Author: Jill Shalvis


Including the inn.


No, she decided. This was going to be different. She was going to make this adventure her own. Nodding, she walked along, listening to the rough surf slap at the pier. The slats of wood beneath her feet had spaces between them, and in the light of day that gave her vertigo and a fear of falling through.


“The trick is not to look at your feet when you walk.”


Maddie turned toward the voice and found a woman busy nailing a sign to a post. Appearing to be about Maddie’s age, she was petite and pretty, with dark waves of hair falling down her back. She wore hip-hugging pin-striped trousers and a business jacket fit for her toned figure, looking cool and composed and far too professional to be standing on a pier with a hammer and nails in her manicured hands.


“If you look straight out to the horizon,” she told Maddie, “You won’t feel like you’re going to fall.” Looking quite comfortable with the hammer in spite of her outfit, she pounded a last nail into the sign, which read:


Lucky Harbor’s Annual Shrimp Feed


this Saturday at 6:00


The Biggest and Bestest in the State:


Dinner, Dancing, and


Kissing The Mayor—Don’t Miss it!


“You’re new.” Smiling, the woman thrust out a hand. “I’m Sandy. Town clerk and manager. I also run the library.” She smiled. “You know, you look like your momma.”


“You knew her?”


“Everyone knew her. Be sure to bring your sisters to the feed. Here.” Reaching into the bag at her feet, she pulled out a round of what looked like raffle tickets. She tore off a long strip of them and handed it over. “On the house. A welcome-to-town present.”


“What are these for?”


“The guessing tank. You write how many shrimp you think’ll get dragged in on the shrimp boat parade that night. Winner gets to kiss Jax when he comes in off the jet ski leading the boat parade.”


Maddie blinked. “Jax? Jax Cullen?”


“The one and only.”


“Why does the winner get to kiss Jax?”


“Besides the fact that he is one fine man?” Sandy grinned. “Because someone always gets to kiss the mayor. We like to torture our own here. Especially someone as popular as Jax. Before Jax, it was me, actually. I was mayor for three terms. I got lucky one year—a board member won the raffle and he was a cutie pie. Couldn’t kiss for beans, though. The other years I had to kiss frogs.”


“But mayor?” Maddie shook her head. “Jax is a contractor. He restores things.”


“He’s a man of many talents.” Sandy said this with a secret little smile, and Maddie knew a moment of horror.


Oh, God. “He’s your boyfriend.” She’d kissed another woman’s boyfriend.


“No,” Sandy said with a sigh. “Much to my utter dismay—and not for lack of trying—Jax and I are just friends.” She dropped her hammer into her bag and smiled. “See you at the feed. Oh, and are you going to hand out coupons for the inn? Phoebe did that last year, and it was a big success.”


“It was?” How was that even possible? The place was a complete wreck.


Seeing Maddie’s expression, Sandy smiled. “Yeah, probably she didn’t charge them, but the point is, she could have. She was a wonderful lady, your momma, but not much for business. Maybe she didn’t mention that.”


No, Phoebe hadn’t mentioned that. Phoebe hadn’t mentioned much of anything. “I’ll talk to my sisters about it, but the inn won’t be reopened until…” Well, maybe never, but since she was done with negativity, she said, “Hopefully right after the new year.”


Sandy nodded. “Can’t wait to see what you do in the way of updating and modernizing. The whole town is buzzing about it.”


“How does anyone even know we’re doing anything?”


“Well, you’ve asked Jax for a bid. Jeanne had lunch with Tracy, her best friend, who told Carla, my sister-in-law, who’s the local newspaper reporter. Lucky Harbor prides itself on keeping up with the news, and you three are big news.”


Maddie tried to wrap her mind around the thought that she was news. Maddie Moore, assistant to the assistant, was news. “We’re not really that interesting.”


“Are you kidding? Three new women in town, running the inn? It’s the biggest news this month. Well, maybe not quite as big as the upcoming shrimp feed, or watching Jax freeze his most excellent butt off leading the parade, but big enough.” She smiled. “Okay, I’m off to hang more signs. See you!”


“See you,” Maddie said softly and sipped her shake. She wanted to think about all Sandy had mentioned. She needed to wrap her head around the Lucky Harbor grapevine, the possibility that people were excited to have her in town, and the inn, but her brain kept stuttering on one thing.


Jax—the mayor!—and his most excellent butt.


Chapter 11


“A sister is a forever friend.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


That’s not a quote about men or sex,” Chloe said, scooping up another piece of pizza. She was wearing a snug black hoodie, zipped to just between her breasts. There was a single bright white word emblazed across the front—NAUGHTY.


They were on the counter at the cottage having dinner, where they’d taken to pulling out a random Phoebe quote from the recipe box because otherwise they argued. They argued about the inn, about the sole bed in the cottage, about the cottage kitchen—mostly because only Tara could cook, but she refused, saying she was on vacation. They argued about Phoebe’s wishes, clothes… there was no sacred ground.


Tara and Chloe were going back to their lives in a matter of days. Maddie was staying.


So the cards were just about the only safe subject. Most of the cards were outrageous. Some were downright absurd.


But once in a while there was a treasure, something so real, it caught Maddie like a one–two punch. A sister is a forever friend was one of them. “I like that one,” she said quietly. “I like it a lot.”


Tara tapped her perfectly manicured nails a moment, clearly uncomfortable with Maddie’s obvious emotion. Finally, she blew out a breath and spoke with more emotion than Maddie had ever heard from her. “I agree, it’s a keeper.”


“Aw, look at you.” Chloe nudged shoulders with her. “Going all Ya-Ya Sisterhood on us.”


When Maddie and Tara both gave her the stink eye, she rolled her eyes. “Jeez, just lightening up the moment so we’re not reenacting a Lifetime movie.”


Maddie sighed, then carefully put the card back in the box, hoping the quote proved to be true.


The next evening, Jax stood behind the bar drying glasses, waiting for Ford to finish his shift so that they could go grab a late dinner. Jax had spent the day finishing up a mahogany dining room set for a client, and though he’d showered, he still smelled like wood shavings. He had two splinters in his right hand that he hadn’t been able to remove himself, and a pounding headache that he suspected was directly due to the scathing email his father had sent him earlier regarding his last visit.


He was starting to wish he’d snagged himself a shot of 151 instead of a beer.


Ford was down at the other end of the bar. He turned and looked at Jax, brows up.


Jax shook his head. He was fine.


Fine.


A breeze hit him as the door opened, accompanied by a sizzle of awareness that zinged straight through him.


Maddie walked in and slid onto a barstool. He took in her jeans and soft, fuzzy, oversized sweater the exact blue of her eyes and was powerless against the smile that crossed his lips. “Hey.”


“Hey Mr. Mayor.”


He grimaced and served her a beer. “Discovered that, did you?”


“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”


“It never came up.”


“It could have,” she said. “Maybe between the ‘so glad I didn’t kill you’ and, oh, I don’t know, when we played tonsil hockey.”


“Which time?”


She rolled her eyes. “You know what I’m saying. You’ve encouraged me to blab all about myself, but you seem to have managed to remain quiet about you.”


Yeah, and he was good at it. He came around the end of the bar and sat next to her. “In a town this size, being mayor is more of a dubious distinction than anything else.”


“A pretty fancy dubious title.” She sipped her beer and studied him.


He studied her right back. It’d been two days since he’d emailed her the bid. Three days since the aforementioned tonsil hockey. He’d thought of her, a lot more than he’d meant to.


He wondered if she’d done the same.


“So what’s the protocol here?” she wanted to know. “Do I curtsy when I see you? Kiss your ring?”


He felt a smile curve his mouth. “A curtsy would be nice, but you don’t look like that kind of girl. And I don’t wear a ring, but I have something else you can kiss.” He tapped a finger to his lips.


She laughed, and he decided that was the best sound he’d heard all day.


She handed him a file folder.


He opened it and found she’d printed his bid. He looked at what she’d circled and signed and then into her face.


“I got my sisters to agree.”


There was a world of emotion in her voice, though she was trying to hide it. She’d gone up against her sisters and stood her ground. “Proud of you, Maddie.”


“Thanks. And you’re hired,” she said quietly. “Assuming you still want the job.”


The job, the woman…


“I circled what we can afford to do right now. Some of the other stuff, like the interior painting and the hauling of any demo debris, I’m going to do myself.”


“Yourself?”


“My sisters aren’t staying, just me. When can you start?”


The days of working 24/7 and cultivating as many clients as he could handle, maybe even more than he could handle, were long gone. Happily gone. These days, he took only the jobs he wanted. At the moment, all he had waiting on him was a wood-trim job in town, but his materials hadn’t come yet. He also had to finish a front door design and the final touches on the dining room set. “I can start the day after tomorrow.”

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