Always On My Mind

Page 20

Author: Jill Shalvis


When had she gotten so damn beautiful?

She did her fair share of staring right back, which had his heart executing a funny little beat in his chest. Yeah, he thought, still keyed up.

Kevin recovered first with a joyous bark and rushed her. Leah wrapped her arms around the dog and gave him a big, warm hug that gave Jack a twinge.

Jealous of a damn dog…

Leah loved Kevin up, murmuring into his fur. "You big knucklehead. Scaring me like that. When the call went out that a firefighter was down, I…" She shut up and squeezed the dog tighter as Jack went still.

"You have a scanner?" he asked.

She lifted her head, and for the first time he got a good look at her. Eyes shadowed, face tense. "Grandma does," she said.

"No casualties."

"That part didn't get transmitted," she told him.

How many nights had his mom looked just like that, waiting on his dad to come home? Too many.

And then had come the night that his dad hadn't come home at all.

"Stop with the scanner," he said gruffly and tossed his bag into the back. He didn't want to ever see her waiting and anxious because of him. "Just turn the fucker off."

"Right." She let loose of Kevin, eyes flashing. "I'll just turn the fucker off. And my damn head and heart too. How's that, Jack? Is that how you do it?"

Well, hell. He was way too tired for this. "Leah-"

"Never mind. I get it."

"Do you?"

"Yeah. You don't want a relationship, pretend or otherwise. You never have."

He didn't bother to point out that he'd told her so, multiple times. "My life doesn't lend itself to one," he said instead.

"I wonder, Jack, if you've said that so often that you actually believe it." She shook her head. "Your staff at the station, all the other rotations…more than half of them are married. Have families even."

He was absolutely not doing this here, now.


"Jack," she said, still sounding furious. "You could have the same thing. You don't have to cut yourself off like you do."

Did she think he didn't realize that other people managed the job and a life? Of course he knew it. Just as he knew, after watching his mom struggle all these years, that he personally wasn't capable of it. "I don't want anyone to care for me that way. I don't want to ruin anyone's life like-"

"Like your dad ruined your mom's?" Leah asked after a terrible beat of painful silence. "Oh, Jack." She rubbed her forehead and softened her voice. "You're not responsible for what happened to him, or her. And as for controlling anyone's feelings, that's the most asinine thing I've ever heard. You can't. You can't control my feelings any more than you can control how I breathe." She studied him for a beat, and then shook her head, looking as frustrated as he had. "And talking to you is like talking to a brick wall," she said, picking up a big purse at her feet. From inside, she came up with a smaller white bag that smelled like heaven. "Breakfast," she told him. "Don't ask me why, because honestly I don't know."

"Leah," he said when she'd whirled off. Jesus. "Leah, wait."

She stopped but kept her back to him.

"Thanks," he said to her stiff spine. "For the food." He paused. "And for…caring."

"Thanks right back at you," she said in what might have been a slightly grudging tone.

"For?" he asked, confused.

"For being too stubborn to get hurt."

This tugged a low laugh out of him, and she turned to face him, still in a temper given the light in her eyes. "Your knee okay?"

No, actually, it wasn't. It ached like a son of a bitch, but he'd live. "I'm good," he said.

She gave him an eye roll accompanied by a sound that spoke volumes on what she thought of his definition of "good." "You're such an idiot."

"In more ways than one," he agreed.

"Yeah?" She sounded greatly interested in hearing more of his idiocy. "What's more idiotic than turning down no-strings sex?"

He went still. "You never said no-strings sex."

"You should learn to read between the lines, Jack," she chided softly. "And you call yourself a ladies' man."

He laughed. "Oh, trust me. I'm well aware how little I know about the ladies."

He could admit that he'd had more than his fair share of meaningless attachments. But what she didn't seem to get was that nothing about her was meaningless to him.

"So what do you want to do?" she asked.


"I know you're not going to sleep. You're going to go do something to let down all that adrenaline coursing through you. What's it going to be?"

The list of possibilities clicked through his head, each involving a different version on the same theme, her naked-except for those boots-and beneath him.

Or over him.

Or however he could get her .

In fact, he actually got hard standing there having it all flash through his head.

But this was Leah, he reminded himself for what felt like the thousandth time. Leah, who had always been fickle with her heart and its wants. If he let himself fall for her again, losing her this time would kill him. Which meant that he was going to go for Door Number Two-his motorcycle and the narrow and windy and isolated roads outside of town.

It would work.

It would have to.


"A fast bike ride," he said.

She nodded and got into her car.

Well, that was that, he thought, and he and Kevin got into his truck. But as they pulled out of the lot, Jack realized Leah was following him.

Apparently, she was coming with.

And for the life of him, he couldn't have said whether he was relieved or terrified.

Leah pulled in behind Jack at his place, not at all sure what she thought she was doing. The whole "firefighter down" thing had rattled her much more than she'd thought, to the point that she'd needed to see him. Needed to be with him every bit as much as he needed to burn off his excess adrenaline.

She let out a breath and decided not to think beyond the fact that he was okay, and that she was grateful for the few mornings that Riley opened for her.

She got out of the car. It was going to be a lovely day, already nice and warm. The leaves were changing, slowly turning from green to every shade of gold, brown, and red under the sun and just starting to fall.

Someone had painted Jack's and Ben's duplex. Probably Ben, since she doubted that Jack had any spare time right now between his work and caring for Dee.

Leah was still pretty steamed at him, although she didn't examine why too closely as she got out of her car.

He was standing at the top of his driveway looking at her. Without a word, he let Kevin inside the house.

He was in jeans that were faded at all the stress points, and he had some most excellent stress points. His T-shirt said LHFD on the pecs and was stretched tautly across his broad shoulders. His hands were loose at his sides, his face carefully blank, but everything about him gave off a warning: bad 'tude alpha alert.

She didn't care.

Nor did she know what she thought she was doing.

Okay, that was a lie. She knew. She watched him walk toward her, clearly favoring his knee, which had her taking a deep breath. "You need to get off that leg," she said. "What did you do, jump out of a window? Carry someone? Run the stairs?"

"All of the above."

She knew this should reach right inside her heart and squeeze hard, and it did. Which was a good part of why she got even madder. Since he was now close enough, she poked a finger into his chest, hard. "You've paid your dues, Jack. You paid them a long time ago now."

"What are you talking about?" He grabbed her finger and pushed it away. "And ouch."

"Do you think the only way you can match your dad's legend is to die like he did?" Letting her fears finally escape, the ones that had been choking her ever since hearing those two terrifying words "firefighter down," she let him have it. "You have some sort of stupid martyr complex. You won't be happy until you die like your dad, is that it? You're not Superman, you know."

"Jesus, I know that."

"Do you? Do you really? Because we both know that the uniform comes with an expectation. Especially as the son of a hero."

He shrugged, like, what am I supposed to do, and she let out a sigh. "You don't have to follow the exact same path to honor his memory. You know that."

"I know that you don't know what you're talking about," he said.

"Don't I? You're always doing your duty, what's expected. In fact, you've never done anything unexpected in your life-"

He proved her wrong by cutting her off with a hard kiss.

And she learned something else-apparently a brain couldn't hold onto anger when unexpectedly pummeled by sheer lust, because she let out a gasp of desire and flung her arms around his neck. Letting out a low, very male sound of satisfaction, he took the kiss deeper, rougher, stroking his tongue to hers. Leah welcomed him with a shocking eagerness that she'd have to hate herself for later because she had no room in her brain for anything but the erotic, sensual feel of him against her. In fact, the heat of him burned through her clothing. She didn't know who was moving-maybe it was both of them-but she found herself grinding against him, and then he thrust a muscled thigh between hers and she greedily rode it. She might have drowned in him then, but from behind them a door opened.

Tearing herself from Jack, Leah's breath came out in ragged pants as she whirled to the duplex.

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