Page 23

Author: Jill Shalvis

Why hadn’t her mother raised her here in Lucky Harbor?

There’d been two short visits, but Chloe had been very young, too young to understood that her mother’s parents owned this place. All Chloe remembered was her excitement over having a real bed with a soft mattress and more food than she could eat. When she’d lost her first tooth, it’d been here. The tooth fairy had found her sleeping in a spare bedroom and slipped a crisp new dollar bill under her pillow. After that, there’d been no more dollars, and her young mind had concluded that the tooth fairy must have lost track of her.

Chloe sighed at the jumble of emotions swirling inside of her. She glanced around the property and hoped like anything that she was doing the right thing, and not being influenced by long-ago childhood yearning. Just because she’d felt safe here as a kid once or twice didn’t mean this was right for her. She’d always found her own security, her own way.

Still, it felt right, living with the sisters she’d never really known.

With her name on the deed.

Granted, just last year that hadn’t meant much. When they’d arrived, the inn had been mortgaged to its eyeballs and in massive disrepair, practically falling down on its axis.

They’d fixed it up, and it was now the three sisters mortgaged to their eyeballs, but it was home.


Chloe marveled at that and shook her head. On the far side of the property was the marina, which consisted of eight boat slips and a small marina building—basically a one-room warehouse. It held kayaks, canoes, and various other equipment for the marina, and a small office area where Maddie usually worked the books for the B&B, when she wasn’t in the kitchen looking at wedding magazines.

As she walked across the yard to the marina building door, she suddenly stopped. The building was always kept locked, with a code lock. But the lock was broken, the door half open.

She took a step back and peered around the corner of the building to the docks. Normally she’d see the fishing boat and houseboat that had come with the inn, and the two boats that Ford kept at the dock as well.

But there was nothing, no boats. Heart stuttering, Chloe whipped out her cell phone.

The police came, including Sawyer. All four watercrafts were found floating within ten miles, with insignificant damage.

Someone had set the boats loose.

There was no real property damage beyond the broken lock on the marina door, for which Chloe was hugely relieved but still completely unnerved.

“Kids,” one of the cops decided.

Tara shook her head. “We’ve never had problems before.”

“And this seems personal,” Maddie murmured.

If Sawyer agreed with that, Chloe couldn’t tell by his expression, but he stayed back when the other uniforms left.

“We’ll make extra drive-bys,” he told her quietly. “But you need to think about getting some security. An alarm. A dog.”

“I don’t want to scare the guests with a big old guard dog,” Tara protested.

“Safety is far more important than worrying about what anyone else thinks,” Sawyer told her.

“You’re right, of course.” Tara looked at her sisters. “We’ll think about both an alarm and a dog.”

“We can borrow Izzy from Jax,” Maddie said.

“Sure,” Tara said. “And she can lick the next bad guy to death.”

When she and Maddie left Sawyer and Chloe alone, Chloe met his gaze. “What are you thinking?”

“That I like the sight of you breathing. How are you feeling?”

“Fine. And don’t deflect. Do you think this is just a random vandalism by a kid?”

Before he could answer, his cell phone vibrated. Simultaneously inside his open SUV, he was paged over the radio. He swore and looked at her.

“You have to go,” she said.

“Chloe.” He put his hand on her jaw and tilted her face up to his, his gaze searching hers.

“I’m fine,” she said again. “They need you. Go.”

She waited until he’d driven away and then headed inside the marina building. She looked around, hating the fact that someone had invaded their space. She settled at Maddie’s desk and booted up the computer. Sometimes being able to compartmentalize was a benefit, and now was no exception. She put the vandalism out of her mind, occupying it instead with thoughts of her day spa.

They needed brochures, a social networking plan, and a schedule. She worked for several hours, even updating their website, posting a survey to see how many people would be interested in coming into the inn for a day spa.

She took a lunch break to whip up some chest balm for Lance, bringing with it some of Tara’s Not Your Granny’s Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup and a Don’t Call It Just a Grilled Cheese Sandwich. She bullied him into using the balm and into eating, not liking how thin he was. “Lance—”

“I’m fine,” he said, leaning back on his couch. He lived in a rental duplex with his brother, Tucker, and the decor was late-nineties frat boy. Todd and Jamie lived on the other side of the duplex, though they were at work with Tucker at the moment, which Chloe was glad for. Todd had left a couple of messages reminding her that she still owed him, and that he wouldn’t be averse to collecting.

The doorbell rang, and Lance opened the door to a pretty petite blonde holding a plate of brownies. She beamed at him, leaning in to kiss his cheek. “Hey, baby.”

Baby? Chloe looked at Lance, who blushed and shrugged. “Renee, this is Chloe.”

“Your best friend!” Renee smiled sweetly at Chloe. “I’ve heard so much about you!”

Huh. Chloe slid another look Lance’s way because she’d heard nothing about Renee.

“Renee’s a nurse and works at my doctor’s office,” Lance said.

Ah, now it made sense. The crush. Thrilled and amused at Lance’s rare shyness, Chloe took a brownie, then left them alone. Hopefully when Lance got lucky—and given the way Renee was looking at him like he was lunch, he was going to get very lucky—he wouldn’t end up passing out like she had.

She headed back to the marina office and found a happy surprise—there were already hits on the inn’s website survey, all of them positive and requesting further info about her spa services. She was working her way through them when the office door opened.

“Whatcha up to?” Maddie asked innocently.

Too innocently. Chloe looked at her, but Maddie had quite the inscrutable face when she chose. “Selling swampland in Florida.”

“Or…?” Maddie asked.

“Or organizing Santa’s naughty-and-nice list.”

Maddie laughed. “Or…?”

“Okay, let’s play a different game.” Chloe leaned back in her chair. “The one where you tell me what you really want to hear.”

“Okay, how about this—when were you going to come clean about hiring Jax to renovate the sunroom?”

Chloe sighed. “He tattled.”

“He mentioned it.”

“That man is so whipped.”

“Honey, you asked the man I sleep with every night to help you,” Maddie said. “Of course he’s going to tell me. I thought we were going to do this as a team.”

“We are. And I didn’t hire him. I only wanted to get an idea of the damage before we worked on the overall business plan. I put a short survey up on our website, just so we could get some feelers about who might be interested.” She had to work hard at sounding cool, calm, and collected, when she wanted to grin triumphantly. “Several people have already inquired about booking for day treatments. Two of them are interested in overnight stays at our full rate.”

“I like the full rate part,” Maddie said.

“I bet Tara likes it even more.”

“Let’s go get some food and find out.”

“Is Tara cooking?” Chloe asked hopefully.

“Not tonight. We have no guests, and we were thinking Eat Me.”

Eat Me Café was the diner where Tara had worked up until they’d gotten the B&B running. It was still a quick go-to when they were starving, though lately they’d been too busy to eat together. Well, technically Tara and Maddie had been too busy with their full lives. Chloe not so much. “What’s the occasion?”

“Nothing. Just a together meal. And maybe…” She pulled Chloe to her feet. “A certain sister feels like she could have been more supportive, but she’s too Southern and mule-headed to admit it so she’s buying dinner instead.”

“Mmm,” Chloe said, grabbing her purse. “I love it when Tara feels the guilt.”

Chloe, Maddie, and Tara had just ordered their dinner when a group of guys entered the diner, laughing and talking so obnoxiously loud that the entire diner went quiet. It was Todd, Jamie, and two others that Chloe had seen around, Dan and Mitch. Filthy from head to toe, they’d clearly just gotten off a job, but that wasn’t what made Chloe’s gut clench.

It was the look in Jamie’s eyes, the one that said he’d been drinking. Mitch too. She was glad Lance and Tucker weren’t with them.

The diner was still quiet, the uncomfortable kind of quiet as Jamie gave them all a mocking bow. Next to him, Mitch started laughing into the silence.

“Sit down,” Todd said to them uneasily, locking gazes with Chloe.

Arms still wide, Jamie straightened from his bow and knocked the glasses off the table closest to him. “Oops.”

Seated at that table was Lucille and her blue-haired posse. Lucille put her hands on the table and rose, her tight bun all aquiver. “Jamie Robinson,” she said sternly. Even with her tower of hair piled on top of her head, she was barely five feet tall, but she got right up in Jamie’s face, waggling a bony finger. “You can’t afford any more trouble, do you hear me? You boys get out of here, and don’t come back until you’re sober, all of you.” She spared a scathing look at Todd. “And you. You should be ashamed of yourself. People are rooting for you to get your life together.”