About That Kiss:A Heartbreaker Bay Novel(9)

By: Jill Shalvis

Joe Malone wasn’t a big fan of mornings and never had been. Growing up, his alarm clock had been his dad banging a pan on the stovetop. Later, in the military, it’d been some higher ranked asshole screaming into his ear.

Today it was 100 percent pure responsibility that had him rolling out of bed. He worked on a team of independent contractors who took on criminal, corporate, and insurance investigations along with elite security contracts, surveillance, fraud, and corporate background checks. There were also the occasional forensic investigations, big bond bounty hunting, government contract work, and more. The guy in charge, Archer Hunt, was a tough taskmaster, but it was the best job Joe had ever had. He was second in command and the resident IT genius. Not that he’d started out in IT.

Nope, he’d begun his illustrious career in . . . breaking and entering.

Shrugging the old memories off, he pulled on running gear and managed to get to the previously arranged meeting spot without killing anyone for looking at him cross-eyed. A real feat for how early it was.

Spence was waiting for him and wordlessly handed him a coffee. He was kind enough to wait for the caffeine to kick in before saying, “You’re late.”

“Alarm didn’t go off,” Joe said.

“Because you don’t use an alarm.”

True enough. Joe had an internal clock, one of the things he could thank the army for beating into him.

“You alright?” Spence asked. “I mean, you’re always a bitch in the mornings but you look particularly bitchy today.”

“Bite me.”

Spence was richer than God and brilliant enough that he’d once been recruited to work for a government think tank. Joe was not richer than God, and though he’d also once worked for the government—in special forces, to be exact—it hadn’t been his brain that had been coveted, but his ability to be as lethal as needed.

To say he and Spence were unlikely friends was an understatement. It’d started at the weekly poker game that went on in the Pacific Pier Building’s basement. Spence owned the building, so he played poker with an easy abandon. Joe played poker the same way he lived his life—recklessly. It’d bonded them.

Spence, not really a morning person either and certainly not a coddler, accepted Joe’s “bite me” for “I’m fine,” and they tossed the coffee cups in a trash and took off running. Today they hit the Lyon Street stairs, which—talk about being a bitch—were a straight-up torture rack of 332 steep steps, made all the more daunting by the early morning fog hiding the top third of them from view. This made it feel like an endless, unobtainable goal, not that they let this stop them. If anything, they each pushed harder, trying to outrun each other.

When they finally got to the top they didn’t stop, instead entering The Presidio, a park where one could run along forested trails for miles. Almost immediately the city vanished behind woods of thick eucalyptus and, still goading each other, they went all out.

Spence was in excellent shape, but Joe trained for a living. Five miles later Joe inched ahead of Spence and beat him back to their building, gasping for breath, dripping sweat.

“You’re insane,” Spence managed, bent at the waist, hands on his knees. “You outrun your demons, I hope?”

“Can’t run fast enough for that,” Joe said.

Spence straightened with a frown. “See, something is wrong. Your dad? Molly?”

“No, they’re both fine and so am I.” Joe shook his head. He didn’t know what was up with him, other than a general restlessness. His dad was . . . well, his dad.

“The job?” Spence asked.

Joe shook his head. His job was fulfilling and solid, and served the additional purpose of giving him his daily adrenaline rush as needed. “I’m fine,” he repeated.

“Yeah, so you keep saying.” Spence paused and then shook his head. “I’m around. You know that, right? We’re staying in San Francisco for the next few months.”

Not that long ago, Spence had fallen hard and fast for Colbie Albright, a YA fantasy author based out of New York. They’d been splitting their time between San Francisco and New York, but both preferred San Francisco and resided on the private fifth floor penthouse suite of the Pacific Pier Building where Joe worked.