Author: Jill Shalvis


And a Ferris wheel.


The sight of it brought an odd yearning. She wanted to buy a ticket and ride it, if only to pretend for four minutes that she wasn’t twenty-nine, broke every which way to Sunday, and homeless.


Oh, and scared of heights.


She kept driving. Two minutes later, she came to a fork in the road and had no idea which way to turn. Pulling over, she grabbed her map, watching as Hot Biker Guy rode past her in those faded jeans that fit perfectly across his equally perfect butt.


When the very nice view was gone, she went back to studying her map. Lucky Harbor Resort was supposedly on the water, which was still hard to believe, because as far as Maddie knew, the only thing her mother had ever owned was a 1971 wood-paneled station wagon and every single Deadhead album ever recorded.


According to the lawyer’s papers, the resort was made up of a small marina, an inn, and an owner’s cottage. Filled with anticipation, Maddie hit the gas and steered right… only to come to the end of the asphalt.


Huh.


She eyed the last building on the left. It was an art gallery. A woman stood in the doorway wearing a bright pink velour sweat suit with white piping, white athletic shoes, and a terry-cloth sweatband that held back her equally white hair. She could have been fifty or eighty, it was hard to tell, and in direct contrast to the athletic outfit, she had a cigarette dangling out the corner of her mouth and skin that looked as if she’d been standing in the sun for decades. “Hello, darling,” she said in a craggy voice when Maddie got out of her car. “You’re either lost, or you want to buy a painting.”


“A little lost,” Maddie admitted.


“That happens a lot out here. We have all these roads that lead nowhere.”


Great. She was on the road to nowhere. Story of her life. “I’m looking for Lucky Harbor Resort.”


The woman’s white eyebrows jerked upright, vanishing into her hair. “Oh! Oh, finally!” Eyes crinkling when she smiled, she clapped her hands in delight. “Which one are you, honey? The Wild Child, the Steel Magnolia, or the Mouse?”


Maddie blinked. “Uh…”


“Oh, your momma loved to talk about her girls! Always said how she’d screwed you all up but good, but that someday she’d get you all back here to run the inn together as a real family, the three of you.”


“You mean the four of us.”


“Nope. Somehow she always knew it’d be just you three girls.” She puffed on her cigarette, then nearly hacked up a lung. “She wanted to get the inn renovated first, but that didn’t happen. The pneumonia caught her fast, and then she was gone.” Her smile faded some. “Probably God couldn’t resist Pheeb’s company. Christ, she was such a kick.” She cocked her head and studied Maddie’s appearance.


Self-conscious, Maddie once again brushed at herself, hoping the crumbs were long gone and that maybe her hair wasn’t as bad as it felt.


The woman smiled. “The Mouse.”


Well, hell. Maddie blew out a breath, telling herself it was silly to be insulted at the truth. “Yes.”


“That’d make you the smart one, then. The one who ran the big, fancy production company in Los Angeles.”


“Oh.” Maddie vehemently shook her head. “No, I was just an assistant.” To an assistant. Who sometimes had to buy her boss’s underwear and fetch his girlfriend’s presents, as well as actually produce movies and TV shows.


“Your momma said you’d say that, but she knew better. Knew your worth ethic. She said you worked very hard.”


Maddie had worked hard. And dammit, she had also pretty much run that company. May it rot in hell. “How do you know all this?”


“I’m Lucille.” When this produced no recognition from Maddie, she cackled in laughter. “I actually work for you. You know, at the inn? Whenever there’s guests, I come in and clean.”


“By yourself?”


“Well, business hasn’t exactly been hopping, has it? Oh! Wait here a second, I have something to show you—”


“Actually, I’m sort of in a hurry…” But Lucille was gone. “Okay, then.”


Two minutes later, Lucile reappeared from the gallery carrying a small carved wooden box that said RECIPES, the kind that held 3x5 index cards. “This is for you girls.”


Maddie didn’t cook, but it seemed rude not to take it. “Did Phoebe cook?”


“Oh, hell, no,” Lucille said with a cackle. “She could burn water like no other.”


Maddie accepted the box with a baffled “Thanks.”


“Now, you just continue down this road about a mile to the clearing. You can’t miss it. Call me if you need anything. Cleaning, organizing… spider relocation.”


This caught Maddie’s attention. “Spider relocation?”


“Your momma wasn’t big on spiders.”


Uh-huh, something they had in common. “Are there a lot of them?”


“Well, that depends on what you consider a lot.”


Oh, God. Any more than one was an infestation. Maddie managed a smile that might have been more a baring of her teeth, gave a wave of thanks, and got back into her car, following the dirt road. “The Mouse,” she said with a sigh.


That was going to change.


Chapter 2


“Don’t take life too seriously. After all, none of us


are getting out alive anyway.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


Turned out Lucille was right, and in exactly one mile, the road opened up to a clearing. The Pacific Ocean was a deep, choppy sea of black, dusted with whitecaps that went out as far as Maddie could see. It connected with a metallic gray sky, framed by rocky bluffs, misty and breathtaking.


She had found the “resort,” and Lucille had gotten something else right, too. The place wasn’t exactly hopping.


Dead was more like it.


Clearly, the inn had seen better days. A woman sat on the front porch steps, a Vespa parked nearby. At the sight of Maddie, she stood. She wore cute little hip-hugging army cargoes, a snug, bright red Henley, and matching high-tops. Her glossy dark red hair cascaded down her back in an artful disarray that would have taken an entire beauty salon staff to accomplish on Maddie’s uncontrollable curls.


Chloe, the twenty-four-year-old Wild Child.


Maddie attempted to pat down her own dark blond hair that had a mind of its own, but it was a waste of time on a good day, which this most definitely wasn’t. Before she could say a word, a cab pulled up next to Maddie’s car and a tall, lean, beautiful woman got out. Her short brunette hair was layered and effortlessly sexy. She wore an elegant business suit that emphasized her fit body and a cool smile.


Tara, the Steel Magnolia.


As the cabbie set Tara’s various bags on the porch, the three of them just stared at one another, five years of estrangement floating awkwardly between them. The last time they’d all been in one place, Tara and Maddie had met in Montana to bail Chloe out of jail for illegally bungee jumping off a bridge. Chloe had thanked them, promised to pay them back, and they’d all gone their separate ways.


It was just the way it was. They had three different fathers and three very different personalities, and the only thing they had in common was a sweet, ditzy, wanderlusting hippie of a mother.


“So,” Maddie said, forcing a smile through the uncomfortable silence. “How’s things?”


“Ask me again after we sort out this latest mess,” Tara murmured and eyed their baby sister.


Chloe tossed up her hands. “Hey, I had nothing to do with this one.”


“Which would be a first.” Tara spoke with the very slight southern accent that she denied having, the one she’d gotten from growing up on her paternal grandparents’ horse ranch in Texas.


Chloe rolled her eyes and pulled her always-present asthma inhaler from her pocket, looking around without much interest. “So this is it? The big reveal?”


“I guess so,” Maddie said, also taking in the clearly deserted inn. “There don’t appear to be any guests at the moment.”


“Not good for resale value,” Tara noted.


“Resale?” Maddie asked.


“Selling is the simplest way to get out of here as fast as possible.”


Maddie’s stomach clenched. She didn’t want to get out of here. She wanted a place to stay—to breathe, to lick her wounds, to regroup. “What’s the hurry?”


“Just being realistic. The place came with a huge mortgage and no liquid assets.”


Chloe shook her head. “Sounds like Mom.”


“There was a large trust fund from her parents,” Maddie said. “The will separated it out from the estate, so I have no idea who it went to. I assumed it was one of you.”


Chloe shook her head.


They both looked at Tara.


“Sugar, I don’t know any more than y’all. What I do know is that we’d be smart to sell, pay off the loan on the property, and divide what’s left three ways and get back to our lives. I’m thinking we can list the place and be out of here in a few days if we play our cards right.”


This time Maddie’s stomach plummeted. “So fast?”


“Do you really want to stay in Lucky Harbor a moment longer than necessary?” Tara asked. “Even Mom, bless her heart, didn’t stick around.”


Chloe shook her inhaler and took a second puff from it. “Selling works for me. I’m due at a friend’s day spa in New Mexico next week.”


“You have enough money to book yourself at a spa in New Mexico, but not enough to pay me back what you’ve borrowed?” Tara asked.


“I’m going there to work. I’ve been creating a natural skin care line, and I’m giving a class on it, hoping to sell the line to the spa.” Chloe eyed the road. “Think there’s a bar in town? I could use a drink.”


“It’s four in the afternoon,” Tara said.


“But it’s five o’clock somewhere.”


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