Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Seven


Hayley crossed her arms, her expression too guarded for Jackson to decipher. He figured he had at least a fifty-fifty shot of her not throwing the drink on the table in his face.

She rubbed at her eyes again. “Fine.”

“Should we seal it with a kiss?”

“I think we’ve given everyone enough of a performance for one day.”

Lifting one shoulder, Jackson held out a hand, smiling when Hayley grudgingly shook it.

A few minutes later Mrs. Stone delivered his sandwich herself, with Hayley’s food following a few seconds later. Once the other waitress hustled off to another table, Mrs. Stone grabbed a bottle of ketchup for Hayley’s fries, then turned to Jackson. “I just heard that you’re helping Hayley with the renovations at Mitch’s place. That’s very wonderful of you.”

Hayley paused, fry halfway to her mouth. “Who did you hear that from?”

Jackson had never believed much got by Mrs. Stone—Hayley’s teenage antics certainly hadn’t—but even she couldn’t have overhead their conversation.

“Cody and Kyle’s mother was just in to pick up lunch and she mentioned it. Jackson told the boys when they went looking for you this morning.”

“Did he now?” Hayley’s eyes narrowed a fraction.

“I’m glad you’ve at least realized you can’t do everything yourself.”

Jackson winced inwardly at the comment, wondering if Hayley would let it slide. Not a chance, he decided when she sat a little straighter in the booth.

“Weird that I haven’t heard you say that to Matt, who’s running one business and trying to start another.”

Mrs. Stone dropped a quick kiss on her daughter’s head. “I’m going to be late for a meeting if I don’t get a move on. You two enjoy lunch.” She paused to chat with an elderly woman on her way out, and Jackson knew his reprieve was over.

“You—”

He held up a hand. “I know what you’re going to say.”

“I doubt that very much.”

“We have a deal,” he reminded her, taking a large bite of his sandwich.

“You would have been over to help renovate anyway, after telling those kids that.” She pushed her plate aside, mulling that over. “You used the renovations to avoid them, didn’t you? If Cody was there, then so was Brent.”

Ah, the shorter one’s name.

“They’re two peas in a pod,” Hayley continued, “and Brent wouldn’t have been shy about asking you for pointers.”

Jackson dipped a fry in the ketchup on Hayley’s plate. “Should I have encouraged them to work hard at something that may never happen, or worse, it does and then it’s snatched away from them?”

“If you had known that it wasn’t going to work out for you in the long run, would you not still have gone for it?”

The question poked at wounds, killing his appetite. It was better to cut and run at this point than rehash stuff that wouldn’t change a damn thing. For the first time in a long while, though, he had something to look forward to. He just wasn’t sure if the coaching position was responsible for that, or the woman sitting across from him.

He rose from the booth, but before leaving he bent to whisper in Hayley’s ear. “I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”



Hayley watched Jackson walk away, torn between wanting to apologize for mentioning hockey in the first place, and kissing him until he forgot she’d said anything about it at all.

“Out of my mind,” she mumbled under her breath. If someone told her she couldn’t be a cop anymore, she might not feel as lost as Jackson looked, but kissing would hardly make it all better.

At least she could admit that she hadn’t kissed Jackson because of Eric. Maybe it had started out that way when she’d walked toward him, but somewhere between the few steps separating her and Jackson and feeling his arms slide around her, she’d forgotten all about sending Eric a message.

Forgotten everything except the way Jackson’s eyes had lit up when he spotted her and the warm tug in her stomach when she fit so perfectly against him.

She’d wanted to kiss Jackson. Plain and simple. Too bad there wasn’t anything plain or simple about the way he made her feel each and every time he talked his way into her personal space.

Hayley tried pushing all thoughts of kissing out of her head and picked at her food before heading back to the station.

Both conversations with Jackson replayed through her head the whole way, and every time she ended up back at the part where he’d tricked her into leaning across the table so he could kiss her. Could steal every coherent thought in her head with just a brush of his lips.

Just? There wasn’t anything just about it. The man was devastatingly charming and sexy and she hadn’t exaggerated even a little bit when she’d said that no one had ever kissed her like that before.

But Jackson being a good—okay, phenomenal—kisser shouldn’t have landed her back into playing the part of his girlfriend, even if he’d made a good case of reminding her she could use help with the renovations.

“Gauthier?”

The other cop paused on his way to the break room, probably on the hunt for more lemon doughnuts. “Yeah?”

“Do I have bags under my eyes?”

“Christ, Stone. I don’t know how to answer those kinds of questions when my wife asks, and you’re armed.” He kept walking.

“Trouble in paradise?” Dressed in jeans and a black Aerosmith T-shirt and smelling like fresh-cut grass, her partner Phil grinned at her.

“Not one word.”

“You’re supposed to be off today.”

Certainly didn’t feel that way to her. “You are too,” she pointed out. “I’m just making a few calls and then I’m out of here.” She was waiting to hear back from one more hospital and she hadn’t been able to reach Greta’s ex earlier, but wanted to try again. If nothing else, she could reassure Mrs. Brewster that her daughter wasn’t hurt. “What’s your excuse?”

“Just following up on something.” Something was off in her partner’s voice, and she stared at him until he caved. “Captain just wanted me to look over the report from last night.”

“He wants you to double-check my work,” she guessed, a ten-pound weight hitting the bottom of her stomach.

“It’s not like that, Hayley. He just wants this guy caught and will put as many of us on it as he can to make that happen. Hell, he’d put Mabel on it if she could stop yakking long enough to be any help.”

It was a reasonable explanation. So why wasn’t she buying it?

“I’ve got it covered,” she said more sharply than she intended.

At least with Jackson helping out for a day or two—she couldn’t imagine him actually sticking around any longer than that—she might get caught up enough to prove to everyone, especially her captain, that she wasn’t struggling as much as they thought. Why else would her boss be worried about something getting missed?

“You know if you need anything I’m there, right?” Phil said.

“I know.” And she appreciated that. They were partners and were supposed to help each other out. But she knew damn well Phil wouldn’t just roll with the punches if she’d been asked to follow up on his reports.

Digging out his keys, Phil left without going over the file, trusting that she’d done her job at the scene last night. She didn’t want to be at work any longer than necessary and got right to work following up on her missing bridesmaid.

Greta’s ex-husband was easy to get ahold of, but not much help. Although he’d been concerned, he didn’t have any idea where she might be. With no accident reports and no reason to suspect foul play, all she could do at this point was keep in touch with Mrs. Brewster and see if her daughter got in touch with her.

The phone on her desk rang just as she was finishing up. Hoping it would be good news, she answered. “Detective Stone.”

“Hayley, it’s me.”

Gavin. Finally.

She perched on the edge of her seat. “Have you lost your mind?”

“No. And don’t tell me you’re surprised by this.”

“That you showed up? No. That you kidnapped her? A little.” Okay, maybe a lot. She knew he hadn’t moved on as much he wanted her to believe. Living in denial had apparently led to a complete breakdown of rational thought when faced with losing Allie to another man.

“I didn’t kidnap her.” They both knew she didn’t really believe that or she would have been all over his ass long before now. “She wanted to come with me. She asked me to take her away.”

“This is crazy, Gav.” She lowered her voice, wanting to keep their conversation more private than the rest of her life had been lately.

“Maybe. Or maybe it makes complete sense.” He sure as hell sounded like he believed that. “Maybe I’m a frickin’ hero. Because if I’d ever set foot in Promise Harbor again, she would have been cheating on Josh with me.”

“Oh, you’re such a big talker.” Hayley grinned at the familiar attitude, missing her best friend more than she’d realized. “You and I both know you would have never done that.”

Gavin might have made off with the bride, but he would have left Promise Harbor before he ever put himself or anyone else in that kind of situation. He had his father to thank for teaching him that painful lesson.

Their mutual hate for their dads had brought them together years ago. Gavin hadn’t been able to forgive his dad for cheating on his mom, and Hayley had been furious that her father had walked out on them. Or so she’d believed for nearly two weeks. Two weeks until his car was found in the harbor. He’d had an accident and apparently went off the road on his way home after a bad fight with her mom.

Both of them had been so mad at the world, it wasn’t any wonder they’d gotten into a lot of trouble. Gotten each other out of a lot of it too.

“Gav,” she began, then hesitated. “Um, speaking of scumbags, your dad was at the wedding.” His whole family had been, but his father would have been the only one embarrassed by his son causing a scene and stealing the bride away.

“This is all your fault, you know,” Gavin told Hayley.

Hayley might have laughed if he didn’t sound so serious. “My fault? If you’d asked my opinion about this plan of yours I would have locked you a cell until the whole thing was over.” A popular threat of hers lately.

“If you’d told me they were getting married before the other day I could have come home and talked to Allie long before it got to this point.”

“I called you about it two weeks ago,” she argued. “It’s not my fault you don’t check your messages when you’re out playing with your bears.” Although she was proud of Gavin turning his life around and finding something to be passionate about, she had gotten a lot of mileage from teasing him about his work with polar bears. Knowing him, he was rolling his eyes at her remark.

“You knew about the engagement for more than two weeks.”

“You told me to stop telling you about Allie.” Each time she’d passed along news of Allie and how she was holding up after her mother got sick, he’d pulled back a little more from the conversation until he avoided the subject altogether.

She’d long ago given up telling him to stop being so stubborn where Allie was concerned. Every time she’d seen Allie with Josh, seen the way the pair had grown closer, especially after her mother’s death, Hayley had wanted to yell at Gavin to do something about it before it was too late.

Well, he’d certainly done something about it now. She just wasn’t sure what he hoped to accomplish. He had his life in Alaska, a life she couldn’t imagine her friend giving up, and Allie had always been dead set on staying close to her family in Promise Harbor.

“I know,” Gavin finally said, then sighed. “I didn’t want to hear about Allie. It hurt too much.”

“Ugh.” She’d give anything to help her best friend find a way to work things out with Allie. “I knew about it for five months, Gav. It was killing me not to tell you, but I knew you’d freak. And then I finally couldn’t take it anymore. But you weren’t calling me back and I didn’t know if you’d gotten the message or what. I knew you were going to freak,” she said again.

“Well, I think it’s safe to say you were right on that one.”

She smiled, deciding not to mention the other times she’d been right too. Like the time she’d talked him out of following the Mohawk trend. “So, she’s in Bend with you?” Hayley guessed.

“Yep.”

Propping her elbows on her desk, she pounded him with questions. “Does she like it? Is she staying? Is this for good? Are you going to get married?” If he was crazy enough to burst into a church for Allie, she couldn’t put a Vegas-like wedding past him.

Gavin laughed, but it didn’t quite mask how tired he sounded. “She’s been in bed since we got here.”

“Good for you.”

He laughed harder, and her stomach warmed hearing some of the tension leave his voice. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, but it’s not like that.” He sighed. “She’s exhausted. And sick.”

“But she wants to be there. I think that’s a good thing,” Hayley offered. And he was no doubt doing his damnedest to look after her. But who was looking out for him?

Losing him to Alaska had been a much harder adjustment than she’d anticipated, but she knew he had needed to leave. She should be used to letting go of the people she loved by now. She certainly had enough practice with it.

Too much.

First with her dad, then her best friend and soon Gramps. She squeezed the phone until her fingers hurt, anything to keep the tears she refused to shed at bay. Gramps wasn’t gone yet, she reminded herself.

All of which made it even more important not to let Jackson get under her skin. She couldn’t afford to count on another person who wouldn’t be sticking around.

Ignoring the familiar gut twisting that always signaled the much despised pity-party for one, Hayley pushed around the stack of files on her desk.

“I think she needs to be here,” Gavin said. “She needs someone to take care of her for a change. She needs to be far away so that they can’t need her.”

“I hope it works out this time, Gav.” She wanted him and Allie to work it out. They belonged together, and now that her stubborn ass of a friend realized what Hayley had known for months, maybe he could find a way to make Allie see it too.

“Thanks. I need you to be sure everyone knows she’s okay. She’s here with me and she’s staying. Just make sure no one’s freaking out. Like Owen,” Gavin added. “Or Sophie.”

“Or Josh?” Not that Gavin was worried about the groom left behind.

“Yeah, you can tell Josh that he’s lucky I don’t come back there and kick his ass for letting Allie get this stressed and sick.”

Definitely not worried at all. “Couldn’t tell him even if I wanted to. He took off.” She grinned into the phone, knowing full well what Gavin would think of that unexpected development.

Gavin paused. “What do you mean?”

“He left.”

“Left?”

“Went to Greenbush Island.”

“Why there?”

She waited until Gauthier walked past before she finished. “All I know is that he’d booked the honeymoon suite at the Oceanside Inn there.”

“So he went on the honeymoon?” Gavin prompted, knowing her well enough to guess there was more to it than that if she’d brought it up.

“Technically he went to look for Allie.”

“Allie’s not on Greenbush Island.”

She rolled her eyes, wondering how long he’d gone without getting any sleep. “I know.”

“You lied to him?”

Although Gavin was her best friend and she’d do anything to protect him, she was relieved it hadn’t come to that. Being a cop left her with far fewer options than when they were teenagers. “Didn’t have to. He didn’t ask me.”

“Convenient.”

“Everyone knows we’re close, but maybe Allie didn’t tell him we still keep in touch. Whatever he didn’t know before the wedding, I’m sure his mother filled him in on.”

Jackson had certainly remembered her antics, but Josh had been a year ahead of them and off to college before they’d really hit their stride when it came to the parties, minor vandalism, and joyriding in borrowed vehicles.

“Well, maybe looking for her is just his excuse to go off by himself and lick his wounds,” Gavin said.

Hayley certainly wouldn’t have blamed him if he had. “Oh, he didn’t go alone,” she added, maybe a little too brightly. “He took Devon Grant.”

“He took another woman?” Gavin barely got the words out, clearly stunned that Josh had done something that unpredictable. It had taken Hayley by surprise, but she’d been a bit too distracted by Jackson’s hands at the time to spare the development more than a second thought until now.

“You remember Devon?”

“Sure,” Gavin agreed. “She and Allie were tight in high school.”

“Right.” She gave her friend a second to let it sink in.

“Josh took off on his honeymoon with Allie’s best friend?”

“Ex-best friend.” And if they hadn’t had a falling out a long time ago, they undoubtedly would now. “Josh and Devon were really serious for a while after college.” She remembered hearing that from her mother when Josh moved back to Promise Harbor, but it hadn’t seemed important enough to pass it on to Gavin during his post-Allie phase.

“No way.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “That’s awesome. Good for him.”

She snorted. “You don’t care about Josh.” She tried not to laugh, and failed horribly. “You’re just glad that this means he and Allie won’t be getting back together.”

“He and Allie won’t be getting back together.”

“I’m not the one you have to convince.” He may have gotten Allie to Alaska, but keeping her there with him wouldn’t be nearly as easy.

“Yeah, I know.”

Her hand tightened around the phone. “Keep me informed, okay?”

“Definitely.”

“And Gav,” she began, wanting to talk to him about Jackson, about renovating the house or about how sick her gramps was. Wanting to talk about anything for just a minute longer, but he had enough on his mind.

“Yeah?”

“Take care of yourself. And maybe stick around long enough to at least have a drink with me next time, okay?”

“Promise.”





Jackson set his paintbrush down at the sound of the front door opening. He’d been watching the clock for the better part of two hours, wondering how much longer Hayley was going to avoid him.

She’d been damn good at it for the last day and a half. After their scene at Barney’s, Hayley had made sure to steer clear of him, had even left before he arrived for his first day of work this morning.

He’d been almost grateful at the time. He hadn’t slept great and didn’t like that dreams of hockey and Hayley had kept him tossing and turning all night. Bad mood or not, he’d shown up and decided on his own to start with painting the two front rooms.

Busting his ass all day managed to make him forget about his restless night, but only made him want to hang around a little longer to wait for her.

Part of him wanted to see her reaction to the work she’d probably doubted would happen. In truth he’d surprised himself by sticking with it and not calling it a day at lunch and heading to Stone’s. More surprising was how much he’d enjoyed giving both rooms a face-lift and feeling so damn good about the finished product.

The other part of him wanted far more than to impress a stubborn cop he was determined to make like him. He wanted her against him, beneath him, wrapped all the way around him. Every sweet inch of her.

And there would be hell to pay for it.

Matt would have his ass. A fact Jackson had conveniently forgotten when they’d been in the kitchen the other night. Maybe his friend could handle a little flirtation and a kiss or two for the sake of convincing others they were together, but that would be it.

Jackson’s piss-poor attitude after the accident had bothered Matt more than his friend let on until Josh’s would-be wedding day, and Jackson would be stupid to do anything that might sabotage their friendship.

So why did knowing that do nothing to stop him from imagining his hands fisted in Hayley’s blonde hair, her naked body warm and damp against his skin, her hips arching off the mattress to meet him?

Christ.

He snagged a beer from the fridge, returning to the doorway just as Hayley walked into the room from the other end.

She surveyed the room, and just when he decided she hadn’t noticed him, she spoke. “Who knew your painting skills would be as good as your slap shot.”

“Try not to sound so surprised.”

“It’s not often people catch me off guard.”

“Maybe that’s because you try to figure them out too soon.” He’d made that mistake with her in the past. Dismissing the quiet, defiant teen when he should have tried harder to see past the rough edges to the girl who would grow up to be so determined to take care of everyone.

Her gramps. Matt. The kids she helped coach. Even Gavin.

“With most people, what you see is what you get.” Hayley checked the paint on the window ledge.

He whistled. “Still haven’t quite lost that jaded edge, huh?”

“I’m not jaded.”

Who did she think she was kidding? He wanted to place a lot of the blame for that squarely on Eric Thorton’s shoulders, but the bastard hadn’t paid her any attention in high school as far as Jackson knew.

No, her cynical attitude back then had been driven by something else altogether, and she hadn’t entirely outgrown it.

“I’ll be done in a few minutes—”

“I can finish things off.”

That wasn’t what he’d been about to suggest, not even close. He wasn’t done showing her that she didn’t have him completely figured out. A more intensive undertaking than he’d realized. And it probably didn’t help his cause that he couldn’t stop staring at her mouth even when she looked completely worn out.

She paused at the door. “I’m going to change into a pair of shorts and be back.”

Unfortunately, the only thing she should be changing for was bed. As much as he wanted to prove he had plenty of redeeming qualities, Hayley needed sleep more than he did, if the circles under her eyes were any indication. She’d probably spent half the night removing the rest of the cupboard doors he’d found resting against the wall in the kitchen this morning.

Thankfully, he wasn’t stupid enough to comment on her exhausted state. Her Taser could be within reach for all he knew.

After a long drink, he set his beer aside and picked up the paintbrush he was using to apply the second coat of paint on the window trim. If he finished quickly, there wouldn’t be any more painting to do tonight. Convincing her of that, however, might be tricky.

“Jackson?”

“Hmmm?” He turned around, almost annoyed by how tired and vulnerable she looked, resting against the doorjamb.

“Thanks.” She was gone before he could respond.

He worked as fast as he could without getting sloppy, expecting her to return any second. Only when he finished the last section of trim did he realize more time had passed than it took to change clothes.

Leaving the brush on the paint can lid, he washed his hands and jogged up the stairs. He found her in the small bedroom at the end of the hall, fading sunlight spilling across the bed where she’d fallen asleep.

He groaned at the sight of her in just panties and a T-shirt, her shorts still lying at the end of the bed like she’d decided to rest her eyes for a second before changing.

Looking everywhere else in the room rather than directly at her, Jackson crossed to the window. Hayley kept the room tidy, only her discarded jeans on the floor. The dresser next to the window was a different story. Girly stuff littered the top of it—hair ties, makeup, a ring and a chain with locket.

The teddy bear in the hockey jersey from his team surprised him. As did the hockey puck sitting next to a half-empty glass of water.

Interesting.

The bear and the puck didn’t strike him as necessities amid her other, more essential items. She hadn’t even bothered to fully unpack the duffel bag on the floor. A pile of her clothes were still folded inside.

He picked up the puck, recognizing the state championship symbol printed on the other side of it.

Had Coach given it to her or had she been there? Jackson had been so focused on the game, on the win, and on taking down any dickhead stupid enough to throw a fist in his direction, it didn’t surprise him that he couldn’t remember Hayley being there. Still, he found himself wishing he could place her in the stands that day.

He closed his hand around the puck. Hayley wasn’t the only one who’d been caught off guard.

Careful not to disturb her more than he had to, he grabbed the corner of the quilt on the bed and dragged it up to her waist.

She stirred, but her eyes remained closed, her face relaxed. Peaceful. No narrowed eyes, flushed cheeks from him pushing her buttons or even that slow, sexy smile that seemed to precede every other witty comeback.

So why was he still so turned on? And why was the urge to slip his fingers beneath those panties so at war with a strong need to crawl beneath the covers and pull her into his arms?

Downstairs, Jackson took his time cleaning up and washing out his brushes for the next day. He left only the kitchen light on, and headed out to the dock, where he sat, removed his sandals and plunked his feet in the cool water.

The puck lay next to him, and he flipped it around in his hand, listening to the occasional owl across the lake for longer than he planned.

For the first time in years, it felt good to be back in Promise Harbor.

Before his accident he’d always been too focused on making the playoffs or waiting for the next hockey season to start to appreciate coming home. It had been easier to get his parents to visit him, and for a while there he’d gotten a little caught up in showing off the new life he’d built to both his parents and his friends from the harbor.

Maturity and the accident had given him some much-needed perspective on that front, but he’d still avoided returning to the harbor.

Sitting on Coach’s dock, his feet in the cool, dark water and a beautiful, clear night settling in around him, he couldn’t quite remember why it had been so important not to come back.

He didn’t turn around when footsteps padded down the dock behind him.

“Have you always been so stubborn?” He watched Hayley sit next to him, following the long line of her legs as she curled one beneath her and slid her other foot into the water.

If she understood he was talking about her getting up when she clearly needed the sleep, she only shrugged, then nodded to the puck in his hand. “Still stealing? Getting tased really made an impression on you, I see.”

“Why do you have it?”

“It was a memorable game.” She reached for it, but she wasn’t fast enough.

He held it out of her reach. “And you cart it around with you?”

“We all have our good luck charms.”

Jackson wasn’t buying it. “A rabbit’s foot and four-leaf clover are good luck charms.”

“Tell that to every hockey player who stops shaving during Stanley Cup playoffs.”

“Not luck,” he corrected. “Tradition. Really, what’s with the puck?” he pressed.

Gaze trained on the lake, she kicked at the water. “It was the last thing my dad gave me.”

As far as sad subjects went, she had his beat flat out. Jackson offered the unopened beer he’d brought with him. She took it, twisted off the cap and made him grin at the long drink she chugged.

Atta girl.

“It was a great game, even if the ref did have his head up his ass for most of it.”

“Coach made you leave.” The memory came out of nowhere. “You kept screaming at the ref.” How had he forgotten that?

“The ref was an idiot and wouldn’t have known the difference between an icing call and an ice cream sundae if people were throwing peanuts at him.” She took another drink. “And Gramps didn’t make me leave. I just wasn’t allowed to be within shouting distance of the players’ bench.”

He shook his head. “How did you end up going from that rebellious girl to a straitlaced cop?”

“Straitlaced? Forget about the tasing the other night already?” She laughed. “Not everyone would share the opinion of my being straitlaced.” She took another drink. “My mother, for example,” she added, when he threw her a questioning look.

Jackson remembered how much tougher Mrs. Stone had been compared to his mother growing up. There was never any pulling the wool over her eyes, and Hayley probably knew that better than anyone. “I can’t imagine she’d be easy to impress.”

She shrugged. “I gave up on that when I was a teenager, but at least we can talk now without arguing.”

Remembering the tension between the women at Barney’s, he could only imagine how intense it had been when Hayley was at her troublemaking peak. “She must have been relieved when you became a cop.”

“As opposed to a criminal, probably.” She set her beer aside and flattened her hands on the boards. “I certainly never imagined I’d end up carrying a badge.”

“It suits you.”

She glanced at him, brow raised.

“Well, I would need to see you and the badge and nothing else to be absolutely sure.”

Hayley punched him in the arm.

“Seriously though,” he prompted, genuinely curious as to how that came about.

“When they found my dad’s body, no one would tell me anything. I was the first to find out that his car had been pulled out of the harbor, but they thought my mom should be the one to tell me his body had been inside, I guess. So I sat in the station and waited and waited for them to track my mother down. Waited for almost two hours.”

Her knuckles whitened around the bottle she reached for.

“Maybe they were respecting my mother, or maybe they were worried what the resident troublemaker would do when she heard that her father hadn’t actually left his family without a word, but had been sitting at the bottom of the harbor for two weeks.”

The sip Hayley took barely wet her lips. Jackson closed his hand over hers, and she stared at their interlaced fingers for a long moment before gently squeezing.

“So I promised myself,” she continued. “That I wouldn’t give anyone a reason to think I couldn’t be trusted after that. Roughly, anyway. It may have taken me a while to fully straighten myself out.” She slid him a sidelong look. “More of an answer than you were looking for, huh?”

It was his turn to take a drink. “Well, I had been hoping it might have involved a lot of soul-searching and a naked slumber party.”

Her shoulders shook with laughter, and he leaned in to her, relieved he’d chased away the pain in her voice for a while.

She exhaled slowly. “We’re a pretty pathetic pair, aren’t we?”

He shook his head. “What’s pathetic is how long it’s taking you to finish your beer. You’re a disgrace to the Stone name.”

“Oh, that’s harsh. Not everyone aspires to the heights of power-puking like you.”

Knowing she was talking about the borrowed truck incident, he shrugged in his defense. “I was a kid.”

“But grown-up enough to cop a feel.”

Jackson paused, searching her eyes. He grinned. “You weren’t mad because you got blamed for taking the truck. You were mad that I was at Sunset Bluff with someone else.”

She took his bottle and sniffed the contents. “Are you taking drugs?”

Snatching back his beer, he tipped the bottle at her. “Admit it. You were into me in high school.”

“Please.” Hayley blew out a dismissive breath, not quite meeting his eyes.

Wait. Was he actually on to something here? The goal had been to tease her, make her forget all the other stuff she had to deal with, but maybe he wasn’t so far off the mark.

“You were.”

“I was not.”

Nothing on her face betrayed otherwise, but somehow he knew she was lying. Or was he just too fixated on the way she’d kissed him in the janitor’s closet that night years ago?

When he continued to stare at her, thinking about the best way to get her to admit that she must have thought about him once or twice after that kiss in high school, she surprised him by caving. “I may have thought you were a little cute.”

“A little cute,” he mused aloud. He set his beer aside and stood.

She tipped her head back to watch him, but wasn’t fast enough to scramble out of reach when he swooped down and picked her up. Her beer slipped from her fingers, clunking on the old wooden dock and spilling the amber liquid through the cracks in the boards.

He held her over the water, his bad knee protesting the balancing stance required to keep himself firmly on the dock, but it was a good kind of pain.

“Just a little cute?”

Hayley squirmed in his arms, and he loosened his hold as if to drop her in the lake. She squealed, an awfully girly sound for a woman who’d fired fifty thousand volts into him without blinking.

“Tell me the truth, Hayls.”

She glanced down at the water. “I will. Just put me down first.”

“So that you can bolt?” Or end up shoving him in the lake? “I don’t think so.”

“I won’t run.”

She sounded so convincing that he couldn’t help but play along. “Promise?”

“Cross my heart.”

He started to pull her back, then dropped her even lower. “Tell me.”

Her eyes widened. “Jackson. Don’t—”