Page 30

Author: Jill Shalvis

Sawyer arched an amused brow at Chloe.

Suddenly the annoying mask was her best friend, as it allowed her to hide her expression with ease. “I never said I was with Lance.”

“You said you were with a friend,” Maddie said. “We assumed.”

“Lance’s been busy lately,” Chloe said. “With his new girlfriend. Renee the nurse. She’s really great for him. She’s given him this new lease on life and—”

“Hold it,” Tara said, clearly not interested in Lance’s love life. Just Chloe’s. “So you and Sawyer are…” She waggled a finger back and forth between them.

“No,” both Sawyer and Chloe answered in unison.

Chloe sent Sawyer a long look. It was one thing for her to say “no,” but she sure as hell didn’t like that he felt as strongly about it as she did.

“Okay, but since when are you two friends?” Tara asked. “Friends who have sleepovers.”

“I like those kinds of friends,” Ford said.

“We’re not that kind of friends.” Chloe pulled down the mask to make sure she gave the full-effect glare to a silent Sawyer. “Feel free to step in anytime here and defend my honor.”

“Chloe’s right,” Sawyer said, never taking his eyes off of her. “We’re not friends.” He was looking at her from dark, brooding, heated eyes, which of course helped not at all.

Tara was clearly unhappy. “What the hell is going on with you two?”

“Nothing!” Chloe said.

“They were fully dressed when Ford and I found them the other morning,” Jax offered helpfully. “Well, actually, Chloe was dressed. Big guy here was shirtless. Oh, and he had his hands up her skirt, but—”

Sawyer cut his eyes to Jax, who shrugged.

Maddie was staring at her husband-to-be. “And you didn’t tell me?”

Ford tsked in mocking disapproval. “Rookie mistake,” he whispered to Tara.

“For God’s sake.” Surging to her feet, Chloe stabbed at the fire with a big stick, thinking about using it to whack Sawyer across the back of his big, fat head. But since she didn’t want to be arrested tonight, she shoved the stick into the fire and pulled out her iPhone. She accessed her Magic Eight application. “For my sisters’ sake,” she said to it, “please state for the record whether or not I’m capable of running my own life.”

The answer was short and sweet.

Without a Doubt.

“Ha!” Righteously triumphant, Chloe sank back to her beach chair. “One hundred percent accurate, as always.”

“Actually, statistically speaking,” Jax said, ever the lawyer even though he hadn’t practiced law in six years, “it has to be wrong fifty percent of the time.”

Ford took the iPhone from Chloe. “Magic Eight, will Jax ever learn that he doesn’t know everything?”

The screen went cloudy and then cleared.

Don’t Count on It.

Everyone laughed except Jax, who was trying—unsuccessfully—to pull a resisting Maddie down to his lap. He snatched the phone from Ford. “Hey,” he said to it. “I’m still getting married next month, right?”

Outlook Good.

Jax let out a loud breath of relief. Maddie gave a low laugh, finally allowing him to pull her down to his lap. “Was that really in question?”

“Just making sure.”

“See?” Chloe said smugly. “Always accurate.”

“That’s because you ask it only the easy stuff,” Tara said. “Ask it if you’re ever going to settle down.”

“I already know the answer to that,” Chloe told her. “When I’m old. Reaaaaally old,” she added, catching Sawyer’s knowing eyes. “Like when I’m…thirty-five.”

The thirty-five-year-old Sawyer smiled at her but didn’t take the bait.

However, thirty-five-year old Tara raised a threatening brow. “Ask it if you’ll ever be able to say what you’re really thinking.”

Everyone smiled at this, because they all knew Chloe always said whatever she was thinking.

“Hey, she doesn’t always,” Maddie corrected. “She never says ‘I love you.’”

“Maybe because I don’t.” Chloe said it teasingly enough, but the silly game suddenly felt too serious. It was so simple for her sisters, she thought, surrounded by the security of the men who loved them.

But for someone like her, who’d never experienced that kind of security and love, it wasn’t so simple at all.

“So maybe that’s the real question,” Tara said and took the phone. “Magic Eight Ball, will my sister ever say I Love You?”

Ridiculously, Chloe found herself holding her breath as she waited for the screen to clear, which pissed her off. She didn’t need a stinking app to give her an answer, but it came regardless:

Absolutely Yes.

Chapter 17

“Sure, good things come to those who wait—but they’re the leftovers from those who got there first.”

Chloe Traeger

Sawyer watched the reaction cross Chloe’s face as she read her phone’s screen. Relief, quickly hidden behind a scowl and a derisive snort.

“I like the Absolutely Yes,” Tara said.

“Well, don’t get excited,” Chloe told her. “Because we’ve finally done it. We’ve just proven Mr. Magic Eight Ball completely wrong.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Maddie asked.

“Because I don’t plan on changing a damn thing about myself. Which makes it a little unlikely that I’ll get someone to fall in love with me as is, wouldn’t you say?”

Sawyer’s heart squeezed.

“Actually,” Maddie said slowly, sounding as if Chloe’s words had made her hurt as much as Sawyer was suddenly hurting. “I meant you telling Tara and me that you loved us. But I think you’re wrong.” She said this very gently, eyes bright, her voice soft but utter steel. “There is someone out there for you. I know it.”

“I think so, too,” Tara said, and it didn’t escape Sawyer’s notice that no one looked at him. Clearly he was not the someone that the sisters had in mind for her. Which, yeah, he already knew, but it still irritated the shit out of him. He was a county sheriff, not some asshole off the street.

Chloe shrugged as if it mattered not one little bit, and it occurred to Sawyer that she had no idea how much she was loved by the people in her life. None.

And he’d had no idea that all along she’d been afraid of that love. She hid it well behind that tough, unflappable, hard-edged courage. Not being all that fond of expressing emotions himself, the sympathy coursed through him. With both Tara and Maddie deep in the throes of love themselves, the levels of emotions had to feel like a Hallmark movie at the B&B. He knew because that’s how it felt at the bar these days. Kind of nauseating.

Ford snatched the phone again. “Hey, Magic Eight,” he said. “Since you’re so accurate and all, tell me this—will Tara ever try that one position in the Kama Sutra—”

Tara pushed him as everyone cracked up, and just like that, Ford accomplished what he did best and lightened the mood.

“Your turn,” Ford said to Sawyer and tossed him the phone.

“Oh no,” he said to everyone’s expectant face. “Hell no. All I ever get is Try Again Later.”

“Liar. The odds don’t support that any more than Chloe always being right.” Jax leaned close and spoke to the phone. “Magic Eight Ball, what about our good sheriff here? Will he ever get a woman and manage to keep her?”

Maddie gave Jax a dark look and a little nudge. Sawyer gave him a nudge, too, one that was actually more of a shove, right off the log he was sitting on, but not before the stupid Magic Eight app answered:

Try Again Later.

Everyone laughed but Jax. “What did the love advisor say?” he wanted to know, from flat on his back in the sand. Sawyer considered dumping his beer on him when, from deep in the woods, a flare went off. At least it looked like a flare.

“What was that?” Tara asked with a startled gasp, getting to her feet.

“I’ll go look.” Sawyer was already on his. A movement at his side had him turning his head and meeting Chloe’s gaze.

“Don’t,” she warned him. “Don’t even try to tell me to—”

“Stay,” he said firmly.

“Goddammit, Sawyer. A ‘please’ wouldn’t kill you.”

Sawyer moved to his SUV and grabbed a high-powered flashlight. Their fire was right near the water’s edge and nowhere close to the woods. But that flare…They were at an all-time low for precipitation. It would take next to nothing to ignite a catastrophic forest fire. He moved into the woods, Jax and Ford at his side. A few minutes later, they came to a small clearing that Sawyer knew well. He’d come to this very spot as a stupid teenager to get trashed. There was a hastily put out campfire, several empty beer cans, and two cigarette butts.

The three men made sure the fire was out, then headed back to the beach. Chloe stood there, her back to their little circle, lit by the glow of the flames as she squinted to see into the woods. She was waiting, the concern etched on her face.

For him.

That was different. He’d always been the one to look after people and wasn’t used to it going the other way. And yet he could see it plain as day. Tough as she was, she let her emotions show, every single one of them.

He wasn’t good at that and didn’t want to be. He hadn’t managed to stay alive on the job by being an open book. Anything he felt, he kept to himself. And actually, sometimes he wasn’t sure he even had any emotions to hide.

But all he had to do was look at Chloe and know that he did. He had way too many feelings. It’d been a damn long time since he’d let anything penetrate, but she’d gotten through. In fact, what he felt for her had invaded his life.