Page 32

Author: Jill Shalvis

“No,” Tara said and paused. “He asked me to elope with him to the Greek Islands on his boat.”

“Bastard,” Allie said, sniffing, while both Maddie and Chloe gaped in shock at Tara.

“What?” Maddie whispered, a hand on her heart, a slow smile curving her mouth. “Did he really?”

“Yes.” Still looking calm, Tara took a cupcake, cool as she pleased. “The other night, after the bonfire.”

Allie was double-fisting cupcake number three and four, mascara smeared on her cheeks. “It’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it?” she said, mouth full, inhaling sugar like she hadn’t eaten in a week.

“What are you going to do?” Chloe asked.

“Well, I could jump off a bridge,” Allie said dramatically. “Or maybe I ought to try being a lesbian for a while.”

“No bridge jumping,” Chloe said firmly. “And the lesbian thing? Two menstrual cycles and double the PMS. That’s a big commitment. But actually, I was asking my sister.” She looked at Tara. “Are you going to elope with the sexiest man on the planet, or what?”

“Hey,” Maddie said. “My man’s sexy, too.”

Tara patted Maddie’s hand, then followed Allie’s lead and grabbed yet another cupcake. “I think I have to.”

“No,” Allie said, eyes glossy from the sugar high. “You don’t have to do anything. You can run away to…here.” She laughed softly. “I’ll share my room. We can do the lesbian thing together.”

Tara shook her head. “Got that out of my system in college, sorry.”

Maddie choked on her cupcake, but Chloe just grinned. “And they call me the wild one.”

The phone rang, and Chloe jumped up to take the call. It was a woman wanting to make reservations for her and her sisters for a long weekend.

“How many rooms would you like?” Chloe asked her.

“All of them.”

Chloe blinked. “What?”

“We’d like the whole inn for ourselves. It’s a reunion, you see. Two of us have been overseas in the military, and another has just gotten her doctorate, and the baby’s getting married. We haven’t all been together, the eight of us, in five years.”

“The whole inn,” Chloe repeated, stunned.

“Yes, for at least four days. I hope that’s not a problem. We want to utilize the day spa, too. Oh, and do you have yoga classes?”

“Yes.” Or they would…Chloe cleared her throat. “How soon are you looking at?”

“What’s the soonest you have?”

“Hold on a sec?” Dizzy with excitement, Chloe covered the phone and turned to Tara and Maddie.

“Problem?” Tara asked, rising to her feet at what surely was a look of shock on Chloe’s face.

“No. Yes. I don’t know.” Chloe laughed. “I have a request for a four-day exclusive stay for a family of sisters who wants the entire B&B and day spa at their disposal. ASAP.”

Tara and Maddie stared at her. “Honey,” Maddie said gently, “there is no day spa yet.”

“Not yet,” Chloe said. “But it’s coming.” She went back to the phone, catching the warning look in Tara’s eyes, the one that said don’t you dare be impulsive. Chloe grinned at her while calmly telling the woman on the phone that the spa would be open for limited service in two weeks, or they could wait for the full range of services to be offered in a month. She made the booking, not unhappy that the woman had settled for limited service. “No worries,” she said to her sisters when she’d hung up. “Jax promised he could handle it.”

Allie sighed. “They all think they can handle it. So there’s a day spa?”

Thirty minutes later, Chloe had shown Allie to her room, then headed into the sunroom, where she was joined by Tara and Maddie. “I think Allie’s going to be okay.”

“You were good with her,” Tara said. “I might have just given her the room key and stayed out of it.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Maddie said. “You were the first one on board when I was running away from my life and needed to stay here, remember?” She hugged Tara, then reached for Chloe’s hand, pulling her in close, too. “I called Jax. Told him we had reservations coming in, that we need this room done yesterday. He said he’d do it at material cost only, and that I could pay the labor later.”

“I’ll pay,” Chloe said, trying to figure out how long was long enough to stay in the group hug without being rude. “Whatever it is.”

“I’ve got it,” Maddie said. “No worries.”

“No, I—”

“Chloe,” Tara said dryly. “I’m pretty sure the debt can’t be paid in money.”

Maddie blushed to the tips of her toes.

“Oh. Gotcha.” Chloe laughed. “Well, then, thanks for paying up, sis.”

Maddie rolled her eyes and hugged her again. Jesus. Tara was still right there, too, so that now Chloe was sandwiched between them. “Okay…Well. I have things to do.”

“You always do when we’re having a mushy moment,” Tara said, not letting go.

Dammit. “Seriously?” Chloe asked. “Because we just mushed all over each other a few months back when Maddie got engaged, and I’m still recovering from that.”

“That was a year ago,” Maddie said. “And now Tara’s engaged. It’s definitely mush time.”

Tara shook her head. “No, first we mush on this.” She looked at Chloe. “We owe you an apology.”

“Whoa. Can you repeat?”

Tara sighed. “You might be the youngest, but you’re not a baby. You’ve really changed, Chloe. Grown up.”

“Okay, thanks. Can you let go of me now?”

“No,” Maddie said, tightening her grip, laughing when Chloe swore.

“We’re trying to tell you that we’re sorry it took us so long to realize,” Tara said. “And that though you march to a different drummer, you have it together just fine.”

“Sometimes even more than us,” Maddie added.

Chloe narrowed her eyes. “Okay, what do you guys want? You’re both going away with your lovers this weekend, right? Leaving me with the inn? Is that it?”

Maddie laughed. “No. We love you, Chloe. That’s it.”

“Oh, good God.” She dropped her head to bang it repeatedly on Maddie’s shoulder.

Her sisters both laughed, but Chloe didn’t feel quite in on the joke. Her mother had been a free spirit and had flung the L-word around to anyone and everyone, so much so that it had lost its meaning. And then there’d been TV and in movies, and everyone knew that love wasn’t real either, just an easy antidote to bad stuff suffered in the story. Family betrayed you? I love you. All better. Man ripped your heart to shreds? I love you. Perfect Band-Aid. World destruction imminent and you’re going to fly into the asteroid leaving your daughter an orphan? I love you. Buck up.

No, to Chloe it seemed like people used “I love you” when they meant “I’m sorry” or “Could we please forget about what a moron I’ve been?” They weren’t words to be used like a Band-Aid, or to be said to make someone feel better in the moment, like the time Phoebe had left a seven-year-old Chloe at a stranger’s house for four days or when she’d spent the entire Christmas money on gifts for her boyfriend.

Chloe might not be the smartest kid on the block, but she’d learned early on that those three words had power. No way she would ever let that power be wasted. That would be a sacrilege. Her sisters could joke all they wanted, but Chloe knew deep in her bones that when it was time to say the words, she’d know. There’d be some cosmic sign. Problem was, she was starting to wonder if her cosmic receiver was faulty.

Wonder if Jax knew a contractor for that?

In any case, she was grateful for what she did have with Tara and Maddie. More than they could possibly know. They were all she had as far as stabilizing forces. They were her only blood ties.

And if she let herself think that way for too long, it made her sad. Lonely.


So she didn’t think on it.


She just enjoyed having them in her life. And as she’d come to realize in the past year, the more of herself that she gave to the inn, the longer that might be.

“She’ll say it when she’s ready,” Maddie said to Tara. “And we shouldn’t be teasing her. Chloe, honey, you’re pale. Are you okay? Are you having trouble breathing?”

“It’s blood loss from my brain exploding.” Chloe jammed her hands into her pockets, suddenly extremely and uncomfortably aware that they were both staring at her with concern. “Not everyone wants to sit around and discuss feelings. Not everyone is in a relationship.”

Silence, and she grimaced. When would she learn to stop talking?

“Sugar.” Tara’s eyes were unusually soft and, dammit, full of sympathy. “Is this about us both getting married?”

“No,” Chloe said. “Of course not. I’m thrilled for both of you.”

“Is it about you wanting a relationship?” Maddie asked gently.

“If I wanted a relationship, I’d have one.”

“Is it about Sawyer?” Tara asked. “Are you’re falling for him?”



Christ, she had no idea. She shook her head, hoping that covered all the options. “That would be stupid.”

Tara let out a breath and nodded. And this, of course, put Chloe in defense mode. “Why are you nodding?”

Tara looked at Maddie, then back to Chloe. “Because,” Tara said carefully, “you said it yourself.”

“Yes, and I know why I said it, but why did you say it?”

“Well, there’s the whole he-wears-a-badge thing and your whole hate-authority thing. And—”