Author: Jill Shalvis
Elsie laughed now, the sound light and musical. She was pleased. "Oh, aren't you the one. And the same goes. Leah…" Her smile was warm. Caring. And utterly without judgment. "I'm fine. My life is exactly what I want it to be. Can you believe that?"
"Can you say the same about your life?"
Leah opened her mouth and then closed it.
Elsie gently patted Leah's cheeks. "Don't ever wait around for your life. Go get what you want. Because believe me, no one's going to give it to you. You should know that by now." She moved to the door. "Don't wait up, honey."
And then she was gone.
Leah watched out the front window as Elsie got into her car and drove off.
"What the hell just happened?" she asked the quiet living room. But she already knew. Her grandma had proven that she had better social life than Leah did.
It's your day off," Ronald said the next day when Jack walked into his office. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"You get anything back from forensics on the convenience store or auto shop fires?"
Ronald studied Jack for a long beat. "Not yet. Why?"
"I've been thinking."
"Uh-huh. With head number two, I hear. You've caught yourself a girl."
Jack didn't bother to sigh. "Whatever you've heard, it's greatly exaggerated."
"Well, that's a damn shame," Ronald said. "I was hoping it was true." He paused. "Your daddy wouldn't have wanted you to be the job, Jack. And you are. You're working full-time firefighting and taking up the slack for me."
"About the forensics-"
"Saw your baseball game, you know." Ronald leaned back, hands behind his head, sighing with pleasure as he put his feet up. "You sucked ass."
"I had an off week. Listen, about the-"
"You couldn't hit worth shit. And you lost that fly ball. I've never seen you choke like that before."
Jack leaned forward and thunked his head on Ronald's desk.
Ronald laughed. "Son, go home. Go take that girl of yours out. Have some fun."
Fun. If fun was having Leah beneath him, panting out his name in that breathy way she had of making him feel superhuman, then yeah. He could use some more fun. He lifted his head. "In the report for the convenience store, we recorded that footprint in the mud along the west wall. Men's size thirteen. Sneaker."
"Yes. The one the vagrant claimed was his."
Jack opened his mouth, but Ronald cut in. "I know, he was barefoot when we found him, but he admitted that he'd been wearing sneakers earlier, remember? He'd gotten hot and kicked them off."
"We never located the shoes," Jack said, knowing if they matched that print to the actual footwear the vagrant had been wearing, he was as good as sunk in court. But it wasn't the right direction. Jack could feel it. "You were working on the tread to name the brand. Did you get that?"
Ronald frowned. "Not yet. I had it sent out. That could take a few weeks. We don't have it on urgent, since we're not sure we have arson here."
"A size thirteen isn't a standard size," Jack mused.
"And the vagrant's foot is size ten."
Ronald was already shaking his head. "You know as well as I do that he doesn't have his own shoes. He wears whatever he took out of someone's trash or what someone gave him. He claimed to not remember where he'd left the shoes."
"Did you ask him if they were too big for him?"
Annoyance crossed Ronald's face. "Before or after he said he saw Santa on the roof smoking crack, Jack? We both know those shoes weren't his. The question is, was there an arsonist and was the print his?"
"The print showed heavy tread loss," Jack said. "Especially on the outside of the shoe."
"Yeah? So our guy is a runner. So what?"
"So that's also an unusual wear. It's a guy who doesn't roll his ankles inward enough, tending to stride on the ground with the outside edge of his feet. Walking or running on the outside of the foot like that puts a lot of pressure on the legs. Possibly causing shin splints or stress fractures."
"So we're looking for a big-footed runner with a shin splint or stress fracture. Perfect. That narrows it down."
"It's a start." Jack moved to the door, then looked back. "We didn't find any prints at the auto shop fire."
"Not size thirteen, no. And nothing to lead to a perp. Just the bucket of rags."
Jack stood up. "I'm going back to the convenience store site. Check the grounds with a fine-toothed comb."
"You're off duty."
"I have the time."
Ronald took off his glasses and swiped at them with the hem of his shirt. "How's your mom?"
"Better. A lot better," Jack said.
"I asked her out. She tell you that?"
Jack sat back down. "No."
"She said she wasn't ready," Ronald said.
"It's been twenty years
"Maybe you could put in a good word for me," Ronald said. "Tell her I have a lot more time these days because there's some big, fancy hotshot on my heels, trying to take over my job."
Jack rolled his eyes and strode out the door.
A few nights later, Jack watched the next episode of Sweet Wars. The challenge was to create a tart. Jack found himself soaking up the sight of Leah working on a rum sponge tart, once again working calmly and efficiently while everyone else was running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
"How's she doing?" Ben asked, letting himself in and plopping onto the couch next to Kevin, who immediately crawled into his lap.
"You're looking right at her," Jack said.
"I mean here. In Lucky Harbor." Ben had brought another bag of popcorn and smelled like a movie theater. "With her boyfriend."
"You know it's not real. And if you plan to feed that shit to Kevin, you walk him. The last time you gave him popcorn, it required three doggie bags."
Ben tossed Kevin a kernel just to be an asshole. "Not real, huh? I guess that's why you bought condoms."
Jack slid him a look.
"Your receipt's right here, man." Ben nudged the piece of paper on the coffee table with his foot. "A twelve pack, which is either a really impressive one-night stand, or you're thinking long term." He cocked his head and squinted to read that far. "Yep, twelve extra-large condoms For Her Pleasure. Aw, that's real considerate."
Jack rolled his eyes and went back to the show.
"So which is it?" Ben asked.
"An impressive one-night stand or long term?"
"Long term," Ben decided. "Quite a commitment, a twelve pack…"
Jack snatched the popcorn and shoved some into his mouth, his gaze on Leah. Which did he want? Hell, all he knew for sure was that he craved her. She was easy on the eyes. And easy to hang out with. She was smart and funny and kind, and he never got tired of being with her.
This thought brought him up a little since it was entirely different from any thought he'd ever had about a woman. But it was true. When he wasn't with Leah, he thought about being with her again. And when something cracked him up or made him think, or anything really, he wanted to tell her about it.
Like now. On screen, she was talking, smiling, and kicking ass. No one on the cast came even close to her easy talent. And he wanted to tell her so.
"See that?" Ben asked, pointing to the screen. "That host guy-the one who dated that hot chick from Big Brother last year-he's into Leah big time. You notice?"
Jack watched as Rafe Vogel kept finding excuses to end up at Leah's station, twice bumping up against her.
Leah didn't seem to mind all that much, smiling up at him, laughing into the camera while everyone around her was sniping and yelling at each other as the clock counted down.
"You think Leah's two-timing her fake boyfriend?" Ben asked casually.
Jack slid him a look. "Why are you here?"
Ben grinned and grabbed back the popcorn. "You have the bigger TV."
The next morning, Jack got up at the crack of dawn and nudged Kevin. "Let's go."
Kevin did his imitation of a dead dog.
"We're running to the station, dude. Gotta work off all the shit we ate last night."
Kevin squeezed his eyes shut tighter, and Jack shook his head. "If you stay here, I'm going to let the little girls next door dress you up like their pony again."
Kevin opened a single eye and assessed Jack for his level of seriousness. With a loud sigh, he lumbered out the door with Jack.
Kevin wasn't a great running partner. In fact, he was a downright horrible running partner, trotting along at best, stopping to smell every flower, rock, and imaginary foe between home and work. Halfway, he was nearly unmanned by a cat that popped out of the bushes and snarled at him. Kevin, always a lover, not a fighter, tried licking the cat's face, which earned him a bitch-slap. Bewildered and hurt, he ducked behind Jack, where he stayed until they got to the station.
There, Jack grabbed the first hot shower of the day. The first guy to shower always made out because the building's plumbing was cranky. If you didn't get the first shower, you weren't guaranteed hot water. They were a family at the station, and they did as family did-they bugged the shit out of each other. Normally, it was acceptable for the first one up to use as much of the hot water as possible, just because. But today Jack hurried, dressed, and then grabbed the keys to the supervisory unit, heading out the door only to bump into Tim, who'd clearly just come in from his own run. In shorts and a damp T-shirt, he reached for keys as well. "Hey," he said with a nod to Jack. "Going for donuts."