Home > Once in a Lifetime (Lucky Harbor #9)(9)

Once in a Lifetime (Lucky Harbor #9)(9)
Jill Shalvis

Mrs. Cappernackle had aged in the past decade, and she’d been old to start with. But she took one look at Aubrey, and her expression puckered as if she’d just sucked on a sour ball. “Well, look what the cat dragged in.”

“You don’t have a cat, Martha,” said another woman’s voice, and then she poked her head around Mrs. Cappernackle.

It was Lucille. She was a senior, too, and though Aubrey had never personally had any run-ins with Lucille, the woman’s gossiping prowess was legendary. So was her soft heart and kind soul. Aubrey was banking on both. “Hi,” she said. You can do this. “Mrs. Cappernackle, I was hoping for a moment of your time.”

“I have no time for you,” Mrs. Cappernackle said. “And stay away from Ben McDaniel. You don’t deserve him.” And then she slammed the door on Aubrey’s nose.

Aubrey stared at the closed door and felt her inner strength wobble a bit. Two for two…she turned to walk away, but the door opened again.

It was Lucille. Glancing back over her shoulder as if checking for a tail, she tiptoed out and grabbed Aubrey’s hand. “Honey, don’t take that personally.”

“Hard to take it any other way,” Aubrey said.

Lucille paused as if she wanted to say something, but changed her mind. “It’s not a good day,” she said carefully. “Will you do me a favor and try again, real soon?”

“Sure,” Aubrey said softly, managing a smile when Lucille gently patted her arm.

“You’re a good girl,” she said, and then vanished before Aubrey could tell her she wasn’t a good girl at all.

Not even close.

Three days later, after a very long ten hours at the bookstore, Aubrey closed up shop and was dragged to a wine tasting and spa event at the local B and B with Ali and Leah. While having a free paraffin hand treatment by the spa’s owner and sheriff’s wife—a very lovely, very pregnant Chloe Thompson—Aubrey dodged her friends’ questions about Ben. She did this because, one, she didn’t want to talk about her feelings for Ben, and, two, she didn’t even know what her feelings were.

Liar, liar.

On the way home, she stopped and picked up some color samples from the hardware store for the paint she couldn’t possibly have been able to afford if not for her incredibly generous uncle. She’d spoken to him yesterday via Skype from his cruise and got a lump in her throat just thinking about it. He knew his wife had loved the bookstore, and he loved Aubrey enough to give her a shot at it.

It meant the world to her, but she wasn’t going to spend more than was absolutely, strictly necessary. And she’d repay every penny.

The moment she parked next to Ben’s truck at the bookstore, she nearly chickened out and retreated to her loft apartment for the night instead. But she wasn’t a chicken, she told herself, and she forced herself to enter via the front door.

“How much do I owe you?” she heard Ben ask.

She moved in far enough to see him. He had his back to her. He held a bag of something delicious-smelling in one hand and was shoving his other hand in his pocket.

Another guy stood in front of him in a bike helmet, army fatigues, and a black T-shirt that read EAT ME DELIVERS. Aubrey recognized him as the man who’d been at AA the other night.

Ryan.

Ryan shook his head vehemently at Ben. “Nothing, man. You owe the diner nothing. It’s on me.” He paused, and his voice was filled with emotion. “It’s good to see you home. Safe. Everyone’s so happy to have you back.” Then he stepped close to Ben and enveloped him in one of those masculine, back-slapping hugs, holding Ben for a long beat, as though he was incredibly precious to him.

Ben let out a breath and hugged him back, and Aubrey felt another lump in her throat, this one the size of a regulation football. Uncomfortable with the emotion, she let her heels click on the floor, and both men turned to face her.

Ben met her gaze, his giving nothing away.

Ryan looked at her as well, and it was clear from the way he gave one slow, surprised blink that he remembered her from the AA meeting. She braced herself for questions, but he didn’t say a word. He merely turned back to Ben, clapped him on the shoulder once more, nodded at Aubrey, and then was gone.

“You know Ryan?” Ben asked into the silence.

“No.”

“Sure? It seemed like you two might know each other.”

“No,” Aubrey said again, and bent to pet Gus, who’d come close to wrapping himself around her ankles.

Meow, he said a little forcefully and accusatorily.

She was late with his dinner.

Aubrey fed him and glanced at Ben. He was back in his tool belt, which was made of leather and crinkled all male-like when he moved. Plus, it forced his jeans a little low on his hips. She couldn’t stop staring, because there was something about the way he wore his clothes that suggested he’d look even better without them.

And then she noticed…he had cat hair all over his jeans. That shouldn’t make her melt, right? Swallowing hard, she forced herself to turn away. But her eyes had a mind of their own and needed one more peek, and she pivoted back.

And bumped right into him.

Chest to chest.

Thigh to thigh.

And everything in between. He’d moved silently, coming right up on her. “Did you talk to Mrs. Cappernackle?” he asked. “Did you apologize for whatever it is you did?”

She went still, then forced herself to relax. “You think you know something,” she said. “But you don’t.” She turned to leave, but he wrapped his hand around her wrist and pulled her back.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. Once again he was close. Too close. So damn close. “At all,” she added, hearing with some alarm that her voice had softened. Everything had softened, at just his proximity. “Ever,” she whispered, and found her gaze locked on his mouth.

He had a really great mouth.

“I don’t want to talk, either,” that mouth said very seriously. And then he lowered his head. They shared a breath for a beat, just long enough for her to know what was going to happen and feel the anticipation wash over her.

Then he kissed her, deep and slow and utterly mesmerizing. His hands were firm on her back. Needing an anchor, she reached out and grasped his shirt and leaned into him. He was warm and solid, so very solid, emitting the kind of strength that she herself was a pint low on today. Leaning in more, she felt his body respond.

Someone moaned. I did, she realized, swamped with the sensation of being wanted, even just physically. She took in the delicious taste of him, the feel of him, the sound of his very male groan when she stroked her tongue to his.

Things got a little hazy then. A lot hazy. She felt his hands move over her, melting her bones away. She touched him, too. Her hands wandered all over his body—and good Lord, what a body.

She had no idea how long they kissed—and kissed—but she didn’t think about stopping until she ran out of air. Breathing hard, she slowly opened her eyes and stared directly into his.

They’d heated. Darkened. And something else. He wasn’t looking so relaxed now. In fact, he was looking the opposite of relaxed. He looked…feral.

And she was his prey.

It made her quiver in arousal, which was crazy, but she couldn’t look away. He was still holding her. In fact, he was holding her up. And having his hands on her was doing a number on her heart rate. “I have paint samples,” she said inanely.

“Paint samples,” he repeated.

“Yes.”

“You were thinking about paint samples just now?”

No. She was thinking about the temptation of his hard body and how he might feel on top of her, holding her down while he did all sorts of delicious things with all that…hardness. Not that he needed to know that. “Yes,” she lied. “I was thinking about paint samples.”

His lips swept along her jawline to her ear. “I could make you forget about them.”

No doubt in her mind. “I don’t think so,” she said, having to lock her knees, what with her bones melted and all. Her palms were damp. Other places on her body were damp, too. Damn him. Realizing she was still fisting his shirt, she loosened her hands, stroking her fingers over the wrinkles she’d left.

He stepped back and let out a small smile. “I know better than to compete with paint samples.” He dropped his tool belt and headed to the door.

She stared after him. “Where are you going?”

“For air.”

“But…there’s work to do.”

“Yeah. You and your paint samples should get on it.”

And then he was gone.

Meow.

Gus was still hungry. Starving, if his vehemence said anything.

Aubrey was hungry, too. Just not for food.

Chapter 7

Ben was halfway down the street with absolutely no destination in mind when his phone vibrated.

“Don’t forget,” Jack said when Ben answered. “Craft Corner starts tomorrow. You need to be at the rec center between the elementary school and high school by three fifteen.”

Shit. He’d completely forgotten. His brain was currently on overload.

Kiss overload.

And yeah, it’d been a while since he’d kissed a woman, but he was pretty sure a kiss had never fogged up his head the way that Aubrey’s kiss just had.

It was her mouth, he decided. It was a pretty damn great mouth. “And if I’ve changed my mind?” Ben asked.

“I’ll change it back for you,” Jack said.

Ben laughed, because this was just bullshit posturing on his cousin’s part. Probably. Either way, he wasn’t all that worried, since he could fight mean and dirty as a snake when he had to.

But…he’d taught Jack everything he knew. “What the hell am I supposed to do with a bunch of kids at some stupid Craft Corner?” he asked.

“You’ve got a truck full of tools; you’ll figure it out,” Jack said, and then hung up.

Great. He was so not busy that he’d been reduced to playing arts and crafts with teenagers. He went home and barely slept—when he wasn’t fantasizing about Aubrey’s mouth.

He got up early and ran a few miles with Sam. “Do I look bored to you?” he asked Sam.

Sam’s lips twitched. “If you’re asking, you’re bored.”

Yeah. Shit. After he got home and showered, he formally applied for the job with the county, just to get Luke off his ass.

That afternoon, he pulled up to the rec center just as the school bus was dumping a load of kids off.

These weren’t high school kids; they were much younger. Elementary school kids. Some looked as though they could be in kindergarten.

Then he saw Pink and Kendra, and he got a very bad feeling. He whipped out his cell phone and called Jack.

He didn’t pick up. Fucker, he thought. Surely the older kids were already here, and that’s who he’d be working with. No one, especially Jack, would think to put him in charge of little kids. He walked to the back of his truck. He’d loaded up a crate full of tools, figuring they’d wing it.

Pink squealed at the sight of him and ran up close, dragging Kendra behind her. “Mister! Hi! Whatcha doing here?”

“Teaching Craft Corner.”

She squealed again, confirming all his suspicions before she let out a “Yay! That’s where we’re headed, too!”

They walked into the classroom assigned to Craft Corner, hanging on him like they owned the place because they knew the teacher. Ben set down his crate of saws and hammers and chisels and soldering tools, and one of the grade school teachers—apparently a few of them volunteered here after school—gave him a horrified look. “What is that?” she asked.

“Stuff for Craft Corner.” He paused. “For high school kids, right?”

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