He’d left Lucky Harbor certain this had been his future, the nomadic, dangerous work he’d given his life to. He’d told himself it was the right thing to do, that he had to do this to make his team’s deaths mean something. Plus, he could never give Mallory the kind of life she wanted. It just wasn’t for him.
He’d been wrong on all counts. He knew it now. Brad, Tommy, Kelly, and Trevor’s deaths would always mean something. And his life meant something, too. Probably he’d always known that, but he hadn’t had his head screwed on right for a long time. He had it on tight now.
Debriefing took far too long. Frances was waiting for him. A tall, stacked blonde, she had mile-long legs that looked so good in a power suit she was her boss’ sole weapon for recruiting.
Once upon a time, she’d recruited the hell out of Ty.
Now there was nothing between them but an odd mix of hostility and affection. She looked him over from head to toe and then back again. “You look like shit.”
She didn’t offer him a smile, just another long gaze, giving nothing away. “You’re not staying,” she guessed.
“I’m not staying.” He tossed her his security pass and walked.
“Do you really think a place like Lucky Harbor has anything to offer you?” she called after him.
He knew it did. He had connections there, real ones.
“Dammit, Ty,” she said to his back when he kept walking. “At some point, you have to stop running.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Ty caught a red-eye flight into Seattle, and as he landed he brought up Lucky Harbor’s Facebook. He’d resisted until now, but as the page loaded, he felt a smile curve his mouth at the latest note posted on the wall:
By now, you’ve all heard about Mrs. Burland’s $100,000 donation to HSC, and how she single-handedly saved the clinic, brought back Mallory Quinn, AND created peace on earth.
Okay, maybe not quite peace on earth, but we do worship the ground she walks on. (Did I get that right, Louisa?)
ANYWAY, last week’s raffle raised an additional $5K for the hospital. Thanks to our own Mallory Quinn for her tireless efforts. The grand prize—a date with Hospital Administrator Bill Lawson—was won by Jane Miller, Director of Nurses. Rumor has it that there was a good-night kiss. Wonder if Bill put out? Sources say yes. Look for a summer wedding…
Dawn hit the eastern sky as Ty drove a rental car into Lucky Harbor. He wondered if Mallory was still asleep in her bed, warm and soft.
Christ, he hoped so. It’d only been two weeks but he’d left abruptly. Cruelly. He had no right to be back, no right at all to ask her to forgive him.
But that’s exactly what he was going to do.
The ocean was still an inky purple as he drove past the pier, then hit the brakes.
The Shelby was in the lot at the diner.
Heart pounding, he parked and entered. The place smelled like fresh paint. The floors looked new and yet seemed to be made of the same timeless linoleum as they’d been before the sprinkler situation. He found Amy, Grace, and Mallory seated at the counter eating chocolate chip pancakes.
Or they had been eating, until he entered.
Three forks went still in the air.
Grace’s and Amy’s gazes slid to Mallory, but she was paying them no attention whatsoever. She was staring at Ty, her fork halfway to her mouth.
He’d walked through fire fights with less nerves, but he took hope from the sight of the charm bracelet glinting on her wrist.
“This is a private meeting,” Grace told him. “Locals only.”
“Grace,” Mallory said quietly, her eyes never leaving Ty, but for once not giving anything of herself away, either. Ty had absolutely no idea what she was thinking; her face was carefully blank.
A lesson she’d probably learned from him.
In the cookies of life, friends and lovers
are the chocolate chips.
Mallory stared at Ty and got light-headed, which turned out to be because she wasn’t breathing.
“I thought you chocoholics met over cake,” Ty said.
Two weeks. It’d been two weeks since she’d seen him, and he wanted to discuss cake. She hungrily drank in the sight of him. He wore battered Levi’s and a white button-down, looking as good as ever. But he’d lost some weight, and his eyes were guarded.
“We’ve been banned from cake,” Grace said. “On account of the candles.”
Amy pointed at Ty with her fork. “You planning on walking in and out of her life again?”
“Just in,” he said, his gaze never leaving Mallory’s. “We need to talk.”
“So talk,” Grace said.
Heart pounding, Mallory stood up and gave both of her friends a shake of her head. “You know what he’s asking. Give us a minute.”
“Okay, but this is his third time interrupting us,” Amy pointed out. “And—”
“Please,” Mallory said to her friends.
Amy looked at Ty, using her first two fingers to point at him, going back and forth between his eyes and hers, silently giving him notice that she was watching him and not to even think about misbehaving.
Grace dragged her away.
Mallory waited until they were out of earshot to look at Ty. Her entire being went warm as she drank him in. She had no idea why he was back but she hoped like hell she was part of the reason.
“You still trying to save me, Mallory?” Ty asked quietly.
Her heart was hammering so loud she couldn’t hear herself talk. “I can’t seem to help myself.”
“I don’t need saving.”
No. No, he sure didn’t. He was strong and capable, and more than able to take care of himself. “What do you need?”
“You,” he said simply. “Only you.”
“Oh,” Grace breathed softly from behind them. “Oh, that’s good.”
Both Mallory and Ty turned to find that Amy and Grace had scooted close enough to eavesdrop. Grace winced and held up an apologetic hand. “Sorry. Continue.”
Mallory turned back to Ty, who took her hand in his big, warm one to entwine their fingers, bringing them up to his chest. His heartbeat was a reassuring steady thump. “I know you’ve looked for Mr. Right,” he said. “And then Mr. Wrong. I was thinking maybe you’d be interested in a Mr.…Regular.”
Her throat went tight. “That’d be great,” she managed. “But I don’t see any regular guys standing in front of me.”
The corner of his mouth tipped up and melted her but she wasn’t going to be distracted by his hotness right now. “Your job,” she said.
“Yeah, I thought that’s what drove me, gave me what I needed. I was wrong, Mallory. It’s you. You fulfill me, like no job or no person ever has. You make me whole.”
There was a sniffle behind them. Two sniffles. Mallory ignored them, even as she felt like sniffling herself. “Won’t you go crazy here?”
“There’s an opening in Seattle for a trauma flight paramedic. Also, I was thinking I want to work with veterans at HSC. I think I could help. And if I get bored and need some real action, there’s always the arcade.”
Mallory was absorbing this with what felt like a huge bucket of hope sitting on her chest. “And me,” she whispered. “I could show you some action. You know, once in awhile.”
“Mallory,” he said, sounding raw and staggered and touched beyond words. “God, I was so stupid. So slow. I didn’t know what to do with you. I tried to keep my distance but my world doesn’t work without you in it.”
She melted. Given the twin sighs behind her, she wasn’t the only one. “But is a trauma paramedic job enough for you?”
“There’s more important things to me than an adrenaline rush. There’s more important things than any job. But there’s nothing more important than you,” he said. “Mallory, I lo—”
“Wait!” This was from Amy, and she looked at Mallory. “I’m sorry, but don’t you think you should tell him about the car before he finishes that sentence?”
“No,” Mallory said, giving Amy the evil eye. She wanted the rest of Ty’s sentence, dammit!
Ty frowned. “What’s wrong with the Shelby?”
“Nothing,” Mallory said quickly.
“Nothing,” Amy agreed. “Except for the dinged door where she parked too close to the mailbox.”
“Oh my God,” Mallory said to her. “What are you, the car police?”
“The classic car police,” Amy said smugly.
“You parked the Shelby on the street?” Ty asked Mallory incredulously.
She went brows-up.
“Okay,” he said, lifting his hands. “It’s okay. Never mind about the car.”
“I’ve got this one,” Grace said, wrapping an arm around Amy, covering the waitress’s mouth while she was at it. “Go on.”
Mallory turned back to Ty, who pulled her off her stool and touched the small scar on her cheek before leaning in to kiss her. “I love you, Mallory,” he said very quietly, very seriously. “So damn much.”
Warmth and affection and need and so much more rushed her. “I know.”
“Well, hell,” he said with a small smile and a shake of his head. “You might have told me and saved me a lot of time.”
“How about I tell you something else?” she said. “I love you, too.”
The rest of the wariness he’d arrived with drained from him. “Tell me what you need from me for there to be an us,” he said.
Hope blossomed, full and bright. “You want an us?”
“I want an us. Tell me, Mallory.”
“I like what we had,” she said. “Being together after a long day, maybe dinner out sometimes. That was nice. We could skip the orchestra, though.”