But if it was Anderson, Ty was going to kick his ass, just on principle. And if it was Josh, Ty’d…Jesus. It’d be whoever Mallory chose, and Ty had nothing to say about it, not even if her new Mr. Wrong used the guise of showing her how to hold a tool to kiss her. Not even if that Mr. Wrong bent her over a piece of furniture, taking her in front of a mirror, forcing her to see how gorgeous and amazing she really was. It was none of his business.
But it sucked.
“Just trust me,” Mallory said to her patient, moving to a cabinet. She pulled a set of keys from her pocket and eyed the medicine samples lined up there before grabbing a box. “Take these. One a day.”
“What are you poisoning me with now?” the woman asked.
“Vitamins,” Mallory said.
The woman set the samples down. “Vitamins are a sham. It’s the drug companies’ way of making money off all us unsuspecting idiots.”
Mallory put the vitamins back into the woman’s hands. “Your blood work shows you’re anemic. These will help. Or you can keep passing out in the bathroom and waiting until EMS finds you on the floor with your pants at your ankles again. Your choice, Mrs. Burland.”
There was a long silence during which the woman glared at Mallory. “You used to be afraid of me. You used to quail and tremble like a little girl.”
“Things change,” Mallory said in a mild voice. No judgment, no recriminations. “Take the vitamins. Don’t make me come over every night and pinch your nose and shove them down your throat.”
“Well fine, if you’re going to out-mean me.”
“I am,” Mallory said firmly.
“See, you have changed. You’ve gotten a tough skin. You’ve learned to hold back and keep your emotions off your sleeve for the world to see. You are very welcome.”
“Oh, it wasn’t all you,” Mallory said, and Ty felt an odd tightening in his chest, because he knew who’d changed her.
He was such an asshole.
Turning from the woman, Mallory caught sight of him standing there. Her surprised smile only added to the ache in Ty’s chest but he nodded to her and stepped back, leaning against the wall in the hall to wait.
Mallory looked at her patient. “I have something else for you; hold on.” She came out into the hall, shutting the door behind her. She flashed Ty another smile and vanished into the next room. When she returned, she handed her patient some flyers before guiding her from the exam room and out front.
A few minutes later Mallory was back. “Hey.”
“Hey. You need a lock on the front door when you’re here alone,” he said.
“I wasn’t alone until now, and this is Lucky Harbor. I’m as safe as it gets.”
“You’re not safe here with the drugs.”
“The meds are locked.”
“Flimsy lock,” he said. “Especially for someone who’s desperate.”
“It’s only temporary. We’re getting a much better set-up next week.” She smiled, still not taking her safety seriously enough for him. “So what’s up? What brings you here?”
“You owe me a favor,” he said. “And I’m collecting.”
She sputtered, then laughed. “I owe you a favor? Since when?”
“Since the night I pretended to be your date at the auction.”
“Pretended? You were supposed to be my date all along,” she reminded him.
“But I was concussed and didn’t remember making the date. Which means that you owe me for that, too, taking advantage of an injured guy.” He tsked. “Shame on you, Mallory Quinn. Imagine what people would say if they knew you’d done such a thing.”
She narrowed her eyes, clearly amused by his playfulness, but not fully trusting him.
Smart girl. He shouldn’t be trusted. Not by a long shot.
“So what exactly is this favor?” she asked. “And don’t tell me it involves any storage rooms.” She paused. “Okay, so we both know I’d hop into another closet with you so fast it’d make your head spin.”
With a laugh, he pushed off the wall and came toward her. “It’s not that,” he said. “I need the same thing you needed that night.”
“An orgasm?” she asked cheekily.
“Only if you ask very nicely. But I meant a date.”
Her expression went dubious. “A date? Now?”
She went from dubious to blank-faced. “A last date?”
Well, hell. What could he say to that? It was the truth. “Actually,” he said. “I don’t believe we ever had a first date.” He took her hand and brought it to his mouth, brushing his lips against her palm as he watched her over their joined fingers. “Say yes, Mallory.”
Staring at him, she turned her hand, cupping his face, her fingers gliding across his jaw. “Always.”
He felt his heart roll, exposing its underbelly. Nothing he could do about that. He was equipped to eliminate threats, protect and serve.
Not to love.
Never to love.
Mallory didn’t know what to expect. Ty wouldn’t tell her where they were going, but they were on the highway, heading toward Seattle. Once there, he drove to a very swank block lined with designer shops and parked.
“Um,” she said.
He pulled her out of the car and into a dress shop. “Something for the orchestra,” he said to the pretty sales woman who came forward. He turned to Mallory. “Whatever you want.”
She was confused. “What?”
“The auction. The night on the town package.”
Again, she just gaped at him. “Was that supposed to be a full explanation?”
“It’s tonight,” he said. “Tonight’s the last night of the orchestra.”
“So you what, kidnapped me to take me to it?”
“Thought you could use a night off. And you said you never got to date much.” He looked endearingly baffled. “And don’t women like this surprise romantic shit?”
Aw. Dammit. “What, you mean romantic ‘shit’?”
He winced, for the first time since she’d known him, looking uncomfortable in his own skin. “You’re right,” he said. “This was a stupid idea. It’s not too late to call this whole thing off and go get a pizza and beer. Whatever you want.”
The guy had grown up on military bases and then given his adult years over to the same lifestyle. Mallory knew he was far more at ease in the role of big, bad tough guy than romance guy. Certainly he’d rather have a pizza and beer over the orchestra.
And yet he’d thought of her. He wanted to give her a night off. He’d wanted to share that night off with her, and he’d brought her to a place filled with gorgeous, designer clothes to do it so that she wouldn’t stress about the lack thereof in her own closet. It was a send off, a finale, a good-bye, and she knew it. But damn. Damn, she wanted this. With him. Stepping into him, she went up on tip-toe and kissed his smooth jaw. He’d shaved for her. “Thank you,” she whispered.
He turned his head and claimed her mouth in one quick, hot kiss. “Take your time. I’ll be waiting.”
If only that was really true.
A limo pulled up front, and that’s when she remembered: the package came with a limo. “Oh my God.”
He leaned in close. “I’m hoping by the end of the night you’ll be saying ‘Oh, Ty’…” And with that, he walked out the front door toward the limo.
She stared after him. “That man is crazy.”
“He’s crazy fine,” the sales clerk murmured. “And he did say whatever you wanted…” She gestured around her. “So what would you like?”
Thirty minutes later, Mallory was decked out in a silky, strappy siren-red dress that made her feel like a sex kitten. She kept trying to see the price tag but the clerk had been discreet, and firm. “He said you weren’t allowed to look at the prices.”
By the time Mallory exited the shop, she felt like Cinderella. And her prince stepped out of the limo to greet her in a well-fitted, expensive suit that nearly made her trip over her new strappy high-heeled sandals. She’d seen him in a suit before. She’d seen him in jeans, in cargoes, and in nothing at all. He always looked mouth-wateringly gorgeous. But tonight, something felt different…“Wow.”
Ignoring that, he took her hand and pulled her in. “You take my breath away,” he said simply.
And that’s when she realized. It was his eyes. He was looking at her differently. Heart-stoppingly differently.
Dinner was at a French restaurant and was so amazing she was starting to regret not going one size up on the dress. But the wine quickly reduced any lingering anxiety. The problem with that was, combined with a long day and almost no sleep the night before, by the time they got to the orchestra, her eyes were drooping. Still, she accepted another glass of white wine, and they found their seats. The curtain went up.
And that’s the last thing Mallory remembered about the orchestra.
When she woke up, the theater was nearly empty, and Ty was leaning over her, an amused smile on his face.
“What?” she said, blinking, confused. “Where?”
His smile spread to a grin. “You snore.”
“I do not!” She straightened, stared at the closed curtain on the stage and took in the fact that the few people left around them were leaving. “It’s over? I missed the whole thing?”
He pulled her to her feet. “That’s okay. You didn’t miss the best part.”
“What’s the best part?”
“Wait for it.” He led her back to the limo. He closed the partition between them and the driver, then pulled her onto his lap.
“Is this the best part?” she asked breathlessly when he slid his hands beneath her dress and palmed her butt cheeks, bared by her lacy thong.
“Wait for it,” he whispered against her mouth, and spent the drive back to the Shelby creating a slow burn with nothing more than his mouth on hers and his hands caressing her curves.