Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Six


Hayley hadn’t slept much. Between tossing and turning, wondering how Gavin was doing and staring at the ceiling with a stupid grin on her face, she’d opened her eyes feeling like she hadn’t slept in weeks.

Trudging into the shower had been a chore she’d passed on in favor of soaking in the claw-foot tub. Adding the bubbles was an indulgence strictly to satisfy the part of her content to stay curled up in bed all day, and that wasn’t happening.

She sighed as the hot water soothed aches from the fall that were more noticeable this morning. The next time Copernicus decided to run up a tree, she was calling the fire department. If she was smart she’d call the fire department the next time she crossed paths with Jackson. Maybe then she could avoid another disaster in the making.

She’d waited until he disappeared down the lane and onto the main road before getting into her truck and following to make sure he got back to his parents’ place in one piece. She had enough weighing on her without something serious happening to the harbor’s golden boy.

The same golden boy who kissed even better than he played hockey.

Hayley could just imagine what he’d think if she told him that. The man’s ego was big enough without him knowing she’d lain awake half the night thinking of that sinful mouth of his.

She let out a breath, determined to put him and that kiss out of her head. Jackson was leaving. Maybe he’d stick around another day or two for Josh, if that long. He had left town the second he knew he had a shot of getting in to the NHL and had hardly looked back as far as she knew, returning only a few times since high school graduation.

Nothing good could come from giving in to a silly crush on a guy itching to leave Promise Harbor behind all over again.

Creak.

Her eyes flew open, but she didn’t bother to move an inch. “Another felony to add to the list, I see.”

Lounging against the doorframe, Jackson propped one arm overhead, a key in his hand. “Coach still hides his spare key under the mat. Didn’t think people still did that.”

“So you decided to let yourself in?”

“Well, I knocked first.” He crossed to the radio on the ledge by the window, and turned the volume down. “Guess you didn’t hear me. Funny how that works.” His gaze roamed the bubbles barely hiding her from view.

She resisted the urge to sink lower in the tub. Barely.

“Plus,” he continued, “I had hoped to catch you in the shower. This is actually much better.” He grinned.

“Out.”

Grabbing a chair, he turned it around backward and straddled it. “I have a proposition for you.”

“Do the words time and place mean anything to you?”

His only response was a lazy once-over, his attention lingering just a beat longer at where her breasts were buried in bubbles.

“You need to go.” It was a pointless demand, and she knew it. Everything about the plain white T-shirt, faded jeans—the knees almost worn out—and the arms crossed over the top of the chair said, When I’m good and ready.

“We need to stay together.”

“No.”

“It’s a mutually beneficial situation.”

Hayley snorted.

“Just while I’m still in Promise Harbor.”

“Absolutely not.” When his gaze fell to her chest, she realized she’d risen a few inches above the bubbles. She slid back down, sloshing water over the edge of the tub. “No,” she repeated, more firmly this time. God, she had enough on her plate without throwing a fake boyfriend into the mix.

“Would you reconsider if I told you two women harassed me on the way over this morning?”

“That’s just awful,” she said in mock sympathy. She looked over the side of the tub in search of a towel.

“C’mon, Hayls. You owe me after last night.”

“Shit. I really did fry a few of your brain cells, didn’t I?”

“Are you going to make me beg?”

Her cell phone rang, saving her from answering Jackson. Unfortunately for her, there was a hockey-pro-turned-pain-in-the-ass in the way.

He nodded to the phone. “Want me to hand that to you?”

“Please.”

“No problem.” He grabbed the phone and offered it, withdrawing it the second she reached for it. “Have lunch with me.”

“Can’t.” Even though it was Sunday, she had a lot to do.

“Work.” Jackson read the screen on her phone.

She shrugged. “I’ll call them back.”

The phone continued to ring in his hand. “Could be important. Didn’t you say something about already being on your captain’s shit list?”

She narrowed her eyes.

“Just lunch. That’s it.” He waved the phone at her.

Sticking to the promise she’d made herself not to get roped into anything she didn’t have time for, Hayley put an end to Jackson’s negotiations.

She stood up, water sliding down her body and taking with it the protective camouflage of bubbles. She had both the towel and her phone in her hand by the time Jackson managed to get his jaw off the floor.

Cell phone clutched between her teeth, she left the bathroom, wrapping the towel around herself as she went. With her back to him, she didn’t need to worry about him noticing the flush of red heating her face.

“Detective Stone,” she answered, tucking the phone to her ear. She kept her bedroom door ajar, listening as Jackson’s steps thunked down the stairs. Instead of stopping at the front door, though, he walked deeper into the house.

Of course it wouldn’t have been that easy to send him on his way.

“We’ve got a missing bridesmaid, Hayley.” Mabel Standish, dispatcher, sounded almost giddy at the news.

“What bridesmaid?”

“Sophie Brewster’s girl, Greta. Seems she vanished like the bride. Sophie asked specifically for you.”

Hayley thought of the work that needed to be done around the house, and inwardly groaned. So much for a day off.

“Tell her I’ll be by to talk to her as soon as I can get there.”

“No problem.”

Hanging up, Hayley tossed her phone on the bed and got dressed. Her hair was still damp when she ran her comb through it and tugged it back into a ponytail. Once she’d finished getting ready, she jogged down the stairs, stopping at the bottom to put on her shoes.

Perched on a stool at the covered island, Jackson glanced her way when she walked into the kitchen.

“Still here?”

“Wanted to see which superhero T-shirt was on the agenda for today.”

She glanced down at the plain red one she wore. “The disappointment must be crushing.”

He laughed and stood, but she skirted the end of the island in case he had plans to corner her again. Too easily she recalled every tantalizing moment of how things had played out last night, and while she could admit part of her wanted to pick things up right where they left off, she knew better.

Knew that even pretending to date Jackson for another day would come back to bite her in the butt. Look at where that complication had landed her yesterday. As incredible as that kiss had been, she didn’t have time to deal with more Jackson chaos, and she really didn’t want any more pictures of them circulating.

Plus work, renovations and Gramps were enough to worry about without contemplating the fallout of a fake relationship. Jackson would leave town and she’d be stuck dealing with the questions and speculations. Not to mention what impact it would have on her job. Crush or not, getting any more involved with Jackson just wasn’t worth it. Right?

“Would you mind if I grabbed my old stick out of the shed before I take off?”

“Now you’re asking?”

All he offered was a lazy smile that succeeded in warming her insides more than the tub had.

“Check the den. Gramps kept the important stuff close.” She turned to go, then paused. “He’s really proud of you, you know.”

He nodded, his face somber. She thought he was going to say something, but he fiddled with the cans of paint on the island instead.

“You can leave the key on the counter when you let yourself out,” she added. She could do without any more surprise visits.

One corner of his mouth quirked up. “Whatever you say, Detective.”





Sophie Brewster’s beautifully landscaped home was as no-nonsense and straightforward as the woman herself. Hayley couldn’t remember how long ago her husband had died, but her friendship with Allie’s mom had brought Josh and Allie’s families together from the start.

It was Allie’s father, Owen, who let Hayley into the Brewster home and motioned for her to follow him.

Keeping her voice lowered so as not to upset Josh’s mom, she asked if he’d heard from Allie. When he shook his head, Hayley promised herself that if she didn’t hear from Gavin today, she’d be calling the police station closest to his home in Alaska. She’d beg them to check Gavin’s place if she had to.

Sophie Brewster stood at the window in the large front room. Worried blue eyes met Hayley’s as she walked into the room—eyes that had once excelled at silencing an entire classroom in under two-point-two seconds. Mrs. Brewster hadn’t taken crap from anyone, and every student at Promise Harbor High had known it.

Allie’s father, Mr. Ralston, on the other hand, had been the most likable teacher at school, even when he’d pushed students to run more laps, jump higher or yell louder than the visiting team at a game.

He and Mrs. Brewster had always been friends as far as Hayley knew, but had grown much closer when Allie’s mom had died. Losing her best friend had stolen some of the fire from Mrs. Brewster’s eyes.

The marriage between Josh and Allie had undoubtedly started to fill some of the holes left by the death of their loved one, and Hayley could only imagine that the disaster yesterday had hurt both of them.

Keeping her chin up when all three of them knew Gavin’s appearance at the wedding had changed everything was much harder than she expected.

Mrs. Brewster gestured for her to take a seat and filled her in Greta’s disappearance with. She made a few notes, waiting until Mrs. Brewster finished before asking any questions.

“Let me see if I’ve got this right. Greta drove off after the wedding.” She paused, half expecting one of them to blame Gavin for bursting into the church. “She sent you a text that said, ‘I’m all right, don’t worry.’ And you haven’t heard from her since. Is that the gist of it?” She glanced from Mrs. Brewster to Mr. Ralston.

“Yes,” he answered.

Unfortunately it wasn’t much. “I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything here I can act on. There’s really no evidence of foul play. Is there any particular reason you’re concerned aside from not hearing more from her?”

“She left all her things here,” Mrs. Brewster hurried to add. “She left wearing that ridiculous bridesmaid outfit, with nothing else except her purse.”

Hayley nodded. “I can see how that would be worrying. But…” She paused, not wanting to give the two of them another reason to be disappointed.

“But,” Mrs. Brewster prompted, plenty of fire still left in her.

“But Greta was always sort of impulsive. As I recall.” Memories of Josh’s younger sister were vague at best, but she could have sworn Greta had disappeared once or twice when they were teenagers, only to turn up unharmed. “Couldn’t it be she just decided to go visit someone? Or take a couple days to decompress?”

Mrs. Brewster frowned and turned away.

“She just got divorced,” Mr. Ralston put in. “She didn’t tell Sophie.”

A fact Mrs. Brewster didn’t appear to appreciate, and after the wedding fail yesterday, finding out her daughter was keeping something from her wouldn’t have helped any.

Mrs. Brewster’s disapproving looks were legendary, and had undoubtedly kept more than a few students in line over the years. Would they have kept Greta from confiding in her mother about any plans after the wedding?

Careful not to make any assumptions about the nature of Mrs. Brewster’s and Greta’s relationship, Hayley closed her notebook. “Well, that could be a reason for her to want to take some time off to think, couldn’t it? I mean, if I were to come up with a reason for her to take off, having her marriage break up would be a good one.”

Regardless of their relationship, Mrs. Brewster was worried about her daughter, worried enough she’d asked specifically for Hayley, knowing how close she was to the man who’d ruined Josh’s wedding day.

“That’s true, but she could also have had an accident. Or worse. I just want to make sure she’s all right.” Mrs. Brewster’s voice wavered.

“I understand. Has Greta’s ex-husband heard from her?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Is there any reason to believe it was a bad breakup?”

“If you’re implying that he could be involved in her disappearance—”

“I’m just trying to cover all the bases, Mrs. Brewster. If you’ll give me his name and number, I can give him a call and see if there are any other places Greta might have gone that he knows of.”

“Of course.” Mrs. Brewster wrote the information down and handed it to Hayley.

“In the meantime I’ll check the accident reports and do a little calling around to make sure no unidentified accident victims have shown up at any of the hospitals in the area.” She offered a reassuring smile. “For what it’s worth, we probably would have heard about anything like that by now. That fact that we haven’t is really good news.”

Mrs. Brewster wasn’t impressed by that, and Hayley sensed her former teacher might already regret that she’d asked for her help.

“That’s good,” Mr. Ralston put in, trying to smooth over the rising tension. “That’s great. Thank you.”

“I’ll let you know what I find out.” She stood. “If you should hear anything from Greta…”

“I’ll certainly call you.” Mrs. Brewster offered a tight smile. “Thanks.”

“I’ll let myself out.”

Surprised she made it to the door without either of them asking if she knew where Gavin was, Hayley stepped out into the sunlight. In the brief time she’d been inside, the air in the truck had heated to a stifling level, and she rolled the window down.

Once she made some calls and ruled out Greta being involved in an accident, she could head back to the house, assuming no other problems came up. But with unsolved robbery cases piling up, Jackson in town and Gavin, Allie and now Greta all AWOL, the odds of a quiet afternoon working on renovations were slim to none.





Jackson stood in the doorway to Coach’s den for ten minutes, unable to move all the way into the room. A fine layer of dust covered the surface of his desk. The old man hadn’t been here in a while and, if the doctors were to be believed, wouldn’t be coming home again.

Knowing the ache in his stomach wouldn’t get any better, Jackson crossed the threshold. Two steps into the room and he felt like he was invading Coach’s personal space. The sensation that any minute Coach would appear in the door and bark at Jackson for snooping followed him as he moved around.

Trophies covered the tops of bookcases and the thick window ledges. Banners and certificates covered two walls, leaving the television Coach had put in when his wife died a couple years ago on one wall. The other wall featured a massive window overlooking the lake.

A framed photo caught his attention and he picked it up. Their first state championship win. Jackson could still feel the solid weight of Coach’s arm around his shoulders, remember the warmth and pride in the old man’s eyes even though he rarely smiled.

Jackson’s throat tightened and he set the picture down, sweeping the room for the hockey stick. After checking the closet and behind a pile of other gear packed neck-high in a corner, he almost gave up. Then he spotted it behind the door.

His fingers closed over the wooden stick, the grip foreign and familiar all at the same time. He closed his eyes, wishing like hell he could slip back in time and remember what it felt like to be so damn sure about something. Anything.

Right now he’d settle for having just one piece of his life figured out. After the accident he hadn’t had a clue what he’d do with himself, and there hadn’t been a single offer worth pursuing until the assistant coaching position came along days ago.

It wasn’t playing, but coaching was as close to the game as he could get now. He wasn’t sure yet how he’d fill the kind of shoes Mitch Stone had stepped into before every game. Take that and multiple it by a thousand and he might be able to guess at the kind of pressure that came with coaching a professional team. It would be worth it, though, if it got him back in the NHL.

His gaze returned to the state championship picture, then drifted across the others on Coach’s desk. The old man was actually smiling in one with Matt and Hayley. Her grin was as bright as her grandfather’s, and Jackson caught himself smiling at it.

Maybe he’d been exaggerating about the women earlier, trying to talk her into keeping up the pretense of a relationship, but he was definitely serious about wanting to spend more time with her. He didn’t need her fend off the local puck bunnies, but he’d use any excuse he could to get a little closer to her.

Hayley didn’t dwell on his accident or hockey career and had been the only one to ask if he even wanted to coach. Everyone else just seemed to assume he would. Between her gorgeous smile and infectious laugh, she had a way of making him forget that his life hadn’t turned out the way he’d expected—

Bang!

Jackson jumped at the slamming of a door down the hall, jerking the hockey stick up like a baseball bat.

“Hayley?” He hadn’t heard her come in, but maybe he’d been too lost in thought.

Eyes locked on the hallway, Jackson left the den. He moved through the house until he came to the only room with the door shut. He reached for the knob—

Knock! Knock! Knock!

The hockey stick hit the floor. He might have too, his heart somewhere between his stomach and his throat. He didn’t believe in ghosts and haunted houses or any of that bullshit, but something was fucking with him, something…

“Hayley? You home?” The muffled voice came from out front, followed by a series of short knocks.

On the front door. The one down the hall. Not the one he was crouched in front of like something out of a B-rated horror flick.

He really needed to get a grip.

Swearing under his breath, Jackson stalked to the front door and yanked it open, half prepared to snap at whoever was on the other side. As if it was their fault he’d let some stupid crack Hayley made about the place being haunted get to him.

Two teens stood on the porch. A third, seated in a wheelchair, waited at the bottom of the stairs. All three wore Promise Harbor Hawks T-shirts. Coach’s latest players, Jackson assumed.

“You’re…him. You’re…” the shorter teen stuttered.

He stuck his hand out. “Jackson.”

The two on the porch shook his hand in turn, the shorter one looking like he might pass out.

The taller one elbowed his teammate. “We were looking for Hayley.”

“She’s not here.”

The taller one’s shoulders slumped a little. “We were hoping she could do a few drills with us today. Hockey camp starts next week.”

“It’s not gonna be the same without Coach running it this year.” The shorter one quieted at the sharp look from his teammate.

Jackson recognized that we-don’t-talk-about-it look. His former teammates had exchanged that same look dozens of times right after Jackson’s accident. A few of them had needed to fill the uncomfortable silences with words of encouragement, insisting he’d be back on his skates in no time, but every one of them had known that wouldn’t happen.

The kid in the wheelchair glanced down at the reminder of Coach’s failing health, the brim of his ball cap hiding his eyes.

“I’m not sure when Hayley will be back, but I’ll let her know you guys were looking for her.”

“Would you be able to run some drills for us? The other guys would crap their pants if we showed up with you.”

“He’s way too busy for that,” the taller one put in, sounding just a bit hopeful that he was wrong.

“You need to see Cody play, Mr. Knight. Coach says he has a gift.” Pride filled the voice of kid in the wheelchair as he stared up at the taller one.

His older brother, Jackson guessed, noting the resemblance between the pair. He also saw the eagerness in the teen opposite him, recognized the same determined gleam Jackson had once seen in his own mirror every day. The kid wanted it bad. Wanted the speed, the challenge, the glory of a breakaway goal with every voice in the arena cheering him on.

He understood exactly what the kid hungered for even as the loss of that dream struck Jackson square in the chest. “I’ll let Hayley know you guys could use extra help.”

The kids stared at him expectantly.

He jerked his thumb behind him. “I’m in the middle of helping with renovations,” he offered as an excuse, feeling a little bit like an asshole turning the kids down. He’d always enjoyed offering advice and hitting the puck around with kids that made his career possible, but that was before it meant setting foot in his old arena with a bum knee and not a lot to show for the years he’d busted his ass. “Maybe another time,” he threw in.

“Cool,” the two on the porch echoed in unison.

“Are you Hayley’s new boyfriend?” Cody’s younger brother rolled his wheelchair as close to the bottom step as he could. “Because our mom said that Eric Thorton came in and ordered a bunch of flowers for her first thing this morning.”

Apparently Eric wanted to know what it was like to have them shoved up his ass. After what Eric said at the reception, Jackson sure as hell couldn’t imagine Hayley expressing her gratitude for a bouquet any other way.

“She likes girly movies, you know. Horror ones piss her off.” The shorter teen shook his head like he couldn’t fathom why she wouldn’t want to watch people being stalked and murdered one by one.

“She hates pepperoni on her pizza,” Cody added.

The kid in the wheelchair nodded. “And she always complains about needing a foot massage.”

“I appreciate the tips,” Jackson began, cut off by the sound of a door slamming inside.

Seriously? He’d blame an open window and the wind, but the breeze outside was barely enough to stir the occasional blade of grass bordering the glassy surface of the lake.

Either the boys didn’t hear the door slam or they weren’t that worried about it.

“You should be part of the bachelor auction.”

Cody elbowed his friend again. “Dude, he’s dating Hayley. He can’t be part of the auction.”

“She could bid on him, douche.” The shorter one put a little space between himself and his friend’s elbow. “We’re raising money for Kyle.” He nodded to the kid in the wheelchair. “He has cystic fibrosis and needs a new lung.”

Jackson didn’t know a lot about CF except that it would probably kill the kid long before his time should be up.

“If you can’t do the auction, maybe you could do an autograph signing.” Kyle looked at his brother and friend. “We could sell tickets to it.”

“That’s a good idea, bro.” Cody glanced at Jackson. While he might have been shy about asking for Jackson to help with drills, the teen didn’t hesitate when it came to helping his younger brother.

“Sure,” Jackson said after a moment. Talking about the good old days and answering questions about what he was doing with himself now were not on his list of favorite things to do, but looking at Kyle made his own problems less important. “Just give me a time and a place, and I’ll be there.”

“Awesome.”

The teens jogged down the steps, paused. “Is it true you’re up for a coaching position with the Sentinels?”

Deciding it was a waste of time to keep secrets in Promise Harbor, Jackson nodded.

All three boys sighed. “Good luck. You’ll need it with a team like that.”

Jackson waited on the porch until the kids disappeared from view. Inside, he walked down the hall, staring at the door he’d raised his stick at earlier, which now stood open.

Ignoring the goose bumps on the back of his neck, he returned the stick to Coach’s den. It belonged here with the rest of Jackson’s past. Not with the guy sick and tired of feeling angry and sorry for himself.

That needed to change, and he knew it. He just wasn’t sure yet how to make it happen.

After giving the open door a long, hard look, daring it to shut while he was watching it, Jackson fiddled with a few loose cupboard fixtures, then locked up the house and drove toward Stone’s. He recognized Hayley’s black truck parked in front of Barney’s Chowder House on the way, and at the last second changed his mind about going to see Matt.

The lunch crowd hadn’t arrived yet, making it easy for him to spot Hayley.

And Eric.

Thorton slid into the booth across from her, and Hayley’s shoulders instantly stiffened. He didn’t have any flowers with him. Too bad. It would have been amusing to watch Hayley contemplate which hole she should cram them in.

Jackson leaned in the doorway, guessing he wouldn’t have to wait long.

Less than a minute later Eric stood. If there weren’t a stick shoved so far up the guy’s ass he was probably choking on it, Jackson might have felt sorry for him. The guy just didn’t know when to quit.

Eric’s eyes sparked when he noticed Jackson by the door. “You’ve got your hands full with that one, Knight. Hope you can handle her better than you can a puck.”

Ignoring the dig at his hockey skills, he straightened. “She doesn’t need handling. She’s a woman, not a pet.” He walked past him before Eric voiced his disagreement.

“Jackson!”

He turned at the familiar voice, felt warm arms wrap him in a hug that should have been too strong for the petite woman in front of him. “Mrs. Stone. Or should I say Madame Mayor?” he asked, reminded that Matt and Hayley’s mother had been voted into office three years ago.

Hayley’s mom reached up and planted a smacking kiss on his cheek, then stepped back. Her gaze slid sideways and she swatted at him. “Don’t be too rough on Eric. He’s a determined one, but doesn’t handle rejection very well.”

So Eric had a fan in Mrs. Stone, did he? Hayley couldn’t be thrilled about that.

“Hi.” Hayley walked up, her bright smile lifting his mood instantly.

People moved around them in search of a table, but he didn’t take his eyes off her, giving him plenty of time to slip an arm around her back when she pressed up against him. She lifted a hand to his face, her palm sliding along his jaw as she rose up to kiss him.

Soft and sweet, her mouth opened over his, coaxing him to return the kiss.

She didn’t have to try very hard. The taste of her awakened a fierce craving for more. More of her hair tickling his skin, more of her fingers curling around his nape and digging in, more of her breath catching between each pass of his mouth across hers.

He knew exactly what was happening, knew she was putting on a show for Eric. And he also knew the second it became more than that.

She melted into him, so damn hot he was having trouble not thinking about doing a lot more than just kissing her.

“Hi,” he said back finally, drawing away but not letting go of her.

Mrs. Stone cleared her throat, her smoke-gray eyes fixed on Hayley with laser precision. “That wasn’t very nice to Eric,” she said quietly.

Hayley faced her mom, but allowed Jackson to keep ahold of her hand. “Eric and I were over a long time ago.”

“He still loves you.” Mrs. Stone shot Jackson an apologetic look, like she regretted that whatever he and Hayley had going wouldn’t last with Eric in town. Apparently Eric wasn’t the only one hung up on he and Hayley getting back together.

“He never loved me, Mom. Not the way he was supposed to.”

The two women stared at each other, and the tension between them had Jackson squeezing Hayley’s hand.

“Haven’t had your turkey sandwich in ages, Mrs. Stone. Any chance I can convince you to sneak into the kitchen and whip one up for me?” Hayley’s mom had managed Barney’s Chowder House for years before she’d gotten into politics.

Her warm smile slipped back into place. Although she was dressed for a day at the office instead of waiting tables, she waved for them to go ahead. “You two sit and I’ll take care of it, Jackson.”

He didn’t wait for one of the women to be the first to walk away. He tugged Hayley along behind him, keeping a grip on her hand even after she dropped into the booth across from him.

“Guess I need to work on your mom.”

Hayley rolled her eyes. “Great, then I’ll be stuck trying to explain why I couldn’t hold on to you either.” She blew out a breath, finally taking notice of his hand still holding hers. She shifted in her seat. “Sorry about that.”

“You shouldn’t be. I’m not.” He had much bigger problems in life if kissing Hayley was something either of them needed to apologize for.

She arched a brow, not trusting him.

“You’re right.” He leaned forward, elbows resting on the table. “That’s a lie. I’m sorry you weren’t kissing me and naked at the same time.”

She smiled again, not the same knock-him-on-his-ass smile as earlier, but he could work with it. “Like we haven’t given everyone something to talk about already.”

Jackson shrugged, lacing their fingers together when she would have tugged her hand back. “Eric is still watching.” An exaggeration, but the feel of her hand in his was too good to give up just yet. “Thought you didn’t want to keep up the whole pretense of us being in a relationship.”

“Relationship? Try dating.”

“Dating doesn’t seem serious enough if you’re making out with me in public.”

Amused eyes met his. “We were not making out.”

“You’re right.” He glanced over her shoulder long enough to make her think he was watching Eric, then crooked his finger.

Curious, she leaned forward, close enough it was too damn easy to meet her halfway to claim another kiss.

While he appreciated the slow and soft approach earlier, he wanted too much of her to take his time. Cradling her cheek against his palm, he pulled them both headlong into a wild kiss.

She didn’t resist, surprising him when she sighed against his lips, then playfully nipped with her teeth. The second her tongue swept across his, all slick and teasing, he groaned softly, gripping her hand tighter. He wanted to touch so much more of her, but hauling her across the table and into his lap wouldn’t happen with half the surrounding crowd pretending they weren’t watching.

Jackson couldn’t care less who was watching. Hayley was there. Bold, unpredictable and maybe-just-a-little-crazy Hayley, and he was half drunk on the taste of her. All the blood in his body had traveled south, the evidence making him almost painfully hard, and Christ, what he wouldn’t give to feel her fingers close around him.

Something hit the table, and Jackson broke the kiss, looking up into Mrs. Stone’s disapproving face. She set their drinks on the table.

Sensing that Hayley’s mom was two seconds from crossing her arms and waiting until he was back on his side of the table, Jackson released his hold on Hayley, moving faster than a horny seventeen-year-old diving out of a girl’s bedroom window after midnight.

“Thanks, Mom.” Hayley took a sip of her drink, her eyes laughing at him.

He nodded his thanks, wondering where his balls had disappeared to in the presence of Hayley’s mother.

Once Mrs. Stone vanished into the kitchen, he grinned at Hayley. “Now we’ve made out.”

“You’re impossible.”

He winked at her. “I have a new proposition for you.”

Leaning forward, she looked ready to hang on to every word. “I can’t wait to hear the new angle you’ve come up with to blackmail me.”

He started to rise. “I can get Eric if you’d rather listen to him.”

She grabbed his arm, though they both knew he had no intention of going anywhere. “Sit. Down.”

Jackson relaxed back in the booth, one arm stretched across the back of the bench seat.

“I’m listening,” she prompted, not all that happy about it.

If he didn’t enjoy pushing her buttons so much, he’d kiss her again. “You need help. I need something to keep my hands busy.”

“As much as I appreciate how eager you are to volunteer your bra removal services, I’m not interested.”

“I’m talking about the renovations on your gramps’s house.”

“Oh.” She didn’t glance away despite the flicker of pink on her cheeks.

He set his hands on the table. “Believe it or not, these are good for more than shooting a puck or picking a fight on the ice.”

From the heat that flashed in her eyes, she knew that renovations were not the only other things his hands would be good for.

How she could make him so aroused without saying a word, he didn’t know. But he damn well knew he wasn’t about to give Hayley’s mom another reason to disapprove of him.

“You need help,” he repeated. Staying on topic was good. And it meant he wouldn’t be thinking about showing Hayley every dirty trick he could do with his hands.

Hayley shrugged. “Maybe I do, but not at the cost of pretending I’m your new plaything.”

“You honestly think that’s what people think?”

She leaned forward. “You’ve had almost as many girlfriends as you’ve had goals, and the only serious—” She broke off.

“Finish what you were going to say.”

“Okay. The only serious relationship you had, you ended the second things got tough.”

“The second I had my accident, you mean?”

She nodded, at least sparing him from the usual pitying look he received any time his career-ending accident came up in conversation. He usually went out of his way to make sure it didn’t.

“She ended it,” he corrected, steering the conversation back to Hayley. “Look, you need the help. Are you going to let what people might think about us get in the way of that?”

“I’ve been managing so far.”

“And you can only run on fumes for so long.”

“I’m doing fine,” she insisted.

“Have you looked at your eyes this morning? I’ve seen goalie pads smaller than the bags you’ve got going on there.” And even her exhaustion did nothing to take away from how attractive she looked with her hair pulled back and her eyes going stormy on him.

“God, you’re sweet,” she mocked, rubbing self-consciously at her face.

“You’re going to burn out, and then who will work your cases and renovate the house and coach those hockey kids?”

Arms crossed, she searched his face. “What’s in it for you?”

“I stay busy and keep a low profile at the same time. And if everyone thinks we’re involved, no women will randomly jog by to see how hot I look with my tool belt on.”

She snorted, her lips curving in the barest hint of a smile. “You have a tool belt?”

“Don’t all renovation experts?”

“Now you’re an expert?”

“At many things, but you’ve been pretty clear about not exploring those other areas.” He rested his elbows on the table. “So, do we have a deal?”





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