Author: Jill Shalvis

Chloe’s eyes narrowed. “What?” she said to Tara’s sound of disappointment.


“I think you know.”


“Why don’t you tell me anyway.”


And here we go, Maddie thought, anxiety tightening like a knot in her throat. “Um, maybe we could all just sit down and—”


“No, I want her to say what’s on her mind,” Chloe said.


The static electricity rose in the air until it crackled with violence from both impending storms—Mother Nature’s and the sisters’ fight.


“It’s not important what I think,” Tara said coolly.


“Oh, come on, Dixie,” Chloe said. “Lay it on us. You know you want to.”


Maddie stepped between them. She couldn’t help it. It was the middle sister in her, the approval seeker, the office manager deep inside. “Look!” she said in desperation. “A puppy!”


Chloe swiveled her head to Maddie, amused. “Seriously?”


She shrugged. “Worth a shot.”


“Next time say it with more conviction and less panic. You might get somewhere.”


“Well, I don’t give a hoot if there are puppies and rainbows,” Tara said. “As unpleasant as this is, we have to settle it.”


Maddie was watching Chloe shake her inhaler again, looking pale. “You okay?”


“Peachy.”


She tried not to take the sarcasm personally. Chloe, a free spirit as Phoebe had been, suffered debilitating asthma and resented the hell out of the disability because it hampered her quest for adventure.


And for arguing.


Together all three sisters walked across the creaky porch and into the inn. Like most of the other buildings in Lucky Harbor, it was Victorian. The blue and white paint had long ago faded, and the window shutters were mostly gone or falling off, but Maddie could picture how it’d once looked: new and clean, radiating character and charm.


They’d each been mailed a set of keys. Tara used hers to unlock and open the front door, and she let out a long-suffering sigh.


The front room was a shrine to a country-style house circa 1980. Just about everything was blue and white, from the checkered window coverings to the duck-and-cow accent wallpaper peeling off the walls. The paint was chipped and the furniture not old enough to be antique and yet at least thirty years on the wrong side of new.


“Holy asphyxiation,” Chloe said with her nose wrinkled at the dust. “I won’t be able to stay here. I’ll suffocate.”


Tara shook her head, half horrified, half amused. “It looks like Laura Ingalls Wilder threw up in here.”


“You know, your accent gets thicker and thicker,” Chloe said.


“I don’t have an accent.”


“Okay. Except you do.”


“It’s not that bad,” Maddie said quickly when Tara opened her mouth.


“Oh, it’s bad,” Chloe said. “You sounds like Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham.”


“The inn,” Maddie clarified. “I meant the inn isn’t so bad.”


“I’ve stayed in hostels in Bolivia that looked like the Ritz compared to this,” Chloe said.


“Mom’s mom and her third husband ran this place.” Tara ran a finger along the banister, then eyed the dust on the pad of her finger. “Years and years ago.”


“So Grandma ran through men, too?” Chloe asked. “Jeez, it’s like we’re destined to be man-eaters.”


“Speak for yourself,” Tara murmured, indeed sounding like Susan Sarandon.


Chloe grinned. “Admit it, our gene pool could use some chlorine.”


“As I was saying,” Tara said when Maddie laughed. “Grandma worked here, and when she died, Mom attempted to take over but got overwhelmed.”


Maddie was mesmerized by this piece of her past. She’d never even heard of this place. As far as she knew, none of them had kept in regular contact with Phoebe. This was mostly because their mother had spent much of her life out of contact with anything other than her own whimsy.


Not that she’d been a bad person. By all accounts, she’d been a sweet, free-loving flower child. But she hadn’t been the greatest at taking care of things like cars, bank accounts… her daughters. “I wasn’t even aware that Mom had been close to her parents.”


“They died a long time ago.” Tara turned back, watching Chloe climb the stairs. “Don’t go up there, sugar. It’s far too dusty; you’ll aggravate your asthma.”


“I’m already aggravated, and not by my asthma.” But Chloe pulled the neckline of her shirt over her mouth. She also kept going up the stairs, and Tara just shook her head.


“Why do I bother?” Tara moved into the kitchen and went still at the condition of it. “Formica countertops,” she said as if she’d discovered asbestos.


Okay, true, the Formica countertops weren’t pretty, but the country blue and white tile floor was cute in a retro sort of way. And yes, the appliances were old, but there was something innately homey and warm about the setup, including the rooster wallpaper trim. Maddie could see guests in here at the big wooden block table against the large picture window, which had a lovely view of… the dilapidated marina.


So fine, they could call it a blast from the past. Certainly there were people out there looking for an escape to a quaint, homey inn and willing to pay for it.


“We need elbow grease, and lots of it,” Chloe said, walking into the kitchen, her shirt still over her nose and mouth.


Maddie wasn’t afraid of hard work. It was all she knew. And envisioning this place all fixed up with a roaring fire in the woodstove and a hot, delicious meal on the stovetop, with cuteness spilling from every nook and cranny, made her smile. Without thinking, she pulled out the Blackberry she could no longer afford and started a list, her thumbs a blur of action. “New paint, new countertops, new appliances…” Hmm, what else? She hit the light switch for a better look, and nothing happened.


Tara sighed.


Maddie added that to the list. “Faulty wiring—”


“And leaky roof.” Tara pointed upward.


“There’s a bathroom above this,” Chloe told them. “It’s got a plumbing issue. Roof’s probably leaking, too.”


Tara came closer and peered over Maddie’s shoulder at her list. “Are you a compulsive organizer?”


At the production studios, she’d had to be. There’d been five producers—and her. They’d gotten the glory, and she’d done the work.


All of it.


And until last week, she’d thrived on it. “Yes. Hi, my name is Maddie, and I am addicted to my Blackberry, office supplies, and organization.” She waited for a smartass comment.


But Tara merely shrugged. “You’ll come in handy.” She was halfway out of the room before Maddie found her voice.


“Did you know Mom didn’t want to sell?” she asked Tara’s back. “That she planned on us running the place as a family?”


Tara turned around. “She knew better than that.”


“No, really. She wanted to use the inn to bring us together.”


“I loved Mom,” Chloe said. “But she didn’t do ‘together.’ ”


“She didn’t,” Maddie agreed. “But we could. If we wanted.”


Both sisters gaped at her.


“You’ve lost your ever-lovin’ marbles,” Tara finally said. “We’re selling.”


No longer a mouse, Maddie told herself. Going from mouse to tough girl, like… Rachel from Friends. Without the wishy-washyness. And without Ross. She didn’t like Ross. “What if I don’t want to sell?”


“I don’t give a coon’s ass whether you want to or not. It doesn’t matter,” Tara said. “We have to sell.”


“A coon’s ass?” Chloe repeated with a laugh. “Is that farm ghetto slang or something? And what does that even mean?”


Tara ignored her and ticked reasons off on her fingers. “There’s no money. We have a payment due to the note holder in two weeks. Not to mention, I have a life to get back to in Dallas. I took a week off, that’s it.”


Maddie knew Tara had a sexy NASCAR husband named Logan and a high-profile managerial job. Maddie could understand wanting to get back to both.


“And maybe I have a date with an Arabian prince,” Chloe said. “We all have lives to get back to, Tara.”


Well, not all of us, Maddie thought.


In uneasy silence, they checked out the rest of the inn. There was a den and a small bed and bath off the kitchen, and four bedrooms and two community bathrooms upstairs, all shabby chic minus the chic.


Next, they walked out to the marina. The small metal building was half equipment storage and half office—and one giant mess. Kayaks and tools and oars and supplies vied for space. In the good-news department, four of the eight boat slips were filled. “Rent,” Maddie said, thrilled, making more notes.


“Hmm,” was all Tara said.


Chloe was eyeing the sole motorboat. “Hey, we should take that out for a joyride and—”


“No!” Maddie and Tara said in unison.


Chloe rolled her eyes. “Jeez, a girl gets arrested once and no one ever lets her forget it.”


“Twice,” Tara said. “And you still owe me the bail money for that San Diego jet ski debacle.”


Maddie had no idea what had happened in San Diego. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. They moved outside again and faced the last section of the “resort,” the small owner’s cottage. And actually, small was too kind. Postage-stamp-sized was too kind. It had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kitchen-and-living-room combo and a single bedroom and bath.


And lots of dust.


“It’s really not that bad,” Maddie said into the stunned silence. They stood there another beat, taking in the decor, which was—surprise, surprise—done in blue and white with lots of stenciled ducks and cows and roosters, oh, my. “Mostly cosmetic. I just think—”

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