Author: Jill Shalvis


“But you’ve given up men,” he pointed out, still teasing her. “Sounds like there’s going to be no sex, period.”


“None.”


He merely arched a brow. “Aren’t you going to miss it?”


“No.”


“Not at all?”


“Not even a little.”


He shot her a look of blatant disbelief. “How is that even possible, not missing sex? That’s like saying you wouldn’t miss having a cold beer on a hot summer night or the sound of the ocean pounding the surf while you run, or… air in your lungs.”


She had to laugh at his adamancy. “Maybe sex isn’t all that important to me.”


“Then you’ve been doing it wrong.”


His voice dripped with innuendo, and her body tightened involuntarily while the meaning behind his words thrummed through her veins. It was a foregone conclusion that the man knew how to use his muscular body and talented hands to make a living. She figured it wasn’t a stretch to imagine he could also use those things to make a woman very happy.


“Still with me?” he murmured.


A warm flush spread through her body, and she lost her ability to speak.


His mouth was serious, but his eyes were laughing. With a quick playful tug on a lock of her wild hair, he walked off, heading toward the inn in that long-limbed, confident stride of his.


She stared after him, a little flummoxed by the funny something still happening very low in her belly, something she was pretty sure meant her body was not on board with the giving-up-men thing.


Not even close.


Chapter 9


“If you’re going through hell…


keep moving.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


By the time Maddie gathered her wits enough to follow Jax to the inn, he’d opened the front door. “Did your mom have a set of blueprints for this place?” he asked.


“I don’t know. It looks like she kept all paperwork in the office in the marina. We could check there.”


“You’ll need it for the escrow contract, because anyone who buys this place is going to need to make sure the entire property passes inspection and is up to code. It’s probably got more violations than you can count, and that’ll all have to be dealt with at the building department. But I think Phoebe dated Ed for awhile, and he works there. He’ll help you through it.”


She paused, a little dizzy at his knowledge and the educated, professional way he spoke. Her first impression of him had been Hot Biker. Her second impression had been Hot Biker Who Could Kiss.


Now she was seeing yet another side. She asked the question she’d been dying to ask. ”You liked her. My mom.”


“Yes. You resemble her, you know.” He took his time letting his gaze run over her, leaving her breathless. “It’s in the eyes,” he said. “She could see right through a person, right to their soul, and know.”


“Know what?”


“What they were made of.”


She’d had a knot in her chest since Phoebe’s death, a thick ball of grief and regret, and it tightened now. “I don’t have that ability. I’m actually a terrible judge of character.”


He didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Your mom was fun and a little flighty, but she had substance where it counted. She had heart.”


“Yeah, well, the flightiness was self-induced.”


A little smile crossed his face. “No doubt.”


Given the fondness in his tone, she figured he’d known Phoebe well. Certainly better than she had, and the ball tightened a little more. “So what about you?”


“What about me?”


“I know next to nothing about you. Tell me something.”


He shrugged. “Not much to tell. I was born and raised here. My mom died of a stroke a few years back. No siblings.”


“Except for Ford and Sawyer,” she said.


“Except for them.”


“What about your dad?”


“He’s in Seattle.”


There was something there, something in his voice that had her taking a closer look at him, but his face was calm. “You’ve always been a carpenter?” she asked.


“No. I went away to college, then stayed away for several years after that. I’ve been back five years now. Boring story.”


She doubted that, but he took himself and his clipboard inside the inn, and she and Izzy followed. The dog sniffed at every corner as Jax and Maddie went through room by room. He showed her what could be done to update and modernize, sometimes stopping to sketch things out for her as he talked, his love of a challenge shining through.


Maddie had enjoyed her job, sometimes, and it’d fulfilled her. But she’d never loved it. It was fascinating to watch him. He was fascinating.


They finished the main floor and headed up the stairs, while Izzy slept in the sole sun spot on the kitchen floor, snoring like a buzz saw. Jax made suggestions for the bedrooms and bathrooms. At some point, he’d gone out for his tool belt. There was something disturbingly sexy about the way it sat low on his hips, framing everything. She did her best not to notice, but he sure had a very nice… everything.


Together they crawled through the attic space, looking for the source of a roof leak they’d discovered in the last bathroom. Jax was out in front, braving the spiderwebs. Maddie was behind him, working really hard at not looking at his butt.


And failing spectacularly.


So when he unexpectedly twisted around, holding out his hand for the clipboard she was now holding, he caught her staring at him.


“I, um—You have a streak of dirt,” she said.


“A streak of dirt.”


Yes.” She pointed to his left perfectly muscled butt cheek. “There.”


He was quiet for a single, stunned beat. She couldn’t blame him, given that they were both covered in dirt from the filthy attic. “Thanks,” he finally said. “It’s important to know where the dirt streaks are.”


“It is,” she agreed, nodding like a bobble head. “Probably you should stain-stick it right away. I have some in my purse.”


“Are you offering to rub it on my ass?” She felt the heat flood her face, and he grinned. “You’re a paradox, Maddie Moore. I like that about you.”


“Is that because I said nothing was happening between us, and then I…”


“… Wanted to touch my ass.” He finished for her. “You can, by the way. Anytime.”


She squeaked in embarrassment and covered her cheeks.


“See? Paradox.”


“You know, you don’t sound like a contractor. You sound like…”


“Like?”


“Well, before the ass comment, I was going to say professional. Educated.”


“Maybe I am those things, as well.”


She followed some more, crawling along behind him, her eyes automatically locking in on the way his jeans stretched taut when he moved. Which meant it wasn’t even really her fault. It was his. His and his tight—


“I’m pretty sure,” he murmured without turning around, “that it’d be a lot easier for you to give up sex if you stop thinking about it.”


“How do you know I’m thinking about it?”


He didn’t dignify that with an answer.


“Because I’m not. I’m thinking about…” What? “About how hard it’ll be to get your jeans clean.”


He laughed softly. “Hold that thought. I found the leak. It’s fixable.”


“Good.”


“But you’re going to need a new roof next year.”


Not good. “What else?”


“Besides the fact that I like to look at your ass, too?”


With a moan that was only half embarrassment, she shook her head. “Stop it.”


“Stop the looking, or the telling of the looking?”


Oh, God. “You’re not helping me with this giving-up-men thing.”


“I don’t intend to.”


There in the dark, dusty attic she stared at him. “You have a stake in this, too. You said you weren’t interested, either.”


“No, I said I’ve been there. There being fresh out of a bad relationship and so sure I never wanted to be in another again.”


She sucked in a breath and considered denying that, but in the end, her curiosity won. “What happened?”


“I got over myself. Sort of. And for the record, I am interested. Very.”


Oh, boy. “Let’s go back to talking about the inn,” she said shakily.


“Safer?”


“Much.”


His eyes smiled. “The windows are single pane. If you replace them with energy efficient and insulated, you’d make the place far easier to heat, plus get an updated look at the same time. Parts of the porch have to be repaired. It’s not up to code, it’d never pass inspection. There’s the leaking roof. You need interior and exterior paint, and the carpet is trashed. I’d suggest ripping it out and restoring the hardwood that’s beneath it. You want to replace the water heaters. You could easily update the bathrooms by putting in new vanities and cabinets when you fix the leaking pipes.”


“Sounds like a lot.”


“No, a lot would also be renovating the kitchen and replacing the entire roof.”


True.


Back outside, they headed to the marina with Izzy trotting along after them. The sun wasn’t assisting much in warming the air, and their breath crystallized in front of their faces. A long, shrill whistle came from the water. “What’s that?” she asked.


“A seine boat searching deep waters for crab.”


As always, she walked quickly, almost running. Jax’s stride was long-legged and sure but as unrushed as everything else about him. He liked to take his time, she was learning. He took his time measuring, he took his time talking, he took his time drinking the water bottle he offered her from the back of his Jeep, and he took his time giving Izzy a hug when she roused a very pissed-off squirrel and got scared.

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