Author: Jill Shalvis


Turning back to his task, he went at the wood for a while. Maddie backed up to a large wood round and plopped down. After a few minutes, Tara came out with a peace-offering tray of iced tea and glasses. “Oh, sweet merciful Jesus,” she whispered, eyes locked on Jax as she sank to the log next to Maddie.


The two of them sat there in companionable, lust-filled silence watching Jax like he was must-see TV until finally he stopped and gave them a long glance, swiping his brow on his forearm. “Your turn, ladies.”


Tara jumped to her feet. “Oh, not me, honey. I have a thing in the thing…” She waved vaguely behind her. “Enjoy the rest of the tea. There’s plenty.” And then she was gone.


Maddie poured him a glass, which he downed in a few gulps while she watched a drop of sweat slide down his chest. “I don’t think I can pull that off,” she murmured, nodding to the wood.


“That’s okay. I have something better for you.”


Oh, boy. “Is this X-rated?”


He flashed that badass grin, grabbed his shirts, and took her to the second floor of the inn, in one of the bedrooms that had been used as a storage room, gesturing to the stack of wooden crates that someone had piled there. The plan had been to tear them up and use the wood for kindling. Jax handed her a much smaller ax than the one he’d used outside and nodded for her to have a go.


So she gave it a shot and found that she could do this. She swung and chopped until she was shaking and sweaty and feeling much better. “Whew,” she said, dropping the ax. “How long was that?”


“Two minutes.” He laughed at the look on her face and stepped up right behind her, dipping his head so that his mouth brushed her ear. “You look overheated. Probably you should take off your shirt.”


He was playing with her and thought she wouldn’t dare. Something came over her at that—the exhilaration that came from discovering a man found her sexy, maybe. In any case, she took a deep breath and stripped out of her sweatshirt, leaving her in just a cute little baby blue tank that she’d borrowed—okay, stolen—from Chloe.


He went still, his eyes eating her up.


With a small smile, she put a hand to the middle of his chest and pushed him back, once again grabbing the ax.


She lasted a whole minute before dropping the heavy tool and gasping for breath.


“Feeling better?” His eyes were lit with heat, amusement, and something even better. Pride.


“Getting there,” she murmured.


Stepping forward, eyes locked on hers, he swiped at a smudge on her jaw. “What would make it even better?”


She closed her eyes for a beat, swaying toward him. You, she thought. In me. That’s what would make it alllll better.


From somewhere below, Izzy barked. She was looking for her human. “You going down?” Maddie asked him.


His eyes flamed. “Any time.”


And just like that, her nipples did their Jax Happy Dance. Much as she hated to admit it, Tara had been right. He was out of her league. She grabbed her sweatshirt and turned to go downstairs to open the door for the dog herself, but he reeled her in until she was up against him, her back to his front. “Remember this place,” he said, voice low. “Remember where we are. Right here, this very spot.”


“You mean here in this room, all hot and sweaty?”


His teeth nipped her ear, and she shivered.


“You keep taking those steps back,” he said. “Not enough forward.” Turning her in his arms, he lightly brushed his lips over hers before pulling back to meet her gaze. “Save our place,” he said quietly, all signs of teasing gone, and turned to go.


He cared about her, he liked her, just as is. Her hands caught him, brought him back, pulling him down to her. “I won’t forget.” And then she kissed him, loving the ragged groan she wrenched from his chest. She loved the way he kissed, too. He tasted warm and tangy sweet from the iced tea, and it was intoxicating. So was the solid feel of his body pressing into hers, making her want to forget about her to-do list, about Tara just next door in the cottage, the dog wanting in, everything. “We have to go,” she said.


“Uh-huh.” Dropping her sweatshirt back down to the floor, she accepted that she was making the slippery descent into oblivion and slid her arms around his waist, losing herself in their connection.


In him.


With a rough sound, he took control, backing her to a beam. He palmed her breast, thumbing her already erect and straining nipple over her thin tank top.


“God, you’re soft,” he said. “Soft and warm and perfect. I have to feel you again, Maddie.” His hands slid beneath the tank. Pushing the material up, his mouth took itself on a tour along her collarbone and down, his tongue gliding over the lace of her bra, right over her nipple as he ground his pelvis into hers.


He was big, which no longer scared her, and extremely aroused, which excited her beyond belief. “Jax.”


“I know. I can’t get enough of you.” Tugging the cups of her bra down, he licked her again, over her bared flesh this time so that she clutched at his biceps and arched up into him. “Not even close,” he said. He gripped her bottom, squeezed, then brought his hands around and was heading for the button on her jeans when the dog barked again.


Their eyes met, and Jax let out a breath of male frustration. “She’s got timing, I’ll give her that.” They were still both breathing erratically when he stepped back, his eyes blazing with heat.


He wanted her. Again. Still. It was a powerful feeling.


“Save our place,” he repeated in a soft but direct command and was gone.


For two mornings running, Maddie and Tara did yoga. Chloe’s legacy, they decided. Plus it burned calories.


They did it in silence. Well, Tara was silent. Maddie had been asking questions like “Why did you agree to the job at Eat Me when you wanted to leave?” and “Are we celebrating Christmas together?” and “How do you know Ford?”


None of which Tara answered.


Finally one morning Maddie sat on her yoga mat and refused to do a single pose. “Not until you answer at least one question.”


Tara sighed. “Fine. Regarding Christmas, I don’t think we should exchange gifts that cost any money, not when we’re spending every spare penny we have on this place.”


“Fair enough,” Maddie agreed. “But expect another scarf, probably crooked. And that wasn’t the question I most wanted answered and you know it.”


Tara sat and faced her, stretching her long, perfectly toned body. “If I answer another, you have to do the same.”


“Deal. Why didn’t you tell us about Logan?”


Tara’s cool expression crumpled. “I don’t know, probably because I didn’t want to look like a loser.”


“We’re sisters. Sisters are supposed to tell.”


“Yes, but I’m the oldest.” She went into some complicated upside-down yoga pose. “Oldest sisters are supposed to be perfect.”


“Says who?”


“Older sisters.” Tara sighed and changed positions with ease. “And I realize it’s no secret that when we first got here, all I wanted was to get back out again. I really can’t explain why I agreed to stay. I don’t know. Temporary insanity.”


“Or… we’re growing on you.”


“Or I’m enjoying the weather.”


Maddie sighed. “So about Ford.”


“Oh, no. I just answered two questions. Now you. What are you doing with Jax?”


“Huh,” Maddie said. “Suddenly I’m seeing why it’s more fun to be the one asking the questions. Would you believe me if I say I have no idea? I mean you saw me when I first got here. I didn’t want to even think about men.” She hesitated. “Problem is, he’s hard not to think about.”


“If I looked like him,” Tara said. “I’d want to have sex with myself. All the time.”


Maddie laughed. “Now you sound like Chloe.”


“No need for insults.”


“She should have stayed with us.”


“Aw, you missed me.”


They turned in shock to face Chloe. “Hi, honey,” she said with a wave. “I’m home.”


“Already?” Tara asked. “What about New Mexico?”


“Didn’t quite get there.” Chloe rolled out her yoga mat.


“Texas?” Maddie asked, mimicking Tara’s pose so it looked like she’d been working hard all morning.


“Didn’t get there, either. Decided you two were going to have too much fun without me. Besides, I love the natural sea salt here. I came up with an idea for a body lotion. Maddie, focus. Hold your pose.”


What, was she kidding?


“You’re moving too fast, as usual. You’re always in a hurry. Got to take a moment to smell the roses.” Chloe began to stretch, bending in one fluid movement to lay her palms flat on the floor, legs straight.


“I’m working on other things,” Maddie said.


“Like?”


“Like changing my moniker from ‘the Mouse.’ ”


“To?” Tara asked.


“Actually, I’d like to be more like you. You know, the strong, take-no-shit Steel Magnolia.”


Chloe chortled, then zipped it when Tara sent her a narrowed gaze before turning to Maddie with clear surprise. “Sugar, you don’t want to be like me. I’m as messed up as they come.”


“Yes, but you pretend not to be. And you, too,” Maddie said to Chloe. “I like that. And I’m starting to see it’s all in the pretending. And the attitude. You know, act tough, be tough.”


“You going to be bitchy, too?” Chloe asked. “And say ‘bless your heart’ and do the holier-than-thou shit?”


“Or maybe she could just get whiny,” Tara said smoothly. “Or better yet, take off on her Vespa when the going gets a little rough.”


The tension ratcheted up a notch. “Maybe I’ll do a combination,” Maddie said. “Bitchy and whiny, with only a dash of anxiety. We’ll call it ‘the Blend’ and make a recipe card about it for our kids.”

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