Always On My Mind

Page 33

Author: Jill Shalvis

"Drunk Goldilocks here wants to crash your party," Ben said.

"Tipsy," Leah said, irritated.

Jack's other eye opened, both landing unerringly on Leah.

Leah gave him a little wave, trying to look like the best thing to happen to him that night. She wasn't sure she was successful, but he did reach up and pull out his ear buds. "You got her drunk?" he asked Ben with a hint of disbelief.

"Not me," Ben said. "She managed that all on her own."

Leah sighed. "Tipsy!" Though why she bothered, she had no idea. She kicked off her shoes and dropped her purse to the deck.

"What are you doing?" Ben asked.

She pulled off her sweater. "I'm about to seduce my pretend boyfriend. Go away, Ben."

Ben turned to Jack, who'd risen to his feet in the hot tub. "You need to stop her."

"I'm going to exercise my right to remain silent," Jack said.

Which worked, because Leah had no intention of stopping. She let her sweater fall. She was disappointed to note that Jack was indeed wearing black swim trunks, but at least they clung to his every inch. She really liked his every inch… "Go away, Ben."

"Jack," Ben said warningly.

"You heard the woman." Jack never took his eyes off Leah. "Go away, Ben."

Ben tossed up his hands. "You two deserve each other," he muttered and walked away.

When they were alone, Jack looked at her. "What are you doing here?" He sounded wary, which in a distant part of her brain she recognized was probably wise of him.

But she kept stripping. "I'm just realizing that the only time my pretend boyfriend and I get along is when we're not pretending. I want to not pretend, just for a little while." She pulled off her top.

"Leah…seriously. What are you doing?"

"Seriously? You're the investigator. You figure it out." She shimmied out of her denim skirt, letting it fall to her ankles. She took a peek at herself and sighed in relief. Not her laundry day underwear this time, thankfully. A red lace thong.

Jack's gaze raked down her body, slowly and thoroughly. "Stop."

She shivered at his commanding tone and then stepped right into the tub and plastered herself against his big, wet, warm body. "You sound all official and in charge."

"In charge?" His arms closed around her, and he sank with her into the deliciously hot water. "I have no delusions of being in charge of you."

She smiled. "You saying I have all the power?"

"You always have," he murmured and nipped at her throat, working his way south. "What are we doing, Leah?"

She let her head fall back to give him room to work as steam and bubbles and Jack surrounded her. "I thought we'd wing it."

Chapter 21

When Jack woke up, he knew without opening his eyes that Leah was gone. She had to get up early for the bakery, but he hadn't even heard her leave. Still, he reached out to the spot where she'd been in his bed and…came in contact with fur.

Kevin lifted his head and panted a happy smile. Not quite the smile he'd hoped for.

"We've had this discussion." Jack gave him a shove. "You have your own damn bed."

Kevin licked his chin.

Definitely not the kiss he'd been hoping for.

As for what that meant, both that he was disappointed to be alone and that Leah had sneaked off, he had no idea.

He got up, made Kevin run with him, then spent the entire day digging through the rubble of the Town Hall fire. By dinnertime he was filthy, exhausted, and ready to eat his left arm.

Not officially on duty, he stopped by the station to shower off the ash and filth and was surprised to find an off-duty Tim at Jack's desk. "What are you doing?"

"Research. Hey, can anyone take that arson certification that you and the deputy chief have?"

"You have to be recommended."

"So…" Tim flashed a grin. "Recommend me?"


"Can't let you have all the fun." He logged off, gathered some papers off the printer, and headed to the door.

Jack put a hand out to stop him. "Why do you want to take the class?"

"Maybe I'm aspiring to take your job." Tim waggled a brow. "Come on, man. Don't be a TBBD."


"Typical big boss dick." He paused and smiled again. "No offense intended, of course. So…can I take the class?"

Jack met Tim's earnest gaze. "It's not up to me. I'll check with the deputy fire chief."

"You and he go way back. He was your dad's BFF."

"It doesn't work like that."

"No? How does it work?"

"You earn it," Jack said.

Tim nodded. "Earn it," he repeated. "I can totally do that."

He left, and Jack stood there a moment, wondering if he himself had earned anything at all, or if once again, he'd simply followed the career path laid out for him .

The bakery's new ovens came that afternoon, and it was quite an event. It required a handful of really big installation guys, which brought their neighbors out of their shops to watch.

Elsie had accepted the change and seemed excited, handing out free cookies to all the workers. The ovens were still being set when Max Fitzgerald came by. The guys had just opened up the wall to install the new ventilation hoods, and Max just about had a seizure.

"You're tearing down a hundred-and-fifty-year-old wall like it's nothing." He leaned on his cane, a hand on his heart like he was having a heart attack.

"The wall's going right back up," Elsie told him. "You know it is. You represented the historical society as a part of the permit process Leah got from the building department." She smiled. "And hell, maybe the wall will even be plumb this time around."

Max didn't smile. He was staring in horror at the broken bricks at his feet. "Do you have any idea how old these bricks are?"

"One hundred and fifty years?" Leah asked.

He pointed his cane at her. "No one likes a smartass, missy."

Elsie's good-natured smile faded. "Actually," she said slowly, linking her arm in Leah's, "I do."

Max narrowed his pale-blue, rheumy eyes in her direction. "I'm disappointed in you, Elsie. Very disappointed."

"So am I," she assured him. "I'm disappointed that I spent eighty bucks on a hot new dress for the Firemen's Ball since I won't be going with you after all."

Max shook his head and left, and Elsie sighed. "Damn, I really wanted to wear that dress."

"You will," Leah said. "You'll get another date."

Elsie laughed. "Honey, in my world, men don't just grow on trees."

There came a knock at the opened back door. Mr. Lyons stood there with a small bouquet of lilies. "Hello, ladies. Elsie…" He hesitated. "Ah, hell. I'm no good at this. I was next door at the florist shop collecting the rent when I heard you yelling at Max."

"I'll get you our rent too," Leah said.

"No, I- That's not why I'm here." He thrust the flowers at Elsie. "I bought these for you from Ali. Or I will buy them. I sort of just grabbed them and ran out of there, so hopefully she doesn't call the cops. Elsie…"

"Yes," she said firmly, taking the flowers. "Most definitely yes."

He blinked. "Yes?"

"Yes, I'll be your date. That is what you were going to ask, right?"

He blushed to the top of his bald dome. "To start."

Leah watched her grandma beam at him. Mr. Lyons was two inches shorter than her, and twice as round-not that Elsie seemed to notice as she smelled the flowers and then leaned in to kiss him.

There was a sweetness to them that tightened Leah's heart. Happiness always seemed so…mysterious. So elusive. But looking at Elsie and Mr. Lyons, it didn't seem so elusive at all. It seemed as simple as just choosing to be happy. She could do that, right? She deserved that. Didn't she?

Baby steps, she decided. One thing at a time. Getting her grandma set up so everything would run smoothly in her absence was one of those steps, no matter what Elsie decided to do.

Getting her own life in line would be step two. Whichever direction that step took her…

By the end of the day, the ovens were in, the wall patched, and the kitchen cleaned up. Leah looked around with a huge sense of accomplishment. The place had really turned around, and business was up. Way up. She'd had a big hand in that, and she felt pride. And relief. She could really go and things would be okay.

Everything would be okay. The bakery. Elsie. Lucky Harbor. Jack.

And if she wasn't so sure about herself yet, well, that would come.

Jack spent the morning hours scouring the evidence gathered so far on the Town Hall fire. He pulled out everything they had on the other possible arsons. His gut said he'd missed something, something big.

When he couldn't find it on the page, he hit the fire sites again. He walked each of them as if it were the first time. Nothing stuck out at him.

What were they missing?

He pulled out the notes again. The footprint at the convenience store site didn't match any footprints at the other two sites. Which, if the vagrant had been wearing "acquired" shoes, didn't necessarily mean a thing. Jack turned to the tread forensics and realized they'd never gotten any back for the auto shop fire. He called Ronald.

"Doing my job again?" Ronald asked.

"No." Jack blew out a breath. "Okay, maybe. We're missing forensics on-"

"The auto parts fire. I know, it's coming. I'll forward it as soon as I get it. Also, I'm sending a recommendation for you to be my replacement."

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