Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Ten


Hayley whimpered, the sound hungry and needy, and stifled by a kiss soft enough to melt her into the chair.

It was like they were back in high school and he’d just taken her by complete surprise all over again.

Getting caught with the mascot costume would have spelled disaster, but being outed by Jackson would have made it that much worse. Not giving herself away when he’d crushed his mouth down on hers had been difficult. But not nearly as difficult as trying to act like the whole thing was no big deal. She’d failed horribly at that, clinging to him, taking as much from the moment of mistaken identity as she could for as long as it lasted.

She was about to repeat history, teetering on the edge of falling hopelessly into a kiss that was shaking her to the core. And she couldn’t make herself care.

His palm slid along her jaw, moving slower than the teasing drag of his teeth across her bottom lip. His other hand roamed up her thigh, kneading and tugging her closer until he finally gave up on that and hauled her into his lap.

She planted her hands on his chest, marveling at the strength beneath her palms. And the hardness pressing into her hip. Her eyes slid shut, and she arched against him, aching to rub herself along his shaft.

Jackson pushed her hair back from her face. “I don’t want to stop this time, so if this isn’t what you want…”

How did he look so sexy and vulnerable at the same time? Was that part of his charm too? Or was her grandfather right about it being far easier to hurt him than she realized?

“I don’t want to stop,” she whispered. Stopping would mean sacrificing the taste of him on her tongue, the sweep of his fingers up her back. And stopping sure as hell wouldn’t satisfy the hunger licking across every nerve ending in her body.

He waited, his gaze holding hers.

“Do you want me to sign a contract agreeing to it?”

He laughed. “No.”

She brushed her lips across his, letting her tongue slide into his mouth. “Then you need to get back to the part where you were kissing me.”

“Whatever you say, Detective.” He caught the back of her head, holding her to him as he ravaged her mouth.

Her breath stalled in her throat. Jackson pulled at her shirt, gathering the material in his hands and dragging it up her body. His thumbs brushed the sides of her breasts, and her nipples hardened to aching points.

He tugged the shirt off, drinking her in. She shivered beneath the wicked scrutiny that seemed to log every inch of her. The intensity of it threatened to turn her into a molten pool at his feet. All with just a look.

“You have that expression again, like you’re thinking too hard.”

“I didn’t expect this…” The words surprised her as much as the desire flooding her, filling every cell in her body.

“Didn’t expect what?”

“That it would be like this,” she admitted, feeling more than a little drugged on the buzz she felt when she was this close to him. She waited for some slick or sarcastic response, something to keep the mood light and playful.

“Neither did I.”

She felt his hands at her back, traveling up her spine. When he reached the ends of her hair, he wrapped them around his fingers, using the sexy grip to lean her back. One strong hand spanned her hip, keeping her firmly in his lap as his lips laid a searing path from the valley between her breasts to her navel.

Hayley clenched her thighs, the ache deep in her core driving her increasingly mad. She rocked her hips, sliding down the hard length of him. He groaned, catching a handful of her breast, kneading and tugging so damn slowly on her nipple.

His tongue flicked across the tip, and then he sucked her into his mouth. Greedy pulls, one after another, sent waves of pleasure streaming through her.

Needing to feel the heat of his skin against hers, she tugged his shirt over his head. He growled at the interruption, recapturing one dark pink tip, rolling it back and forth between his fingers.

Moaning, she ran her hands across his chest, up over his shoulders. Muscle tensed beneath her palms and she reveled in the feel of him. Warm, Strong. Alive.

Jackson hauled her up his body until his mouth was even with the boxers that were all but falling off her now. He pressed his mouth between her legs, kissing her right through the fabric.

Sweet heaven.

He pulled at her shorts, sliding them down and off one leg, then nudging her thighs apart so she was straddling him, her feet back on the floor. “I need to taste you.”



Jackson palmed her ass, following the crease down to where she was already wet. If he weren’t already hard for her, the tempting slickness would have done the job. From behind he stroked a finger through her folds, rubbing back and forth. She gripped his shoulders, her nails biting into his skin until he ran his tongue up her lips, dipping inside for a taste that had him grabbing her ass just as hard.

“Yes!” Hayley’s breathy voice made his balls ache.

Taking his time, he nuzzled his face against her, then licked a lazy path down to her opening. He circled her clit, laving the swollen flesh in slow, soft strokes with his tongue, then faster. She tilted her hips, moving with his mouth, grinding sweetly into him.

Shit, she was hot. He looked up at her, loving the sight of her blonde hair trailing down to her breasts, her nipples still shiny and damp from his mouth. She bit her lip, then let her head drop back.

Sexy as hell.

Jackson feasted on her, devouring every trail of moisture, returning to slide his tongue over her clit every few seconds. She clamped her legs tight, and he used his shoulders to keep them open, licking at her over and over.

“Jackson,” she hissed, shaking and pleading, though he wasn’t sure what for. Slower? Faster? Harder?

And that train of thought was going to set him off like a rocket if she so much as accidentally rubbed the head of his cock. He desperately wanted inside her, but he wasn’t done making her come yet.

The taste of her filled his head, overloading his senses as his mouth moved against her, coaxing her closer. Cupping one full cheek with a palm, he slid his other hand up the inside of her thigh. Sliding through the moisture, he pushed at her opening.

Hayley cried out, burying her hands in his hair. He pumped his finger into her, thrusting in and out, matching the carnal rhythm with every sweep of his tongue. Moments later she shattered in his arms, rocking her hips, and he nearly lost his mind to the sound of it.

Holy fuck.

Fumbling for the bag on the floor by the closet, he jerked it toward him. He had a condom in his hand in record time, rolling it on seconds before her knees gave out and she sank into his lap.

She was so wet, she slid onto him so damn fast he could have come on the spot. He gripped her hips, holding her still long enough to drag in more oxygen.

“Jackson?”

He groaned, their foreheads touching as he fought for control. What was it about this woman that tested every ounce of his restraint? “I’m good.” So fucking good.

His heart pounded, heat tunneling through his veins until his whole body burned. She wiggled in place and pleasure spiked through his system.

Fuck yeah.

Holding it together, he relaxed his grip on her hips, sinking his cock all the way inside her.

Her mouth found his, her tongue thrusting between his lips, wild and hungry. She rocked faster, sliding up and down his cock, pumping hard, and damn it, there was no way he was going to last.

He groaned, quickly losing control under the sweet motion of her riding him. She leaned back and he suddenly fit even deeper. All he could do was clutch her hips and watch himself sink into her over and over. The slick walls clenched around him, and he rocked his own hips, lifting up to bury himself inside her.

Release roared through him, and he pumped faster, lost in the feral tempo. He held her down on him, the spasms finally fading until only the sound of their heaving breathing filled the room.

What the hell just happened?

Hayley collapsed against him, her body shaking. That couldn’t be good.

“Hayls?”

She lifted her face, and he realized she was laughing. “Did we just have sex on a beanbag chair?”

He laughed, noticing the way she was sprawled across him and the few inches of overstuffed vinyl keeping them off the floor. “Guess I can scratch that one off my bucket list.” He looked down at her, smoothing her hair away from the bump that should have made sex the last thing on either of their minds. “You know, I think I like concussed Hayley. She’s dirty.”

She laughed even harder and slugged him playfully in the arm, then she settled back into place, her face resting on his shoulder. Exactly where he wanted her.





“You want to get fired, don’t you?”

Hayley looked up from her desk at work to where he partner stood, coffee halfway to his mouth as he scowled at her. Phil hadn’t been the first person to give her a double take when she’d showed up for her shift.

She pointed in the direction of her captain’s office. “He knows I’m here.” He was probably the only one not surprised that she hadn’t wanted to sit home and lick her wounds for a couple days.

Phil leaned over her desk. “What’s that?”

She shrugged, holding up the shadowed sketch she’d doodled. The partial image had been going through her mind since she’d woke up, but putting pencil to paper hadn’t helped her figure out what it meant.

Phil tipped the paper sideways. “Is it a tree?”

“Not sure. But I think it has something to do with last night.”

“Something you saw on our suspect’s clothes?”

“Maybe.” Although all she could clearly remember was the dark pants and black hoodie. The harder she concentrated, the more her head pounded.

She’d awakened to a full high school band doing a pep rally between her temples this morning, giving her a good reason to slip out of bed without disturbing Jackson.

God, she’d slept with Jackson Knight.

Worse than that, she’d spent three quarters of the night wrapped around him, unable to put more than a few inches between them. And when she had rolled away in sleep, he’d pulled her back to him. It was a wonder she’d made it out of bed without him recapturing her.

“Maybe you gave our boy a scare last night?”

“What?” Hayley stared up at her partner, wondering how in the hell he’d heard about Jackson.

“Maybe almost getting caught will make him rethink his plans. Make him move on to another town.”

“Oh. Right.” Except neither of them wanted that. They wanted to nail the bastard’s ass to the wall.

“Get some coffee, Stone. You need it.” Phil walked away, leaving her staring at the sketch.

The dark blob on the page was easier to think about than what had happened between her and Jackson last night. It should have been an isolated incident, except twice more he’d brought her to an explosive release, leaving both of them sweaty and tangled in the sheets she’d gripped every time he made her come.

“Had a rough night, huh, Stone?” Gauthier flipped through a stack of folders in his hand. “Maybe you should let Knight catch your perps.” He flashed her a teasing grin.

“Any openings I can apply for?”

They both turned at the sound of Jackson’s voice. Although he smiled, there was tension around his eyes that warned her he was annoyed about something.

Suspecting that something was her, she slipped a hand across her stomach, which gave a nervous tug. “Does this look like anything to you?” She thrust the sketch at Gauthier, buying herself as much time as she could before Jackson pounced.

“Penis,” Gauthier guessed.

Baffled, she stared at the drawing. “Where do you get that?”

“Isn’t that like some ink-blot thing where everything is supposed to look like some kind of phallic symbol?”

“Freud focused on phallic symbols. Rorschach created the ink-blot tests,” Jackson corrected. He perched on the edge of Hayley’s desk.

Gauthier shrugged. “Still looks like a penis.” Head down, the other cop wandered away.

“Rorschach and Copernicus,” Hayley mused. “Impressive.”

“No, what’s impressive is how sneaky you were this morning.” He thankfully lowered his voice. “It won’t happen again.”

She gave up on feigning interest in the sketch. “That implies it will happen again. Sleeping over, never mind the sex, wasn’t part of our agreement.”

“It is now.”

The stubborn tilt of his chin set off alarm bells in her head. She leaned back in her seat, putting some space between them. Too bad the space wasn’t enough to make her forget how good he looked, or how good he smelled. If he’d set out to make her want to get as close to him as she could, he’d certainly succeeded.

Just like he’d also succeeded in getting under her skin, exactly what she hadn’t wanted to happen. Telling herself it wouldn’t go beyond that was the only way she could meet his eyes.

“I’m heading over to see your grandfather.”

Grateful for the change in subject, she forced a smile. “He’ll like that.” The reminder prompted her to let Jackson know Gramps thought they were actually dating. “He doesn’t know that we’re not…” She glanced at Jackson, quickly losing her train of thought. It was his fault for sitting there, looking good enough to eat, that easy confidence nearly as sexy as the seriousness in his eyes.

“Not…what?”

She blew out a breath. “He thinks we’re dating.”

“And?”

“And you can’t tell him we’re not.” Once Jackson left town, she could find a way to break the news that wouldn’t lead to Gramps sneaking out to track Jackson down.

“Why would I do that?”

Was he trying to drive her crazy? “Because we’re not actually dating.” How could he keep Freud, Rorschach and Copernicus straight and not follow what she was saying?

“So,” he mused a little too loudly. “I was just a one-night stand?”

She jumped up and slapped her hand over his mouth. “Keep your voice down.” They’d drawn enough attention already.

Jackson covered her hand with his, planting a feathery kiss on her palm.

She tugged her hand back. “Could you behave yourself for more than thirty seconds?”

Jackson caught the waist of her pants and tugged her forward. “You didn’t seem to have a problem with me not behaving myself last night.” The whispered statement made her shiver.

“Time to go.” She nudged him off her desk, steering him toward the exit. They both knew he had more upper body strength than she possessed in her entire five-foot-eight frame, but he kept moving.

“Say hi to Gramps for me.”

“Sure.” He snagged her wrist at the last second, pulling her in. He slanted his mouth across hers, blowing any sense of decency right out of the park by deepening the kiss until she didn’t know where her lips started and his ended. “I’ll see you later.”

Jackson walked away, and she turned back to her desk, not looking to see if anyone had taken notice.

“I need some help, please.”

She paused, glancing at a woman in designer shorts and a halter top that had probably cost more than Hayley’s last check. The oversize beach bag and expensive camera slung over the redhead’s shoulder marked her as a tourist.

The woman tapped a hand on the desk, ignoring the just-a-minute finger the officer on the phone held up. “I need to talk to someone about a robbery.”

Hayley crossed to the woman at the desk. “I think I can help. I’m Detective Stone.” She held out a hand.

The redhead dismissed her with a sound of disgust. “I’m looking for a real cop. Not some rookie puck bunny.”

Heat flooded Hayley’s cheeks, but she forced aside the unexpected awkwardness of a tourist—an unimpressed one at that—recognizing and labeling her because of Jackson. This was her turf. “I work in the robbery division,” she began.

“Looks to me like you were working him over. Or maybe it was the other way around.” The redhead smirked. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll wait and talk to a real cop.”

Real cop? She’d worried that being seen with Jackson would affect her reputation with the people of Promise Harbor. It had taken a lot of hard work and years to overcome a past that some, especially since Jackson had rolled back into town, were still quick to recall.

But coming from a tourist?

She wasn’t sure if that made things better or so much worse. It shouldn’t bother her what the woman thought, she knew that, but with everything piling up in her personal life—the comments about her wilder days, the renovations, her puck-bunny association with Jackson—she suddenly couldn’t stand the thought of losing the respect she’d fought so hard to earn.

If a tourist could walk through the door and make assumptions about how well she did her job based on her relationship with Jackson, so could everyone else in town.

“And if it’s all the same to you,” Hayley returned, her voice cool, “you can talk to me or you can have a seat and wait a couple hours for my partner to come back.”

The redhead wasn’t happy, but she followed Hayley to a room where they could talk. Hayley listened attentively, quickly ruling out any connection between the woman’s stolen purse and the other robberies.

And the whole time she couldn’t let go of one thought—when Jackson left town, would she still be the Hayley people knew they could depend on or would she just be known as Jackson’s latest conquest?





Jackson walked down the hall in the palliative care unit, past the room with the leather couches, only to backtrack at the sound of cursing, loud and familiar. He found Coach propped on the edge of a center cushion, his gaze trained on a flat-screen television playing a recording of the NHL draft. Matt had mentioned setting it up for his grandfather.

“Can you believe this kid went in the third round? Gonna be a pain in their ass, I guarantee.” The old man didn’t look at him right away.

Jackson laughed. “Isn’t that what you said when I got picked up?”

He shrugged. “I’m wrong once or twice a decade.”

He joined Coach on the couch and they sat through thirty minutes of the draft, chatting about players and stats and what drugs some of the general managers must have been sniffing to make some of the player trades they had.

“I need some fresh air, Jack.”

Jackson grinned at the nickname. Coach was the only one he let get away with calling him that. Jack was his father, and once he’d hit twelve he’d craved an identity outside of Jack Jr.

Fresh air turned out to be pushing a wheelchair so Coach could bum a cigarette outside. Coach waved him off, guessing Jackson was going to be stupid enough to comment on him smoking. “They’re already killing me so what’s the point of giving them up now?”

Somehow Jackson knew Coach wasn’t sharing that particular outlook with Hayley. He couldn’t imagine her taking that well. He smiled at the memory of her gasping through one of Coach’s cigarettes. The old man would likely freak out over that as much as Hayley would if she spotted her grandfather sneaking around outside.

“How are the renovations going?”

“They’re coming along.” He hadn’t been at the house long enough to get anything done yet today. Talking to Hayley after she slipped out of the bed without waking him had come first. By the time he dragged on some clothes and got his car towed to a garage to replace a faulty spark plug, he’d been downright annoyed that she’d skipped out on him.

Coach stabbed out the cigarette after only a couple drags. “I didn’t realize you knew so much about carpentry.”

He nodded. “I picked up a few things from helping my dad with stuff around the house growing up, and I helped a friend build his house.” And then another friend’s house. He’d helped build half a dozen of them over the course of five off-seasons. “Hayley didn’t realize that either.”

Coach nodded. “That granddaughter of mine is something else, isn’t she?”

“Yes, sir.” Something else didn’t quite cover it though. Neither did determined, fiery, loyal and sexy as fucking hell.

“I know my diagnosis has been hard on her. Good to know she’ll have you to help her through the rough times.”

Rough times.

Jackson’s stomach knotted painfully. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about Coach’s cancer on the way over, foolishly thinking they might be able to talk like it wasn’t the pink elephant in the room.

He couldn’t make up his mind whether it helped or not that Coach thought he and Hayley were in it for the long haul. Hayley had left that little detail out. Or was that just Coach making his own assumption? Jackson had certainly never given Hayley the impression that he was staying, so he couldn’t imagine her thinking otherwise.

Thinking about leaving now, though, didn’t seem like the good idea it had last night when he’d been stranded in the rain. His agent had texted this morning to tell him that the Sentinels would be flying Jackson up for an interview any day now. He knew he would have been more excited about it if he hadn’t been so preoccupied lately.

“And don’t let Millie chase you off,” Coach threw in.

“Millie?” Jackson frowned. The old man wasn’t talking about his dead wife, was he? Maybe Millie was a nurse or another local? Or was this some kind of confusion tied to his disease? Neither Hayley nor Matt had mentioned it.

“She’s been banging doors around the place since I got sick. She’s always been protective.”

Coach thought his wife’s ghost was responsible for the old house’s bad drafts and slamming doors? Did Hayley know about that?

“Better take me back to my room before that Nazi of a nurse calls a code for a missing person,” Coach grumbled.

Jackson pushed the wheelchair back inside, relieved the old man left the ghost topic alone on the elevator ride back to his floor. Instead he chatted about the hospital food not being so bad and how hot his oncologist was. “Stacked to the nines,” he added, holding his hands out in front of him.

Jackson laughed, and Coach reached back and gave his hand a tap and a brief squeeze that said everything they hadn’t about him being sick.

Christ.

Throat tight, he kept his head down, falling into silence for the rest of the walk.

Ahead, a nurse walked toward them, an almost painful-looking scowl on her face.

Coach’s hand shot into the air as they passed her. “Heil, Trudy.”

The nurse rolled her eyes and mumbled back something that sounded a lot like “crazy bastard” and kept walking.

Inside Coach’s room, Jackson helped him out of the wheelchair, hoping he didn’t want to rest yet. He didn’t want to see him disappear under the covers again so soon. Outside of the hospital, Jackson could almost make himself believe there wasn’t anything wrong with the old man, but here among the medical equipment designed to give Coach as much comfort as possible in his remaining days, there was no hiding from how sick he was.

Whether or not Coach picked up on Jackson’s tension, he chose to sit in the chair. “I know you’ll be good to my girl. God knows she needs someone she can rely on in her life.”

Jackson had been labeled a lot of things but reliable hadn’t ever been one of them, not off the rink anyway.

“Heard you’re up for a coaching job.”

He nodded. “I’m a little worried about that, though.” It was the first time he’d voiced the concern aloud. It wasn’t as big of a concern as the fear that coaching other guys who could still play hockey would turn him into even more of an asshole than he’d been after the accident.

“Do you remember the first thing you asked me when you joined the team?”

Jackson thought it over, then laughed. “I asked how long until you could make me the best.”

Coach nodded, leaning forward to straighten a blanket over his legs. “And what did I say?”

“What makes you think you could be the best?” he imitated in his best booming Coach voice.

“Okay, what did I say after that part?”

“That it was all up to me.”

“And?” he prompted.

Jackson grinned. “And you were right.”

Coach relaxed back in his chair, his eyes heavy, tired. “Life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect, Jack.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“You belonged on the ice with a stick in your hand, but it never defined you.”

“I know.”

His eyes narrowed like he wasn’t sure which one of them Jackson was trying to fool. “I think you loved to skate more than you loved to play hockey, you know. You’d show up almost an hour early for every practice just so you could have the rink to yourself. You rarely worked on shooting or drills before the other guys got there.”

Jackson laughed, reminded of the all the times he’d stepped out onto the ice when there hadn’t been another soul in the place except the maintenance guy. No one to impress, or keep an eye on so he wasn’t jumped from behind. No strategy or watching for player weaknesses.

Just him and the ice.

“Winning wasn’t everything to you.”

Now there he had to disagree. “I always wanted to win.”

“Games, sure, but that wasn’t what made you a good player.”

Jackson flexed one of his biceps, and Coach laughed.

“No, it wasn’t those fists and the fighting that made people love to watch you play.”

“Oh?”

Coach patted his arm. “It’s because you were fearless, Jack. And that’s why you’ll make a great coach.” When the old man’s eyes started to drift shut, Jackson retreated toward the door. “I’ll be back tomorrow.” And every day until he left town. It was the least he could do for a man who’d set him on a path that had changed his life.

Coach mumbled something, and Jackson only caught the end of it. “Glad I didn’t have to cut off your pecker, Jack.”





Jackson was still wondering about Coach’s last remark when he stood back to survey his progress. He continued to ignore the sensation that someone was watching him, as he had for the last few hours. But after the second time in ten minutes of feeling someone in the doorway, he caved and turned around. Not surprisingly, no one was there. Still, he set aside the drill and walked down the hall of Coach’s place.

The door in the middle of the hall was shut, although he couldn’t remember hearing it slam.

He walked toward it. “Millie?” The moment the name left his lips he laughed at himself, feeling utterly ridiculous. He didn’t believe in ghosts and here he was talking to one. Scratch that, there wasn’t any ghost.

“Mr. Knight?”

Jackson whirled at the sound of his name, holding on to the unexpected yelp that jumped up his throat.

Shit. Those kids really needed to stop sneaking up on him. He glanced at the open front door at Cody and Brent, the same two as before. The younger one with CF was no doubt at the bottom of the steps out front.

“Would you be up for a game of road hockey?”

The two teens stared at him expectantly, and he was thankfully saved from answering when Hayley came along behind them.

“Hey guys.” She glanced at Jackson, something passing in her eyes—annoyance?—then fixed her attention on the boys. “Did I promise to run drills for you guys?”

“Nope. We wanted to see if Jackson—”

“Mr. Knight,” Cody corrected.

“If he wanted to play a game of road hockey,” Brent finished. “If your knee is good, I mean.”

This time he had three of them staring at him expectantly. Great.

“If you guys had come along a couple hours ago,” Jackson began, “it wouldn’t have been a problem.” He took a step forward, not having a clue what prompted the fake limp. “I had a little accident stepping off the ladder earlier. I don’t think it would hold up to a game of road hockey.”

He didn’t have to force the wince on his face at least. Going up and down the ladder this afternoon had made his knee ache like a bitch, adding a little credibility to the limp.

“No problem.” Marginally disappointed, the kids turned their attention to Hayley.

“You should have seen the goal Cody landed on Patrick I’m-the-biggest-douchebag Kingston this afternoon. Slipped it right beneath Patrick’s butt.”

“It wasn’t a big deal.” Cody grinned despite the humble response.

Brent rolled his eyes. “But that wasn’t even the best part. Patrick goes flying backward, knocks the net over, and it set off this whole chain reaction that ends with my brother’s motorcycle falling over.”

“I thought he was going to kick all our asses,” Cody put in.

“Except the bike nearly squished Mabel Standish’s miniature poodle. By the time she was done yelling at him, my brother’s face was beet red and he was apologizing to us.” Brent smiled. “I didn’t think there was any other woman in town with balls as big as yours, Hayley.”

Cody elbowed Brent in the gut. “Dude,” he chastised.

Rubbing his side, Brent looked confused. “What? She arrested Jackson. That takes serious—”

“I think she got it,” Jackson cut in.

Brent rocked back on his heels. “But that goal…priceless. So when do you think we can get into the rink next, Hayley? Feels like I haven’t been on my skates in months.”

“It’s only been a few weeks.” That didn’t stop Cody from looking just as eager.

Both their expressions reminded Jackson of his and Coach’s conversation, and he found himself grinning, their enthusiasm increasingly contagious.

It was on the tip of his tongue to change his mind about road hockey, but something about Hayley was off. He needed to deal with that first.

The kids left shortly after confirming hockey drill plans with Hayley.

“Nice limp. Sprained it on a ladder, huh?” She shook her head. “You could have just told them your knee was bothering you. They would have understood.”

Maybe they would have, but Hayley didn’t get that they wanted to play with a pro full of tips and advice and encouragement.

With a bum knee, no career and according to some a drinking problem that brought it all about, he wasn’t exactly the best choice As of right this moment, the only thing he had going for him was two feet away.

Gorgeous. Smart. And…glaring at him?

Hayley didn’t understand why he wasn’t what those kids needed, and he didn’t expect her to. He didn’t want to get into it, though, and since they both knew his knee was just fine, there was nothing slowing him down when he walked toward her.

“I want to show you something.” He grabbed Hayley’s hand and led her down the hall.

“Jackson,” she began.

“It took me most of the day and maybe it’s too much, but…” He deliberately trailed off, wanting her to make her own decision. “I think it really adds to the room. The corners were tricky.”

Hayley gazed around. “You finished the room.” She crossed to touch the detailed crown molding he’d added in place of the older, outdated trim around the doors and walls. “It looks great.”

He tried to ignore that she sounded more upset than impressed, and held up his hands. “Gave myself quite a few splinters and screwed up a couple times getting the angles right.” More than a couple times, actually. “I’m thinking the kitchen would look great with the same molding. Hallway too.”

She held up a hand. “Stop.”

“Hayley?”

“What are you doing?”

Confused, he shook his head. “I thought I was helping you out.” And helping himself out at the same time. He’d forgotten how much he loved working with his hands, whether he was holding a hockey stick or a hammer.

Sadness blinked across her face so fast he might have imagined it. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“You don’t like the molding?” he guessed, but wasn’t sure why it would bother her that much. He’d been convinced while buying the supplies that she’d love what it added to the house.

“I am not a rookie puck bunny.”

Where the hell did that come from? “Right,” he answered carefully. The conversation had just taken a complete hundred and eighty degree turn, and somehow he knew it was damn important that he get back on the same page as Hayley. “Who called you that?”

“Doesn’t matter.” She rubbed at her eye. “I’m just tired and my head hurts.” She started out of the room and then spun back around. “You can’t just waltz into town, cause trouble and then smooth things over with a few repairs.”

“I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing.”

“You wouldn’t. You’re not worried about what happens when you get your coaching job and go back to your normal life.”

Normal had gone flying out the window when he’d struck the barricade and flipped his car.

“Those kids just want a few minutes of your time. Gramps just wants someone to help him remember what it’s like not to be sick. Matt just wants his friend back so he doesn’t have only his sister to vent to about his dating life being in the crapper while he tries to figure out how to run two businesses.”

He processed that all in stride, filing every word of it away for later, and took a step toward her. “And what do you want, Hayley?”

The question seemed to take her by surprise, but her answer came easily. “I don’t want to get in over my head.”