Always on My Mind

By: Jill Shalvis

Chapter 1

Saying that she went to the annual Firefighter’s Charity Breakfast for pancakes was like saying she watched baseball for the game—when everyone knew that you watched baseball for the guys in tight uniform pants.

But this time Leah Sullivan really did want pancakes. She also wanted her grandma to live forever, world peace, and hey, while she was making wishes, she wouldn’t object to being sweet-talked out of her clothes sometime this year.

But those were all issues for another day. Mid-August was hinting at an Indian summer for the Pacific Northwest. The morning was warm and heading toward hot as she walked to the already crowded pier. The people of Lucky Harbor loved a get-together, and if there was food involved—and cute firefighters to boot—well, that was just a bonus.

Leah accepted a short stack of pancakes from Tim Denison, a firefighter from Station #24. He was a rookie, fresh from the academy and at least five years younger than her, but that didn’t stop him from sending her a wink. She took in his beachy, I-belong-on-a-Gap-ad-campaign appearance and waited for her good parts to flutter.

They didn’t.

For reasons unknown, her good parts were on vacation and had been for months.

Okay, so not for reasons unknown. But not wanting to go there, not today, she blew out a breath and continued down the length of the pier.

Picnic tables had been set up, most of them full of other Lucky Harbor locals supporting the firefighters’ annual breakfast. Leah’s friend Ali Winters was halfway through a huge stack of pancakes, eyeing the food line as if considering getting more.

Leah plopped down beside her. “You eating for two already?”

“Bite your tongue.” Ali aimed her fork at her along with a pointed don’t mess with me look. “I’ve only been with Luke for two months. Pregnancy isn’t anywhere on the to-do list yet. I’m just doing my part to support the community.”

“By eating two hundred pancakes?”

“Hey, the money goes to the senior center.”

There was a salty breeze making a mess of Leah’s and Ali’s hair, but it didn’t dare disturb the woman sitting on the other side of Ali. Nothing much disturbed the cool-as-a-cucumber Aubrey.

“I bet sex is on your to-do list,” Aubrey said, joining their conversation.

Ali gave a secret smile.

Aubrey narrowed her eyes. “I could really hate you for that smile.”

“You should hate me for this smile.”

“Luke’s that good, huh?”

Ali sighed dreamily. “He’s magic.”

“Magic’s just an illusion.” Aubrey licked the syrup off her fork while managing to somehow look both beautifully sophisticated and graceful.

Back in their school days, Aubrey had been untouchable, tough as nails, and Leah hadn’t been anywhere in the vicinity of her league. Nothing much had changed there. She looked down at herself and sucked in her stomach.

“There’s no illusion when it comes to Luke,” Ali told Aubrey. “He’s one-hundred-percent real. And all mine.”

“Well, now you’re just being mean,” Aubrey said. “And that’s my area. Leah, what’s with the expensive shoes and cheap haircut?”

Leah put a hand to her choppy auburn layers, and Aubrey smiled at Ali, like See? That’s how you do mean…

Most of Leah’s money went toward her school loans and helping to keep her grandma afloat, but she did have one vice. Okay, two, but being addicted to Pinterest wasn’t technically a vice. Her love of shoes most definitely was. She’d gotten today’s strappy leather wedges from Paris, and they’d been totally worth having to eat apples and peanut butter for a week. “They were on sale,” she said, clicking them together as if she were Dorothy in Oz. “They’re knockoffs,” she admitted.

Aubrey sighed. “You’re not supposed to say that last part. It’s not as fun to be mean when you’re nice.”

“But I am nice,” Leah said.

“I know,” Aubrey said. “And I’m trying to like you anyway.”

The three of them were an extremely unlikely trio, connected by a cute, quirky Victorian building in downtown Lucky Harbor. The building was older than God, currently owned by Aubrey’s great-uncle, and divided into three shops. There was Ali’s floral shop, Leah’s grandma’s bakery, and a neglected bookstore that Aubrey had been making noises about taking over since her job at Town Hall had gone south a few weeks back.