Author: Jill Shalvis


Hard to tell.


She buckled herself in. The interior of the vehicle was dark, and he wasn’t giving any hints as to his thoughts while he put the Jeep into gear and headed out of the lot.


She stared out the windshield, thinking that so far, superhero and smooth bad boy seemed to be running neck and neck. Not that it mattered, not when deep down, she secretly wanted both.


Chapter 5


“Just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom,


someone will hand you a shovel.”


PHOEBE TRAEGER


Jax pulled up to the resort, and they both eyed the dark buildings. “Problem with the electricity?” he asked, idling the Jeep.


She hoped not. “I don’t know.”


“Your sisters are here?”


“I don’t know that, either.”


Jax thrust the Jeep into gear again and drove around to the back of the inn. Maddie held on to the dash and gulped. “This isn’t the part where the big bad wolf eats me, is it?”


He sent her a mischievous glance. “What is it with you and things eating you?”


A nervous laugh burst from her, and he let loose a smile that was just wicked enough to boost her pulse and scare her at the same time. “Tell you what,” he said silkily. “If I ever get the chance to eat you, I promise you’ll like it.”


Her stomach quivered. Her body had other reactions, too, but she kept them to herself as he pulled up to the cottage, where the windows were lit.


“How did you know to come back here?”


“I spent time out here as a kid. Once, with Ford and Sawyer, I TP’d the entire place.”


It didn’t surprise her that he’d had a wild youth. She suspected he’d had a wild everything. “You did?”


“Yeah, and Sawyer’s father beat the shit out of us when he found out, and then turned us over to your grandpa. Instead of handing out our second ass-kicking of the night, he made us clean up our handiwork and paint the entire inn. He was a good guy.” He flicked his gaze to the cottage, and she followed his line of sight to where both Chloe and Tara stood inside, staring out the window.


“They don’t look very happy,” he noted.


“Yes, I tend to have that effect on people.”


His callused hand slowly slid up her back. When she started because she was looking out the Jeep window and not expecting the touch, he very gently touched the back of her neck. Warmth engulfed her.


“I don’t know,” he murmured very quietly. “You did a decent number on me tonight.” His thumb swept over her nape, urging her to look at him.


One of them leaned in, she wasn’t sure who, but suddenly her hands were on his chest and his hands were sliding up her arms, pulling her in as close as she could get with the console between them. “My sisters—”


“Can’t see inside the Jeep.” He kissed her once, and then again—small, brushing kisses that weren’t enough, not even close, but when she heard a soft moan and realized it was hers, she pulled back.


“Yeah,” Jax said, studying her intently. “I like this look on you a lot better.”


“What look?”


“Heat. Desire. Not fear.”


It took her a second for the words to register. When they did, she turned to open the door to get out, but he gently pulled her back and kissed her again, deep and hot. Her eyes drifted shut as she gave herself over to it, to him, and what he made her feel. He was such a good kisser, and his taste, his touch, his scent, the heat off his body—it all combined together so that she couldn’t talk herself out of having this moment. She needed this moment. She deserved this moment, and, giving herself permission to enjoy it, she slid her hands over every part of him that she could reach, absorbing the groan of approval that rumbled from his throat.


“Haven’t made out in a car in a damn long time,” he said when they broke apart, his voice low and gravelly.


“Me either.” In fact, she wasn’t sure she’d ever made out in a car. She looked around. “We steamed up the windows.”


He slid a hand over her shoulder, up her throat, his thumb skimming her pulse point. “We steamed up a lot of things.”


Yes. Her body was humming with it. She ran her gaze down his body, past his broad chest, the flat abs she wanted to lick, and the button fly of his Levi’s, which were strained over an intriguingly large bulge. Her gaze flew to his, which was both scorching hot and just a tad bit amused.


“I have to go in.” But she didn’t move. Well, actually, she did. She moved to give his mouth better access to her throat, which he took full advantage of, his lips rubbing slowly back and forth over her skin. “B-before they… Oh, God,” she whispered. “Before they come out here to investigate.”


He had a hand at her waist, beneath his jacket and her sweatshirt, his fingers gliding over the bare skin of her belly, and she let out a shaking breath. “You’re going to have to take your hands off me, or…”


He met her gaze, his eyes dark and heated. “Or?”


Or she was going to crawl over the console and straddle him. “You don’t play fair.”


“I don’t. You should remember that.”


Telling her body to behave, she extricated herself from both his hands and the Jeep. “Thanks for the ride.”


And the kiss…


He opened his door. “I’ll walk you in—”


“No, don’t.” She didn’t want to explain this. She dashed out of the Jeep and made her way up the rickety porch, but the door opened before she’d reached it.


Chloe stood there, a small smile on her lips as she peered past Maddie at the Jeep. “Who’s that?”


Maddie watched the brake lights of the Jeep as it vanished into the night. “Jax Cullen. And that’s all I know,” she said before Chloe could ask anything else.


Well, except that he had a voice that went down like smooth whiskey, a way of looking at her that tended to get her to say more than she should, and oh, yeah, he kissed like heaven on earth.


“I want a Jax,” Chloe said.


“You didn’t even see him.”


“No, but I can see the look he put on your face plain enough. Nice jacket.”


“I forgot to give it back.” Maddie, Maddie, Maddie, she told herself. That’s a big fat lie. You didn’t forget. You wanted the excuse to see him again.


“I drove through town three times,” Chloe said. “I never found a Jax.”


Maddie slid her a look. Perfect dark red shiny hair. Cute, sexy clothes. Tight, toned body. An arresting face with piercing green eyes that said Trouble with a capital T, and that she was worth it. “There’s no way you have a hard time attracting men.”


“It’s not the attracting that’s the problem. You ever try to have sex with a third wheel in the bed?”


“Um, no,” Maddie admitted. “I’ve never—”


“I meant my asthma,” Chloe said dryly. “But good to know how your mind works. My asthma is the third person in my bed. And it usually kicks ass.”


“You mean you can’t—”


“Not in mixed company, or I end up needing an ambulance for the ensuing asthma attack.” She sighed. “I really miss co-partnered orgasms.”


“Oh, my God, will you get over the no-orgasm thing?” Tara said, coming up behind them. “Some of us never get them.”


“Never? But you’re married.”


“Okay, so never might be an exaggeration. The point is, there are more important things than sex.”


“Name one,” Chloe said.


Tara lifted a bottle of wine.


“A close second,” Chloe admitted. They moved through the living room as the wind rattled at the living room windows. The shag carpet had once been some sort of blue but had faded to a dingy gray, looking like a dead lawn that hadn’t been watered in two decades.


“The place needs Christmas decorations,” Chloe decided. “And a tree.”


Maddie plopped down on the faded blue quilted couch and a huge cloud of dust arose. Chloe joined her, immediately drawing the neck of her shirt over her mouth and nose to protect herself. “And possibly a fumigation.”


Tara shook her head and pulled Chloe off the couch. “Kitchen. The dust in here will kill you, sugar.”


Maddie followed her two sisters, musing on the odd dynamic between them. Tara clearly cared while pretending not to. Chloe soaked up that caring like a love-starved child, while also pretending not to. As for Maddie, she had no idea where she fit in, or even if she could.


A loose shutter slapped against the side of the house and made her jump. The lights flickered off and then, after a long hesitation, back on again.


The three of them grabbed each other’s hands and eyed the kitchen. It looked like the one in the inn, minus the table and many square feet. They sat hip to hip on the Formica counter. Tara poured the wine, handing a glass to Maddie, then poured one for herself.


“Hello,” Chloe said, holding out her hand for a glass. “What am I, chopped liver?”


“Too young,” Tara said.


“I’m past legal by three years!”


“Do you need a bra to keep your boobs from falling?” Tara asked. “Do you need a pair of Spanx to keep the tire hidden?”


“Tire?”


“Yes, the tire, the spare tire around the middle that doesn’t go away in spite of a rigorous workout regime.” Tara gestured to her stomach, which in Maddie’s opinion looked damn fine. She’d like to have a “tire” like that.


And probably she could, if she gave up chips.


“Do you get hot flashes that keep you up at night? Then you’re not old enough to drink.”


Chloe rolled her eyes and snatched a glass for herself anyway. “You know, you have some serious anger issues. And resentment issues. And holier-than-thou issues.”


Maddie braced for the yelling. “Listen—”


“Excuse me?” Tara tossed back her wine and poured another, topping off Maddie while she was at it as she whirled on Chloe. “Holier than thou?”

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