After a high-profile case goes wrong, Luke Hanover returns to his hometown for some peace and quiet. Instead he finds a bombshell brunette in a heap of trouble. As he helps Ali put her world back together, the pieces of Luke's own life finally seem to fall into place. Is this the start of a sizzling fling? Or are Luke and Ali on the brink of something big in a little town called Lucky Harbor?
Ali appeared. She’d showered and changed faster than any woman Luke had ever known. She was in sweats and makeup-free, wet hair piled up on top of her head, with wavy tendrils framing her face. She headed straight to the kitchen and headed back with a carton of ice cream from Lance’s shop.
Luke felt a small smile play around his mouth as she ate right out of the container with a wooden spoon. Ali Winters might be down, but she wasn’t out for the count.
She scooped another big bite, and her expression finally relaxed. Until she saw the mess of the house. That wiped the smile right off her face. “Oh no. Oh Luke, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s seen worse.”
“This is true.” Jack rose off the couch. “Way worse. We were what you might call wayward teenagers.”
Jack had the same height as Luke, but more bulk to his muscle tone. Of the two of them, Jack also possessed the charm, which had gotten him out of more trouble than Luke had ever managed to get into. Jack flashed all one thousand watts of that charm at Ali now.
“Jack Harper. I’ve seen you around, but we’ve never been introduced,” he said, holding out his hand to Ali, smiling his “reassuring” smile. It was number three in his arsenal, behind his “you can’t resist me” and “I want you” smiles. “I’m the best friend, by the way. The better-looking, far more fascinating one, I should add.”
“Ali Winters,” she said, looking a little dazzled, which made Luke roll his eyes. “Nice to meet you.” She glanced at the mess again, but Luke stepped in her way.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Jack said.
“I’m sorry,” she said, glancing at Luke. “I can’t say the same.”
“Not surprised,” Jack said. “Luke’s not exactly a big talker.”
“No,” Ali said faintly, a slight blush coming to her cheeks. “He’s not.”
There was nothing in Ali’s tone to suggest that they’d spent some time in Luke’s truck kissing like their lives had depended on it, but Jack knew him better than anyone else on the planet. Proving it, his gaze shifted from Ali to Luke. “Also, he can never find his keys and he snores,” Jack said.
“Thanks, man,” Luke said.
Jack smiled at Ali. “Hope you’re hungry; I brought Chinese. Ben, my cousin and the third musketeer, would’ve brought a loaded pizza. He’s on government assignment right now, and I’m just superstitious enough that I won’t eat a pizza until he’s home. You need anything else?”
Clearly surprised to be asked, Ali blinked. “No, thank you.” Her voice sounded funny and gave Luke a very bad feeling.
Jack didn’t miss it either. Jack didn’t miss much. “All right, I’ll get plates,” he said very gently, waiting until he was behind her and out of her peripheral vision to send Luke a steely look.
One thing the two of them had always shared was a hatred of seeing anyone mistreated or taken advantage of. Jack loved Luke, but the message was clear—don’t hurt her more than she’s already been hurt.
When Jack vanished into the kitchen, Ali moved to the couch, head averted. There might even have been a muffled sniffle.
Oh, Christ. Luke had faced down countless gangbangers, armed felons, and drugged-up perps. He’d faced the worst humanity had to offer, but he’d never gotten the hang of dealing with a woman’s tears. Sucking it up, he sat next to her.
Ignoring that, he reached for her ice cream, thinking to set it down for her, but she surprised him with an elbow to the gut.
“What the hell?”
She hugged the ice cream to her chest. “I told you not to be nice to me right now!”
“I’m not nice. I’m never nice. And Jesus, remind me to never try to separate you from your ice cream again.”
Jack reappeared, paper plates and napkins in hand as he took in the scene. “Bad time?”
“Yes,” Luke said.
“No,” Ali said, and glared at Luke.
Jack nodded in approval. “Keeping him in line. That’s good. He needs that.”
Luke shot Jack a look, which Jack ignored as he plopped down on the couch right between them. The big oaf actually bounced Ali nearly to the floor and half sat on Luke as he settled in. He took the ice cream from Ali—and didn’t get elbowed, Luke couldn’t help but notice—and then handed out plates. They divided up the food, with Jack taking the last eggroll.
“Hey,” Luke said.
“It’d go straight to your ass,” Jack said, and popped the eggroll into his mouth. “No one wants to see that.”