Author: Jill Shalvis


They ran their usual three miles along the beach. Well, Jax ran. Izzy sauntered a hundred yards or so, then slowed, dragging her feet in the sand until she found a pelican to pester. Then, apparently exhausted from that effort, she plopped down and refused to go another step until Jax roused her on his return.


He entered his house through the back door and stepped into his office. Surprised to see a blinking light on his machine at seven in the morning, he hit play, then realized it was a call from last night. He stood still in shocked surprise at Maddie’s soft voice.


“Hi,” she said. “Potential new client here, looking for a master.”


The loud knocking startled Maddie out of a dead sleep. Discombobulated, she blinked, and then blinked again, but all she could see was a sea of green and a flashing red that had her groaning and lifting her hands to hold her pounding head.


Taking stock, she realized that she was flat on her back beneath the tree, staring up at a string of obnoxious chili pepper lights.


Or maybe that was the hangover that was so obnoxious.


With another groan, she managed to sit up and nearly took out an eye with one of the low, straggly tree branches. Slapping a hand over it, she looked down at herself. Huh. She was completely tangled in red yarn. And she was pretty sure she had sap in her hair.


Even more odd, the cottage was spotless. Maddie had vague recollections of a tipsy Tara moving through the place with a broom in one hand and a rag in the other, bossing Maddie to assist as she went.


Which didn’t explain the yarn. But she also remembered going through the cottage’s bedroom, where they’d found some of their mother’s things. There’d been a basket full of loose pictures, an empty scrapbook that Phoebe had clearly meant to use but never had, and another book, as well—Knitting for Dummies. Maddie had stared at the book and at the half-knitted scarf beneath it and felt her heart clench at the long-ago memory—she and her mom, sitting together, trying to learn to knit.


Trying being the operative word.


Phoebe had laughed at their pathetic efforts, saying how the fun wasn’t in the final product, but in the journey. At the time, it’d frustrated Maddie.


Not last night. Last night, it’d been a precious memory, one of far too few, and she’d laid claim to the book, the knitting needles, and the half-finished scarf from all those years ago. While Chloe had sorted through the pictures and Tara had cleaned, Maddie had re-taught herself how to knit.


Loosely speaking.


Her sisters were still prone under the tree, out cold. Chloe was snoring. Tara was… smiling? Not a sight Maddie had seen often. Hell, none of them were exactly free with their smiles, she’d noticed. She shook her head, then groaned at the movement.


Note to self—never drink again.


At some point, they’d clearly decided pj’s were a good thing. Maddie was wearing her favorite flannel SpongeBob drawstring pants and a Hanes beefy tee with the words BITE ME across the chest. Chloe’s pj’s had come from Victoria’s Secret, but with her body, she could have worn a potato sack and looked good. Across her teddy the words JINGLE MY BELLS were delicately embroidered. Tara was wearing men’s boxers, a cami, a silk bathrobe, and a pair of knee-high socks.


Maddie nudged Chloe’s foot.


“No more, Juan,” Chloe whispered. “My inhaler’s too low.”


The knock on the front door came again, and in unison Chloe and Tara sat straight up, conked their heads together, and moaned.


Maddie staggered toward the door, taking a second to stare in shock at their tree. Last night, it had been the most gorgeous tree she’d ever seen. This morning, it stood barely three feet tall and looked like… “A Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” she whispered. She stepped over her sisters’ legs, caught sight of herself in the small mirror over the little table in the foyer, and just about screamed.


Her hair had rioted. The little mascara she’d had on her lashes was now outlining her eyes, and she had a crease down one cheek from whatever she’d used as a pillow, which she suspected had been the yarn she was still wrapped in. “Never again,” she told her pathetic reflection and then pointed at it for emphasis.


Her reflection stuck her tongue out.


With a sigh, she opened the front door, then stood there in a stupor. Standing on the porch, wearing faded Levi’s, a black sweater over a black T-shirt, mirrored sunglasses, and a crooked smile was Jax Cullen.


Chapter 7


“Experience is something you get…


after you need it.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


Maddie stared up at Jax, who was not hung over and didn’t have a crease on his face. He looked big, and bad, and so sexy it should be a crime, and she reacted without thinking.


She shut the door in his face.


Tara gasped.


Chloe laughed.


And Maddie covered her face. “Quick, somebody shoot me.”


“Honey.” Tara’s hand settled on her shoulder. “Maybe you don’t know this being from LA and all, but shutting the door on someone’s nose is considered rude in almost all fifty states.”


“You don’t understand. It’s him. Jax.” And maybe it was the fact that her brain was on low battery, but just looking at him made her hot and bothered. Her! The woman who’d decreed that the entire male race was scum. “What do I do?”


“Well, for starters,” Chloe said, “You stop slamming door on guys who look like that.”


“He has superpowers,” Maddie said, nibbling on her thumbnail.


“Yeah?” Clearly fascinated, Chloe took another peek. “Like being hot as hell?”


Tara lightly smacked Maddie’s hand from her mouth. “What does he want?”


“I’m going to guess SpongeBob Pants here,” Chloe murmured, still looking at him.


Maddie pushed her away from the window so she could take her own look. “Oh, my God,” she whispered.


On the porch, Jax turned his head and gave her a slow, mischievous wink, making her jump back as if he’d bitten her. “Oh, my God.”


“She’s starting to repeat herself,” Chloe said to Tara, who took her turn at the window.


“Oh, sugar.” Tara took her time looking him over. “You’re not ready for the likes of him.”


“I hate to agree with her on anything,” Chloe said to Maddie. “But she might be right on this one.”


Drawing in a sharp breath, Maddie put her hand on the door handle. With a sister crowding her on either side—she wasn’t sure whether it was for moral support or to make sure she didn’t jump his bones—she opened the door.


She had to give Jax credit. Certainly, the three of them looked like wild, grossly unpredictable creatures from Planet Estrogen. But much as he had at the bar in the face of that pissed-off Smarmy Suit, he stood his ground. He even smiled.


“Hey,” Maddie said, taking a step forward to give them some privacy, but she tripped over the yarn. It took her a few seconds and most of her dignity before she fought her legs free.


He pulled off his sunglasses to watch her, revealing those melted caramel eyes, which seemed to be both amused and heated. Amused, no doubt, because of the little yarn incident, not to mention the bedhead and SpongeBob pj’s. As for why his eyes were also heated, she could guess—he was thinking of last night.


Which made two of them, because the kisses—oh, good Lord, the kisses—were suddenly all her brain would upload. The memory of those delicious, hot, deep, amazing kisses had kept her up most of the night. And then there’d been how his hands had felt all over her. Just remembering had something tingling behind her belly button and heading south.


“You okay?” he asked.


Sure. She was peachy. Or she would be soon as she cleared a few things up. Because as much as just looking at him put a big, goofy smile on her face, she had to be honest with him. Or at least as honest as she could. “About last night. I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression, but I’m really not in a good place for this right now.”


He didn’t say anything to this, and the silence was worse than the hangover.


“It’s nothing personal, of course. But I can’t, I just can’t go there.” Why wasn’t he saying anything? “I’m… not interested.” Okay, so that was liar, liar, pants on fire, but his silence was unnerving. “I mean, I realize that I probably didn’t seem uninterested last night, but that was extenuating circumstances.” Those being that he was far too good-looking and he’d tasted like chocolate—lethal combination.


Fighting a smile, he reached out and started unwinding some of the yarn still around her shoulder. His fingers brushed her collarbone and sent yippee-kayee messages to her nipples.


She snatched the yarn from him. “And as for the pier and then needing a ride, well, I’m not usually so helpless. In fact, you should probably know…” She drew a deep breath. “I’ve given up men.”


At that, he arched a brow.


Be strong. Be confident. Be… Neytiri from Avatar. Okay, so Neytiri was a mythical creature, not to mention animated, but still. She was strong and confident, and that’s all that matters at the moment. “It’s true. At first, I was just going to give up attorneys, but that seemed immature—and far too exclusive, so I’m playing it safe and giving up all the penis-carrying humans.” Because that was so much more mature.


Tara peeked out from behind the door with an apologetic wince in Jax’s direction. “It’s possible she’s still tipsy,” she explained.


“I’m not still tipsy!” She didn’t think so, anyway. “So I’m sorry if you drove all the way out here looking for a repeat of last night, but it’s not going to happen. I’m not interested.” She held her breath in case karma was listening, ready to flatten her with a bolt of lightning for lying.


Nothing. Well, nothing but more silence, and this time she bit her tongue rather than try to fill it with more embarrassing chatter.


“Okay,” Jax finally said with a single nod. “That’s all… very interesting. But I’m not here for a ‘repeat.’ ”

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