Author: Jill Shalvis


Tara sighed. “I hate being peasant stock.” She swiped her brow, but Maddie didn’t see a drop of sweat on her. Maybe she had a sweat-gland disorder or something. That thought made her smile a little. Only Tara could have a medical condition that aided her perfect southern belle image.


“You okay?” Tara asked.


“Yes, why?”


“Because for the past few days, you’ve been… different somehow.”


Yes. Multiple orgasms tended to do a body good.


“You went out with Jax last night.”


“Just for dinner.” And a few hot-as-hell kisses. Turned out, she didn’t really want to take too many steps backward, only a little one. A real little one.


“So you’re okay?”


“Yep.”


Tara nodded and looked at her hands. “You know, I’m not normally one to gripe.” She narrowed her eyes when Maddie snorted. “But I would like to make an official complaint that I didn’t get the asthma in the family.”


Maddie had to give her that one. Chloe was sitting a hundred yards away on the dock, free of the chemicals that would have sent her into asthma hell, surrounded by bowls and containers filled with ingredients like eggs and honey and almonds. “What is she making today?”


“Some facial to clean out our pores when we’re done,” Tara said. “And she’s brewing some sort of soothing homemade sun tea that reduces stress.” Her tone said this was as likely as them making a go of the inn. “She said it’d be better than a spa day.”


“I’ve never had a spa day,” Maddie said on a sigh.


“And you have the pores to prove it.”


“What? I do not.” Maddie moved to the hallway and stared at herself in the full-length mirror leaning against the wall, the one they’d pulled off one of the interior guest room doors. Oh, boy. Her hair looked like she’d stuck her finger in a live electrical socket, and her skin was shiny with perspiration, but she didn’t see any pores. Probably because she was layered in a fine dusting of paint. She paused, searching for a natural transition to the question she wanted to ask and found none. So she jumped right in. “Why are you mad that Chloe kissed Logan’s best friend?”


“Because she wanted Scott for herself,” Chloe said from behind them, having come inside without either of them noticing. She was wearing leggings, a miniskirt, and a sweater that said DEAR SANTA, LET ME EXPLAIN. Eyes inscrutable, she handed them each a small vial. “Try this. Let me know if you notice a difference in the next twenty-four hours.”


“But you’re both leaving in the morning,” Maddie said.


Chloe shrugged.


Tara didn’t say anything. Done painting, she pulled on her sweater and wrapped a red scarf around her neck. Maddie had finished the scarf the night before, when she couldn’t sleep because she’d been too busy reliving Jax’s hands on her body.


The scarf was crooked, but just looking at it gave Maddie a little tug of pride. Her next project, started this morning, was with the green skein of yarn she’d commandeered from her mother’s stash, which made it feel just as special as the red one. It wasn’t quite as crooked—yet—but give her some time.


“You can text me,” Chloe told them, voice flat.


Tara sighed. “I didn’t want Scott for myself.”


Chloe just gave her a long, level look.


“I didn’t. I was just jealous because… well, because you make it so damn easy. You make friends in the blink of an eye, and I don’t. This may come as a surprise to both of you, but some people find me… unapproachable.”


Chloe was quiet for a long moment, and it wasn’t clear if she was trying to fight a grimace or a smile.


“You shouldn’t be here,” Tara told her. “You’ll get an asthma attack.”


“I know but the bank just called. You and I each missed signing one of the loan docs. I’ll take you on the Vespa.”


“Are you going to promise not to kill me?”


“Only if you promise not to irritate me.”


They left, and Maddie figured the odds were fifty–fifty that they’d both survive the short trip. She stared at herself in the mirror. She was wearing a long-sleeved knit tee and jeans, and she realized that for the first time in recent history, the button on the jeans wasn’t cutting into her belly. Huh. She lifted the hem of the shirt and stared at her middle. It might have been wishful thinking on her part, but it seemed flatter. “Maybe I should forget to eat potato chips more often.”


Two big, warm hands slid beneath hers, callused palms flat on her stomach. Her gaze collided with Jax’s warm, amused one in the mirror.


For two days, he’d found a way to have his hands and/or his lips on her every chance he got. Yesterday morning, he’d been wielding a huge power saw like a sexy lumberjack, cutting the fallen tree in the yard. When he’d caught her watching him, he’d pressed her up against the stack of cut wood, slid his hands beneath her shirt, and kissed her senseless.


Yesterday afternoon, he’d backed her into the upstairs linen closet and she’d spent the best five minutes of her life making out like they were teenagers.


Except she was fairly certain that a teenage boy couldn’t have brought her to orgasm with nothing more than a touch of his fingers.


“Mmm,” Jax murmured now, those magic fingers stroking lightly across her stomach. “Soft and warm.”


“But not hard and ripped like you.” She tried to say this critically, but it was difficult not to sound breathless with his hands on her bare skin, his chest plastered to her back, and his hips snuggled to hers.


“I’ve definitely got the hard taken care of.” Still holding her gaze in the mirror, he rubbed his jaw to hers as he slowly rocked into her.


He was right. He had the hard taken care of. She thrust her bottom into him, moaning when he thrust back. At the sound, he whipped her around to face him, slowly pressing her back into the wall.


“You’ve had a rough morning,” he murmured, his mouth descending to her neck.


“Yes. I’m dirty, Jax.”


“Don’t tease me.”


That got a low laugh out of her, and she shifted closer. She felt him smile against her skin as she obviously acquiesced, not caring as long as he didn’t stop.


He didn’t. His lips brushed just beneath her ear, and his hands headed north.


“You’re tense.”


“A little,” she admitted. Her fingers were in his hair. He had better hair than she did, the bastard, all soft and silky.


“A lot,” he murmured against her, spreading hot, open-mouthed kisses along her jaw and down her throat, which he then gently bit.


A gasp escaped her, and she clutched at him, moaning when he licked the spot to soothe the slight sting. His hands slid up her ribs and very lightly grazed the undersides of her breasts. “I’m excellent at relieving stress,” he said, and his thumbs glided over her nipples, wrenching a shocked, aroused cry from her that he swallowed with his mouth, kissing her until they had to tear apart to breathe.


“Still need space?” he asked.


“Maybe later.”


His smile was sheer sex. “Are we alone?”


“Yes, but—” She looked around the hallway. “Here? You want to do it here?”


“Yes or no, Maddie.”


“Yes.”


He kissed her again, slipping a hand between her thighs, his fingers pressing on just the right spot to drive her even more wild. It’d taken him four and a half minutes to get her to the toe-curling point yesterday. Right now she was pretty sure he could have her there in half the time, which was more than a little embarrassing.


“Jax—”


His fingers began to move, but a low growl conveyed his frustration with her jeans. A second later, he’d unbuttoned them and slid a hand inside. “Jesus,” he murmured reverently.


Lost, she ground her hips against him and heard him swear roughly into the side of her neck. All this while his fingers continued to give her exactly what she needed. Like yesterday, it took shockingly little to topple her over the edge. She burst with a shudder and a soft cry and would have fallen to the ground if he hadn’t supported all her weight.


When she stopped panting and her vision cleared, she realized she had a death grip on him. “Sorry,” she managed a little hoarsely.


“Christ, are you kidding? I’ll be thinking about that all day.” Tucking a damp curl behind her ear, he buttoned and zipped her back up, and then studied her face. “Better. You look a lot less tense now.”


“And you look more tense.”


“I’ll live.”


“Or I could…” She pulled him toward her and placed her lips on his jaw. “Repay the favor.”


He groaned and pulled her in tight, but they both went still as a car pulled up in the yard.


Jax looked out and groaned, dropping his head to Maddie’s shoulder. “Material delivery.”


When he was gone, Maddie sat down right there on the floor. He had a way of filling her with mind-blowing pleasure. She wanted to lose herself in it, but she wouldn’t. She’d made that mistake before and still wasn’t ready to trust herself.


Fifteen minutes later, Tara walked back inside the inn and executed a double take at Maddie sitting on the floor in the dirty foyer. “What are you doing?”


Waiting for her bones to reappear. “Nothing.”


“So why do you look like you either just ate a bag of chips or got lucky?”


“What?” Maddie dragged herself upright and looked in the mirror. Flushed. Damp. Glowing.


Well, hell.


“Don’t let Chloe know you’re still eating chips,” Tara said on a sigh. “She’ll triple our yoga regimen.”


Maddie nodded. “Okie-dokie, I won’t tell Chloe about the chips…”


Or the orgasms…


Chapter 14


“Life is short. Eat cake.”

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