Josh swore beneath his breath, making Mallory laugh and gently pat him on the chest. “Your women are calling, Dr. Scott. Better get back to ’em. And don’t forget to give them what they want.”
“A clean car?”
“Lots of views of your ass when you bend over.”
He grimaced and headed back to his line. Mallory turned to Ty, gasping with shock at how wet he was. “Did I do all that?”
“You going to try telling me that it wasn’t on purpose?”
“No,” she said on a laugh. “It wasn’t on purpose, I swear! If it had been, I’d have skipped the embarrassing bucket part, trust me.”
Matt had gone back to washing a car and was busy flirting with the pretty blonde owner of said car. But Ty was extremely aware that Josh was still watching them. Josh was a good man, one of the best that Ty had ever met. But he was also on Mallory’s list, and Ty wasn’t evolved enough to wish him the best with her. “Mallory.”
He stepped closer to her. “You can take Josh off your list.”
She choked out a laugh as he pulled his now-drenched shirt away from his skin. He was still wearing his gun in a shoulder harness from the range, and he removed the wet Glock, then realized the entire parking lot had gone silent. Everyone was staring at him. Actually, not him. His gun.
Christ. “It got wet,” he said. “Guns don’t like to get wet.”
Matt stepped away from the car he was working on and came to Ty’s side, a show of solidarity. Just the supervisory forest ranger and the crazy guy.
“It’s okay,” Matt said. “Ty’s licensed to carry.” He said this with his usual easygoing smile, putting a hand on Ty’s shoulder, using his other to wave at someone who pulled into the lot.
And just like that, everyone went back to what they’d been doing, giving the two men some privacy.
Matt gave Ty a look. “I keep telling you this is Lucky Harbor, not the Middle East.”
Ty returned the look and said nothing.
Matt sighed. “You know that Vet program you’re funding at HSC? The one you told Mallory to get a good counselor for? You ought to consider making use of it.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. Maybe you could work on happy. You got any of that? Because you can get away with just about anything if you smile occasionally. Ought to try it sometime.”
“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind,” Ty said, but he didn’t feel like smiling. He had no idea what he was still doing here. His leg was fine. And yet he’d stopped at the small town car wash because Mallory had been looking hot in shorts. He’d just agreed to fix someone’s Charger. What the hell was he doing? He was gone, out of here, any day now, moving on as he’d done all his life.
So why the hell was he acting like he was sticking around? Why was he letting people in and making plans? It was not in the cards for him, this small town life. Ties and roots were not his thing. He paid for his car wash. He’d have said good-bye to Mallory but she was busy with another vehicle. He got into his car, but something had him looking back once more at Mallory. From across the lot she was watching him, her gaze long and thoughtful.
No regrets, she’d said.
But he thought that maybe this time, there would be at least one regret. A regret named Mallory Quinn.
That night, Mallory, Grace, and Amy sat in a corner booth at Eat Me, forks in hand, cake on a plate.
The Chocoholics were in session.
“So,” Grace said, licking her fork. “The hardware store is hiring. The owner, Anderson, asked me out.”
“Don’t do it,” both Amy and Mallory said at the same time.
Grace sighed. “He’s cute. But I’d rather have the job. I filled out the application. I’m trying hard to find my happy.”
“And you think counting nails is going to do it?” Amy asked.
“Is clearing dishes doing it for you?” Grace countered.
Amy shrugged. “It leaves me a lot of free time and brain cells to do what I like.”
“Which is?” Mallory asked.
Amy shrugged again. “Drawing.”
“You’re supposed to be letting people in,” Mallory reminded her. “It was your decree, remember? Drawing is a solo sport.”
Amy stabbed her fork into the cake for a large bite. “I’m in training.” She eyed Mallory. “You want to talk about today?”
“What about today?”
“Gee, I don’t know—how about the fact that MCG is carrying?”
“Mysterious Cute Guy. Ty Garrison. Hot stuff. The guy you smile dopily about every time he’s mentioned.”
“I do not smile dopily.”
Amy looked at Grace. Grace pulled a small mirror from her purse and held it up in front of Mallory.
Mallory looked at her faint glow and—dammit—dopey smile, and did her best to wipe it off her face. “It’s the chocolate cake.”
Amy coughed and said “bullshit” at the same time.
Mallory sighed and set down her fork.
“Uh oh,” Grace said.
“I like him,” Mallory said.
“And that’s a bad thing?” Grace asked. “You set out to stretch your wings, experience something new. It’s happening.”
“With a guy that could break her heart,” Amy said softly. “Is that it, Mal? You’re scared?”
“Like a little bunny rabbit,” Mallory said. “Some bad girl I turned out to be.”
Ty swam by moonlight, and then hit the beach for another run. He didn’t fall this time, not once.
When he was done torturing his body and his every muscle was quivering with exertion, he went to bed. Too tired for nightmares, he told himself.
Things started out good. He dreamed about the time his team had been assigned to rescue a diplomat’s daughter out of Istanbul. Then the dream shifted to another mission, where they’d “commandeered” certain components from a godforsaken, forlorn corner of Iraq, components that had been waiting for another shipment, which when combined together would have been a huge terrorist threat. Then things transitioned again, to the time they’d managed to get to a bus loaded with U.S. and British journalists before their scheduled kidnapping…
All successful missions…
But then the dream changed, and everything went straight to hell in a handbasket.
He was thrown from the burning wreckage. When he opened his eyes, his ears were ringing, and although he could see the wild flames all around him, he couldn’t hear a damn thing. It was a movie without sound.
His men. He belly-crawled to Kelly, but he was already gone. Ty found Tommy and Brad next and did what he could, then went after Trevor. Trevor was on the other side of the wreckage, gasping for air, his chest crushed, and all Ty could do was hold him as he faded away…
He woke up alone in bed, not on a godforsaken mountain. “Christ,” he breathed and shoved his fingers through his sweat-dampened hair. “Christ.”
It was two in the morning but he rolled out of the bed, grabbed his jeans, and shoved his legs into them. His phone, blinking due to missed calls that were no doubt from Frances, was shoved into his pocket. Same with his empty Vicodin bottle.
He got into the Mustang and fired her up. With no idea what possessed him, he did a drive-by of Mallory’s house. She wasn’t the only one with recon skills, though he figured the only way she could have gotten his cell phone number was through the hospital records.
How very industrious of her.
He found it amusing, and in a world where nothing much amused him anymore, he was also intrigued. A deadly combination.
Distance. He needed a boatload of distance. He was working on that.
Mallory’s ranch-style house was in an older neighborhood. Typical Suburbia, USA. The place was freshly painted, the yard clearly cared for, much more than the piece-of-shit car she drove.
Which was why he was here. Or so he told himself.
It took him all of six minutes to replace her alternator with the one he’d driven into Seattle to get for her.
Probably he needed to work harder on keeping his distance.
He really needed to get back to work. He needed to be fucking useful for something again. He put his tools back in his car and had started to get behind the wheel when he heard locks tumble. Her front door opened.
In the lit doorway, highlighted by both the porch light and a single light somewhere inside, stood Mallory. Her hair was a wild cloud around her face and shoulders, her bare feet sticking out the bottom of her robe. “Ty?”
So much for stealth.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Funny thing about that. He had no fucking clue what he was doing. None. Not a single one. He shut his car door and walked up to her, crowding her in the open doorway.
He didn’t answer. If she backed up a step or told him he was crazy, or gave him the slightest sign that he wasn’t welcome, he would turn on his heel and walk off.
He was good at that, and they both knew it.
And he definitely expected her to be unnerved. He’d seen her face at the car wash when he’d been holding his gun.
But she surprised him now by stepping into him, meeting him halfway. Reaching for him, her body answered his touch with a slight trembling that made him feel pretty fucking useful, and wasn’t that just what he’d wished for? To be useful again?
He kept telling himself that as curious and attracted as he was to her, if Mallory hadn’t started things up between them at the auction, he’d have never initiated any sort of intimacy.
He was full of shit. She’d assured him that all she’d wanted was the one night, and he’d tried like hell to believe her, but somehow they kept getting in deeper.
She was like a drug. The most addicting kind, and he had a problem—he was pretty sure that she was developing feelings for him. He no idea what to do with that, or with his own feelings, which were definitely getting in his way. This whole “no emotional attachment” thing had gone straight to shit. Because Mallory Quinn was emotionally attached to every person she ever met, and she had a way of making that contagious. He craved contact with her in a way that he wasn’t experienced with.