Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Nine


Blood spurted from the corner of the moron’s lips, and he spat a mouthful on the gravel, but Jackson was already moving, taking a swing at his friend wearing a Red Sox ball cap before he jumped in to cover his friend’s back.

He made contact with his fist, but only a glancing blow deflected by a hand thrown up at the last second. Leaving him wide open for the punch he took to the gut.

Jesus.

Doubled over, Jackson saw Brent dart away from the fight, retreating to the deck. Likely a safe distance to watch Jackson go two-to-one with Brent’s brother and friend.

Dragging in a sharp breath, Jackson launched himself straight at the older brother. They both hit the side of the Jeep and toppled hard to the gravel. His palms scraped the rocks as he fought his way back to his feet.

Red Sox hung back to help his friend up. More blood dripped down the guy’s face. He’d look really pretty in the morning.

Jackson grinned and flexed a fist, knowing he’d need to ice it later. Wasn’t much point in worrying about it now when they were far from done. Brent’s older brother used the Jeep to propel himself the rest of the way to his feet.

Fists swinging, he moved fast for a guy of his size, but Jackson caught him, spun him around and planted him face-first against the truck parked next to the Jeep.

Shit. It was Hayley’s truck. And the new dent in the passenger-side door was his fault. He might have noticed her truck sooner if the rain weren’t coming down in drenching sheets that plastered his shirt to his chest.

Brent’s brother slid along the wet truck, his knees wobbling when he tried to stand this time. Just as pissed, Red Sox charged Jackson.

White foam hit them both in the face, and he coughed when he tasted some on his tongue. The foamy deluge continued until all three scrambled away from one another. Jackson followed the end of the hose to where Hayley stood, clutching the fire extinguisher she’d used to break up the fight.

“You’ve got one minute to get lost or you two will be arrested this time.”

Brent’s brother and his friend took off, pausing long to glare at Brent, who still stood at the edge of the deck.

Jackson wiped at the foam, glad for the rain that was helping to wash the white stuff away.

Hayley motioned to the people who’d stepped out onto the deck to watch. “Show’s over.”

When the onlookers shuffled inside, he wiped at the foam on his pants. “Would have preferred a Taser for a backup, but you got the job done.”

“Don’t,” Hayley warned. She turned away from him. “Go inside and call your mom, Brent.” She waited until the teenager followed the others inside, then shot a furious look at Jackson. “They look up to you, damn it.”

Adrenaline from the fight still pounded through his system, making it all too easy to snap at Hayley. “I didn’t ask to be anyone’s role model.”

“Tough shit. It comes with the territory. You know that.”

“I’m not that guy anymore.” Did she get that by now?

“Screw that.” She set the extinguisher aside so hard it fell over. “Just because you’re not playing professional hockey anymore doesn’t mean you’re some washed-up loser.”

“Says who? You?”

She threw her hands up. “Someone needs to.”

“It’s not that simple.” He closed the distance between him and the bottom of the stairs. “Your dream isn’t over.” She still got to do what she was good at. No one looked at her wondering what would become of her now. No one waited until she walked by and talked about what a shame it was about the accident.

“And your life isn’t over because you can’t play hockey anymore.”

In two steps he was face-to-face with her. “Don’t act like you know anything about my life.”

“The life you enjoy splashing around the Net for the media to mock?”

Anger pulsed through him. “You should know better than anyone that there’s a lot more to any picture that shows up online.”

Vulnerability flashed across her face. She pressed her lips into a firm line. “I’m not so sure I do.”

That struck a nerve. Jackson walked away, refusing to look back and see if she remained on the deck watching him or if she’d already gone back inside.

By the time he reached his car, most of the foam had been washed away. He dug his keys from his pocket and shoved them in the ignition. It took two tries to get the engine turned over, and then he was tearing out of the lot, probably giving her another reason to arrest him.

He drove aimlessly, circling blocks with no destination in mind other than not going back to his parents’ place. He could leave town now. Go home to his condo hundreds of miles away, where he didn’t have to worry about living up to anyone’s expectations but his own.

His empty condo.

Fuck.

He let his head thunk back against the headrest. He wasn’t ready to go home yet. Wasn’t even sure where home was anymore. Returning to Promise Harbor wasn’t supposed to have complicated his life.

On his third pass by the rink, he pulled in to the empty lot. He sat staring through the windshield at the building he’d helped renovate with a generous donation.

When the rain slowed to a sprinkle, he got out of the car. Still way too keyed up, he wandered around the paved lot where the Zamboni usually dumped everything after cleaning the ice surface. He leaned against the hood of his car, trying to sort through the chaos in his head.

Once he wrapped up a couple things, he could be on his way. He needed to make sure Josh was good and he needed to see Coach. Hayley needed professional help getting everything done to her grandfather’s place. There had to be someone he could call about that.

Then he could go. Maybe travel down the eastern seaboard until he heard from his agent. There. A plan he could work with.

Mind made up, Jackson felt himself relax. He didn’t rush to get back in the car, not until the rain worsened, leaving him no choice but to take shelter inside the vehicle. Even then he stayed in the rink parking lot until he felt something close to normal.

This time, however, when he was ready to go, the engine refused to turn over.

He waited a minute and tried again, his earlier frustration instantly surfacing. He flipped the button underneath and threw open his car door. In the pouring rain, he lifted the hood and stared at the under workings of the car, wishing he’d paid more attention to all the time spent in Matt’s garage as he tinkered on his first car.

Jackson fished his cell phone from this pocket, started to dial his friend, then remembered how busy he probably was since he’d asked Hayley to stick around for a bit. Josh was still out of town, leaving him few options aside from a tow truck.

Absolutely fucking perfect.





Hayley nearly kept driving past the rink even though she’d spotted Jackson inspecting the engine in the rain. An hour spent pouring drinks at Stone’s hadn’t been nearly long enough to cool off, not even after Brent told her that Jackson had stepped in when his brother, after drinking too much—again—had picked a fight.

That was probably the only reason she found herself turning the truck around.

Jackson lifted his head, giving the truck a weary glance when she pulled up, but quickly went back to studying whatever he found so fascinating under the hood.

She stepped out of the truck, shielding her face from the rain as best she could. “Get in.”

“Waiting to use a billy club on me next?”

Knowing she probably deserved that made her even more determined to get him in the truck. “I’m not going to ambush you.”

He crossed his arms, clearly comfortable with having a conversation in the rain.

Fine. She wouldn’t melt. “Look, I talked to Brent. I’m sorry for assuming you picked that fight.” Though they would have been hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t have believed that. His reputation as a fighter preceded him, unfortunately. And he hadn’t exactly said otherwise. “And I’m sorry for what I said about you not playing hockey.”

His shoulders stiffened, and she waited for him to tell her to go. He didn’t. He closed the hood, locked the car and walked toward her. By the time he reached the truck, she’d slid back behind the wheel.

He settled into the passenger seat and met her gaze. Was he waiting for something?

“What?” she prompted.

“Just thinking that your apology would be even better if you were naked.”

The tension dissolved between them instantly. She laughed. “You’re sick.”

He grinned, and the sight of it warmed her stomach, even if something about it felt a touch forced.

Focusing on the road, she pulled out of the rink parking lot. “You’re staying at your parents’, right?”

“Is that your way of saying I’m not staying with you tonight?”

Her cell phone rang, buying her a few seconds before she’d have to answer. With a glance at the screen, she knew it was work. “Detective Stone.”

While she listened to Mabel ask her to check out a house a few blocks away, she watched Jackson from the corner of her eye. He was thoroughly soaked and a layer of white grime clung to his clothes from the fire extinguisher. He fiddled with his seat belt, his expression guarded, and when he glanced her way, she fixed her attention straight ahead and focused on Mabel.

“Possible robbery in progress. A patrol car was dispatched to check it out but was tied up at an accident scene, so I need to check things out. Probably nothing,” she told him after Mabel hung up. She turned the truck in the opposite direction of both his parents’ and her grandfather’s. They reached the two-story Cape Cod-style home in under three minutes.

“Do you usually get a lot of false alarm calls?”

“No, but the robberies have made people more leery of anything out of the norm.” It also meant they were receiving more calls that turned out to be nothing, and this wasn’t the first time she’d taken a turn following up on a call from a concerned neighbor.

Jackson peered through the rain-splattered window. “Nobody’s home, I take it?”

“Owners are apparently visiting family in Kentucky. The neighbor saw some suspicious lights.”

Suspicious lights they saw for themselves a few seconds later. Flashlight maybe. The outside light at the front door was on, probably on a timer. The house had power then, making it unlikely a family member was stumbling around in the dark.

She reached down between Jackson’s legs.

“Couldn’t wait until we got home, huh?”

Hayley snorted and tugged a small black bag from under the seat. Inside it, she keyed a combination into a lockbox and withdrew her Glock. She checked the magazine and made sure the safety was on.

“Don’t you wear a gun strapped around your ankle?”

“You watch too many movies. I spend too much time around curious kids to carry a gun when I’m not on duty.”

“What about the Taser?”

She slipped her weapon into a holster she clipped at her side. “I need to be within fifteen feet or less for optimal use.”

He mulled that over. “So if I’d been another five feet away the other night, I could have escaped the shock of a lifetime. Good to know.”

Hayley got out of the truck. “Stay here. I mean it. Watch the front door and tell the patrol car that’s probably on its way by now that I went around the back. If it’s our guy, he might have let himself into the house at the rear.” She flicked a glance at the house partially obscured by the front hedge and two towering trees, then nodded to his pocket. “Call me.” She rattled off her phone number.

Confused, he dug his phone out. “You seriously can’t expect me to just sit here like an idiot?”

Oh, yes she could. “Do I get on the ice and tell you how to play defense?”

He said nothing, but didn’t look happy about it as he punched in her number.

She set her phone to vibrate before she answered, then tucked the phone under her bra strap, near the top of her shoulder, and clipped it in place. “If anyone comes out the front, tell me. Do not get out of the truck,” she repeated again. And so help him if he didn’t listen…

The rain was only a light mist as she darted across the street and made her way around the back of the house. No immediate signs of forced entry. The door appeared intact. Same for the door to the walkout basement. A window then?

“Headlights pulled up behind me. I think it’s the patrol car.” Jackson’s faint voice came through her phone.

Good.

“Someone’s in the house, Hayley. They were about to come out front, then slammed it shut when they spotted the cops.”

She slipped her gun from the holster, tuning Jackson out. She scanned the rear for signs of movement, blinking through the thickening rain. A sound behind her spun her around.

A cat burst out from under a stack of patio furniture, shooting her heart rate up. The commotion was enough to set off the German shepherd in the yard of a property bordering this one. More movement behind her brought her around as the back door banged shut. A dark blur darted past her.

“Police! Stop!”

The perpetrator tripped, but caught his balance and tore across the lawn.

Fuck. Hayley took off after him.

A flash of light near the right of the house—another cop—forced him to change direction and cut a direct path through the backyard.

Hayley sprinted after him, adrenaline spurring her muscles into action. The guy dodged around a play structure, whipping a swing back at her. The wooden seat just missed her head, pissing her off.

He scrambled across the small gazebo, the last obstacle between him and the neighbor’s privacy fence. He’d need to make a solid jump to heave himself over it, but it wouldn’t come down to that.

She launched herself forward, grabbing a hold of the guy’s black hoodie enough to slow him down. They both crashed onto the gazebo’s wood floor. There wasn’t time to do more than drag in a sharp breath before her suspect scrambled to his feet. Another quick grab and his sweater ripped in her hand, giving her the precious few seconds to regain her own footing and follow him down the gazebo stairs.

A splash of red shot past her peripheral vision, and pain arced across the front of her head. The blow made her stagger and she hit the ground, her vision graying. She shook it off, her gaze following the perpetrator, who stumbled like he didn’t know what to do, his face obscured by the hoodie he wore.

His hesitation gave her time to recover enough to go after him. Planting her hand in the wet grass, she propelled herself to her feet, nearly tripping over the flower pot she’d been hit with. She changed directions as the guy made it over the fence. One of the cops from the patrol car heaved himself over the boards to pursue.

She cut across the next yard, knowing their suspect would have to run to the right. To the left was the Marshalls’ dog, well known for catching even the squirrels that dared to cross the dog’s electronic fence. No one would be stupid enough to go in that direction.

A short fence loomed ahead, and she cleared it. Barely.

She burst across the backyard in time to see their guy dart around a shed, the other cop on his heels. They were into the next yard, and she circled around the house to cut off their suspect.

Hayley rounded the last corner, and she found herself barreling toward the other cop.

What the hell?

“Where is he?”

“I lost him.”

Hayley twisted around, a burst of dizziness making her head swim. She paused, still surveying the street for any sign of movement. Where the hell had he gone?

“Backtrack,” she told the other officer, a rookie she knew the rest of the station had nicknamed the Tank.

He retraced his steps, and she lingered out front in case their suspect was waiting for a calm moment to burst from his hiding place.

Thirty minutes later they still hadn’t found him, even after checking with neighbors. She’d spent twenty-eight of those minutes avoiding Jackson, who kept insisting she go to the hospital.

After she wiped blood from her eyes for the fifth time, Jackson stopped being so nice about it.

“We’re leaving.”

“No.”

“He got away, Hayley. There’s nothing else you can do.”

Screw that. She walked back toward the house. Inside the front door they’d recovered a nondescript black sack with four thousand dollars inside.

“These guys have it,” Jackson insisted. “And Phil just arrived.”

“I’m fine.” She had a vicious headache, but it was manageable. The dizziness had subsided to the point she was doing okay as long as she didn’t move too quickly.

“You need stitches.” It wasn’t the first time he’d mentioned it. “Get in the truck or I’ll be on the phone with your mother.”

Her annoyance over losing their suspect spiked to a new high. “I’m having one of the others drive you home.” She’d used the threat to keep him at a distance since he’d noticed she’d been injured, but it was time to make good on it.

“I’m not leaving without you, and how good is it going to look if I have to be taken back to the station?”

“We’re almost done, Hayley.” Phil stood with his hands on his hips, his gaze trained on her forehead. “Go.”

“Please,” Jackson added. The worry in his eyes was the only thing that kept her from snapping at him.

“Fine.” She glanced at her partner. “If you find anything…” she began.

“You’ll be the first to know,” Phil agreed.

Grudgingly, she let Jackson usher her to the truck. With one more frustrated glance at the house, she slid onto the seat, stewing all the way to the emergency room about having been so close to wrapping up the investigation.

They must have been expecting her and motioned her through the doors, past triage, getting her settled on a gurney in record time. She wanted to apologize to the teenager with his arm in a sling and an elderly woman for being seen before them, but Jackson didn’t give her a chance.

He could be a pushy son of a bitch when he wanted to be, apparently. Almost intimidating. No wonder some players would drop with an exaggerated injury to avoid getting into it with him on the ice.

Jackson stayed right by her side, glaring at her impatiently when she wanted to get up instead of sitting while she waited for a doctor to check her out. It was the dizziness, she told herself, that kept her on her butt, and not the warning look Jackson shot her for moving.

“I’m fine,” she said. A few stitches was minor, and everyone knew head injuries bled like a bitch, making them appear much worse than they were.

“You gave me a scare tonight.”

The comment surprised her. She’d been expecting him to make some smartass comment offering to help her change into a hospital gown or something else that involved her being naked.

A doctor she recognized from being a regular at Stone’s pulled back the curtain and stepped inside. “Rough night, Detective?”

“I’ve had better.”

He looked her over. “Could be worse. Could have ended up with another cracked rib like the last on-foot pursuit of a suspect.”

No one was ever going to let her forget the boardwalk incident. She’d had an opening and took it. Any other officer would have done the same in her position, regardless of the guy being armed.

She knew she was better off staying quiet while he did his job. Jackson picked up the slack, chatting about the NHL draft, all the while staying right next to her. The sight of the needle required for the anesthetic didn’t worry her, but Jackson still slipped his hand into hers, giving a reassuring squeeze when she cursed at the icy burn from the drug.

Eight stitches later, the doctor finished and disappeared to treat other patients. The curtain hadn’t had a chance to settle back into place before it was jerked open.

Gramps stood there, frowning at the two of them.

Wonderful.

“You need to catch that bastard, Hayley,” her gramps growled.

“She came close. Too close, maybe.”

She didn’t share Jackson’s opinion on that and didn’t bother reminding him that she was okay. She just wanted to get out of there. Hayley stood up, and had to grab the edge of the bed to steady herself.

“Doc,” her gramps yelled, his booming voice carrying down the hall of the otherwise quiet emergency room. “Something’s still wrong with her.”

“No, there’s not. I took a hit to the head. A little dizziness is normal.”

“She’s right,” Jackson said. “I’ve had a concussion before, and if she does have a minor one, which the doctor wasn’t worried about, she just needs some rest and a good dose of pain reliever.”

Gramps didn’t look convinced, which surprised her given the number of kids he’d seen take a knock to the head over the years. Concerned eyes bored into her.

“I’m okay. Promise,” she added softly. She didn’t need him worrying about her.

“Hmmph. Who’s looking after you tonight?” His gaze switched to Jackson. “You?”

Belatedly, she remembered that Jackson didn’t know she’d told Gramps they were involved, and was quick to answer for him. “Yes. Let’s get you back to your room.”

Her grandfather waved her off. “I found my way down here. I can find my way back.” He planted a quick kiss on her cheek. “Make sure you get some ice on that goose egg, pumpkin.”

“I will.”

“And you.” He narrowed his eyes at Jackson. “I expect you to come see me tomorrow.”

Jackson grinned. “Yes, sir.”

Hayley waited until her gramps left, having every intention of following him to make sure he got back to his room okay. She hadn’t taken a step, however, before Jackson turned her around, forcing her to sit.

“You stay here while I make sure he gets back.”

Nodding, she stared at his retreating back, wondering how many more times he’d surprise her.





From the passenger seat Hayley tried to ignore how good Jackson looked behind the wheel of her truck. And a little too comfortable. She’d been fine to drive, but like everything else in the last hour, her opinion didn’t count for much.

“Where are we going?” He’d turned at the intersection, taking the direction opposite the one to her grandfather’s place.

“Back to my parents’ place.”

“So I can drop you off,” she guessed, thinking that was probably the best thing he’d said all night.

“Not quite. You’re staying with me tonight.”

“I only said that to appease Gramps. I’ll be perfectly okay on my own.”

He shrugged. “You can stay with me or I can drop you off at Matt’s.”

They both knew Matt would be busy at work for another couple of hours at least. “I don’t need a babysitter.” She folded her arms across her chest, trying not to let him get to her. It wasn’t working.

“If I take you to your grandfather’s, you’re going to try to work.”

“I don’t think I’m up for painting right now.”

“Probably not, but once you get stewing about not catching that guy, you’ll get restless and look for something to do instead of resting.”

She hated that he was right, and was even more annoyed than he seemed to know it too. He slanted her a shrewd grin, and she offered a scowl in return.

Jackson laughed and thankfully didn’t try to get her to talk for the rest of the drive. By the time they turned down his parents’ street, she was mentally replaying the robbery scene in her head, trying to figure out how he’d gotten away on them.

Her body moved on autopilot when the truck stopped, and she followed Jackson into the house.

“Bathroom is down the hall. Why don’t you grab a shower and I’ll find you something to put on.”

“Trying to get me naked in the first two minutes inside. Shocking.”

That trademark grin widened, reminding her why he’d become such a fan favorite. He oozed charm and likability to a dangerous degree. Dangerous for her, anyway.

She followed his directions to a large bathroom, complete with jet-powered tub and separate shower stall enclosed in frosted glass. She passed her reflection and tried not to wince.

Her clothes were soaked and stained with dirt and blood. Her hair had taken the most damage, clumping together in sections at the front, closest to the cut. She bit her lip, probing at the nasty bump at her hairline. Bastard got her good.

Sticky, sweating and all-around uncomfortable, she hastily turned on the shower and stripped out of her clothes. The hot water felt heavenly, as long as she was careful to keep the water from hitting her cut. Washing her hair turned out to be tricky, but she managed without cursing more than a few times.

Over the splash of the water, she heard a knock at the door. Jackson strolled in a second later. The frosted glass didn’t offer much in the way of a barrier, but it was better than nothing.

“Would have been surprised if you hadn’t poked your head in.”

“Here.” He opened the shower door and held out a palm with two tablets on it. “For your head.” He looked at the far wall despite every part of her being on display right in front of him.

She took the pills and chased them down with a few sips from the glass of water he’d brought along. And then he was gone, closing the door behind him and letting her duck back under the warm spray.

Hayley lingered in the shower until every muscle felt ready to melt and she’d steamed up the entire bathroom. A small pile of clothes sat on a chair by the door. She hadn’t heard or seen Jackson put them there.

Once she had the oversize T-shirt on, she dried her hair with the towel, saving the pair of boxer shorts for last. They were too big, forcing her to roll the waist down to keep them from slipping off her hips.

Her headache had eased a bit, and she emerged from the bathroom feeling much better than when she went in. She didn’t see Jackson in the hall. One by one, she checked the rooms, looking for him, until she came to what had to be his old bedroom. The life-sized poster of Wayne Gretzky on the closet door was a bit of a giveaway.

That wasn’t the only thing his parents had left untouched once he’d moved out. Trophies and awards lined the walls and dresser top. Certificates of achievement in both sports and academics were displayed on one wall. Directly opposite that, Jackson had done his own decorating, complete with a couple swimsuit models and a Playboy bunny.

She put a hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh.

“My dad has a more recent shrine of my talents in the rec room downstairs.”

She turned at the sound of Jackson’s voice. He’d grabbed a quick shower himself, but hadn’t gotten around to putting on the T-shirt hanging by his side. Hayley drank in the sight of him without a shirt, shamelessly admiring the cut of his shoulders and biceps before letting her gaze wander down his chest.

“You need this.”

Did she ever. A day that ended with a trip to the ER deserved a kiss, didn’t it? Because that was the only thing she could think about when he stared at her mouth like he was thinking the exact same thing. A long, hungry kiss that would begin and end with his arms around her.

It was then she noticed the ice pack in his hand.

“Right.” How had she gone from wanting to drop him off and go home alone to thinking about what it would feel like to fall into Jackson’s bed, feel the weight of him pinning her to the mattress?

It had to be the head injury, right? That was bound to shake her up, make her think things… Who the hell was she kidding? She’d been thinking about doing a whole lot more than just kissing long before this.

She took the ice pack, laughing as he collapsed into a giant beanbag chair on the floor. He kicked at the other one closest to the closet, and she sank into the overstuffed bag far more carefully than he had.

The change in position gave her a new perspective of the room, and she could all too easily picture Jackson hanging out here when he was a teenager, along with Matt and Josh.

“Usually parents turn their kids’ rooms into a workout area or guest room, don’t they?” She barely touched the pack to her head, and already the cold was seeping through the protective fabric to make her injury throb.

“I think mine were afraid that if they changed anything I wouldn’t want to come home to visit.” He glanced around the room. “That and they’re always on the road since Dad retired.” He leaned forward. “Here.”

She handed off the pack, eager to be rid of it, only to wince when he held it to her bump. “It’ll only hurt for the first minute or so.”

He might as well have said ten seconds, and even that was too much. She tried to squirm away from the growing discomfort without being obvious, but he caught on, gripping her waist to keep her in place.

As far as distractions for pain went, it wasn’t so bad. The fresh, clean smell of his soap filled her senses, and she found herself leaning in to him. Her eyes drifted shut, his proximity both relaxing and exciting her. His breath warmed her neck, and she shivered, delightful goose bumps racing across her skin.

“Do you want me to grab you a sweater?”

She shook her head, cringing as she pushed too hard against the ice pack. Even that pain didn’t affect how good it felt sitting so close to Jackson, their knees touching, his hand at her waist, fingers gently gripping her every few seconds.

Her eyes opened, and from beneath lowered lashes she mentally traced the angles and curves of his face, the bruises and swollen corner of his mouth doing absolutely nothing to detract from his handsomeness.

Intense blue eyes slid to hers, and she quickly ducked her head, faking a yawn.

“No sleeping. You could have a concussion.”

“That’s not what you told Gramps. Besides, we both know I would be fine if I ended up falling asleep.”

“We’re better off not taking the chance.”

Hayley frowned. Why did it sound like he was up to something? She followed his gaze to where her hard nipples pressed against the borrowed T-shirt.

“And what did you have in mind to pass the time?”

He pursed his lips thoughtfully, then leaned even closer. Unchecked heat burned in his eyes.

“Not a chance.” The words were far softer than she intended, like part of her knew full well that any kind of sex with Jackson, casual or otherwise, just might be worth it.

Jackson reached past her, his jaw just brushing her cheek, and grabbed something off the shelf behind her. He dropped a deck of cards into her lap and smiled innocently. “What did you think I had in mind?”

They both knew exactly what he’d wanted her to think a moment ago. God, he enjoyed teasing her. Smiling, Hayley didn’t offer anything he could use to put her on the spot.

He wasn’t letting it go, though. His eyes widened, feigned shock written on his face. Although they were already touching, he brought his mouth as close as he could get without brushing his lips across hers. Her pulse jumped.

“You didn’t think I would try and take advantage of you, did you?”

A wise woman wouldn’t give him any more ammunition, so she waited for him to continue, doing her best to resist the urge to run her tongue over his bottom lip.

“I think last night proved I don’t need to take advantage of you.”

The temperature in the room shot up, and suddenly the ice wasn’t enough to stop the full-body flush that raced over her, warming every inch of her skin.

“I’m going to grab us a drink.” Jackson was on his feet and out the door before the rest of her got the message that she was alone.

She flopped all the way back in the beanbag chair and pressed the discarded ice pack against her chest. The back of her neck came next as she tried to cool herself off.

He was back with two cans of soda, one of which he offered to her. The cool liquid felt incredible. She watched him shuffle the deck and deal out five cards to each of them.

“A little five-card stud?”

“Sure.” She wasn’t a bad poker player, but she wasn’t particularly good either. She’d lost a small chunk of change to some of the guys at the station before she’d learned her lesson.

By the end of their first hand, she wound up with a pair of sevens, which he beat with a pair of kings.

A wicked grin curved his lips. “Take something off, sweetheart.”

No way. “What happened to not taking advantage of me?”

“I said that I didn’t have to. Not that I wouldn’t.”

Hayley paused, taking the deck to shuffle. “How many women have actually fallen for that line?” She dealt the next hand, going through the motions without thinking about it.

Jackson laughed. “You’d be surprised.”

She snorted. “I’d be surprised if their combined IQ was over a hundred.”

“Cheap shot.”

“No, that would be what you did to Rocky McLeod in the second round of playoffs three years ago.”

Jackson leaned forward. “Come on. He plowed my center into the net. The poor kid needed twenty-six stitches after that. Rocky had it coming.”

Hayley only let her gaze slip away from his for a second. “And when you took down Shane Calvert for tripping you?”

“He threw the first punch.”

“Unlike the throw down between you and Freddie Hall during the opening game of the season four years ago.”

Jackson frowned. “What did you do, keep a scrapbook?”

She shrugged, making a last-minute decision about her cards. “Stone’s was full every game night you played, so Matt often needed the extra hand.”

“How many games did you miss?”

“Only a couple.” She smiled innocently.

He searched her face, finally realizing that the more riled up he got, the more he tipped his cards just enough she could see them. “You cheater.”

“Sorry, not feeling myself. Must be the flowerpot I took to the head.”

He tossed the cards aside. “And you even managed to say that with a straight face. You’re clearly feeling better.”

She started to laugh, but the sound quickly died away as he reached out to touch her cheek.

“How’s your head?”

“Pain meds are a beautiful thing.” Mostly. She had a mild headache, but it was manageable.

“Still dizzy?”

“No.” Not unless she counted the spinning in her head when he was only inches away.

“Good.” Jackson slid two fingers beneath her chin, guiding her forward to meet his mouth.