Author: Jill Shalvis


“I think it’s a ‘T’ zone,” Ford said, pointing to his own.


Sawyer sent him a look of banality. “Is there something you want to tell us?”


“Yeah, I’m fucking gay.” Ford shook his head, confident in his sexuality. “And all women are trouble, man. Every last one.”


At this, Sawyer raised a brow. Ford loved women. Always. Period. Sawyer looked at Jax for answers.


Jax shrugged. “It’s a sucky day in Mayberry,” he said and took another look at the table of sisters.


Tara was saying something through tight lips to her sisters. Chloe downed her drink and raised her hand for another.


Maddie shoved the stack of papers aside and reached into her purse, pulling out two knitting needles and a bright red skein of yarn. Jax wondered if it was the same one he’d seen wrapped around her the other morning.


Biting her lower lip between her teeth, she slowly and awkwardly worked the knitting needles, murmuring to herself as she did, clearly talking her way through each stitch with heartbreaking meticulousness. It got him right in the gut.


She got him right in the gut.


“Earth to pussy-whipped Jax.”


Jax slid Ford a long look. “Pussy-whipped?”


“I thought you gave up that shit when you ran away from Seattle.”


He hadn’t run away from Seattle. He’d walked. Fast.


Sawyer was looking like he’d found a bright spot to his day. “So exactly how many women do you figure have thrown themselves at you since you’ve been back in Lucky Harbor?”


“I don’t know.”


“All of them,” Sawyer said. “But this is the only one to hold your interest, and don’t even try to tell me I’m full of shit.” He hitched his chin to indicate Maddie. “So basically, it’s Murphy’s Law now. Sheer odds say you’re about to make an ass of yourself.” He said this as if it was Christmas morning and Santa Claus had delivered.


“And this makes you happy?” Jax asked in disbelief.


“Oh, fuck, yeah.”


Jax took another look at the sisters. The three of them were talking, but Tara was looking at her watch. Chloe was now making eyes at the busboy’s ass. Maddie still had her brow furrowed in fierce concentration as she carefully talked herself through another stitch.


“Christ, you have it bad,” Ford said in disgust.


It was entirely possible that for once, he was right.


Chapter 12


“You’re as happy as you make up


your mind to be.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


For the third morning in a row, Chloe whipped the blanket off Tara. Maddie knew this because Tara’s distinct screech echoed in the small bedroom they’d been sharing in the cottage.


Where there was only one bed.


At least it was a queen-sized, and it’d been cold enough that they hadn’t minded being packed in like a litter of kittens. Well, they minded Chloe talking in her sleep, because it was usually things like “harder, Zach, harder,” which both Tara and Maddie could do without hearing.


Tara was still complaining about being woken up, her drawl thick and sweet as molasses. This was in direct opposition to the words she was saying, something about Chloe’s questionable heritage and the turnip truck she rode in on.


Cocooned in between the wall and a pillow, Maddie snickered and burrowed deeper into her own warmth. And then the blanket was rudely ripped off her, as well. “Goddammit!”


Looking disgustingly cheerful and put together in black, hip-hugging yoga pants and an eye-popping pink sports bra, Chloe smacked Maddie’s ass. “Get up.”


“Touch my ass,” Tara said, sitting up and pointing at her, “and die.”


Chloe grinned. “Two minutes.”


When she’d left the room, Tara gritted her teeth and rolled out of bed, wearing only a cami and boxers, looking annoyingly fabulous with her hair only slightly mussed. “I intensely dislike her.”


“You seem to intensely dislike a lot of people. Like Ford, for instance—who I didn’t realize you knew.”


Tara stiffened. “I don’t.”


“Your accent definitely thickens when you lie. You might want to work on that.”


Tara let out a long, shaky breath. “What do you think of him?”


“Ford?” She thought of him standing behind his bar, tall and sexy, that easy grin charming anyone in its path. “I like him. What’s going on, Tara?”


“Nothing.”


Maddie understood that sentiment. She had a lot of stuff that she didn’t want to talk about, either. She sat up in bed and patted her hair, knowing it resembled something from the wild animal kingdom. She sighed and staggered off the bed. By day, they’d been doing their own thing. She’d been going through the “office” in the marina, trying to make sense of the wacky accounting system—which seemed to be one step above a shoebox. Tara had been cleaning. Chloe couldn’t do either. She’d decided she was going to create a line of skin care products with the inn’s name and give away baskets to their customers when the time came. And when they sold the inn, she hoped the new owners would want the line.


It was a great idea, unique and perfectly suited for a small, cozy beachside inn—assuming they got customers.


When Chloe wasn’t working on that, she spent her time looking for trouble—and, given the two speeding tickets she’d already racked up, she’d found it.


At night, they ate as a family, which meant they fought. Maddie had discovered that it didn’t matter what subject they tackled. Tara and Chloe could argue about the sky being blue.


Mostly they fought over the inn. Tara wanted a commitment from her sisters to sell. Maddie wanted a commitment to give the place a fair shot. Chloe wanted… well, no one really knew. But one thing was certain, she still didn’t want to take sides.


So the tension mounted and manifested itself in stupid little disagreements. Like over yoga.


“Sixty seconds!” Chloe yelled from the living room.


Maddie tied back her hair. “Coming!”


“Liar!”


For being such a tiny thing, Chloe was a purebred pit bull. Maddie staggered to the living room, where Tara was already sitting obediently, legs crossed.


As they’d learned the hard way for three mornings running, Chloe took her yoga seriously. For the next forty-five minutes she chided, bossed, demanded, and bullied myriad poses out of them until Maddie was dripping sweat and barely standing on muscles that were quivering. “I need food,” Maddie gasped.


“Eat me?” Chloe asked.


“If I have to eat one more greased up, heart-attack-on-a-plate meal from that place,” Tara said from flat on her back, “I’m going to kill myself. I’m cooking.”


“Finally,” Chloe said with relief. “What took so long?”


“I don’t do it for people I don’t like.”


“But sugar, you don’t like anyone.”


Maddie shook her head at Chloe, then looked at Tara.


“It’s more that I’ve decided I don’t not like you,” Tara said.


Even flat on her back and sweaty, Tara exuded confidence. Maddie flopped down and sighed. She’d been working on her own confidence, but even faking it, it was still hard to go toe-to-toe with her sisters.


Half an hour later, Tara had food spread in front of her sisters that blew Maddie’s mind. Blueberry wheat pancakes, egg-white omelets, turkey bacon, and fresh orange juice.


“Not a river of grease in sight,” Tara said. “Chloe, stop wrinkling your brow or your face will stick like that.”


“I don’t like wheat pancakes—they taste like dirt.” But she took a bite, chewed, then shrugged. “Okay, never mind. These don’t taste like dirt.”


“I don’t give a flip,” Tara said, mixing up more batter.


“Well, flip this,” Chloe said and gave her oldest sister a middle finger.


“No, that’s what I call them—‘I Don’t Give a Flip’ Pancakes. I could make peace on earth with those pancakes.”


“You should really work on that self-esteem issue you have,” Chloe said dryly, gathering ingredients of her own into a bowl—almonds, jojoba oil. “Making a cracked-heel treatment today. Because Maddie’s feet need help.”


“Hey,” Maddie said.


“You keep rubbing those babies against my legs at night, and it hurts. And,” Chloe said, looking at Maddie’s plate and the way she’d carefully arranged her food, nothing touching, “you’re a freak.”


Maddie looked at her large plate of food and tried not to get defensive and failed. “I’m hungry. I just burned a million calories doing yoga.”


“The way you do it? Not quite. And I was talking about how you’re trying to keep your syrup off your eggs, not about how much food you have on your plate.”


“I don’t like my foods touching.”


“Like I said… freak.”


“Hey, I don’t mock you.”


“What’s to mock? I’m normal.” Chloe began whisking up the ingredients in her bowl for her balm, or whatever it was. “Oh, and I know I told you I was leaving tomorrow, but good news. I’m not leaving for two days, because my thing got pushed back.”


“Yay for us,” Tara said dryly.


Chloe ignored her. “First up is New Mexico, and then I’m thinking about going to meet a friend in Houston, who’s interested in buying some of my recipes.” With a sly look in Maddie’s direction, Chloe set down her whisk to turn to her plate, where she purposely mixed her eggs with her pancakes, smeared it all in syrup, then dipped a huge bite… into her orange juice. Watching Maddie squirm, she sucked it into her mouth, making “mmmmmm” noises.


Maddie couldn’t even watch. “You’re disgusting.”


Chloe just moaned in pleasure. “This is damn good food. Boggling really.”


“Why is it boggling that I cook well?” Tara asked in a tone that had the air around them going frosty.

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