When she vanished, Mallory sighed. “My sister.” She dumped the instruments she’d used into the sink, and still facing away from him, spoke. “What about your leg?”
“What about it?”
“Does it need to be looked at, too?” she asked.
She turned to look at him with an expectant air, saying nothing. It made him smile. “You can’t use that silence thing against me. I invented it.”
“What silence thing?” she asked innocently.
“You know what silence thing, where you go all quiet and I’m supposed to feel compelled to fill it in with all my secrets.”
She smiled. “So you admit to having secrets.”
“Many,” he said flatly.
Her smile faded. “You’re engaged. Or worse, you’re married. You have ten kids. Oh my God, tell me you don’t have kids.”
“No. And I’m not engaged or married. I’m not…anything.”
She just looked at him for a long moment. “Some secrets are toxic if you try to keep them inside. You know that, right? Some secrets are meant to be told, before they eat you up.”
Maybe, but not his. In no time, he’d be long gone, back to a very fast-paced, dangerous life that would eventually, probably kill him. But not her. She’d find someone to share her life with, grow old with. “You watch too much Oprah.”
She didn’t take umbrage at this. She pulled off her gloves and tossed them into the trash.
“Does your whole family work here?” he asked, running a finger over the healing cut, now sans stitches. She’d done a good job.
“Just my mom, my sister, and me,” she said. “And I also work at the Health Services Clinic.”
“I didn’t know there was one here.”
“Well, there’s not. Not yet. But if we get approval at the town meeting tomorrow night, it’s a go for a tentative opening this weekend.”
“Is there a need in a town this small?”
“This hospital services the entire county,” she said. “Not just Lucky Harbor. And there’s a huge need. We have a high teenage pregnancy rate, and drug abuse is on the rise as well. So is abuse and homelessness. We need counseling services and advocacy and educational programs. And there’s going to be a weekly health clinic on Saturday for those who can’t afford medical care.”
God, she was so fierce she made his heart ache. They could use her at his work, he thought, but was doubly glad that she pretty much embodied Lucky Harbor. Hopefully she’d never live through some of the horrors out there, or lose her genuine compassion to jaded cynicism. “So what makes a woman like you take on such a thing?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Usually this sort of thing is driven by a cause. What’s yours?”
She turned away, busying herself with washing her hands again.
“Ah,” he said. “So I’m not the only one with secrets.”
She turned back to him at that, eyes narrowed. “Tell you what. I’ll answer one question for every question you answer for me.”
He knew better than to go there. He might have treated her like a one-night stand but he knew damn well she was different. By all appearances, she was pretty and sweet and innocent, but beneath that guileless smile, she held all the power, and he knew it. She’d have him confessing his sins with one warm touch.
She isn’t for you…
“Yeah,” she said dryly, hands on hips. “I figured that’d be too much for you.”
It was. Far too much. He was leaving…and yet he opened his mouth anyway. “What time do you get off?”
This shocked her, he could tell. Fair enough. He’d shocked himself too.
“Seven,” she said.
“I’ll pick you up.”
“No,” she said. “You know the pier?”
“I’ll meet you there. In front of the Ferris wheel.”
She didn’t trust him. Smart woman. “Okay,” he said. “In front of the Ferris wheel.”
“How do I know you’re going to remember to show up for this date?”
A date. Christ, it was utter insanity. But he looked into her beautiful eyes and nearly drowned. “Because this time I’m in charge of all my faculties,” he said.
Except, clearly, he wasn’t.
Stress wouldn’t be so hard to take if it were
As Mallory got into her car after her shift, her phone rang from an unfamiliar number.
“He came to the hospital to see you?” Amy asked.
Mallory didn’t bother to ask how Amy knew Ty had been at the hospital earlier. It was probably put out as an all points bulletin. “Whose cell phone is this?”
“I just found it at the diner. Don’t tell Jan; she likes to keep all the leftover phones for herself.”
“Amy! You can’t just use someone’s phone.”
“And that,” Amy said dryly, “is why you need Bad Girl lessons. Okay, impromptu meeting of the Chocoholics commencing right here, right now, because you’re in crisis.”
“I am not.”
“Lesson number one,” Amy went on without listening. “Always use a situation to your benefit.”
“That’s lesson number one?” Mallory said. “What’s lesson number two?”
“Lesson number two is not to get your exploits recounted on Facebook. Rookie mistake, Mal.”
Mallory sighed. “Do you have any wisdom that might actually be helpful?”
“Yeah.” There was some muffled talking, and she came back on. “Grace is here. She needed a big, warm brownie after pounding the sidewalk today looking for a job. She says lesson number three is to understand that guys are about the visuals, and she’s right. Always wear Bad Girl shoes and Bad Girl panties. They create the mood.”
The panties were self-explanatory. “Bad Girl shoes? You wear steel-toed boots.”
More muffled talking as Grace and Amy conferred on this subject.
“Okay,” Amy came back to say. “Grace thinks it’s a frame of mind. I’m a shit-kicker, so the boots work. You’re…softer. You need high heels. Strappy. Sexy.”
The thought of high heels after being on her feet all day made Mallory want to cry. Then she remembered how it had felt when Ty had put his hands on her ankles and removed her heels for her. She’d liked that, a lot. “My only heels hurt my feet.”
“Get another pair. Lesson number four,” Amy said. “Get a hold of his phone and scan through the contacts.”
“I’m not going to run through his contacts!” Mallory paused and considered. “And what would I be looking for, anyway?”
“Anyone listed as My Drug Dealer. That’s when you’d run not walk.”
Mallory blinked. “The guy who left his phone at the diner has a contact that says My Drug Dealer?”
“And also Bitch Ex-Wife. Oh, and Mommy.” Amy sighed. “Not a keeper.”
Grace got on the phone then, her mouth sounding quite full. “You’re going to have to make the next meeting in person, Mallory. This brownie is orgasmic.”
She could use an orgasmic brownie. “One of you take a turn now.”
“Well, Grace here has been turned down for all the jobs she applied for from the Canadian border to San Diego,” Amy said. “So I’m considering pouring her a shot of something to go with the brownie. In the meantime, I called Tara at the B&B, and they had no problem giving her the local discount to keep staying there for cheap, since she’s a local now. As for me,” Amy said, “I’m status quo. Waiting for warmer weather to make my move.”
“Your move on what?” Mallory asked.
“Life. In the meantime, we’ll concentrate on you,” she said. “You’re the most screwed up so it makes the most sense. Get some bad girl shoes.”
Mallory hung up and drove to the pier. When she got out, she took a moment to inhale the salty ocean air as the sound of the waves hitting the shore soothed her antsy nerves. At the pier’s entrance, flyers were posted, one for an upcoming high school play, another for a musical festival the following week. But it was the flyer for the town’s monthly Interested Citizens Meeting that caught her interest.
This was where Bill Lawson would pitch her Health Services Clinic and get the town’s collective reaction.
In the meantime, she had another meeting, one that, according to her heart rate, was imminent. She’d changed into a summer dress she’d borrowed from Tammy’s work locker. Tammy had superior clothes. This was what happened when one was married to a mall cop. By way of her husband, Tammy got a hell of a discount.
Walking to the Ferris wheel, Mallory took quick stock of her appearance. Not too bad, she thought, although her walking sandals were definitely not up to Bad Girl code.
The night was warm and moist, and the waves rocked gently against the pylons far below the pier. The power beneath her feet made the pier shudder faintly with the push and pull of the tide, which matched the push and pull of anticipation drumming through her.
You are not going to sleep with him again, she told herself firmly. That was just a one-time thing. You’re only here now because you’re curious about him.
And also because he’d looked hot today at the hospital. Damn, she had a problem. A big, attracted-to-him-like-a-moth-to-a-flame-type problem. How that was possible, she had no idea. Their good-bye on the night of the auction had been…abrupt. Although nothing about what had occurred before that had felt abrupt. Nope, everything had been…amazing.
She stopped at the entrance to the line for the Ferris wheel. When her inner drumming turned into a prickle at the base of her neck, she turned in a slow circle.
And found Ty watching her.
He was leaning back against the pier railing, legs casually crossed at the ankles, looking for all the world like a guy who made it a habit to be carefree enough to walk a beach pier.