Home > One Snowy Night (Heartbreaker Bay #2.5)(2)

One Snowy Night (Heartbreaker Bay #2.5)(2)
Jill Shalvis

“Let’s do this,” he said.

“This” of course being the unwelcome chore of giving her a ride. “Look, I’m not sure this is a good idea.” Because honestly? Two buses and a train would be a piece of cake in comparison, never mind that she didn’t have the money for that.

“Rory,” he said, a hint of impatience in his tone.

Once again she looked into his eyes, and at what she saw, her heart stopped on a dime.

The heat was back. For her.

“This isn’t exactly my idea of fun either,” he said. “Trust me.”

Ha. She wasn’t exactly on the trust program with any man but especially not this one. Not that she was about to tell him that.

Max’s attention was suddenly drawn to the alley and the man standing in it. Old Man Eddie was a fixture of the Pacific Pier Building every bit as much as the fountain in the center of the courtyard. Everyone who worked here did their best to take care of him, including Rory.

“Hold on a sec,” Max said and moved toward Eddie, who was wearing a sweatshirt with a peace sign and Hawaiian-­print board shorts, his medical marijuana card laminated and hanging from a lanyard around his neck.

“Merry Christmas, man,” Rory heard Max say and then he slipped the old man something that she suspected was cash.

And damn if her heart didn’t execute a slow roll in her chest, softening for him, which didn’t exactly make her night.

Old Man Eddie pocketed the money and grinned at Max, and then they did one of those male hugs that involved back slapping and some complicated handshake.

Ignoring them, Rory reached into her bag and pulled out some red ribbon. A big part of her job at South Bark Mutt Shop was grooming. Carl had been her first client earlier that morning and afterward, she’d woven a piece of the festive ribbon around his collar, which he’d seemed to love, but there was no ribbon in sight now. Crouching in front of him, she replaced it, looping it in a jaunty bow at the side of his neck. “There,” she said. “Better, right? The girls’ll be falling all over themselves to get you.”

Carl gave her a big, slurpy lick along her chin. Then he nosed her bag, sniffing out the fact that she had goodies in there. “Later,” she promised.

“No,” Max said, coming back to them. “Hell no. Take that thing off, you’re going to kill his image.”

Rory rose to her full height, which still wasn’t even close to Max’s. She barely made it up to his shoulder and, dammit, she wished she was in heels. “A ribbon doesn’t emasculate him, and even if it did, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Of course there’s not,” he said. “But female or male, he’s a working dog and in our business he—­or she—­has to be tough and badass. A bow doesn’t exactly say ‘stop and drop or I’ll make you stop and drop.’ ”

Okay, so maybe he had a point there. “It’s Christmas Eve,” she said. “I think he can take the night off of being tough and badass, can’t he?”

Max blew out a sigh that spoke volumes on what he thought of the matter—­and her—­and headed for the wrought iron gate to the street, stopping to hold it open for her.

As she passed through, their bodies brushed together, his hard as stone and yet somehow also deliciously warm, and hers . . . softened. There was no other word for it.

At the contact, he sucked in a breath and jerked her gaze to his. And then she was sucking in a breath too, frozen in place, held there by the shocking chemistry that always seemed to sizzle between them, just under the surface.

She had no idea what to do with that, but damn . . .

Max muttered something to himself about bad timing and idiocy before leading her to his truck, parked at the curb.

Which brought up the question—­just how badly did she want to get home? Bad, she could admit. She needed to make amends. She needed forgiveness for being such a horrible, unhappy, terrible teenager, even if it meant swallowing her pride and taking the ride from Max.

She got into the truck in tune to a growing wind and a clap of thunder in the far distance. Max settled Carl in the backseat and then leaned in to buckle him in, giving the big dog an ’ol kiss on the snout as he did. The unexpected action was such a sweet, gentle thing to do, and such a dichotomy from his usual stoic badassery that Rory found herself smiling.

Max caught her expression as he slid in behind the wheel. “What?” he asked.

“What what?” she asked.

“You’re smiling.”

“Is there a law against that?”

He put his truck in gear and pulled out into the street. “No, but you don’t usually aim it at me.”

“You’ve got that backward, don’t you?” she asked, deciding not to mention that she’d been aiming the smile at Carl.

Max slid her a look that sizzled her nerve endings and then redirected his attention to the streets. San Francisco was looking pretty gorgeous in her Christmaswear, a myriad of lights decorating the buildings, light poles wrapped in garlands. As they made their way through the busy district and got on the freeway, it began to rain. Hard.

The sound of the rain pinging off the truck was loud, echoing in the interior. Max didn’t speak and she blew out a breath. It was going to be a long ride home. Home. Just the word brought more than a few nerves. And nerves made her babble. “So what’s your problem with me?”

Nothing from Max but a slight tightening of his scruffy jaw.

“Can’t decide on one thing?” she asked.

“I don’t have a problem.”

Okaaaay. She searched for something to else say, anything at all to draw him out because the silence was going to drive her batty. “Heard you guys had to jump off the roof of a building to catch some bad guys for the good guys yesterday.”

He smiled at the memory as if it’d been fun. “Can’t talk about work,” he said.

Right. “So who’s the chick who tried to swallow your tongue?”

He choked out a laugh but didn’t speak, which just plain old pissed her off. She knew damn well he could talk; she’d seen him do it plenty. But he absolutely wasn’t interested in conversation with her. Fine. Point served, silence it was. She went with it for all of three minutes, but in the end she couldn’t do it. Turning in her seat, she studied her driver.

Tall, hard, and lean, he’d definitely changed since they’d gone to high school together. She’d left home immediately after her junior year. She’d eventually gotten a job and taken her GED but she hadn’t kept up with anyone from Tahoe. Mostly because she’d had such a crap time growing up. She’d needed to get away with a clean slate, badly, and frankly there’d been no one she’d wanted to stay in touch with.

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