Author: Jill Shalvis


Both sisters stared at her for a shocked beat, then looked at each other. That was the only warning Maddie got before they both tackled her down to the yoga mat for a wedgie.


Yeah, Maddie thought, lying there with her underwear twisted in places it shouldn’t be as Tara and Chloe got up and bumped fists. They were really starting to gel together as a family.


Chapter 16


“Never leave a paper trail.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


Maddie sat at the desk in the marina office. It was beginning to become clear why the inn hadn’t been successful. Phoebe hadn’t charged enough for any of the services, and sometimes, when she’d known her customers, she hadn’t charged at all.


That would have to change—assuming they got their financing, that is. And assuming that by fixing the place up, they got customers. And that both of those things helped Maddie convince her sisters to keep the inn instead of selling. She dropped her head to the desk and hit it lightly a few times as a man let himself into the marina building.


He was six foot four, at least two hundred and fifty pounds, and looked like Sully from Monsters Inc., minus the smile and blue fur.


“Need to rent a boat.” His voice thundered like he’d spoken through a microphone. “Fully equipped.”


She jumped in automatic response. “Have you rented here before?”


“Yes.”


Good. So one of them knew what they were doing.


“Name’s Peter Jenkins.” He pounded his finger on her desk. “And I get a deal. Phoebe always gave me a deal.”


Since Maddie had just yesterday organized the accounts receivables, she was proud to be able to go right to the file cabinet and locate a stack of boat rentals, where she pulled out one with his name on it. Please have notes, please have notes…


“Make sure it’s gassed up,” he boomed. “And I’m in a hurry here.”


Yes, she was getting that. And she was getting something else—nervous as hell. He yelled when he talked. It was making her fingers refuse to work and her brain uncooperative. Plus, she hadn’t yet studied any of their rental agreements or learned the procedure.


“What the hell’s taking you so long?”


“I’m sorry.” She reached for the file of blank rental agreements, looking for one for the fishing boat. “I’m new at this, so—”


“Oh for fuck’s sake.” He slapped some cash onto the desk, making everything on the surface bounce. Maddie nearly jumped out of her skin. She took a careful breath, working really hard to find her nerve. She located it about the same time she put her fingers on the right form. “Got it—”


But he’d taken the keys off the hook on the wall and was already out the door and on the dock, stalking toward the boat.


“Hey,” she called out, grabbing the cash and stuffing it into her pocket to add to the cash box later. It wouldn’t be difficult. The cash box was currently empty. “Excuse me!”


He’d boarded the boat by the time she caught up to him. “Mr. Jenkins, I need you to sign—”


Ignoring her, he untied the rope and pissed her off. She hopped on board before he could pull away, but as she jumped down, the boat pitched violently.


“Stern!” he bellowed. “Stern!”


Gripping the side of the boat, Maddie crouched low and looked at the very cold water, trying not to panic as they rocked hard. Logically she knew stern had to mean right or left, or maybe front or back. For all she knew, it meant go to hell, but with no idea which direction to move, and with the boat still pitching side to side and threatening to capsize, Maddie dropped to her butt.


“Get off the goddamned boat!”


Oh, hell no. “Not until you sign!”


Mr. Jenkins sent her a hard, long look, but she didn’t cower.


Much.


Instead she whipped a pen out of her pocket and offered it up. He snatched the paper from her, signed it, then tossed it in her lap. Gee, guess he was in a hurry to get rid of her. She very carefully climbed out of the boat and stood on the dock as he headed out of the marina, muttering something about suing her for stupidity.


Rude. She stalked back to the office, talking to herself.


“Did you skip the caffeine again?” Jax asked.


She took in the unexpected sight of him standing in the doorway, palms up on the wooden frame above him.


Just looking at him made her feel better.


A lot better. He was watching her with a little smile on his face, wearing his usual uniform of a pair of jeans and battered boots, today with a merino wool hoodie sweatshirt.


And his tool belt.


Let’s not forget the tool belt. “I’ve had caffeine,” she told him. “And a blast of Mr. Jenkins. He called me an idiot.”


Jax’s lazy smile vanished. “What?”


“Yeah, I didn’t know stem from stern. Hell, I barely know what horses have to do with engines.” She smiled, but he didn’t.


Instead, he pushed off from the doorframe and came close. “He’s an ass.”


“Agreed. But he’s a paying ass. Why would my mom have given that man a deal?”


“I think she dated him briefly, but even her sunny nature gave up trying to cure his chronic grumpiness. Tell me you kicked him out of here when he mouthed off at you.”


“I was tempted. But truthfully, it was my own fault.”


Jax stilled, his expression going very quiet, very serious. “Maddie.”


She stared at him, her stomach pinging hollowly. “Dammit,” she whispered. “It wasn’t my fault. I did it again.” She closed her eyes. Whirling, hands fisted, she flew to the marina door with some half-baked idea about climbing back onto that boat and—


“Maddie.“


“No, I have to go. I have to give him a piece of my mind and maybe a foot shoved up his—”


Two warm arms surrounded her, pulling her back against a solid chest. “I’m all for that,” he said in her ear. “In fact, I’ll hold him down for you if you’d like. But unless you want to go for a swim to retrieve him, you’re going to have to wait a few hours.”


She turned to face him. He was still dangerously quiet, and there was an anger in his eyes she’d not seen since he kicked that patron out of the Love Shack that first night. It gave her yet another heart lurch, even though she knew he wasn’t mad at her. “Being the strong female lead star of my own life is harder than I thought.”


“You’re doing good. You’re doing real good.”


She let out the breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding and tipped her face up to his. “Yeah?”


His eyes warmed. “Yeah.”


She managed a little smile. “Would you really hold him down for me?”


“In a heartbeat.”


For some reason, that gave her a warm fuzzy, and her smile spread. “It’s not exactly… politically correct.”


The look he gave her said he didn’t give a shit about being politically correct, he only cared about what was right.


And God, even from here, he smelled delicious. How was it that he always smelled so good? But rather than grabbing his sweatshirt and pulling him in, she stepped around him to her desk. “I’ve got to finish getting all this straightened out. I don’t want to lose money because I don’t know what I’m doing. And Mr. Jenkins threatened to sue me for stupidity, which would really suck.”


“Tell him you’re going to countersue for emotional damages.”


She smiled at the thought. “Can someone really do that?”


“If you could prove you were negligently injured.”


“You sound like a lawyer.” She grinned. “Good thing you’re not, because then I’d probably not like you as much.”


“Come here,” he said softly and pulled her in for a hug. “Kiss me, Maddie. Show me you remember our place.”


She went up on her tiptoes and kissed him until she couldn’t remember her own name, then pressed her face to his throat, feeling an odd tug in her chest at how much this meant. At how much he meant.


“Maddie—”


“I love how open you are,” she said. “How honest. Do all the women you date appreciate that?”


“I’m not dating anyone else right now. Tell me that you know that we wouldn’t have had sex if I was seeing someone else.”


“Well, you’d think I’d know that, but I’ve made some bad choices,” she said. “I no longer trust my judgment. It’s easier for me to hear it straight from you, because I can believe what you say.”


That odd something crossed his face, coming and going so fast she couldn’t identify it. For a long moment, he watched his thumb glide along her jaw. “How about what I don’t say?”


“What?”


“I haven’t been in a relationship for five years,” he said. “Since before I moved back here. Opening up isn’t exactly second nature for me, Maddie.”


“Five years is a long time to go without sex.”


His eyes cut to hers. “I didn’t say I’d gone without sex.”


“Oh.” Oh.


“But before you, it’d been a while for that, too.”


“There’s plenty of women in town.”


“Yes, and most of them take their dating far more seriously than I do. Maddie, you need to know something about me.”


God. “You’re married. You’re a felon. You’re—”


“A lawyer. Before I moved back to Lucky Harbor, I was in Seattle. I was practicing law.”


Jax spent a few days building new bathroom vanities at his own home wood shop on the other side of town. Maddie hadn’t said much about his revelation, but then again, she’d made herself scarce.


There was nothing Jax could do about his past, it was written in ink. And he’d done the right thing by telling her. Especially since he’d held back other things—secrets that weren’t his to share.

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