Not that it appeared to make any difference. Ty’s attraction to her was apparently based on some intangible thing she couldn’t fathom. She knew she could think about that for a million years and not get used to it, to the fact that no matter what she did or what she looked like, he seemed to want her.
The feeling was far too mutual.
Nothing chocolate, nothing gained.
Ty sat up on the mechanic’s creeper and took in the sight of Mallory standing there. She was packing a plate of cookies, which he hoped to God were for him. He assumed she’d discovered the phone fiasco by now, but other than that, he wasn’t sure what sort of mood to expect from her.
The last time he’d seen her, she’d been face down on his bed, boneless and sated right into a coma of bliss. He’d stroked a strand of damp hair from her face and she’d smiled in her sleep. His heart had constricted at the sight, his sole thought, oh Christ, I am in trouble. He’d been torn by the urge to tug her close, but then claustrophobia had reached up and grabbed him by the throat. Just as he’d chosen retreat, she’d awakened and gotten dressed to go.
That must have been when she’d grabbed the wrong phone, although he hadn’t realized it then. He’d followed her home to make sure she got there safely, then driven back to his place and expected to crash. Instead he’d missed her.
Clearly he was losing it.
He had no idea what she was thinking, but he hadn’t expected to see her smile at the sight of him, a smile that was filled with relief.
Relief, he realized, and surprise that he was still here in town.
Yeah, join my club. He was surprised, too.
She was in pale purple scrubs and white Nikes. She had two pens sticking out of her hip pocket, one red, one black. There were correlating ink marks on her scrubs. She followed his gaze and rubbed at the stains. “I’m a mess. Don’t ask.”
“Not a mess,” he said. “Are those cookies?”
“Yes. And I had to fight the staff to keep them for you.”
“Girl-on-girl fight?” he asked hopefully. “Did you get it on video?”
“You are such a guy.” She came closer and crouched at his side, holding the plate out for him. He took a big bite of a cookie and moaned in deep appreciation.
“Did you give the HSC ten thousand dollars?”
Ah, there it was, he thought, swallowing. He’d been hoping she wouldn’t find out, but he supposed that was unrealistic in a town like Lucky Harbor. Taking his time, he ate cookie number two, then reached for a third.
She held the plate out of his reach. “Did you?” she asked.
He eyed her for a long moment. “Which answer will get me the rest of the cookies?”
“Oh, Ty,” she breathed, looking worried as she lowered the plate. Worried for him, he realized.
“Why?” she asked. “You already gave.”
“HSC needed it.”
“But it’s so much money.”
“If you’re asking if I can afford it, I can.”
She just stared at him, so he shrugged. “The job pays well.” He paused. “Really well.”
She let out a breath. She was already hunkered at his side so it took little effort to lean over toward him and press a kiss to his cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered, and went to kiss the other cheek, but he turned his head and caught her mouth with his. They were both gratifyingly out of breath by the time he pulled back.
“You’re welcome,” he said, surprised when she rose and sat on the stool at his work bench.
“Don’t let me keep you from what you were doing,” she said. “I’ll watch.”
He arched a brow, feeling amused for the first time all day. “You want me to get back under the car?”
“I just don’t want you to lose any time because of me.”
“Is that right?”
Humoring the both of them, he lay back down onto the mechanic’s creeper and lifted his hands above his head to the edge of the car.
She nibbled on her lower lip. Watching him work turned her on. The knowledge shouldn’t have surprised him—she turned him on just breathing, but he laughed softly.
She blushed. “How did you know?”
“Your nipples are hard.”
She made a sound in the back of her throat and covered her breasts, making him laugh.
“It’s your jeans,” she said. “They’re faded at your, um.” She waggled a finger in the direction of his crotch. “Stress spots. And your T-shirt, it’s tight on your biceps and shoulders. And when you’re flat on your back under the car, you look like you know what you’re doing.”
“That’s because I do.”
“It’s the whole package,” she agreed miserably.
He grinned. “If it helps, my package likes your package. A whole hell of a lot.”
“Work!” she demanded, closing her eyes.
Obliging, he rolled back beneath the car. He heard her get to her feet and walk close, peering into the opened hood above him. “So how much wrenching do you do at your work?”
She was as see-through as glass. He knew that she’d put him back beneath the car because she’d gotten him to talk beneath a car before. But she was so goddamned cute trying to outthink him that he gave her what she wanted.
Which in hindsight made her a hell of lot more dangerous than he’d thought. “I hotwired a tank once,” he said. “With my team. We stole it to disable rebel insurgents.”
She squatted at his side. “You’ve led a very different life than mine.” Her hand settled on his bad thigh. It’d been only recently that he’d even gotten feeling back in it, but he was having no trouble feeling anything now. It felt like her fingers had a direct line to his groin, and things stirred to life.
“Our phones got switched,” she said.
There was a new quality to her voice now, one that had him setting down his wrench and pulling himself back out from beneath the car.
She was still crouched low, and from his vantage point flat on his back, he looked up into her face. As usual, she could hide nothing from him, and for once, he wished he couldn’t see her every thought. They exchanged phones but her expression didn’t change. “Problem?” he asked.
“A woman called. Frances? She wants you to call her.”
“She always wants me to call her.”
Mallory nodded, looked down at the ground and then back into his eyes. “Are you dating her?”
“I’m not much of a dater.”
“You know what I mean.”
Yeah, he did. And he didn’t want to go there.
“I know,” she said quickly. “We agreed that this thing with you and me was…casual.”
He didn’t like where this was going.
“A fling,” she went on. “Right? Not a relationship.” She rose and turned away from him. “But I was thinking that maybe that last part isn’t true. I mean, we never actually said there wasn’t a relationship.”
“I’ll say it,” he said. “It’s not a relationship.”
She went still, turning back to stare at him with those eyes he’d never once been able to resist. “Why is that?” she asked. “Why can’t there be an us, if there’s a you and a someone else?”
He looked into her expressive face and felt a stab of pain right in the gut. He’d survived SEAL training. He’d lived through a plane crash. He’d kept on breathing when the rest of his team, his friends, his brothers, hadn’t been able to do the same. But he didn’t know how to do this. “There are some things I can’t tell you,” he said slowly. “Things that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.”
“So the reason we can’t be a we is classified?” she asked in disbelief. “Really, Ty?”
Well, hell. Yeah, that had been pretty fucking lame. Chalk it up to the panic now residing in his hollow gut. Whatever he did here, whatever he came up with, he needed her to want to keep her distance. Except Mallory Quinn was incapable of distance when her heart was involved. That was both painfully attractive and terrifying. “Don’t fall for me, Mallory. That wouldn’t be good for either of us. We’re too different. You said so yourself.”
She sucked in a breath like he’d slapped her. “And what, you and Frances are alike? Compatible?”
Hands on hips, she narrowed her eyes. “If you’re sleeping with her, then why wouldn’t she just roll over and talk to you? Why is she yelling about you not returning her phone calls?”
“Frances doesn’t yell.”
“Strongly suggested then,” she said with mock politeness. She paused. “You’re not sleeping with her.”
Gig up. “I’m not sleeping with her. And as for the why she’s pissed, there are a variety of reasons. I haven’t seen her in six months, for one.”
She stared at him, then turned away again.
Ty rose to his feet and walked around her to see her face. “Get the rest out,” he said. “Let’s finish this.”
A wry smile twisted her mouth. “You aren’t familiar with the Quinn pattern of holding onto a good mad, I see.”
“Holding onto your mad only tortures you,” he pointed out. “If you’re mad at me, let me have it.”
“Are you always so logical?” With a sigh, she shook her head. “Never mind. Don’t answer that.” She put a finger to her eye. “Damn twitch,” she muttered to herself, then looked at him, chin up. “I snooped in your phone.”
“I would expect nothing less from Walking-On-The-Wild-Side Mallory.”
“I thought about not telling you. But stealth isn’t one of my special talents.”
“You have other special talents,” he said, and made her laugh.
“Dammit,” she said. “I don’t want to laugh with you right now.”