Author: Jill Shalvis


“From LA? A different world entirely.” Her daily drive to work had been like riding the bumper cars at the fair. Funny thing was, she’d never really minded because everything in her life had been like a ride at the fair—fast and just a little out of control. Her commute, her job, her boyfriend…


Especially her boyfriend.


Alex had been all charm and sophistication on the outside. On the inside, though, he’d been a simmering Crock-Pot of negative emotions.


She drew a deep breath recalling her secret shame, that it had taken her so long to realize that she couldn’t change him, that instead she’d slowly changed herself into someone she didn’t recognize.


Standing up for herself when he’d started hitting her had been empowering. Unfortunately, he hadn’t taken it well, and a couple of weeks ago, after months of trying to talk her into reconciling, he’d cornered her in her office at work. She’d taken care of herself, but it turned out that the brass frowned on anyone tossing hot coffee into the lap of their high-powered, expensive entertainment attorney.


Needless to say, Maddie no longer had her crazy daily drive to make.


Her mother had died that same week.


Maddie was working on being okay with all of it, but she hadn’t gotten there yet. Maybe she’d schedule it into her Blackberry.


Jax was watching her, as if something didn’t quite add up. She could have told him not to bother trying to figure her out. No one had managed yet, not even herself.


“You okay?”


“Working on it,” she said and gave him a small smile.


He returned the smile and stepped a little closer to her, which is when she discovered several things. One, she still had to fight her automatic flight response and purposely hold her ground, not taking a step back. Not all guys are capable of smiling, stepping close, and then hitting, she reminded herself. But while her brain knew this, her heart still wasn’t ready to buy it.


Two, and even more unsettling, he smelled good—sexy and alluring. Closing her eyes, she felt her body actually tingle, brought to a hyper-awareness that felt almost foreign as something zinged through her.


Desire. Bone-melting desire.


When she opened her eyes again, he was even closer. His eyes weren’t the solid warm caramel she’d thought but had flecks of gold dancing in them, as well. She could have drowned in all that deliciousness.


Not a bad way to go, she figured—death by lust.


Taking the shake out of her hands, he put it on the railing. “Maddie,” he said. Just that, just her name in a deep voice that promised things she no longer believed in. And suddenly the part of her brain that had dictated the whole giving-up-men thing went on a vacay somewhere on the other side of reality, probably sharing a suite with the same gray matter that thought she could make a go of the inn. So instead of taking a step back, she took one forward and met him halfway on wobbly legs.


And what happened next was the oddest thing of all.


Odd and scary and amazing.


A heavenly sigh drifted past her lips as his arms came around her, and then his mouth touched hers, warm and tasting like the chocolate shake and forgotten hopes and dreams, and then…


And then there were no more thoughts.


Chapter 4


“Never sweat the small stuff.


And remember, it’s all small stuff.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


Maddie’s eyes had slayed Jax from the very start, but her mouth… Christ, her mouth. The kiss started out gentle, and he’d meant for it to stay that way, but then she pulled back just enough to stare up at him, all flushed and wide-eyed.


Lowering his head, he pressed his mouth to the hollow of her throat. Beneath his lips, he could feel her pulse racing, and he touched his tongue to the spot. At her gasp of pleasure, he made his slow way along her jaw, over warm, soft skin to her ear. When he finally lifted his face to hers, her eyes were huge, a sea of dazed heat as she clearly wondered exactly what he was up to.


No good. That’s what he was up to.


Proving it, he kissed her again, her little whimper for more going straight through him. He heard her purse hit the pier at their feet, and then her arms wound around his neck and she was kissing him, an all-consuming, earthy, raw kiss, and he was a goner. He groaned into her mouth at the pleasure of her touch, at the rush of heat, at the anticipation that swam through him instead of good sense.


Again she tore free of his mouth and stared up at him, eyes feral, mouth wet, breathing wildly. He had no idea what she was looking for, but apparently she found it because she tugged him back down, her fingers digging into his biceps as if she couldn’t get enough.


That made two of them.


He kissed his way down her throat, and she gave a low, sexy gasp when he got to the spot where her neck met her shoulder. Her eyes slid closed, and she shuddered with the intensity. “You taste good,” he murmured.


“Like chocolate–vanilla swirl?”


He lifted his head as she opened her eyes, opaque with hunger and desire. “Like woman.” Her hair was wild, a few curls clinging to her face and dancing in the wind, calling to him. Needing to touch her, he raised a hand to stroke her hair back, and she flinched, hard.


Shock had him going still, fingers hovering near her forehead, but she went even more still. Slowly he lowered his hand. “Maddie—”


With a quick, single shake of her head, she took a giant step back, her eyes shuttered from him. I have to go.”


“Okay.” His brain raced, trying to figure out what had just happened. She’d acted as if he’d meant to hit her, which was crazy—he wouldn’t.


Ever.


But someone had.


That was clear. So was the heat that rushed to her face, knowing her involuntary gesture had just given her away.


Feeling sick for whatever she’d been through, sicker still for reminding her of it if only for a second, he stepped back. “Maddie—”


Tightening her lips, she bent for her purse, then turned away, walking back toward the street. “I really need to go.”


Letting out a long, careful breath, he gave her a head start. He was quite certain that she’d like him to vanish entirely, but he couldn’t do that. There was nowhere to go but back up the pier. So he followed, doing his best to give her the space he figured she needed.


Maddie walked fast down the pier, not slowing until she came to the Ferris wheel. Too bad her life couldn’t be as simple as going round and round…


“You okay?”


Turning, she faced Jax, who stayed about five feet from her, hands in his pockets. “I’m fine.” A little white lie that didn’t count because she wanted to be okay. “About that kiss. I shouldn’t have—We can’t—” She blew out a breath and went with honesty. “Obviously I’m not in a place to start anything up.”


“I’m getting that. It’s okay, Maddie. I’ve been there.”


She doubted he’d ever let anyone take advantage of him or hurt him, but she didn’t want to talk about it. He was giving her an out, which she was going to take. Turning, she started walking. Not surprisingly, he kept pace. “I’m going back to the inn,” she said. “Alone.” She glanced over at him, not knowing what to expect, but it wasn’t the quiet intensity she found. And it certainly wasn’t feeling her own heart skip a beat.


They passed the ice cream shop, and the guy who’d served her waved at Jax. “Hey, man. Hot chocolate tonight?”


“Sure. A large to go, Lance. Thanks.” He paid, then exchanged the warm cup for Maddie’s shake. “For your hands,” he said and guided her off the pier and onto the main street in front of the Love Shack.


A cute blonde burst out of the bar, teetering a little on her heels, laughing with a pretty brunette. “… and he wanted to drive me home!” she exclaimed.


“Well, you said you wanted to get laid,” the brunette said.


“Yes, but look at me! I’m a nine tonight, maybe even a ten. And nothing less than an eight takes this body home—” Catching sight of Jax, she threw her arms around him. “Hey, sexy! Haven’t seen you around all week. You working hard, or hardly working?”


“A little of both,” Jax said, steadying her.


“Join us for a nightcap,” Blondie said, slipping her arms around his neck.


Maddie looked down at herself. Yeah, okay, so she was dressed as a four, tops, but she wasn’t invisible.


A cab pulled into the lot, and Blondie smiled. “There’s our ride. Jax?” she murmured throatily, tugging his hand. “You coming?”


He shook his head, and Blondie and Brunette sighed in joint disappointment, then slid into the cab and vanished into the night.


“You could have gone,” Maddie said after a minute. “Wouldn’t want to hold you back.”


“From…?”


“A threesome.”


He arched a brow. “Is that what you think I want?”


“Well, it does seem to be the top male fantasy.”


“Maybe I’m content with my current company.”


She felt herself soften in spite of herself and decided it was all the emotion of the day. The wind was kicking hard now, but Jax’s jacket was protecting her, and she was content to just stand there. “Are you cold?” she asked, really hoping he wasn’t.


“I’m good. Let me drive you to the inn.” He gestured toward a red Jeep.


“What about your bike?”


“Both mine. But the Jeep’ll keep you warm.”


“I don’t know.”


He met her gaze evenly, his eyes dark and warm, quietly assessing. “It’s a long walk.”


“Yes,” she agreed. “But taking a ride from a stranger would be even more stupid than kissing one.”


“I can provide references if you’d like.”


“From Blondie and Nine-Maybe-Ten?” she asked.


He burst out laughing, and the sound sent heat slashing through her. Sliding his hand to the small of her back, he walked her to the Jeep. “I think I can provide better than that for you.” He opened the passenger door and waited while she hesitated. Gallant superhero, she wondered, or smooth bad boy who’d just managed to talk her into his lair?

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