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It Had to Be You


Page 19





Author: Jill Shalvis






Luke crossed his arms over his chest and eyed Mikey over the tops of his sunglasses.


After all of three seconds, Mikey broke eye contact. "If I get fired from another job, my dad's gonna gut me."


"You keep stealing cars, and your dad is the least of your worries. Talk to me, Mikey."


"Okay, so normally when I go in, everyone's gone. Twice this past week, Marshall was working late. Only he wasn't working, you know what I mean?"


"No."


Mikey hesitated. "I don't think I should say, man. He's never snitched on me. I don't want to snitch on him."


"You're not snitching. You're helping me solve a crime so that an innocent woman doesn't get blamed for it."


Mikey sighed. "He was in his office, in his chair, with some hot chick bouncing on him."


"You know her?" Luke asked.


"Hello, she was naked, man. Hot as hell. My eyes never got higher than her ass. But maybe she had blonde hair. Maybe. I dunno. She was a real screamer though, if that helps. She kept going 'harder, baby, harder,' which didn't make sense, because she was on top and-"


"Have you seen him working late since?" He was grasping at straws here, and knew it.


"If that was 'working' then I want his job," Mikey said.


When Luke just looked at him, he let out a breath. "No, I haven't seen him"-Mikey used air quotes-"working late since."


"Thanks." Luke turned to go.


"If you let me keep the car, maybe I'll remember something else."


"How about this," Luke said. "If you remember something else, you tell me. Fast and quiet. And then-"


"You'll get me the car back?"


"No. But I'll let you live."


Mikey blew out another breath, and Luke left. He filled up the GTO, and because it was dirty and the interior reeked like weed, he also drove it through the car wash and got a pine tree air freshener to dangle from the rearview mirror. Thirty minutes later, he was handing the keys over to Roger Barrett. "Good as new," he said.


Roger couldn't wait to sit in it. Gleeful as a kid in a candy shop, he made Luke join him and cranked up the music.


Neil Sedaka.


They sat there, the windows rattling with "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," sipping sodas. Just when Luke was thinking he needed a sharp stick with which to poke out one of his eyeballs, Roger turned to him.

"About your girlfriend, that cutie patootie from White Center."


Luke didn't bother to sigh. "Ali. And she's not my girlfriend."


"Well, whatever you kids are calling it nowadays then," Roger said. "Friends with benefits?"


Luke choked on his soda.


"You know, Ted Marshall's a good man, right? He takes care of Lucky Harbor, and he gives back. But Ali's good people too. She goes to the senior center. My sister's there. Ali takes the time to sit with her, talk to her, get her involved in the activities. If Ali stole that money…Well, I just wanted to say that I know she must have had a real good reason."


"She didn't steal it," Luke said.


"I'm just saying…"


A few minutes later, Luke left for home, once again jogging through the morning chill. He took the streets this time, his running shoes hitting the damp ground. He'd meant to steer clear of all Lucky Harbor business. He'd definitely meant to stay clear of Ali.


He'd failed at both.


Ali had had a crappy day. Leah had tried to get her to go out tonight but she wasn't in the mood. Instead, she was in the kitchen licking brownie batter from a wooden spoon like her life depended on it when Luke wandered into the kitchen.


"I smell chocolate," he said, looking hopeful.


He was wearing sexy-as-hell jeans and a white, long-sleeved shirt that was snug across his broad shoulders. He looked even better than the chocolate. "Brownies from a box," she told him. "Comfort food."


"What's wrong?"


She shook her head and reloaded the spoon with more batter.


Taking her wrist, he brought her hand up to lick the spoon in the same spot she'd just licked.


It gave her a hot rush. So did Luke shifting closer.


"Tell me," he said.


She shrugged. "People kept coming into the shop to see the girl who stole the money. And you were right-word is they're getting ready to make an arrest."


"And you're afraid it's going to be you."


"Well, who else at this point?" she sighed. "Russell's taking two days off and keeping the shop closed. Even he's planning for me to be in jail." She needed to get to the bottom of this now. Determined, she set down the spoon, grabbed her keys and purse, and turned to the door.



"Where are you going?" Luke asked, slapping his pockets, turning in a circle, clearly searching for his keys in the universal bewilderment of men everywhere across the planet. "Ali-"


"Table," she said.


"What?"


"Your keys are on the table."


"Damn, you're good." He scooped them up. "Where we going?"


"To be proactive."


"Yeah? Where's this proactive thing taking place?" Outside, he took her elbow and redirected her to his truck.


"I don't need help, Luke. Not with this."


"Think of me as a wingman," he suggested, and opened the passenger door for her.


Since he was standing there blocking her escape, looking big and bad and absolutely unmovable, she got in. "If you're just the wingman, why are we taking your truck?" she asked.


"Wingmen always drive. Where to?"


"The Love Shack." The local bar and grill was the only nightlife in the entire county.


"I have liquor in the house," Luke said.


"I want to talk to Gus. He told the police he'd holed up with the caterer."


"So?"


"So the caterer was Tara Daniels Walker, and she's very married. But Tara's assistant-Callie-dated Gus a few months back and then broke up with him. Loudly."


"What makes you think he's lying?"


"Someone's lying," she said. "If it's Gus, why? What's he covering up? Something for Teddy, or himself?"


"Okay, I like the way you think," Luke said, "but this has trouble written all over it.
I talked to Mikey Schmidt today."


"The stoner guy?"


"He cleans Town Hall at night. He caught Marshall with a maybe blonde the other night."


She glanced at him. "Melissa?"


"He couldn't say. I need a favor, Ali."


"Sure. Anything."


The look he slid her was pure heat, and she flushed at the thought of doing anything for him. That's not what he'd meant, she told herself firmly. Get a damn grip.


"When we get there, let me lead." He parked in the parking lot between the pier and The Love Shack, catching her before she could jump out of the truck. "Wait," he said. His phone was ringing. Holding onto her purse-clearly a man who knew how to slow down a woman-he punched SPEAKER on his phone, which was still lying on the console. "Hanover," he said shortly.


"Oooh, so official," a woman said. "Odd, for a man on vacay."


"I'm…" He glanced at Ali. "Busy. You okay?"


"You mean, do I need you to save me?" the woman asked. "Never fear, little brother, I do not. I'm trying to save you."


Luke's sister, Ali thought with way more relief than she should have felt.


Luke's brow knit in annoyance. "I'm fine, Sara. Just-"


"Busy," Sara said. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. I heard about you and the cute florist."


Luke stared at the phone, and Sara snorted into the silence. "You were seen kissing her in your truck on Main Street in Lucky Harbor, Luke. What did you expect? Anyway, you've got some reporters here who want-"


"Tell them no," he said with steel. "Tell them to stay away from you or I'll get restraining orders. Tell them-"


"Got it, Ace. I can handle this. What are you doing?"


Luke tightened his grip on Ali's purse when she tried to break free. "Working."


"Liar," Sara said. "You never answer the phone when you're working. It's the cute florist, right? Tell me about her."


Luke pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm hanging up now."


Sara laughed at him. "I'll start. Her name's Ali. Jack says she's pretty. Maybe I should get a few days off work and come up to get a look at her myself."


Ali felt a warm fuzzy flow through her, which was rudely chased away by a blast of reality by Luke himself.


"It's work," he repeated.


Work…


"Uh-huh," Sara said, sounding amused. "Love you."


Luke punched END and looked at Ali. "Ready?"


Oh, yes. She was ready. She was ready to leave his truck. Alone. "I'll handle this," she said.


"Never hurts to have backup, Ali."


"I won't be more work to you."


He gave what might have been a very small sigh. "You don't know my sister," he said. "If I'd told her anything else, she'd drive up here and butt in."


She unhooked her seatbelt.


Behind her, Luke did the same. "Let me do the talking."


Over her dead body.


"Listen," Luke said, going for reasonable. His mistake, because it'd been a while, but he should have remembered that angry women were never reasonable. "You're looking pretty riled up. You need to-"








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