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Page 39

Author: Jill Shalvis

“Oh, honey,” Dee said. “Running isn’t the answer.”

Leah opened her mouth to tell her that this time, this one time, it was Jack doing the running, but the simple truth was she’d let him go. She’d taken the easy way out before he could discover her real secret—she loved him.

Hopelessly.

“It’s my fault,” she said. “I should’ve told him—”

“What, baby,” Dee said. “That he’s the one? That he’s always on your mind?” She smiled, a wealth of knowledge in her gaze. “I remember what it’s like, you know. Being afraid to let go. It’s like that silly game you play when you’re kids, falling backward and letting your friends catch you. It’s all about trust, isn’t it? Such a hard thing to do.”

“So how did you finally do it?” Leah asked.

“My mom told me that I should trust the man who could see the sorrow behind my smile, the love behind my anger, and the reasons behind my silence.”

Elsie was nodding. “Those are good ones. And you had that with Jack Senior, Dee. You surely did.”

“He was the one and only,” Dee agreed, and her gaze tracked across the parking lot to Ronald.

He met her gaze and lifted a hand.

Dee blushed and returned the wave.

“Dee,” Leah said softly. “It’s been so long. Don’t you think maybe it’s time for another one and only?”

“Oh, honey. No one’s going to be interested in my old bones. Look at me.” She gestured to the kerchief she had on her head, covering up the fact that she’d lost her hair. “I’m a mess.”

“Dee Harper,” Elsie said sternly. “You’re thirty years younger than I am. I’d trade this old body for your skinny ass any day of the week, you just say the word.”

Dee pulled down the visor to look at herself just as Ronald knocked on the window. “Oh!” she said, jumping.

Leah powered the window down for him, and he nodded politely to Elsie and Leah. “The finals run tomorrow night,” he said to Leah. “You going to win?”

“She can’t tell you,” Elsie said. “But yes, she’s going to win.”

“Grandma,” Leah said and sighed.

Ronald smiled and turned back to Dee. “You look beautiful today.”

She blushed some more. “You look busy out there.”

“It is busy,” he said. “Which is great. The money we’re collecting today goes to the teen center.” He was leaning on the car door by now, and craned his neck, taking in their bird’s-eye view of the firefighters working hard. “You enjoying the scenery?”

Dee shocked Leah by looking right into Ronald’s eyes. “Yes,” she said.

And then it was Ronald’s turn to blush a little. He cleared his throat and straightened. “You know, I’ve got two New York steaks in my fridge. Planning on barbecuing them tonight. Thought maybe you could use some protein.”

“Are you asking her out?” Elsie wanted to know. “Because you might have to be more forward than that, Ronald. Our girl here is slower than a three-legged turtle in peanut butter when it comes to these things. You can’t be obtuse.”

“Grandma,” Leah said again, but Ronald just nodded. And didn’t take his eyes off Dee. “I’m asking you out,” he clarified. “To my place.”

“Yes,” Elsie said. “She’d love to.”

The corners of Ronald’s mouth twitched. “Dee?”

Dee’s smile had faded. “I…can’t,” she said and unhooked her seat belt. “Excuse me.” She pushed open the door and headed to the stands, where others were gathered, waiting for their vehicles to get washed.

Elsie got out and patted Ronald’s hand. “You did good. Real good,” she said gently. “She’s just gun-shy.”

Leah helped her grandma to the stands to wait with Dee.

“I can’t believe you passed that man up,” Elsie said to Jack’s mom.

Dee shook her head and made herself busy cleaning out her purse.

Elsie sighed and rose to her full four feet, eight inches. “It’s a sad day when I’m the risk taker.”

“Grandma,” Leah said. “Where are you going?”

“To the seniors.” She jabbed her cane in the direction of the other end of the stands, where a group of seniors sat together, joking and laughing. “They might be old, but at least they know how to kick it.”

Chapter 25

At a lull in the car washing, Jack pulled Ronald aside. “I wanted to talk to you about the forensics.”

“Never mind that,” Ronald said. “I’ve got something more important.”

“There’s something more important than the only serial arsonist in Lucky Harbor’s history?” Jack asked.

Ronald blew out a sigh. “Said a guy who still has his entire love life ahead of him.”

Jack paused. “Huh?”

“I want to retire, goddammit!” Ronald burst out. “I want to retire so I can spend some time with someone I care about while sex is still more fun than bingo, or before I need a little blue pill to—”

“Jesus! I get it, okay?” Jack resisted the urge to cover his ears like a little kid and go running.

“I want that with your mom, Jack. I’m in love with her.”

Jack shoved his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know what to say to you.”

“How about that you’ll talk to her and tell her that she’s been a widow longer than she was a wife. That it’s time to look around and see there are other fish in the sea. That she should keep the smile you put on her face with the whole you and Leah thing. That she could have it for herself if she wanted, and it sure as hell wouldn’t be pretend.”

Jack looked into Ronald’s eyes. He was solemn and quite serious, and…not at all nervous. Ronald was a steady, stand-up sort of guy who didn’t do things frivolously or without merit. If he said something, it was so.

And he wasn’t asking for Jack’s opinion on his feelings, or for Jack to necessarily approve. “You know she’s not…well.”

“You’re enabling her.”

“She’s been through a lot,” Jack said tightly.

“And she’s survived. She’s going to keep surviving.” He gave Jack one last long look and moved off.

More cars pulled into the lot. Jack washed two cars on autopilot, then looked up when he realized Danica was standing there talking to him. “I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “What?”

She was in a skimpy little white sundress that showed off her curves to perfection, and she sent him a smile that said she knew it. “I said I heard that you and Leah are over, and that you should let me help you commiserate.”

“I can’t.”

“Aw.” She hugged him before he could stop her. “You’re so brave,” she said. “So hurt. You call me when you’re ready. I can help, Jack. I promise.”

Jack caught sight of his mom and managed to disentangle himself. “Sorry,” he said. “I’ve got to go,” and he strode over to Dee. “Hey,” he said.

“Son.”

Not a happy tone. But then again, other than when Leah had told her he was in a relationship, he hadn’t heard a happy tone from her in so long he’d nearly forgotten what it sounded like. “You okay?” he asked. “Why are you here?”

“To support my son,” she said and lowered her voice. “The one who felt he had to lie to me.”

Having no idea how she’d found out, he pulled her aside for privacy. “Mom—”

“Oh no. Don’t you ‘mom’ me in that tone. Jack—” She cupped his face. “I didn’t want you to make my mistakes. I didn’t want you to wallow. I’m so deeply ashamed that you saw me give up like I did. And then to make you feel like you had to fake a relationship to make me happy… No.” She inhaled deeply. “This isn’t about me. It shouldn’t be about me. It’s your turn, Jack. Your turn to be happy.”

“I am happy.” Or he had been, until about 0100 hours last night.

She stared up into his eyes. “You aren’t. Lie number two. Good Lord, Jack. What else have you lied about?”

“Remember that time Jack told you that someone hit-and-ran your car? Not true. He ran over Mr. Lyons’s mailbox.”

They both turned to face Ben, who raised his hands in surrender. “Not funny yet? Sorry, my bad.” He started to back up, but Dee reached out and snagged him by the front of the shirt. “Did you know?”

“Uh…” He slid a glance at Jack. “Hard to tell. Did I know what exactly?”

“That Jack and Leah were faking their relationship just to make me happy.”

“Uh…,” Ben repeated, shoving his hands in his pockets and hunching his shoulders. He’d faced hell itself with a shocking fearlessness, but his beloved Aunt Dee in a mood simply terrified him.

“Benjamin Matthew Kincaid,” she said sternly. “Look at me.”

Ben met her gaze unflinchingly. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Don’t you ‘ma’am’ me!” Dee threw her arms around him. “I love you so much, you big, cranky, adorable sweetheart. So much more than your idiot cousin.”

Ben had winced at the “adorable sweetheart” but his arms closed around Dee, as over her head his amused gaze met Jack’s. “Of course you do,” he murmured to Dee.

Jack flipped Ben off.

Ben returned the gesture without letting go of Dee.

Dee pushed free and looked up at Ben. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Ben said.

“You have no idea what I’m thanking you for.”

“None,” Ben agreed.

Dee laughed and smacked him lightly on the chest. “For letting Jack pretend to be with Leah. Thank you.”

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