Head Over Heels, p.1part #3 of Lucky Harbor Series
Author: Jill Shalvis Chapter 1
“If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried. ”
It wasn’t often that Chloe Traeger beat her sisters into the kitchen in the morning, but with Tara and Maddie currently sleeping with the town’s two hottest hotties, it’d been only a matter of time.
And in the name of fairness, Chloe hadn’t actually gotten to bed yet, but that was just a technicality. With a wide yawn, she started the coffee. Then, gathering what she needed, she hopped up onto the counter—hissing in pain from her throbbing legs. The quiet in the kitchen soothed her as she mixed ingredients together for her natural antibacterial cream. Given how loudly she lived her life, the silence was a nice start to the day.
Especially today, which promised to get crazy quickly, though not much could out-crazy last night. Later in the afternoon, she’d be doing her esthetician thing at a high-end spa in Seattle, but first she had to put in some time here in Lucky Harbor at the B&B that she ran with her sisters.
The fact that her days were centering around work instead of play had her shaking her head with a rueful smile. Oh, how things change. Only a year ago, she’d been free as a bird, roaming happily from spa to spa at will, with no real ties. Then she and the half-sisters she’d never really known had inherited a dilapidated, falling-down-on-its-axis beach inn. With absolutely no knowledge of what to do with it.
Hard to believe how far they’d come. They’d renovated, turned the place into a thriving B&B, and now Chloe, Tara, and Maddie were real sisters instead of strangers. Friends, even.
Well, okay, so they were still working on the friends part, but they hadn’t fought all week. Progress, right? And the fact that Chloe had been gone for four of the past seven days working at a five-star-hotel spa in Arizona instead of here in Washington didn’t count.
Chloe looked down at the organic lavender oil she’d just “borrowed” from Tara’s stash for her cream and winced.
Probably she could work harder on the friend thing…
Out the window, waves pounded the rocky shore in the purple light of dawn as she yawned again and stirred the softened beeswax and lanolin together with the lavender oil. When she was done, she carefully poured the cream into a sterile bottle. Then, still sitting on the counter, she tugged the legs of her sweat bottoms up to her knees, cringing in pain as she began to apply the antiseptic to the two long gashes on each of her calves. She was still sucking in a pained breath when the back door opened.
Sheriff Sawyer Thompson.
He practically had to duck to come in. He was in uniform, gun at his hip, expression dialed to Dirty Harry, and just looking at him had something pinging low in Chloe’s belly.
He didn’t appear to have the same reaction to her, of course. Nothing rippled Sawyer’s implacable calm or got past that tough exterior. And he did have a hell of an exterior. At six feet three inches, he was built like a linebacker. But in a stunning defiance of physics, he usually had a way of moving all those mouthwatering muscles with an easy, male, fluid grace that would make an extreme fighter jealous.
Stupid muscles, Chloe thought as something deep within her tightened again from just looking at him. Some complicated combination of annoyance and reluctant lust. Last she’d checked, they had developed a sort of uneasy truce, meaning he lived by his rules and she lived by hers. Mostly this meant two different roads to the same conclusion, but there’d been some…misunderstandings.
Not wanting to explain last night—which would undoubtedly lead to another misunderstanding—she quickly yanked her sweatpants legs down to hide her injuries, shooting him the most professional smile in her repertoire. “Sheriff,” she said smoothly.
The guarded expression that he wore as purposefully as he did the gun at his hip slipped for a single beat as he looked around. “Just you this morning?”
“Yep. ” Her smile turned genuine as Chloe enjoyed achieving what few could. She’d knocked that blank expression right off his face. She knew that was because he hadn’t been expecting her. It was usually Tara who made the coffee every morning, coffee so amazing that Sawyer routinely stopped by on his way to work for a cup instead of facing the station’s crap.
“Tara’s not out of Ford’s bed yet,” she informed him.
The mention of his best friend and Chloe’s sister in bed together made him grimace. Or more likely, it was Chloe’s bluntness. In either case, he recovered and strode to the coffeemaker, his gait oddly measured, as if he was as tired-to-the-bone as she.
The county police and sheriff departments played weekly baseball games against the firefighters and paramedics, and they’d had one last night. Maybe Sawyer had played too hard. Maybe he’d had a hot date after. Given how women tried to get pulled over by him just to get face time, it was possible. After all, according to Lucky Harbor’s Facebook page, phone calls to the county dispatch made by females between the ages of twenty-one and forty went up substantially whenever Sawyer was on duty.
His utility belt gleamed in the bright overhead light. His uniform shirt was wrinkled in the back and damp with sweat. She was wondering about that when he turned to her, gesturing to the coffeepot questioningly.
Heaven forbid the man waste a single word. “Help yourself,” she said. “I just made it. ”
That made him pause. “You poison it?”
From her perch on the counter, she smiled. “Maybe. ”
With a small head shake, Sawyer reached into the cupboard for the to-go mugs Tara kept there for him.
“You’re feeling brave, then,” she noted.
He lifted a broad-as-a-mountain shoulder as he poured, then pointed to her own mug steaming on the counter at her side. “You’re drinking it. You’re a lot of things, Chloe, but crazy isn’t one of them. ”
She suspected one of those “things” was a big pain in his very fine ass, but she shrugged.
Sawyer leaned his big frame against the counter to study her. Quiet. Speculative.
Undoubtedly, people caved when he did this, rushing to fill the silence. But silence had never bothered Chloe. No, what bothered her was the way she felt when he looked at her like that. For one thing, his eyes were mesmerizing. They were the color of melting milk chocolate but sometimes, like now, the tiny gold flecks in them sparked like fire. His hair was brown, too, the sort that contained every hue under the sun and could never be replicated in a salon. At the moment, it was on the wrong side of his last cut and in a state of dishevelment, falling over his forehead in front and nearly to his collar in back. The lines in his face were drawn tight with exhaustion, and she realized that he probably hadn’t been headed in for his shift as she’d assumed, but just finishing one. Which meant that he’d been out all night, too, fighting crime like a superhero.
And yet somehow, he still managed to smell good. Guy good. She didn’t understand it, but everything about him reminded her that she was a woman.
And that she hadn’t had sex in far too long. “Seems a little early, even for you,” she noted.
“Could say the same to you. ”
Something in his voice caused the first little niggle of suspicion in her brain and put her on alert. “Got a lot of things to mix up for the day spa I’m running later,” she said.
His eyes never wavered from hers. “Or?”
Crap. Crap, she’d underestimated him. He was onto her, and the nerves quivered in her belly. “Or what?” she asked casually, shifting to get down off the counter, not looking forward to the pain at the contact. But Sawyer moved before she could, blocking her escape. His hips wedged between her legs, one hand on her thigh, the other on her opposite ankle, hold
“Romantic,” she said dryly, even as her heart began to pound. “But I should get breakfast first, don’t you think?”
“You’re bleeding through your sweatpants. ” He shoved the sweats back up her legs to her knees, careful to avoid the wounds. As his eyes fixed on the deep gashes, the only sign he gave that he felt anything was the bunching of his jaw.
Chloe tried to pull free, but he was twice her size and tightened his grip on her thigh. “Hold still. ” He looked over the injuries, expression grim. “Explain. ”
“Um, I fell getting out of bed?”
He lifted his head and pinned her with his sharp gaze. “Try again, without the question mark. ”
“I fell hiking. ”
“Yeah,” he said. “And I have some swamp land to sell you. ”
“Hey, I could be telling the truth. ”
“You don’t hike, Chloe. It aggravates your asthma. ”
Actually, as it was turning out, living aggravated her asthma.
Sawyer bent to look more closely, pushing her hand away when she tried to block his view. “Steel,” he said. “Steel fencing, I’m guessing. Probably rusted. ”
Her heart stopped. He knew. It seemed impossible—she’d been so careful—but he knew.
“You need a tetanus shot. ” He straightened his big frame but didn’t move or let her go. “And a keeper, too,” he added tightly. “Where are the dogs, Chloe?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. ” Except that she did. She knew because she’d spent the long hours of the night with her best friend, Lance, procuring the very six dogs he’d just mentioned.
AKA stealing them.
But in her defense, it had been a matter of life and death. The young pit bulls belonged to a guy named Nick Raybo, who’d planned on fighting them for sport. What Chloe and Lance had done had undoubtedly saved the dogs’ lives, but had also been good old-fashioned breaking and entering. And since B&E wasn’t exactly legal…
Sawyer waited her out, and for the record, he was good at it. As big and bad as he was, he had more patience than Job, a result, no doubt, of his years behind the badge and hearing every outrageous story under the sun. And like probably thousands before her, Chloe caved like a cheap suitcase. “The dogs are with Lance,” she said on a sigh.