Author: Jill Shalvis


A low groan rumbled from his chest, and his hands tightened on her, just as Tara walked back in.


She took a moment to glare at Jax, who held her gaze with an even look of his own.


“Sugar,” she finally said to Maddie, grabbing the jacket she’d forgotten off the hook by the back door. “You can either fuck him or hire him, but you shouldn’t do both. That’s the advanced class, and you’re not ready.” She walked back out, and a minute later they heard the car start up.


Maddie let out a long, shaky breath. Tara was usually the voice of reason, but this decision was not majority rules. This decision was hers alone.


Jax was still in her space, quiet, watchful.


Sexy as hell.


Patient.


He wanted her. His body was tight with the wanting, but it was her decision.


Alex had made all the decisions. Maybe not in the beginning, but somewhere along the way with him she’d lost herself. She’d let it happen. That was another thing that was going to change. If she wanted something, she was going to get it. If she wanted someone, she was going to take him.


She wanted Jax. She wanted the oblivion, she wanted to feel good, she wanted…


To be wanted. And a little bit of ravishing and cherishing would be good. Love would be better, but as Tara had noted, she wasn’t ready for that. She was, however, ready for this, this one time. And even if she wasn’t, it didn’t matter. She wanted him.


Grabbing his hand, she pulled him with her out of the kitchen. Allowing it, he brushed his big, hard body up against her back.


In the small bathroom, she dug through Chloe’s bathroom bag on the counter and came up with a condom, which she handed to Jax, who hit the lock on the door.


She started the shower, then reached for the hem of her shirt. He took over, slowly pulling it off, tossing it to the floor. Then he repeated the gesture with his own shirt.


She found the tattoos, which made her weak in the knees. A tribal band around a biceps, another down one side from the top of his ribs to his oblique muscle.


She wanted to lick them.


“Maddie.”


She couldn’t stop staring at him, all hard and warm and delineated with strength. “I don’t want to talk,” she said.


Amusement crowded for space with the hunger in his gaze. “What do you want?”


“You. Now. Fast. Maybe hard, too.”


“You got me. But not fast, not hard.” He ran a long finger over the front hook of her bra. “Not our first time.”


“Our only time,” she corrected.


“Hmm,” he murmured noncommittally, and with a flick of his wrist, her bra fell to the floor. He covered her mouth with his and unbuttoned her jeans, slowly sliding them to the floor.


“Christ, Maddie. Look at you. You take my breath away.” His dark gaze took her in and got darker as he kicked off his boots and shucked his clothes, revealing the rest of his mouthwatering body in its entirety, including the part of him she wanted inside her, yesterday.


Leaning past her, he checked the temperature of the water while she checked out his perfect ass. As usual, he caught her at it and sent her a heated smile that dissolved her bones as he tugged her into the shower with him. In contrast to the hot water, his hands were still a little chilly from being outside, giving her a zing when he slid them up to cup her breasts.


Her eyes drifted shut and her other senses took over. His body was unyielding, strong, rippling with power against hers. He was hard, and huge.


It should have made her nervous. Instead, it turned her on, and she pressed closer, wrenching an appreciative male growl from him.


“Be sure, Maddie.”


She opened her eyes. The steam from the shower was fogging the tiny bathroom, making it hot and humid. “If you even think about stopping now, I’m going to have to hurt you.”


He stared down at her for a beat, then murmured her name before kissing her, slow and deep. She’d never felt more aroused, more wanted, and it made her tremble.


Jax pulled back, his hands threading into her hair, holding her gaze. She had no idea what he was looking for, but something in her expression must have reassured him, because he brought his mouth back to hers, his tongue flicking out over her bottom lip. His hands slid down her body, cupping her bottom, lifting her to grind his hips to hers. He was hard and thick against her, straining between them. Pushing her back further into the shower, he kissed his way over her, starting with her throat and working his way down. He had a nipple in his mouth, sucking it hard between his tongue and the roof of his mouth when she reached down and wrapped her hand around his hard, pulsing length. When she stroked him, he groaned and covered her hand with his, moving with her, showing her what he liked, until suddenly he stopped her.


“You don’t like that?” she asked.


“I love that.” His voice was hoarse, unsteady. “But it’s been too long.” With the water washing over their bodies, he nibbled at her neck, cupping a breast, rasping his thumb over her nipple, none of which deterred his free hand from slipping between her thighs. When he felt how ready she was, he dropped his forehead to hers and said her name in a jagged whisper.


She clutched at him. “Now, Jax. Please, now.”


His finger was tracing over her, stroking, teasing. “I love how wet you are,” he murmured against her ear, sucking the lobe into his mouth as he slid a finger inside her.


With a strangled cry, she rocked to him. “It means I’m ready.”


He brushed his lips against hers. “Just making sure.”


“I’m sure!”


He added another finger, gliding deep while brushing his thumb over her in just the right rhythm until she came with a rush. While she was still shuddering, he rolled on the condom and slid inside of her with a single, sure push of his hips.


She gasped, arching helplessly as it extended her orgasm. When she could open her eyes, she blinked him into focus. His eyes were solid black and locked on hers, intense and fierce. As he began to move within her, she felt the tile at her back, warm from both her own body heat and the hot water pulsing down over them. His strokes were strong and steady and sent her spiraling. He came with her, the both of them rocking together, gasping for breath. Unable to stand, they slid to the shower floor, still entwined.


Completely spent, Maddie dropped her head to his chest, managing a smile when he drew her in against him with a wordless protective murmur, pressing his face in her hair. At the tender touch, something came over her, something new. It was both warm and wonderful.


And terrifying. Because he’d given her just what she wanted.


Only she already wanted more.


Chapter 13


“My momma always said that two rattlesnakes living


in the same hole will get along better than two sisters.


So I had three daughters to improve the odds.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


The next day Jax spent most of his time at the inn, stripping old windowpanes and carpeting.


And watching Maddie.


She’d pretty much kicked him to the curb after yesterday’s shower. It was a first for him, not being the one to need space, and he hadn’t known what kind of reception to expect this morning.


She’d greeted him with a sweet, warm smile, and because she wasn’t one to fake anything, that had told him that they were okay. “How about dinner tonight?” he asked her midday.


Maddie glanced at him, then back to her task of hauling out the debris. She was looking hot and just a little bit breathless. Her hair was wild, her shirt untucked, and the seat of her jeans was dirty.


He couldn’t take his eyes off her.


“Can’t,” she said.


He tossed the load in his arms into the back of the Dumpster they’d had delivered and brushed his hands off on his jeans, catching her arm before she could turn away. “Can’t? Or won’t?”


She closed her eyes but then surprised him by dropping her head to his chest. “I’m all dirty and sweaty, Jax.”


“I like dirty and sweaty,” he said, drawing her into his arms. “And it’s just dinner, not a ring or a white picket fence.”


Choking out a laugh, she pressed in even closer, sighing when he kissed her temple. But then after a moment, and far before he was ready, she backed away from his touch and met his gaze. “But no condom on this dinner date, right? Because…”


“… Because you’re not ready for this.”


“I just need… I really need to take a step backward from anything serious.”


And sex for her was serious. He understood. Hell, what they’d experienced in the shower was so serious, he still hadn’t recovered. “Take the step back if you need it. Hell, take two. Just don’t go running away.”


That brought a small smile. “I no longer run.”


“Good,” he said and went back to work, for the first time in five years wanting something he couldn’t have.


Maddie divided her time between the marina office and painting the inn’s bedrooms. Tara helped with the painting. Chloe couldn’t do much because of her asthma. Maddie got that, but the way she held herself separate from them, working on her skin care line instead of the inn, was more worrisome than annoying. At some point, Chloe was going to have to exercise the swing vote, and Maddie had no idea which way she’d go. With a sigh, Maddie watched Tara walk across the yard, gingerly carrying paint supplies. Tara had at least deigned to get her hands dirty, risking her manicure. Not because she believed in the cause.


Nope, what Tara believed in was saving money.


Over the past few days, Maddie had finished the paperwork for refinancing their loan and filed it at the bank. Her fingers were crossed. Tara and Chloe were both leaving tomorrow, and Maddie would be on her own. But that was a worry for later, she told herself. For the moment, she was covered from head to toe in paint.


“I’m changing my penny-pinching stance,” Tara huffed at her side, with hardly any paint on her. “We should have hired someone to do this part.”


Maddie had no idea how her sister had managed to stay clean, but it was really annoying. Perhaps it was the invisible bubble of righteous perfection that clearly surrounded her. “We should have hired someone? You did not just say that.”

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