His game…her rules.
Hockey star Jackson Knight has a hundred reasons not to return to Promise Harbor, but none of them are good enough to get him out of attending his best friend’s wedding. Even with a career-ending knee injury, every puck-bunny in town will be gunning for him.
Worse, getting a pair of cuffs slapped on him at the bachelor party could ruin any chance of getting back in the game, even as a coach. Unless he can convince the arresting officer to smooth things over—by going to the wedding as his date.
Hayley Stone figures posing as Jackson’s girlfriend is the least she can do to salvage his reputation. Plus, having a man with a toe-curling smile on her arm will keep her ex off her back.
What starts as a simple plan to deflect small-town pot-shots unexpectedly becomes a sizzling night that hits Jackson like a full-body-check to the heart. Now he’s determined to prove that she’s the best of reason of all to come home—for good.
Warning: Contains a fiery powerplay both on and off the ice, skin-tingling forced intimacy, interfering grandparents, bear costume hijinks, a haunted house and the kind of game-changing chemistry worth fighting for.
Available now at:
Don’t miss the other books in the Promise Harbor Wedding Series:
Jilted (Book 1) by Kelly Jamieson
Bolted (Book 2 by Meg Benjamin
Hitched (book 4 by Erin Nicholas
The town’s welcome sign flew past in the Challenger’s rearview mirror, no more than a blink across Jackson’s peripheral vision. From his point of view there wasn’t a whole lot promising about coming home.
Jackson cranked the pounding music blaring out of the speakers up a little louder, determined to ignore the dread that turned his stomach into a mess of greased knots. One of his best friends was getting married. That’s what he needed to focus on.
Jackson’s trips home had been sporadic over the years. He’d made a point to fly his parents out to see him since the accident to avoid any unnecessary visits to Promise Harbor. Unfortunately, standing up with Josh on his wedding day qualified as a necessary visit.
Promise Harbor’s main intersection loomed ahead, and at the last second he swung right instead of left, away from his parents’ empty house. The dark sky above unleashed an early summer shower as familiar sights blurred past—the elementary school, his high school girlfriend’s house, the rink.
The latter made the tightening in his stomach a million times worse.
He pulled into the parking lot of Stone’s Sports Bar, relieved that the weather and late afternoon meant few cars were out front. He turned off the car and sat staring at the ranch-style building through the rain pounding the windshield.
Why hadn’t he just fed Josh some bullshit excuse about not being able to make it? He’d certainly had enough practice at being a dick. He could have pulled it off, and yet here he sat.
Because he owed them.
Owed his best friends for refusing to let him feel sorry for himself when the rest of the world had wanted to poke at wounds that ripped him wide open inside.
Resigned, he pocketed the keys and climbed out. Even with the rain quickly soaking through his T-shirt, he didn’t rush up the wooden steps that had been slanted for as long as he could remember. Instead he leaned against the railing, inwardly steeling himself against the questions that would follow his long absence.
How’s the knee?
Is that the same car you wrecked?
What are your plans now?
“Son of a bitch!”
Jackson turned at the curse that came from the other side of the glass door. Curious, he pulled it open just as a tool went flying across the floor. Only two other tables were occupied inside, and neither of the two men so much as glanced up when the hammer clanged off the metal table legs closest to Jackson.
Picking up the hammer, he followed the next stream of curses to a cute ass and phenomenal set of jean-clad legs peeking out from behind a jukebox—the Beast—that probably should have been left at the curb years ago.
Wary of more flying tools, he approached from the side as the woman straightened, her blonde hair trailing down the back of her black shirt as she rounded the juke to deliver a solid kick to its front.
“There is no—” kick, “—beating this thing—” kick, “—into submission, Matt.”
A noncommittal sound came from just inside the swinging door behind the bar.
The woman touched the glass dome with far more care than she’d taken with her foot. “You need to smarten the hell up or Matt’s giving you a one-way trip to the junkyard. C’mon baby.” The last words were a fervent plea.
She pushed a couple buttons and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” exploded out of the speakers. She cursed again and drew her foot back for another kick. From the size of the dent, people were still regularly nailing the Beast, although it clearly wasn’t affecting the sound quality.
“Need a hand?” He offered up the thrown hammer and at the same time processed the woman’s gray eyes as familiar.
Not waiting for an invitation, he eased into her personal space. She relinquished her spot in front of the jukebox, and from the corner of his eye, he thought he caught a glimpse of recognition on her face.
So they knew each other.
A mental replay of those legs and killer ass flashed through his head even as he reminded himself he wasn’t hooking up with anyone while he was in town. Way too much trouble.
“The Beast isn’t a machine you can tussle with. She likes a more precise touch.”
“Is that right?” One golden brow arched, and she waved at the machine with a by-all-means gesture.
He hadn’t expected otherwise, considering his skills with taming the temperamental Beast were widely known. Why then did it feel like she was just humoring him?
He gripped the juke on either side and lifted just enough to rock the Beast side to side for a second, then an extra shimmy before dropping her back on the floor. “That always does the trick when it’s being temperamental.”
Conscious of the blonde’s scrutiny, he skimmed the song selection and punched in a favorite.
“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” played again.
He frowned and jostled the jukebox a little harder this time. The song continued to play and…was it getting louder?
The blonde merely shrugged and held out the hammer.
“I got this.” He ignored the hammer, but reached around back and unplugged the machine for a few seconds, giving it time to reset. The aging machine probably just needed a little reboot and she’d rock the roof off this place like she always had.
Confidence took hold despite the blonde’s amused gaze, and he hit the play button. The same song pounded out of the speakers, the tune a sudden and unexpectedly potent reminder of everything he’d lost.
“Precise touch?” the blonde echoed, laughing a moment later.
The contagious sound of her laughter pulled at his memory, but he couldn’t place it.
“You’d have a better shot of sending a rotten egg into the net without breaking it than getting anywhere with this machine,” she continued. She tucked the hammer back in the bag of tools on the table behind her.
“Sunset Bluff.” The words were out, his mind snagging the faint memory before it slipped away.
She paused, facing him with that skeptical brow arched.
“You and me in a red Chevy with a passenger window that wouldn’t roll down.” There was no way he had imagined that face staring at him through the passenger window, right? He’d borrowed the Chevy specifically for that date at the last second when the transmission had died on his own car.
“I remember that truck.” A flattering smile curved her lips, reinforcing the fuzzy memory he still couldn’t quite nail down. “The radio sucked.” More tools went into the bag.
The radio? “That’s all you remember?”
Her gaze turned reminiscent. “I do remember you throwing up everywhere.”
Details he could have done without came into sharper focus. He could count on one hand how many times he’d gotten drunk before being drafted for the NHL at nineteen, and luck would have it that she’d apparently been there for one of those shining moments.
He winced at the memory and the smile she tried to hide. Despite their embarrassing history, he found himself returning the smile. “At least tell me I made it up to you?”
She laughed even harder. “Not even close.” She hefted the bag off the table and carried it to the bar. “And I highly doubt it would have occurred to you to try.”
He hadn’t been nearly the jerk a lot of his high school buddies had been, even if his mind had been on hockey more than girls. With that easy, sexy smile of hers, he would have wanted to take her out again. He was sure of it.
“Then let me make it up to you now.” He gestured to the bar. “Let me buy you a drink. We can catch up, or at least maybe I can help you remember something better about that night.” His earlier determination to avoid women this weekend was going down in flames.
She threw him a disbelieving look. “You don’t even remember me.”
His silence was undoubtedly telling, but it was coming back to him. Heather…Heidi… Something like that.
“Besides,” she added. “I don’t drink on the job.”
“Then later,” he pressed, wanting to talk to her a little longer. Maybe he could get her to laugh again. “You could tell me what’s changed around town. Or show me.”
When she bit her lip, tipping her head like she was actually considering it, he threw in, “We could sneak into the rink.” The outrageous suggestion had been one of his signature moves in high school, and it had never failed.
“You mean break in?”
He shrugged, both encouraged and just a little wary of the intrigue brightening those storm-gray eyes of hers. Why did it feel like he was missing something?
A moment later she burst out laughing. Again. “Did that actually get you laid?”
At least he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut on that one. Not that she gave him time to answer before she continued.
“You know what else I remember about that night? Taking the fall for my brother lending our parents’ truck without asking, then getting stuck cleaning up your puke and grounded for a month.”
Oh shit. She wasn’t the one he’d taken to Sunset Bluff at all.
“Hayley,” he managed, the croaked name rising to the tip of his tongue out of nowhere.
She nodded and lowered her voice. “Though I usually go by Detective Stone these days.” Without a word she waved at the two tables across the room and headed for the door. “I’ll call you later, Matt.”
“See ya.” Matt came through the swinging door, grinning as he stopped next to Jackson. “Welcome home, bro.”
Jackson stared at Hayley through the glass door. “That’s your sister.” Twin sister, though she and Matt didn’t look at all alike, or at least he’d never thought so before.
Matt had the decency to grimace instead of calling him an idiot outright. “Didn’t remember her, huh?”
An old guy with bushy eyebrows and silver hair that may have been inspired by Albert Einstein whistled and shot his finger up into the air before it took a steep dive. He mimicked the sound of an explosion.
“Crashed and burned with Hayls? Nice homecoming.” Matt slapped Jackson on the back. “You look like you could use a drink.”
“Wasn’t your sister all Goth back in high school?” Now that he had her name firmly in place, he clearly remembered the dark clothing with skulls she favored, her jet-black hair and nails painted to match.
“It was a phase.” Matt leaned on the bar, his expression curious and just a little protective. “Since when are blondes your type?”
“They’re not.” Never had been. So why was he still thinking about that smile of hers?
Eight hours later Jackson had forgotten about everything except how damn good it felt to sit with close friends and talk about the usual bullshit. No one asked him about his going-nowhere career, his plans for after the wedding or why the hell he couldn’t shoot a simple game of pool without firing the cue ball off the table at least twice.
“Is this beer really called Bromance?”
In too good of a mood to care that he’d lost another match to Josh—who was drunk, no less—Jackson set his cue back on the rack and dropped into the chair opposite his friend.
He glanced at the half-empty bottle. “Yes. Bromance Brown Ale.” And whoever came up with that name must have been drunk at the time.
Josh nodded. “Okay. Good. I love you, man.”
“Maybe time to get you home.” A suggestion he’d broached more than a few times in the last two hours. He didn’t want the bride pissed that her man was too hungover to meet her at the altar.
“No. I don’t wanna go home yet.”
Jackson stretched his legs out under the table, studying his friend. “Why not?”
Josh peered at the scarred tabletop. “I might be having cold feet,” he finally mumbled.
Confused, Jackson straightened and leaned forward. “What’s that? What’d you say?”
“I might be having cold feet.”
“About the wedding?”
“No, about getting up from this table.” Josh burst out laughing at his own joke.
His friend hadn’t said a word about any problems with him and Allie. Hadn’t said a whole lot about the wedding in general actually, but weren’t women the ones who usually gushed about that stuff? “Shit, man, are you serious? You want to back out of the wedding?”
“No. Of course not. I wouldn’t do that.”
“But you have doubts.”
Josh sighed. “Doesn’t every guy before he straps on the old ball and chain?” The moment the words left his mouth he slumped a little. “Didn’t mean that,” he added, sounding a little regretful for comparing Allie to some kind of a prison sentence.
“I guess some guys do.” Jackson shoved a hand through his hair, wishing Matt hadn’t left them to go back to Stone’s. This wasn’t a conversation he was in any position to have on his own. “I’ve never had the guts to even propose to someone, so I wouldn’t know.” One blog rumor and premature ring browsing by his ex-girlfriend certainly didn’t qualify as a genuine proposal.
Josh was one of the few people who actually knew the truth about Melissa. As far as the public was concerned, he’d been the one to call off their engagement, and Melissa had basked in the media spotlight after he’d supposedly broken her heart.
“But yeah, it’s probably normal to feel a little nervous about it,” Jackson continued. “It’s a big step. It’s serious.”
“Yeah. Serious. You’re not helping, dude.”
Jackson grinned. “Sorry. Okay, how’s this? You’ve known Allie forever. You love her. You love her family. They love you. Your mom is thrilled to pieces about this. The whole town is behind you on this. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You two are going to have a long and happy life together.”
Josh nodded, but continued to stare at the table as though the solution to his cold feet problem might miraculously present itself there. “Still not helping.”
Giving his friend a hearty slap on the back, Jackson stood. “You’ll be fine. Once you’re up there at the front of the church watching Allie walk down the aisle looking like a million bucks, you’ll be so glad you’re marrying her.”
Josh picked up his beer and drained it. “Right. Absholutely. Can’t wait.”
“Fuck. You’re hammered.” Maybe saying it aloud would convince his friend to go home before he showed up at his own wedding still wasted. Matt certainly hadn’t been able to convince him after they’d arrived at their third bar of the evening, preferring to avoid Stone’s, where Allie and her bridesmaids were partying.
“No, I am not.” Josh straightened. “I’m fine. Let’s have another round.”
“Nope. I am doing my best man duty and hauling your ass out of here. You’re already going to need a large bottle of Tylenol and a jug of Visine in the morning.”
“Oh all right.” Josh stood and held on to the table for a moment as though he needed to get his balance under control.
Allie was going to kick Jackson’s ass, and that was saying something considering how sweet and even-tempered Allie was.
“I need a burger,” Josh announced. He took a step and leaned a little too far to the right, but managed to straighten before he toppled over.
“Okay, big guy. Let’s head to Barney’s and then I’ll take you home.”
“Yeah. Barney’s. I can have a hickory burger. And fries.”
Josh didn’t say much else on the walk to Barney’s, but something was clearly on his mind. His expression was far too serious for someone with so much alcohol in his system.
Inside Barney’s Chowder House people filled nearly every booth and table—the norm on a warm June night—but they managed to snag an empty table and took a seat.
Deciding his friend couldn’t be feeling nauseous if he wanted food, Jackson assumed Josh was looking a little miserable for an entirely different reason. “You know, if you’re seriously having doubts about getting married, it’s not too late.”
Josh gave him a crooked smile. “Sure it is.”
“No. It’s not too late until the vows are said.” Jackson leaned across the table, wishing the two of them didn’t need to have this conversation, but he’d be damned if he didn’t make sure that getting married was what Josh really wanted. “If you want to run, I’ll drive us to Mexico tonight. Just say the word.”
“Mexico?” Josh lifted an eyebrow.
“Or wherever.” Not like he had anywhere else to be. He ignored the ache in his gut that followed the mental reminder.
Josh shook his head. “You know I can’t do that. I made a promise to Allie. I always keep my word.”
“Yeah. You always do.” He’d certainly kept his word when he swore he’d find a way to get Jackson back to Promise Harbor one way or another. “You are a man of honor.”
“Damn right. I’m a man of honor,” Josh told the waitress who arrived to take their order. “And I’m fucking starving.”
She blinked at him.
“Don’t mind him,” Jackson said, trying not to laugh in front of the teenage girl who probably wanted to be anywhere except serving intoxicated customers. “He’s getting married tomorrow.”
“I am,” Josh added. “To the most wonderful woman in the world.” His expression brightened, then quickly dimmed. He stared at something past Jackson, shaking his head. “Devon?”
Jackson’s head snapped around. “Devon?” He scanned the room, easily picking out Josh’s ex in the crowd—at the booth directly across from them.
“Allie invited her to the wedding.” Josh shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal.
Jackson knew otherwise. “Jesus Christ.”
Devon stared at Josh, looking surprisingly like she and Josh had both been drinking the same life sucks Kool-Aid. “Hi Josh.”
“Devon. Hey.” Between one breath and the next, Josh moved to sit across from her. “How are you?”
She shot Jackson a nervous look before answering. “Good. I’m good. How are you?”
“Good.” A pause. “I’m drunk.”
“Oh. Okay.” She offered up a smile that fell a little short from Jackson’s suddenly-wishing-he-weren’t-so-sober perspective. “I guess that’s allowed the night before your wedding.”
Jackson winced at the direction their conversation might take given Josh’s earlier mood, and it wasn’t going to do his friend a damn bit of good. Still, he tried to ignore their exchange and finished placing their order with their waitress.
By the time she returned with a soda for him and coffee for Josh, the pair had settled into a quiet conversation Jackson couldn’t follow with the rest of Barney’s chatter. Probably for the best. And probably the only reason he happened to be looking toward the front door in time to see Hayley step inside.
She gave the crowded dining room only a cursory glance before making her way to the front counter. A couple on their way out waved at her in passing and she smiled in return.
Jackson searched his memory for that smile, but couldn’t recall much beyond Hayley always slipping from sight, her expression so serious, guarded. The blonde chewing on her bottom lip, one hand tucked in her back pocket, looked far more comfortable in her own skin than the withdrawn, often angry teenager he remembered.
The same one who’d intrigued the hell out of him even back then.
Leaving his friend for a moment, Jackson approached the counter. Within a few feet he noticed the smear of mint-green paint on her cheek and the wild tendrils of hair that had escaped the clip she used to pull the blonde mass back from her face.
She’d exchanged her pants and black shirt for a pair of faded jeans with a rip in one knee and paint-stained T-shirt. Any woman he’d spent time with would never have left the house without taking at least twenty minutes in the bathroom, let alone wearing painting clothes. Although besides his mother, he couldn’t think of another woman he knew who would be painting anything more than her nails.
It took a few seconds to realize that Hayley seemed to be looking everywhere in the room except at him. Just his imagination?
He edged a little closer, enough that anyone would have sensed a subtle invasion of personal space. She didn’t so much as glance in his direction. Definitely avoiding him. Interesting.
Hayley took just long enough to look his way to confirm his suspicion that she’d known he was there all along. A polite nod and smile were all she spared him before flagging down a passing waitress to ask about her takeout order.
“Don’t you guys usually favor doughnut places?”
“You watch too many cop shows.”
“It’ll be just another few minutes, Hayley.” A different waitress emerged from the kitchen with a tray loaded with hickory burgers and fries.
Jackson’s stomach growled in protest as the tray went in the opposite direction of his and Josh’s table.
“No problem. Thanks, Pam.” Hayley’s smile faded when she noticed he hadn’t returned to his table.
“So people do call you by your first name.”
She picked at a blotch of dried paint on her thigh. “Some of them have even been doing it since I was born.”
He grinned at her sarcasm. “Does that mean I get to call you Hayley too, seeing as we’ve known each other since grade school?”
“You’ve known my brother since grade school,” she corrected.
“So what should I call you?”
She leveled those sharp eyes on him, and he fought the urge not to squirm for some reason. “How about Detective?”
A man in his late forties, wearing an apron covered in what Jackson would have bet was Barney’s famed hickory sauce, emerged from the kitchen with a paper bag in hand. “Here you go, Hayley.”
“Thanks, Roger.” She dug into her pocket, but the guy just waved her off.
“That’s for the one you didn’t get to finish a couple weeks back after that car chase.”
Hayley glanced at the door as if gauging how quickly she could make her escape. It was the first expression she’d made that he recognized.
Jackson slid two feet to the right, putting himself in her path. “Car chase?”
“Some lunatic three counties over robbed a 7-Eleven. Hayley ran him off the road, then tackled the bastard when he tried to get away on foot.”
Giving Jackson a wide berth, Hayley nodded at the cook. “Night, Roger.”
Jackson stayed on her heels. “So you’re some kind of hero, huh?”
She shook her head. “Hardly.”
“Ran a guy down and tackled him? I’m impressed.”
Her eyes searched his like she wasn’t sure if he meant that or not. “Don’t be. I’ve seen eighty-year-old women lining up for early-bird bingo move faster than that moron.”
Jackson reached the door first, but didn’t push the glass open. “You never said when I could make things up to you.”
“Are we still talking about the truck thing? That’s not necessary. Just water under the bridge, right?” She inclined her head toward his arm. “Are you actually going to open the door or are you waiting for a ref to blow a whistle first?”
Jackson laughed, but still didn’t open the door. The pleasant buzz of alcohol hummed through his veins, the effect magnified by an incredibly attractive woman with pretty gray eyes, standing close enough to touch.
He lifted a hand to touch the dried paint smear on her cheek, but thought better of it at the last second. “You might want to wash that off.”
A flare of color washed across her cheeks, but she angled her body away from him before he could be sure if he’d just made her blush. “There’s a stiff penalty around here for blocking.”
“Gonna cuff me, Detective?” he teased.
A small smile finally caught the corner of her lips. “I’d try not to sound so excited, Mr. Knight. People might get the wrong impression about you.”
Mr. Knight? Jackson opened his mouth, but the sound of her cell phone ringing cut him off.
She pushed the door open and slipped into the night with only a warning. “Try to stay out of trouble.”
“We’ve got another one.”
Hayley’s hand tightened around her cell phone, grateful for the distraction from her second run-in with Jackson Knight. She still couldn’t decide if it was worse that he didn’t remember her or that he’d confused her with a perky, big-boobed cheerleader he’d thrown up all over.
“Hayley?” her partner prompted.
“Yeah, I’m here.” She crossed the crowded parking lot, barely resisting the urge to stick her hand in the bag to score a few fries.
“Can you follow up with a witness from last night’s robbery? His shift ends in less than an hour and my wife will have my ass if I miss drinks with the in-laws on their last night in town.”
Ignoring the tired aches in her back and shoulders, she slid behind the wheel of her truck. Dreams of a long soak in the tub after a twelve-hour shift and four hours of painting evaporated faster than the steam rising out of the bag in her hand. “That’s two Saturday mornings of hockey drills you owe me.”
“Thanks, Hayls. I’ll email you the details.”
The wait gave her just long enough to search Barney’s windows and see if she could pick Jackson out in the crowd. He had to be sitting just out of her line of sight, she decided a few seconds later. Just as well. Judging by her quickened pulse and ridiculously fluttery stomach, the years since high school hadn’t completely dimmed a foolish crush on her brother’s best friend.
Her phone beeped to signal a new message less than a minute after her partner hung up, dragging her thoughts firmly away from Jackson and his determination to make up for not remembering her.
The latest robbery brought the number of incidents to five in the last three weeks, all involving wealthy tourists with reported losses totaling nearly nine thousand dollars, and they still didn’t have a single suspect. Their captain was already feeling pressure from the mayor’s office to make an arrest before the robberies affected their small town’s thriving tourist industry.
She glanced at the details on the screen. Gerald Capshaw had been at the scene of the latest robbery right around the time camera footage from a nearby business caught a shadow fleeing into the night.
She wasn’t banking on Gerald remembering anything, seeing as he’d apparently had a few beers following a double shift, but a few direct questions might trigger something he hadn’t realized was important.
Hayley rubbed her eyes, fighting the weight of exhaustion tugging at her limbs. Maybe she should have listened to Matt and hired someone to do the renovations to her gramps’s house long ago instead of taking most of them on herself.
With just over an hour before Gerald finished his shift, she started her truck and headed back to her grandfather’s to change. Although tempted, she decided on professionalism over showing up to question Gerald looking like something from a design show nightmare.
By the time she got cleaned up and to Gerald’s workplace, she discovered he’d gotten off early and was probably at Stone’s playing darts. The parking lot was already filling up when she pulled into her family’s sports bar. Matt would be happy about that. The wraparound deck was half full with people chatting, drinking and smoking. A handful of them waved or said hello by the time she got inside.
It took a couple minutes to get Matt’s attention and pass on the beer he offered her. “Where can I find Gerald Capshaw?”
He gestured to the last dartboard at the far end of the bar. “Guy with red hair and his stomach sticking out of his shirt.”
“I thought you were with the guys tonight?”
“Got too busy here, but Allie and the girls are still going strong. Jackson and a couple of the guys are around here somewhere too.”
Everyone’s favorite hockey player must have decided on another beer after Barney’s. Lucky her.
Weaving around tables, Hayley noticed a few friends and at least one of Allie’s bridesmaids in the middle of the bar’s almost nonexistent dance floor. Next to it, Jackson sat surrounded by four women, one of whom held out a marker, her free hand already tugging at the hem of her shirt.
Hayley rolled her eyes. May lightning strike her dead if she ever wanted a celebrity to autograph her breasts. Still, she glanced over her shoulder on her way past, mildly annoyed by how quick Jackson was to accommodate the brunette.
She never pretended to have a high opinion of most jocks in high school, but she’d once believed Jackson was different. He’d always acknowledged her presence with a nod or an easy smile and never stooped to making snide comments he knew she’d overhear like others had. And for one very brief, very naive moment, she’d thought…
She was here to work. Not to contemplate Jackson Knight’s possible redeeming qualities. Matt had often defended Jackson, especially after the scandal surrounding his car accident and early retirement from the NHL, insisting he wasn’t like the rest of the guys. But when another woman slid into his lap, all but rubbing her boobs in his face, Hayley decided her original opinion of jocks probably applied to Jackson after all.
Getting back to business, she managed to pull aside her potential witness for a brief conversation out on the deck.
Gerald hadn’t seen any more than the retreating shadow the security camera picked up, leaving them no further ahead with their investigation. It took exactly three minutes to realize he didn’t have much to offer, but she followed him back inside anyway, listening to the man’s grievances about his neighbor’s fence being on his property, among other things.
The mention of Jackson’s name behind her split her concentration. She dutifully nodded at Gerald while eavesdropping on the other men’s conversation. With the satellite radio playing from a speaker overhead, she only caught a few words.
“…gonna tell that prick what I think about him.”
Cutting Gerald off, she told him to call the station if he remembered anything else, and moved a little closer to the three guys talking about Jackson. For every hundred people who idolized the town’s only sports hero, there was at least one who mocked him. The talk tonight was likely just that—talk—but it might not hurt to stick around.
One of the men stood up so fast his chair tipped backward. He didn’t bother to set it upright. The guy was pushing giant status with a height of at least six foot six and was built like a grizzly bear, right down to his frizzy auburn hair.
Not just talk then. Not from the way he was knocking into the few tables between his and Jackson’s.
Hayley glanced in Matt’s direction, but he was busy with customers. Stone’s didn’t need a regular bouncer since most people just dropped in for a couple beers after work or to watch a game on one of the bar’s flat-screen TVs, but every once in a while they ran into a problem. Like tonight.
She followed Grizzly Adams, knowing there was a good chance he’d back off when he saw her. She didn’t know everyone in town, but most of the regular crowd here knew she was a cop, and that was usually enough to make them realize they didn’t want her kind of trouble.
A hand encircled her wrist, jerking her to the side when she was two feet shy of planting herself in the big guy’s path.
Half expecting it to be one of the wedding party pulling her over to share a drink, she did a double take when she came face-to-face with her second blast from the past in one day.
Caught in a state between seriously? and no fucking way, she stared at her ex. “What are you doing here?”
He grinned, and she was relieved she didn’t feel so much as a flicker of emotion. She hadn’t been able to say the same when they’d broken up three years earlier.
“I was looking for a welcome home, but you’ve never gone with the expected.”
Like much of what Eric had said to her during their relationship, there was a hint of disapproval in his tone.
“But to answer your question, I’m back in Promise Harbor on business for a while.”
“That’s nice,” she managed, tugging her hand free. She looked over her shoulder just as Grizzly Adams reached Jackson’s table. She was too far away to hear their exchange, but watching the laid-back expression on Jackson’s face give way to a guarded look, she would have bet her next paycheck that he didn’t like what he was hearing.
“So how have you been?” Eric asked, moving back into her line of sight to regain her attention.
Her gaze didn’t stray from Jackson and Grizzly Adams. “Funny, you didn’t seem too worried about how I was when you moved out or how I’ve been for the last three years. Why bother now?”
“Guess I deserve that.”
And then some.
Jackson gestured to the empty chair and she was sure she saw the word “drink” pass his lips. Grizzly Adams didn’t seem to appreciate the offer and whatever he said made Jackson’s shoulders square up, but he made no other move toward the giant. Grizzly Adams wouldn’t be the first moron to try picking a fight with him, on or off the ice.
“Have lunch with me tomorrow,” Eric pressed.
“I have plans.”
“Oh, right. The wedding.”
Shit. She’d forgotten about that, but all thoughts of the wedding fled as a couple guys Hayley recognized from high school moved closer to Jackson. They didn’t like what they were hearing any more than Hayley liked what she was seeing.
Grizzly Adams’ pals flanked him, and the people standing closest to the small group finally seemed to notice the mounting tension.
Hayley moved into the crowd, Eric sticking right at her side.
“Wait a second.”
“Not now, Eric.”
“I was an asshole.”
Grizzly Adams got right in Jackson’s face. People stepped into Hayley’s path, cutting off her view. She shoved her way through, ignoring the complaints. One guy started to push her back until he recognized her. He quickly switched gears and even helped her out by nudging his buddy out of her path just in time for her to see Grizzly Adams take a swing at Jackson.
The crowd surged around them, closing her out.
“Move. Police,” she shouted over the crowd.
Matt must have finally noticed the problem and killed the music just as Hayley’s voice cut through the encouraging shouts for a fight. People scrambled out of the way, but nothing broke up the group of men already pummeling each other.
This time Grizzly Adams landed a punch that knocked Jackson into the table behind him. Drinks scattered across the slanted tabletop before smashing on the floor.
Hayley didn’t give Jackson a chance to retaliate, or let Grizzly Adams get in another punch. She elbowed her way between them. A dirty look was quickly followed by a double take and a quick step backward as the giant recognized her. She snapped her head around to face Jackson in time to see his fist coming at her.
His eyes widened, but he wasn’t fast enough to correct his aim entirely, and she felt the sting of the glancing blow across her cheek. Shock dropped his arms at his sides, making it easy to jerk one hand behind his back and spin him around.
She had the crowd’s full attention two minutes too late. “Jackson Knight, you’re under arrest for assaulting an officer and disturbing the peace.”
“Hayley?” Matt pushed his way to her side, a baseball bat in his hand—the only bouncer her gramps had ever needed to run the place.
The look on her face kept her brother from talking her out of the arrest. The rest of the surrounding fights had broken up by the time Jackson’s hands were cuffed behind his back.
Matt winced. “Guess she’s not over that truck thing, bro.”