About That Kiss:A Heartbreaker Bay Novel(10)

By: Jill Shalvis

Colbie had been great for Spence, making him seem more human than he’d ever been, and clearly far happier. Joe was glad for him, even if he didn’t completely understand the life Spence was making in the name of love. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the need or yearning to share his life but that he didn’t feel like he had anything to offer. As a hardened soldier turned security expert, he knew how to protect, but what else could he give to a woman? Teach her how to hold a gun? How to incapacitate a man in one-point-five seconds? Hardly things a normal person would want or need to know.

And he could give even less emotionally. After all he’d seen and done, he wasn’t even actually sure if he could open up or allow himself to be vulnerable enough to sustain a serious relationship. And what woman would want a guy who couldn’t? But not sure if Spence would understand, he simply nodded. “Thanks,” he said, and he meant it.

They fist-bumped and went their separate ways. Joe headed home, showered, and then got to work at two minutes past seven a.m.

“You’re two minutes late,” his sister, Molly, informed him from behind the front desk, where she ran the show at Hunt Investigations. She stood up and moved to her credenza to grab her iPad.

Her limp was more pronounced today than usual, which meant she was in pain, and an age-old guilt sliced through him. Not that he said a word. She got mad whenever he brought it up, but even worse than that, the last time he’d done so, she’d cried.

He hated when she cried. So they played a game he was very familiar with. A game called Ignore All The Feels.

“I’m aware that I’m late, thanks,” he said. He was the older sibling by three years, but twenty-seven-year-old Molly seemed to believe she was in charge of him. Which was not how it really went.

They’d grown up hard and fast. In their neighborhood, they’d had no choice. Their dad suffered with prolonged PTSD from serving in the Gulf War. As a result, Joe had been in charge from a young age. Being poor as dirt hadn’t helped any. He’d gotten in with the wrong crowd early, doing things he shouldn’t have in order to keep a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.

“Archer’s pissed,” Molly warned quietly.

Archer had a thing. Being on time meant you were already late. Being two minutes late was unforgiveable. Joe lifted a bakery box. “I brought bribes.”

“Ooh, gimme,” she said, using both hands to do the come here gesture.

Joe held out the box but didn’t relinquish it when she tried to take it. “Pick one.”

Again she tried to take the box, huffing out a breath when he held tight. “Whatever happened to trust?” she asked, relenting and taking only one doughnut.

“It’s not about trust. It’s about if I let my guard down, you’ll chew my fingers off to get to all the other doughnuts.”

“And?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Annnnnnd . . . you made me swear on Mom’s grave that I wouldn’t give you more than one doughnut per day.”

“That was last week.”

“Yeah. So?”

“So,” she said. “I was PMS-ing last week and feeling fat. I need another doughnut, Joe.”

He had looked death right in the eye more times than he could count but Molly’s tone was more terrifying than anything he’d ever faced. “You said you’d kill me dead in my own bed if I caved to you,” he reminded her.

“That could still happen.”

He stared her down, but she was a Malone through and through and she wasn’t playing. Between a rock and a hard place, he relented and let her take a second doughnut. Because who was he kidding? He’d never been able to tell her no.

“Thanks. And good luck,” she said, mouth full, giving him a chin nod toward Archer’s office. “He’s waiting for you.”

Great. Yet another battle to survive. Some days his life felt like a real-life video game. He headed down the hall to Archer’s office, where Archer and his significant other, Elle, were on the couch, arguing.

“I need the remote to show you my PowerPoint presentation,” Elle was saying.