Author: Jill Shalvis


“He said I should go home,” Jeanne said softly from the doorway. “I’m done for the day anyway,” she said in silent apology, jerking her head toward his father, indicating that they should try to talk.


Fat chance.


Jax didn’t often feel his temper stir. It took a lot, especially these days, but his father could boil his blood like no other. “Still minding your own business, I see,” he said when Jeanne had left.


“Get over yourself, son. This is a simple, open-and-shut case.”


Everything in Jackson Cullen’s world was open-and-shut—as long as he got his way. “If it’s so simple, you take it.”


“No, they want someone young, an up-and-comer.”


“I’ve up and come. And gone,” Jax reminded him. “Now if you could do the same…” He gestured to the door.


“Jesus Christ, Jax. It’s been five years since you let your job go. You let your fiancée go, too. Time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back on the horse.”


Jax shoved the file back across his desk and stood up. “Get out.”


“You’re not listening. Elizabeth Weston is thirty, loaded, beautiful, and her daddy’s going to be the next state governor.”


“Which matters why?”


“She’s looking to settle down. You’ll do.”


He choked out a laugh. “Now you’re whoring me out? Not that this surprises me.”


“What, you’re not seeing anyone, are you?”


Was he? He’d like to say hell, yes, but the facts were simple. He was guessing Maddie’s ex had been an attorney, and a real asshole, to boot. When she learned about Jax’s past, she’d run for the hills. Even if he somehow managed to show her that he’d changed, he doubted she’d understand his morally and emotionally bankrupt history. He wouldn’t expect her to.


Hell, just being a man was a strike against him. She wasn’t in a place to trust any person with a Y chromosome.


“A wife like Elizabeth will be an asset when you take over my practice,” his father said.


“I’ve told you, I’m not taking over your practice.”


“You’re a Cullen. You’re my only son. You have to take over the practice. I spent the past thirty-five years building it for you.”


“You built it for you,” Jax corrected. “Come on, Dad, doesn’t this ever get old? You bullying me, me refusing to be bullied. Hire an associate and be done with it.”


“This is asinine.” Jaw tight, his father scooped up the file and moved stiffly to the door. “No one can disappoint me quite the way you can.”


Ditto. “Dismiss Jeanne or interfere with my work again, and you won’t be welcome back.”


When the front door slammed, Jax picked up a paperweight on his desk and flung it against the wall, where it shattered. There. Marginally better. And it seemed that he and his father had something in common, after all—sometimes Jax disappointed himself, too.


He was still struggling with his own temper when Ford strode into the office and kicked Jax’s feet off his desk. “Get up. Water’s calm. Wind’s kicking. We’re going sailing.”


“Not in the mood.”


“I’m looking for a first mate, not a sex partner. Besides, you need some tranquility.”


Jax slid him a look. “Tranquility? A big word for you, isn’t it?”


“What? The bar’s been slow. I’ve been reading.”


“You didn’t get that word out of Penthouse Forum.”


“Hey, I read other stuff.” He paused. “Sometimes. Now get up. Jeanne’s got the afternoon off, and so do you.”


He looked at the one person who knew his entire sor-did story and didn’t seem to blame Jax for being an asshole. “How do you know Jeanne’s got the afternoon off?”


Ford didn’t answer.


“Shit,” Jax said. “She called you.”


“A little bit,” Ford admitted. “She wanted me to give you a hug.”


“Fuck off.”


“Figured you’d say that. Also figured you’d be needing to get out.”


Which is how Jax ended up on the water on Ford’s thirty-two-foot Beneteau. It was late in the year for a leisurely sail. Far too late. Most sailing enthusiasts had long ago winterized their boats, but Ford being Ford, he never let a little thing like winter slow him down. He always thrived on pushing the envelope, and not just in sailing.


They were rewarded by an unexpected cold, hard wind that took their breath and every ounce of questionable talent they owned. The swells rose to nearly eight feet, ensuring that their planned easygoing few hours turned into an all-out work-their-asses-off-fest just to stay alive, much less afloat.


“Christ,” Ford breathed when they’d made it back to the slip. He slumped against the hull, head back. “I sailed the West Indies and nearly died three times. That was nothing compared to this. What were you thinking, letting me take us out there?”


Jax didn’t have the energy to kick Ford’s ass, so he slid down the hull next to him and mirrored his pose, his every muscle quivering with exhaustion and overuse, even his brain. “Forgot what a drama queen you are.”


Ford choked out a laugh. “If I could move, I’d make you eat that statement.”


“You and what army?”


“Fuck you,” Ford said companionably. “And when were you going to tell me about Maddie? I have to hear about some supposedly hot kiss on the pier from Jeanne, who heard it from—”


“I know this story, thanks.” And in tune to Ford’s soft laugh, Jax thunked his head back against the hull and closed his eyes. He wondered what she was doing right now, if she was working at the inn. He knew everyone, himself included, had found Phoebe fun and free-spirited, but having met her daughters now, Jax found himself angered at how Phoebe had neglected them.


Maddie deserved better. They all did.


“Did you know that Anderson asked Maddie out?” Ford asked.


“Yes!”


“Hell, man, sailing’s supposed to relax you.”


Jax was relaxed. He was easygoing and laid-back. It’d taken him five long years to get there. He no longer let things stack up on his shoulders until he was ready to crumple. He no longer kept secrets for a living, his clients’ or his own, secrets that had the ability to burn holes in the lining of his stomach.


So why hadn’t he told Maddie that he’d been a lawyer?


Because he was a dumbass.


And a chicken, to boot.


And because you know she’d stop looking at you like you’re a superhero…


Oh, yeah, that.


Maddie and her sisters spent their days going through the inn and marina, each for different reasons. Chloe was bored. Tara didn’t want to miss anything of resale value. But for Maddie, it was about sentiment and about learning how the inn could run. She’d hoped to have everything computerized by now, but she’d spent most of her time digging her way through just to see what she had to work with.


On the second day, she headed into town with a list of errands. When she saw Lucille out in front of the art gallery, she pulled over. Lucille was thrilled for the company and after hugging Maddie hello said, “I hear you’ve been kissing our Jax on the pier.”


“Oh. Well, I—”


“You’ve picked the cream of the crop with that one, honey. Did you know he lent me the money to help my granddaughter stay in college? Don’t let the motorcycle, tattoos, and aloofness fool you; he’s a sweet, caring young man.”


Maddie hadn’t found him aloof. Big and bad and intimidating, maybe. Sexy as hell, certainly. And—Wait. Tattoos? He had tattoos? Just thinking of ink on that body of his had heat slashing through hers.


“Come in, come in,” Lucille said. “I just put up my Christmas decorations. And I have tea. And brandy.”


She wasn’t sure what it said about her that she was tempted. “I’m on a mission for Tara, running some errands, but thank you.”


“Going back to the hardware store?” Lucille cocked her head. “Heard Anderson asked you out.”


Maddie had gone yesterday to get some organizational supplies. The guy behind the counter had been wearing a Santa hat, and was extremely cute and extremely funny, but she’d left with only her supplies, gently turning down the date.


She’d given up men.


Or she was trying. “Does everyone know everything around here?”


“Well, we don’t know which guy you’re going to date, Anderson or Jax. But if you could tell me, I’ll be real popular tonight at bingo,” she said hopefully.


Maddie’s next stop was the pier for another shake, which she needed bad.


She smiled at the familiar guy behind the counter. “Lance, right? Straight chocolate this time.”


He smiled and nodded. He was in his early twenties, small boned, and had a voice like he was speaking through gravel.


He told her that he had cystic fibrosis. He had family in Portland, but he lived here in Lucky Harbor with his brother, priding himself on his independence in spite of a disease that was slowly ravaging his young body.


Listening to him, Maddie decided she had nothing, absolutely nothing, to complain about in her life. And on the way back to her car, she stared up at the looming Ferris wheel.


Had her mother ever ridden it? From all that she’d read on Phoebe’s “recipe” cards, Maddie had to believe her mom had lived her life fast, and just a little bit recklessly.


Chloe was a chip off the old block.


Tara hid her wild side, but she had traveled far and wide, as well, and she had a lot of life experiences under her belt.


Maddie… not so much. Sure, she’d lived in Los Angeles, but that was because her father had brought her there. Those adventures she’d had on movie sets were because of him, not because she’d had some deep yearning for the profession.


She’d fallen into it. She’d fallen or been dragged into just about everything she’d ever done.

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