Author: Jill Shalvis


Maddie couldn’t help but wonder if he took his time in bed, too, and just the thought caused a rush of heat to places that had no business getting all heated up.


He slid her a look, and his mouth twitched. “Again?”


“So your superpower is reading my mind?”


“Anyone can read your mind, Maddie. You wear it—along with your heart—on your sleeve.”


She blew out a breath. “That’s going to have to stop. Soon as I figure out how.”


“You could start by letting go of some of the stuff you’re holding in.”


“I’m not holding anything in.”


“Do we need to go over the long list of things you don’t want to talk about? Like your thing against educated and professional and… lawyerly?”


She put her hands on her hips. “What’s your thing with my thing against lawyers?”


He did the brow arch. “Nice deflection. You’re getting better at it, actually.”


“Consider it step one in learning how to not wear my thoughts on my sleeve.”


He laughed softly and tugged on a curl. “If you’re not going to tell me any deep, dark secrets, let’s do the rest of this.”


Inside the marina, they decided there was nothing critical to be done here on Jax’s part. But taking a look at all the gear—kayaks, canoes, paddles, and more—her thumbs itched to get busy itemizing and cataloguing on her Blackberry. She had a month to prove to her sisters that this could be a viable business for them, and she didn’t intend to fail.


“You seem pretty comfortable out here,” she said to Jax. “Even for someone who once painted the inn.”


“See that fourteen-foot sailboat in slip three? And the thirty-two-foot one in four? They’re both Ford’s. He leases year-round and sometimes drags me out on the water with him. But even before that, we used to come out here late at night.”


“To TP.”


“Just the once. Trust me, we learned our lesson on that one. Look out past the slips, to the woods beyond the marina. There are trails leading up to the bluffs. It’s rough going, and the bush is really overgrown. It’s a deterrent for everyone except the occasional teenager who wants a quiet place to go make out. Gives a whole new meaning to the name Lucky Harbor.”


The thought of a teenage Jax hiking out there with nefarious intentions should have made her laugh. Instead, she wished she’d grown up here in Lucky Harbor, and that maybe she could have been one of those girls. “Even in the winter?”


“All the better. There isn’t any poison oak in the winter. It’s hard to convince a girl you’re sexy when you can’t stop scratching your ass because of the rash.”


She laughed. She’d done that a few times now, when up until yesterday, being amused at anything had seemed so far out of reach. How it was possible that just one day and one tall, dark, and enigmatic man had changed things, she had no idea.


The marina office was small and held an ancient couch, a huge, beat-up, old desk piled with papers, and a filing cabinet. Drawers were open, and files were in complete disarray.


Jax shook his head. “You’ve got your work cut out for you.”


Maddie shrugged. “I’ve organized worse.” And what was the alternative, going back to LA with her tail between her legs? Hell, no. The thought brought her up a little. She’d been faking strength for so long now that it was starting to stick. About time.


Jax pointed out the window beyond the marina to the thick, overgrown woods. “Shortcut to the bluffs is right past that isolated, small rocky beach. Another good makeout spot, FYI. Especially when you’re sixteen and grounded from a car.”


She smiled. “Were you grounded a lot?”


“Pretty much 24/7 until I left for college.”


“And did you miss small-town living when you were gone?”


“Not even a little. I didn’t just walk out of Lucky Harbor; I ran like hell.”


There was that same something in his eyes that had been there when he’d mentioned his father. She wasn’t the only one keeping her own counsel. “And yet you came back.”


His gaze met hers, clear now. Relaxed. “And yet I came back.”


“Why?”


“Funny what a couple of years’ perspective can do.”


Growing up on movie sets as she had, just about everything in her life had been an illusion. The illusion of friends, the illusion of home. The question was—was Lucky Harbor just another set, or would it turn out to be the real thing?


Back at Jax’s Jeep, he opened the driver’s door, set his clipboard on the dash, then gestured for Izzy to jump in.


The dog leapt up, limbs akimbo, and sat. “Scoot over,” Jax told her.


Izzy grinned.


Jax shook his head, leaned back against the Jeep, and looked at Maddie. “I’ll work up a bid and email it to you.”


“Thanks.”


He looked behind her to the inn. “Phoebe left you the property because it meant something to her. If you really don’t want to sell it, stand your ground.” He flashed her a smile. “Be Louise.”


The smile was devastating and contagious, damn him. “I’m trying. But there are problems.”


“Yeah. It’s called life.”


“The mortgage is in arrears. I think the property is actually upside down on its loan. Which is a mystery to me, because like you said, I believe this place meant something to Phoebe, sentimentally anyway. But if she wanted us to keep it, why did she leave every last penny in a trust for someone else?”


He paused, as if carefully picking his words. “There are things you can do. Talk to your original lender, for one. Get an appraisal and refinance. And have you actually verified that there are no funds other than the trust? You’ve talked to the probate attorney and have a list of Phoebe’s assets and accounts? Because that might lead you to… other avenues.”


“There you go,” she murmured, a little surprised to find that even more attractive than his butt were his brains. “Sounding like more than a pretty tool belt again. Maybe even like a… lawyer.”


“And that’s bad?”


She didn’t answer, didn’t know how. It wasn’t exactly a rational fear she was carrying around.


“Let me guess,” he said. “It’s one of those things you don’t want to talk about.”


“Definitely.”


Their gazes collided.


Held.


Time seemed to stand still, which was not only odd, but silly. Time never stood still, not even for sexy superheroes. When he pushed off the Jeep and stepped close, her pulse immediately kicked into high gear. “Thanks for coming,” she whispered. “I—”


Slowly, purposefully, eyes still locked on hers, he invaded her personal space bubble.


She sucked in a breath as heat spiraled within her.


“You…” he said, trying to help her along.


“I can’t remember a single thought in my head.”


Gentle but firm hands settled on her hips, and he backed her into the Jeep.


“What are you doing?” she asked breathlessly.


“Giving you a new thought.” Leaning in, he covered her mouth with his and kissed her, his tongue teasing lightly, keeping it soft until she moaned. Then he deepened the kiss into a hot, intense connection that had her head spinning and her blood pumping as their bodies molded together. Unlike last night’s tender kisses, this was a little demanding, and a whole lot wild, and when he slid a thigh between hers, she lost her ability to think.


Last night, he’d been seeking permission. Not this time. This time, he buried his fingers into her hair and claimed her mouth, pulling her in even closer, a hand caressing down her back as if to soothe as well as incite, claiming another little piece of her heart in the process.


Sneaky bastard.


She’d tell him so, but her tongue was a little busy. So were her fingers, first enjoying the play of the muscles on his back, then holding on tight just in case he had any ideas about trying to get away. Because she wasn’t done, not even when Izzy gave a little whine of unhappiness at sharing her man.


Maddie slid her hands over Jax’s shoulders, reminding herself that enough was enough, but she tugged a thrillingly rough groan from deep in his chest so she tightened her grip instead. By the time they broke apart, she was completely out of breath. If it wasn’t for the Jeep at her back and the thigh he still had wedged between hers, she’d have dropped to the ground in a puddle of lust.


“Maddie.”


His voice was low and gravely and sexy as hell. “Yes?”


“I’m going to touch your face now.”


Remembering last night and her mortifying reaction, she should have been grateful for the heads-up, but she was still dizzy from the kiss. “Oh. Well, I—”


He ran his hand up her arm, to her shoulder, over her throat, going slowly, achingly slowly, so that by the time he cupped her jaw, she was quivering, all right, but not from fear. Lifting his other hand, he slid a curl from her temple, tucking it behind her ear. With her pulse somewhere at stroke level, she closed her eyes to better absorb his touch. His fingers were warm and callused. Strong, though not using that strength against her, but in a protective way. And in spite of her admittedly irrational fear of men, her body and heart wanted him.


Bad.


“Maddie.”


“Huh?”


There was amusement in his voice. “Are you still giving up men?”


He was pressed against her, deliciously warm and hard. Everywhere. She wanted to give him a chance, but she’d meant it when she said she wasn’t ready. She needed a clear head first, and her life straightened out. A relationship of any kind at this point would be ludicrous. “Yes,” she said, but it came out as more of a croak. She cleared her throat and said it again. “Yes, I’m still giving up men.”


He studied her face, then gave her a very small smile before backing away, pulling his keys from his pocket. “I’ll be in touch.”

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