Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Thirteen


Men sucked.

Maybe just one guy in particular, Hayley amended, finishing off the drink next to her. She pushed her feet around in the water, grateful for the chill that took the edge off the humid summer night. Feet pleasantly numb, she only wished the rest of her was equally immune to feeling.

One day with Jackson gone and she felt the loss far more than she wanted to. She’d woken that morning to thoughts of what kind of progress he’d make with the renovations, what wild remarks he would say, what sexy and suggestive expressions would cross his face when he looked at her, only to remember he’d left.

Gone.

She rolled her shoulders, forcing the pain down deep inside where it wouldn’t get in the way. She had only herself to blame for putting herself in this position. It wasn’t Jackson’s fault that he wanted to put his life back together. She just hadn’t expected that somewhere along the way, a piece of her heart would decide that she wanted to be a part of that life.

Apparently she was a glutton for punishment on top of being downright stupid. He’d left without a backward glance, walked away from the autograph signing like it meant nothing, and she missed him.

She gave the water a kick, but it didn’t do a damn thing to make her feel better.

Footsteps sounded behind her, and she turned around, anticipation flooding her. Jackson?

If she could have thrown herself into the lake and swum across to the other side, she would have. Eric walked down the dock toward her.

“Not a good time,” she muttered, returning her attention to the lake.

“Can’t be helped. You haven’t given me the time of day.”

She sighed. “I don’t have anything to say to you, Eric.”

“I have things to say.” He stood behind her, waiting.

Fine. She’d let him get a couple things off his chest, and then he and just about everything else with a penis could leave her the hell alone.

She waved for him to go on, but made no attempt to let him sit beside her. She didn’t want him getting comfortable.

“I want you to move to Boston with me.”

If she hadn’t been holding on to the edge of the dock, she might have fallen in. “What?” Alcohol. Lack of sleep. Emotional exhaustion. Any one of them would explain why she’d clearly misheard what he said.

He crouched next to her. “I miss you. I want us to get back together. You can move in with me. Start over. Find a new job.”

“New job,” she echoed. Just what the hell was he talking about? “I have a job.” She had a place to live and didn’t want or need to start over anywhere.

“Something you can really excel at,” he clarified.

Hayley couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing, laughed until her whole body hurt and her stomach threatened to tear her in two. Laughed until the playful tears started to burn and everything she’d locked down tight threatened to break her apart inside her.

She swallowed hard and closed her eyes, getting a grip. When she could speak without fear of her voice wobbling, she met Eric’s eyes. “I do excel at my job.”

He gestured to the cut on her head. “He’s still out there somewhere.”

“And you think I’m the only cop responsible for bringing him in?” Yes, she wanted to catch the bastard, but she had a damn good partner and other cops working to make the collar too. “We’ll get him.”

“So come be a cop in Boston.”

“Eric, I don’t love you.”

He scoffed. “We screwed up, made a few mistakes. We can figure out where things went wrong and get back on track.”

She wasn’t naive enough to hold him accountable for all the things that had gone wrong with their relationship. As determined as he was to start over, she knew he wouldn’t hesitate to blame her for most of their incompatibility. “That’s not what I want.”

His shoulders stiffened and he glanced out across the lake. “Is this because of Jackson?”

“Jackson’s gone.”

“I heard he left town. Then what’s holding you here? Why can’t you give me a second chance?”

The desperation that crept into his tone surprised her. Eric wasn’t one to show any vulnerability. He considered it a sign of weakness.

He finally nodded. “You probably think I’m crazy.”

“Confused maybe. Not crazy.” Demanding, arrogant and selfish too, but there wasn’t any point in going there.

“You need someone with you, Hayls.”

No, she really didn’t. “I’m fine.”

“The break-in,” he began.

“An isolated incident.” Possibly. There hadn’t been any other damage or threats, but she wasn’t dismissing what happened.

Eric glanced at the house. “He was a dick to leave you here by yourself.”

She was still frustrated enough that she couldn’t bring herself to disagree. Her phone rang then, and she hoped it would give her an excuse to send Eric on his way. She recognized Matt’s number.

“Hayley? You need to meet me at the hospital. Now.”

“What’s wrong?” She pushed to her feet, striding past.

“It’s Gramps.” Matt’s voice cracked. “We’re losing him.”

“On my way.” She sprinted toward the house, darting inside long enough to grab shoes and her keys.

She slammed into Eric on her way out. “What’s going on?”

“I need to get to the hospital. Gramps… They need me. He’s…” A sob worked up into her throat.

Eric held his hand out for the keys. “I’ll drive you.”

It was easier to hand them over than to argue with him. It felt like the drive to the hospital took forever, scenery blurring past. The urgency of it all, needing to see her grandfather, to talk to him, to tell him she loved him, squeezed her chest to the point she could barely breathe without it hurting.

It wasn’t fair. He wasn’t supposed to die yet. There was more for him to see, more to share with him. She’d made her peace with her dad never walking her down the aisle or holding the children she hoped to have one day, but she’d always assumed Gramps would be there for that. Had counted on it.

And now…

“Go.” Eric pulled up directly in front of the hospital, and she got out and ran through the doors.

The hallways were empty except for a couple patients and visitors, and she took the stairs, too hurried to wait for the elevator. A nurse was waiting for her outside the palliative care unit. The grim look on her face made the pain in Hayley’s stomach worsen.

She stopped at the doorway to her gramps’s room, and then Matt was there, pulling her into his arms.

“He’s gone, Hayley.”

No.

She shook her head and pulled free. She crossed to the bed where he lay and lifted his hand. She slid into the chair next to the bed and rested her forehead on his hand. Tears ran freely down her cheek, hot on her skin. She wiped at them, willing him not to be gone. Not yet. She wasn’t ready to let him go.

“What happened?”

Hayley heard her mother’s voice behind her. She moved to the opposite side of the bed and ran her fingers across his face, smoothing his hair back.

“His body just started shutting down. I thought we had more time.” Matt stood next to her, and Hayley held up her hand for him to take.

“I was here this afternoon. He was sleeping again. I thought it was just from another bad night. I should have stayed, waited until he woke up.” Every word stuck in her throat. “Were you here?” She looked up at her brother.

Matt nodded. Eyes shining, his lips curved in a sad smile. “I stopped by to see him. He was tired but wanted to watch the draft again. Then he said he needed to go lie down. It happened so fast.” His voice broke, and he pressed his lips together. “Right before his heart finally gave out, he was talking about seeing Dad and Nan really soon.”

Their mother bowed her head, her shoulders shaking, and pain slashed through Hayley all over again.

It was all too much. Too much at once. And they’d known. His prognosis had been grim from the start, but the longer he’d held on, the more Hayley had convinced herself they still had time. God, she’d known he was dying. Why didn’t that make any of this easier?

The pressure on her chest was unbearable. “I need some air.” She let go of Matt’s hand and walked out of the room.

Outside the hospital she had room to move without feeling closed in. She sat on the bench down the sidewalk from the main entrance. The tears had started to slow, and she tried hard not to think about the fact that she would never again see her grandfather get riled up over a hockey game on television, or pour another drink at Stone’s, or laugh at something she said.

A few minutes later Matt sat next to her. She hadn’t even noticed him walking toward her.

“He’s not suffering any more, Hayls.”

“I know,” she whispered.

“We’ll get through this.” Matt held her hand and they sat in silence for a while, then he went back inside to wait for their mother. Hayley dug out her phone. It crossed her mind to call Jackson, but she didn’t trust herself not to fall apart.

Instead she dialed Gavin’s number. Hayley thought she was fine until Gavin’s voice mail clicked in, and the sound of her best friend’s voice made her crumble inside. She squeezed her eyes shut, trapping the tears that burned behind her eyes.

“Gav, I need to talk to you. Things are so messed up and Gramps…” She pressed her lips together, swallowing tightly. “He’s gone, Gavin.”

She made herself hang up before she started crying on the phone. She didn’t want to freak her friend out completely, and she’d only worry him if she lost it while the message was still recording.

Matt was right. They would get through it. She just didn’t know when it would ever stop hurting.





See you around, Jackson.

Hayley’s words replayed through his head for the hundredth time since he’d left Promise Harbor.

He started to reach for his phone, as he had half a dozen times since he’d gotten off the plane, then remembered he’d left it to charge in his hotel room this morning.

He’d tried calling her last night, only to chicken out at the last second every time, words failing him. She’d sounded like she was saying good-bye to him, and although he’d known it would come down to that—hadn’t he?—he found it wasn’t sitting well with him at all.

If didn’t help that he knew she’d been upset that he’d left before the autograph signing. Did she know yet that he’d called Bernice on his way out of town and asked her to reschedule the signing for the following weekend?

Bernice had readily agreed, and then guilt-tripped him into bringing along some more hockey friends and moving the early VIP party to a bigger venue to allow for more ticket sales. By the time she was done with him, he’d also agreed to foot the bill for the catering.

“Mr. Knight? Jackson?” a man’s voice prompted.

Jackson glanced from the spot at the center of the ice below that displayed the Sentinels insignia, vaguely aware he hadn’t said anything in a while.

He nodded, trying to focus on what the two men next to him were saying. The general manager, dressed in an expensive suit that reminded Jackson of something Eric Thorton would wear, stood beside the Sentinels coach.

The Sentinels arena was empty, and although first walking inside had felt a little like coming home, the sensation had passed too quickly. He found himself searching for his earlier enthusiasm.

This was what he wanted. Wasn’t it?

He listened with half an ear to the conversation that touched on player contracts, stats and league bullshit that he’d managed to forget about. He believed what Mitch Stone had said about being a good coach, but standing here, something about the whole thing just felt…off.

“Why don’t we grab some lunch?” one of the men suggested. “There’s a place right down the street with the best burgers.”

It wouldn’t compare to Barney’s, he knew.

Christ, he’d spent years ignoring the harbor and now he couldn’t stop thinking about it?

He rubbed his hand over his face. “Sounds good to me.” He followed the men through the building, trying to summon the focus and drive, the feeling like he was doing something important, that he’d felt before.

After his accident he’d been so frustrated and angry for so long. Then the wedding came along and the job offer, and everything had started to turn around.

Hayley had been the best kind of trouble, and working on Coach’s place had given him something to work at, a job that meant something again. And helping out Matt and the auction and…

He stopped walking. He couldn’t have been that much of an idiot. Had he actually believed that the coaching job had anything to do with his life turning around?

He’d been so caught up in worrying about whether coaching was a good fit that maybe he’d been too quick to think he understood Coach’s remark. Maybe this job wasn’t the part of his life where he needed to be fearless.

“Jackson?” Ahead of him, the Sentinels coach waited.

“I’m sure you two don’t mind if I take a day to think over the offer?”

The two men exchanged looks of surprise. “We’d need an answer by Wednesday.”

He nodded, then shook each of their hands before leaving them to go to lunch without him. There were things he needed to figure out.

Things that ended up taking him most of the day as it turned out. It was early evening by the time he returned to his hotel, and after a quick shower, he picked up the phone to call Hayley. Seeing the voice mail message, his heart picked up speed. He checked his caller ID and noticed a Promise Harbor area code. Hoping it was Hayley, he listened to the message.

Jackson slid off the bed at the sound of Matt’s voice, his fingers curling around the phone.

Coach was gone.





Jackson glanced from the lake to the house, wondering if he’d made the right decision coming to see Hayley. After hearing Matt’s voice, he’d booked the next flight home, only to miss it due to a fucking traffic accident. Hours later he’d boarded his flight and then driven the remaining distance from Boston to the harbor.

He hadn’t thought about anything but getting back to Hayley after hearing the news, but she hadn’t returned any of his calls yet. He’d tried calling again when his plane landed, but either her phone was off or she was screening his calls.

Not that he could blame her if she was still upset with him. He’d fucked up. He’d been waiting so long for the chance to get his life back together that he hadn’t noticed the actual moment when it happened.

It hadn’t crossed his mind not to go to the meeting, but if he’d asked for it to be pushed back another day, if only to keep the autograph commitment, then he would have been here when Coach passed away.

Instead he’d been a self-absorbed ass, thinking only of himself. Was it any wonder Hayley was avoiding him?

Although it was late afternoon, Jackson settled himself in one of the Adirondack chairs on the porch to wait for Hayley, mentally rehearsing what he would say to convince her that he was sorry for screwing up. Sorry for leaving her at the worst time.

It didn’t even matter that he’d been convinced leaving was the right call or that he’d been offered the position. He shouldn’t have left with things between them so unsettled. Hell, he wasn’t sure how he’d managed to leave her at all.

After waiting for nearly two hours, Jackson called Matt to check on her. His friend let him know they’d all gone back to their mother’s place and Hayley was asleep in one of the guestrooms.

Scrubbing a hand down his face, he headed for his car. He’d already called his parents earlier to let them know about Coach, and they planned on driving straight through to get home in time for the funeral. Matt had told him earlier it would be a small service. Coach hadn’t wanted to drag anything out, and with no family farther away than a few hours, the service was set for the following day.

As he slid behind the wheel, it occurred to Jackson to go straight to Mrs. Stone’s place to see Hayley, but he didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was. He could wait until tomorrow to fix things.

And he would, no matter how determined she was to avoid him.

Needing a beer and a friend, Jackson reached for his phone. Matt had enough to deal with, so he punched in Josh’s number, hoping his friend was back in town.





The small service turned out to draw nearly as many people as Josh and Allie’s almost-wedding, and nearly half of them had put in an appearance at Mrs. Stone’s house, where they were holding the wake.

Jackson had spent the last half-hour trying to get Hayley alone. A task he hadn’t even managed when he’d shown up on Mrs. Stone’s doorstep first thing in the morning looking for Hayley.

Although she’d hugged him and held his hand through the service, squeezing his fingers so damn tight that emotion had clogged his throat, Hayley had spent the rest of the time avoiding him. He stuck as close as he dared, all too aware that she’d closed herself off to him.

What he hadn’t expected was how helpless it made him feel. He’d sat through the service, keeping his own grief tethered inside and aching to take away the pain in Hayley’s eyes. He wanted to see her smile, hear her laugh, get her away from all of this, even if it was only for a few minutes.

He finally got his chance when she slipped out to the garage in search of more ice. To make sure they wouldn’t be interrupted for a moment, he closed the door behind him.

Her shoulders stiffened the moment she noticed him there. “Can you give me a hand?”

“Can we talk first?”

“I really need to get these inside.” She withdrew two bags of ice from the deep freeze. She walked past him.

“I shouldn’t have left.”

Hayley stopped in front of the door. “Did you get the job?”

“He made me a good offer, yeah.”

She faced him, a smile firmly in place. “I know how important that was to you. Congratulations.” Nothing betrayed the sincerity on her face.

Her words should have heightened his relief and excitement about the opportunity. Why then did it seem less important now that it was all within his grasp?

“We’re doing a bigger and better autograph signing on the weekend.” He needed her to know that he’d done his best to fix that situation.

“I heard. I’m sure Kyle and the others will love every minute of it.”

“Hope so.” Needing something else to keep the conversation going when he sensed she wanted to run, he took one of the bags of ice, opened the door and reached back for her free hand.

Hayley stopped. “We don’t need to pretend anymore.”

He let his hand fall back to his side, the icy determination in her voice giving him pause.

She sighed. “By tomorrow the whole town is going to know about your new position with the Sentinels. I’d say your reputation is golden for a while, provided you don’t start any riots.” The latter was probably meant as a joke, but he was too busy struggling to stop the whole conversation from sliding out from under him to laugh.

“Hayley—”

“We had fun, right?”

They’d had more than that, hadn’t they? “Right,” he answered, trying to read her. He was missing something, but couldn’t figure out what exactly. And none of it meant anything good.

She took the ice from him. “Thanks.” She walked away as if that was all there was to say.

Jackson kept right on her heels all the way into the kitchen and straight into a room jam-packed with enough women he could almost taste the estrogen. Mrs. Stone enveloped him in a warm embrace, and Hayley couldn’t have planned it better if she’d signaled her mother ahead of time to distract him.

With six women between the ages of twenty and eighty separating him from Hayley—who stubbornly moved around the kitchen, keeping herself busy—he didn’t have a hope in hell of talking to her privately.

Mrs. Stone grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. “Could you give this to Kyle for me?”

Jackson hadn’t noticed the kid wheeling around the place, but agreed even though it was probably just as excuse to get him out of the room. He searched the house, then followed the hoots of laughter outside to the side street next to Mrs. Stone’s house.

Kyle was at the curb, watching a handful of teenagers in dress shirts and pants playing road hockey. Jackson watched at a distance for a few minutes, then walked over to them.

“Keep your head up,” Kyle yelled.

“Don’t worry about it,” one of the kids called back, losing the ball to another kid who came up beside him and snatched it away.

“He’s right,” Jackson called out. He handed Kyle the bottle of water.

The kid gave him a confused look but accepted the bottle. “Thanks, I guess.”

Jackson stepped off the curb. “If you keep your head up, then you can play where the ball or puck is gonna be, not just where it is. That’s what separates great hockey players from the good ones.”

“Wayne Gretzky said that, right?” Brent piped up.

“Right. And you,” he pointed to a shorter kid next to Brent. “You’re not making sure the blade of your stick is lining up for your shots. That’s why you missed the last couple times.”

He held his hand out for the kid’s stick and then demonstrated the difference between the ball hitting the net and missing it. “Try it.”

The teen took the stick then and, with a self-conscious look at the guys around him, made the shot. It flew right between the goalie’s legs.

“Good.” Jackson fist-bumped the teen.

“My wraparound goals suck.”

“I can never hit the same spot in the net more than once.”

“How do you nail those guys with that right hook every time?”

The questions were fired from all directions, and Jackson laughed, taking time to answer all of them and then a few more before having them try a few other things. Satisfaction coursed through him seeing the teens laugh and encourage each other.

Matt was sitting on the steps outside the kitchen when Jackson finally walked back to the house.

“Did they chase you away too?” Jackson motioned to the women he could see through the window.

“They’re trying to figure out whose casseroles should be put out first.” Matt shook his head, moving over so Jackson could sit next to him. “Hayley still avoiding you?”

“I’m not sure that’s what she’s doing.” Maybe she was really ready for things to be over between them. His gut twisted sharply at the possibility.

“And what are you doing?”

“Truthfully, I don’t have a fucking idea.” And the worst part was that applied to more than just Hayley.

“Bullshit.”

He glanced at his friend, only half surprised by the outburst.

“Pull your head out of your ass, Jackson. Do you want to coach in the NHL?”

“They offered me the job.”

“But do you want it? You wanted to play, wanted it more than I’ve ever known anyone to want anything. Except maybe Hayley when she decided she wanted to be a cop. You said you wanted the coaching job, but are you sure that’s what you really want?”

He glanced toward the kids on the street, thinking long and hard. “I think so.”

“And Hayley…”

He cut his friend off. “She said it was fun.” Not until the words left his mouth did he realize how much her saying that had pissed him off.

“Do you care about her?” Matt pressed.

“Caring isn’t always enough.” Caring about her certainly hadn’t stopped him from leaving at the worst time possible.

Standing up, Matt scoffed. “You sound like you’re trying way too hard to convince yourself of that. Why is that?”

Maybe because it meant admitting once and for all that everything he thought he wanted wasn’t nearly as important as he’d once believed.

Matt didn’t wait around to hear his answer, seemingly satisfied that he’d made his point. Jackson still didn’t know what to do about Hayley, but the last few minutes with the Hawks had made him think of Coach and just how much the old man had done for him.

That unwavering support and belief in him mattered so much more than how far Jackson had gone with the NHL.

He wanted that for those kids, wanted it a lot more than he wanted to help NHL players manage and maintain their skills.

He caught himself smiling for the first time since leaving the harbor, feeling like he’d finally figured out what the hell he was supposed to do.

“Thanks, Coach.”





Hayley rolled over and stared at the clock on the bedside table. It wasn’t even eleven o’clock at night, and though exhaustion had made going to bed early a good idea, she couldn’t sleep.

She sat up and dragged on a pair of shorts and walked downstairs. The door in the hall slammed on her way outside, but she was so used to it by now, she didn’t even flinch.

All she wanted was to sleep. Then she wouldn’t have to think about today. Wouldn’t have to think at all. Once morning came, she could dive back into work. That would be easier than taking a couple days off and having to dodge Jackson. With another autograph signing lined up, she imagined he’d be sticking around for that, and then he’d be gone and things could go back to the way they were.

Hayley had only reached the front porch when her cell phone rang inside. It took her a minute to remember where she’d left it and another second to make sure it wasn’t Jackson calling.

She recognized the number for Cody and Kyle’s place and answered.

“Hayley? Hope I didn’t wake you. I know it’s late.”

“It’s okay. I wasn’t sleeping. What can I do for you, Mr. Carmichael?”

“It’s probably nothing, but our car is missing. I didn’t want to call and report it missing in case…in case Cody took it. He’s not allowed to drive my wife’s car, but he’s been pretty upset about your grandfather. Kyle thinks he’s with Brent and that the guy committing all the break-ins took the car, but that seems less likely to me. But it’s not like Cody to break the rules either.”

“Why don’t I take a look around town and see if I can spot Cody or the car?”

“I don’t want to bother you any more than I already have—”

“I could use the distraction anyway. It’s better if I have a look for it just in case it wasn’t Cody that decided to go joyriding. What kind of car does your wife drive?”

“A dark blue Camry. A 2007, I think.” Mr. Carmichael hesitated. “If you’re sure…”

“I’ll call you back shortly.” She hung up then, after grabbing her keys and locking up behind her, she set out to look for the missing car and teenager.

An hour later and she’d been down nearly every street in town and had come up with nothing. Not until she turned down Jackson’s parents’ street did she realize she’d unconsciously left this neighborhood and this street in particular for the end. She slowed as she passed the dark house with the porch light on.

She’d spent all day avoiding him until he’d given up and kept his distance. When she hadn’t been pulled into one conversation after another to reminisce about her grandfather this afternoon, she’d spent the time wondering if she’d made a mistake acting as though it hadn’t hurt when he left town or saying it was nothing more than a good time.

But he’d left.

She had no right to hold that against him. She knew that. Leaving had always been part of his plan, but she hadn’t counted on falling in love with him. Hadn’t realized that being left behind—again—would be almost more than she could stand.

She’d downplayed her feelings out of self-preservation and then spent the rest of the day alternating between bouts of sadness and frustration about the entire situation. He’d been there for her at the funeral, hadn’t asked her for anything, but let her lean on him when she needed to, and she’d turned around and ignored him.

Any thoughts of apologizing for being so cold to him earlier would have to wait until another time. His car wasn’t in the driveway. He was probably with Matt, or maybe Josh since she heard he’d come home after spending a week on Greenbush Island. Josh’s sister, the missing maid of honor, had also turned up.

She pulled in to the driveway to turn around, barely catching a glimpse of a dark colored car down the street in the rearview mirror. She turned the truck around and parked two houses down from the Camry. The florist bumper sticker identified the car as Mrs. Carmichael’s, but there wasn’t anyone inside it at the moment.

Hayley climbed out and glanced around, mentally reviewing the addresses for the other kids on the team, wondering if Cody had come to hang out with one of the other guys. Or maybe a girl was involved.

She wasn’t about to go door to door, disturbing people in her search for Cody. She’d let Mr. Carmichael know she found the car, then she would wait for the teen or whoever came to claim the vehicle.

Decision made, she turned around to get back in the truck, freezing when movement across the street snagged her attention. If she’d been standing two feet in either direction, the house and surrounding greenery would have masked the shadowed figure dropping down over the side of a fence in the backyard.