Page 3

Author: Jill Shalvis

“Nope. Jan sells everything on eBay.” Amy set her fork down and leaned back. “Look at us, sitting here stuffing ourselves with birthday cake because we have no better options on a Friday night.”

“Hey, I have options,” Grace said. “There’s just a big, fat, mean storm blocking our exit strategies.”

Amy gave her a droll look and Grace sagged. “Okay, I don’t have shit.”

They both looked at Mallory, and she sighed. “Fine. I’m stalled too. I’m more than stalled, okay? I’ve got the equivalent of a dead battery, punctured tires, no gas, and no roadside assistance service. How’s that for a confession?”

Grace and Amy laughed softly, their exhales little clouds of condensation. They were huddled close, trying to share body heat.

“You know,” Amy said. “If we live through this, I’m going to—”

“Hey.” Mallory straightened up in concern. “Of course we’re going to live. Soon as the snow lets up, we’ll push some branches out of the way and head out to my car and call for help, and—”

“Jeez,” Amy said, annoyed. “Way to ruin my dramatic moment.”

“Sorry. Do continue.”

“Thank you. If we live,” Amy repeated with mock gravity, “I’m going to keep a cake just like this in the freezer just for us. And also…” She shifted and when she spoke this time, her voice was softer. “I’d like to make improvements to my life, like living it instead of letting it live me. Growing roots and making real friends. I suck at that.”

Mallory squeezed her hand tight in hers. “I’m a real friend,” she whispered. “Especially if you mean it about the cake.”

Amy’s mouth curved in a small smile.

“If we live,” Grace said. “I’m going to find more than a job. I want to stop chasing my own tail and go after some happy for a change, instead of waiting for it to find me. I’ve waited long enough.”

Once again, both Amy and Grace looked expectantly at Mallory, who blew out a sigh. She knew what she wanted for herself, but it was complicated. She wanted to let loose, do whatever she wanted, and stop worrying about being the glue at work, in her family, for everyone. Unable to say that, she wracked her brain and came up with something else. “There’s this big charity event I’m organizing for the hospital next weekend, a formal dinner and auction. I’m the only nurse on my floor without a date. If we live, a date would be really great.”

“Well, if you’re wishing, wish big,” Amy said. “Wish for a little nookie too.”

Grace nodded her approval. “Nookie,” she murmured fondly. “Oh how I miss nookie.”

“Nookie,” Mallory repeated.

“Hot sex,” Grace translated.

Amy nodded. “And since you’ve already said Mr. Right never works out for you, you should get a Mr. Wrong.”

“Sure,” Mallory said, secure in the knowledge that one, there were no Mr. Wrongs anywhere close by, and two, even if there had been, he wouldn’t be interested in her.

Amy pulled her order pad from her apron pocket. “You know what? I’m making you a list of some possible candidates. Since this is the only type of guy I know, it’s right up my alley. Off the top of my head, I can think of two. Dr. Josh Scott from the hospital, and Anderson, the guy who runs the hardware store. I’m sure there’s plenty of others. Promise me that if a Mr. Wrong crosses your path, you’re going for him. As long as he isn’t a felon,” she added responsibly.

Good to know there were some boundaries. Amy thrust out her pinkie for what Mallory assumed was to be a solemn pinkie swear. With a sigh Mallory wrapped her littlest finger around Amy’s. “I promise—” She broke off when a thump sounded on one of the walls out front. Each of them went stock still, staring at each other.

“That wasn’t a branch,” Mallory whispered. “That sounded like a fist.”

“Could have been a rock,” Grace, the eternal optimist, said.

They all nodded but not a one of them believed it was a rock. A bad feeling had come over Mallory. It was the same one she got sometimes in the ER right before they got an incoming. “May I?” she asked Grace, gesturing to the smart phone.

Grace handed it over and Mallory rose to her knees and used the lighter app to look over the edge of the counter.

It wasn’t good.

The opened doorway had become blocked by a snow drift. It really was incredible for this late in the year, but big, fat, round snowflakes the size of dinner plates were falling from the sky, piling up quickly.

The thump came again, and through the vicious wind, she thought she also heard a moan. A pained moan. She stood. “Maybe someone’s trying to get inside,” she said. “Maybe they’re hurt.”

“Mallory,” Amy said. “Don’t.”

Grace grabbed Mallory’s hand. “It’s too dangerous out there right now.”

“Well, I can’t just ignore it.” Tugging free, Mallory wrapped her arms around herself and moved toward the opening. Someone was in trouble, and she was a sucker for that. It was the eternal middle child syndrome and the nurse’s curse. Glass crunched beneath her feet, and she shivered as snow blasted her in the face. Amazingly, the aluminum frame of the front door had withstood the impact when the glass had shattered. Shoving aside the thick branch, Mallory once again held the phone out in front of her, using it to peer out into the dark.

Nothing but snow.

“Hello?” she called, taking a step outside, onto the concrete stoop. “Is anyone—”

A hand wrapped around her ankle, and Mallory broke off with a startled scream, falling into the night.

Chapter 2

If it’s a toss up between men and chocolate,

bring on the chocolate!

Mallory scrambled backward, or tried to anyway, but a big hand on her ankle held firm. The hand appeared to be attached to an even bigger body. Fear and panic bubbled in her throat, and she simply reacted, chucking Grace’s phone at her captor’s hooded head.

It bounced off his cheek without much of a reaction other than a grunt. The guy was sprawled flat on his back, half covered in snow. Still holding her ankle in a vice-like grip, he shifted slightly and groaned. The sound didn’t take her out of panic mode but it did push another emotion to the surface. Concern. Since he hadn’t tried to hurt her, she leaned over him, brushing the snow away to get a better look—not easy with the wind pummeling her, bringing more icy snow that slapped at her bare face. “Are you hurt?” she asked.

He was non-responsive. His down parka was open, and he was wet and shivering. Pushing his dark brown hair from his forehead, she saw the first problem. He had a nasty gash over an eyebrow, which was bleeding profusely in a trickle down his temple and over his swollen eye. Not from where she’d hit him with the phone, thankfully, but from something much bigger and heavier, probably part of the fallen tree.

His eyes suddenly flew open, his gaze landing intense and unwavering on her.

“It’s okay,” she said, trying to sound like she believed it. “It looks like you were hit by a large branch. You’re going to need stitches, but for now I can—”

Before she could finish the thought, she found herself rolled beneath what had to be two hundred pounds of solid muscle, the entire length of her pressed ruthlessly hard into the snow, her hands yanked high over her head and pinned by his. He wasn’t crushing her, nor was he hurting her, but his hold was shockingly effective. In less than one second, he’d immobilized her, shrink-wrapping her between the ground and his body.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked, voice low and rough. It would have brought goose bumps to her flesh if she hadn’t already been covered in them.

“Mallory Quinn,” she said, struggling to free herself. She’d have had better luck trying to move a slab of cement.

Breathing hard, eyes dilated, clearly out of his mind, he leaned over her, the snow blowing around his head like some twisted paragon of a halo.

“You have a head injury,” she told him, using the brisk, no-nonsense, I’m-In-Charge tone she saved for both the ER and her crazy siblings. “You’re hypothermic.” And he was getting a nice red spot on his cheek, which she suspected was courtesy of the phone she’d hurled at him. Best not to bother him with the reminder of that. “I can help you if you let me.”

He just stared down at her, not so much as blinking while the storm railed and rallied in strength around them. He wasn’t fully conscious, that much was clear.

Still, testosterone and dark edginess poured off him, emphasized by his brutal grip on her. Mallory was cataloguing her options when the next gust hit hard enough to knock his hood back, and with a jolt, she recognized him.

Mysterious Cute Guy.

At least that’s how he was known around Lucky Harbor. He’d slipped into town six months ago without making a single effort to blend in.

As a whole, Lucky Harbor wasn’t used to that. Residents tended to consider it a God-given right to gossip and nose into people’s business, and no one was exempt. All that was known about the man was that he was staying in a big rental house up on the bluffs.

There’d been sightings of him at the Love Shack—the town’s bar and grill—and also at the local gym, and filling up some classic muscle car at the gas station. But Mallory had only seen him once in the grocery store parking lot, with a bag in hand. Tall and broad shouldered, he’d been facing his car, the muscles of his back straining his shirt as he reached into his pocket to retrieve his keys. He’d slid his long legs into his car and accelerated out of the lot, as she caught a flash of dark Oakleys, a firm jaw, and grim mouth.

A little frisson of female awareness had skittered up her spine that day, and even wet and cold and uncomfortable beneath him, she got another now. He felt much colder than she, making her realize she had no idea how long he’d been out here. He was probably concussed, but the head injury would be the least of his problems if she didn’t get him warmed up and call for help. “Let’s get you inside,” she said, ceasing to struggle beneath him, hoping that might calm him down.