Author: Jill Shalvis


“First off, you don’t cook ‘well,’ you cook amazing, and it’s boggling because I thought I was the only one who got Mom’s artistic streak. Not to mention that people who can cook are usually more outgoing and friendly than you are, and—”


“And,” Maddie said, quickly jumping in because she’d learned that was the best way to keep things from escalating, “you just don’t seem like the cooking type.”


Ignoring Maddie, Tara narrowed her eyes at Chloe. “Finish your sentence.”


“Are these blueberries fresh?” Maddie asked desperately. “Cuz they taste fresh.”


“You seriously think that you’re the only one who got anything from Mom?” Tara asked Chloe.


“I know I’m the only one who liked her.”


“You didn’t even know her, not really!”


“And the orange juice,” Maddie interjected into the very tense room. Her first instinct was to find a hole to crawl into. Her second was to grab her knitting, which she’d discovered was not only a sentimental escape, but was also a great relaxation technique. Better than chips. Problem was, she couldn’t look away from the impending train wreck. “The orange juice is amazing, Tara. How did you get out all the pulp?”


“I knew her better than you,” Chloe said to Tara. “At least I called her.”


“I called.” Tara’s voice was pure South, dripping with fury. “She screened me!”


“Well, maybe there was a reason.”


“Like what?”


“Like maybe because you’re controlling and anal and a b—”


Tara slammed her hands down on the counter.


Maddie nearly leapt out of her skin, and her elbow hit Chloe’s bowl of… whatever concoction she’d been making. The contents flew out, splattering across Tara’s face.


After a horrendous, thundering beat of silence, Tara scraped herself clean and glared at Chloe. “This is because I asked you to leave my house when you visited me for Easter last year.”


”Hey, it’s Maddie’s elbow that got you all covered in liquid, not me.”


“I didn’t mean to,” Maddie said, gaping at the goop dripping off Tara’s nose. Maddie had some of Chloe’s foot balm on her, as well, but she didn’t look at it because she had a burning question. “And how come I never got an Easter invite?”


“You were somewhere on a movie set, I think,” Tara said. “This year I’ll ask you instead of her, believe me.”


“And you didn’t ask me to leave,” Chloe said. “You kicked me out. Because your husband’s friend kissed me!”


Tara was holding a ladle full of pancake batter, and she pointed it violently in Chloe’s direction. “He was my friend, too. And you kissed him!”


Chloe jumped to her feet. “I knew you didn’t believe me!”


Tara tossed her plate into the sink with enough violence to splash soapy dishwater all over Maddie.


“Great!” Maddie said, pulling her shirt away from her skin with a suction sound.


“I’m done talking,” Tara informed them loftily, which was hard to pull off with some balm on her face, but she managed.


“Good tactic,” Chloe said. “Ignore all your problems—because that seems to be working out so well for you.”


Maddie stood up. Quiet strength, she told herself. Just project quiet strength, like… Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. Okay, so Erin wasn’t always quiet in her strength, and you know what? She didn’t have to be, either. So with a deep breath, Maddie said, “Shut up.”


Both sisters stared at her.


“We all know what we’re really tense about.”


The inn. How the final vote between the three of them would go. What would happen… With a sigh, she picked up her knitting instead of inhaling any more food and continued from where she’d left off last night. “In, wrap around,” she said to herself. “Pull out.”


“You know,” Chloe said, licking some batter off her thumb. “The way you knit always sounds a little dirty. I bet if you knitted in earshot of a guy, you’d get laid for sure.”


Tara was tossing breakfast dishes into the running sink, each harder than the last, if that was possible.


Chloe responded by cranking up her music via her iPod Touch parked in the dock on the counter. Hip-hop thumped out of the speakers. Tara hated hip-hop, and her head whipped around like the possessed victim in a horror flick.


“In, wrap around,” Maddie said, trying to find the calm. “Pull out—”


The back door opened, and all three of them swiveled to look as Jax filled the doorway. He looked like sin on a stick in faded Levi’s, a long-sleeved graphic Henley, and—there went her pulse—that damn tool belt slung low on his hips.


Izzy was at his side, alert and panting happily until she caught the tension in the room. With a soft whine, she sat on Jax’s foot. Jax set a hand on her head as his gaze went straight to Maddie. “Problem?” he asked over the booming bass.


Yep, Maddie thought, more reading his lips than actually hearing him. A big problem, actually. Because whenever she so much as looked at him, no matter what was going on around her, her body got all quivery. Some parts more than others.


“No problem, sugar,” Tara drawled, a polite smile on her face as she slapped the power button on the iPod dock, forcing a sudden quiet over all of them. “Blueberry pancakes?”


With a sound of disgust, Chloe pushed her way to the door. “They’re both nuts,” she warned Jax as she passed him. “Freaking nuts. I’m going for a ride.”


Giving up the pretense, Tara wiped her hands on a towel, her dignity somewhat ruined by the sole blueberry left in her hair. “Me, too. I need to get out.”


Maddie handed over her car keys.


“Thanks, sugar.” And then Tara was gone, too.


Still covered in a sticky, wet combo of batter and soapy water, Maddie remained seated, carefully holding her knitting so it didn’t get dirty. To her left, the water was still running in the sink, bubbles rising high. Jax came toward her in that easy, steady stride of his. The singular intent in his gaze had her faltering on the next knitting stitch, partly because she couldn’t look at him and knit at the same time. Much like how she couldn’t look at him and breathe, either.


Two big, warm hands pulled the large plastic needles and yarn out of her fingers and set them on the counter in the sole clean spot left in the whole kitchen. “Want to talk about it?”


Which—that her sisters were crazy, and she might be, too? Or that she’d been dreaming about him, nightly fantasies involving a lot of nakedness with all his good parts getting intimately acquainted with all her good parts?


“I… it’s… No,” she finally managed. “Not really.” She looked down at herself. “I need to take another shower.”


Grabbing a chair, he spun it around and straddled it directly in front of her. He gazed at the batter and water splattered on her, taking his time about it, too. “Ford and Sawyer are never going to forgive me for missing the girl-on-girl fight. Can I at least lie and say I saw a little of it? And that you guys were all wearing tiny tank tops and panties?”


A reluctant smile tore from her lips, and, given the warmth that filled his eyes at the sight of it, that’s what he’d meant to happen. “Guys are perverts,” she said.


“Mmm-hmm.” He was busy watching a glob of batter make its way down the curve of her right breast, disappearing down the front of her shirt.


Maddie swiped at it with a finger, but before she could wipe it on a napkin, Jax took her hand and, still holding eye contact, sucked it off her finger.


At the strong pull of his warm, wet tongue, she shivered.


“You taste good enough to eat,” he said, eyes darkening as he watched her nipples pebble against her T-shirt.


“Shower,” she said out loud, reminding herself. “I need to shower.”


His fingers sank into her hair, his thumb gliding softly along her jaw. “I’m good in the shower, Maddie.”


She shivered again, heat swamping her. “Do you always say everything that comes to your mind, no holding back?”


“Usually, but I’m holding back right now.”


“You are?”


He nodded with eyes so hot they scorched her skin. “If I told you what I was thinking,” he said, voice low and seductive. “You’d probably run for the hills.”


She shuddered again. Strength… “Tell me anyway.”


“Maddie—”


“Tell me.”


Leaning on the back of his chair, he was so close now that when he spoke, his lips lightly brushed hers with every word. “I want to put my hands all over you. I want to…”


Her breath caught, and she felt herself go damp. “What?”


“Touch. Kiss. Lick. Nibble. And then—”


At that moment, the sink—still running—finally overfilled, and water splashed to the floor. Jumping up, she cracked her head on Jax’s chin. Staggering back, she held her head. “Ouch!”


Jax shut off the faucet. His boots squeaked in the water on the floor as he turned back to her, a red spot already blooming on his chin.


Staring at the spot in horror, she took a step backward out of sheer instinct. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry—are you okay?”


“Your head isn’t that hard.” Calmly, he crossed the room to her, not allowing space between them. “You have two choices.” His tone was light and easy, his hands going to her hips to gently squeeze. “You can kiss it better, or you can go take your shower.”


It was as if her body took over the decision-making process from her brain, because she went up on tiptoes and pressed her lips to the spot she’d hit. He had a little stubble going, just enough to feel deliciously male beneath her lips, and she slowly inhaled against him, breathing him in.

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