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Page 6

Author: Jill Shalvis

“I’m great, actually.”

She was still smiling. Jesus. “Wait here,” he said and followed Leah into the kitchen.

She stood in front of one of the ovens, staring gloomily into the small window.

“Don’t start with me,” she said. “Do you have any idea how long it takes to make a great soufflé? And now it’s all going to be ruined. Dammit! I knew better. The power’s been going on and off for days. Mr. Lyons looked at it and replaced the fuses. They should’ve lasted longer than this.”

Jack frowned. “This has been going on for days?”

“Weeks, actually. Maybe longer. At first, I thought maybe Grandma had forgotten to pay the bill, but I made sure it got paid on time this past month.”

Jack strode out the kitchen door to the back alley, moving along the wall to the electrical panel. Just as he opened it, the flower shop’s back door opened too, and out came a harried-looking Ali.

“Jack,” she said in surprise, a pair of clippers in one hand, a rose in the other. “Did you turn off the power?”

“No.” He looked inside the electrical panel and swore. The wiring was a mess, crisscrossed and frayed. The building was so old that they still had fuses behind the wiring, and he could see two right off the bat that were blown.

The entire downtown commercial row of Lucky Harbor was quaint and historical, but not necessarily practical, since most of the buildings were a hundred-plus years old. This building, one of the oldest, was in serious need of a big renovation, but the historical society—currently run by Max Fitzgerald—had a pretty restrictive rein on the county building department and the permits, all in the name of protecting history.

But what they were really doing was unintentionally preserving Jack’s—and all the other firefighters’—jobs because this was a disaster waiting to happen.

Leah had followed him out. She stuck her hand into her pocket and came out with a palm full of fuses.

“Look at you with all the preparedness today,” he said dryly.

She winced. “The fuses keep blowing,” she said quickly, clearly choosing to ignore their situation, and they did have a situation. “I have to be prepared,” she said, “or I ruin whatever I’m cooking.”

Their gazes met. Aware of Ali standing within hearing range, Jack said none of what he wanted to say. Which was along the lines of: What the fuck, Leah? Instead he said, “We need to find out what’s wrong with the wiring and why the fuses are blowing.”

“Oh, we know why,” Ali offered. “The place is falling apart.”

“What about the new guy?” Jack asked. “The one who bought this place?”

“He’s got the money,” Leah said. “But the inspection didn’t go well, and he’s been making a stink about the hidden problems and condition of the place. He wants the price reduced. But Mr. Lyons says he sold the place as is and he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the problems and that Mr. Rinaldi can cry him a river. So the sale might fall through.”

“Why is Lyons selling in the first place?”

“He wants to retire and get a ‘chickie.’ And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mean a chicken,” she said with a shudder.

Jack took the fuses from her and began to change them out. “We have something else to discuss,” he said.

Leah glanced at Ali, then back to Jack. She bit her lip again. “Later.”

Oh, there was going to be a later.

“There you kids are,” Dee said, coming out with the plate of pastries that Leah had made for her. Jack ground his teeth and kept working on the fuses as Dee offered the plate to Ali, who happily partook.

“Oh my God,” the florist said with a moan as she took her first bite of a pastry. “So good. Did you know that her grandma swears that Leah somehow makes these with restorative powers? You’ll feel like a million bucks after you eat her stuff, Dee.”

Dee smiled. “I already feel like a million bucks, but it’s not the food. It’s thanks to Jack finally getting his head on straight and being with Leah.”

Ali stilled, and then, eyes wide, turned to Leah.

But Leah was now choking on a scone, and probably, Jack thought with grim satisfaction, a good amount of guilt as well. She pointed to her throat, indicating she couldn’t talk.

Ali pivoted and looked at Jack.

Jack peered deeply into the electrical panel, wishing it would ignite. Where was a fire when he needed one?

“Big news, right?” Dee asked Ali happily.

“Leah dating my boyfriend’s BFF? Yep,” Ali said. “That’s big news all right. The biggest.”

“They didn’t want anyone to know,” Dee said, completely oblivious to the fact that Leah was behind her back making a knife-across-her-throat gesture at Ali.

“Silly kids,” Dee said. “As if you can keep a secret in this town.”

“Silly kids,” Ali agreed, smiling widely at the still-motioning Leah. “They should know better.”

“Yeah, well, I have to go,” Leah said. “Stuff.” She gestured vaguely to the bakery. “In the oven.” And with one last glare at Ali, she vanished back inside the bakery.

Dee beamed at Jack and then followed after her.

Jack got the last fuse back in. The power came back on. He turned and nearly plowed into Ali, who was still grinning. “What?” he said.

“Nothing.” But she laughed.

He gave her a steely-eyed stare, which didn’t appear to intimidate her in the least. In fact, she laughed again, obviously delighted. “It’s just that you spent most of last month watching me squirm as Luke and I fell in love,” she reminded him.

“Yeah?” he said. “So?”

“So,” she said, and poked him in the chest, “it’s going to be fun watching you squirm for a change.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“No, Jack,” she said, heading back into her shop. “It’s not what you think.”

He stared at the door as she shut it gently in his face. “What the hell does that mean?” he asked.

But the door didn’t answer him.

Chapter 4

When Jack returned to the bakery, Leah was in the kitchen, furiously whipping something in a bowl, her cell phone pinched between her ear and her shoulder.

“We have to talk,” he said.

Leah gestured that she needed a minute.

Jack leaned against a counter and crossed his arms, prepared to wait her out.

She gave him a few side glances as she whipped the hell out of whatever was in the bowl. “Uh-huh,” she said into her phone. “Uh-huh. Uh-huh.”

Something in her voice clued him in, and he pushed away from the counter, heading toward her.

With a squeak, she stopped whipping. “Uh-huh,” she said, faster now, and in a higher octave. She held up a finger, indicating she wanted him to wait a minute.

But oh hell no was he going to wait another damn second. Instead, he reached for her phone.

“Hey,” she hissed. “I’m on a very important call—”

He pulled it from her fingers and looked at the screen.

It was black.

He narrowed his eyes at her.

She winced and then jumped when the phone rang for real, flashing “Grandma Elsie.”

“I have to answer that,” Leah said.

He held it above his head.

“Jack.”

“Not until you explain your little stunt in there.” In case she wasn’t clear on which “little stunt,” he jabbed a finger to the front of the bakery, where through the small window between the kitchen and front room, he could see his mom once again at the table waiting for him. She was talking to Riley, who’d just showed up for work.

Probably telling Riley all about him and Leah being a thing. Jesus.

Leah used his momentary distraction to push him back to the counter and tried to crawl up his body for her still-ringing phone. With those heels, she was plastered to him, chest to chest, hips to hips, thighs to thighs, all their parts lining up neatly—and damn if he didn’t forget about her phone.

Which is how she snatched it from him with ease. “Hi, Grandma,” she said breathlessly, shooting Jack a reproachful look before turning her back to him. “You okay?”

“No,” Jack said, checking out her ass.

Behind her back, Leah waved her hand at him. “Shh!”

Still recovering from their full-body contact, he had to let out a long breath as he realized that once again he’d been the only one to feel anything.

And why the hell was he feeling anything at all?

Frustrated, he strode out to the front room and found his mom happily consuming a raspberry tart. “What the hell does it mean if I notice a woman’s shoes?” he asked her.

She smiled sweetly.

“What’s that? What does that smile mean?” he asked.

She refused to answer.

Leah spent the rest of the day baking like mad, an ear cocked to the door for Jack. She was torn between the terrible hope that he got a call from work—not a serious call, mind you, maybe just a cat up in a tree—and getting the inevitable awkward conversation between them over with. The problem was that she couldn’t envision the conversation. No doubt he’d start with a what the hell, Leah, and she’d say…what? What could she possibly say? I’m sorry I let my stupid, pathetic crush out of the bag? No. Hell no. Maybe she could say well, I thought pretend was better than nothing. No, that was even more revealing.

Okay, so the real problem was that she had no excuse.

None.

Yes, she’d wanted to ease Dee’s mind, but they both knew there were far better ways.

Thankfully, Riley worked the front of the shop for her, serving their customers and allowing Leah to avoid having to face anyone. But eventually Riley had to leave to make the day’s deliveries.

The moment she did, of course, was the moment the bell chimed. Leah came out from the kitchen just as Ben McDaniel walked in.

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