Author: Jill Shalvis


“No,” Tara said firmly. “Bless your heart, but please, please don’t think.”


Chloe choked out a laugh. “Love how you say ‘bless your heart’ just before you insult someone. Classy.”


Tara ignored Chloe entirely and kept her voice soft and steely calm. “Majority rules here. And majority says we should sell ASAP, assuming that in this economy we don’t have to actually pay someone to take this place off our hands.”


Maddie looked at Chloe. “You really want to sell, too?”


Chloe hesitated.


“Be honest with her,” Tara said.


“I can’t.” Chloe covered her face. “She has Bambi eyes. You know what?” She headed for the door. “I’m not in the mood to be the swing vote.”


“Where are you going?” Tara demanded.


“For a ride.”


“But we need your decision—”


The door shut, hard.


Tara tossed up her hands. “Selfish as ever.” She looked around in disgust. “I’m going into town for supplies to see us through the next couple of days. We need food and cleaning supplies—and possibly a fire accelerant.” She glanced at Maddie and caught her horror. “Kidding! Can I borrow your car?”


Maddie handed over her keys. “Get chips, lots of chips.”


When she was alone, she sat on the steps and pulled Lucille’s recipe box from her bag. With nothing else to do, she lifted the lid, prepared to be bored by countless recipes she’d never use.


The joke was on her. Literally. The 3x5 cards had been written on, but instead of recipes for food, she found recipes for…


Life.


They were all handwritten by Phoebe and labeled Advice for My Girls. The first one read:


Always be in love.


Maddie stared at it for a moment, then had to smile. Years ago, she’d gotten the birds-and-bees speech from her father. He’d rambled off the facts quickly, not meeting her eyes, trying to do his best by her. He was so damned uncomfortable, and all because a boy had called her.


Boys are like drugs, her father had said. Just say no.


Her mother and father had definitely not subscribed to the same philosophies. Not quite up to seeing what other advice Phoebe had deemed critical, Maddie slipped the box back into her bag. She zipped up her sweatshirt and headed out herself, needing a walk. The wind had picked up. The clouds were even darker now, hanging low above her head.


At the end of the clearing, she stopped and looked back at the desolate inn. It hadn’t been what she’d hoped for. She had no memories here with her mother. The place wasn’t home in any way. And yet… and yet she didn’t want to turn her back on it. She wanted to stay.


And not just because she was homeless.


Okay, a little bit because she was homeless.


With a sigh, she started walking again. About a mile from the inn, she passed the art gallery, waving at Lucille when the older woman stuck her head out and smiled. Snowflakes hovered in the air. Not many, and they didn’t seem to stick once they hit the ground. But the way they floated lazily around her as the day faded into dusk kept her entertained until she found herself in town.


She suddenly realized that she was standing in front of a bar. She stepped back to read the sign on the door, tripped off the curb, and stumbled backward into something big, toppling with it to the ground.


A motorcycle. “Crap,” she whispered, sprawled over the big, heavy bike. “Crap, crap.” Heart in her throat, she leapt to her feet, rubbing her sore butt and ribs and mentally calculating the cost of damages against the low funds she had in her checking account.


It was too awful to contemplate, which meant that the motorcycle had to be okay. Had to be. Reaching out, she tried to right the huge thing, but it outweighed her. She was still struggling with it when the door to the bar suddenly burst open and two men appeared.


One was dressed in a tan business suit, tie flapping, mouth flapping, too. “Hey,” he was saying. “She was asking for it…”


The second man wasn’t speaking, but Maddie recognized him anyway. Hot Biker from earlier, which meant—Oh, God. It was his motorcycle she’d knocked over.


Karma was such a bitch.


At least he hadn’t seen her yet. He was busy physically escorting Smarmy Suit Guy with his hand fisted in the back of the guy’s jacket as he marched him out of the bar.


Smarmy Suit pulled free and whirled, fists raised.


Hot Biker just stood there, stance easy, looking laid-back but absolutely battle ready. “Go home, Parker.”


“You can’t kick me out.”


“Can, and did. And you’re not welcome back until you learn no is no.”


“I’m telling you, she wanted me!”


Hot Biker shook his head.


Smarmy Suit put a little distance between them then yelled, “Fuck you, then!” before stalking off into the night.


Maddie just stared, her heart pounding. She wasn’t sure if it was the volatile situation, ringing far too close to home, or if it was because any second now, he was going to notice her and what she’d done. With renewed panic, she struggled with his bike.


Then two big hands closed around her upper arms and pulled her back from it.


With an inward wince, she turned to face him. He was bigger than she’d realized, and she took a step backward, out of his reach.


His dark hair was finger-combed at best, a lock of it falling over his forehead. He had a strong jaw, and cheekbones to die for, and disbelief swimming in those melted caramel eyes. “Mind telling me why you have it in for my bike?”


“Okay, this looks bad,” she admitted. “But I swear I have nothing against you or your motorcycle.”


“Hmm. Prove it.”


Her gut clenched. “I—”


“With a drink.” He gestured with his head to the bar.


“With you?”


“Or by yourself, if you’d rather. But you look like you could use a little pick-me-up.”


He had no idea.


He righted his bike with annoying ease and held out a hand.


She stared at it but didn’t take it. “Look, nothing personal, but I’ve just seen how you deal with people who irritate you, so…”


He looked in the direction that Smarmy Suit had vanished. “Parker was hitting on a good friend of mine and making an ass of himself. Yeah, he irritated me. You haven’t. Yet.”


“Even though I’ve tried to kill your bike twice?”


“Even though.” His mouth quirked slightly, as if she were amusing him. Which was good, right? Amused at her klutziness was better than being pissed.


“And anyway, the bike’s going to live,” he said, directing her to the door, the one whose sign read THE LOVE SHACK.


“This is a bad idea.”


He flashed her a smile, and holy mother of God, it was wickedly sexy. It might even have been contagious if she hadn’t been so damn worried that any second now he was going to morph into an angry, uptight, aggressive LA attorney who didn’t know how to control his temper.


No, wait. That’d been her ex, Alex. “Honestly,” she said. “Bad idea.”


“Honestly?”


“What, don’t people tell the truth around here?”


“Oh, the locals tell the truth. It’s just that they tell all the truth, even when they shouldn’t. It’s called gossip. Lucky Harbor natives specialize in it. You can keep a pile of money in the back seat of your unlocked car and it’d be safe, but you can’t keep a secret.”


“Good thing I don’t have any.”


He smiled. “We all have secrets. Come on, I know the bartender. It’ll help you relax, trust me.”


Yes, but she was in the red on trust. Way overdrawn. In fact, the Bank Of Trust had folded. “I don’t know.”


Except he’d nudged her inside already, and her feet were going willingly. The place snagged her interest immediately. It was like entering an old western saloon. The walls were a deep sinful bordello red and lined with old mining tools. The ceiling was all exposed beams. Lanterns hung over the scarred bench-style tables, and the bar itself was a series of old wood doors attached end to end. Someone had already decorated for Christmas and huge silvery balls hung from everything, as did endless streams of tinsel.


Hot Biker had her hand in his bigger, warmer one and was pulling her past the tables full with the dinner crowd. The air was filled with busy chattering, loud laughter, and music blaring out of the jukebox on the far wall. She didn’t recognize the song because it was country, and country music wasn’t on her radar, but some guy was singing about how Santa was doing his momma beneath the tree.


Shaking her head, Maddie let herself be led to the bar, where she noticed that nobody was here to drink their problems away.


Everyone seemed… happy.


Hoping it was contagious, she sat on the barstool that he patted for her, right next to a woman wearing sprayed-on jeans and a halter top that revealed she was either chilly or having a really, really good time. Her makeup was overdone, but somehow the look really worked for her. She was cheerfully flirting with a huge mountain of a guy on her other side, who was grinning from ear to ear and looking like maybe he’d just won the lottery.


Hot Biker greeted them both as if they were all close friends, then moved behind the bar, brushing that leanly muscled body alongside of Maddie’s as he did.


She shivered.


“Cold?” he asked.


When she shook her head, he smiled again, and the sexiness of it went straight through her, causing another shiver.


Yeah, he really needed to stop doing that.


Immediately, several people at the bar tossed out orders to him, but he just shook his head, eyes locked on Maddie. “I’m done helping out for the night, guys. I’m just getting the lady a drink.”


The other bartender, another big, good-looking guy—wow, they sure grew them damn fine up here in Lucky Harbor—asked, “What kind of wing man just takes off without proper clearance? Never mind.” He slapped an opened sudoku puzzle in front of Hot Biker. “Just do this puzzle in three minutes or less.”

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***