl” Mallory. Okay, fine, so in all fairness, she played the part. But she had her reasons—good ones—not that she wanted to go there now. Or ever. “Yeah, yeah. Hand it over. I have a date.”
“You do not,” Amy said. “I’d have heard about it if you did.”
“It’s a secret date.”
Amy laughed because yeah, that had been a bit of a stretch. Lucky Harbor was a wonderful, small town where people cared about each other. You could leave a pot of gold in your backseat, and it wouldn’t get stolen.
But there were no such things as secrets.
“I do have a date. With my own bed,” Mallory admitted. “Happy?”