Mallory had felt as if she’d needed to be punished in some way for not paying enough attention to Karen, for being a bad sister, for something, anything. She’d put all of her energy into healing her family, but had not been even remotely successful. Her parents divorced and her father had left to go surf in Australia. He’d never come back, and Tammy and Joe…well, they’d gone even further off the deep end.
Joe was doing better these days, spending far less time at cop central and more time on the job. Tammy had improved, too. Sure, last year she’d headed to Vegas for a weekend and had come home with a husband. But to everyone’s shock, the wedding hadn’t been because of an unplanned pregnancy. It hadn’t even been alcohol-related.
Well, it might have been a little bit alcohol-related, but unbelievably, Tammy and her hotel security guard-turned-shotgun husband were still married. She’d applied for and landed a housekeeping job at the hospital and—gasp—had actually held onto the job, the same as her marriage. And since their mother was a supervisory nurse, that meant there were three Quinns at the hospital working together. Or, more accurately, Tammy and Ella working as opposing magnets, with Mallory doing her best to hold onto them both.
Tammy had been on shift the night of the freak storm, and because she liked to know everything, in all likelihood she knew Mysterious Cute Guy’s name.
Mallory knew that asking her would be better than asking her mom—or looking in the computer and losing her job, not to mention completely invading the guy’s privacy—but not by much. Her best hope was for his name to come up in a conversation, all casual-like, maybe even “accidentally.” The trick was to not let Tammy know what Mallory wanted, or it’d be Game Over.
The break room was crowded, as it usually was at this time of the day. Mostly it was filled with other nurses and aides. Today Lucille was sitting on the couch as well, sipping a cup of coffee in her volunteer’s uniform.
No one knew exactly how old Lucille was, but she’d been running the art gallery in town since the dawn of time. She was also the hub of all things gossip in Lucky Harbor, and she gave one-hundred percent in life. This included her volunteering efforts, and since she knew everyone, she’d been hugely influential in helping Mallory gain interest in the Health Services Clinic. Fond of her, Mallory waved, then sat next to Tammy at the large round table in the center of the room.
Tammy smiled and put down her phone. “Heard about tonight.”
Mallory stopped in the act of pulling out her sandwich. This might be easier than she thought. “What about tonight?”
“Rumor is that you have a hot blind date for the auction.”
“No, I—” She went still. “Wait a minute. How did you hear that?”
“I’m psychic,” Tammy said and stole Mallory’s chips from her lunch bag.
Dammit, she needed those chips. Then she remembered what Mrs. Burland had said about gaining weight and sighed. “Just because you paid for an online course to learn to manage your Wiccan powers does not mean you actually have powers. How did you hear about the date?”
“Amy told me when I grabbed lunch at the diner yesterday.”
Okay, she’d kill Amy later at their chocoholics meeting. For now, it was just the opening Mallory needed. “First of all, the date thing is just a silly rumor.” Even if she was secretly hoping otherwise. “And second…did Amy happen to tell you who this silly rumor date might be with?”
“Yep.” Tammy was munching her way through the chips and moaning with pleasure, damn her. Mallory hoped she gained five pounds.
“I can’t believe you actually landed Mysterious Cute Guy,” Tammy said, licking salt off her fingers.
“Shh!” Mallory took a quick, sweeping glance around them, extremely aware of Lucille only a few feet away, ears aquiver with the attempt to eavesdrop. “Keep it down.”
Unimpressed with the need for stealth, Tammy went on. “It’s pretty damn impressive, really. Didn’t know you had it in you. I mean, your last boyfriend was that stuffy accountant from Seattle, remember? The only mysterious thing about him was what you saw in him.”
“You were here last weekend when he came in,” Mallory said.
Tammy smiled. She knew she was stepping on Mallory’s last nerve. It was what she did. And this wasn’t going well.
“So is it a silly rumor?” Tammy asked. “Or a real date?”
“Never mind!” Mallory paused. “But…did you hear anything about him?”
Lucille was nearly falling off the couch now, trying to catch the conversation. Mallory turned her chair slightly, more fully facing her sister. “Like his name,” she whispered.
This got Tammy’s attention in a big way. “Wait a minute. You don’t know his name?”
“Wow, how absolutely naughty, Mal. You haven’t done naughty since you were sixteen and turned yourself in for shoplifting. Now you may or may not have a date with a guy whose name you don’t know. A fascinating cry for attention.” Tammy turned her head. “You catching all of this, Lucille?”
“Oh, you know I am.” Lucille pulled out a Smartphone and began tapping keys with her thumbs. Probably writing on the Facebook wall. “This is good; keep talking.”
Mallory dropped her head to the table and thunked it but unfortunately she didn’t lose consciousness and she still had to finish her shift.
After work, she drove home and watered her next door neighbor’s flowers because Mrs. Tyler was wheelchair-bound and couldn’t do it for herself. Then she watered her grandma’s beloved flowers. She fed the ancient old black cat that had come with the house, the one who answered only to “Sweet Pea” and only when food was involved. And before she showered to get ready for the night’s dinner and auction, she clicked through her e-mail.
Then wished she hadn’t.
She’d been tagged on Facebook.
Make sure to buy tickets for tonight’s elegant formal dinner and auction, folks! Supported by the hospital, organized by the nurses and spearheaded by Mallory Quinn, all proceeds will go into the Hospital Foundation’s coffers toward the Health Services Clinic that Mallory’s been working on shoving down our throats. (Just kidding, Mallory!).
And speaking of Ms. Quinn, rumor is that she’ll ‘maybe’ have a date for the event after all, with Mysterious Cute Guy!
p.s. Anyone at the event with their cell phone, pictures are greatly appreciated!
Chocolate will never fail you.
Ty’s routine hadn’t changed much in the six months he’d been in Lucky Harbor. He got up in the mornings and either swam in the ocean or went to the gym, usually with Matt Bowers, a local supervisory forest ranger and the guy who owned the ’72 GMC Jimmy that Ty was fixing up.
Matt was ex-Chicago SWAT, but before that he’d been in the Navy. He and Ty had gone through basic together.
When Ty had injured his leg again, Matt had coaxed him out West to rehabilitate. They’d spent time hitting the gun range, but mostly they enjoyed beating the shit out of each other on the mats.
They had a routine. They’d lie panting side by side on their backs in the gym. “Another round?” Matt would ask.
“Absolutely,” Ty would say.
Neither of them would move.
“You doing okay?” Matt would then ask.
“Don’t want to talk about it,” Ty would say.
Matt would let it go.
Ty would hit the beach, swimming until the exhaustion nearly pulled him under. Afterward, he’d force himself along the choppy, rough rocky beach just to prove he could stay upright. He’d started out slow—hell, he’d practically crawled—but he could walk it now. It was quite the feat. Or so his doctor kept telling him. He supposed this was true given that four years ago, he’d nearly lost his left leg in the plane crash thanks to a post-surgical infection.
Which was a hell of a lot less than Brad, Tommy, Kelly, and Trevor had lost.
At the thought of that time and the loss of his team, the familiar clutching seized his gut. He hadn’t been able to save a single one of them. He’d been trained as a trauma paramedic, but their injuries, and his own, had proven too much. Later he’d been honorably discharged and he’d walked away from being a medic.
He hadn’t given anyone so much as a Band-Aid since.
Working in the private sector had proven to be a good fit for him. In actuality, it wasn’t all that different from being enlisted, except the pay was better and he got a say in his assignments. But six months out of work was making him think too much. He wasn’t used to this down time. He wasn’t used to being in one spot for so long. His entire life had been one base after another, one mission after another. He was ready to get back to that world.
He needed to get back to that world, because it was the only way he had of making sure that his team’s death meant something.
But Dr. Josh Scott, the man in charge of his medical care until he was cleared, took a weekly look at Ty’s scans and shook his head each time.
So here Ty was, holed up and recuperating in the big, empty house that Matt had leased for him, the one that was as far from his world as he could get. Far away from where he’d grown up, from anyone he’d known. Just as well, since they were all gone now anyway. His dad had been killed in Desert Storm. His mom had passed two years ago. With his closest friends resting beneath their marble tombstones in Arlington, there was no one else: no wife, no lover, no kids.
It made for a short contact list on his cell phone.
Instead of thinking about that, he spent his time fixing cars instead of people—Matt’s 1972 Jimmy, his own Shelby—because cars didn’t die on those they cared about.
On the day of the big hospital auction, after replacing the transmission on Matt’s Jimmy, Ty degreased and showered, as always. Unlike always, he passed over his usual jeans for a suit, then stared at himself in the mirror, hardly recognizing the man looking back at him. He still had stitches over one eye and a bruise on his cheek from the storm incident. His hair was on the wrong side of a haircut, and he’d skipped shaving. He’d lost some weight over the past six months, making the angles of his face more stark. His eyes seemed…hollow. They matched how he felt inside. His body might be slowly getting back into lean, mean fighting shape, but he had some work yet to do on his soul. He shoved his hand in his pocket and pulled out the ever-present Vicodin bottle, rolling it between his fingers.