It Had to Be You
Author: Jill Shalvis
That night Sara stayed in Lucky Harbor at Luke's house. Ali made omelets while watching brother and sister, fascinated by their relationship.
Sara was at the table, flipping through one of Fay's old photo albums. "Jeez," she said to Luke, "here's one of you up in a pine tree on the bluffs. What were you, Luke, ten? Grandma had just told you not to climb any, remember? So of course, Ben dared you, and you climbed a damn tree. You got up about forty feet and then froze. We had to call the fire department, and Jack's dad had to come with his ladder truck and save you. You were such an idiot."
"Thanks," Luke said.
He'd been quiet, very quiet, and Ali knew that the worry about his grandfather had left him exhausted.
"Here's another one," Sara said, pointing to the next page. "You tried to windglide from the roof straight into the water, you freakazoid. Look, remember that? You broke an arm and a leg. You're lucky you didn't crack your skull." She paused. "Probably because your head's too thick to break."
Luke gave a small, distracted shake of his "thick" head but didn't say anything.
Sara gave him a worried glance before flipping through the pages some more, and Ali realized Luke's sister wasn't trying to bait him for the hell of it, she was trying to coax him out of his mood. Her heart melting for both of them, Ali brought over two plates with omelets. She stroked a hand over Luke's shoulders and felt the tight knot of taut muscles, so she stopped to rub his neck.
With a grateful sigh, he dropped his head forward to give her room to work, eyes closed, silent.
Sara stood up. "Be right back." Two minutes later, she came back in with two stacks of files-one large, one small-and plopped them down onto the table.
"What's this?" Luke asked.
"I didn't want to tell you, but I stopped in to see Craig."
Luke narrowed his eyes. "You stopped in on my commander?"
"No, I stopped in on my ex-boyfriend," Sara said. "I knew him first, if you'll remember, and he wasn't your commander back then. I borrowed these from him." She pointed to the first stack of files, which was a foot thicker than the other stack. "Know what those are?"
"Your criminal records?"
"Funny, har-har," Sara said. "They're the cases you've closed. The cases you solved. The cases filled with scores and scores of people whose lives you changed for the better.
She pointed to the much, much smaller stack. "Those you can pout about. Those are your supposed failures. Without that stack, without you being good at your job, this stack-" She tapped the big one, "-these people's lives would be destroyed. So take a good, hard look, Luke, and tell me that you don't always do your absolute best. That you didn't give each and every one of your cases a little piece of your heart and soul."
She paused, and when she spoke further, her voice was softer and very, very gentle. "You didn't fail grandma. You certainly have never failed me. And you didn't kill Isabel Reyes. Say it. Say that you know you're a good man, the best man I know. That there's still enough heart and soul left inside you to go on. Because if you've given up, Luke, I don't know what I'll do. I'll…" Her voice broke.
Looking pained, Luke reached for her.
She curled into him. "Tell me, Luke."
"I'm okay," he said gruffly.
Sara lifted her head and searched his gaze. "Really?"
"Okay." She nodded and sniffed. Then she stood up and gathered the files quickly, but Luke caught her before she could run off. "The files," he said. "They're not from Craig. He'd never have given them to you."
"Of course not," she said.
He shook his head. "What did you fill them with?"
She bit her lower lip. "An empty ream of paper from your printer."
"You're a nut," he said.
And then they ate omelets.
The next day at the ground-breaking ceremony, Luke watched the crowd, wondering if the thief was also watching. Just about everyone in Lucky Harbor was at the building site, where the early afternoon sun beat down on the empty lot and the masses, who were held back by a wide, yellow ribbon.
Ali was next to him, and they were off to one side, trying to lie low. On the other side of the ribbon, up on a makeshift platform of plywood, stood Tony and Bree Medina. The mayor and his wife were both holding shovels and smiling into the cameras. Near them were Ted Marshall and a handful of town council members. Bree was telling one of the council members about a show she'd recently seen, and Ali suddenly tensed.
"What?" Luke asked.
She sneezed. "That show," she whispered. "The one Bree's talking about? I found two ticket stubs to it in the key pot the night Teddy moved out." She sneezed again. "Sorry, it's her perfume.
It gets me every"-sneeze-"time."
He squeezed her in close, pressing her face to his chest. She breathed in deeply and let out a soft, little "mmm," which shouldn't have done anything to him, but completely did. She was always trying to inhale him, as if the scent of him was the best thing she'd ever smelled. He felt the same about her. "You okay?"
She set her head on his shoulder. "I was going to ask you the same thing."
"I'm fine." She'd been incredibly gentle with him since yesterday, when they'd rushed to the hospital for his grandfather. Quiet, warm…a solid presence in his life.
But now the clock was ticking down.
He knew he'd been quiet and withdrawn. Knew, too, that Ali thought it was because of his grandfather. And it was.
Some of it.
The rest was because he was trying to wrap his brain around the fact that he was leaving…and didn't want to be.
He scanned the crowd and then eyed the platform again, watching Marshall wave at the crowd, charming everyone in his path. Tony and Bree moved across the stage, both of them soaking up the crowd's attention. And suddenly his eyes locked in on a most interesting thing.
Unable to believe it, he turned to Ali, who tore her gaze off Bree and met his gaze, her own wide.
She'd seen it too.
Bree was beautiful and always very carefully made-up, complete with designer clothes and torture devices on her feet masquerading as high-heeled sandals. Her toes were easily visible, as was the very clear tan line across her second right one. She'd worn a ring there, recently, and long enough for it to leave a definite impression.
"Oh my God," Ali whispered. "It's her!"
"It's as circumstantial as the bill band being in your possession," he warned her.
She was smiling. "Yes, but…"
He smiled back. "Yeah. But." It was good. Really good. Bree was blonde. Bree would have had access to the back door the night of the auction. She would have parked in the back, in employee parking, and not gone out the front door. And the coup de grace-she had clearly been wearing a toe ring and wasn't now.
They escaped through the crowd and went back to the house. Luke went straight to his computer and his magic search programs.
Ali leaned over his shoulder, her hand resting on his bicep. He resisted the urge to flex like a caveman and toss her over his shoulder and drag her to his bedroom. Instead he typed in Bree Medina and then stared at the screen. "Well, hello."
"She filed divorce papers two months ago."
"Yeah, and then…" He scrolled down. "She withdrew it. She withdrew the papers on…" He let out a slow whistle.
Ali leaned in closer. A strand of her hair caught on his jaw. She smelled great.
"Wow," she said. "She withdrew the divorce two days after the money went missing." Turning her head, she stared at him. "What does that mean?"
"Something made her want to leave the mayor," he said, "and then something changed her mind. Maybe she thought she'd found someone better."
"Better than the mayor?"
"Tony Medina's a good guy," Luke said, "but look at Bree. She keeps herself up. She's forty-five and looks twenty-five. Tony's a balding, paunchy, fifty-year-old who works twenty-four seven." He met Ali's gaze. "Maybe Bree got lonely or bored. And then maybe she also got distracted by a younger man, a walk on the wild side, someone who gave her something Tony's money couldn't-the feeling of being young and alive."
Like you do for me…
"You're thinking she was also fooled by Teddy."
"You said Aubrey thought she was Marshall's one and only," he said. "But what if Bree thought so too? What if Bree thought it was the real deal? So she files for divorce, and then she discovers Marshall's screwing other women and gets ticked."
"And then tries to frame him for taking the money."
"It's a lot of maybes," Luke warned. "And I'm just thinking out loud here, but I bet I'm in the ballpark."
Ali was looking revved up and ready to kick some ass. Loving that fight in her, he tugged her into his lap and nuzzled the sweet spot on her neck, the one that made her purr like a kitten.
"Mmm," she said in a soft, sexy moan, tilting her head to give him better access. Which he took, sucking on the soft skin just beneath her ear before working his way south. He loved the southlands…
Breathing heavily, she slid her fingers into his hair and arched into him. "We weren't going to do this again…"
"I know." Damn, he really did know. It'd been his idea. Stupidest idea he'd ever had. "Ali…"
She squirmed off his lap, and he felt the disappointment in every inch of his body. Some inches more than others.