Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Three


Hitting the ground from a ten-foot drop felt pretty damn close to getting sandwiched between two burly defensemen.

Staying on his feet wasn’t an option, not when Jackson had tried not to land directly on Hayley or the kitten. He would have cursed at the little fucker’s claws digging into his chest if he could breathe. Oxygen was slow to reinflate his lungs.

Unfortunately, the second he could suck in a breath, pain pushed hard into his awareness, radiating up his spine. The ache in his side felt like he’d taken one too many dives across the ice. And then there was the stinging in his chest—

Jackson released the kitten, trying not to outright toss the furball across the grass. Ten seconds ago he would have traded his favorite jersey for the kitten’s ability to land on its feet.

“Sweet Jesus.” He rolled to his side and found Hayley in the same position facing him, cradling her wrist to her chest.

“You okay?”

She looked at him and burst out laughing. Almost immediately, she winced. “Shit, that hurts.” She laughed again. “Last night I arrested you and just now made you fall out of a tree, and you’re asking if I’m okay?”

Despite the teeth-gritting ache in his bad knee, he smiled. He could almost appreciate the pain being brought on by something other than a careless mistake that had ruined more than just the ligaments in his knee.

“Eric was right. Any sane guy would have wanted to get far away from me.”

“I’ll consider bolting when I’m sure I can stand.”

Hayley surveyed him from head to toe, her brows scrunched together in an adorable frown. “You didn’t break anything, did you?”

He’d earned his share of sprains and fractures over the years, and nothing felt anywhere close to that kind of pain at the moment. Still, his body had taken one hell of a hit. “Don’t worry. My hockey career is already over.” Saying as much aloud always sucked, but he was a little too distracted by the worry in her eyes to get hung up on it this time.

“Sorry about that.”

“Not your fault the stupid cat climbed a tree.” The same stupid cat that sat licking its paws only a few feet away.

Her expression softened. “I meant about hockey.”

“Oh.” He leaned up on his elbows, gritting his teeth at the pain that stretched across his side. Perfect. A bruised rib was just what he needed after a bar fight and dropping out of a tree.

“You’re bleeding.”

“The icing on the cake,” he muttered, then dragged himself up to see if anything else hurt. Nothing else registered, though, when he noticed her still cradling her wrist. “Let me see.”

She waved him off. “Just a little sprain. No big deal.”

No big deal didn’t make sense with the way she avoided putting weight on it when she stood. Jackson didn’t let her get any further until she held it out for inspection.

With a sigh, she thrust her hand toward him. He gently probed her wrist, trying not to notice how smooth and warm her skin was beneath his fingers. She hissed out a breath and tugged her hand free.

With her left hand, she scooped up the kitten and continued along the path to her building. Seeing her favor one leg just a bit made it impossible to decide which one of them was in rougher shape.

He picked up his stuff along with Hayley’s discard sandals and trailed after her. His bad knee spasmed in protest for a minute, then settled into its usual dull pain. He’d gotten used to ignoring it for the most part, and it certainly helped that he was following Hayley and her killer legs even a guy on his deathbed would have appreciated. He couldn’t have asked for a better distraction from the lingering discomfort that would undoubtedly be worse in the morning.

Hayley knocked at the first apartment they came to, and an elderly man with a cane and a Beatles T-shirt opened the door.

He scowled down at the kitten. “More trouble, Copernicus?” He held his hand out, and Hayley handed the little bugger over. The kitten immediately snuggled in to him.

“Hope he wasn’t too much trouble for you, Hayley.”

Apparently the man had missed their gold-medal-winning dismount.

“Not at all,” she lied, giving Jackson a subtle shake of her head, as if he’d say otherwise.

The man’s white head bobbed. “How are the boys doing? Matt says you’re almost as good of a coach as your grandfather. My grandson isn’t giving you a hard time, is he? I know he’s been talking about you working with them on top of hockey camp this summer.”

“It’s no problem at all. Pete’s a good kid. Plays hard.”

The man nodded. “As good as this one someday maybe?” He gestured to Jackson. “Enjoy the wedding.” He closed the door, and Hayley led the way upstairs.

On the way she glanced over her shoulder at him. “Allie is going to kill me.” She opened the door at the top of the stairs. “Arresting you was probably enough to make her wonder if I was sabotaging the wedding, and now this.”

He leaned against the jamb, watching her pause in front of a mirror near the door to inspect her own appearance. “Why would she think you’d sabotage the wedding?”

Hayley headed down the hall, then waved for him to follow. “That’s a long story.”

His mind leaped to the only conclusion that could put a hold on the wicked thoughts he shouldn’t even be having about Hayley to begin with. “You and Josh never hooked up, did you?” His friend had certainly never said anything about it.

She paused at the entrance to a small bathroom painted a flowery shade of purple. “God, no. Nothing like that.”

Relieved, he set their stuff down and tucked his hands in his pockets. It shouldn’t have mattered if Josh and Hayley had slept together. She and Jackson weren’t really dating. Still, he was glad there hadn’t been anything between them. Maybe too glad.

“What’s with the scowl?” Hayley dampened a cloth under the water.

He shrugged. “Just thinking about that crazy cat,” he lied.

She stopped in front of him. “Undo your shirt.”

Probably the best idea he’d heard in a while. Which meant he couldn’t possibly have heard her right. “Pardon me?”

“I would have thought you’d be used to women asking you to take your clothes off for them.”

Forget other women, the idea of taking off his shirt for Hayley was what interested him. A lot. “Are you trying to take advantage of me, Detective Stone?” Christ, he hoped so.

“I’m trying to get the blood off you.” She tossed him the cloth, then faced the mirror. She pulled her hair back and probed the area around a scrape on her cheek. “From your watch, I think,” she volunteered when she caught him frowning at the abrasion.

“Sorry.” The scrape was almost directly on top of the faint bruise from last night. “Sorry about that punch too.”

“First time anyone has been stupid enough to hit me.” One corner of her mouth quirked, and she reached for the buttons on his shirt. “We don’t have a lot of time to get you straightened up and to the church.” Her fingers brushed his as she took the cloth and dabbed at the claw marks on his upper chest.

Jackson made a mental note to help her save more mangy kittens if it ended with her hands on him. “You said that like you’re not going.”

She ducked her head. To concentrate on her task, or to avoid meeting his gaze? “I just may be a little late.”

“If you’re trying to get out of being my date, you’re going to need a more original excuse than pushing me out of a tree.”

Her eyes snapped to his, giving him that stormy fire he wanted to see more of. “I did not push you.”

“Would make a great headline, don’t you think? Local cop tosses hockey All-Star out of a towering maple.”

“Towering maple,” she echoed, trying not to smile, and pressing a little harder than necessary on the scratches. “You’re unbelievable.” She went to work on his shirt, dabbing at the spots of crimson. “Your jacket should hide the bloodstain.”

Who the hell cared about a stain when he was trying not to think about kissing her? A tip of the chin and her mouth would be at the perfect angle. He inched just a fraction closer, but she was already turning away from him, throwing the cloth into a laundry basket.

“How’s your wrist?” Maybe if he focused on something else, he’d stop thinking about coaxing her within reach and discovering if he was the only one feeling the buzz beneath his skin when she got close.

“It’ll be okay.”

“We should put ice on it.” It didn’t look very swollen and she should probably try to keep it that way.

“After the ceremony,” she conceded. “We’ll be late if we don’t get going.” Hayley shooed him out of the bathroom, pausing just long enough to take the sandals he grabbed and handed her. “Allie might have a problem with you going barefoot, you know.”

She closed the door, leaving him to put his socks and shoes back on. He took his time, expecting to wait at least fifteen minutes. He’d never waited less than that once a woman locked herself away to get ready. Even his mother took at least that long, and she wasn’t anywhere near as high maintenance as most of the women he’d dated.

He’d barely gotten his jacket on when Hayley sailed out of the bathroom less than five minutes later, the high heels on her sandals clicking across the hardwood floors.

Her limp was only marginally obvious on the walk to his car. He opened the door for her, then rounded the hood and slid behind the wheel. Even with the windows down, the scent of her in the enclosed space hit him instantly, throwing his insides into a lazy backspin.

God, she smelled incredible.

Jackson thought about inventing a reason to lean across the seat so he could breathe her in, then realized what time it was. He started the car. Josh was probably already wondering where he was since he hadn’t mentioned anything about taking Hayley.

Half a dozen times at least he found his gaze straying from the road to the intriguing woman next to him. How had he missed seeing how attractive she was in high school? He should have noticed that wild spark in her eyes, heard that contagious laugh and felt his own rise in response.

Hayley ran her fingers through her hair. “Do I still have grass in it?”

“No.”

“Then why do you keep looking at me like I have two heads or something?”

Unsure whether being called out for staring bothered him or impressed him—both probably—he shrugged. “I wasn’t expecting you to look so amazing.”

Hayley shifted in her seat. “It’s just a little makeup and a dress.” A glimpse of the girl who used to fade into the background, when she hadn’t been neck deep in trouble, surfaced.

“It has nothing to do with makeup or the dress.” She could be sitting next to him in a clown suit and a giant foam nose and she’d still be sexy as hell. He tried to think of which women from his past he could say that about and came up empty.

The crowd gathering outside the church took instant notice of their arrival, more than a few stares following him as he grabbed Hayley’s hand and led her across the street and into the church.

Her fingers tightened around his and he returned the squeeze, letting himself hold on to her long after he’d found a spot for her close to the front. He would have lingered if he hadn’t spotted Josh off to the side of the altar.

“Cutting it a bit close, don’t you think?” Josh’s smile was a little too bright as Jackson reached him. He whistled low when he noticed the bruise on Jackson’s face. “Tell me the other guy looks worse.”

Jackson glanced back at Hayley and the slight discoloration on her cheek that her makeup hadn’t completely masked. “Not quite.” He decided to change the subject. “I tried calling you this morning.”

His friend fiddled with his jacket, then his collar. “Had some stuff to take care of.”

“Everything good, man? Last night you said some stuff.”

Josh cut him off there. “I’m good.” He gave Jackson a friendly slap on the back. “I think it’s almost time to get started.”

Jackson searched his friend’s face a moment longer, then nodded. Josh knew what he was doing, right? One of them had to have their shit together, and after last night the whole church knew it wasn’t Jackson.

He stole another glance at Hayley, marveling at the cute blonde who seemed to be looking at everyone in the wedding party but him. She’d actually spun him around last night and slapped handcuffs on his wrists with enough force to stun the hell out of him.

There was far more to Hayley Stone than he would have guessed, and he couldn’t wait to unravel the mystery of how she’d gone from rebel to rescuer. Considering that she’d carted him outside to wait for a patrol car with people grumbling about the arrest the entire time, he knew there was still a lot of the rebel left in her.

A minute later the bride came down the aisle, and while most of the crowd’s attention shifted to Allie, Jackson continued to watch Hayley. She glanced his way finally, and he winked at her before turning his attention to being there for his friend.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to unite this man and woman in holy matrimony,” the reverend began.

“Oh, hell no.”

Jackson scanned the church, hunting for the source of the voice.

“Gavin?” Pretty as a model from the cover of a bridal magazine, Allie sounded like she’d swallowed something the wrong way.

At the other end of the church, a man strode toward them. Jackson didn’t recognize the name right away, but the guy looked vaguely familiar.

Movement from the corner of his eye snagged his attention, and he watched Hayley rise to her feet. She met his gaze and lifted one shoulder, clearly as stunned as everyone else by the intrusion.

“This is Gavin?” Josh took a step toward the guy, who looked like he spent more time in the woods than the asshole throwing punches at Stone’s last night. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m here to talk to Allie.”

Josh planted himself between the pair, and Jackson inched closer to his friend. Fighting in a bar was one thing, but getting into it in a church was a big mistake, one he wouldn’t let Josh make if he could help it. And he really didn’t want to give Hayley another reason to haul him back to the police station.

“We’re kind of in the middle of something,” Josh said.

“Yeah, this can’t wait.”

Who the hell was this guy?

The stranger looked at Allie. “I need to talk to you. Now.”

Gavin. The ex, Jackson realized, and somehow Hayley knew him or understood what was happening a hell of a lot better than he did.

“I don’t think so, Gavin.” The clear threat in Josh’s voice was apparently some kind of signal for dozens in the crowd to start pulling out their phones.

All too familiar with having his least favorite moments splashed across the Internet, he was grateful to Hayley when she ordered those closest to her to put them away.

“Listen,” Gavin began. “I can do this here, in front of the whole town. I don’t mind. I’m leaving here with Allie one way or another.”

Jesus. This asshole had some serious balls if he actually thought Josh would let him waltz out the door with the bride.

“I think keeping some of this private might be appropriate,” Gavin added.

As if bursting into the church on someone else’s wedding day was appropriate to begin with.

Gavin stared at Allie. “I have some things I need to say before you say I do to another man, Al.”

Josh sighed. “Don’t do this Gavin. Haven’t you messed with her enough? Just let her be happy.”

So Gavin had hurt Allie on top of trying to ruin Josh and Allie’s big day? Part of Jackson hoped Josh knocked the dickhead into next week.

Gavin refused to back down. “That’s exactly what I want to do. Is that what you want?”

Jackson put his hand on Josh’s shoulder, recognizing his friend’s rising anger.

“I’m standing next to her in a tux in front of a minister. What do you think?”

“I think that if you don’t let her talk to me, you know that she’ll always wonder. You don’t want that, do you? Your wife wondering about another man?”

Was this guy for fucking real? Couldn’t he have picked a better time and place to pull this bullshit?

“Allie?” Josh turned toward her.

Pale and looking like she could benefit from breathing into a paper bag, Allie responded with, “What would I wonder?”

“You’d wonder what I had to say to you so badly that I would fly over four thousand miles so I could rush in here to stop your wedding.”

A tear slid down her cheek, leaving Jackson to wonder if this had a lot more to do with the long story Hayley had mentioned.

“Allie,” Gavin pressed.

She shook her head. “You’re too late.”

“Bullshit.” Gavin moved in like Josh wasn’t even there, sweeping Allie into his arms. He moved for the side door.

“Gavin.” Allie tried to wiggle free.

“Just a damn minute.”

Gavin spun back around at Josh’s protest. “Give me a chance. Let me talk to her. Let me tell her what I came here to say. Then if she wants to come back, I’ll walk her down the aisle myself.”

Josh didn’t move, his control far more rigid than Jackson’s would have been in his shoes.

A few people grumbled in the crowd, and he noticed Hayley squeezing past the rest of the people in her row.

And then Gavin and Allie were gone, escaping out the side door.

Jackson stared at his friend. Why the hell wasn’t he moving already? Allie owed him an explanation and the only way he’d get it was by following them. Finally Josh got moving, his sister darting in front of Jackson and trailing him all the way to the door. Jackson started down the few steps, pausing when another voice rang out in the church.

“Detective Stone. Hayley,” Josh’s mother snapped.

“Yes, ma’am?”

Mrs. Brewster waved her hand at the side door. “Can’t you arrest him or something?”





Hayley cursed under her breath, wishing like hell Gavin had done this another way. Any other way. And she couldn’t wait to hear his explanation. It would likely blow his previous excuse of I-had-to-borrow-the-truck-to-take-Hayley-to-the-hospital-to-get-a-splinter-out right out of the water.

“Hayley?” Jackson crossed the front of the church to meet her.

The buzzing church exploded into a frenzy of picture-reviewing and can-you-believe-it chaos.

A stern look from Josh’s mom got Hayley moving with Jackson right on her heels.

She stopped in front of the closed door and shot Jackson a sidelong look. “What if we’re supposed to stay out of it?”

“Josh is my friend.” Jackson put his hand on the door but didn’t look nearly as convinced that he should follow.

Realizing everyone within earshot was following their conversation, Hayley nodded toward the back of the church where they could have more privacy. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

“Now?”

She nodded, not waiting for him to agree before hooking her hand around his elbow and leading the way. More camera flashes went off as they passed.

She paused in the church’s vestibule, torn between wanting to give Gavin time to figure this out and needing to stop the Wedding That Wasn’t from turning into a complete train wreck.

“How do you know Gavin?”

She raised her chin a notch, not liking the disapproval in his voice. “He’s my best friend.”

Gavin was the most stand-up guy she knew. Usually. They’d had each other’s backs since middle school, and until she knew better, she’d assume his actions today had come from good intentions.

“Do you need backup, Detective?” Mrs. Brewster prompted, her voice carrying from the front of the church.

“That won’t be necessary,” Hayley called back. Unless Gavin and Josh were going at it in the back parking lot.

Maybe they were better off going outside to see what was happening.

Unsure, she glanced at the stirring crowd inside, then back at Jackson. It didn’t take a genius to know he was about five seconds from going outside without her. Maybe less.

Decision made, she went with the front door instead of backtracking to the side one. Fewer people would be tempted to follow them that way. Jackson kept up with her and the door closed behind them, silencing the commotion inside.

They rounded the corner, but by the time they reached the side door, everyone else had disappeared.

“Where did they go?”

Hayley shook her head, wondering the same thing. She scanned the cars parked at the other end of the lot, then held her hand to her head salute-style to shield her eyes from the sun as they turned the next corner and stepped into the bright afternoon sunshine.

Still no sign of them.

Jackson led the way in heading around to the other side facing the street. Hayley dug her cell phone out of the small purse around her wrist. Jackson fished his phone from his pocket.

Gavin’s number went straight to voice mail when she dialed. She left a brief message of, “Call me back, Gav,” and glanced expectantly at Jackson.

He shook his head a minute later to indicate Josh wasn’t picking up either. Hayley didn’t waste time calling Allie since it was doubtful she’d walked down the aisle with her phone on her.

“What the hell was your friend thinking?”

“I have no idea,” she answered honestly, but clearly Gavin hadn’t been able to sit back and let Allie marry someone else after all.

“Did you know he was going to do this? Aren’t you his best friend?”

“He apparently forgot to text me that he planned to storm the church.”

“You could try not sounding half-impressed by that.”

She met Jackson’s scowl. “If Gavin wanted to talk to Allie, he probably should have gone about it another way.”

That answer wasn’t good enough to appease a frustrated best man. “She was marrying Josh. Maybe he should have left her alone.”

“Their situation is complicated.” And getting more complicated by the minute. Where the hell had they disappeared to?

“Did they or did they not break up?” Jackson pressed.

“Yes—”

“Then he should have stayed away from her.”

Annoyed that Jackson was blaming Gavin for everything when Allie clearly hadn’t put up a fight, she matched his glare. “You couldn’t possibly have your head shoved so far up your ass to think it’s that black and white?”

“It is.”

She blew out a breath. “If you hear from Josh, let me know, okay?” She walked away without having decided the best way to track her friend.

“Where are you going?”

“To see if any of Gavin’s family knew he was back in town.” She highly doubted it though, given his abrupt entrance, but she couldn’t sit and wait for him to call her back either.

She left Jackson at the curb and headed back into the church. Navigating the crowd while avoiding the questions fired at her proved more of a headache than she anticipated. Mrs. Brewster was still at the front of the church, with Josh only a few feet away.

Gavin and Allie weren’t with him.

People around Hayley were talking about an announcement Mrs. Brewster had made about everyone heading over to the Promise Harbor Inn since the reception was already paid for.

So the wedding was off.

Guests who hadn’t already started trickling out of the church became more interested in a reception and stopped approaching Hayley to ask questions she didn’t have answers for. Squeezing between people crowded in the main aisle, Hayley tried to get to the front. Josh would know what happened to Allie and Gavin, though there was a good chance he might be as annoyed with her as Jackson was.

Josh had disappeared out the side door by the time Hayley got fed up with the remaining people hanging around, gossiping about the whole thing, and ordered them out of her way. With at least a dozen people staring holes into her back, she went after Josh.

A few seconds later, she spotted him sliding into his car out front.

“He’s going to the reception.” Matt jogged over to her. “That was something to see in there. Gavin’s not on drugs, is he?”

She rolled her eyes and dialed Gavin again. No answer.

“You want to talk to Josh, I’m assuming?”

Hayley nodded. “Mind giving me a ride?”

“No problem.” Matt glanced around. “What happened to Jackson?” His eyes narrowed the moment his friend’s name left his lips. “I heard some interesting things before Gavin decided to act out a chick flick.”

Hayley spotted Jackson chatting with a small group of women, but turned in the opposite direction to follow Matt to his car. “What kinds of things?”

Her twin’s eyes took on a protective light she hadn’t seen since she’d kicked Eric out of their apartment. “Like how you and Jackson showed up looking like you’d just rolled out of bed.”